Recently I have been reading through a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas entitled “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy“. Bonhoeffer lived 1906 – 1945 and was actively involved in resistance against Hitler’s Nazis party and ultimately Hitler himself. To say Bonhoeffer was a German theologian would wildly underestimate him. He lived in a complex time, maybe not so different from our own. His intense convictions drove him to action, a quality I all too often find lacking in myself. As I read this biography his point of view is incredibly challenging and take a good deal of mulling over, at least for someone with such limited mental capacity as I consistently demonstrate. While this blog clearly cannot serve the justice due him (and I would highly recommend reading Metaxas’s brilliant text to provide you the full picture), there are a few  quotes that continue to race around my head at a dizzying pace…. So of course I would love to pass this mental marathon along to you.

“It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer than vanity.” Bonhoeffer wrote this after observing the attendance of Catholic mass in Italy by neighborhood prostitutes. I have little commentary here except this is true and rather convicting.

“I want to have a look at the church conditions in the south…. I don’t quite know whether or not I have spent to much time on this situation as there is not an analogous situation in Germany.” Bonhoeffer wrote this in 1929 speaking of the rampant racism and segregation that was common place in America at that time. In letters traded back and forth across the Atlantic with a friend in Germany they spoke of the racism in American in comparison to the underlying current of antisemitism that rippled beneath the surface of German society, which Bonhoeffer viewed as the ignorance of fools. Bonhoeffer concluded the confined German racism against Jews was incessantly mild in comparison with that displayed in America against African-Americans. As antisemitism ultimately bubbled over in Germany, as demonstrated with the adoption of antisemitic policies of the German National Church which was one of the key wedges that drove Bonhoeffer to the founding of the Confessing Church, he protested vigorously. What is particularly chilling to me is how quickly the National Socialists were able to convert an underlying tone of racism into genocide within 5 years. This confirms to me that racism can not be tolerated even to the slightest degree as, when mixed with the right ingredient, can quickly manifest it self in on of the most despicable displays of the evil of man.

Discussing his time at the Finkenwalde seminary located in Pomerania that he founded Bonhoeffer wrote, “and at the same time an appreciation of all that gives charm to the fallen creation; music, literature, sport and the beauty of the earth, a magnanimous way of leaving….. does it dull the exactness of your theological vision, if  I tell you that it was the peripheral things which were enhanced by appreciation of the central one?”. It’s a mouthful, talk it over amongst yourselves and let me know your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer”

  1. What a brave & thought provoking post… Recently I commented to a really good friend about how I found the sounds of the crickets at night, so beautiful that I make it habit to stop & listen. My friend replied ‘you have to be beautiful on the inside in order to hear that’
    Essentially, what is internal ( ‘central’ ie: Bonhoeffer) manifests external…(peripheral ) …
    Im not a poett. I’m not a theologian.

  2. A brave & thought provoking post.
    A few weeks back I commented to a good friend about how beautiful I thought the crickets at night sounded, so much that its become a moment of my evening that I look forward to.
    Her reply was ‘you can see the beautiful, because of beauty on the inside’
    Let me first say, Im not a prophet or theological guru ( although ‘spy’ is my fantasy job) – Bonhoeffer ‘s
    appreciation of central one in order to see the charm
    of peripheral speaks volumes in sound creeds,
    religion or philosophy.
    I cannot agree with you more that racism is ‘despicable displays of the evil of man’ & but it is clear and frightening, that there is a missing reverie for anything outside of their own beliefs.

    Enjoyed your post…. thanks for the brain food.

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