Last night I was privileged to participate in a panel discussion about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer because Taproot Theatre here in Seattle is running a play about his life right now. Four of us came prepared to share with the audience some of the ways Bonhoeffer has influenced our lives, along with favorite quotes. This was followed by a Q&A and discussion. I hope it was a good evening for others. I know it was rich for me.
Bonhoeffer is a mentor of sorts, but unlike flesh and blood mentors, we’re able to shut our authorial mentors out when what they have to say is inconvenient. We develop, over time, a predictable relationship with them, whereby we go back to the same well of wisdom, over and over again – the same passages from the same books. We choose the words the inspire us, that point us in the right direction, that make us feel good. The danger is that we’ll keep listening to what, for we who like to read, are the “Greatest Hits” of these favorite authors. Living friends though, have this nasty habit of being unpredictable, of reminding us of things we don’t want to hear.
Last night, though, because of a great panel of guests, Dietrich shared some words I hadn’t heard for a very long time, words I’m happy to share with you now. They’re from his July 21 letter, written from prison:
During the past year I have come to appreciate the worldliness of Christianity as never before. The Christian is not homo religios, but a man, pure and simple, just as Jesus was a man, compared with John the baptist anyhow. I don’t mean the shallow “this-worldliness” of the enlightened, of the busy, the comfortable or the lascivious. It’s something much more profound than that, something in which the knowledge of death and resurrection is ever present…I discovered and am still discovering to this very moment that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe. One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. This is what I mean by worldliness – taking life in stride with all its duties and problems, its successes and failures, its experiences and helplessness. It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly in the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. This is faith, that is repentance, and that is what makes a human.
It’s too personal for me to share with you why this word was so powerful, but last night, on stage–the Holy Spirit spoke to me, yet again, through the voice of our dear departed friend Dietrich. But this time he spoke words I hadn’t selected–and often it’s the words that we don’t select that we most need to hear. Thanks Markus, for sharing that good word from Dietrich last night.
If you only have $$ or space to own ten books in your life, surely Letters and Papers from Prison should be one of them.
Do you have a favorite Bonhoeffer quote? Please share it with us.