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The Problem of Bullying

Posted Saturday, September 15, 2012


William Golden’s classic work on bullying
The rise of social media and well-publicized cases involving suicide by victims of cyber bullying has raised awareness of the problem of bullying to new levels. We hear almost daily of a public school, an organization, or an advocacy group that has begun working on an anti-bullying initiative. These efforts are largely applauded, probably because almost everyone has been bullied at one time or another.When I was 9 or 10 years old a big kid in the neighborhood took a dislike to me and would beat me up when I was coming home after school. I had no idea why he decided to pick on me, but after a couple of assaults I learned to avoid the alley that backed up to his house, and I was careful to look around corners and survey the foreground before venturing into it.

I couldn’t think of anyone who could help me out. If I told my dad he’d probably think I was a crybaby, and the big kid didn’t go to my school so there wasn’t a teacher I tell. I coped by taking the long way home for several months until the big kid’s family moved away.

Lots of people have experienced workplace bullying. Many women in their 50s or older can certainly recall working for some clown with fast hands and snappy patter who made them feel uncomfortable, or worse. A friend of mine who drives a cab in Washington, DC, habitually sighs with weariness over his abusive employer. “I don’t know what to do,” he says. “The guy owns 10 cabs and thinks he invented transportation. How do you talk to someone like that?”

The short answer is that you can’t. Most people put up with abusive employers because they need the job and accept it as part of the deal. Organizations often fail to confront bullying because the bully’s aggression takes the form of enforcing rules, regulations, or procedures and laws, regardless of their appropriateness, applicability, or necessity–all in the name of preserving organizational integrity. In cults, leaders rely on peer pressure to enforce conformity and to redefine what is normal and real. Like the 10 year old boy, each victim develops ways to cope with the bully.

Despite an almost universal condemnation of bullying, there are actually few who will intervene on behalf of victims. In many cases, the bully is able to create the illusion that he represents the majority view, and bystanders become unwilling to risk the social fallout of siding with a “minority.” Overtime, the bully becomes more empowered and bystanders accept the non-normative experience or environment as normal. Often, the apparent bully is really just a stand-in, or enforcer, for a silent and more powerful bully in the background who has a special agenda.

As many as 1 in 30 people may be a bully. Research suggests that bullying is a learned behavior and probably caused by the environment in which they grew up. Whatever the cause, bullies need to dominate others, think they are always right, and will redesign reality or change normative standards to conform with their world view, however wrong or strange. Often, adult level reality redesigns involve administrative end runs, filing frivolous lawsuits, and character assassination. Our present political parties are fairly obvious examples of how public servants are run roughshod by bullies, with the resulting redesign of economic and social realities and norms.

Intervening on bullies and bullying is difficult. In schoolyard settings adults can be aware of what’s going on, condemn the behavior, and use the experience as a teachable moment. It is much more difficult in organizations, or in governments such as the former Soviet Union or present day China or North Korea. Organizations can find new management, and employees can seek better opportunities as economic conditions improve, but citizens in dictatorships often face imprisonment or death for standing up against bullies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote what is perhaps the definitive book on the cost of standing up to bullying, The Cost of Discipleship. It opens with the now famous lines, “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.”

The Cost of Discipleship is Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, and describes how Jesus’ teachings should play out in the life of a Disciple then, and now in the post-resurrection world of today. It is as straightforward a condemnation of bullying, by governments or by persons, as one might find. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis in 1945, a costly grace.

For the rest of the article…

You have granted me many blessings; let me also accept what is hard from your hand.

~ Prayers from Prison

Christ-likeness, not ‘Likes’ or Looks

What did Jesus look like? What was his personality type and personal style? How many ‘likes’ did he have on his Facebook page? The Bible does not offer us a biography of Jesus. While there are biographical elements, the Bible focuses on Jesus’ character and what he accomplished on our behalf. Here is what Isaiah 53 has to say about the Suffering Servant, whom hosts of Christians throughout the ages believe refers to Jesus:

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Nothing positive is said about Jesus’ physical appearance. The closest thing to a positive assertion is that there was nothing in his appearance that would attract us (Is. 53:2; and I don’t think this verse is only speaking of his passion). Jesus may not have been the ugliest man alive, but I doubt he looked like Fabio.

Jesus wasn’t consumed with how many likes he received for his blog posts. He probably didn’t have a Facebook fan page. Rather, he was consumed with zeal for his Father’s house (John 2:17) and for turning his servants into friends for whom he would die (John 15:13). In light of Jesus, what consumes you and me?

The Bible is far more concerned about Jesus’ character and the quality of his work on our behalf than it is about his style or persona. In like manner, the Apostle Paul was far more concerned about the character of leaders rather than their personal traits. As in Jesus’ case, there is no attention given to matters of charisma and charm. Dietrich Bonhoeffer draws attention to Paul’s emphasis on character in reflecting upon the qualifications for elders. Here is what Bonhoeffer has to say:

The desire we so often hear expressed today for “episcopal figures,” “priestly men,” authoritative personalities” springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (1 Tim. 3:1ff.). One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, Harper & Row Publishers, 1954, 108-109).

Bonhoeffer’s book in which these words appear was published in 1939 in Nazi Germany. And yet, Bonhoeffer’s reflection speaks to our situation today in the church in the United States just as much as it did then, if not more. The cult of personality as it manifests itself in Christian circles (i.e., the fixation with celebrity status, charisma and charm) is one of the most dangerous and damaging issues facing the church here in the U. S. It takes away attention from Jesus and his singular authority in our lives.

For the rest of the post…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prisoner at the Nazi Concentration camp at Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fellow prisoner was English officer, Hugh Sigismund Payne Best. After the war, Best wrote to Sabine and Gerhard Leibholz that Bonhoeffer stood apart from most of the other inmates who often complained:

His soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison…(we were) in complete agreement that our warders and guards needed pity far more than we and that it was absurd to blame them for their actions. 

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 370)

I read “The Venlo Incident” when I worked on the writing project for my Doctorate on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This book is the only source that describes of the final days of Bonhoeffer’s life. It is a fascinating book.
German agents lure a British intelligence agent, Capt. Payne Best, into a trap, using for bait a mysterious (and non-existent) general said to be the leader of a resistance movement in Nazi Germany. That the trap was sprung on neutral ground, in Holland, raised an uproar. Best was accompanied by fellow SIS officer Maj. Richard Stevens and a Dutch intelligence officer, Dirk Klop. Best and Stevens were imprisoned until the war’s end….
[Nov. 1939] All the way down from The Hague we noticed that military precautions had been intensified and we had been held up at every road block and tank barrier. Even now, between Venlo and our cafe, we were stopped twice. The first time the sentry said something about having orders to allow no cars to pass, and although Klop showed him his authority, insisted that he must first go to the guard-room and speak to the N.C.O. in charge. Both Stevens and I, I believe, felt alike and hoped that he would come back with the news that we could go no farther; but in a few minutes he was with us: “Everything is all right. The N.C.O. had a message for me which had been phoned through from the office. Carry on.”
The second sentry did not actually stop us, but only made signs that we should drive slowly. He was stationed at a bend in the road just before we entered the straight along which one had a view of the frontier. Somehow or other, it seemed to me that things looked different from what they had on previous days. Then I noticed that the German barrier across the road which had always been closed was now lifted; there seemed to be nothing between us and the enemy. My feeling of impending danger was very strong. Yet the scene was peaceful enough. No one was in sight except a German customs officer in uniform lounging along the road towards us and a little girl who was playing at ball with a big black dog in the middle of the road before the cafe.
I must have rather checked my speed, for Klop called out, “Go ahead, everything is quite all right.” I felt rather a fool to be so nervous. I let the car drift slowly along to the front of the cafe on my left and then reversed into the car park on the side of the building farthest from the frontier. Schaemmel was standing on the veranda at the corner and made a sign which I took to mean that our bird was inside. I stopped the engine and Stevens got out on the right. My car had left-hand drive. I had just wriggled clear of the wheel and was following him out when there was a sudden noise of shouting and shooting. I looked up, and through the windscreen saw a large open car drive up round the corner till our bumpers were touching. It seemed to be packed to overflowing with rough-looking men. Two were perched on top of the hood and were firing over our heads from sub-machine guns; others were standing up in the car and on the running board, all shouting and waving pistols. Four men jumped off almost before their car had stopped and rushed towards us shouting: “Hands up!”
I don’t remember actually getting out of the car, but by the time the men reached us I was certainly standing next to Stevens, on his left. I heard him say, “Our number is up, Best.” The last words we were to exchange for over five years. Then we were seized. Two men pointed their guns at our heads, the other two quickly handcuffed us.
I heard shots behind me on my right. I looked round and saw Klop. He must have crept out behind us under cover of the car door which had been left open. He was running diagonally away from us towards the road; running sideways in big bounds, firing at our captors as he ran. He looked graceful with both arms outstretched — almost like a ballet dancer. I saw the windscreen of the German car splinter into a star, and then the four men standing in front of us started shooting, and after a few more steps Klop just seemed to crumple and collapse into a dark heap of clothes on the grass.
“Now, march!” shouted our captors, and prodding us in the small of our backs with their guns, they hurried us, with cries of “Hup! Hup! Hup!” along the road towards the frontier. As we passed the front of the cafe I saw my poor Jan held by the arms by two men who were frog-marching him along. It seemed to me that his chin was reddened as from a blow. Then we were across the border. The black and white barrier closed behind us. We were in Nazi Germany.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prisoner at the Nazi Concentration camp at Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fellow prisoner was English officer, Hugh Sigismund Payne Best. After the war, Best wrote to Sabine and Gerhard Leibholz the following about Bonhoeffer:

In fact my feeling was far stronger than these words imply. He was, without exception, the finest and most lovable man I have ever meet.

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 370).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prisoner at the Nazi Concentration camp at Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fellow prisoner was English officer, Hugh Sigismund Payne Best. Bonhoeffer met Best in the washroom and “Bonhoeffer enjoyed the opportunity to speak English again.” Best wrote the following about Bonhoeffer…

Bonhoeffer was all humility and sweetness; he always seemed to me to diffuse an atmosphere of happiness, of joy in every smallest event in life, and of deep gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive. There was something doglike in the look of fidelity in his eyes and his gladness if you showed that you liked him. He was one of the very few men that I have ever met to whom his God was real and ever close to him.

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 369)

Nope. Probably not even close! When I scrolled down the top 200 list, I really wasn’t expecting to see my name. That is okay because I do not expect to crack that list because there are many excellent blog sites out there that encourage me in my walk with Jesus.

However, I will continue though to post about one of my spiritual heroes: Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

A blog shout out to my friend Darryl Dash who came in at # 173! Awesome.

I am in Lincoln, NE for the 16th Annual Meeting of the Heartland Converge District. The speaker for the Friday night banquet was Pastor Steve Pearson of Big Springs, SD. He preached one the best sermons on prayer that I have heard in a long time. He used the example of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark to illustrate that prayer (and lots of it…not the typical 10 to 30 minutes per day…if that) is the prerequisite to anything new that God does in our lives and in the church.

Steve also referred to the prayer life of Dr. David Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the largest church in the world (around a million members).  Years ago when the church was at 750,000 members, a fellow pastor, whose church was “only” 3000 strong, asked Dr. Cho why his church was so large. Dr. Cho asked him, “How much time do you spend in prayer in day?” and the pastor answered, “30 minutes.” Dr. Cho then said: “That is why your church is so small!”

Dr. Cho spends 5 hours a day in prayer!

Prayer must be the reoccurring old business in our lives and church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a very exceptional person, a Christian clergyman who challenged Hitler publicly (even returning to Germany after having escaped for a time first to England and then to America).  The Nazis arrested him in 1943 and Himmler himself ordered him hanged in April, 1945, just a few weeks before the allied liberation of his concentration camp.  Thank God, however, his insightful book, “The Cost of Discipleship“, survived the Nazi book burnings.  I believe that his idea of “cheap grace” explains not only the hollowness of German Christianity, but that of American Christianity as well.

Why has Christianity in America’s Bible Belt been so unable and/or unwilling to recognize the evils of slavery, segregation, black terrorism and white supremacy, if not because of its embrace of the very same concept of “Cheap Grace” ?

How could the unholy alliance of the wealthiest and most bigotted people in America, those who almost worship guns for personal use and can’t spend enough of our nation’s resources on weapons of mass destruction, those who despise the least fortunate among us, and the political party which best represents all those sentiments, get away with calling themselves a “Christian Coalition”, if not because of the prevalence of the notion of “cheap grace” here in America?

We may never know where the Nazis disposed of Bonhoeffer’s body, but this web page hereby erects a shrine to Bonhoeffer’s tremendous contribution to Christianity, the exposure of the heresy of “Cheap Grace”.

For the rest of the post…

September 2012


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