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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.”

For the rest of the article…

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BY · MARCH 27, 2017

Bonhoeffer, a film of a one-man play, was screened  Saturday in the sanctuary at Bolton Hill’s Memorial Episcopal Church, in Baltimore, MD.
The film starred the late actor Peter Krummeck, who also produced the play. He was born in London in 1947, and emigrated to Cape Town, South Africa, in 1969. He died there in 2013. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the patrons of Krummeck’s Cape Town-based African Community Theatre Service.

Bonhoeffer, the play, originally debuted in Washington, D.C. in the early 2000s. It also was performed in Canada, South Africa and at Baltimore’s Theater Project. It was televised in Canada.

Backstory on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45). He was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and author, who opposed the Nazi regime. He was active in the resistance movement and in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler, the German dictator. Bonhoeffer was arrested in April, 1943, and jailed at Tegel prison. He was subsequently hanged by the Nazis — at Flossenburg — just weeks before WWII ended.

The  program was hosted by The Rev. Grey Maggiano of Memorial Episcopal. After the presentation of the film, John Kiess, professor of the Theology Department at Loyola College, The Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt of United Methodist Church, Senior Pastor, and Judith Krummeck of classical radio station WBJC, participated in a panel discussion.

They each shared their views on Bonhoeffer. A spirited Q&A from the audience followed.

In her remarks, Krummeck, a sister of Peter Krummeck, talked about the background of her brother’s work, especially in the area of the role of theater, and the church, too, in “promoting social justice and reconciliation.” She has been the popular “evening drive time host” for WBJC, since 1998. Krummeck is a native of South Africa. She is also an actress, educator and author. Her latest book, Beyond the Baobab, is a collection of essays about her immigrant experience.

I must add that I thought Peter Krummeck’s portrayal of Bonhoeffer in the 45-minute edited film version of the play was simply riveting. He captured the essence of the doomed, but courageous cleric.

For the rest of the post…

New Film Follows Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Final Chapter

Gary Blount, psychiatrist-turned-producer, has created a remarkable new film about the last days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi concentration camp, told through the eyes of a British broadcast team.

Question: You have just produced a film about influential theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer after years of studying his work. What has kept you so interested in Bonhoeffer?

Answer: Since first hearing the story more than 50 years ago, I’ve never hit a roadblock or detour.  (That is, once I got used to my Christian hero being a chain smoker.)

As with all of my heroes, I’ve constantly tried in one way or another to relate to Bonhoeffer, and I suppose this has gotten a bit easier as I’ve become acquainted with a few members of his family in Germany and England.

From the beginning, I’ve loved his hard-core faith and courage, but I confess I’ve also been increasingly wowed by his good taste:  Bechstein piano, Audi (okay DKW), and pet Saint Bernard.  And it was easy to relate to his need to move back in with his parents and his willingness to accept an adult allowance.  Dare I mention his eagerness to marry a girl half his age who was possibly smarter than he was  and a lot better looking?

You work as a psychiatrist in Minnesota. Do you have a particular interest in theology? Does your expertise in psychiatry give you particular insights into Bonhoeffer and his still-discussed ideas?

It seems to me there is a kinship between theology and psychiatry.  Many people seem convinced that neither one requires a degree or even specialized study.

Seriously, I love theological insights and, in fact, really look forward to hearing them occasionally from the pulpit.

You know, Bonhoeffer said some harsh things about mental health treatment, but some of his actions in prison reveal a more open stance.  For instance, recently I read that when he would learn from a fellow inmate in Tegel that a family member might benefit from a psychiatric consultation either to address a condition or simply mitigate what otherwise might seem to be a hopeless forensic situation, Bonhoeffer would find a way to refer the person to his father, the recently retired psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer.  I would put that in the practical theology column.

I recall a legendary professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota who would tell his residents and students:  “With this new patient, I don’t care who does the physical exam; I’ll do the history.”  That’s what I want to continue doing — focus on the dynamic story.

What is your film Come Before Winter about?

Our story is about the final chapter in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and what must have been the aching for deliverance by the Allies, who were rapidly closing in.  We felt our time frame might extract something of the essence of his life and the perspective which he seemed to seek — “the view from below.”  This view now includes more uncertainty, wartime cruelty, and vengeance.

Bonhoeffer had long been an outspoken foe of Hitler, and we chose to tell the story with the help of a couple of other anti-Nazis: seriously broken vessels Sefton Delmer and Otto John.  The latter has been called “the living link” between Bonhoeffer’s last days and the storyteller in England.

For the rest of the post…

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray and gather my thoughts to you, I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark, but with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not desert me;
My courage fails me, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace;
in me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.
Father in Heaven praise and thanks be to you for the night

 

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A prayer written in Tegel prison, Berlin

From the beginning, then, I was associated with Bonhoeffer’s training of ministers for the Confessing church. A close friendship resulted, and I accompanied him wherever he lived and worked. In 1940 I followed him him to Berlin, where I often stayed at his parents’ house, and in 1943 I married Renate Schleicher, the daughter of Bonhoeffer’s sister Ursula, who lived next door. Finally, he and I conducted an illegal correspondence that began after Bonhoeffer had survived the first dangerous series of interrogations in Tegel military prison. Eventually, this correspondence led to worldwide discussion. I also saw him several times in Tegel prison, until our contact was finally broken off as a result of my own arrest in October 1944. The Gestapo explored my relation with the Schleicher family, but neglected to investigate my ties to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Thus, I survived!

~ Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Preface to the First English Edition), xv.

By

bonhoefferToday’s guest post is by Prayson Daniel. Prayson, who blogs at With All I Am, has been using Faithlife Groups since 2012, and created the Natural Theology group. Prayson is from Tanzania, and he earned his BA at Harvest Bible College. He is currently pursuing his graduate studies at Aalborg University in Denmark. Prayson’s greatest desire is to inspire others to admire God through critical thinking.

“What keeps gnawing at me is the question, what is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today? The age when we could tell people that with words—whether with theological or with pious words—is past, as is the age of inwardness and of conscience, and that means the age of religion altogether. We are approaching a completely religionless age; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ aren’t really practicing that at all; they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We have approached a “religionless” age. Some call it a post-Christian world. Ethics and politics are no longer directly influenced by religious beliefs. For many self-describing Christians, their lives show no visible difference from unbelievers.

“What is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today?” was the question that persistently bedeviled Bonhoeffer during his solitary confinement ward at Berlin-Tegel Military Detention Center. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his participation in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. Tegel was where he spent his last eighteen months in the world he saw coming of age. He was executed on April 8th, 1945.

During his time in Berlin-Tegel, Bonhoeffer wrote his final letters to those closest to him, and explored the most pressing questions in his final days. These writings are available to us as Letters and Papers from Prison. In his letters and notes, the question arose, what is Christianity today? In his correspondence with his best friend, Eberhard Bethge (April-July 1944), Bonhoeffer offered some of the most bewildering and exciting questions and ideas to help Christians faithfully engage with a “post-Christian” world.

Bonhoeffer asked, “How can Christ become Lord of the religionless as well?” and, “Is there such a thing as a religionless Christian?” He answered these questions with “the nonreligious interpretation of biblical concepts.”

What is religionless Christianity?

For the rest of the post…

 

The year was 1943, and another Advent had dawned for Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer loved Advent and had often preached sermons on this holy season of waiting and hope as a metaphor for the entire Christian life. Just one year earlier, during the Advent of 1942, Bonhoeffer had written a circular letter to some of his friends and former students.

The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.

Those words took on a deeper meaning in December 1943 as Bonhoeffer found himself one of eight hundred prisoners awaiting trial in Berlin’s Tegel military prison.

At this point, Bonhoeffer still hoped he might be released, perhaps even in time to spend Christmas with his family and his nineteen-year-old fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer.

For the rest of the post…

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray and gather my thoughts to you, I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark, but with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not desert me;
My courage fails me, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace;
in me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.
Father in Heaven praise and thanks be to you for the night
 

Dietrich BonhoefferA prayer written in Tegel prison, Berlin

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray and gather my thoughts to you, I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark, but with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not desert me;
My courage fails me, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace;
in me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.
Father in Heaven praise and thanks be to you for the night
 

Dietrich BonhoefferA prayer written in Tegel prison, Berlin

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