Thursday, February 23, 2012

Divine Judgement

Last night we were discussing perspectives on life and the effectiveness of living wills in the context of the presidential debates. Obviously there is the issue of the civil government’s duty in protecting the life and liberty of all its citizens from the very beginning of life at conception to the end of the days ordained by God. I hadn’t realized there are still more implications up for debate, however. I was pretty sure everyone understood what happened in Nazi Germany was deplorable and they didn’t plan on repeating it anytime soon. How, then, do we find it palatable to discuss someone’s “quality of life” as if we had the right to preserve it or snuff it out? Only God knows the length of a man’s days; in His eyes all life is precious and it is our duty to preserve it to the best of our ability as long as He sustains it.

I was reminded of Sophie Scholl’s words under interrogation:
Interrogator: “Why do you risk so much for false ideas?”
Sophie Scholl: “Because of my conscience.”
Interrogator: “You’re so gifted. Why don’t you think and feel like us? …The New Europe can only be National Socialist… you are confused. You have no idea. The wrong education. Maybe it’s our fault. I’d have raised a girl like you differently.”
Sophie Scholl: “Do you realize how shocked I was to find out that the Nazis used gas and poison to dispose of mentally ill children? My mother’s friends told us. Trucks came to pick up the children at the mental hospital. The other children asked where they were going. “They’re going to heaven,” said the nurses. So the children got on the truck singing. You think I wasn’t raised right because I feel pity for them?”
Interrogator: “These are unworthy lives. You trained to be a nurse. You saw people who were mentally ill.”
Sophie Scholl: “Yes and that’s why I know. No one, regardless of circumstances can pass divine judgment. No one knows what goes on in the minds of the mentally ill. No one knows how much wisdom can come from suffering. Every life is precious.”
Interrogator: “You have to realize that a new age has dawned. What you’re saying has nothing to do with reality.”
Sophie Scholl: “Of course it has to do with reality. With decency, morals and God.”
Interrogator: “God doesn’t exist! Here. For the record I ask you: ‘Following our talks, have you come to the conclusion that your action together with your brother, can be seen as a crime against society and in particular against our hard-fighting troops and that it must be harshly condemned?’”(1)
Sophie Scholl: “No, not from my point of view. I still believe I acted in the best interests of my people. I don’t regret it and I’ll accept the consequences.”(2)

Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst

Sophie was part of a non-violent anti-Nazi resistance movement in 1943, called the White Rose. Sophie (21 years old), her brother Hans, and their friend Mr. Probst were arrested, interrogated for four days, sentenced to death and then executed on February 22 of that year for publishing anti-Hitler propaganda and speaking against the socialist regime.
Sophie’s testimony is incredibly impactful. I often ask myself what I would have said had I been in her position. Her answers during her interrogation passionately and coherently defend her position so that even the interrogator was sympathetic and frustrated by turns.
The following quotes are copied from her letters and journal and perhaps give us a glimpse into how she thought:
“Just because so many things are in conflict does not mean that we ourselves should be divided. Yet time and time again one hears it said that since we have been put into a conflicting world, we have to adapt to it. Oddly, this completely unchristian idea is most often espoused by so-called Christians, of all people. How can we expect a righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up undividedly to a righteous cause?....(3)
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don't want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won't take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don't like to make waves — or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, die small. It's the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you'll keep it under control. If you don't make any noise, the bogeyman won't find you. But it's all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn…(4)
“I shall cling to the rope God has thrown me in Jesus Christ, even if my numb hands can no longer feel it.”(5)

I pray we all have the courage and knowledge to always speak for what is right, especially now since it won’t currently cost us death by guillotine. “Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.” (Proverbs 20:15) Else Gebel shared Sophie Scholl's cell and recorded her last words before being taken away to be executed: "It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted."(6)  Her mother was able to see her for a brief moment before she was taken away, just long enough to say, “Don't forget, Sophie. Jesus.” And Sophie replied, “Yes, mother, but you neither.”(7) Let us not forget Sophie’s sacrifice and neglect the freedom and truth she died for. But more importantly, let us live for Him, Jesus, seeking first His kingdom and righteousness, honor and glory in standing up for those precious lives who bear His image and breathe His breath of life, for “of such is the kingdom of Heaven”.

1.       Transcribed from the film: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, sources for film derived from official records, the interrogator’s son’s account of his father, other interrogates and in At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl (1987) edited by Inge Jens, translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn.
2.       Response to the closing question in the official examination transcripts (February 1943); Bundesarchiv Berlin,ZC 13267, Bd. 3
3.       As quoted in Seeking Peace : Notes and Conversations Along the Way (1998) by Johann Christoph Arnold, p. 155
4.       As quoted in O2  : Breathing New Life Into Faith (2008) by Richard Dahlstrom, Ch. 4 : Artisans of Hope: Stepping into God's Kingdom Story, p. 63
5.       As quoted in At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl (1987) edited by Inge Jens, translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn; also in Voices of the Holocaust : Resistors, Liberation, Understanding (1997) by Lorie Jenkins McElroy
6.       Spartacus Educational, Else Gebel shared Sophie Scholl's cell and recorded her last words before being taken away to be executed.
7.    Transcribed from the film: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Monday, February 20, 2012

Journaling...Miss Sarah Morgan

Sarah Morgan (later Mrs. Sarah Dawson) was 19 years of age when The War Between the States broke out.  Her war-time journaling lucidly portrays the thoughts and experiences of an well-educated, middle-class lady with a Christian heritage caught up in the whirlwind of social, political, familial and moral dilemmas of her times.  With sharp wit and noble (though sometimes confused) ideals she summarily lays to rest some of the Scarlet O'Hara libels stamped upon southern women and frequently unconsciously demonstrates the sturdiness of character with which so many of her peers were blessed through courageous endurance of the most terrible privations.
Journaling is maligned by modern-day stereotypes.  The lugubrious whining and trite tittle-tattle so often associated with that familiar "Dear Diary" has cheapened the real value of recording daily life.  Faux metallic locks and keys on pink, be-dazzled volumes teach us the acceptable perspective on "my diary": a preoccupation with me-ism, self-service and a good excuse to "privately" exude the trash of others and the malicious and spiteful contents of one's own heart on a page and sell it to ourselves as a literary work.  Online social circles facilitate the condensing of real incidents into one-phrase nothings and the draining of the life-blood of true self-examination and coherent thought from the facts. A general carelessness for meaningful perspective on the every-day work of living yields a wide-spread lack of confidence in commenting intelligently on any topic.
Whether we don't know how to begin communicating, don't wish to associate with the stereotype, are afraid to keep a record of our failings along with our triumphs, or simply don't take the time, most of us have lost the art of journaling.
No diarist can be perfect, so excuses of imperfection simply won't suffice.  (Take Bach's word for it!)  Were we to regain heretofore cultivated habits of reflection and communication, they would, in and of themselves, serve little purpose.  However, commingled with a powerful conviction of the sovereign nature of God's hand in history, they comprise the skills necessary to recognize and record His handiwork in our personal and social lives. 
Miss Morgan was gifted with the courage and foresight to pass down a record of the work of God in her times along with her fears and human frailty. The weaknesses that likely inspired caricatures like Scarlet O'Hara are undisguised, and the lack of real personal and Christian conviction in some areas renders her perspective less noble and her tongue unbecomingly sharp.  In spite of this, her diary stands as a testament to what remained of Christian womanhood in her times, a warning to society and a challenge to the individual.  The invaluable heritage we receive from her generation is our own to give to the coming generations, if we are her daughters in this respect and do likewise.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


A facsimile of the autograph manuscript of the Allemanda from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo Violin is a visual work of art in itself, let alone a musical masterpiece. When considering the magnitude and prolific nature of Bach's work, we are often made to wonder at the obvious genius and come away with that wry understanding of our own deficiencies...the self-depricating smirk that accompanies a comment such as "I could never do that." 
Bach once said "Ich habe fleissig sein mussen: wer es gleichfalls ist, wird eben so weit kommen" - 
"I was obliged to be industrious; whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well."
How often we would attribute mediocrity and indifferent success to inability rather than lack of diligence.

Monday, February 6, 2012

On Ladies of Leisure

A Southern Lady writes on the character of some of her peers

“I see so many dear, sweet little women in the world, who slept their early youth away and eat [sic] sugar plums; who passed through the ordeal of boarding schools, certainly no wiser, perhaps worse than when they entered; who spent the days of their girlhood as they did their money - on useless objects, taking no account of either - who had had fortunes spent on their education, and were yet in the most heavenly state of ignorance, with out on developed talent or idea except that of dancing la valse a` deux temps; women who lounge through life, between the sofa and rocking chair with dear little dimpled hands that are never raised except to brush away a fly, who never think of touching anything more solid than a yellow covered novel - many such I see, who are loved and adored by the world, much more than I, who so unworthily judge them; for who on earth, except those at home, and my few friends, ever cared for me?”
“...Leave it to my own doom to decide what becomes of souls who neither do their duty to God, nor serve man on earth!
“...Ah! Who is perfect on earth? Not I, certainly!  But if God would only look in my heart and make and pronounce it good and pure, what would I care what Man thinks of me then?  I can dispense with the love of the world so long as I have our home hearts around me; but if I pleased God in all things, I wonder if the world would love me too?  Can anyone please both Him and man?”
~ Sarah Morgan - from The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman

Saturday, February 4, 2012


"I make up my mind to be very good an amiable, and the next minute let anyone, big or little, child or servant say any thing crass or disagreeable, and my spirits ooze out, until my only safety lies in flight, and if I want to regain my equanimity of temper I have to run away and sing Dixie, or Keep your Ark a-moving, before I make another sortie...
"...considering how much the happiness of those around us depends on our loving words, and kind feelings towards them, how whole days may be made miserable by one cross word or thoughtless deed, how a dozen merry faces can be clouded by one ill tempered or anger one - considering how we are responsible to God for every evil influence which may cause other to sin, cultivate amiability, Sarah, as you would the rarest talent bestowed on you prize it above all things...
"If ill humor must have a vent, make faces at your looking glass; but when you enter the family circle, do as our dear father did; throw all care and annoyance to the winds, have a pleasant word for all, for you enter the Holy of Holies - Home - the least and lowest can add a new pleasure, or a new disturbance, the duty of contributing to the common happiness is encumbent on all. Let the home circle be the place for the exchange of pleasant thoughts, let all disagreeable ones be put away.  Ours was a happy home; father’s example should influence his children.  O Sarah my dear! if you are ever inflicted with a large and interesting family - which Kind Heaven forbid! - teach them to cultivate amiability as the only safeguard of happiness.  Teach it, preach it, incessantly.  Yes! and by the time my “interesting family” is brought up in the way it should go, I will not have the amiability enough myself to make a respectable appearance! So much for theory without practice!"
~Sarah Morgan - from The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman