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The Cost of His Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45)

On July 20, 1944, the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler failed. The very next day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to Eberhard Bethge, his former student and future biographer. Bonhoeffer had been in prison since April 5, 1943. In the wake of the failure of the Valkyrie plot, Hitler led a crackdown on the resistance movement. Hundreds were immediately arrested; many in the movement already held in prison were moved to higher security prisons. Many were put on expedited paths to their execution. Bonhoeffer was one of them.

But on July 21, 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote about a conversation he had in America in 1930. He was in the United States to learn of theological developments. He was to spend the year at the patently theological liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He found it wanting. “No theology here,” he reported back to Germany. But he did find dear friends, and he found adventure on a road trip from New York to Mexico City.

Somewhere along the way, as they camped in pup tents and sat around a fire, they asked each other what they wanted to do with their lives. One of them, a Frenchman named Lasserre, said he wanted to be a saint. Bonhoeffer picks up the story from there in his letter to Bethge the day after the failed plot:

At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. . . . I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous or an unrighteous man, a sick man or a healthy man. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.

As we reflect on that list in that last sentence, there’s only one word we really like, “successes.” We tend to avoid the other things mentioned by Bonhoeffer, but those things are part of life, of “this-worldliness.” Bonhoeffer then adds that by living life in this way, “We throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of the God-man in the world — watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith.”

Bonhoeffer learned this in a very short time in a very short life. He died in his thirty-ninth year. While most people are only beginning to make their mark and offer their mature thought as they turn forty, Bonhoeffer never made it to that milestone.

Young Professor in Berlin

He was born into an academic family. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Berlin. One of his brothers, a chemist, would go on to discover the spin isomers of hydrogen. The family home had a large library, a conservatory, and walls lined with very impressive looking oil portraits of his predecessors. Dietrich excelled as a student. He took his first doctorate as he turned twenty-one and a second doctorate three years later. He served in the academy, initially. But he loved the church.

As a young professor at the University of Berlin, he noticed an appeal for a teacher of a confirmation class at a Lutheran church in Berlin, on the other side of the tracks from where the Bonhoeffer family home stood. These were rough kids, who had already chewed through a few prospective teachers. The pastor was hoping to get an idealistic seminary student who didn’t have the better sense to not do this. Instead, the pastor and this band of prepubescent ruffians got a theology professor in wire-rimmed glasses and tailored suits.

Within minutes, Bonhoeffer had won them over. When the day came for their confirmation — a day the pastor was almost sure would never come — Bonhoeffer took them all to his tailor and got them all suits. He was the kind of professor who would just as soon pull out a “football” and hit the soccer pitch with his students as he lectured to them. During the time he spent in America, he got an armload of 78s of blues and negro spirituals. After the soccer games, he would spin records with his students and talk theology. For Bonhoeffer, education was discipleship.

Life Together

When the German Lutheran Church endorsed the Nazi party and became the Reich Kirche, Bonhoeffer quickly became a leader among the Confessing Church, despite his very young age. He lost his license to teach at the University of Berlin, and his books were placed on the banned book list. He was appointed the director of one of the five seminaries for the Confessing Church. At this seminary in Finkenwalde, he taught his students the Bible and theology, and he also taught them how to pray. Bonhoeffer saw these three things — biblical studies, theology, and prayer — as the essential elements of the pastoral office.

Eberhard Bethge, one of his students at Finkenwalde, exemplifies what he was taught by Bonhoeffer. Bethge wrote, “Because I am a preacher of the word, I cannot expound Scripture unless I let it speak to me every day. I will misuse the word in my office if I do not keep meditating on it in prayer.”

The Gestapo found out about the seminary at Finkenwalde and shut it down. Bonheffer spent the next year in his parents’ home. He wrote Life Together, memorializing what he practiced and what he had learned at Finkenwaldeab, and he visited his students and kept them on task with their studies and ministry.

Letters from Prison

The next years of Bonhoeffer’s life, 1940–1943, are debated. He joined the Abwehr at the urging of his brother-in-law. But it does not appear that he is actually much of a spy at all. He used his position to travel freely around the country — a way to keep up with his students and keep up with the churches they were pastoring. Then comes the contested episode of his life as he became part of a group seeking to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s role was not one of providing strategy — that was supplied by the other highly placed military and intelligence agency officials.

Bonhoeffer appears to be the pastor in the room, the one who gives the blessing on the undertaking they were about to embark on. Bonhoeffer wrestled with it, wondering if what they were doing was right and not at all presuming it was right and righteous. It was war, and these Germans were convinced that Hitler was an enemy to the German state and the German people, as well as to the other nations plunged into war. Whatever Bonhoeffer’s contribution was to this group, he did not make it presumptively or rashly.

The plots, like the Valkyrie plot, all failed. On April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and sent to Tegel Prison. For the next two years, he would live in a 6’ x 9’ prison cell. He spoke of missing listening to birds. He missed seeing colors. Early in his time at Tegel, he despaired for his life. It was also in Tegel that Bonhoeffer wrote about living a “this-worldly” life. It was at Tegel that he spoke of learning to have faith in life’s failures, difficulties, and perplexities. At Tegel, he wrote poetry. He wrote a novel. He wrote sermons for weddings and baptisms — they were smuggled out and read by others at these occasions. Bonhoeffer’s time at Tegel yielded his classic text Letters and Papers from Prison.

In one of those letters, on June 27, 1944, he wrote, “This world must not be prematurely written off.” He was in a Nazi prison cell while Hitler was unleashing madness upon the world, and Bonhoeffer wrote about being a Christian in the world, in the time and place in which God had put him.

Cost of Discipleship

In 1936, Bonhoeffer published Nachfolge. It would be later published in English as The Cost of Discipleship. In it he declares, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

In Christ, we are dead. The old self and the old way is dead. And, in Christ, we are alive. After the Valkyrie plot, Bonhoeffer could write simply, “Jesus is alive. I have hope.”

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Holocaust Museum Houston to offer special tours focused on life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Holocaust Museum Houston has additional special guided tours of its permanent exhibition with an emphasis on the life and work of German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer this winter due to popular demand.

Four tours were scheduled in October, but quickly sold out. New tours have been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Dec. 6 and Dec. 13 at the Museum’s Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District.

Admission is free for HMH members and students, $12 for nonmember adults, $8 for seniors and members of the active-duty military.

Tour sizes are limited, and advance reservation is requested. To register for any tour, email tours@hmh.org or call 713-527-1602. To schedule a separate private group tour for 10 or more in advance, visit the Museum’s Web site at www.hmh.org and check the Plan Your Visit tab.

Bonhoeffer was a brave exception to the silent bystanders who watched during World War II as their neighbors and friends were taken to the concentration camps. He spoke out from the pulpit and called for the church to take a stand against the Nazis. He was a part of the Abwehr resistance circle which helped Jews escape to Switzerland. In 1939, Bonhoeffer left Germany for a teaching position in New York, but he returned after one month, despite knowing that his life would be in danger. On April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer was hung at Flossenburg on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler.

Bonhoeffer’s actions against the Nazi Party and his message to the church in the context of the events of the Holocaust will be the focus of tours of the Museum’s permanent exhibit, German railcar and Danish fishing boat. Tours include a look at the early influences on Bonhoeffer before the Holocaust, his organization of the Confessing Church to stand with the Jews in reaction to the Aryan clause, his involvement in assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler and his imprisonment and execution at the Flossenburg concentration camp by direct order from Hitler. The tours include the stories of the bishop of Munster and Pastor Trocme, church leaders who strived to protect victims from Nazi tyranny.

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This was fun…

Dorospirit - this pretty much sums me up!

I sometimes talk about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my services, church meetings etc. He was an inspirational person!

But then I thought sometimes it’s a bit boring to just talk about someone’s biography. So instead, I created a quiz.

These are my questions (and I had fun making up some of the answers!!):

Bonhoeffer Quiz:

  1. Bonhoeffer’s father was
    a) a Lutheran minister
    b) a butcher and an atheist
    c) a psychiatrist and a Christian
  2. Because he was too young to be ordained after he finished his studies in theology (he had 2 PhDs and was a University Lecturer before the age of 25!), Bonhoeffer spent some time studying in:
    a) the USA
    b) the UK
    c) Switzerland
  3. While he was in the States, Bonhoeffer attended and was deeply inspired by
    a) a Presbyterian Church in Texas
    b) a Methodist Church in Florida
    c) an African-American Baptist Church in Harlem
  4. Bonhoeffer was

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On this day, 75 years ago, the bloodiest war in human history broke out when Nazi Germany, fresh off of signing a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, invaded Poland. Though two years would pass before the United States entered the war, the conflict would profoundly change the American role in the world.

Adolph Hitler had duped many world leaders into believing that Germany really wanted peace and perhaps just a little “lebensraum,” or “living space.” But events would prove that they were bent on the conquest of a continent, and that the only thing that could stop this menace was military might.

German SS troops, the military arm of the Nazi Party, put on Polish army uniforms and raided several German outposts along the German-Polish border, giving the regime a false pretense for their war of conquest. At 4:45 am, on September 1, 1939, over a million Germans poured over the Polish border en route to the takeover of a country that had enjoyed less than a quarter century of independence since the end of the Great War, the so-called War to End All Wars. Poland was defeated in less than a month and the world was plunged into an even more devastaing conflict.

The image of the Polish war effort in the popular mind is of antiquated Polish cavalry making chivalric, yet doomed charges against modern, sophisticated German tanks. Yet, this narrative is more the result of Nazi propaganda; the truth was much different. The Polish army fought well against their German foes, and was not too far behind technologically. Horses were still a major part of most armies on the eve of WWII because they were logistically important for troop and supply movement. Nevertheless, the German Army, drawing from their experience in the Spanish Civil War that they treated as a training ground just a few years earlier, used a sophisticated combined arms strategy of tanks, troops, and planes to quickly cut through their valiant, but outmatched Polish foe. The use of “blitzkrieg” or “lightning war” to rapidly advance and prevent the slog of trench warfare that became the norm in WWI, had become possible because of advances in communication and transportation technology. The German military would master this technique.

Poland was beaten so quickly because, on top of fighting the advanced German war machine in the West, the Polish army had to cope with the Soviet Union’s invasion from the East. Often lost in the modern historical revisionism which claims that it was really the Soviet Union that won the war and defeated Nazism, is the fact that the Communist empire helped launch World War II, and was fully complicit in the premeditated carving up of free countries.

Germany would go on to consume all of Europe, plunging the entire continent into the darkness of the Holocaust, a genocide of Jews that many at the time believed a modern, civilized country was simply incapable of. Nazi Germany had launched a new “dark age,” as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in his famous “Finest Hour” speech, that would be “made more sinister…by the lights of perverted science.”

Adolph Hitler, high off of the conquest of Europe, would turn his country against its powerful partner-in-crime, the Soviet Union, thus sowing the seeds of ultimate German defeat. Yet, the more important change in the war, at least for the free world, was the entrance of the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

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Sturm: The importance of bearing witnessomments (9

Now Playing | Hitler Seethes Over Germany’s Slapdown

As a vanquished foe, Germany is punished severely by the Allies at the Treaty of Versailles and undergoes a radical political shift which only intensifies Hitler’s anger and his resolve to make Germany powerful again.

Marion Countess Yorck Von Wartenburg, who died April 13 in Berlin at 102, was among the last survivors of the Kreisau Circle, the group of intellectuals opposed to Adolf Hitler from which sprang the attempt to kill him with a bomb in July 1944.

Jan 27th 2014 9:01AM
 
Germany Himmler Letters
FILE – The undated file photo shows German Nazi party official and head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. at unknown location in Germany. German newspaper Welt am Sonntag has published a trove of letters believed to be written by Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler. On seven full pages the paper on Sunday Jan. 26,2014 showed pictures of Himmler and his family smiling into the camera during a fishing trip, the top Nazi taking a bath in a lake or feeding a little fawn. The newspaper, which says the material is contained in an eight-part series it plans to publish, also quotes excerpts from Himmler’s love letters addressing his wife as “my sweet, beloved little woman.” Welt said it worked together with Israeli film director Vanessa Lapa, whose family had the documents in its possession. (AP Photo/str/file)

A newspaper in Germany published a collection of personal letters from one of the most notorious Nazi leaders.

The German paper “Welt am Sonntag” featured seven full pages of Heinrich Himmler’s letters, along with pictures of a smiling family shot during the war.

Himmler, who was one of the most powerful Nazi leaders that organized the ruthless killing of millions, reportedly wrote several love letters to his wife during the war. He signs one, “I’m off to Auschwitz. Kisses! Yours, Hiney,” never mentioning the horrific events that he was in charge of overseeing.

The Mirror explains the letters reveal Himmler “…as an insecure romantic fantasist who kept his mass murder program from those closest to him. He was happy to have millions killed, but did not want to upset wife…”

The pictures and letters are part of an eight-part series that re-examines the life of Himmler.

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