Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Mission at Nuremberg

This review was first posted on 11/24/14 at

Good news, friend! I have the book for this person, this situation, your (advanced) church book group, and maybe for you. Mission inNuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend is just waiting for you to buy one or two copies, read, and distribute. Frankly, I’m a voracious reader, consuming quickly and without discrimination. I dove into this book
and then I slowed, pacing myself.

Townsend, without directly saying so, tackles the perennial and omnipresent question of theodicy by pointing out that “Why” is the wrong question. There is only futility in persistently beating your head against a marble wall. The question to ask with regard to the presence of good and evil in the world is, “What do I do about it?” In so asking, the wall yields and there is an orchard of tender fruit to be harvested, handled carefully, and prepared so as not to poison, but to nourish.

Henry Gerecke (rhymes with “Cherokee”) is a pastor, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, in St. Louis in the 1920s and 30s. He is a very “successful” parish pastor, but he feels called to specific mission work with the poor and downtrodden of his town. Where there are people struggling with physical, spiritual, and emotional needs- Gerecke sees Jesus and finds his own sense of call there. In the midst of this necessary work, even during the Depression, Gerecke signs up for the Army Chaplain Corps just before his 50th birthday, so that he may be of service during World War 2.

The book flashes back and forth between Gerecke’s specific life and details and then the larger world situation. The world building is necessary because it enables the reading to understand the scope of the trauma, drama, and mixed emotions that occur for a chaplain, and his soldiers, during a war. Gerecke’s original attachment found him serving on hospital grounds in southern England- funneling soldiers and POWs from mainland Europe, through triage at the hospital, and then on to specialty hospitals, back to the front, to prisons, or to convalescence from there. Gerecke is with the wounded, the dying, and the shell-shocked. He throws himself so fully into this ministry that even the most spiritually hardened reader immediately feels thankful to God for the chaplain’s life and call.

Gerecke’s dedication earns him attention he deserves. It also leads to his specific request and call, after the war ends, to serve as a chaplain at Nuremberg. Gerecke will be chaplain to the Protestant Nazis who are to be tried at the first and most famous Nuremberg trial, that of the Major War Criminals. Gerecke will be the pastor to and for such men as Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, and Albert Speer.

Here is the heft of this book- what does it mean to pastor a person who has committed something atrocious? As the rest of the world had the time to ponder “Who could do these things” as the revelations of Nazi actions came to light, Gerecke had to swallow that question for himself and ask, “How I help these men return to their Creator and Redeemer?” Gerecke’s specific understandings of scripture, the sacraments, and God’s eternal invitation are crucial pieces to how he not only did this work, but in underscoring why he thought it mattered.

This book is deeply emotional. I usually include little excerpts in my reviews of things that stayed with me, yet my notes in this book do not lend themselves to excerpting. Townsend has some deep reflections on what it means to understand evil as an absence of good, but with no power of its own. His discussion of the “mark of Cain”- as either a sign of a murderer or a reminder of God’s protection is riveting. Make no mistake, though, this is not an easy book to read. The chapter entitled “The Book of Numbers” is as difficult to read as its biblical counterpart. If the reader only has passing familiarity with the specifics of the activities in and around the death camps, particularly Mauthausen, this chapter proves a swift, abrupt, and raw education.

Who can forgive? One never gets the sense that Gerecke perceived himself to have the right or the power to forgive the actions of the Nazi war criminals who composed his tiny flock. Townsend’s contemplation of the nature and essence of forgiveness, and to whom it belongs, frankly, is a must read for any adult education class of any denominational stripe.

We live in a state of almost permanent conflict. War may never be explicit and yet the machinery of war- the weapons, the plans, the people- are always in motion, in preparation, and in action. There are those among us who pay a huge cost for that perpetual crisis situation. Mission at Nuremberg, at its very best, causes the reader not to reflect on the atrocities of specific Nazi leaders, but instead to consider what it means to understand each body in the world as a person- a child of God- with a desire to live, to matter, and to love and be loved. 

What are the dynamics of justice- punishment, pardon, and peace- when we keep those thoughts at the front of our mind? After all, we will not know in our lifetime the “why” of good and evil, but we can daily answer “What shall I say” in the face thereof. In Mission at Nuremberg, Chaplain Henry Gerecke is the first among equals as an example for how to respond to that question.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Grief that Remains

I cried today at the thoughts of the Brown family, of what "justice" looks like for some people, of the division between people I like and people I love and people I respect. 

In the brokenness, I have drawn into myself. I spent most of my evening, talking very little. Reflecting. Listening. 

Amos is very clear when he says that the trappings of worship offend God, when they are devoid of a regular life of justice and righteousness. 

I wrote this prayer:

Lord, we have pulled out the Advent wreath, the Christmas tree, the poinsettias. We dusted off the hymns, unsung for a year, and unearthed the words of your prophets. Yet, in your eyes, these efforts are for nothing without the regular, persistent, deep pursuit of justice for all people. Our efforts are hollow without consistent work toward peace, reconciliation, and participation in your mission for creation. In our hearts, we do long to be your people, to carry out your mission, to be lights in the darkness- proof that no darkness can overcome your truth. Awaken us to action. Stir us to courage. Rouse us to prepare a way in the wilderness for your coming, clearing the brush of oppression, racism, injustice, and hopelessness- so that all may see your light and perceive your coming. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Mrs. Till-Mobley

Dear Mamie Till- Mobley-

First, I apologize for using your first name. You don't know me and it's not right for me to presume.

I cannot stop thinking of you tonight. We have just heard, late at night, that Office Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, MO police will not be charged with any crimes in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Wilson is white. Brown was black.

You wouldn't have been surprised by the rhetoric that has poured forth since Brown's murder on August 9th. We've heard about his misdeeds, his alleged activities, his tendencies, his size, his demeanor, his habits, and all other manner of detail meant to reveal that his life was just another brown life, only significant by what it proved in death- that it didn't count for much to the whites around him.

Mrs. Till-Mobley, tonight, people are arguing that a failure to indict by a grand jury means that there wasn't enough evidence to prove a crime, that the officer didn't do anything wrong, that justice has been met. The reason I am writing to you is because I am wondering, truly wondering, if people told you that justice had occurred with the trial of your son, Emmett's, murderers.

They had lawyers. They had a jury of their peers. They were allowed the presumption of innocence. You know better than anyone that adherence to the letter of the law does not equal justice.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry we didn't learn from Emmett's death. Not only was he murdered, but it seems that he was murdered in vain. We should have looked at his bloated and mutilated body, the body you had the courage to demand we see, and vowed, "Never again."

We looked away.

Worse we pretended we did not see.

The fruits of the spirit of America are not just strange; they are rotten. Freedom comes at the cost of those who fight for it, but where we don't have to see it, hear it, or be affected by it. Privilege comes through the oppression of others- as though modern living is a zero sum game, disregarding the waste of our lifestyles. Power comes through money spent, not through respect earned and trust granted.

We failed Emmett. We failed Michael. We failed you.

All the biblical metaphors I could mention now, which would be familiar to you, feel like dust in my mouth. We know what those words are, from prophets and from Christ himself. They are cross-stitched and framed on our walls, tattooed on our biceps, slapped across our bumpers, and spaced carefully on our church signs. To God, however, they are as grievous as your son's body, as His son's body. They are the blatant markers of our audacity to pronounce God's words, but to fail to live by them.

Mrs. Till-Mobley, Emmett is not forgotten. I want to tell you that he did not die in vain, just as I'd like to say to Mrs. Brown. But I can't say that today.

You are our cloud of witnesses, you and Emmett and others. Your cry goes up, "How long?"

I don't know.

I don't know.

But I won't give up. And that's all I can promise.


The Reverend Julia Seymour

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Prophets and Kings

Today for Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, I made a slide show of art of the life and ministry of Moses and the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel writers used wrote in ways to make similarities between Jesus and Moses obvious, because a connection to the prophet of freedom lead people to understand what they might expect from Jesus.

Of course, he turned out to be so much more than they expected. Jesus is more than a prophet and even more than a king.

Here are some rough notes.


Pharaoh orders destruction of all Hebrew baby boys. Moses’s mother saves him by floating him down the river in a basket. (Exodus 1-2)

Herod the Great hears tell of a new king, born in Bethlehem. He orders the slaughter of all the babies in the vicinity. (Matthew 2)
Moses is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, “taken into Egypt”. (Exodus 2)
Joseph has a dream in which an angel warns him of the slaughter of the innocents. He is instructed to take Mary and Jesus and flee to safety in Egypt. (Matthew 2)

Moses is called to do God’s work, to lead the Hebrew people to freedom from slavery. (Exodus 3)
Jesus appears at the side of the Jordan, an adult, to be baptized by John. A dove appears and the voice of God proclaims Jesus as God’s son. (Matthew 3)

Moses fasts for 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 24:15-18)
Jesus fasts for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Moses receives the law on Mt. Sinai and then proclaims it to the people.  (Exodus 34:28-29)

Jesus speaks from a mountain and proclaims how to live the law of love. (Matthew 5)
Moses intercedes for the people. God provides food in the desert. (Exodus 16:13-21)

Jesus provides food for the crowds gathered to hear him speak. (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15)

Moses trains 70 elders to help him with his work at the Lord’s instruction. Eldad and Medad are added to that group. (Numbers 11:16-30)

Jesus sends out the 72 to teach and heal in his name, sharing in the work of proclaiming the kingdom. (Luke 10:1-23)
The Lord tells Moses and Aaron how to get water from a rock for the people. They fail to give the glory to God. (Numbers 20:6-11)

Jesus gets angry about the misuse of the temple. Is actually God, so use of “my house” is appropriate. (Matthew 21:12-17)
Moses offers his life for the Israelites (Exodus 32:32-33)

Jesus is the life, offers his own life for the people. (John 15:13)
Moses asks to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3:23)

Jesus asks if it possible for the cup of suffering and death to pass from him. (Matthew 26:36-46)

Moses dies on Mt. Nebo/Pisgah, viewing the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 34)
Jesus dies on Golgotha, the hill of skulls, promising paradise to one with him. (Matthew 27)

Jesus is raised from the dead. (Matthew 28)

Jesus gives the Great Commission. (Matt. 28)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Through Time and Space

Earlier this week, there was a blog prompt that involved writing to someone in 1864 and trying to explain modern life to them.

I thought of that today.

I received text messages this morning from a friend on the East Coast. (cell phones, Seward's Folly Alaska!)

This friend had met up with my sister, who had baked her a pie- in an electric oven. (electricity)

The friend drove my sister to work, so the latter skipped her morning Metro ride. (cars, subways)

I drove to work and checked emails. (cars, computer, internet)

I listened in via teleconference to a meeting in Seattle. (telephones)

I chose not to fly down for a 6 hour meeting. (planes)

I received a message concerned about a person who is not known to me, but- it turns out- knows some of my friends. (Internet, Facebook)

I made connections for a support network for this person via her/my friends. (Internet, Facebook messaging, text messages, telephone, voicemails)

I talked to a friend on the East Coast. (cell phone)

I went in a grocery store and a liquor store today. (so many choices)

I flushed toilets, ran water, turned lights on and off, gave medicine to a dog, and wore clothes that I did not make myself.

I took a shower, ran the dishwasher, the washing machine, and the dryer.

Dear 1864 compatriot-

There is but one thing that has remained the same: the grace of God.

Pax vobiscum.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Litany for Jeremiah 1:4-10

I was doing other writing around Jeremiah 1:4-10 today and I wrote this litany to accompany it.

I can't stop thinking about what the words are and their implications. It's actually unsettling.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

1:4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7 But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, "I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." 9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." 


In God’s creation, both young and old are called to witness to truth.
God uses all people in their time.

In God’s creation, all kinds of men and women are equally valuable.
God uses all people in their time.

In God’s creation, no one is too slow or unlearned.
God uses all people in their time.

In God’s creation, no person is without skill, talent, or ideas.
God uses all people in their time.

As with Jeremiah, God rejects all objections.
God uses all people in their time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Simple Truth

Matthew 25: 31- 46  
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Many times, I perceive a sense of panic in people's eyes when this gospel is read. Everyone focuses on the part at the end, where the sheep and the goats are separated. No one wants to be a goat. 

Here's the part to worry about, though: have you been ignoring Jesus? 

I don't mean have you been the best at feeding, clothing, visiting, welcoming, and healing. I mean, have you been doing it at all? Recently? Today? 

Our ultimate salvation is contingent on Jesus' actions, but our sanctification... our growth into being the sheep of his pastures... our increased ability to recognize the Shepherd comes from listening to his voice and then seeking his face. 

The Shepherd will always be where he promises to be, which is- apparently- in the naked, the hungry, the isolated, the sick, the imprisoned, and the thirsty. 

So, don't panic. 

Either you're doing these things. Or you're not. 

It's as easy as separating a sheep from a goat for a king. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Video Share: John XXIII

I really enjoyed Fr. James Martin's book, My Life with the Saints.

He's made a video series about some of the saints he discusses. This one is interesting. Martin's own reflections based around John XXIII were rooted in his reflections on life in the priesthood and were very moving (to me).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This Week in Reading

I am planning to finish these 3 books in the next 5-6 days. I will comment on all of them in one way or another!

Reading for a potential church book study:

From Barnes and Noble:
The gripping story of the American army chaplain sent to save the souls of the Nazis incarcerated at Nuremberg
Lutheran minister Henry Gerecke was fifty years old when he enlisted as an army chaplain during World War II. As two of his three sons faced danger and death on the battlefield, Gerecke tended to the battered bodies and souls of wounded and dying GIs outside London. But at the close of the European theater, with Hitler defeated and scores of American troops returning home to resume their lives, Gerecke received his most challenging assignment: he was sent to Nuremberg to minister to the twenty-one imprisoned Nazi leaders awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.
A crucial yet largely untold coda to the horrors of World War II, Mission at Nuremberg unearths groundbreaking new research and compelling firsthand accounts to take us deep inside the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, into the very cells of the accused and the courtroom where they answered to the world for their crimes. Never before in modern history had man accomplished mass slaughter with such precision. These twenty-one Nazis had sat at the right hand of Adolf Hitler; Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Frank, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner were the orchestrators, and in some cases the direct perpetrators, of the most methodical genocide in history.
As the drama leading to the court's final judgments unfolds, Tim Townsend brings Henry Gerecke's impossible moral quandary to life: How, having risked his own life (and those of his sons) to eliminate the Nazi threat, could he now win the confidence of these men? In the months after the war ended, Gerecke had visited Dachau. He had touched the walls of the camp's crematorium. He had seen the consequences of the choices these men had made, the orders they had given and carried out. As he worked to form compassionate relationships with them, how could he preach the gospel of mercy, knowing full well the devastating nature of the atrocities they had committed? And as the day came nearer when he had to escort these men to the gallows, what comfort could he offer—and what promises of salvation could he make—to evil itself?
Detailed, harrowing, and emotionally charged, Mission at Nuremberg is an incisive new history of the Nuremberg trials as well as a nuanced reflection on the nature of morality and sin, the price of empathy, and the limits of forgiveness.

Reading for personal book club (selected by someone else):

From Barnes and Noble:

The runaway bestseller that has swept the nation, with more than one million copies sold
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck and chance.
This is the story of one such child.
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are reminders of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship. 

Received copy for review for

From Amazon:

Marriage is great, but it's not forever. It's until death do us part. Then come eternal rewards or regrets depending on how we spent our lives.

In his latest book, Francis Chan joins together with his wife Lisa to address the question many couples wonder at the altar: How do I have a great marriage? Setting aside typical topics on marriage, Francis and Lisa dive into Scripture to understand what it means to have a relationship that satisfies the deepest parts of our souls.

In the same way Crazy Love changed the way we saw our personal relationship with God, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity will radically shift the way we see one of the most important relationships in our life.

Jesus was right. We have it all backwards. The way to have a great marriage is by not focusing on marriage.  Whether you are single, dating or married, You and Me Forever will help you discover the adventure that you were made for and learn how to thrive in it.

100% of the net profits from You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity will go towards providing food, shelter and rehabilitation for thousands of orphaned children and exploited women in partnership with global charities.

What are you reading this week?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Just Like Me

One of the prompts for today was to name skills you see in other bloggers that you wish you had. Forme, that felt like an exercise in frustration. I write like me. When I've tried to write like other people, it sounds weird.

Something where I have wanted to look like other people, though, is hands. 

I'd love to have longer fingers and better shaped nails. I go through rounds of getting my nails done, as pictured, to make my hands look nice. When I don't keep them done, I tend to nibble at them and they look dreadful.

I covet nice hands. Consequently, I don't hanker after other bloggers' skills, but I do envy their hands.