Jam a Spoke in the Wheel

Earlier this week I wrote about Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's idea that Christians should adopt a tactical rather than strategic imagination. In that conversation Jonathan reminded us of Bonhoeffer's famous assessment of how the church should relate to the state when the state is behaving unjustly. Bonhoeffer describes the responsibilities of the church as a threefold action: 1) prophetic indictment, 2) care for the victims of the state, and 3) interruptive activism, jamming a spoke in the wheel.

...there are three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state: the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Second, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. "Do good to all people." In both these courses of action, the church serves the free state in its free way, and at times when laws are changed the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks. The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.

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23 thoughts on “Jam a Spoke in the Wheel”

  1. By all accounts I'm too much the cynic, but it seems to me that the church has been the wheel. 

  2. Then I trust that the shrewd and prudent among us will jam a spoke in our own wheel. 

  3. I agree. And that fits Bonhoeffer's own story, his activism with the Confessing Church as protest to how the German church fell in with the Nazis. Bonhoeffer's starting the underground seminary in Finkenwalde is a great example of church-related protest and activism.

  4.  What is often missed (in implication, at least) is that Bonhoeffer's stake in the wheel was not an act of defiance, but one of love.  THAT changes everything.

  5. Well I don't think defiance and love are mutually exclusive. More importantly, it seems to me, though little do I know, that Bonhoeffer's actions were both defiant and loving at the exact same time; it was loving because it was appropriately defiant.

  6. Ultimately, the assassination plan was a prime example of strategic rather than tactical imagination.

  7. Yes, Bonhoeffer is guilty of duplicity.  But the structures that create space for 1, 2, and 3 in the above article had pretty much disintegrated by 1940.  I do not know if any of us can analogize to attempting to exercise tactical imagination amid a totalitarian world.  We, too, may have tried to kill Hitler.

  8. Pardon me, but is there any way to contact you? There's something I think you might be interested in hearing about, but leaving a comment under a random blog post doesn't feel appropriate...

  9. You might find this research intriguing. http://emu.edu/now/podcast/2011/02/23/dietrich-bonhoeffer-the-assassin-challenging-a-myth-recovering-costly-grace-mark-thiessen-nation/

  10.  The 100% fact of The


    Serpent/Satan The Bible would end on Page 2 with something as this...

    "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and
    were not ashamed and they lived happily ever after

     THE END."

  11. Eric Metaxas listed two things that led to the church's falling in with the Nazis.
    ·       Baptism
    ·       Christmas Carols.
    Baptism was no longer spoken of as into the body of Christ but into the "community of the Volk" and into the "Weltanschauung of the Fuhrer....."  And they didn't sing Christmas Carols anymore. Christmas Carols contained some of the deepest, most important theology. "It wasn't merely jots and tittles of their theology that were at issue.  Their entire concept of Christianity was heretical...The paganism of it all escaped them."

    Perhaps had they done the work of the church, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they would not have been obliged to protest outside the barbed wire of the prison camps. They could have preached it to Jews and Gypsies on the inside.

  12. And thus blurring the lines between committed pacifism and an applicational, activist movement, tactical if you will, to end the madness that was in control. A perfect example of the dilemmas of living as Christians in the real world. So the debate continues....

  13. Pat, Jeff,

    We frail, weak, rebellious humans are so committed to self-deception and idolatry that we routinely ignore the "things that make for peace."  Jesus, despite his fear and angst in the garden, trusted his Father and resurrection enough enough to give and forgive.  Likewise, the martyrs.  I would probably have been too cowardly to do what Bonhoeffer did and what Jesus did.  Too busy trying to do it on my own and trying to look good instead of going about "doing good and healing those oppressed of the Devil."

    God have mercy, Christ have mercy.

  14. “Gott Mit Uns.”  A lot of decent German Christians (and British, Americans, Spanish, Catholics, and more) believed with great conviction that “Bolshevism” was the wheel that needed it’s spokes broken, and so they supported fascism/ Hitler who promised to break the machine of godless communism (that is, after the Bolsheviks had broken the wheel of Czarist Russia, who had broken the wheel of the Mongol-Tatars who had broken the wheel of the Varangian warriors.....).  Other Germans reasonably thought that the vulgarity of consumer capitalism was an urgent threat and another wheel that needed breaking, and again, Hitler (as the personification of nazism, national socialism, and the collective will of the German people) promised to break that wheel as well.  Indeed, the most common view in Germany was that national socialism was the reasonable, morally superior, and righteous alternative to two unacceptable godless extremes. 

    All this is to ask, once we start plotting and building bombs how do we decide who dies first?  I mean we can all speak in metaphors of wheels and spokes and so on, but of course this kind of conversation usually ends up with us either at a potluck cleaning tuna casserole off our sweater vests, or else with dead children and mass graves (Like at the Oklahoma city bombing).  So which wheels need breaking?  Who gets to pick the targets?  And after we break one wheel comrades, what come next, form a new order of *Knights--Bonhoeffer* and start a crusade to storm the gates and re-occupy the Garden of Eden (you know that’s in Iraq right? and didn’t the protestants just try that?)   And just what the heck is Jesus going to be doing while were all busy breaking spokes and bringing the evil empireI to it’s knees, I mean WTF Jesus?

    So maybe y’all could just set aside any parables, allegories, synecdoches etc. and tell me straight out, just what it is you are going to actually do, what it will cost you, and the amount of suffering involved for you and everybody else.  And then I can decide whether I am on board or not (oh, and let me know when this whole thing is going down, I want to set my TiVo).  Hasta La Victoria Siempre comrades and Obliged.

    (oh, btw, “Gott Mitt Uns” means “God Is With Us,” it’s the inscription that was on Nazi SS beltbuckles, It was supposed to help them tell the good guys from the bad guys).       


  15. I think it interesting to look at what wheels Jesus chose to disrupt.  He didn't lead a revolt against the Romans, though many of His followers wanted him to. He didn't plan assassinations against the sell-out Jews, nor did He partake in strikes, marches, or occupy movements (at least not as we know them). He chose to send out missionaries to the places that were in need of G-D's Love and rather than plant briefcase bombs, sow seeds.  He partook in a parade through Jerusalem while riding a baby donkey not to demonstrate His ability to rule, but rather His ability to serve.  He allowed Himself to be captured, tortured, and slaughtered.  And commanded us to do the same.  He chose to change the hearts and minds of His followers and then have them, in the same loving way, change the hearts and minds of the rest of the world.  And if this holy infection of Love hadn't been corrupted by the corporate mechanisms of religion then maybe we would still have some tactical Christians imagining new ways to serve the Kingdom.  Instead we Christians sit our fat asses on church pews, sing three part harmony, and call ourselves righteous.  Not much imagination there, tactical or strategic.

  16.  “He allowed Himself to be captured, tortured, and slaughtered.  And commanded us to do the same.”  

    Well put David, and isn’t that just why we prefer Tuna Casserole to the Gospel (though we can certainly join together and form wed, night fan-clubs around Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Archbishop Romero, even Jesus, heck I belong to many of these).  

    However, your statement that:  “And if this holy infection of Love hadn't been corrupted by the corporate mechanisms of religion...” is a bit problematic.  It seems to suggest that this “corporate mechanisms of religion” was some foreign principality that came from outside of the Church (a la many folks favorite whipping boy Constantine?).  Or that somehow the Christian Church once enjoyed some faithfully pristine manifestation in the mythic past rather than always being a bunch of confused, broken, bickering, backsliding, yahoos right from the get-go.  Obliged.   


  17. Eh, Constantine, the priests during his reign, or Ananias and Sipphira's small group might be the ones to blame for "corporate mechanisms of religion," though I can't really put the blame on anyone other than myself.  What I meant was the corruption of Christ's original and pure teachings that went from the radical view of Kingdom living to megachurches and televangelists.  I can see where my words got the best of me.  "then maybe we would still have some tactical Christians imagining new ways to serve the Kingdom." This implies that we once did. But, once again, I am being judgmental as if I live tactically and not selfishly, much less strategically.  I guess my real frustration lies with the attitude/lifestyle of trying vs surrendering.  Too many Christians surrender to Americanism over Kingdomism (or as I called it, Fatt Ass Christianity).  This could just be the bare minimum Jesus asked of us but we should at the very least TRY to live for the Kingdom.  I'm the first to admit that I fail exponentially more than I succeed but I believe that we should be a people trying, practicing, striving for Christ's radical challenge, not succumbing to materialism, selfishness, and the ease and comfort of the "American Dream."  Where's the Kingdom Dream?

  18. "oh, btw, 'Gott Mitt Uns' means 'God Is With Us,' it's the inscription that was on Nazi SS beltbuckles, it was supposed to help them tell the good guys from the bad guys."

    Sorry. Wrong. "Gott Mit Uns" was on the *Wehrmacht* (Regular armed forces) belt buckles. The SS belt buckles had the inscription "Blut Und Ehre" ("Blood and Honor") which was an outgrowth of Heinrich Himmler's belief that the glory of the German "Volk" came from the pure bloodlines of her Aryan ancestors and that Honor could be restored by repurifying those bloodlines and ridding Germany of its "polluted" stock. (i.e. The "Untermenschen" -- "Subhumans".)

  19. Huh? ridding the world of “subhumans,” that sounds more like republican followers of Ayn Rand than the good Lutheran Wehrmacht?  But if you say so...well, maybe I should just look it up...Oh no, it’s even worse than I thought!  Turns out “Gott Mit Uns” goes all the way back to the my own Catholic Teutonic Knights! According to wiki the Knights of the “Order of the House of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem,” as they were also called, not only had a divine ministry of whacking pagans, Muslims, and of course Jews, but were even affective in bringing down God’s judgement on other Christians when necessary--and all to the glory of God and the Virgin Mary!  You know, this all lends a lot of support to Mike’s first comment above that “...it seems to me that the church has been the wheel.”  Obliged.    

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