Leadership

“Where books are burned, they will, in the end, burn people, too.”

Heinrich Heine

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I write this in reflection of what we have been witnesses to, in the past two years. I won’t pretend to be some brave crusader, as I recognize in retrospect that in important moments, my dissent was a private one. I will also say that since the confusing inception of all of this, I have also been vocal and had unpleasant, yet respectful conversations with leaders in ministry and the public space. Sometimes, it takes us a minute to find our bearings, though I will say that unfortunately, there is often not a moment to spare.

It is common, nowadays, to hear people ask that we not compare what is happening now to past moments in history. There is a real fear in looking back. It’s even scarier to see we are in the same place and/or headed in the same regressing direction. The easiest way to have history repeat itself is to cast history as a forgettable haze where people’s actions are passé, and to embrace the lie that we are presently incapable of those actions. I disagree that we are incapable of them, however. To think we are incapable of such actions ignores our very human nature and is unbiblical.

I won’t be debating numbers here. That is not the point of this message. Nor is this reflection dedicated solely to my own country of the United States, but I find it to be applicable worldwide.

We find ourselves in a strange place. I was listening to an Austrian church leader, the other day, asking earnestly for prayers from around the globe. Prayers for deliverance. Given heavy censorship on the platforms we once used as mainstream, we are blinded to the plight of our brothers and sisters around the world. Many think that today’s issues and information are restricted to whatever is coming from a governmental source, with a celebrity thrown in.

I wrote about a lecture I heard from Eric Metaxas, not long ago. It sort of found me on an anxious night. His Bonhoeffer book stayed on my mind, and as I read it, it has amazed me. I won’t be delving into the Holocaust. Instead, I wanted to just focus on the initial governmental shifts in socialist Germany and Bonhoeffer’s profound thoughts on leadership and the role of the church in relation to the state. That’s it. I want us to revisit the past, and I hope you reflect on what is actually happening around the world in relation to this. And I ask that you really look closely at what is happening, notice I did not say to look at what you are being shown.

Authority

One of the first things Metaxas tackles in this portion of the book are Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on authority. One of the most critical pieces of this is context. The German people had undergone a war (WWI) and severe penalities from the rest of Europe that left the country economically destroyed and demoralized. Any average student of history knows this. The Germans were frustrated with their current state of government and wanted structure. This goes to show that when you are scapegoated or made to suffer, how you react can change everything.

“So the German people clamored for order and leadership. But it was as though in the babble of their clamoring, they had summoned the devil himself, for there now rose up from the deep wound in the national psyche something strange and terrible and compelling.”

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer

Who we summon and permit in leadership has its consequences. Bonhoeffer wrote: “Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him…” Bonhoeffer wrote and spoke at length about discerning leadership character. Metaxas wrote: “According to Bonhoeffer, the God of the Bible stood behind true authority and benevolent leadership, but opposed the Fuhrer Principle and its advocate Adolf Hitler.”

I found interesting how Metaxas points out that evil leadership doesn’t necessarily denounce God. He points out that Hitler never denounced God. Hitler ridiculed Christianity, but he played off of the churchgoers who weren’t secure in their principles and values. Hitler knew “churchgoers in Germany who had some vague idea that real authority should come from their God, but unlike Bonhoeffer, they had no idea what this actually meant.”

This brings us to an important point of discernment. I find that the church is always quick to embark on the easy path of least resistance that leads to its own destruction. It loves to misconstrue Romans 13 on submission to governmental authorities, and if we look at history, whether it be in Nazi Germany or the United State’s own history of discrimination and segregation, the church was always wrong (with the exception of the churches who heeded the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr.). Romans 13 does not call us into submission to a leadership that gives, as Metaxas writes, “lipservice” to God while rejecting His very authority and character. And when we don’t understand what real authority and leadership looks like, we find ourselves hurting our fellow brother.

What does a Godly leader look like, practically speaking? Godly leadership was defined by Bonhoeffer in the following ways:

“He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those whom he leads… He serves the order of the state, of the community, and his service can be of incomparable value. But only so long as he keeps strictly to his place… [H]e has to lead the individual into his own maturity. He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A leader is humble, doesn’t elevate himself or make himself the “ultimate authority.” My favorite part is he leads others to mature. True leaders don’t keep people controlled, manipulated or insecure. They inspire others to become leaders themselves.

Bonhoeffer issued this warning to the church as it weighed what the Germans called “the Jewish question”:

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority… we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Time

Something that led to the downward spiral of Germany was the wait. A re-emerging theme is the constant notion that people didn’t expect how quickly things would deteriorate.

“It was all a terrible nightmare that, come morning, would disappear. But morning never seemed to come,” Metaxas wrote.

Censorship

“Within days the Nazi storm troopers were in the streets, arresting and beating their political opponents, many of whom were imprisoned, tortured and killed. The ability to speak against them in the press was gagged; the ability to assemble publicly against them was illegal.”

Eric Metaxas

We only need to look around the world to see how countries are treating dissenters. Look at Australia, Europe as a whole, look at the United States and how it has blacklisted and reputationally destroyed scientists and other dissenters. Look at social media, right in our very palm, and how people are banned from posting or accounts being taken down without warning. Look at people who surprise their network hosts with logical discourses and are cut off mid-sentence from the broadcast. Do we really need to look too far for censorship and all that it can bring? The fact that Europe wants to suspend the Nuremberg Code, put in place to prevent another genocide. Some countries thinking about banning public assembly. Old literature that seems to be on no shelves these days. I’m being direct here because I don’t understand how long or what it will take for us to realize what censorship unravels.

Power Against Power

Another element we see in Germany that was interesting is the concept that freedom can allow people to destroy freedom. Democracy can be used to end democracy. Metaxas writes of the German government that, “like a snake swallowing its own tail, the Reichstag passed the law that abolished its existence. With the tools of democracy, democracy was murdered and lawlessness made ‘legal.’

Legality is not morality. Plenty of atrocious things have been made legal. The only thing that stands on its own legs are the principles we find in the Bible that reflect God’s character. We cannot shield ourselves using legality (and I am an attorney who has a great respect for the rule of law). We currently await court cases and determinations to see if certain governmental actions will be upheld as “legal,” but the truth is that if a political court decides to uphold something on the basis of politics rather than truth and merits, that doesn’t just make it right. Just because Australians find it legal to put their indigenous people in camps, that doesn’t make it right. Just because Austria decided that an individual’s body belongs to the state, that doesn’t make it right.

And we see that in the world we learn nothing. Nothing at all. In the United States, many cities have enacted a two tier citizenry based on the desire to punish noncompliant residents and visitors; this isn’t tied to science, as one can clearly see in the data regarding transmission and infection. And yet, they are proud of it. This is good. This, they argue, is legal.

Segregation and Obedience

A common slogan in Nazi Germany’s beginning was: “Germans, protect yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews!”

Jews were seen as “other,” carriers of disease and malicious manipulators. All political woes were attributed to them. Signs were posted on their business doors. They were ousted from public positions and fired from employment.

Where have we seen signs in windows of businesses? People not permitted to enter or buy? People being fired? People banned from churches based on being othered? One would think that we in the states learned that “separate but equal” didn’t work.

The discrimination in Germany came about through the Aryan Paragraph, which was there to make sure government employees were of “Aryan stock.”

A quote from the book held my attention: “‘Leibholtz must not lecture, he is a Jew. The lectures are not taking place.’ Obediently the students went home.”

So much of this spiraled out of control due to the obedience of the general population.

“Jews were banned from all cultural and entertainment activities, including the worlds of film, theater, literature and the arts. In October, all newspapers were placed under Nazi control, expelling Jews from the world of journalism,” Metaxas wrote. NYC, along with many other cities and countries at this point, seemed to have ripped this straight out of the playbook.

Sadly, the church, just as many today, has decided to submit to this and also embrace it. We saw it in the past with racially segregated churches (there are still some that remain). Now, we see churches segregated based on vaccination status (I am not kidding). People are not allowed to enter. In fact, just as state and church decided to hold hands in the past, we see it today based on funding. Church and religious hospital networks firing people they worked to the bone during the height of the pandemic, all for what? To complain about staffing shortages later? Churches receiving money “incentives” from states and cities based on how many in their parish receive a medical intervention; the list can go on.

“It is high time we broke with our theologically based restraint toward the state’s actions–which after all, is only fear. ‘Speak out for those who cannot speak.’ Who in the church today realizes that this is the very least that the Bible requires of us?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Role of the Church

“Here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God; here is the proof of whether a church is still the church or not.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As in many times in history, the church has a role to play, and we are the church. Had the church stood up against the Nazis, history would have been different. But it required a citizenry who knew what it stood for and could stand up against power rather than blindly seeking power.

I would dare say that the same Bonhoeffer words apply to us today. If two different people can stand side-by-side in unity, that is what shows us whether the church is really a church or whether it is simply a sector of the state playing Christian.

Bonhoeffer thought a lot about the role of the church in Germany’s impending crisis, and I dare say this role applies to the church in any point of the world’s history. He narrowed it down to three points:

First, the church was to evaluate the state’s creation of law and order. it must “question the state regarding its actions and their legitimacy.” (Metaxas) “If the state is creating an atmosphere of ‘excessive law and order,’ it is the church’s job to draw the state’s attention” to it. The church should weigh this by seeing if the state’s rules deprive “Christian preaching and Christian faith… of their rights.” Id.

“[The church] must reject this encroachment of the order of the state precisely because of its better knowledge of the state and the limitations of its action. The state which endangers the Christian proclamation negates itself.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Second, the church was “to aid the victims of state action.”

“[The church] has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society… even if they do not belong to the Christian community.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Metaxas points out that Bonhoeffer often quoted Galatians, often saying, “Do good to all men.”

Third, the church was “not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.” In other words, the church is not only to help victims suffering the repercussions of current irresponsible and damaging leadership, but it was to find a way to stop more suffering from happening, from the source.

“It is sometimes not enough to help those crushed by the evil actions of the state; at some point the church must directly take action against the state to stop it from perpetuating evil.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Altar

“The church has only one altar, the altar of the Almighty… before which all creatures must kneel… Whoever seeks something other than this must keep away; he cannot join us in the house of God… The church has only one pulpit, and from that pulipit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will than the will of God, however well intentioned.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Finally, Bonhoeffer warned the church of idolatry; idolatry to the state and its leaders. Metaxas writes that it was clear that “Hitler had stepped onto the altar,” in the German church at the time. Which made me think about us as a global church. Who has stepped on our altar? It may be someone different for different people. The only way we will live this life right is if we clear the altar and make sure only God is found there. No other person, no other faith, no other will, “however well intentioned.”

We have a lot to do, and the time is now. In the words of Bonhoeffer, “What are we waiting for? The time is late.”

Suffering

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I have so been enjoying the book Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. I was deeply interested in Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about the churches he encountered while in the United States and more specifically, New York.

He found much of the messaging and preaching shallow. He found a lack of focus on Christ, but interestingly, his experience while visiting a church in Harlem was different to that which he found at the Union Seminary.

The African American community deeply impacted Bonhoeffer’s view of what the church’s mission was– to stand with the suffering.

He wrote that “The only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering.”

I don’t think much has changed today. We find a frivolity and complacency in attitude and in deed when we carry our faith from our comfortable social settings. We relate to our faith almost strictly intellectually, denying it its power. But suffering– suffering brings about an incredible gift. It draws us near to God in the deepest of ways, and mysteriously, we find the greatest power in our hour of greatest pain. In our distress, God’s promise is made true, “His strength is made perfect in our weakness.” His grace is sufficient for you and me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Inspired to Be Original

Image via LA Mag

By: Gabriela Yareliz

As I read the homages in the passing of Joan Didion, I see a lot of people noting that they wanted to write like her and be like her. One writer wrote that “What Would Didion Do?” was a guiding principle of her life. What I find so interesting about certain figures in history is that I feel that they call us to something different. Not to be like them but to be entirely ourselves and to own who we are and how we see the world. They give us the space to be originals rather than copies.

I think that more than praise, great artists wanted us to learn how to bare our souls. They sought to teach us vulnerability rather than technique— honesty rather than conformity.

King

By: Gabriela Yareliz

This Christmas season, if there is anything that stood out to me the most from the familiar Christmas story it was its humility. The bleak circumstance of it all. How the God of the universe’s arrival frustrated every expectation. His parents filled with the same anxieties that overwhelm us, at times. The inn was full and stuff was not exactly ideal, and yet it was as it needed to be. I am amazed at His earthly parents’ humility in accepting the responsibility of God’s favor, and God’s humility that was laced with His incomprehensible love toward us.

I am amazed at the humility of those who saw the star in the sky and received messages from angels. The common thread in this story is it is full of people who were sincere and humble people, searching for and treasuring truth. People who were willing to set aside expectations to be guided. People willing to be surprised. They united humility and belief and saw God’s face.

Those who were stuck in their own expectations missed the signs all around.

Don’t miss the signs. Don’t miss Him.

In contrast with all the humility is the word ‘king.’ A King was born to us on that day. The only true King to walk this earth. Its Creator incarnate.

Everything about Him surprises us. It still does. We still end up in the inn stable. He transforms all things and people. His light, like the star, draws us. The darkness has not overcome the light, and it never will. (John 1:5)

He is flesh. He is King. He is Savior. He is with us.

His reward is still the same for the humble and seeking— they will see His face.

Joan Didion

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want, and what I fear.”

Joan Didion

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Many of us who love reading and writing mourn a legendary writer, Joan Didion. I’ve seen so many people reflecting on: her essays about grief and Hollywood, her unique and petite coolness (it’s almost like the Olsen twins modeled themselves after her), her love for coca cola and cigarettes (Olsen twins, right?), her passion and exortation to not just suffer through life but to live it (and claim it hard), the fact that as any good writer would– she left us with more questions than answers, despite what they teach us in journalism school.

Those of us who have read her have traveled with her, and as good writing tends to do, she stuck with us and traveled with us.

“People with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called *character,* a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to the other, more instantly negotiable virtues…. character–the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life–is the source from which self-respect springs.”

Joan Didion

She left us with feelings, with nuance, with complexity, with a world of observations and the desire to uncover the hidden meanings that aren’t readily spotted on the surface. She left us with the gift of her words; the world through her eyes.

“I’m not optimistic, darling, but I’m hopeful. There’s a difference. I’m hopeful.”

Joan Didion

December 2021 Quotes

By: Gabriela Yareliz

These are some of the quotes that have been spinning through my mind, these days:

One

We have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said. These days, I wonder what that looks like and what that would mean exactly. I am currently reading Eric Metaxas’ book on Bonhoeffer, someone who pushed at the lines and limits of everything that was held to be correct and moral according to the ethics and political delusion of his time and was godly despite his law breaking. As things get weirder and more absurd, at the risk of sounding like Carrie Bradshaw, I can’t help but wonder… what it is that is required of us. As most everything in life, there is no set recipe or set of instructions, just guiding principles and a daily renewing relationship with an all-knowing and all-caring God who has never failed us and never will. (This is probably the only paragraph in the world to have Bonhoeffer and Carrie Bradshaw mentioned together— take note).

Two

Muriel Strode said, “I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.” This made me think of Pilgrim’s Progress, which I revisted in film version, recently. If there was anything that stood out to me in the film it was the fact that the narrow path to obedience to God is such a narrow one. Narrower than we think. There is something at every corner to derail us, if we aren’t careful to keep our focus. I know that these days there is so much philosophy that pushes manifestation, abundance, and the fulfillment of our capriciousness as some kind of confirmation of a life well-lived. Yet, in John Bunyan’s classic, what we see is that the path was difficult and required focus the whole way through. The things our society prizes require a degree of worldliness for appreciation that more often than not derails us from our truest mission.

In recent interactions, I have felt convicted that so much of our focus in general as Christians is set on frivolity. We must reach the deeper level and fix our eyes on the light. As Bunyan wrote, there is an urgency with which we travel, and there is help that is always near. We never walk alone.

The path is so difficult it sometimes feels as if there is none, and we are hacking our way through with a machete. The trail we leave allows others to embark on their own journey toward what is promised.

Three

In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love, and the ability to ask questions. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us.” Mary Oliver, Winter Hours

As I sit here and write, I have more questions than answers. (It would be arrogant to think otherwise). Both seem intertwined, love and questions. If one simply doesn’t care, one doesn’t ask. There are few things that make much sense anymore. I think there is a general feeling of disorientation and surroundings feel distorted behind a fog of illusions. It’s like that line from The Swan Princess: Not everything is as it seems.

There has been a trauma inflicted on the body and human spirit. We are struggling to make sense of it. We are struggling to heal from it.

Maybe there is a reason we don’t get many answers. Maybe they wouldn’t help. In recent times, many have discovered that the truth is weighty. Odd how something can hang heavy enough in your heart to anchor it but at the same time, set you free.

Four

We were too embedded in a lifestyle that meant we were always moving. Sometimes it really is good to just stand still.” Graham, Clanlands, pg 285

I read recently a thought by Bonnie Gray that said something along the lines of, Ps. 46:10 says, “Be still and know.” Our knowing depends on our stillness. I had never thought of it that way. For many of us that think there is some incentive to always be moving, or as Riley from So Little Time would say, “Always be closing,” while clapping– there is a huge incentive to pause and be still. Maybe, we could try that and see what happens.

Five

And this one, which speaks for itself by Bianca Serratore:

There are times God will have you say or do things that may cause your flesh immense discomfort. It will be out of the ordinary, and it won’t seem normal to the world. It will rip you right out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. Good, keep going. I’ve seen the most spectacular testimonies come from those moments. That’s exactly where God moves. You were never made for normal.”

Stay inspired. xx

Will You Hear It?

By: Gabriela Yareliz

As we mourn the loss of Carlos Marin, I had Il Divo playing in the background just dissolving me to tears. These artists, even after they are gone, they stay with us. Sometimes, it’s eery, and sometimes, it’s comforting. We can watch a movie, open a book, or hear a song, and we can see them, hear them, experience them. It’s like we resurrect them.

I was telling my fiancé that this makes me feel like we need more videos of the people we love so we can experience them even when they are gone.

It really makes one think about what one leaves behind.

I wonder if anyone will read this when I am gone and wonder if I was an interesting person, a positive person, a funny person– I hope they do think I am funny. For some reason, that’s important to me. I like making people smile. Maybe, I will be misjudged. Wouldn’t be the first time. Some think I’m too feisty, too serious, too blunt.

I wonder if they will hear my voice or if they will feel the spaces in between lines that held my sorrows and my fears. The ones that held my joys and my anticipation. Maybe they will see my fractures and also feel the spots where the bone healed thicker. I hope they can hear my snark and maybe see my eyebrow raise or my occasional eyeroll. I hope that in my writing they see what Robert Frost always tried to impart, everything is ok and everything is not ok. I hope they feel my sincerity because by God, I write most sincerely. And more than anything, I hope they feel my hope.

Carlos Marin

elespanol.com

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Writing with condolences to the family of Carlos Marin and the Il Divo family. We have lost one of the greatest vocalists to come out of Spain (and the world, to be honest) to this virus that has flipped the world upside down. There is so much that will just never be the same. Tragedies and grief that are irreversible. Absences this world will feel.

Carlos had a unique charisma about him. I’m grateful he shared his light with all of us. Il Divo’s music holds a special place in my heart and in my life. His art and magic touched the depths of our souls, and it was clear he lived with great passion. You felt that in his voice and saw it in that spark in his eye. There are just no other words.

Leaving you with one of my favorites:

Live Nativity, Please!

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I walk around my neighborhood hoping that, somehow, I will stumble upon a live nativity scene. You know, people dressed up and real animals. I thought about calling our councilman, state assembly senator and the dweeb who wants to run for re-election after he lost the last cycle. Yes. They could be the three unwise men? Our U.S. Rep can play the part of Mary… I mean, it could work. It could happen at the park under the bridge. Hmmm… *sends politicians group email*

The Inner Room

“Do not be swayed by the opinions of others. The secret to breaking free from confusion.” The Art of Simple Living, Shunmyo Masuno

By: Gabriela Yareliz

All of us can have an inner room. It’s sort of like an inner chamber of the soul to where we can retreat to find stillness and peace. Wise counsel should always be heeded, but in a world full of noise, I think it’s imperative we press a pause button at least once a day to meet with God.

In my mind, when we pray and enter God’s presence, we tuck ourselves away into a space where nothing touches us and reaches us but Him. I encourage you, if you haven’t found the stillness, clarity and peace you need (we all need it), find your way to that inner room of the soul where all fears and voices are silenced but one.

It’s a place of refuge and a place of understanding what cannot be placed into words.

Every day, we have a choice to make as to what path to follow, what voices to give attention to and whether to really make decisions and deal with reality or to continue on a different path. These days, it’s not too hard to lie to ourselves or stick to a path of least resistance.

If there is anything the stillness of winter offers us, it’s a reminder to not be afraid to retreat into what looks like silence. Silence sometimes looks scary to us, but as a winter forest scene reveals, even in the silence, things are very much preparing to burst forth. Nothing wrong with the rest and quiet a period of time can offer. Seek it. Let it revitalize you.

I’ve learned over the years that the inner room is a refuge from raging storms. A needed place to let down the anchor.