Kingdom of Cardboard and Spoils

In the estimation of many who attended C21 two weeks ago in Phoenix the presentation of Dieter Zander was the most profound and impactful. The gospel story in microcosm.

Dieter had been at the top of the Christian world, a popular pastor and music minister at Willow Creek who spoke and performed in front of thousands.

But a stroke crippled Dieter's right hand, ending his ability to play the piano, along with aphasia, ending his ability to speak and preach.

The stroke ended Dieter's life as a mega-church pastor.

Dieter now works as a janitor at Trader Joe's.

In its "downward" trajectory--from Christian celebrity to janitor--Dieter's story seems sad and tragic. But only if you tell the story from the outside using worldly standards of success.

Because inside the story Dieter been on a profound and revolutionary spiritual journey. It has been journey into service, love and joy. A journey into the very heart of God.

To help us get on the inside of this story, LaDonna Witmer put Dieter's words to verse as a part of Dieter's video "Kingdom of Cardboard and Spoils." This video is, quite simply, one of the most spiritual things I have ever seen.

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7 thoughts on “Kingdom of Cardboard and Spoils”

  1. Oh my goodness... thank you for this post today! I'm 46 and used to go to Willow Creek in my 20's simply because of Dieter. He may say, "my kingdom was a performance" in his poem, but there was something very approachable and unpretentious about him that drew me in to his youth group, back in the day. I'd read an article months ago about his stroke, and initially felt sad for his circumstance, and yet, uplifted because of the humanness he demonstrates through his 'new normal.'

    Last year I took a job as a caregiver to seniors living with dementia. Like Dieter, I used to have a much more outwardly prestigious job. But now I change adult diapers, feed adults pureed food, and sit with them in their final stages of dementia as their minds and bodies break down. I'm surrounded by death every day, but I feel more alive and am brought closer to love—albeit through a different kind of menial work than what Dieter describes. And although my brain is in tact and healthy, working with people whose minds are "spoiled" (to hop on Dieter's metaphor) by dementia has given me the gift of mindlessness and simple presence.

    My job has changed my heart towards those whose intellects are less than perfect, as well as towards those of us who are the way, way "low" (by worldly standards) working class. (You should see the look on some people's faces when I tell them I clean up urine and bowel movements every day.) I agree with Dieter that there is something beautiful about menial work. Truly.

    I'm also filled with joy to hear how Dieter is thriving today. Good for him. God is good!

  2. When I heard the part about a SIX-figure income being stripped away in the process of a pastor-turned-janitor, all I could think about was that God must have finally made his move in this man's life. :)

  3. I work in medical finance, in a local facility. There was an older gentleman, a resident of the facility, who liked to visit our office and talk. One day he rolled into the office in his wheel chair and sat there watching me do what I do on my computer He suddenly spoke up, "You have powerful job!!!" "Why do you say that?", I asked. His response was, "Why, working with all this MONEY!!!!!"

    I pointed to my computer and said, "Do you see this contraption? I simply take money from one screen and move it to another. Granted, some days and weeks seem to have more screens that I can handle; but that's basically it. Besides, this is no more powerful or important than a nurse's aid who moves a resident from the bed to the toilet each morning. In fact, I would say they're more important than I."

    Well, this gentleman looked at me like I had totally lost my mind. And it made me realize how even I had not given thought in a while of the hard work these aids do, and how twisted our thinking can be when it comes to service. Some of these aids are single parents struggling financially, yet show a care and a compassion that many of us in our "little money changing holes" forget. God has funny ways of reminding us.

  4. Some thoughts...

    Sally Morgenthaler's "Worship Evangelism" meant a lot to me in the late '90s. Dieter Zander featured prominently in that book. Interesting what both of them have been through since then. AFAIK they still identify as Christians, but they are not where they were then, in significant ways.

    Thank God Trader Joe's provides its employees with a living wage and good benefits. At least they are donating the "spoiled" food to the local food bank; it's probably in much better condition than most of what the food bank gets from other sources.

    It's too bad one of the organizers of the conference didn't attend. Perhaps he heard what Zander said and saw this video after the fact. Maybe it will give him some pause. It could serve as a warning. ISTM that all Christians who have any amount of "celebrity" would be wise to pay attention to this; but this kind of adversity is difficult to contemplate when one's life seems to be going well and many doors seem to be opening...


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