why bonhoeffer and why now...?

Not only did I move into semi-retirement this week, but I've set out to do a four week worship series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As I have publicized this within the church, now is the time to take a fresh look at Brother B's insights.

Drawing from the wisdom of the German theologian’s final work, Letters and Papers from Prison, this worship series will both introduce contemporary people to the insights of Bonhoeffer (perhaps for the first time!) We will also explore four broad themes that hold continued significance for the living church of Jesus Christ. As February ripens, our conversation will include:

February 5, 2017:"  An Introduction to the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer "(worship will include Holy Communion)

February 12, 2017: "Jesus as “the Man for Others” (this is heart of Bonhoeffer's Christology and how he explained both why Jesus was important to non-believers and how Jesus matters to those within the Church.)

February 19th: “Religionless Christianity” (Bonhoeffer called believers to live without empty piety, sentimentality or superstition so that faith, science, art and politics became allies rather than enemies in the contemporary world.)

February 26th: "Living in “a World Come of Age” (our realm requires women and men who are able to take responsibility for ethical living in cultures that are sophisticated yet often confused about sacrificial love.)

Some of the martyred theologian's poems and hymns will be included in my presentations, too as I make the case for a religionless Christianity in 21st century America.  Already, some have asked me to be clear about WHY I am going deeper into Bonhoeffer?  So let me clarify beyond confusion.  Our body politic is now enmeshed in a struggle for the soul of nation.  Under the Trump Regime. we have started to sacrifice the common good for the emotional well-being of the shrinking White middle class. But rather than honestly and practically redress their legitimate grievances, a tragic course of pandering to our lowest common denominator has been set in motion. Such cruelty is destined to collapse in time - Dr. King was right that "the arc of the moral universe tilts ever so slightly towards justice" - but we will destroy countless innocent lives along the way. In ten days time the United States has already become pariah in Western Europe as our oldest allies explain the Geneva Convention and the purpose of NATO to the amateur-in-chief. In his opposition to the polices and practices of the Nazis in Germany, Bonhoeffer linked acts of radical social justice and compassion with the heart of the Cross. To follow Jesus is to live fully into the foolish wisdom of solidarity with the least of the Lord's sisters and brothers (Mt. 25).

Another has to do with strengthening the heart of Christian resistance to this Regime. In Bonhoeffer's day he noted that a number of people of good will had left the church because it was sentimental and superstitious. This has only intensified in our era. That is why he worked so hard to speak about Christian values and ethics in language potential allies could comprehend. In early January, for example, over 2,000 strangers joined together in our small town for a March and Rally for Freedom. There were over 1,400 in our Sanctuary and another 400 in the Fellowship Hall listening to a remote audio feed. The organizing coalition grasped that when we discern common ground, people will respond - and they did. Bonhoeffer worked tirelessly to help the people of his day translate their good intentions into deeds of resistance. We can do nothing less today as we strive to disrupt the Regime's rush into American fascism.

And the third reason I am committed to exploring and learning from Bonhoeffer is this: our history in the USA shows that periodically our politics erupt into acts of racist and nativist violence. Think post-Reconstruction, think the rise on the new KKK in the American heartland of the early 20th century, think the reaction of the Dixiecrats and Klan to the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s, think David Duke and the neo-Nazi rallies of the 80s economic slump, or today's unholy obeisance to the President. Just beyond the obvious bubble of liberal habits, manners and social sobriety is a long history of lynchings, fear-mongering, rape culture, political demagoguery, and violence. But NEVER by the entire populous - only by an agitated and well-organized minority. And what has been true in the past is true today: when people of good will are energized and our faith communities help interpret the call to action as part of our witness to the Lord, then the vile hatred is stopped for a season. Now is the time to engage our people so that we stop this train wreck before it careens out of control.

We should confess: the Regime is NOT the totality of America. It IS a well-financed coalition of uneasy collaborators including: political opportunists, disempowered white workers, neo-Nazi/ white supremacists, old line evangelicals obsessed with wedge issues, a cadre of aggressive entrepreneurs, some right leaning military leaders, and many good hearted souls who are nostalgic for the "good old days" when the White middle class was the majority (and let's not forget those who have a blind but well-nourished hatred of Mrs. Clinton.) But this is not a majority. Best estimates in our divided land put this coalition at about 40% of the population.  As is becoming increasing clear to those who have willingly signed on to this bargain with the Devil, however, the costs are increasingly ugly. Columnist David Brooks wrote recently:

Many Republican members of Congress (editor's note: who serve in majority White
communities) have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump. They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he’ll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media... the Trump administration is not a Republican administration; it is an ethnic nationalist administration. Trump insulted both parties equally in his Inaugural Address. The Bannonites are utterly crushing the Republican regulars when it comes to actual policy making. (check out the whole piece

This is the time when people of faith must learn to see the face of our crucified Lord in those who are most wounded and vulnerable. We can disagree about the role of government. We can argue about whether a social democracy like Western Europe works better than the trickle down theories of President Reagan (hint: they do! And we can challenge one another about how to overcome race hatred, misogyny and homophobia. What we cannot do - but is already happening - is let mean-spirited amateurs run over precious human lives.  Brooks goes on to write:

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the aroma of bigotry infuses the whole operation, and anybody who aligns too closely will end up sharing in the stench. The administration could have simply tightened up the refugee review process and capped the refugee intake at 50,000, but instead went out of its way to insult Islam. The administration could have simply tightened up immigration procedures, but Trump went out of his way to pick a fight with all of Mexico. Other Republicans have gone far out of their way to make sure the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam or on Arabs, but Trump has gone out of his way to ensure the opposite. The racial club is always there.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer started as a bourgeois theologian born with a silver spoon in his mouth and tons of privilege.  In many ways, he remained one of the elite even as he practiced giving up more and more of his social and political advantages. When he was stripped naked and hanged just 10 days before the defeat of Germany, he had allied himself with Jews and all who opposed fascism.  He was living into a spirituality of faith from below - from the perspective of the oppressed - and while he died before this ripened, his martyrdom points to the class, race and gender suicide that guided his heart.

If any of this resonates with you, please join us on Sundays @ 10:30 am.


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