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When I find myself immersed in a history book the question often comes, “how would I act in this situation?” This is typically a moot point because I have the luxury of context and a more complete view of history. Yet, I still am tempted to do this and as I read 1944, I kept putting myself in each of the character’s shoes to make an attempt to evaluate how I would react.

I picked up Jay Winik’s new book 1944 last year and recently finished it. Although not his best work, it is an important book. To this day, I believe his book April 1865 is one of the finest popular history books to educate and entertain. I wrote earlier it is a book that will make you love history.

1944: FDR and the Yimagesear That Changed America could turn you away from reading history books. Not because it is a bad book but because it addresses some of the most difficult questions of modern history and what evil humans are capable of. I figured the book would provide a good contextual perspective of World War II but it focuses on FDR, the Allies, and the knowns and unknowns about the Nazi regime’s oppression of the Jewish people.

Known and unknown.

Despite the improvements in society, genocide has not gone away and in fact the majority of the modern western world has essentially turned a blind eye to such atrocities as Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Cambodia, and Syria. These situations have proved that we have a long way to go.

The same questions arise,

We know it is going on but what are we able to do?

If we do something, what are the consequences? 

Will our reputation be damaged? 

Will Americans (or our people) perish in an attempt to help? 

Why can’t another nation closer to this take care of the issue?

We have so many other problems that also take priority.

These were similar questions asked when most of the Western world discovered about the Holocaust and the horrors of concentration camps like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and Flossenberg. In the United States, “pass the buck” seemed to be the unofficial policy between the State Department, the military, and even FDR. There wasn’t a clear answer in what to do and it too far too long to do anything to save the lives of these people. Thousands died each day as it was debated. Eventually action was taken and some lives were saved but millions still perished when they possibly could have been saved. 1944 is powerful because it illustrates how we easily we can shy away from big problems.

What do we do?

Anytime there is discussion about these questions, it is helpful to look at the people. If we don’t humanize the oppressed, we will never act. We will never become creative enough to do. I am encouraged to get out of my comfort zone to learn more and to listen to someone who is of the oppressed. Perhaps then action will emerge.

Oppression in this world is far from over and whether the issue is with equality of minorities in America, freedom for a North Korean, or a child standing up for their religious belief in school, we must search deep inside to be creative and act. I may not know exactly what to do next time this happens but I am reminded that I must get out of my chair and move. What can I do to help those in my city? What can I do to help my neighbor? Just get up, move, and love them, Dave.

 

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hod us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

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Recently I watched the movie Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and Eddie Izzard.  If you don’t know much about the story, there have been detailed and exciting documentaries on the subject but it short, it is about the plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944 by Germans.  Tom Cruise plays the lead character Claus Von Stauffenberg who led the failed assassination.  Brilliantly directed by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns, The Usual Suspects), the story comes to life in Hollywood style.  The movie is quite underrated primarily because it was written off by viewers because it featured Tom Cruise during the period of his freak out in the media.  I was intrigued by the story.

The movie got me thinking about the tremendous sacrifice in the story led by these brave Germans in the face of evil.  Americans in particular tend to think of all Germans living in 1930s and 1940s Germany as “Nazis” but it is so far from the truth.   There was brave people throughout all of Germany who who fought openly behind the scenes against the Nazis. One of them was the great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I have been reading a biography on him, Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes.  Metaxes previously had wrote the story Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce fighting to end the British slave trade.  Metaxes understands great sacrifice in his stories and with Bonhoeffer, it was about the role of the church in the face of evil.  I am of German descent so my passion is to learn more about these people and honor their lives.

I can’t believe I am m quoting Braveheart but this line is so powerful and to the point: “Every man dies, it’s just a question of how and why.”

The question kept popping up in my head, what am I dying for?

I began to think about those before me who have made such immense sacrifice. Some that came to mind: Martin Luther King, Jr. died for the injustice and suffering of the African American people, Claus Von Stauffenberg and others in the Valkyrie conspiracy died to save Germany, Bonhoeffer died to save his country and the message of his King, Jesus, Lt. Mike Murphy died “for the men next to him” in Afghanistan, Nelson Mandela stood up to fight the injustice of apartheid while forgiving those in it, and Jesus died for all of us and all of it.

Then there are those close to me that have been tremendous examples.

In high school, my cousin Carolyn overheard some other kids talking about “blowing and shooting up the school.”  This was in years following Columbine so things like this was not to be played around with at schools especially then.  She risked her reputation to make sure kids are protected.

When I was 18, my father took a week off work to join me and friends hiking in Colorado.  His boss could not reach him by phone during that period and he was let go a couple months later because his boss didn’t feel that he was “committed” enough. My father sacrificed for me and our relationship.

For justice.  For country.  For a friend.  For a son.  To just “do the right thing.” All in the name of love.

But…

I need to die for something?

Well, it may not mean you actually dying but what in this short life are you “risking”?  I’m challenged to figure out what this means to me.  I may never encounter a situation of having to stand up to a “Hitler” or a “Terrorist.”  But I know I need to “risk” in order to “live.”

Okay back to Braveheart: “Every man dies, not every man really lives.”

For me, this has been a time to engage with my two little girls and my wife and play less golf.  I used to play everyday until my early twenties.  I know that I need to take more out of my leisure time and devote it to helping others, I’m just not sure what exactly.  It may also mean that I need to break away from the “traditional” elements of life and embark on the unknown of a career.  Lots to pray about as I clearly don’t have all the answers.

What about you?

-Is your business doing something “on the fringe”?  You can go about your business as well but you can change the way things are done.

-Do you defend the reputation of someone being misrepresented at work?

-Do you stand up for the kid being bullied in the hall?

-Does your church needs people to work the night of your favorite TV show?  God gave us DVR, use it.

-When you drive down the street when you see someone who is genuinely homeless what will you do next time?

Everyday you are approached with a situation involving potential sacrifice. You may not have to die for it but you will have to make the tough decision.  It takes courage.  It takes faith.

Don’t just “let it be.”

Life is worth sacrifice, always.


PS.  I am blessed to work with a tremendous man and author, Max Lucado.  In his upcoming book Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference, Max shares this in the opening chapter:

“A few years back, three questions rocked my world.  They came from different people in the span of a month. Question 1: Had you been a German Christian during World War II, would you have taken a stand against Hitler?  Question 2: Had you lived in the South during the civil rights conflict, would you have taken a stand against racism?  Question 3: When your grandchildren discover you lived during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and 1 billion were hungry, how will they judge your response?

I didn’t mind the first two questions.  They were hypothetical.  I’d like to think I would have taken a stand against Hitler and fought against racism. But those days are gone, and those choices were not mine.  But the third question has kept me awake at night.  I do live today; so do you.  We are given a choice…and opportunity to make a big difference during a difficult time.  What if we did?  What if we rocked the world with hope?  Infiltrated all corners of God’s love and life?  What if we followed the example of the Jerusalem church?  This tiny sect expanded into a world-changing force.  We still drink from their wells and eat from their trees of faith.  How did they do it?  What can we learn from their priorities and passion?”