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April 9 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 5:38-42

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

More thoughts for meditation about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister were born in a Prussian city (now in Poland) in 1906.   His family moved to Berlin a few years later. Bonhoeffer earned a doctorate in theology at the age of 21 from perhaps the most prestigious university in the world at the time – the University of Berlin.   He began to pastor but continued to pursue academic work which took him to Spain and then to Harlem. Dissatisfied with the lack of rigor at Union Seminary, where he was teaching and doing post graduate work, he became a disciple and Sunday school teacher at Abyssinian Baptist Church, where his love for spirituals developed along with his deep desire for the Church to change the world.

Two years after his return to Germany, the Nazi Party rose to power. Bonhoeffer was overtly critical of the regime and a resister from the beginning.  While Hitler and the Nazis infiltrated and found a stronghold in the German Church, Bonhoeffer was building something new in Germany through the Confessing Church.  After only a few months under Nazi control, Bonhoeffer moved to London to work on international ecumenical work, highly frustrated with the state of the German church.

Two years later, rather than going to study non-violent civil disobedience under Gandhi, he returned to Germany, responding to the repeated pleas and demands of Swiss theologians and Karl Barth.  The Confessing Church was under fire by the Nazis.  Barth was sent back to Switzerland. Bonhoeffer soon lost his credentials to teach because he was a “pacifist and enemy of the state.”   He began underground seminaries and further resisted.

Bonhoeffer became more involved in direct resistance and was arrested in 1943.  He was part of a group that was responsible both for attempts at liberating Jews and attempting to assassinate Hitler. His pacifism has been widely written about, especially in light of this glaring contradiction.

Dietrich was executed on this day in 1945, two weeks before US soldiers liberated his prison camp.  He is largely considered a martyr for the faith, for peace, and as a Nazi resister.  Among two of his most influential works are Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship – this quote is from the latter:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Want to watch a small documentary about his life? Here is a [link]

Bonhoeffer speaks out against Hitler [link]

Philosophy and books. [link]

Biographer interview. [link]

Suggestions for action

Bonhoeffer applied himself to unmasking the lies of his culture and the ideologies that took God’s place. It was not easy, since the church was generally in line with them. In spite of state threat and lack of support from the church, he took risks to teach the truth, even moving back to Germany when he would have been safer elsewhere.

That kind of courage is demonstrated in the Bible repeatedly by people whose loves are trained on God. What threat do you feel from those you know and from the great “other” of the powers that be when it comes to expressing your faith in word and deed? Pray for courage. Pray that we are a confessing church in a culture of lies.

March 24 – Oscar Romero

Today’s Bible reading an an excerpt

Read Isaiah 61

The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere.

More thoughts for meditation about Oscar Romero

Until he was 62 years old, Óscar Romero y Galdámez served as priest, bishop, and finally Archbishop of San Salvador in the Central American nation El Salvador. On Monday, March 24, 1980 Romero was shot through the heart while lifting the chalice as part of the communion meal. The day before, in a sermon broadcast by radio, Romero called on Salvadoran soldiers to disobey orders that would contradict a life in Christ―namely carrying out the government’s repression and denial of basic human rights.

His appointment to Archbishop was seen as a “safe” move by conservative elements of the church and the government, while the progressive priests were disappointed. The latter were involved in criticizing the systemic sin ruining their country and were open with their teaching and activism surrounding class conflict, sometimes implicating the Catholic Church as part of the oppressor class. Their worldview, and later Romero’s, became widely known as Liberation Theology.

After a friend of Romero’s was assassinated for his “subversive” activities in 1977, Romero was astonished at the lack of help in the investigation he received from the authorities. He felt the call to follow his late friend, Rutilio Grande, in his work and potentially into death. His letter to President Jimmy Carter petitions “His Excellency” as a Christian and as someone who cares about human rights to cut off  military aid to the Salvadoran government because it would violently carry out the interests of the military oligarchy not the people. After Romero’s death Carter increased military aid, having previously restricted it to humanitarian.

Romero wrote: “We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”―from The Violence of Love (get it as a free audio book!)

Want more?

Martyr’s Prayer Project video [link]

The movie: Romero. Watch part 7

Oliver Stone’s Salvador [Trailer: link]

Jean Donovan and the murdered nuns [link]

The government admitted to the murder of priests twenty years later [link]

Jon Sobrino on Romero [link, in Spanish]

Summary of U.S. policy decisions. [link]

Suggestions for action

The Salvadoran Church was instrumental in ending the country’s civil war. They risked their lives for the gospel and stood in solidarity with the poor, often at the cost of family ties and livelihoods. The United States was intimately involved in the repressive policies and work of the death squads. Everybody, in El Salvador and the United States, had a difficult time seeing the evil, even with people dying around them. Consider whether you also are accepting an evil.

February 14 – Valentine

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Acts 7

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

More thoughts for meditation about Valentine

The exact history of Valentine is murky. What we do seem to know is that in the 3rd century the emperor Claudius II of Rome outlawed marriage for certain young men because married men were reluctant to leave their wives and go to war. Valentine continued to marry couples in secret. When the emperor found out, he attempted to convert Valentine to believe in the Roman gods. Valentine refused and attempted to convert the emperor to Christianity. Claudius II responded by sentencing Valentine to death. While in prison, the story goes, the jailer’s blind daughter visited Valentine. By a miracle, Valentine cured the jailer’s daughter and she was able to see.

Therefore, Valentine’s day is more about resistance,  martyrdom, and sacrifice than romantic love. However, his saints day falls around the time that love birds traditionally mate in England, so he became associated with romance.

Want more?

Check out the History Channel: [link]

Rod White’s tributes to St. Valentine:

  • A poem about his obscure but courageous-sounding history [link]
  • Making a connection with poor Whitney Houston [link]

From the Catholics:

Suggestions for action

Talk to your mate about martyrdom. Can your relationship bear the trials of faith? Do you hang on more tightly to one another than to Jesus?

Consider how you face the challenges the godless government tries to impose on you. Do you go along with its philosophy of economics and power?