Sunday with Sandburg: Jaws

It is afternoon now. My birthday. It is one of those crisp autumn afternoons. The sun is bright. The dark caramel of the leaves are rustling. The flag across at the neighbor’s house is in full flight.

Robert Frost and Jane Kenyon are in the air.

I tried to preach on Bonhoeffer a bit this morning, fairly unsuccessfully I fear. He’s the one who was a pacifist during World War I and into World War II but ended up joining the resistance against Hitler. He asked so many good questions about how to be Jesus people in a world come of age. How to act as if God wasn’t in the picture at all. And he pointed the way towards an invaluable new way of seeing things: from the perspective of the outcast, the voiceless, the marginalized, the suffering.

His big question, and the reason he is popular among evangelicals and liberals, was: who really is Christ for us today? I conclude that there are two very different responses to that, depending on if you are conservative or liberal.

For the liberal, Bonhoeffer points to solidarity with the poor, the gay and lesbian, the immigrant, the person on death row, the bullied. The widow, the orphan, the prostitute.

Those excluded from polite conversation in most churches. Bonhoeffer wanted the church to be the church in standing for those, inside and outside the walls, who were on the front lines of injustice and oppression.

For me, I see Jesus in the meth addict I met recently at the hospital, who can’t stop his mind from racing, who can’t stop picking at his scab, who probably will go home and steal from his parents who are wanting to get him help and who are letting him stay, ‘for just a while, til we can get him the help he needs.’ “I have PTSD man, I have PTSD. I don’t want to live like this any longer,” he kept telling me. I said: Let us admit you. We can get you the help you need. “Nah, man. Can’t. I gotta go.”

News comes this afternoon that those who think about such things put a war with North Korea at around 20 or 40 percent depending on the predictor. And news comes that maybe 2 dozen are dead from a shooting today in a rural church in Texas somewhere. More guns. More violence. More war.

There is a voice whispering, murmuring, “That All Might Flourish.” “There is another way. A way of life, and abundant, for all.”

Bonhoeffer, in the face of the quote unquote Jewish Question, kept saying: There is no Jew, no Gentile. No male, no female. We are all in this together. We are all one, no matter our label.

Sandburg wasn’t especially religious, but he heard that the voice calling us to peace is all too often ignored. No where is he more explicit about that than in his poem, Jaws.


Carl Sandburg

Seven nations stood with their hands on the jaws of death.
It was the first week in August, Nineteen Hundred Fourteen.
I was listening, you were listening, the whole world was listening,
And all of us heard a Voice murmuring:
“I am the way and the light,
He that believeth on me
Shall not perish
But shall have everlasting life.”
Seven nations listening heard the Voice and answered:
“O Hell!”
The jaws of death began clicking and they go on clicking.
“O Hell!”


O Hell. My heart hurts today.

Author: readingcarlsandburg

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, serving as a hospital chaplain. I am from Galesburg, Illinois, originally, now living in Colorado Springs. I love the radical Sandburg.

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