Thanks Dietrich…words for the ages

To live faithfully is to live 'fully present in this world'

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.

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  • Tim Krell

    “It will always be true that the wisest course for the disciple is always to abide solely by the Word of God in all simplicity.”

  • mark epps

    To my embarrassment I don’t have a favorite quote, however I guaranty that I will. I have been a Christian for, what I consider, a long time but was only familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer by name only. That panel meeting at the Taproot Theatre was energizing, revealing, necessary, timely and wanted. Building upon this shall be a wrestling between wanting to keep my life and laying it down for Christ’s sake. Pray that I lose!

  • Richard,

    It was great to meet you last night, and a real privilege and pleasure to serve on the panel with you, Kerry, Matt and Jennie – particularly around our mutual friend, mentor, model and brother, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Thank you for your comments in the blog above, I appreciate it and, truly, I learned a lot and was moved by the evening, as well.

    So, on to your “call for quotes,” and while there are so many places to reference in Bonhoeffer’s (still relatively brief) works, with Holy Week soon upon us here is one that continues to resonate with me, taken from “Jesus and the Essence of Christianity” (his reflections on Matthew 15.34, from Barcelona in 1928):

    “Christ is not the bringer of a new religion, but rather the one who brings God. Therefore, as an impossible way from the human to God, the Christian religion stands with other religions. Christians can never pride themselves on their Christianity, for it remains human, all too human. They live however, by the grace of God, which comes to people and comes to every person who opens his or her heart to it and learns to understand it in the cross of Christ. And, therefore, the gift of Christ is not the Christian religion, but the grace and love of God which culminates in the cross.”

  • raincitypastor

    thanks Markus… loved being with you. The thing that sets Christianity’s solidarity w/ the poor and vulnerable apart from any other approach is found in that last phrase, “which culminates in the cross”. This is an amazing statement, in that the giving wasn’t out of excess, or convenience, or to sooth conscience. The giving was to the uttermost, Christ’s very life. That he asks the same of us is surely what sets Christ followers apart, and what it worth pondering this Holy Week. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Wayne Bays

    test, called life, has been handled in so many miraculous ways by those who actually are doing, and have done, what Christ did, of which Bonhoeffer stands toward the top, that it seems we could join them. But being who we are amongst those with which we dwell makes Christ’s saying that we could do what He did,and even greater, seem nearly impossible; at least to me. But as we desire a good grade in this test and rich rewards after it is done, may we all lift each other up like Paul said in Eph. 6, and dwell with the Dietrich’s forevermore.

  • Joe

    Hey Richard, that must have been an awesome experience. One of my favorite Bonhoeffer quotes is: “Christianity without discipline is always Christianity without Christ.” I’ve found that the true joy of the Lord comes from obedience to His Truth, principles, and precepts. Not always easy, that is why discipline is so important.

  • raincitypastor

    it was a great time…. some very good conversations. Hope you’re well. Miss you

  • “We shall ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation that we fail to understand. How hard it is, inwardly to accept what defies our understanding; how great the temptation to feel ourselves at the mercy of blind chance; how sinister the way in which mistrust and resentment steal into our hearts at such times; and how readily we fall prey to the childish notion that course of our lives reposes in human hands! And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to an extent that we can scarce withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tells us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all.”

    From Love Letters from Cell 93. A letter to his fiancée, shortly before he was executed. I get choked up every time I read this.