Archives For dietrich bonhoeffer

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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“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:43-45 ESV

In my Christian life, I have struggled with identifying who “my enemy” is and how to respond to them. Facing an enemy, I feel frustration, confusion, and hatred. These emotions can eat me up if gone unchecked. What do we do with this struggle of emotion?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up how we deal with our enemies properly.

“The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified.”

As I read this quote from Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship against scripture, three portraits of reconciliation come to mind that help me work through reconciliation and suggest ways to love my enemies.

I pray they help you too.

1. Reconciliation after Apartheid

In the dramatic storytelling of the 1994 Rugby World Cup through the movie  Invictus (2009), we see the nation of South Africa struggling to overcome decades of abuse under Apartheid. Black South Africans had been persecuted for generations under the white ruling class. But a new president had come to power: Nelson Mandela. Mandela was an activist and then a prisoner under the old regime for twenty-seven years. But now he recognized that in order to bring the nation together, he must lead by example and embrace the mostly white rugby team in their quest for the cup. The nation would see white and black, former foes, all as newly united South Africans. And it could not have been done without courage and leadership by Mandela and the rugby team. Invictus is a beautiful portrayal on how a few with great courage can make such a difference.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2. Reconciliation after The American Civil War

On April 9th 1865, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America surrendered in Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia to General U.S. Grant of the Union forces. The fate was sealed for the Confederacy after four years of intense battle. Typically the conquered like Lee would be placed in prison, hanged, or publicly humiliated after defeat. But this name was like no other before it.

The American Civil War was one of the bloodiest in the history of mankind. Most of the south was destroyed, and there were over one million casualties, among these 650,000+ dead soldiers, and 50,000 dead civilians. Both sides had good reason to hate one another after four years of extreme bloodshed and destruction.

In the book April 1865 the author described Lee’s exit after agreeing to the terms of surrender. As he left the house of surrender, General Grant walked out after Lee with his staff and all saluted the famous General as he left. Lee was not to leave as one conquered, but as a man with dignity and honor. Other soldiers showed similar grace.

“Without having planned it-and without any official sanction (Joshua L.) Chamberlain suddenly gave the order for Union soldiers to “carry arms as a sign of their deepest mark of military respect. A bugle call instantly rang out. All along the road, Union soldiers raised their muskets to their shoulders, the solute of honor.”

Enemies had been made from smallest to greatest, from the smallest families and most rural communities up to the largest cities, the most prosperous states, and even to the nation itself. And now each one who fought as enemies needed healing. The time after The Civil War is known as “Reconstruction” but it should be called “Reconciliation”.

"The Last Offer of Reconciliation" courtesy of the Library of Congress

“The Last Offer of Reconciliation” by Kimmel & Forster, courtesy of the Library of Congress

3. Reconciliation through a Handshake

Described at the end of Unbroken, after Louis Zamperini spent years in prison being tortured by the Japanese he went back years later to visit his captors. The author noted,

“Before Louie left Sugamo (the prison), the colonel who was attending him asked Louie’s former guards to come forward. In the back of the room, the prisoners stood up and shuffled into the aisle. They moved hesitantly, looking up at Louie with small faces. Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face.”

Beautiful.

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Along with scripture, I encourage you to read these stories and watch these movies to better understand reconciliation. My faith is strengthened by these stories, and they have helped me to better understand how to love my enemies.

Your enemy may be a person in a far away culture, or it could be your next door neighbor. Consider offering that hand as Christ offered it to you through the cross.

Reconciliation is beautiful because Christ was the example of it on the cross.

For me. For you.

What does reconciliation teach you about your own faith? What stories teach you about reconciliation?

 

I recently visited the historic Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. It is a beautiful hotel and I can say that it was on my bucket list of places to experience. Despite its beauty and the wonderful time my family had there, there was something special that intrigued me most about the Greenbrier.

In the mid 1950s, President Eisenhower made a visit to the Greenbrier Hotel during a summit between the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Mexico. While there, Eisenhower met with the President of CSX, the owner of the Greenbrier at the time. It was the Cold War, a time of tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and Eisenhower knew that the government needed to continue governing in case Washington D.C. was attacked. He saw the Greenbrier Hotel, tucked into rural West Virginia as an ideal spot to ‘hide’ the Legislative branch in this time.

Greenbrier Congressional bunker

Eisenhower convinced the President of the Greenbrier to allow the building of this secret bunker to be created. The Greenbrier was in need of creating a special wing to be added to the hotel so the government offered to pay for that in exchange for absolute secrecy of this facility. And so it was built over three years, opening in 1962. Very few knew about its existence and the most fascinating thing was that most of the bunker was open to the public between its operational existence from 1962-1992.

The House of Representatives room at The Greenbrier Bunker

The government figured that it would be incredibly difficult for someone at the hotel or the town to not know something was there. As a diversion, part of the bunker was used as a conference facility equipped with meetings rooms, even two auditoriums that fit around 450 and 125 people, enough to fit each branch of Congress. The 18 inch blast doors were hidden from most people so they were led to think they were just walking into another part of the hotel. Most people in town and at the hotel knew that ‘something’ was there but they never could prove it. The bunker was not officially exposed until a Washington Post article revealed its existence.

One of the greatest secrets of the Cold War was hidden in plain sight.

I will always remember ‘discovering’ the Greenbrier Congressional bunker. I have been reading about so many New Year’s resolutions and people hoping to make this year happier than the previous one. There is a workout that will make us healthier. If I can come up with a better way of doing something at work, I’ll feel better. There is a job out there that will make me richer and happier. There is more money that will make life easier. Happiness will come if we do… (fill in the blank).

It reminds me of a great quote I read recently from Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

Happiness depends so little on the circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person.

Jesus shares more through Luke 17:20-21 NIV

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within[a] you.”

Yes, happiness comes from within. It is hidden in plain sight. If our heart truly seeks Jesus, we are free and real happiness enters us. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t know this great secret. But it really isn’t a secret like the Congressional Bunker. But the bunker sure is great reminder to us to not look too far for happiness.

Happiness is hidden in plain sight for all of us.

PS  You can read more here about the Greenbrier Congressional Bunker. It is definitely worth a visit.