Wow– this week my blog has really turned into more of a slideshow of my pictures rather than my commentary. But, there are still more things to say and show.
Many times I’ve mentioned the privilege I had to study for three years under one of the world’s leading Bonhoeffer scholars – Dr. F. Burton Nelson. Burton died in 2004, he was a personal friend of the Bonhoeffer family. He challenged me to pick a theological companion to walk through life with, so I picked Bonhoeffer. What a treat for me to visit Bonhoeffer’s home (actually his parents home) in Berlin a few weeks ago and be given a private tour. Thank you Knut Hämmerling for that treat. Here we are in front of the home at Marienburger Allee 43.
For those of us who’ve seen this address written in his own script, even walking up to the home is pretty cool. A couple days before he was stripped naked and hung in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg, he wrote that script in the front of a book that he wanted returned to his parents. His body was cremated with thousands of others in the ovens and his family didn’t learn for certain of his death until months later. Bonhoeffer was killed on April 9, 1945. Hitler committed suicide twenty days later. Germany surrendered on May 7.
For a couple of hours Knut downloaded details of Bonhoeffer’s life for me and my family. I won’t take up space here introducing you to Bonhoeffer if his name is new to you. Take a couple moments and read about him here. Here I am in Bonhoeffer’s bedroom/study. (One of the things I’ve given much thought to here is my new home office – I am borrowing a couple ideas from his here – one is the big window which I plan to install when I get home.)
At this desk he wrote what was to be his life work Ethics. He was arrested by the Gestapo in this house and did not complete Ethics. Pages of it were found ten years after his death hidden in the rafters of this home. His good friend Eberhard Bethge compiled them and that is the version of Ethics that is readily available today. Also in this house conspiratorial discussions took place which included Bonhoeffer, other family members and leaders of the resistance movement – plots to assassinate Hitler were discussed here.
As a Sermon on the Mount junkie, I’ve always been quite dialed in on how Bonhoeffer held to the high pacifist ideal in his writings (turn the other cheek, love enemies), but compromised (and justifiably so in my view) that ideal by participating in a secret assassination plot on Hitler. His (and Karl Barth’s) view of the myth of the separation of church and state very much appeals to me. Separating the spheres, Bonhoeffer insisted, is a denial of God’s having reconciled the whole world to himself in Christ. He said the Church wasn’t just to tend the victims of society run over by the wheel, the Church has a God-mandated responsibility to shove a spoke in the wheel and stop the victimization. He said the church may not keep out of politics if the state abrogates basic human rights. He demanded the church be prepared for political resistance and he was very much alone in that opinion.
Bonhoeffer criticized Luther for two things; 1) focusing the Reformation only on the church (whereas Zwingli sought to influence – salt and light – all of society). Bonhoeffer believed Luther’s views on this set the stage for the German Church of the 1930’s to stay out of Hitler’s business. In the 1000+ plus pages of Reformation history I’ve read this month, I’ve had the sense that had Zwingli been in Germany and not in Switzerland, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. Bonhoeffer also was one of the earliest voices in the German Lutheran Church to renounce 2) the anti-Semitism and treatment of the Jews.
In the years prior to his arrest he organized pastor strikes, signature drives, etc. and was very much political. As the Reich/State increasing silenced pastors, even friends distanced themselves from Bonhoeffer. He experienced the loneliness of the loss of friends and reputation. Honestly, I can really relate. Had I been called to trumpet the HIVAIDS issue I would be celebrated, but those of us who recognize the humanity of the unborn and the injustice of abortion and walk in a clear call from God to stop the shedding of judicially innocent blood — we are vilified. But, to quote one of Bonhoeffer’s more famous lines… “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Recently I was told I cut the target of those I’m called to reach in half when I get political. Hmm, half. If I was a pastor in Alabama in the 60’s I’d be marching across the bridge with my black brothers and sisters even if it meant 99% of the white folks in my town spit me out. Today we don’t question the humanity of blacks – previous Supreme Court decisions denying blacks full humanity have been reversed. Science now confirms separate and unique living human beings are the product of conception. It’s a human rights issue, a justice issue. And, who does God have on the earth to be his “spoke” in the wheel that is running over the most vulnerable and helpless members of human society? Is it any wonder I’m the only pastor in our state to receive numerous death threats this year? I vote we apply a little Sermon on the Mount to our treatment of the unborn… let’s do to them what we’d want done to us – did you know they feel pain at 8 weeks? Wow– yet they have no voice and they use no anesthesia to dismember them while they are yet living.
For those of you interested to dive into Bonhoeffer a bit – first, buy two books. 1) Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel by Renate Wind. Kristen, Caleb and I read this together a few weeks ago and that made for great discussion just prior to our visit to the Bonhoeffer Haus – it’s an easy 182 pages. Next read 2) Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer. This is now universally considered a Christian Classic – this is where you’ll read his ideas about “cheap grace” and the entire middle section is his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.
After that I recommend my professor Burton Nelson’s book – really a compilation of Bonhoeffer writings – 3) A Testament to Freedom and I also recommend Bonhoeffer’s best friends biography of his life 4) Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer’s other works and letters are all readily available. If you are not much of a reader and just want a DVD version of his life I recommend – Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resistor– which we show during the Omega Course. Those who are hard-core can join the International Bonhoeffer Society. Hope all that is helpful to somebody.