Wednesday, September 06, 2006

One-Raspberry Holocaust

Leader's Insight: One-Raspberry HolocaustNew gifts from the death camps, plus a new book on quitting church to follow Gordon MacDonald, Leadership editor at large

My youngest grandson (aged 10) and I went to Boston a few days ago and walked a part of the Freedom Trail. Along that path you encounter the New England Holocaust Memorial: six equally-distanced 54-foot glass towers (I'm guessing 15 feet square). Coming closer you realize that the glass is etched (bottom to top, in very orderly fashion) with the numbers (not names) that were tattooed on the arms of the six million Jews (and others) who died in the death camps during World War II. Smoke slowly rising from the base of each tower reminds the visitor of how most of them died.

As the two of us took in this specter, a young couple next to me suddenly dissolved into sobs. Seemingly unaware that anyone was near them (and there were many of us), they embraced and kissed each other so passionately that it seemed as if they desired to become one flesh. Frankly, there was nothing sexual about their frenzy. Rather, it appeared that the towers, the smoke, and the etched numbers had stirred a mutual grief (or fear) deep in their souls. Could the dreadful history rehearsed at this holocaust memorial be repeated again some day and involve them? Was that what they were thinking? Given the evil surging in our world right now, why isn't that a reasonable concern? There are holocausts going on right now, aren't there? Darfur, Eastern Congo, and the almost-civil-war in Iraq come to mind.

In each tower at the New England Holocaust Memorial, superimposed on the dreadful lists of numbers, are brief personal statements made by certain death camp survivors. Two haunted me above all the others. (You can find them and all the others on the website, which is to say that you ought to go there and look at the pictures and read the personal statements for yourself.)
"Some Catholics," one survivor, Aime Bonfas, wrote, "including Father Amyot, invited me to join them in prayer. Seven or eight of us gathered, secretly of course, in the shed used as a lavatory. In prayer we laid before God our suffering, our rags, our filth, our fatigue, our exposure, our hunger, our misery."

And another, Gerda Weissman Klein: "Ilse, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present to me that night on a leaf. Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it to your friend."

When life is whittled down to a few short, suffering days, a secret prayer meeting held at great risk becomes a main event. Apparently sectarian identities and doctrinal loyalties mean little to people sharing a common death sentence. Lift the death sentence, however, and prayer meetings are soon eclipsed by ball games, e-Bay, and seven-day workweeks. Too bad.

Then there is that death-camp gift given to Gerda Klein. With all our resources and with so many acquaintances is it possible to ever know the literal ecstasy experienced in the giving and receiving of something as miniscule, yet so valuable, as one raspberry—mounted on a leaf—to a friend.

Quitting church to follow Jesus: A friend of mine (in the interest of self-disclosure), Ian Morgan Cron has just written a book called Chasing Francis (published by NavPres, 2006). I'd call the book rather edgy. In fact, I applaud NavPress for having the courage to publish it.
A young megachurch pastor (who reminds me of a younger version of me) discovers that he can no longer keep up the pretenses of a deep faith and passionate church leadership, and he interrupts his sermon one day to tell this to his congregation. And then he walks out.
And, in effect, he doesn't stop walking until he retraces the steps of St. Francis and discovers a whole new way of following Jesus. I read this book marking something on almost every other page. I would say my friend, Cron, has done just about the best job I've seen of explaining the usefulness of a so-called postmodern view of Christian faith. I'd like to be part of a church that his hero ends up proposing.

File this under "Things one thinks about after eating a bad piece of meat": We've seen a handful of athletes grounded this summer because of suspicions regarding performance-enhancing drugs (steroids, testosterone, etc.). It occurred to me that this may be why there are any number of preachers and leaders in the church today who are so much better than the rest of us: It has to be performance-enhancing drugs! An executive pastor (speaking off the record) told me that these drugs come from a secret clinic in the Swiss Alps. Here in New England we have never heard about this. I think you have to live in Illinois, California, or the Deep South.
I smell scandal, and I am proposing that we establish an Evangelical Performance Enhancing Drug Accountability Agency (EPEDAA), whose agents would periodically tap e-mail and phone conversations and take surprise on-site samples of you-know-what (just before Sunday services—even better just before the offering). I know these are questionable activities, legally speaking, but these are dangerous times, and we've got to level the playing field.

Anyway, by doing this we'd really know who is being truly anointed by the Holy Spirit and who should get an asterisk beside their *attendance figures.

The only bumper sticker that has caught my attention recently: Don't believe everything you think.
Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald is chair of World Relief and editor at large for Leadership.


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