[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest author is the family’s real writer, my wife Katherine.]
Sometime during my teenage activist years1My first and last protest was in my own backyard when I picketed to be allowed to drive the car, a huge yellow late 70s Suburban, to school TWO days a week instead of just one. But hey, my petition did have 43 signers!, Aunt Mona told me about a book called The Hiding Place. Since I was reading anything and everything I could get my hands on (as long as it wasn’t Mom recommending it), I sought out a copy at the local library.
The Hiding Place is Corrie ten Boom’s memoir of how one watchmaker’s family became the center of the Dutch resistance during World War II. Although ten Boom’s recounting of her experiences in a Nazi concentration camp are riveting, as a teenager I was most interested in her early story and her family.
Caspar ten Boom, the family patriarch, particularly fascinated me. He owned a well-known watchmaker shop, yet many of its visitors were not customers, but instead people seeking his counsel. He had no formal training, but he consistently read the Bible, was dedicated to lifelong learning, and always offered to pray with those seeking his advice. His devotion was well-matched with his wife Cornelia, who spent years delivering food and clothing to Haarlem’s neediest citizens.
Perhaps because I was young when I first read it, the goodness of the ten Boom family has been a yardstick by which I measure Christian behavior.2In case you are wondering, by this standard of measurement I typically rank myself at about 1/16 of an inch. But I love my Savior, so I’m jumping with palm extended high for the one inch mark.. Reading the book inevitably leads one to asking probing questions about one’s living situation. What about a false wall here? If necessary, could we get all evidence of extra people cleared in under a minute flat? How DID they go to the bathroom? And, of course, the biggest question of all—what would I do if I were asked to hide a Jew?
Not once in 45 years have I been asked to build a brick wall to hide anyone, much less one of God’s chosen. But this year has been a strange one. As early as March, I started to see a shift in the way some homeschool gurus (self-appointed of course, as is usual in these days of blogs and social media) shifted their tone when referencing the government. And I noticed that their barbs were directed away from the government which I know to be evil, and instead directed at local and state governments—the only governments3Unfortunately, Dr. Fauci is not a government actually attempting to protect Americans.
At the same time, I started seeing many referring to COVID-19 by terms with such racist overtones that I won’t even use them here.4(Ed. Note) I will. Chinese virus, China virus, China flu, and the should-be-election-forfeiting-but-Republicans-are-racist-as-hell “Kung flu”. This was unsettling. These were supposedly Christian homeschoolers claiming to read the best books for the purpose of training youngsters for a Christian life.
But apply the ten Boom yardstick just to that race-baiting doggerel alone. None of it even begins to measure up to Caspar ten Boom, let alone Jesus. With my nature-study-and-poetry pretty pictures of homeschooling already crumbling, I quickly started unfollowing accounts and changing up my Facebook feeds. If I was going to spend 20 hours a week making masks while managing a household of seven during the early stages of a pandemic causing food and toilet paper shortages, I was not going to waste a minute of my social media time on name-calling and ignorance.
Then Trump and his minions themselves, who profane Christ’s name every time they speak. It was long ago apparent that they are satisfied to watch Americans suffer and die. It also became apparent that their desire to hold power served only their own purposes, no one else’s. I could find none of this on the ten Boom yardstick either. Indeed, what I saw was self-proclaimed Christians abandoning their yardsticks altogether and instead taking up assault weapons merely because they felt it an inconvenience to protect their fellow Americans. And it was only April.
As weeks went on, it became more and more apparent that our lives would not return to “normal,” and many tears were shed over the various highly-anticipated events that would not be happening. More tears were shed when the one thing that did happen was our oldest daughter returning to Utah, again splitting our family. Isolation followed. Home-centered church felt like the revelation that it is, but the boys weren’t having any contact with their Church leaders, they were getting quite lonely, AND WE MISS OUR GRANDPARENTS.5(Ed. Note) Readers, wear masks.
Then, Memorial Day. George Floyd, brutally killed under the knee of a policeman, became the face of a revolution. Protests against police brutality broke out nationwide, while the phrase Black Lives Matter became a call for social justice. If I hadn’t already cleared up my social media before, it would have been time to do so now. Thankfully, I had found a few replacement social media feeds (even for my homeschool. ones—YAY!)
We want to believe we would have helped on the Underground Railroad. We imagine we would have hid Jews like Corrie ten Boom Or we’d have joined the resistance like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You know how we know if we would have lived that life? It’s if we make choices to stand with the oppressed today.
I stood up out of my chair and spent the next two days wandering aimlessly around the house. Not a single thing seemed important. I knew there was a protest on June 3, a Wednesday afternoon, but we are so committed to the stay-at-home orders, and I would have to go alone, and the day before a guy in Upland had pulled an automatic rifle on a group of protesters, and I really don’t have any interest in knowing what tear gas feels like and on and on with the excuses.
But God works in a mysterious way, and Wednesday, someone from church sent the first communication we had received since it shut itself down (still an important distinction): a protest was scheduled and we should plan accordingly. My wandering around came to an abrupt end when my husband6(Ed. Note) That’s me. came out of his pandemic home office with a wild look in his eye. Before he said anything, I was grabbing my sharpie and cardboard box. My daughter, Liffy, took a little convincing, but before long all three of us were headed to the Vons parking lot.7(Ed. Note) Yes, this piece again.
For further proof that God works in mysterious ways, we chose to read The Hiding Place as this year’s Cousins Camp8Family reunion, this year socially distanced book club selection. Because I never do anything ahead of time, I started reading the book after the protest, but still watching the embarrassing federal response to the pandemic and the nationwide protests over George Floyd. As a result, I still haven’t finished the book because I often stop and take a picture with various parts circled, such is its ongoing relevance in our time. Permit me to describe a few examples.
A simple fact about COVID-19 is that it disproportionately affects older people and people with existing medical conditions. The federal government’s anti-response confirms it’s belief that letting some of our more “infirm” population suffer and/or die is “worth” it for economic reasons.
Allow me to apply the ten Boom yardstick to that logic. In one part of the book, the young apprentice Otto–as German as his name implies–repeatedly mistreats a fellow employee at the watchmaker shop. When Corrie muses that it could be mere thoughtlessness, her brother Willem disagrees. “It’s very deliberate. It’s because Cristoffels is old. The old have no value to the State. They’re also harder to train in the new ways of thinking. Germany is systematically teaching disrespect for old age.” Shame on us for doing the same.
Four years in to the Trump Administration, it is more than obvious that evil is afoot. But even to the Dutch in the late 1930s, not everything stank of the looming horrors to come. “And yet, in the interlude, we forgot. Or, when William was visiting and would not let us forget or when letters to Jewish suppliers in Germany came back marked ‘Address Unknown,’ we still managed to believe that it was primarily a German problem. ‘How long are they going to stand for it?’ we said. ‘They won’t put up with that man for long.’” On November 3, 2020, we have one last chance to vote on whether we are going to put up with “that man” for four years longer. Frankly, November 3 is too late to start. Be like Willem. Don’t let anyone forget.
Soon after the ten Booms started protecting Jews, a member of the Underground appeared at their home to perform a safety audit. The auditor went through the entire residence, noting things that would give away the presence of extra people in the event of a raid. Corrie showed him a small space behind a dining room cupboard, which she thinks could be a suitable hiding place. “We’d been secreting jewelry, silver coins, and other valuables there since the start of the occupation. Not only the rabbi had brought us his library but other Jewish families had brought their treasures to the Beje for safekeeping. The space was large enough that we had believed a person could crawl in there if necessary, but Mr. Smit dismissed it without a second glance. ‘First place they’d look. Don’t bother to change it though. It’s only silver. We’re interested in saving people, not things.’” But apparently not in America.
And because of the strange situation we find ourselves in–sheltering in our homes with very little outside contact–I was more struck this time around by Corrie’s mother, who in later years was confined to her room by ill health. It is hard to know how to serve other people when we can’t be with them. But for Cornelia ten Boom, this posed no difficulty. “Mama’s love had always been the kind that acted itself out with soup pot and sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat in her chair at the window and loved us. She loved the people she saw in the street—and beyond: her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls that shut it in.”
Ultimately, as I consider what the world has become and what we must do as a result, I ask myself, as did Corrie:”How should a Christian act when evil is in power?”