By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published September 21, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
Shortly before World War II began, a clergyman around 60 years of age would be registered by the office of Chancellor Adolf Hitler as the Nazi government’s most dangerous enemy.
Many would call that man the lion of Münster, the German city he shepherded as a Catholic bishop. Yet this foe dreaded by Hitler nearly wasn’t consecrated bishop at all. The position came to him only after other nominees had turned it down.
One could hardly blame them. In January of that year, Hitler had been appointed chancellor. In March, the National Socialism party had gained an absolute majority in federal elections, and the newly elected Reichstag legislators had passed the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler the power to make laws, set budgets, and pass treaties.
German democracy died that month in 1933, and Hitler’s dictatorship began.
The election of Count Clemens von Galen, parish priest of the Town-and-Market Church of St Lambert, as bishop brought dismay to some. The towering (6’8”) nobleman had been an intense and likable pastor. Yet one social reformer felt he was a throwback to medieval Christianity, and a papal nuncio complained he had “overbearing attitude, stubbornness, and too schoolmastery a manner for a simple pastor.”
His only published work, a small book, criticized the push by liberalism and socialism to remove religious values and institutions from public life and politics.
Now the new bishop, assigned Sept. 2, faced the supremacy of socialist ideals, and he recognized his difficult situation. For his official motto as bishop, he chose “Nec laudibus nec timore” (“Regardless of praise or fear”). He also adopted a second name, August.
After establishing Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist, the lion of Münster began tirelessly studying and publicly challenging Nazi teachings. In an Easter 1934 pastoral letter, he denounced the widespread book “Myth of the 20th Century” by official Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg.
He dubbed it “a new ill-omened totalitarian doctrine that sets race above morality, sets blood above law... repudiates revelation, aims to destroy the foundations of Christianity... It is a religious sham. Sometimes this new paganism happens to hide even under Christian names... This anti-Christian attack we are experiencing in our days goes beyond, in its destructive violence, all others we know of from the remotest times.”
His letter stirred up clergy and laypersons inside and outside Germany. In reaction Hermann Göring, the head of the German secret police, demanded clergy be excluded from teaching in schools. Rosenberg led a large menacing rally reviling Galen in front of the bishop’s home. But the city of Münster reacted with a huge religious procession the next day — July 8, 1935 — in support of their shepherd.
The news travelled around the world. The Paris newspaper Le Figaro commented, “If the (German) Catholics are accused of meddling in politics, in reality it is National Socialism that is meddling in religion.”
In a campaign to discredit church opposition, Nazi courts staged “immorality trials” of priests and consecrated religious that were widely publicized and alleged shocking sexual immorality. Organized groups of Nazi supporters would throw stones at the home windows of bishops and priests while singing obscene songs. Bishops were kept under extreme surveillance by the government.
In April 1935, the Nazi regime forbade newspaper articles with religious content. In 1936, the government banned publishing any bishop’s pastoral letters.
But they couldn’t silence Christian outrage.
In 1937, Pope Pius XI summoned Galen to Rome to help him with an encyclical that would be written in German, rather than in Latin first, then translated. That encyclical would be Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Heart) and the pope ordered it read in every church in Germany on Palm Sunday that year.
Among many things, Pope Pius XI wrote: “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State… or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God…
“This God, this Sovereign Master, has issued (moral) commandments whose value is independent of time and space, country and race. As God’s sun shines on every human face so His law knows neither privilege nor exception. Rulers and subjects, crowned and uncrowned, rich and poor are equally subject to His word.”
Nazi authorities declared the encyclical “an act of high treason against the State,” seized any copies they could, and arrested many.
"It is not possible to be Christians and Germans at the same time.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published September 15, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
“God, you are my refuge into eternity.” Those words were allegedly the last spoken by 21-year-old university student Sophie Scholl before her beheading Feb. 22, 1943.
That same day her 24-year-old brother Hans said, “Let freedom live,” even as the guillotine blade fell.
They and four others had been convicted of treason by the National Socialist government of Germany. Their nonviolent resistance group, the White Rose, had distributed anonymous leaflets arguing against the Nazi regime.
Members Hans, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf also painted the slogans “Down with Hitler” and “Freedom” on the walls of buildings in Munich, Germany, repeatedly that same month. Their handiwork inspired copycat graffiti by others.
Ultimately more than 100 Germans would be prosecuted in a series of White Rose trials, which ended only because of the fall of Adolf Hitler.
“If the German people… surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision… — then, yes, they deserve their downfall… Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.” (excerpt of the first leaflet)
The White Rose consisted of University of Munich students and their philosophy professor Kurt Huber, high school students, and others. Schmorell would be canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Former agnostic Christoph Probst, a married father of three, would become Catholic shortly before execution. “Now my death will be easy and joyful,” he said after his baptism and first confession.
The group’s founders Sophie and Hans, both Lutheran, had originally ignored their father’s opposition to the Nazi Party and been seduced by its utopian propaganda. Then in 1941 they read a sermon by Count Clemens August von Galen, Catholic bishop of Munster, denouncing Nazi “mercy killing” policies, which in 1939 focused on sick and disabled children, then included ill adults, and in 1941 extended to concentration camps.
“The officials follow the precept that it is permissible to destroy ‘life unworthy of life’ — to kill innocent persons, if it is decided that such lives are no longer of value to the people and the state,” he preached. “It is a terrible doctrine, which excuses the murder of innocent people.”
Hans told family, “Finally someone has the courage to speak, and all you need is a duplicating machine.” Sophie gained permission to reprint and distribute the sermon.
“There awoke in us [Scholl siblings] a feeling of living in a house once beautiful and clean but in whose cellars behind locked doors frightful, evil, and fearsome things were happening,” wrote Inge Scholl, concentration camp survivor (“The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943”).
Christian youth movements clashed, morally, with the government, and were eradicated. Nazi paramilitary youth groups remained and membership wasn’t optional. Farther from home, medical student-soldier Graf witnessed war atrocities against civilians in Poland that haunted him. Philosophy debates arose at school.
These threads pulled together classmates to create seven leaflets. The last two would not be distributed before the arrests, but the sixth would be smuggled to Allied forces, who air-dropped millions on Germany.
“We are not in a position to draw up a final judgment about the meaning of our history. But if this catastrophe can be used to further the public welfare, it will be only by virtue of the fact that we are cleansed by suffering; that we yearn for the light in the midst of deepest night, summon our strength, and finally help in shaking off the yoke which weighs on our world.” (excerpt of the second leaflet)
May the White Rose’s heroic witness to truth and goodness — the truest form of patriotism — arouse our own courage today.
“During a thunderstorm she [Sophie] had gone up to the roof with a little boy who was living with them and whom she loved dearly. She wanted to bring in the drying clothes before the rain came. At the sound of a loud clap of thunder the boy turned his face in fear toward hers. Then she showed him the lightning rod. After she had explained how it worked, he asked: ‘But does God understand about your lightning rod?’
“‘He knows about lightning rods and a great deal more; for if that were not so, then there wouldn’t be one stone left standing on another in the world today. You need not fear.” (Inge Scholl)
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published September 8, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
More than a century ago, local California grapevines allegedly required no irrigation, and a hand pump could draw water from a hand-dug well. Now machines perform the well drilling and liquid lifting, and wells in the San Joaquin Valley may extend 400-800 feet from the surface.
A basin of lakes, marshes, and grasslands has become a vale of cities, towns, irrigated farms and orchards, ranches, dairies, oil derricks, and desert.
Valley farms have only grown drier as droughts and environmental regulations reduced federal government water deliveries in recent decades. Those deliveries supply water that once flowed freely in natural rivers but now sits behind dams in reservoirs.
The last great California dam would be 1979’s New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It and others were built to provide irrigation, flood control, water for Californians, recreation, and in some cases electricity. But despite them the valley suffers chronic water shortages, especially since the 1980s.
Not all valley water comes from reservoirs however. Deliveries from the Sacramento Delta have been problematic for areas with poor drainage. Used for irrigation, it leaves salt behind as it evaporates, and eventually sterilizes the farmland.
The Roman Empire allegedly would salt the fields of defeated enemies as a punishment. Without the ability to grow crops, the area would be unlivable for generations.
Time will reveal what the future of the San Joaquin Valley holds, but it already shows its partial desertification. In a way, it is the Judeo-Christian story of creation told in reverse.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void…” (cf. Bereishit/Genesis 1:1) The Hebrew word “tohu” (translated here as “without form and void”) signifies a completely empty wasteland. Tohu appears again in Deuteronomy (Devarim) 32:10 and Psalm (Tehillim) 107:40.
The Bible starts with a desert, and the desert never disappears from it.
Another scriptural word for desert is “midbar,” which means a lively wilderness in which sheep and goats may graze and wild beasts roam. It is used in the book of Exodus (Semot) and elsewhere.
A third word, “arabah,” is an arid and desolate desert plain sometimes spoken of by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. A fourth word, “horbah,” is a dry and desolate ruin of a previously inhabited land. A fifth, “jeshimon,” is an untamed land without water, and is mentioned frequently in Exodus. A sixth, “çiyyah,” is a drought region.
There are many ways to speak of a desert it seems, and that includes spiritually.
In the Jewish scriptures, the prophet Elijah (Eliyahu) retreated to the desert when fearful of execution and despairing, and instead encountered an angel to encourage him and, later, God on a mountainside (Sepher M’lakhim/1 Kings 19). Likewise the princely foster child of Egypt, Moses (Moshe), fled from justice to the desert after slaying an abusive slaveholder (Exodus 2). The Jewish tribes, in turn, would wander in the desert for 40 years after escaping slavery in Egypt.
The desert seems a refuge for the desperate — and not just for humans. In the Christian scriptures, the rabbi Jesus (Yeshua) said of demons, “When an unclean spirit is gone out of a man, it walks through waterless places, seeking rest, and finds none.” (Matthew 12:43)
Yet Jesus himself had a habit of withdrawing to a desert or mountainside to pray (cf. Luke 5:16; 6:12; Matthew 14:13, 23). His cousin John the Baptist preached primarily in the Desert of Judaea (Matthew 3:1). On one occasion, Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in a desert, although the devil did not leave him unmolested there (Matthew 4).
But the desert is more than a safe haven for the overwhelmed or a demonic home away from home. In the book of Hosea (Hoshea), God promised to lead his wayward people away from the idols and comforts that preoccupied it and into a thirsty desert.
“She shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them. Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now… Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the desert, and speak tenderly to her…” (Hosea 2:7, 14)
Like a rehabilitation clinic, the desert can be a challenging place of healing — if we turn to God.
When we next journey through a desert, will we choose restlessness or renewal?
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published August 31, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
The San Joaquin Valley, the southern half of the large flat mountain-bound interior of California, has undergone many changes.
The Pacific Ocean birthed this valley we Maderans call home about 65 million years ago when it began to intermittently flood parts of the region. Eventually sediment from the sea and the rise of coastal mountain ranges choked off the valley from its mother 60 million years later.
Around 2 million years ago, glaciers started to transform the valley from a salty oceanic remnant into a freshwater lake. This was the Pleistocene Epoch, a time of ice ages, woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, longhorned bison, birds with 25-foot wingspans, the first humans, and more.
For a glimpse of the former locals, visit the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County at 19450 Ave. 21 1/2 in Chowchilla.
The last of San Joaquin Valley’s great lakes would be Lake Corcoran, which filled much of the valley about 700,000 years ago. The lake drained into the Monterey Bay via the Salinas River. Then shifts in the earth’s crust lifted the valley and lowered the San Francisco Bay area. This threw part of the lake against the coastal mountains, and the brute force of rushing water, boulders, and other sediment gouged paths to the bay. To this day, those channels remain the deepest parts of the bay.
San Francisco owes us one.
About 12,000 years ago, three major lakes persisted in the valley: Tulare Lake, Buena Vista Lake, and Kern Lake. The ancient trio would slowly starve to death after the Kern River became increasingly redirected for agricultural use from the late 19th century onward. Two small lakes, Lake Webb and Lake Evans, are the only survivors. Both rest on part of the former Buena Vista lakebed.
Before then the lakes supported much life in the valley, which consisted of grasslands and tule grass marshes. The artistic Chumash tribe depended mostly on ocean fishing to live, and yet their villages ranged from Southern California’s coast to the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley. The Miwok tribe, in contrast, dwelled in the nearby foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains here. The Yowlumne Yokuts occupied the valley and the foothills. All three tribes relied at least partly on fishing.
Then came the Spanish, and local tribes were decimated by the European diseases carried by the newcomers.
The first to visit the San Joaquin Valley, then known as the Valle de los Tulares (Valley of the Tule Grass), would be Lt. Gabriel Moraga of the Spanish Army. In 1808, he left the Mission of San Jose (Saint Joseph) to scout for potential sites for new Christian missions from which to evangelize California natives. During his exploration, he named a small creek San Joaquin (Saint Joachim) after the grandfather of Jesus and father of Mary.
When it was later realized that the creek fed into a larger river, it too received the same name. As the river was the major ocean-going stream in the area, the valley too eventually adopted the name.
In time, the Spanish presence grew into dominion, which passed first to Mexico and then to the United States — and not peacefully.
The Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, and more would settle here and transform the valley into the “the food basket of the world” responsible for most of California’s agricultural exports. A variety of traditionally Mediterranean and Middle Eastern crops can be produced during its year-round growing season, and ranching and dairy are also strong.
Yet the ancient lakes are no more, and 95 percent of the valley’s wetlands perished for the sake of farm irrigation in the 19th and 20th centuries. In many places, the valley is now semi-arid desert.
Meanwhile farmland itself is being swallowed up by water-hungry urban sprawl — with 70,231 acres (28,092 hectares) lost from 1990 to 2004.
A two-year study in Madera County reported earlier this month found some land to be sinking about a foot per year due to overuse of groundwater. Overpumping water from an aquifer layer called Corcoran clay makes the clay unable to withstand the weight of the land above it. It’s compacted, incapable of holding water in the future.
The valley has a history of such subsidence, yet its cities and farms rely heavily on groundwater.
According to Judaism and Christianity, God delegated authority over the natural world to humanity (Bereishit/Genesis 1). We are caretakers of God’s property. Are we good stewards? Can we become better ones?