Thursday, October 16, 2008

patriot saint

I wanted to write about at least one person who struggled mightily with spiritual convictions over politics and the world system, and found a means within that very system to leave the world an astounding legacy. Comparisons of movements and people to Hitler are plentiful today, and as soon as I hear them, I stop listening. We cannot comprehend the times, and feel very smug in our self-righteous assessment of it in making such comparisons. The man pictured is Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a native German who earned his doctorate by the age of 21 and became a much loved and respected spiritual leader in his homeland. It goes without saying he came of age after WWI when the German people were suffering bitterly in the aftermath of war. The link goes to a site which describes in detail his life and adult development in this fearful time when his faith was constantly at odds with an increasingly racist and oppressive government.

Bonhoeffer did have opportunity to travel after his schooling, and did spend time in America. He was much admired by the West, though his opinion of Western Christianity was not favorable. He felt more in tune with the pacifist philosophies espoused in the East and India, and saw more of Christ's teachings in Gandhi. He nurtured the Confessing Church in Germany, one body of believers openly opposed to Nazi philosophies, but still in concert with the scriptures and in terms of service to the oppressed Jews. In 1939 he had the opportunity to come back to America, and literally, into the arms of safety. He did come, but quickly left, knowing he could not preach with integrity and leave his native land floundering.

Upon his return to Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the choice to work for the resistance and was involved in a plot to kill Hitler. He also helped to rescue Jews and allow them safe passage out of the country. It was simply a time for action and a time when the faith which led him in the peace of green pastures, took him into the open and unprotected battlefields, using his influence to stop a madman. The plot failed, and those implicated with him were all put to death by a particularly gruesome method of hanging...naked from a piano wire noose suspended from a meat hook, which caused slow suffocation-the guards could not even watch.

At a time when the Christian church did little in the face of overwhelming evil and suffers historical indictment for it, Bonhoeffer stands out as one who acted when action was right. Those who did watch him go to his death remarked they had never seen such peace and composure. Reinhold Niebuhr, the man who wrote the very famous Serenity Prayer, was a dear friend. I want to include the complete prayer, because while we use it for 12 step groups today, it has such broader implications:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change, the courage
to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know
the difference. Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship
as a pathway to peace. Taking as Jesus did this
sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that
You will make all things right if I surrender to Your
will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.


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