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Posted Saturday, September 15, 2012
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.
You have granted me many blessings; let me also accept what is hard from your hand.
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 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.
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”.