Monday, April 14, 2008


My grandfather lent me a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer quite some time ago. I still had it on my shelf, unread, when he died in January of 2007. I'm not sure what possessed me to pick it up and read it this past week, but on the heels of the Children's Summit, it was a potent reaffirmation of the need to DO something in this life.

Bonhoeffer was given a teaching position in New York during WWII, but after only a month in the United States, he felt he had to return to Germany because he deeply believed you could not be a person of faith and stand idly (and safely) by while others suffered gross violations of human rights. He later wrote, "...our being Christians today must consist of two things: in praying and in doing what is right among men."( 1 ) He also wrote in verse:
Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,
valiantly grasping occasions, not cravenly doubting--
freedom comes only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing.
( 2 )
Is it enough to be a writer? I wonder.

As I struggled with the implications of Bonhoeffer's ideas and my own feelings of being called to service, I had an assignment in my 12-step program to discuss the following quote from the book Alcoholics Anonymous: "We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous and free. We cannot subscribe to the belief that this life is a vale of tears, thought it once was just that for many of us." ( 3 )

This quote refers, of course, to the self-manufacture of misery in which I, as an addict, used to wallow. But I grappled mightily with the juxtaposition of this idea that God wants us (not just ME, but everyone!) to be "happy, joyous and free," the horrifying realities of the Holocaust, and the current epidemic of poverty, oppression, war and genocide.

Do I give up family, safety and comfort and wade into the fray at the cost of my own life, as Bonhoeffer did?

At the moment, I will return to Bonhoeffer's words: "...our being Christians today must consist of two things: in praying and in doing what is right among men." I will pray and in so doing, I will ask that I might be shown how to do what is right and for the courage to do it.



( 1 ) Wind, Renate, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke In The Wheel, Eerdmans, p. 168

( 2 ) ibid, p. 169

(3) Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 133

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