During the past two weeks I have been having a Mark Twain experience.

Punch, Brothers, Punch! describes Mark Twain’s experience of an ear-worm.  In the newspaper he happens to read a jingle –

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

CHORUS

Punch, brothers! punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

He cannot get it out of his head. It tortures him for days.  Freedom comes only when he shares it with a friend, who then infected is also doomed until …

You hear some simple tune, and then you can’t stop it in your head.  Last year visiting Turkey with a group of friends it was the song Istanbul (Not Constantinople).   Andrew Shiels, you know what I mean.

For several days now a sentence scrolls into my consciousness.  Not banal, if anything it’s one that challenges me.

The church is the place where Jesus Christ’s taking form is proclaimed and where it happens.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer ends the second chapter of his Ethics with this statement.  It distills the preceding 26 pages in which Bonhoeffer develops an understanding of the role ethics plays in forming those human beings who follow Jesus Christ.

Several pages earlier he writes –

We can and should speak not about what the good is, can be, or should be for each and every time, but about how Christ may take form among us today and here.

The current top news item bringing anxiety to us this week in the USA deals with a movement of individuals who want to shape the world into their preferred future.

It is because they have lost hope about being able to have a place in this world.  They perceive the present world’s economic, socio-political and technological power out of their hands.  So, they turn to religion.  A religion which will overcome, take over and then form a world to its vision.  Those who oppose are dealt with violently.

It’s not an ear-worm but it does haunt me, Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums. Read it. It comes humming into my memory as I read news of the Western world’s campaign gearing up now in the land of Abraham. Davis’ prophetic analysis of a world of growing disparities seems to form a counterpoint to our growing awareness that all is not well with all.

Just before Bonhoeffer’s statement, that Christ is formed in the church to be proclaimed and found in the church, he gives a disclaimer for the ethics about to be presented. That it “will not develop a program for the formation of the Western world.”

But it will speak of how the form of Christ takes form in this Western world.

Bonhoeffer then explains how this fine distinction must prevent the church from a casuistic or an abstract formation for itself or for a place it has no business telling what its business is:  the world.

As I said, I am still working at grasping the full value of Bonhoeffer’s challenging statement.  And as I know that the claims on the world by a violent movement alarm us in the USA, so too should any claims we may hear about a world claimed as if it were some Christian trophy. Formed by those who make such claims.

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