If you are listening to this the day it goes up, yesterday was an election day. I recorded this episode a while ago, so I don’t actually know specifically what went down. But I don’t need to see the results to know that a lot of people are really disappointed today. I don’t need to look at the election returns to know that a lot of other people are feeling really relieved today. I’m sure some of you are fighting off depression. And I’m aware that some of you are probably glowing today.
So, to fans of “candidate who lost” I just want to say that I’m so sorry. But I’m sure “political party who lost” will do better next time. And for fans of “candidate who won”, remember to be nice to the other side. Don’t gloat. I’m sure you remember what it feels like to be in their shoes. After all, you’ll be on the losing side once again sooner or later.
And to all of us, at least those Christians among us, I kind of think that we should take all this a little less seriously. I know there is real stuff at stake in these elections, and I know some of you are convinced that your side is right and the other side is wrong. But today on Three Dimensional Theology I want to invite you to pause, put the cork back in that bottle of champagne, and/or step away from that ledge. Democracy is great, but don’t forget that you are the citizen of a Kingdom that is much greater. Stay with us!
The Reformation era - the sixteenth century - was not a flattering time for Christians. Protestants killing Catholics. Catholics killing Protestants. Catholics accusing Protestants of being heretics and apostates. Protestants claiming that the pope is the Antichrist. On all sides we said some pretty unflattering things. And we did some even worse things.
But there was one thing that Catholics and Protestants could both agree on. There was one activity that brought both sides together. One thing that most everyone thought was a really good idea. One thing that Catholics and Protestants might stop killing each other to participate in. And that, of course, was killing Anabaptists.
The Anabaptists were a relatively small and diverse group of Christians, mostly in Switzerland, Germany and the Low Countries. Most of them rejected violence as incompatible with faith in Jesus - so they weren’t killing anyone. And they thought that politics was a corrupting influence on the church. They also didn’t practice infant baptism, which is where they got the name “anabaptist”.
There’s this one famous story about an Anabaptist who lived in the Netherlands named Dirk Willems. He was arrested by the local magistrate for his Anabaptist convictions, and they locked him up in a castle. But one cold, winter day he escaped and fled! He ran across the castle’s frozen moat. He ran through frozen fields and forests. And he ran across a frozen pond. But a guard who was chasing him wasn’t so lucky. This guard probably weighed a little more than Willems. The guard had probably been eating a little better than Willems. And so he fell through the ice and thrashed about in the frigid water below, crying for help.
But then two really remarkable things happened. First, Dirk Willems turned back around and helped the guard, saving his life. Second, his pursuers arrested him anyways, and a short time later burned him at the stake.
The most natural thing for us to ask is: What on earth was Dirk Willems thinking? He had to know that if he saved that guard’s life it would cost him his. What would cause someone to act so irrationally? Why would someone have such a profound disregard for their own self-interest?
The answer comes from a cool sounding German word that was a prized Anabaptist virtue: Gelassenheit. In addition to being really fun to say, Gelassenheit is a kind of letting go, a sort of cool detachment to one’s life. It’s the state of mind that Jesus had at the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed, “Not my will, o Lord, but yours be done.” It’s about yielding your life and your will and your desires completely to God. Gelassenheit is about taking up your cross and following Jesus. Dirk Willems was full of Gelassenheit.
The most natural thing to ask is what was Dirk thinking. But there’s another question that needs to be asked: What on earth were his captors thinking? These were Christians, after all. How does someone who identifies as a Jesus-follower witness Dirk’s act of selfless love and then proceed to tie him up and light a match? How does that make sense? How can people be so blinded by their deeply held convictions that they fail to realize that they are playing the part of the Roman soldiers as they crucify someone who looks an awful lot like Christ?
One really cool thing about living in the United States in the twenty first century, is that we don’t burn people at the stake anymore. But we are still pretty divided. There is conflict in the air. And it can get brutal. According to one recent study, Americans value political party affiliation over basically all other affiliations, including race, ethnicity, language, and, yes, even religion.
I’m disappointed by this. I’m especially disappointed by the implication that many Christ followers apparently think of themselves as Republicans or Democrats more than they think of themselves as Christ followers. I’m disappointed, I should say - but I’m not surprised.
I don’t agree with everything the Anabaptists stood for, but I can’t help thinking they were the closest thing the sixteenth century had to real Christianity. And I think it is because they took God’s kingdom more seriously than their lives. In other words, they had Gelassenheit.
Where are the real Christians today? Where are the ones who take their identity as God’s adopted children more seriously than their vote? Where are the people who put love for people above love for party and platform? Where are the people who have more faith in Jesus than policy and politics? If you find them, send them my way.