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“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Pastor Keith Anderson Zion Lutheran Church

 

“Letters and Papers From Prison” is a collection of letters to and from Dietrich Bonhoeffer while he was in Tegel prison in Berlin, Germany. He was arrested on April 5, 1943, because of his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was executed April 9, 1945, just three weeks before Hitler ended his own life.

On July 21, 1944, he wrote a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge. In that letter, he said, “In the last few years I have come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.”

This statement came from someone who carefully observed the world in which he lived. He saw a “Christianity” that was too cautious to speak the truth in the midst of a crumbling and dangerous society.

He ponders the silence of the disciples on the night in which Christ was betrayed. How could no one stand up against the hatred of the world? How could no one have courage in the face of death? I believe self-preservation is part of the “this-worldliness” of our lives. We want this life, even if it is sometimes angry and out of control.

Bonhoeffer then says that when we can let go of our own suffering and “stay awake with Christ in Gethsemane,” then, we know more of the other-worldliness (my phrase) of heaven and eternal life with Christ. He said, “And I think this is faith; this is metanoia (repentance.)” That is the turn around when we know that it might be possible that protecting the powers of this world is a point where we let go of the power of Christ. That should pain us all who claim the name of Christ in this world.

A statement he made near the end of this letter really becomes a prayer. “May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.”

Isaiah Colton ThompsonIsaiah Colton Thompson, religious studies and history major

Isaiah Colton Thompson, a senior with a double major in religious studies and history at Cal State Fullerton, discovered his primary subject, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a most unusual way … courtesy of a trashcan and an engaging professor. (Bonhoeffer was a German evangelical pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident. His influential writings focused on Christianity’s role in a secular society.)

“I was meeting with one of my professors, Bradley Starr, to discuss my broad research interests,” he recalled. “When I mentioned Bonhoeffer, his eyes lit up. He literally reached into his trashcan and handed me a magazine that was advertising a recently published work on Bonhoeffer. I ordered the book, found an area of interest and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Thompson was looking forward to visiting Washington, D.C., this spring as his senior thesis on Bonhoeffer and the lessons from Finkenwalde Seminary had been selected for display at the Council on Undergraduate Research’s annual “Posters on the Hill” event, which takes place in the nation’s capital. It was abruptly canceled in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A virtual poster session is scheduled for Tuesday, April 21 at 9 a.m. on Twitter. For more information , visit the Council on Undergraduate Research.

“I was surprised and incredibly pleased that my poster was selected,” Thompson said. “Sixty projects were selected, from across the nation, out of 400 applications. The point of the event is to demonstrate the research being performed in universities across the country and encourage further funding for these programs.”

Thompson’s project was the only one selected from the state of California for this honor.

At CSUF, there are many programs that benefit from federal funding, including the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, all programs that Thompson is involved in.

“Programs of these kinds are incredibly important as they support low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students who want to complete their degrees in higher education,” he said. “Participating in this event not only would have allowed me to promote my research … but would have enabled me to endorse the very programs that encouraged my research.”

The Problem of Discrimination in Nazi Germany

Thompson was particularly interested in “the lessons from Finkenwalde Seminary.” The focus of the seminary was the problem of racism in Nazi Germany.

“During the 1930s, Hitler called on Nazi-supporting Christians to bring Germany’s churches under the ideals of the Nazi state,” Thompson explained. “This included race. The seminary at Finkenwalde resisted those ideas and taught a counter-narrative to combat targeted discrimination. Bonhoeffer directed the seminary and taught many of the classes.”

Many, including Nazi-supporting Christians, held the people, the land and the leader of Germany in high esteem. They believed Germany was called to a special path of victory and triumph. In pursuit of this path, certain groups of people were targeted because they did not fit “the ideal” that Germans had in mind. Bonhoeffer, however, saw the flaw and addressed it directly in lectures from Finkenwalde.

The Power of Resistance

“Ultimately, the research reveals the power of resistance,” Thompson said. “And it looks at the influence of nationalism on race. Because the Nazis held the ideals of the state in such high regard, they justified sacrificing human beings for those ideals. It also focuses on a deeper issue — the power of ideas.

“Because of my research, I often wonder about the everyday influences that impact my thinking. Where do these ideas come from? Who produces them? Bonhoeffer and the students at Finkenwalde remained cognizant of the ideology of their leaders … and strongly resisted this world view.”

Lessons for Today

Thompson believes that some of the lessons of Bonhoeffer resonate today.

For the rest of the post…

On the Sunday after Easter in 1945, a hastily assembled tribunal sentenced him to death. Hours later, in the predawn twilight, soldiers waited at his cell while he finished his prayers and removed his prison clothes. Then they led him to the gallows where he gave his life to the risen Lord.

Allied forces were rapidly approaching Berlin, and the Nazi’s were all but defeated. Only three weeks later, Hitler would kill himself and thus end the war. Regardless, the Fuehrer would have his revenge for Bonhoeffer’s part in the failed Valkyrie assassination attempt.

Some say that this fact disqualifies Bonhoeffer from the title of martyr. Pastors should not intrude into the political realm, they say. Most especially, they should not take up the sword. But those who say this misjudge both the nature of politics and the details of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Other notable German theologians, like Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, abandoned Germany for the safety of Switzerland and America, respectively. Bonhoeffer’s friends advised this, too, and arranged his passage to America. But when Germany made the first moves of war, he knew he could not abandon the German people to the Nazi regime.

“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act,” said Bonhoeffer. Those who left their posts in Germany to criticize the Nazi regime from afar, gave up their birthright as German citizens. Bonhoeffer did not know what awaited him in Germany, only that he must be within its borders to live out his God-given vocation.

The speech and action that he had in mind was to train Lutheran pastors. However, that door was closed to him when he was conscripted into the Nazi army as an intelligence officer. Unable to escape this calling, his choice was narrowed by God. He could discharge his office faithful to God, or faithful to the Fuehrer.

Thousands of German officers were grappling with the same choice. Day in and day out, ordinary Germans who had been conscripted into the service of a madman were given hideous orders and forced to choose between God and man. Some disobeyed them and died. Others committed the atrocities under the cover of “duty” and “obedience to authority.” These, latter, bore the consequences of their actions as life-long scars on the conscience.

Bonhoeffer reasoned, “If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” This led to the choice of his life.

Generals and government ministers who understood their responsibility to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of a madman approached Bonhoeffer. They asked him to use his position to query the Allied forces secretly. The German officials wanted him to ask the Allies if they would spare the German people if the officials could remove Hitler from power to end his illegal war.

Simply by asking Bonhoeffer this question, they had placed him on the horns of a dilemma, and they had trusted their lives into his hands. His duty as a Nazi officer was to report this traitorous question to his superior officer. But what was his duty as a human being under God?

What would you do?

For the rest of the post…

by Rev. Dr. Peter Walker, Principal, United Theological College

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on the order of Heinrich Himmler seventy-five years ago in a Nazi concentration camp in Flossenburg, only days before its liberation, in April 1945. Bonhoeffer had known from the age of sixteen that he wanted to study theology. He died having fully expended himself in that calling. And in so doing, he has become an inspiration to generations of Christians. As his gravestone reads: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Witness to Jesus Christ.

In 1935, Bonhoeffer accepted a call from the Confessing Church, an alliance of faithful resistance to Nazism, to lead an underground seminary for its pastors. There, in Finkenwalde, he wrote Life Together in 1938. Now a devotional classic, Life Together was first of all a guide to life in Christian community – a reflection for his underground seminarians. Within it, Bonhoeffer explores the joy and struggle of community lived in and through Jesus Christ; a spiritual and even divine reality, manifest in human fellowship, and marked by Bible reading, communal singing, sharing a table, prayers, and daily work.

Yet the central chapter of this beautiful book about being together is titled ‘The Day Alone’.

Hearing the voice of God

Bonhoeffer writes, ‘Let those who cannot be alone beware of community’. The noise and activity of life together may crowd out the voice we sometimes need to hear alone, the voice we might sometimes only hear alone – the voice of God.  Yet with a balancing wisdom, Bonhoeffer follows soon after with its opposite. “The reverse is also true”, he writes. “Let those who are not in community beware of being alone”. The voice which speaks out of the silence to our inner-most self, calls us into the community of Christ’s disciples.

Bonhoeffer wanted his seminarians to understand the connection between silence and our ability to hear the still small voice of God which animates our faith; to understand “the essential relationship of silence to the Word.” And, he wanted them to understand that time together and time alone are both essential to Christ’s community. Time with others enriches our time alone, and time alone enriches our time with others. “The day together will be unfruitful without the day alone”, Bonhoeffer writes. And conversely, “After a time of quiet, we meet others in a different and a fresh way”.

“Only in this fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone, and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other. Both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ.”

COVID-19 and ‘the day alone

COVID-19 has brought a form of ‘the day alone’ upon us all. In reality, it will be much more than a day. We are beginning a time of relative solitude that will last for weeks and may hold for months.

Notwithstanding our heartbreak for those to whom this virus brings suffering, for whom we must do all we can in love, I suspect Dietrich Bonhoeffer would encourage us, as individuals and as the church, to embrace this time alone. Embrace it for meditation on the scriptures. Embrace it as an opportunity to be intentional in our listening for God. That will not be easy, and we will need to be patient. Yet we have time. What is God saying to you? What is God saying to this church?

Embrace this mandated time apart as a time for prayer.

For the rest of the post…

asian american

Pastor Ray Chang and Dr. Michelle Reyes have collaborated with leaders across the U.S. to combat the rising racism against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Under the umbrella of the Asian American Christian Collaborative (AACC), these leaders have released the “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of Covid-19.”

“We call for an immediate end to the xenophobic rhetoric, hate crimes, and violence against our people and communities,” write the authors. “We invite all Americans to join us in combating these contagions and work with us for the welfare of all.” The authors go on to say:

In the last two weeks of March 2020, Asian Americans have reported nearly 1,000 incidents of racism, and without mitigation, we expect that number to rise in the weeks ahead. Many of these were violent attacks against life and human dignity, and many more incidents have gone unreported.

The statement recalls previous incidents of racism against Asian Americans in the U.S. during World War II, as well as the racism Middle Eastern Americans experienced following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Noting the two greatest commandments to love God and neighbor, the authors write,

We urge you to speak without ambiguity against racism of every kind. Faithful Christian witness requires anti-racist work, and silence only perpetuates the sins not addressed. This includes going beyond shallow acknowledgement of the most obvious incidents of racism to taking responsibility in confronting the longstanding tendencies of people to discount and dismiss the realities of racism. It also includes addressing the disbelief and disobedience of your constituents who continue to ignore members of the body of Christ who are in pain and under threat.

For the rest of the post…

April 9 will be the 75th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who led German resistance. As the Allies were closing in on Nazi Germany, Hitler ordered Bonhoeffer’s execution and he was hanged at the age of 39.

Bonhoeffer is an important figure for all of us who are trying to live lives of kindness, generosity and compassion in an emerging culture that is dominated by strident and hostile ideologies. Bonhoeffer, who refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Nazi regime, was banned from speaking, writing or preaching. In his book, “Ethics,” he wrote: “What is worse than doing evil is being evil… to lie is wrong, but what is worse than the lie is the liar, for the liar contaminates everything he says, because everything he says is meant to further a cause that is false.”
The greatest examples from history who resisted evil with measured resistance —Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bonhoeffer — did so with servant leadership…
Baptism Continues, Though Rome Church Services Canceled

Since Italy is a country that has experienced years of decreasing birth rates and is now considered an elderly country; the death rate in Italy is reflecting that reality. Currently travel is severely restricted, and stores and restaurants are all to remain closed until further notice. Only grocery stores and pharmacies are permitted to remain open, with some industries operating with restrictions. Going to a friend’s house for lunch or dinner is not allowed.

IMB church planter Reid Karr baptizes new believer, Akille De Chirico. The baptism took place in De Chirico’s home when the church was not able to meet due to the coronavirus outbreak. Church members watched the baptism online via a livestream.

These restrictions are of course having a significant impact on religious and church meetings of any kind. Churches have had to cancel services and find creative ways to meet and have community. Modern technology has been a huge blessing and help for many seeking corporate worship.

On Sunday, March 8 in Rome, Italy, the evangelical churches Breccia di Roma San Paolo and Breccia di Roma centro (downtown) were to meet together to celebrate the baptism of Akille De Chirico. Akille was adopted as a young boy from Ethiopia into an Italian family. His family has loved him unconditionally and walked with him through good times and difficult times. His father is a faithful pastor and his mother is a dedicated nurse.

Akille spent his childhood in a home where the gospel was taught and lived, and he followed his family to church where the gospel was faithfully preached. For Akille, however, Christianity was just one religion among many and had no claim to absolute truth. Akille began attending the church plant Breccia di Roma San Paolo in September 2018. The Lord built on the foundation of his many years of exposure to the gospel and opened his eyes to the exclusive truth claims of the good news of Jesus Christ. The Lord revealed to Akille that forgiveness of sins, redemption, salvation and eternal life are found in Christ alone. Akille made the decision to follow his profession of faith in Jesus with believer’s baptism.

For the rest of the post…

Reid Karr is a church planter in Europe. He lives in Rome, Italy, with his wife, Stephanie, and three daughters.

Reid Karr is a church planter with the IMB, serving in Italy

Today in History: German Foreign Office Warns about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

February 29, 1936: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would later be executed by the Nazis for his involvement in the resistance, had already made a name for himself, stirring up trouble with his actions alongside the Confessing Church. He had broken with the (much) larger German Christians and already declared that they represented a false Christ to the world, in part due to their allegiance to the Nazi state.

Bonhoeffer was heavily involved in ecumenical movements, and had informed the Foreign Office that he would be traveling as the director of the Preacher’s Seminary at Finkenwalde to support ecumenical work in Sweden. Today in history, the Foreign Office sent a letter to the German Legation in Stockholm warning them about Pastor Bonhoeffer’s actions:

The Reich and Prussian Ministry for Church Affairs as well as the Church Foreign Office would like to warn you about Pastor Bonhoeffer because his activities are not conducive to German interests. State and church officials have serious objections to his trip abroad, which has only now become known.
I respectfully ask that you report back concerning his public activities and concerning possible reactions in the Swedish press.

(From Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14: Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937[DBWE 14:146])

This message’s import should not be understated. It shows that Bonhoeffer was already being monitored both at home and abroad.

For the rest of the post…

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