Posted by Roberta Grimes • August 17, 2019 • 25 Comments
Jesus, The Teachings of Jesus
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in recent years has been the number of people I hear from now who are feeling a call to serve Spirit. Often they don’t understand this urge, this inchoate itch they feel compelled to scratch, nor even are most of them certain that it really is an itch at all. Are they imagining things? Do other people ever feel this way? I haven’t much mentioned this development here because the ways people have been describing their histories and their calls to serve have been so varied, and because even a year or two ago there were just occasional requests for advice about how best to begin. It is only in recent months that I realize that these requests are coming more often! As I write this, I have before me a wonderful plea from someone very young who tells me that it is my work that has inspired her to seek to spend her life serving God… and hers is the second such email I have received this morning. It is dawning on me now that these messages are not random, even despite the fact that all these people’s backstories are so different. This is not random. And it likely is telling us that something profoundly important is happening at the level of human hearts.
If you also are feeling called as apparently so many others are being called now to do God’s work in today’s immensely troubled world, I would like to introduce to you a modern saint whose words can guide your path much better than mine ever could! Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who radically opposed the Nazi movement, worked to help Jews escape extermination, and was martyred at Flossenburg, a Nazi death-camp, at the age of thirty-nine. His was such an epic life lived in radical submission not to any religion, but rather to the living God, that if he had been born a Catholic, he would long since have been declared a saint. He died just a year before I was born, so he was better remembered when I was young than he is remembered now; but I am coming to realize that Dr. Bonhoeffer’s ideas have shaped me so profoundly that reading his words again feels like coming home.
The only way to genuinely follow Jesus is to step outside all conventional religions and meet God in the words that Jesus actually spoke to us long ago. You and I have been working at doing this together over the past year. And I realize now that Dietrich Bonhoeffer likely has been my inspiration! Many German clergymen welcomed the rise of Adolf Hitler. For Dr. Bonhoeffer, though, the antisemitism of Nazism was such anathema that he opposed Hitler almost from the beginning. He soon therefore also opposed the complacent theological ideas that made supporting Hitler even possible for Christians; and his became a radical new theology that required that Christians must stand resolutely righteous in a world gone wrong.
I can give you just a flavor of Dr. Bonhoeffer’s wisdom here. Much of his most brilliant writing was done from prison and smuggled out as letters that he may not have imagined might ever be published. But like Martin Luther King, Jr., who also was martyred at the age of thirty-nine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man shaped by his times and by the radical teachings of Jesus into a greatness that transcends time. And like Dr. King, Dr. Bonhoeffer is one of the few who are best fit to teach and lead us as we seek to better serve the Lord today. Let’s spend a few moments sitting at his feet as he shares with us the kind of wisdom that comes only from a life deeply grounded in Jesus and lived in radical service to God in the face of human evil.
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
“We live by responding to the word of God… since this word is addressed to our entire life, the response, too, can only be an entire one; it must be given with our entire life as it is realized in all our several actions.”
“How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge… We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.”
“I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in life and goodness… God is the beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.”
“It was the error of Israel to put the Law in God’s place, to make the law their God and their God a law.”
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility… this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
“‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted’… By ‘mourning’ Jesus, of course, means doing without what the world calls peace and prosperity: He means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate oneself to its standards. Such men mourn for the world, for its guilt, its fate, and its fortune.”
Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need of love. Be his enmity political or religious, he has nothing to expect from a follower of Jesus but unqualified love. In such love there is no inner discord between private person and official capacity. In both we are disciples of Christ, or we are not Christians at all… The disciples realized that they too were his enemies, and that he had overcome them by his love. It is this that opens the disciple’s eyes, and enables him to see his enemy as a brother.”
“The extraordinary never merges into the personal. That was the fatal mistake of the false Protestant ethic which diluted Christian love into patriotism, loyalty to friends, and industriousness, which in short, perverted the better righteousness into mere civility.”
“When we judge other people we confront them in a spirit of detachment, observing and reflecting as it were from the outside. But love has neither time nor opportunity for this. If we love, we can never observe the other person with detachment, for he is always and at every moment a living claim to our love and service.”
“Love for the sinner is ominously close to love of the sin. But the love of Christ for the sinner in itself is the condemnation of sin.”
“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
“If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts. But if we are on the look-out for evil in others, our real motive is obviously to justify ourselves.”
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others… not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”
“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?”
“It remains an experience of incomparable value that we have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short, from the perspective of the suffering.”
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”
“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young man full of promise who was called by the Lord as many people are now being called, to live the deepest Gospel truths in radical service to God. He submitted with grace to a death that came for him just as the fullness of his life was beginning! To read the best of his private words is to commune with the likes of Dr. King, with kindred non-Christians like Mahatma Gandhi, and in particular with the Lord Himself. We are being called now to use the Gospel teachings as these modern saints are leading us to use them, by putting them into practice in this world gone wrong so we might together become the heart and conscience of a better world yet to be born. Next week we will begin to look at how you and I might build upon their pioneering work. Now is when it begins….
25 thoughts on “A Saint For Today”
Dear Roberta, thank you for sharing this inspiring series of perspectives from a person whose story deserves to be celebrated. We are all here to learn and do something unique. These words provide a basis that any of us could use as a starting block in discovering how we serve spirit even with the most subtle of our breaths.
Dear Mike, I am coming to see now that Thomas is preparing us to fight great evils when in reality it would be our very act of actively fighting that would increase the negativity that causes all these evils and injustices in the first place! I hadn’t thought of it before, but of course Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, and Dr. King all fought phenomenal injustice as Jesus would have done it, and the only way it is possible to fight it in a reality entirely based in consciousness. I’m deep into thinking about all of this today, thanks to Thomas; I realize now where this whole series is leading. Part of the reason why I so much enjoy doing this work is that I’m just a soldier. I don’t have to be a general!
Thank you so much for this great insight on love. Your articles have been a great inspiration to me.
Oh dear Millie, I’m so glad you are finding our weekly sharing here helpful to you! And thank you for taking the time to read here, and to share your thoughts. The greatest thrill of my life is this opportunity I have been given to share with you what has most inspired me. In bringing you Dr. Bonhoeffer’s insights, I feel as if I am bringing together two of my wonderful friends so they can become great friends of one another!
God bless you, Roberta. This message, particularly, spoke to my soul. Thank you and may the love of Jesus radiate through us all.
Oh my dear Kimberly, that is precisely the point! May we all become pure vessels for the love of the Lord, to hold it and radiate it and transform the world. That was so perfectly said!
I haven’t heard of Diedrich Bonhoeffer since college days, just that he was arrested for being a part of a plot to kill Adolph Hitler back in the 1940’s. The evidence against him was sketchy at best, but it is obvious that they wanted to get rid of him, as he was so outspoken about his views on Hitler’s leadership and his atrocities. This was during a time that disagreeing with Adolph Hitler was almost suicidal, but he bravely persevered and was a “sitting duck” because he actually attracted followers, thus sealing his fate, so he was kind of a martyr. As Roberta pointed out, he probably would have been considered for sainthood had be been a Catholic. Judging from the quotes listed above, he was certainly a very special person who was far ahead of his time and should never be forgotten.
No wonder people find it so hard to believe that we are all one. I find it impossible to believe that Dietrich Bonhoeffer could even exist on the same planet with a person like Adolph Hitler, Mussolini or Saddam Hussein for instance. Maybe that is why Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and others like them died violent deaths at an early age – they just simply don’t belong in the dense vibrations of earth, so they serve a purpose and then leave. (I know this sounds crazy).
Dear Lola, Dr. Bonhoeffer had come to believe that Hitler had to be stopped, even if assassination were the only way to stop him; and he was close to a few groups attempting to do that, but it is thought now that he never was actually part of any of them. And yes, he was a charismatic young man! He easily inspired others. And he was engaged to be married when he was finally arrested, something like two years before his death. He was hung only days before the camp he was in was liberated. There are so many might-have-beens in this!
What strikes me now is the similarities between him and Dr. King, despite their very different situations. Each of them was a great-hearted young man devoted to Jesus and fighting great evil not using a gun, but using instead the power of the Lord’s teachings and the power of his own intense love for humankind. What great examples they are for us all!
But my dear, I think they both would say that they are of the same humanity as even the most evil people of their times. And what they would want us to do, most of all, would be to let our own lights so shine before men that they will see the good we do and glorify God, just as you and I glorify God that God’s grace produced two such beautiful men. They saw humanity in everyone! And as hard as it feels to do it, I think we all must strive to do that, too.
Oh how terrible. If they only liberated the camp a bit sooner. Like you, I do see similarities between him and MLK. Both were victims of their times and were courageous, non-violent and very brave. May they always be remembered and revered.
Dear Lola, with something like the timing of Dr. Bonhoeffer’s death and the liberation of Flossenburg death camp, I always assume that Spirit is in charge. After all, his going home a little early was not the tragedy from an eternal perspective that it seems to have been from our perspective! And in a reality without time, the life, work, and death of Dr. King – and other events too – may have been coordinated so we would much later elevate Dr. Bonhoeffer and emulate him, while if he had lived a normal life he might have died at the end of the last century after a much more mixed life and left us little reason to remember him at all. Of course, it is true that if he had lived he just might have created a new Christianity for the modern world that could have been better and farther-seeing than anything that you or I could dream up! But I don’t dwell on those might-have-beens. What point would there be to doing that now?
Yes indeed, may Dr. King and Dr. Bonhoeffer continue to grow in stature forevermore! The farther we get from their lifetimes, the more clearly we can see how extraordinary they both really are.
Dear Roberta. I had a sense you would be talking this week about the call to work for God. It gave me goosebumps. Time for me to “come out?” I decided I had better leave it mostly to my guides on this one. What they gave me was that working for God is the true meaning of the word communion, but it is also “Cool fun!” – and this coming from the image of a surfer dude type on top of a mountain that reminded me of Mikey Morgan! 😄 Who besides God would know what work you find most “fulsom,” as my guides put it, and when you start to see the bigger picture you leave fear behind. Slowly, they are starting to show me what my work could be, and how I might do it. I would say to anyone reading that is considering service to spirit, it took me close to two years just to get to this point, once I made my commitment, so if you are patient and persistant, you will start to get guidance, and you will build faith in your guides, just as they will build faith in you – and hopefully it won’t take as long as it did for this knucklehead. ⏳🙏🙂
Scott, It’s going on 62 years for me and I am not there yet! I agree our guides, who are already doing the work, are ready and eager to help us and they never stop sending invites. They like to hear from us, though.
Dear Mike, one of the things that we all need to learn to do – and you are doing it better than most! – is accepting the will of Spirit even when it conflicts with what we ourselves are sure is best. This happens to me often! I’m heading in a direction that I’m sure is right, and abundantly validated by Thomas, when there are sudden roadblocks that I’m sure he must mean that I should try to surmount! So then I do try. After all, I have been given these tasks and I must do them! And far too often, I end up butting my head against a wall.
I am learning now to be peaceful. I’ve hit a roadblock here? I offer it up to Thomas. If he can show me how I should try to get around it, then I do try; but if he is complacent about it, then I am as well, even though I really had thought that what is now blocked was what I was supposed to be doing. It really is all in the hands of Spirit, and I find that everything works so much better when I simply and always let Spirit lead!
Thanks Mike. Part of the knucklehead bit was also that I was thinking of where I might be if I had started this process much earlier, as I was practicing some of the skills I’m trying to sharpen now quite a while back, and then let them slide. Missed opportunities, blah blah blah. It may have been part of the plan all along, though. I needed to have certain experiences first. When I look back now, I can remember dreams and experiences that foreshadowed where I am. I should just be grateful, and I am, for the beauty of what has been happening lately, and hopefully I’ll be able to make some sort of contribution with whatever time I have left.
Oh dear Scott, for this particular knucklehead it has taken a lot longer than two years! I have come to see, though, that our guides view time very differently than we do, and a delay of a few months or even a few years may need to be engineered in by them in order for a lot of things to fall as they should fall into place, with perfect timing. My whole career since I gave my life to God ten years ago has been repeated instances of hurry-up-and-then-wait-and-then-hurry-up-again, and generally without my having the slightest sense of why my guides keep messing with my timeline! For example, they pushed like mad for me to write The Fun of Loving Jesus – Embracing the Christianity That Jesus Taught, and I did that, but then clearly they didn’t want us to go ahead with publication. It sat on the shelf for a year! Now finally we have a sort of yellowish-green light to put it out at the end of this year. Probably. We’ll see how it goes.
But so it is when we serve Spirit! We are not in charge, and those who are in charge are attempting what is a very difficult maneuver indeed: they are working to elevate the planet’s consciousness sufficiently to avert what we have been shown would be a human near-extinction (or perhaps a true extinction) in as little as two hundred years. There is a lot at stake! So for you and me, dear Scott, and everyone else who reads these words, our submitting ourselves to God’s timeline is essential if we are to be of any use at all!
Thanks Roberta. Maybe I’m feeling a bit of that urgency from the other side, or maybe I just need to tamp down my own zeal a bit. Also, I want to give encouragement to others out there who may feel they are spinning their wheels. Patience and the timing of spirit are key, as you say.
No worries, Scott – we all find it hard to defer to Spirit’s timing! But according to Thomas, all is unfolding as it should. I really cling to that assurance.
I agree that the timing of their deaths is not likely to be a coincidence. They both died having served a purpose. Even MLK alluded to the fact that he may not live to see some of the things he envisioned. I’m kind of disappointed about the new book, Roberta. I honestly thought it would be out in the fall rather than the end of the year. Was looking forward to reading it.
Dear Lola, I’m sorry about the timing of The Fun of Loving Jesus! It seems to be meant to co-ordinate with some other things, and they are somewhat delayed. But I think it will be out in November at this point, and that’s not so bad. I’ll be eager to hear what you think of it!
Please recall, too, that Dr. King’s Mountaintop speech – where he said he might not “get there with you” – was delivered literally hours before his death! I have long thought that he had a premonition that night. And he was at peace with it.
I was delighted that you have made Dietrich Bonhoeffer the subject of your blog this week. Talk about a fierce light amidst the pyroclastic darkness of his times!
The deeper the darkness grew the brighter he shone. Rare people like Bonhoeffer are so far from the mediocrity of human life that they are all but beyond this world anyway, and the Spirit withdraws them from it in His own time. To me, these great lights seem only here to fulfill a mighty purpose and then they leave abruptly. It is astonishing in a way, to think that the truly great souls such as Abraham Lincoln, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King Jr did not have the full years of human life and died by acts of violence done to them. Are the greatness of their lives and the starkness of their exits, a way to teach us some core principle about the Divine ?
I know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks to German people everywhere. I knew a German guy, Brendon, (who was Australian born) from Bavarian parents who immigrated after WW2. Like other children of the Nazi era, they asked their parents ‘How could you do that?’ Or ‘How could you let it happen?’ These poor inheritors of the legacy of the Third Reich can be wracked with guilt and disillusionment about their own culture.
This guy used to ‘hang on’ to Bonhoeffer and his life, as a small flame of hope that German humanity can be redeemed because there were SOME people like Bonhoeffer who could not be corrupted and who held to Jesus throughout the horror. To my friend Brendon, Bonhoeffer was chief among the examples of righteousness and redemption.
I can’t convey here how moving this experience of my German friend was, nor how desperate in a hidden, deeply internal way he was.
Suffice to say, that I told him truly, that he wasn’t present in the Third Reich, nor does he believe in Nazism, so he is innocent of all crimes and hence should not feel guilty. But it was Bonhoeffer that did the most good for Brendon. Even now, long after his demise Dietrich Bonhoeffer helps and encourages people to serve God.
So to draw on these great souls as those who shine the light of Jesus amid the darkest times is powerful. I guess Roberta, that this is the rally point for those of us who choose to serve God. To me, I was shown a giant roller coaster and invited to take the ride. And as with a roller coaster, you can’t control which way a life of service goes or where or when or how it will end!
Oh my dear Efrem, thank you for telling this beautiful story of your friend Brendon and how Dr. Bonhoeffer was able to comfort and inspire him! Dr. Bonhoeffer, Dr. King, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and others who have followed the teachings of Jesus – whether or not they ever heard the Lord’s name – are indeed an inspiration to us all. No matter what the evil is, the only way to combat it is with love! We see that fact in these exemplary lives, in their quiet submission to violent deaths, and in the fact that their work lives after them. As Dr. King said, quoting an earlier abolitionist, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And thanks to these greats among us, indeed it does!
Beautifully said, Efrem
Thank you dear Lola. ❣️🙏🏼🌅
Those Bonhoeffer quotes made me realize how much I missed when I was in High School and read a book about him in a sacred studies course. I was an agnostic then and thought Bonhoeffer amazing for his courage, but that had nothing to do with me. I was, in a sense deaf dumb and blind.
I’m just beginning to appreciate his thoughts and it is a mere 58 years since those school days and I feel I’ve started to scratch the surface.
I noticed the topic of time popped up in the responses. In looking for Anglican responses to Bonhoeffer’s life, I came across a speech, sermon really, by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who had this to say in 2012:
“It takes time. Bonhoeffer wrote a little guide for students when he ran his college for pastors in which he explains why they need to give time each day to silent meditation on the Bible. ‘God claims our time for this service’, he wrote; ‘God needed time before he came to us in Christ. He needs time to come into my heart for my salvation.’ Each day we try to open ourselves up to being transformed by this meditation: ‘we want to rise from meditation different from what we were when we sat down to it.’
Dear Cookie, it’s lovely to see you here! You’re right: I think what strikes you most when you read Bonhoeffer’s words and read about his life is his beautiful, saintly patience. It feels so foreign to Americans. We want to have everything done this minute! And we’re sure we can do it better, so we want it all to be done our way. But Bonhoeffer’s love for and faith in God was such that he could “Let go and let God” with such conviction that he seems literally not to have wanted his own will to prevail on any level. Like Dr. King (who said “I just want to do God’s will”), Bonhoeffer had such complete faith in God’s divine plan that he never attempted to act on his own, and the way he lived was the way he died.
A camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s hanging described the scene: “The prisoners … were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”