Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.
For the purposes of today’s discussion, I’m going to define the “strong” as our government officials industriously imposing restrictions upon the “weak,” American taxpayers, with no consideration provided for the costs borne by those of us who must live with the results of what our progressive leaders are calling our “new normal.” The “possible right of the strong” will be the justifications given for the imposition of harsh governmental control of individual freedom and liberty such as: flattening the curve and solving systemic racism in our police departments.
One fact for us all, liberals and conservatives alike to keep in mind, is that none of the government employees, even those who haven’t been out of their houses in three months, have lost one dime of salary or benefits during this government imposed shutdown. You and I have kept right on paying our taxes and our elected representatives and bureaucrats have kept right on drawing their salaries. For these officials now to assert that they are “in this with you” and that they “have skin in the game just like everyone else” is both a blatant lie and insulting to boot. As my Aunt Lillie would have said, “When San Antonio mayor Ron Niremberg tells you he’s protecting the innocent against discrimination with an edict such as his hate speech proclamation, he’s lying to you with his own teeth in his mouth.” Resolution voted on by San Antonio City Council labels terms “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Fu Virus” as hate speech and “all persons are encouraged to report any such antisemitic, discriminatory or racist incidents to the proper authorities for investigation”.
This is all so very wrong. Last Thursday I visited my chiropractor, whom I generally see once a month, for the first time in three months. I didn’t cancel my appointment March, April and May appointments, he did, as he was forced to do by the petty tyrants that we’ve allowed to take control over our lives.
Except for the doc, the entire office suite, consisting of an outer office/waiting room, a secretarial station, and four treatment rooms was empty. You know how a house can start to feel once the family has begun packing boxes to depart, that’s how the office felt. Not desolate, or depressed, just sort of empty, as if the life had gone out of the building.
My doctor’s office reminded me of the way my classroom felt the day that I left my first teaching job after working for two years as an inner city school’s journalism/English teacher. The school was in the midst of change when I got there, but it was all new and exciting to me. The neighborhood that the school building sat in had gone down, no nicer way to state this, changing from affluent old Orlando families to poor working class if they were lucky families. The educational attainments of the students had also deteriorated. Howard Junior High School rarely received any accolades.
Of my one hundred and twenty English students, one third of the ninth graders read at below the second grade level. When I arrived, the ink on my Florida teaching certificate still wet, half of the staff consisted of first and second year teachers. The other half of the faculty were old timers, hanging on until they could retire and bemoaning the fact that the kids who came to Howard Jr High these days not only couldn’t read their textbooks, most of these kids didn’t even pretend to try.
Those of us new to the game were idealistic and optimistic. We were there to improve lives. We were there to lift these kids out of poverty and send them straight to college. We wrote alternative lesson plans using classic comic books to teach Julius Caesar and smuggled in Popular Mechanic and Seventeen magazines to accomplish reading comprehension and “reading to learn” goals. My English students put out a monthly newspaper and the school’s annual. Gradually that first year, my goals shifted but my enthusiasm didn’t. The kids were great. They were learning. I was having fun.
Instead of teaching my kids how to fill out college applications, I bought workbooks entitled “The Jobs You Get” and taught them out to fill out job applications and pursue entry level work opportunities. My colleagues and I started investigating trade schools and giving our kids aptitude tests rather than helping them prepare for the SAT.
One of my fellow English teachers organized the first swim team that Howard Junior School had seen since it ceased to be Orlando High School. Neither Bob Allen nor any of his fellow teachers recruited as coaches knew a thing about teaching swimming, but we had enthusiasm out the wazoo. I agreed to function only as a timer, not wanting to have to get into and out of the swimming pool five mornings a week and have to figure out how arrive at the school in time to teach my first class which began at 7:20. Back then hair and make-up took a minimum of forty minutes every single morning.
We met the approximately twenty students signed up for our swim team at the local YMCA a block from our campus at 6 am nine weeks before our first swim meet. We spent the next six weeks teaching eighteen of our swimmers how to swim. This wasn’t as hard as we’d originally anticipated, it wasn’t that our students didn’t want to learn to swim any more than they hadn’t wanted to learn how to read. Opportunity doesn’t always come knocking at every kid’s door.
In regards to swimming, the problem was simply a case of, even though most of these kids had lived in Florida for the entire thirteen or fourteen years of their lives, most of them had never been in a swimming pool before. At our first meet we were able to field swimmers in approximately half of the races only because all of our students were tall enough to put their feet on the bottom of the pool and walk if they needed to. We didn’t win any ribbons that year, but we were, as the saying goes, contenders, and we were proud of our efforts, which we documented in the Howard Junior High School year book.
After our first summer vacation approximately half of our group of first year teachers didn’t return, almost all of those breaking ranks and resigning were male. One who left us was Scott Engdahl, who had taught American history. Scott came in before school started in September to clean out his classroom while I was getting myself organized for my second year of teaching. He’d spent the previous two month summer vacation selling wall to wall carpet and had made more in two months than he’d earned for the entire previous school year. “My wife and I want to have a baby, I can’t justify staying here,” he said. During the next school year, Scott continued to meet us after work some Fridays at a local bar. “I hate selling carpets, but I’m good at it, I’m making a lot of money, well, compared to you guys, I am,” he said. “You were good at teaching,” we reminded him, our ideals still intact. “Yeah, and I liked it a lot,” he reminisced. “Even the swim team was fun.”
Conventional wisdom was that teachers should always stay in a job at least two, preferably three years, so their resumes wouldn’t scream, “contract wasn’t renewed, likely couldn’t teach or control her class.” I made it two years, but not three. I actually broke my contract in August after I’d signed it the previous May which is another huge no-no. I turned in my letter of resignation to the principal on the first day of inservice in mid August of what should have been my 3rd year. My department chairwoman, a holdover from Orlando High School days, asked me to reconsider. “You’ve done a good job,” she said.
I had done a good job, I’d also been doing a large part of her job as I’d covered all of the county English department chair monthly meetings for her. She’d bequeathed me the department chair job, which she planned to retire out of in two or three years, but not the stipend that came with it. However I wasn’t leaving for financial reasons and she didn’t appear to have any solid information about what I’d been doing in my classroom for the past two years. If she had known, she’d have been the first to scream to high heaven, as, per her often espoused belief, teaching children to read Shakespeare out of abridged texts was professional malpractice of the highest order and any English teachers so demented as to utilize classic comic books deserved to be drummed out of the profession.
I was leaving because I had an opportunity to move to Puerto Rico and teach at an exclusive private school in San Juan. I’m not going to get into a lot of personal details here, none of which reflect back onto me in any sort of favorable light, but I will say this much, the three of my freshmen teacher group who were returning to Howard for a third year took me out for a drink the night before I left Orlando. We all got very drunk and they, rightfully, accused me of selling out for a ticket to San Juan where I’d be teaching rich privileged kids rather than poor underprivileged ones.
“I am a sell out, I agree, but the school is in the Condado section and comes with a condominium on the beach, they pay my moving expenses, including barging my Ford Pinto to the island, as well as providing me with two round trip tickets to and from the states, one at Christmas and one during the summer, how could I turn all that down?” I asked.
The next day, the day when I flew out out of Florida with the grandaddy of all hangovers, I had to stop off at Howard on the way to the airport to pick up my last paycheck. I ran into the history department chair in the teacher’s lounge; he’d just learned that I had resigned my position. He was smoking a pipe and reading the New York Times. “Sorry to see you go, it’s like all the life is going out of this building—again,” he said.
I thought of the words of the old man, who looked vaguely like Ernest Hemingway, last Thursday after my Dr. D chiropractic appointment. “The life is going out of this building,” he’d said. His words were an observation, not a lament, spoken in an observational way suggesting that he expected nothing more or nothing less to happen at Howard during the remaining years of his teaching career. Perhaps his dreams had died hard, perhaps he’d never dared dream of much, whatever the case, he smoked his pipe and read his paper and didn’t actually look at me when, last paycheck in hand, I exited the building.
Dr. D’s office is on NW Military in Castle Hills. Two weeks into the reopening, the entire four story building felt empty, as if nothing much was going on there. Imposing restrictions is easy, rebuilding what has been destroyed by excessive punitive and mindless regulations isn’t going to be easy. To rebuild, we’re going to have to depend upon someone other than our leaders . . .we’re going to have to depend upon our communities. We’re going to have to concede less power to the culture around us and stand up for the oppressed. If we don’t, well, as Americans, we don’t want to lose this fight.
Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. . . Dietrich Bonhoeffer
18 On account of this, the Jews demanded, “What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do these things?” 19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 “This temple took forty-six years to build,” the Jews replied, “and You are going to raise it up in three days?” John 2; 18-20. Were the religious authorities scoffing? Sounds to me like they were scoffing. In this scenario, the Pharisees were the powerful, the disciples were the weak. What can we, operating today in June 2020, learn from this scriptural lesson?
Dr. D currently schedules one full hour for each appointment, even though his actual time per patient is unlikely to be over thirty minutes. His only employee, the office manager who previously has worked a forty hour week, has a health condition and, per government policy, cannot be present when anyone other than Dr. D is in the office. At the moment, he continues to pay her until such time as the city lifts its Wuhan virus restrictions; she works from home except on Tuesday and Thursday mornings when she can come into the office because he schedules no patients before one pm on those two days.
Dr. D locks the door into the office when he is with a patient for security purposes, quite obviously assuming additional liability as he doesn’t have anyone present in the office with him as he sees patients. Dr. D, like most small business owners, finds himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. His choices at present are to fire the office manager and hire someone who doesn’t have a pre-existing health condition and has no idea how he runs his practice, defy the city restrictions and run his office as he sees fit, or do as he is doing, trust in the goodness of heart and intentions of his patients and go it alone abiding by business practices that will soon render him unable to make his rent and utility payments. In which case, obviously, it won’t be just the office manager who will be unemployed, it will be Dr. D as well.
The reality is that someone in San Antonio may die of COVID, but it is highly unlikely that the city and state government policies driving this doctor out of business are going to prevent one death, COVID related or otherwise, with the legislative fiats that they are putting into place. So what is going on here? As Christians, it is imperative that we stop and think this through. We have to ask ourselves, are we spending so much time considering how the government might have a point that we’re missing the big picture here. Namely, exactly how, in our mindless compliance with government regulations that restrict our freedom to assemble, are we standing up in support of the weak, the powerless, in confrontation with the power structure in our city, state, and country?
Dr. D’s office manager can’t come to work because the city of San Antonio is afraid she might contract or spread a virus that, per the latest information from Italy, appears to significantly weaken the longer that it lingers. The US death rate, even with inflated numbers such as we’ve seen in many liberal cities (counting every death that happened thus far in the year 2020 as COVID, rather than state the actual cause of death such as gunshot wound/suicide), now stands at .04%. This number is changing every single day that it is tabulated, and the death rate keeps going down.
Stone Oak Methodist Hospital laid off all of its hospitalists this week, due to the fact that the hospital is empty because all elective and non-emergency surgery was cancelled for three months. And now that the government is gradually lifting restrictions, all of us have been left with hearts so full of vague fearful foreboding that people are scared to leave their homes, much less venture into a medical setting where somebody might have left something—a germ laying in wait to kill or maim the unwary.
We’ve become so woke, so respectful of the powerful, so fearful of witnessing to our faith and perhaps offending, that we’ve become indistinguishable from the culture around us. We’re not like them, we’re the remnant, we can’t forget that. Our faith can’t become incidental, one facet of our identity as opposed to the core reason for our existence.
We’re like crabs trapped in a bucket, swimming around, vaguely restless, unaware that our national landscape is changing, has changed and keeps on changing. If any of our fellow incarcerated crabs ventures a leg over the side of the bucket, one of us helpfully reaches out a claw and drags the wanderer back into the watery captivity we now call home. Welcome to our brave new world, the new normal, we tell each other.
Meanwhile, our fearless never missed one of their paychecks leaders haven’t gotten around to telling us that our masks, cute though some of them turned out to be, were never effective against COVID. The local news media, busy reporting on peaceful protesters intent on destroying downtown San Antonio and threatening to come to the suburbs next, hasn’t cottoned to the fact that the majority of the reliable research supports a conclusion that wearing masks for five or six hours a day can cause illness and even death in otherwise healthy people. Our leaders haven’t had time to talk about COVID because they’ve devoted themselves to spreading the lie that American cops are ugly racists intent on killing black people and that this systemic racism can only be eradicated if every business in every neighborhood is destroyed.
We’ve got an awful lot of laws on our books, instead of making new ones about hate speech (China virus) and asking us to inform on each other whenever we hear our neighbor state the obvious, “well the virus did come from China,” perhaps our bureaucrats might wish to enforce the laws against say, arson, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, that sort of thing. Me saying that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan which happens to be in China is way less of a concern to people who’ve lost both the opportunity and the means to pay their bills than stopping the rioters intent on tearing down American businesses.
Andrew McCarthy wrote on June 1, 2020: Our existing laws, at both the federal and state levels, are more than adequate to the task of dealing with terrorism and seditionist violence. The Justice Department and the FBI, including the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (partnerships with police authorities in major cities throughout the country), are highly experienced and adept in this area, and they have the resources to get the job done.
The job needs doing. The ravaging of our major cities right now is a violation of the rights of peace-loving Americans, both those who are legitimately exercising their First Amendment rights to protest, and those who are going about their lives expecting the governmental protection to which the Constitution entitles them.
My doctor isn’t worried about the CCP virus; during my office visit, he referenced a US study in which one COVID patient with mild symptoms had potentially exposed / infected almost five hundred individuals during the two week period before his diagnosis. Health department officials contacted each of those slightly under 500 people and found that none of them tested positive for COVID, leading credence to another theory about the lethality of COVID, namely that the virus, when it is present in an otherwise healthy individual regardless of their age, does not transmit to others, be they healthy or not so healthy.
At Dr. D’s office, we have a case of “the weak,” a normal working class American, being deprived of her right to go to work each day by “the strong,” the petty San Antonio health department officials who have sent out the four and five page letters restricting how private businesses can operate their businesses if the aforementioned businesses have the capital with which to reopen their doors and then to stay open when the amount of business that they can conduct is severely restricted by the same petty bureaucrats who have passed laws stating that any of us so foolish and unenlightened as to utter the words CHINA VIRUS or WUHAN virus are guilty of hate speech and subject to government fines.
Yesterday I saw photos of human beings in NYC being compelled to kneel before criminals terrorizing innocent people, ostensibly in humble contrition to atone for the sin of being white. As all of us are stuck with the color of skin with which God endowed us at birth, I do not believe that God calls any of us to bow before petty tyrants in atonement for sins created by a system over which we have no control. I certainly do not believe that any of the recently departed, including George Floyd, are honored by this practice.
Those of us who have submitted to being locked out of our churches are failing to witness to our belief that God, our creator, calls us both to serve each other and to gather in worship. In our desire not to appear intolerant, we’ve failed to speak up and failed our Savior. Jesus died on the cross so that we could be free, we bow to no one but God. How can we have forgotten that? Yeah, the powerful may have a point, most recently it has been articulated as “if you don’t shutter your business doors and stay home, someone will die.” It’s also true that if I get out in my car on 281 any day or night of the week I might get into a car crash and die. So do we all stop driving and stay off the roads until we’ve developed a vaccine that protects us from fatal car crashes?
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me. Isaiah 6:8 ESV
Todd Beemer heard God’s call and famously said, “Let’s roll!” To my fellow Christians, I’m saying: “Time to open up our churches and bear witness. Jesus didn’t die and rise again in three days for us to sit around cowering in fear. Open up our church doors, ditch the masks and hand sanitizers, put the tables and chairs back in place, we’re being played for fools.