Bonhoeffer and Bernall Leave Behind a Legacy of Faith

 CassieCasketThere was a senseless and brutal tragedy this past week at the Boston Marathon with a bombing resulting in deaths and serious injuries. For some of us, our analytical minds have tried to go to that dark place where we question why a loving God would allow such evil? Yet, it’s not God’s fault that  people choose destruction. Rather it is up to us as believers to be the light, fragrance, and hope in the midst of human cruelty. 

The Bible tells us that Christians should have “lives [that] are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at [us.]” In other words, there really should be something unique about believers, because “Christ himself wrote [the letter] not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit: not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it” by the way that we live each day. II Cor. 3:2-3 The Message

In April, I always think about two 20th century martyrs who lived with such Christ passion that their legacies continue to preach us lessons. For example, this month we commemorate the selfless sacrifice of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the tragic murder of Columbine victim Cassie Bernall. Both gave their lives in defense of the faith they embraced.

Bonhoeffer was a brilliant young professor, writer, and ordained Lutheran pastor who could have easily ignored the tragic plight of the Jewish race as many of his countrymen did. Instead he passionately fought Hitler’s Nazism within his native Germany. Bonhoeffer himself once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Ultimately, his militant opposition resulted in his being imprisoned by the Gestapo in April of 1943. Two years later, 39-year-old Bonhoeffer was hanged on April 9, 1945 at the Flossenburg concentration camp. It would be naïve to think that Hitler’s reign of terror ended at the close of World War II. There has even been speculation that it was Hitler’s April 20th birthday that might have motivated the Columbine tragedy on the same date 110 years later. Yet we will never know for sure.

One thing I do know is that many of us will always remember the horror of that day at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999. Just like we will never forget this week’s massacre in Boston.  In both cases, television commentators shared the biographies of the victims, which at Columbine included a beautiful blue-eyed blonde teenager named Cassie Bernall. As 17-year-old Cassie was studying Shakespeare in the school library, gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris conducted their bloody rampage leaving 13 dead. Nationwide, it was reported that one of the killers pointed a gun at Cassie and asked her if she believed in God. Cassie answered, “Yes,” knowing it would probably cost her life. In that instant the young man fired and sent Cassie into eternity.cassie-bernall-book

Perhaps, the reason I identified with Cassie most was that like many of us, she had not always believed. Just a few years earlier she dabbled in witchcraft and was obsessed with suicide. Then she had a radical conversion and became a spokesperson for the God she once shunned. According to a statement issued by Cassie’s parents at her funeral, she made her decision despite the consequence. “Her life was rightly centered around our Lord Jesus. It was for her strong faith in God and His promise of eternal life that she made her stand,” said the Bernalls. In a generation where there seem to be no absolutes or firmness of conviction, it inspires me that a teenager was courageous enough to give her life for what she believed.

Cassie Bernall and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have both become legends. For example, shortly after the Columbine tragedy, Cassie was memorialized in t-shirts, books, and songs. “Yes, I believe,” was a slogan that seemed to crop up everywhere. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy lives on within the pages of the books which he authored, and those written about him. Probably, his best known work is The Cost of Discipleship. Others include: Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Letters and Papers from Prison, and Ethics.

As believers, we all need to be reminded of courageous stories like these, which are God’s living letters of faith. After all, living in a society that has grown increasingly intolerant of people of faith often makes it socially and politically advantageous for us to hide our convictions. However, this April remembering the sacrifices of these 20th century martyrs, there seems little eternal advantage to political popularity. Following both Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and Cassie Bernall’s example may God grant every Christian the courage to say, “Yes, I believe, too.”

 Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and evangelistic speaker. This column is an excerpt from a column which originally appeared in the Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

Condolence cards offer comfort a second time

Dayspring Greeting Cards

Dayspring Greeting Cards offer comfort when our own words fail us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A snow day in Ohio, the perfect time to tackle that old tub filled with greeting cards collected over the years. After all, lately words like simplify, downsize, and de-clutter seem to be calling to me in a rather frantic voice. Of course, you can’t keep all the cards you receive. For instance, those wonderful Christmas greetings which arrive each holiday can accumulate quickly. According to the Greeting Card Association website, www.greetingcard.org these seasonal cards are the most popular of all varieties selling about 1.6 billion units annually.

Although, most of the cards in my laundry-basket-sized tub are the kind you can’t throw out or recycle. They are treasures that are forever memories including every birthday and Mother’s Day card my son ever sent me. There are romantic cards, too. Ones my husband gave me when we were dating and Valentine’s Day cards from each year after we married. Except for that first year, before he knew that a woman without a Valentine’s card could be a lethal commodity. But that really is a whole other column.

Information from the GCA website explains, “Women purchase an estimated 80% of all greeting cards…spend more time choosing a card… and are more likely to buy several cards at once.” Cindy Garland, owner of The Ivy Garland, a gift and flower shop located in downtown Sidney, Ohio, agrees that women buy more cards. “Absolutely, in here it is probably 90 percent,” she said. The Ivy Garland has been in business for 13 years, and card sales have remained consistent. “I still sell about the same amount….I sell a lot of humorous cards…,” said the shop’s owner. “I [also] sell a lot of sympathy cards…,” she added.

My late mother was the consummate card sender. My tub is half-filled with notes, postcards, and greeting cards from her. It didn’t take a special occasion. I used to tell her that she had a card ministry, because she always seemed to send a card with encouraging words at just the right time. Serendipity or divine providence, you decide. Yet, I always believed that my mother’s card giving was a special gift from God to this world. From her, I learned how important sending a card for a happy or sad occasion can be. One celebrates life, the other says, “You are not alone in your pain.”

“I think people appreciate the gesture anytime,” said Cindy Garland. The businesswoman says that the significance of a greeting card is, “To let people know you are thinking of them. It’s something that they can touch.” When it comes to expressing condolences, a sympathy card has a special purpose. It’s a time when, “…a lot of people don’t know what to say,” said Garland. Therefore, a card’s message can help people to better express their feelings.

I suppose it was no surprise that when Mom died, those who had garnered a lifetime of cards from her, would send a condolence card in her honor. You see, my prolific card-sending mother mailed out several hundred Christmas cards every year. So you can imagine how many sympathy cards I received. I read each one when they arrived shortly after her sudden death more than two years ago. Some of the cards contained messages that helped me get through those dark days. I planned to look the cards over one last time, and throw most of them away. Truthfully, this task had been too painful to undertake before.

On a snowy March afternoon with a hot cup of coffee and blazing fire, reading these thoughtful cards produced amazement and tears. Without the blur of shock and grief, I could hear the heart of each sender. Especially those who had also lost loved ones, sharing what helped them through, wanting desperately to offer comfort. The first time around, I missed this vital point about condolence cards. We are all so deeply touched by the loss others experience, because we all live through heartbreaking losses of our own.

My advice is that if you have experienced a recent bereavement don’t dispose of those sympathy cards. Save them. Then read them again in a couple of years, when you will be able to appreciate them more. In the end, I put all the cards back into the tub realizing that they were too precious to discard. Each one was a new memory of being comforted a second time by others who had courageously walked their own grief-filled road.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in The Lima News and Sidney Daily News March 2013.