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Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy) (copy)
Chaplain Norris Burkes. Photo by Wade Spees.

This weekend, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I’m reading “The Liberator” by Alex Kershaw.

It’s a great book in many places, but I’m having a problem with the places where Kershaw negates the contribution of faith in the foxholes.

I’ll admit that I appreciate Kershaw’s efforts to expose the bonehead things said by organized religions, but, as a combat veteran myself, I believe it’s a disservice to our veterans to deny the place their faith played in the battlefield.

I can only suggest that Kershaw will find a place in his future writings for at least three epic contributions from people of faith.

Starting from my obvious slant, chaplains.

Father Francis Sampson, or Father Sam as he was affectionately known, was the real inspiration for the film “Saving Private Ryan.” It was he, and not the character played by Tom Hanks who found Fritz Niland, the real-life “Private Ryan,” who had lost his three brothers on D-Day.

Along with the 501st paratroopers, Sampson landed at Saint-Come-du-Mont on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He gathered wounded in a nearby farmhouse but quickly found his farmhouse aid station overtaken by Germans.

The frightened padre was placed against a wall to be shot, but a Catholic German soldier saved him by convincing his comrades not to kill a priest. The soldiers returned the priest to an Allied medic station where he ministered to German and American wounded paratroopers.

Father Sam was recaptured during the Battle of the Bulge and imprisoned near Berlin. There the chaplain was granted permission to stay in the enlisted men’s prison to conduct mass for the remainder of the war.

He would often discount his heroism by saying “no pair of knees shook more than my own, nor any heart ever beat faster in times of danger.” Yet a grateful nation bestowed on the humble man the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest American military award, for his selfless help to the soldiers.

After the war, the never-quit-chaplain volunteered for Korea. He retired after that war, but his nation recalled him for the Vietnam War as head of the military chaplains in 1967.

Faith also guided Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss. Portrayed in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” Doss was an American pacifist combat medic who refused to carry or use a weapon of any kind.

Although not a D-Day hero, he was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for action in Guam and the Philippines. Doss distinguished himself in the Battle of Okinawa by saving 75 soldiers and became the only conscientious objector in WWII to receive the Medal of Honor.

Finally, no spiritual writing about WWII should omit the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And of course, there’s a movie about him too, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist and Nazi Resistor.” (2003)

His early-20th-century writings chastised the church for avoiding its role in the secular world. Few serious seminarians graduated after WWII without reading Bonhoeffer’s influential book, “The Cost of Discipleship.”

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“Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering.”

It’s quite strange to expect people to conform to your morals because you quoted a book they don’t read

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.

Posted by | Apr 13, 2019

Eighty years ago, a 33-year-old Christian theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States. He would not live to see his 40th birthday.

The Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as other religious bodies worldwide, recently commemorated the annual remembrance of German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resister of Nazi totalitarianism and terrorism. On April 9, 1945, after being in held prisoner for two years, Bonhoeffer was hanged for his association with others who resisted Hitler and the atrocities his party committed against Jews, Germans, among others.

Evidence showed the group he worked with also plotted to assassinate Hitler. A week later the Allies liberated that very POW Camp. As he was being led away to what all knew would be his death, Bonhoeffer said, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book “The Cost of Discipleship,” that is now a classic. He compares “cheap grace,” which is like a head nod or an “atta boy” to the ethics of following Jesus, without actually getting in the water and risking a swim – with “costly grace,” that throws people into the deep end because they are formed by and live out the ethics of Jesus.

This is not a church and state issue. It is the involvement of a person of faith, regardless of religion, using politics, political action, and involvement to change the world for the poor, needy, oppressed, voiceless and powerless. Such costly grace brought Bonhoeffer into the resistance movement against the Nazis.

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APRIL 9, 2019 BY DEACON GREG KANDRA

German Federal Archives/Wikipedia

The great preacher, writer, theologian and witness to the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was executed on April 9, 1945, just days before the Nazi camp where he was held, Flossenbürg, was liberated. He was 39.

Here’s what happened: 

On 4 April 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators [those who had plotted for Hitler’s assassination] be destroyed. Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner, Payne Best, to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on 8 April 1945 by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp.  He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp,  three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard where he was hanged, along with fellow conspirators Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Canaris’s deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack, General Friedrich von Rabenau, businessman Theodor Strünck, and German resistance fighter Ludwig Gehre.

Eberhard Bethge, a student and friend of Bonhoeffer’s, writes of a man who saw the execution: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer…In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

His legacy has been profound:

Bonhoeffer’s life as a pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality who lived as he preached—and his being killed because of his opposition to Nazism—exerted great influence and inspiration for Christians across broad denominations and ideologies, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the anti-communist democratic movement in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.

Bonhoeffer is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of several Christian denominations on the anniversary of his death, 9 April. This includes many parts of the Anglican Communion, where he is sometimes identified as a martyr.

In our own troubled time, Bonhoeffer’s courage in the face of evil, and his suffering in the face of persecution, stand as a testament to true Christian witness — the very essence of what it means to be a “martyr.”

His likeness is preserved in Westminster Abbey, alongside other martyrs, including St. Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King, Jr.

He continues to teach and inspire Christians today.

For the rest of the post…

Charlotte Pence. (AP Photo)
Charlotte Pence. (AP Photo)

The German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote extensively on the importance of diversity in the church. We can learn from his example and take his messages to heart today.

Diversity has always been a crux of the gospel message. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul admonishes the Corinthian church for treating their community meals as a place to separate the rich from the poor.

“In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent, I believe it…So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.” (1 Corinthians 11:18,33 NIV)

He sees this as a problem because of the lack of inclusivity within the church. The sacred meals are being used as a place where some people are considered better than others. Paul is disgusted by this, as he knew Jesus would be.

During the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, the Aryan Paragraph was introduced to exclude Jews from certain areas of life. When this began to affect the Evangelical Church in Germany, pastors had to decide how they would respond to the government’s move to exclude Jewish Christians from the clergy and church community.

The German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was involved in anti-Nazi resistance. When he heard of these divisive and racist actions being taken by the Nazis, he spoke out against them. This eventually led to the splitting off of the Confessing Church from the Nazi attempt to create a pro-Nazi Protestant Reich Church.

We can see that the split ultimately began with the knowledge of exclusivity–and the view from those like Bonheoffer that this was entirely contrary to the message of the Gospel.

“This is the very point where it must be made crystal clear: here is where we are tested as to whether we know what the church is. Here, where the Jewish Christian whom I don’t like is sitting next to me among the faithful, this is precisely where the church is.” (The Aryan Paragraph in the Church)

Bonhoeffer saw church as a place that challenged the status quo, that called into account and made people answer for the impurities of their human nature.

Additionally, he wrote, “The exclusion of the Jewish Christians from our communion of worship would mean: The excluding Church is erecting a racial law as a prerequisite of Christian communion. But in doing so, it loses Christ himself, who is the goal of even this human, purely temporal law.” (The Jewish‐Christian Question as Status Confessionis)

Church should be a place where our prejudices are to be put to the side, where we are meant to find common ground in the reality that we are all sinners.

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At the time of his confirmation he had started reading his Bible for himself, and did not hide an exciting novel between the black covers! 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 37.

Posted by | Apr 13, 2019

Eighty years ago, a 33-year-old Christian theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States. He would not live to see his 40th birthday.

The Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as other religious bodies worldwide, recently commemorated the annual remembrance of German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resister of Nazi totalitarianism and terrorism. On April 9, 1945, after being in held prisoner for two years, Bonhoeffer was hanged for his association with others who resisted Hitler and the atrocities his party committed against Jews, Germans, among others.

Evidence showed the group he worked with also plotted to assassinate Hitler. A week later the Allies liberated that very POW Camp. As he was being led away to what all knew would be his death, Bonhoeffer said, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book “The Cost of Discipleship,” that is now a classic. He compares “cheap grace,” which is like a head nod or an “atta boy” to the ethics of following Jesus, without actually getting in the water and risking a swim – with “costly grace,” that throws people into the deep end because they are formed by and live out the ethics of Jesus.

This is not a church and state issue. It is the involvement of a person of faith, regardless of religion, using politics, political action, and involvement to change the world for the poor, needy, oppressed, voiceless and powerless. Such costly grace brought Bonhoeffer into the resistance movement against the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer was also a founder and leader in a church-based resistance movement, the Confessing Church. When he was imprisoned, he refused the prayers of that Church. At a 50th Anniversary commemoration of his death, Klaus Engelhardt, then Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Germany, lifted up Bonhoeffer’s reasoning, and challenged the church on it.

Bonhoeffer felt that exercising political means to resist evil and injustice set him outside the circle of prayer. Only those imprisoned for their proclamation and work on behalf of the church, not political resistance, should be prayed for, and that exempted him. Engelhardt challenged the religious communities to reconsider Bonhoeffer’s position that separated resistance and faith.

Today what does “costly grace” look like? How do we separate holding religious principles from applying those principles, regardless of their origin, on behalf of the poor, needy, oppressed, threatened, and voiceless? What drives many who risk speaking up in our country against while privilege and nationalism, threats to Muslims, Jews, and law-abiding immigrants?

People of religion and no-religion share a vision of a common good for all. Almost daily tragedy strikes a blow to our hearts and vision for a better world – whether in New Zealand, threats to synagogues, mosques and churches here and worldwide, the continuing rise of gun violence and absence of adults to stand with our children against it. Health care costs for the needy and elderly rise. The opioid epidemic – suicides…

For the rest of the article…

During his (Bonhoeffer) final years in school, there is increasing evidence of his opposition to the right-wing radicalism that was becoming more and more obstreperous. When he left for his last school holiday, he wrote to his parents that on the train he found himself sitting opposite “a man wearing a swastika” and spent the whole time arguing with him. The man “was really quite bigoted and right-wing.”

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 33.

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