Bonhoeffer: The Times Aren’t a Changing

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Bonhoeffer: The Times Aren’t a Changing

Last night the theme of The Kindlings Muse @ Earl Palmer Ministries was “Poems from Prison: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Prophet and Poet.”

Each month Rev. Palmer selects a book thoughtful people should read and last night it was refreshing to see dozens of new copies of Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison” scattered throughout the attentive audience.

I was particularly taken by a comment made by Sandy, a busy mom getting a rare night out. Reading Bonhoeffer put her life and circumstances in perspective. Whenever you think times are getting too dark, reading a little Bonhoeffer might be a useful antidote.

In our current economic and geopolitical crisis it is useful to be reminded that as much as things change, in many ways they stay the same. What Bonhoeffer believed about his era could be said of ours. “Surely there has never been a generation in the course of human history with so little ground under its feet as our own.”

His “Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together” had already been published and he was a young theologian on the rise, yet this man of reflective mind and sensitive heart left the safety of America to return to Germany to take his stand with the confessing church against the threats of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. This decision led to his imprisonment in 1943 and hanging in 1945 just a day before the British liberated his fellow prisoners. (Please see Bruce Hermann’s amazing painting “Elegy for Bonhoeffer)

For Bonhoeffer, his commitment to costly discipleship left him no choice but to stand on principal ~ he had written, “the responsible man seeks to make his whole life a response to the question and call of God.”

He believed that God seeks man more than we seek God and in prison came to the realization that imprisonment was a useful metaphor for understanding Advent, where “one waits and hopes and potters about, but in the end what we do is of little consequence, for the door is shut and can only be opened from the outside.”

With the incarnation, the word becoming flesh, God came from outside the world and unlocked the door from the outside.

Bonhoeffer’s deep spirituality was forged in a gritty daily life of realistic discipleship. As much as he was in touch with God, he was rooted in his fallen humanity and you see this clearly in his poem, “Who Am I?” where he wrestles with the contrast between the positive ways he is perceived and his awareness of his own fallenness.

As a matter of fact the depth of his spirituality made him more aware of his sin and released him to a deep solidarity with fallen sinners saying, “for Christians and heathens alike Christ hangeth dead.”

His last moments in this life were spent leading a chapel service in prison. When the executioners called out, “come with us,” he comforted an English prisoner Payne Best with these words, “this is the end, for me the beginning of life.”

Read Bonhoeffer and self-pity will melt away as you enter the presence of a man who faced the dark uncertainties of his age with dignity, grace and a full awareness of his human frailty.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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