Notes from Jan


February 5, 2022

Easier written than done, this truth-telling. Yesterday marked the birthday in 1906 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, author and Lutheran pastor. He was also a 20th century Christian martyr. Why? He told the truth about Hitler and Nazism.

So, I wonder, how truthful am I? And, how willing am I to hear the truth when spoken about me or my ideas? Well, to be honest, which is the subject, after all, I’m too soft. Which a catalog in today’s mail reminded me.

For two days, I stayed inside. Today I bundled up, braced myself to face chilling winds, chip away at the ice shield covering my car and retrieve three days of mail. Among the mail, a catalog: Soft Surroundings. Now, I’ve not bought anything from that women’s apparel store in years but they’re slow to give-up. And, I must admit, I’m drawn to the idea of soft surroundings. Which, being 70% Norwegian, is shameful to admit. They’re tough. Some would say thick, as in thick-headed. “Tick.”

Well, where am I going with this? Back to the hard truth. Truth is tough, not soft. I really wanted to shift to politics but that would be easier than taking a hard look at The Church in the USA and at myself. So,if you’re running low on truth-tellers, I recommend these three to you.

1.Philip Yancey in his recent memoir, Where the Light Fell. A book, a mirror, a serious diagnosis accompanied by healing doses of Grace and Hope.

2.David Brooks in his opinion piece in the NYTimes 2/4/2022: “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism from Itself.”

3.Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s example of courageous faith to speak truth about Hitler and Nazism. For such he was taken from prison in 1946, where he’d just finished leading Sunday service, and hanged. As he walked to his death, he said to those still in prison, “This is the end but for me, the beginning of life.”

As I reflect on these past few years in politics and the pandemic, I lament the loss of who I thought we were, as followers of Christ. The Church, too often, confused many and contributed to the division we’re still experiencing. But not through courageous truth-telling. I lament my own preference for soft surroundings. Bonhoeffer said, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” But how and when to speak? As Anne Lamott wrote,” You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it, too.”

In David Brooks’ article, he concludes with a quote from Karen Swallow Prior, “Millions are looking for something else, some system of belief that is communal, that gives life transcendent meaning.” To which David added, “Christianity is a potential answer for that search, and therein lies its hope, and the great possibility of renewing its call.”

And Philip Yancey’s book delivers a probing look into faith, family and the power of words. I remain sorrowful over the sins we commit against each other in the name of God. But mostly, with an overwhelming sense of God’s far-reaching Grace in Philip’s life and mine. Nobody loves us like God does. And God who knows better, still opts for Grace.

All three, in the end, left me with HOPE about what’s possible when we dare to look truth in the face and open ourselves to change and challenge the Church to become something radically new. As new as the New Testament view of how it looked to follow Jesus.

So, now what? For me, it’s a daily decision to follow Jesus. And affirm through my choices, as Philip reminded me,

“I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold, I’d rather be His than have riches untold…

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause, I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;”

But it’s tempting to do otherwise than say, “I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame, I’d rather be true to His holy name.”

It’s hard to resist: riches, applause, and world-wide fame.

So why do it?

To be true, faithful to Jesus and a cause bigger than ourselves. Like truth-telling. Simple’s not easy.

So thank you, Dietrich, David and Philip. Thanks to you, too, Anne, for your language too fresh and radical for some. You, like Philip, nudge me to look again, listen longer, resist stale words.

And now, in conclusion. Are those not four of the best words in the English language for a sermon or blog that’s gone past its point?!

I heard that, “Amen!

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  • Reply Mark Taylor February 5, 2022 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks, Jan. One tiny correction, if I may. Bonhoeffer was executed in 1945, not 1946. And his execution was just one month before V-E Day.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 7, 2022 at 11:35 am

      Thank you, for setting the record straight, dear Mark. I need an editor!! Are you available? I remain grateful to and for you, Carol and your family. Loved getting a Christmas update from Josh and Margaret and their growing family. JOY multiplied.

  • Reply Dale February 5, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    Just read it: David Brooks in his opinion piece in the NYTimes 2/4/2022: “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism from Itself.” I am pleased to acknowledge this but now you know I read the NYT. 🙂 Actually, I read the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, too. This does not mean I am well-informed but it does mean I seldom am surprised. It ‘s been said for years, “the last obstacle between Jesus and His people is the church (or any Christian institution).

    Blessings, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 7, 2022 at 11:46 am

      Well, I never doubted you were well-read, nor wise, brother Dale. Add to that your Mennonite background and I’ve a lot to learn from you. As to the state of The Church in our country…all is far from well. We’re studying the book of Job in Community Bible Study. As I read the “comfort” and “accusations” from Job’s friends, I thought about The Church. Too often, we’re better at tossing grenades than extending Grace. His “friends” were at their best when they just sat beside him in silence.

  • Reply Susan February 5, 2022 at 8:21 pm

    Well said. I loved the Brooks’ column and I love Anne Lamott! We’re in total agreement

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 7, 2022 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks, dear Susan. It’s always good to hear from you in chilly North Carolina. But come Spring, you’ll be at your finest and we’ll still be stuck in winter. In the meantime, may our language and actions be full of the Grace we’ve received.

  • Reply Alyssa February 5, 2022 at 9:02 pm

    Simple is not easy- powerful.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 7, 2022 at 12:16 pm

      True, dear Alyssa. Hope you and Andrew are thriving in Utah. As for Norwegians, you know they’re not into “soft surroundings.” But, ones I knew were better at keeping things simple. So much in our culture wars against simplicity. I’m reminded of the admonition in the Bible…to let our answers be a simple “yes'”or “no.” “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong.”(Matthew 5: 37, NLT) Too many words flying around these days. Less is more but simple’s not easy.

  • Reply Alice Mathews February 6, 2022 at 5:24 am

    BINGO, Jan. Or is that secular response inappropriate to your vision? Thanks for bringing together David Brooks,, Deitrich Bonhoffer, and Philip Yancey. I had just finished reading Where the Light Fell and was chewing on it when I read your post at 4 a.m. this morning. (What is this old lady doing up at 4 a.m.? Anyone this age understands perfectly that days and nights have a lot more flex that folks on work schedules can tolerate.0 Also at 4 a.m. I can’t see what I’m writing very clearly, so please overlook all rypos. Just know that I’m in your corner, asking some of the same questions….

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 7, 2022 at 12:33 pm

      Great to hear from you, dear Alice. Hope you and Randy are doing well. I laughed at your BINGO! The three men and Anne Lamott, I mention in the blog, give us much to “chew on.” The Church in the USA has opted for “soft surroundings”, too lured by the applause, fame and riches rather than the hard truth of what it means to follow Jesus. When I grow too harsh in my view of The Church and some “evangelicals” I’m reminded of G.K Chesterton, responding to the question,”What’s wrong with the world?”, responded, “I am.” And, when I look into my words and actions or lack thereof, I have to respond to, “What wrong with the Church?” with a simple “I am.” Ugh! I don’t like mirrors.

  • Reply Marcia Lier February 6, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    Thank you for your voice, dear Jan. Its like you are standing on your porch, calling into the raging storm. In spite of the noise, we hear you. You are spreading HOPE. I will definitely look up Phil Yancey’s book. I have only recently gotten to know him. I found two of his books last Fall at the Salvation Army–$1 each–so in the cart they went. I brought them home and showed off my bargain to my husband. He said, “Oh, I just recently gave those to the Salvation Army”. So much for down sizing. But his The Jesus I Never Knew could have been written recently. Such wisdom!! Having prophets around these days does give me hope and thank you for being their catalyst. CARRY ON!! PS: We are watching the story of the Norwegian royal family during the Second World War on Masterpiece Theatre. Enjoying it a lot.

  • Reply Jan Carlberg February 7, 2022 at 12:49 pm

    How fun to see your name pop up, Marcia. I miss seeing you at church. As to the Masterpiece series, “Atlantic Crossing”, it was so very good. I love Masterpiece Theatre. The series “All Creatures Great and Small” is stunning in its visuals, with compelling characters and dialogue. I laughed at your Salvation Army “bargains.” Back to Philip’s newest book. His memoir lets you inside him, the family, society, the Church. As such I had a sense of what drew him to write on some compelling and controversial topics. Titles like: Disappointment with God, What’s So Amazing about Grace, Where is God When it Hurts and so many more. On the book jacket of his memoir, Where the Light Fell, Anne Lamott wrote, “Philip Yancey is not just one of my favorite Christian writers, but one of my favorite writers, period. He is fearless in addressing the toughest questions and hardest times, the crucifixions we will all know during this life, the hope and shapes and colors of resurrection.” Easter’s coming, but first comes Lent. The Church and we, the people of the pews, need Lent. A season to lament.

  • Reply Maggie Rowe February 7, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you, Dietrich, David, Philip, Anne, and JAN! Truth-Speakers all. And I have just learned that it’s best to wait a day or two before commenting so that I can read others’ comments and your thoughtful responses, too. (My friend and former “boss”, Mark Taylor, is apparently a Jan Fan too!) I pray for Mark and his family daily.

    So appreciate your posts, and I know all who read them will say AMEN to that.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 7, 2022 at 5:29 pm

      Wow! Well, you had a great “boss” in Mark and I’m grateful to have him as my friendly editor. As for you, dear Norwegian Maggie, I’ve cheered you on even before you waddled onto the platform of a women’s event to portray a very pregnant Mary, aching back and soon to be known as the Mother of Jesus. You’re a good woman, writer, blogger and friend to thousands. Count me among the cheering crowd. I look forward to the upcoming release of your second book: Life is Sweet, Y’all.

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