Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I enjoy well-crafted biographies. Examining the details of meaningfully-led lives, with the help of capable and honest scholars who are also talented writers, can be inspiring and instructive. When asked by an educator during the space race of the 1960’s, what students ought to be studying, Professor Einstein (not my topic) didn’t say math and science, but rather, he suggested they read the lives of the great ones.

Recently I’ve enjoyed a pairing of such literary encounters in the lives of two magnanimous, heroic Europeans: Albert Schweitzer, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both men were courageously independent thinkers with high ideals; both thrived on learning, and both sacrificed personal success while striving to make significant contributions to our social conditions. And both were seriously impacted by war, becoming estranged from conventional church-life, while yet remaining deeply committed to spiritual living. The pairing of these two books is sublime, for which I thank the Divine Librarian!

SCHWEITZER: A Biography, by George Marshall and David Poling, is NOT the topic of my review, but the book can be found by clicking.

While Schweitzer’s life (“my life is my argument”) may have inspired me a bit more – his project lasted for over fifty years, into his 90’s – Bonhoeffer’s may be more challenging and instructive in its shortness and cost. I read his book, Cost of Discipleship, some years ago, which I thought profound. This biography expands my appreciation of his contributions significantly. Therefore my review will focus entirely on the Bonhoeffer biography, STRANGE GLORY since this book is newly available in paperback. (I made copious notes in it, while the Schweitzer bio was a nice first edition from 1971 which I found online for little more than cost of shipping, so I didn’t mark it up.)

As a result of the B-biography, I now have a much deeper understanding of how Germany came to be drawn into WW2 — and church history played a significant role – more-so than mere geopolitics, which is what I recall from history classes. Yes, the Treaty of Versailles ending the Great War was overly punitive, financially, to Germany (which makes the current German action towards the Greek economy seem ironic). But I wasn’t aware of the way Hitler manipulated the German churches which received funding from the state for social functions such as funerals, baptisms, weddings – and still do.

He had been a German citizen for only a year when he was appointed Chancellor by Pres.Hindenburg, who died a year later, in 1934. Hitler installed a puppet Reichskircher, head of church/state rules and relations, and then used him to fan flames of nationalism, mostly among conservatives, regarding economic injustices imposed by the Treaty ending the previous war.

Bonhoeffer was a young academic tutor at the time, having just finished his doctorate in theology. He could see what was being done on the political stage, and attempted to rally opposition against the regime, by forming resistance groups in the churches. But the liberal position of Bonhoeffer and his young adherents was easily and ruthlessly outlawed, making them into enemies of the state, eventually. This is all told in very compelling prose, knit together by careful research from an author who has spent much of his career studying B’s life. The politics against the churches were masterful, and bloody – the undetected aim being to gut the churches of moral sentiment, effectively canceling Christianity as a social power in Germany.

For those with delicate sentiments I will alert you that there is evidence in this volume of clay feet, which I will not spoil by elaborating beyond the word SEX. The case builds, and the conclusion near the very end is surprising, and credible, in an almost incredible way. But such are the natures of deeply honorable people


Here's lookin'at you, kid.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Sermon from MOUNT LEVEL plateau  :  blending the essential reports of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, into a single account of these core ethics teachings of Jesus (“the Sermon”).  Translated from Greek, reading between the lines.  (Don’t let your spiritual life go flat!)

Jesus came down to the shore of a lake with his students, to speak to a large crowd, inviting anyone far & wide — up, to listen and to be healed.  Each member of the gathering pressed to touch him, for they sensed they were consumed with their own distractions, needing whatever it was he had – feeling by it they could attain to their true potential – and noticing a powerful peace enveloping them.  He got into a boat, pushed off a bit, and settled into his peaceable kingdom, beholding his subjects – to address them freely, summoning their attention in order to share his dominion – saying :   

[The Beatitudes :  An inverted kingdom of beautiful attitudes]

Divinely happy are you – powerless.  For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the powerless!

Divinely happy are the sad!  (?)   Be encouraged that comfort beckons from within, – closer than your very own breath. Laugh, even!

Divinely happy you, starving.  Yet real satisfaction (manna!) is right within you.

Divinely happy are those who claim nothing as their own; they shall receive graciously, and go gently.

Divinely happy are the helpful, for they shall be helped.

Divinely happy are you who are purified from desire, by fire. Right now you have opportunity to behold your own true Nature.

Divinely happy are you utterly-dependent children-of-God  — as you resemble the peacefulness of your Father.

Divinely happy are those who are driven away, tossed out, rejected – for all of heaven is their home. 

Divinely happy are you when you are hated, insulted, abused, falsely accused for My sake.  Celebrate! – and be deeply grateful, as your reward is now, heavenly – for I count you precious, along with the prophets who testified before you, who were also abused.  You needn’t be ashamed, with Me! 

Divinely happy you, who are the spice of the domain. However, if seasoning is either excessive, or withheld, it spoils the flavor of the dish, rendering it useless.

Divinely happy you, an elegant portal thru which light passes to the inhabitants of a hilltop community — light which can neither be obstructed, nor overlooked.  ¶  Nobody would hide a lamp beneath a tub – but rather, position it centrally, to shine for the entire household.  So, let your (our!) light shine for everyone, enabling them to notice the beauty of The Source, as reflected by your beautiful attitude.

Divinely happy are your smilin’eyes for they see Me (Us!) everywhere they look.

Divinely happy are those who hear the words of God, and honor them.

Divinely happy are my slaves [*see comment section] who are alert, watching for Me, your Master, coming to serve you a meal which you’ll never forget – and it’s always on the house!

Divinely happy are those who come in my Name, my Nature.

So come!– you who are awakening into divine delight – come to the blessing offered by Our Father, receiving the Kingdom prepared for Us, which is already here since before the world was impregnated.  We can live large together, as family!

But don’t suppose I’ve come to dismantle the Teachings [of Moses] and the prophets.   (Such would-be dismantlers ruin their calling, for I tell you truly that heaven and earth would perish before the Teachings could ever be dismantled.) Instead, I’ve come to bring even the tiniest details of those Teachings fully alive.  Let’s be clear: adhering to basic teaching and learning has benefits in God’s kingdom, inviting us higher.

However, unless your integrity surpasses that of many legalistic church folk or grandstanding do-gooders, your warfare with yourself to attain that inner kingdom could fail, due to misinterpretation.  Yes, we’re acquainted with the teaching prohibiting murder, but if we lose our peace, becoming angry towards brother or neighbor, we invite crisis.  Worse yet if we announce our anger loudly, calling someone thoughtless – which will surely invite public scrutiny of both parties.  But denouncing someone as a moral slob taints you with the same smoldering stench of which you complain.  So, approaching the altar to make an atoning sacrifice for words or thoughts at large, first requires that we re-think our differences, and make amends.  Then a gift is acceptable, and receivable.

And we’ve all heard the instruction of the ancients, that we’re not to cheat on God or spouse, but I tell you merely imagining idolizing, cheating, is equally wrong.

   BEWARE, ‘WOE’.  The Greek translated woe sounds like why in English.  KJV translates it alas; it means weariness, grief, pitiable, awful.

Why?  You sold out so soon, getting rich quick, when you could have had so much more!  Why did you fill up on junk instead of favoring real nourishment?  Why have you built your own reputation rather than Mine?

¿ Got woe?  It’s not too late, if you have ears.  Love those who are hostile towards you, pray for those who damn you, and respond gently to those who abuse you, injuring your jaw — but before turning your other cheek to that guy, see My happy blessings within him, welcoming My response thru them, thus recognizing everyone as a child of our heavenly Father – as this is The Way our Father’s children walk.  If you love only those who love you back, that’s merely mutual taxation.

Don’t hurl your pearls of wisdom at cynics — instead, wait in faith, trusting they’ll come back to ask you about divine happiness.  The sun rises on all Father’s children, and rain falls on all, as well.  So grow into the full maturity of your Designer genes!

Don’t delay clarification with those with whom you disagree, lest they misjudge you, resulting in further condemnation of you by others, impacting your liberty.  Simply be clear that you can’t redeem yourself, trusting God to clear everything.

Give yourself away unreservedly, trustingly, considering you’ve received Me freely.  (Trust never fails!)  Compassion is a most honorable economic system. Generosity anticipates the true need, doing as would do.

But woe to you churchy-legalists, hypocrites, who flog others with my words.  ¿Weary of being criticized?  ¡Stop judging! Blurting out your failure to recognize Me in others is embarrassing. Tend to your own practice.  Peer into the sacred mirror to extract the rafter from your own eye so your vision may be clear enough to remove a fleck of sawdust from the eye of a neighbor [thus becoming an ear-eye-nose-throat specialist, for Us.]…    

Jesus proceeded next to evict an afflicting spirit-of-voicelessness from someone in the crowd.  Suddenly that person could both speak and hear.  A woman exclaimed “satisfied is the womb that carried you, and the breasts that nursed you.”  He countered by saying “satisfied are you who hear the word of God, cherishing and illustrating it.” Others weren’t so sure, saying “he removes demons by the chief of demons.” But he refuted that by asking if then all healing was not the working of devilish knowledge, pointing out that those who were teachable could imitate him, learning to do and teach what he was doing and teaching. And then he emphasized that all teaching was from The Father, and about The Father, concluding by saying don’t call anyone rabbi, or father, for our Teacher is Our Father which is in heaven.



AKA the Our-Father, or Lord’s Prayer – different than Jesus praying for us.

Later, noticing Jesus in prayer, one of his disciples requested of him: “Lord, teach us to pray as John-the-baptizer taught his disciples.”  Jesus responded:  Pay close attention now. Simply get quiet, and pray from your secret interior, listening – and longing to meet your obligations, with Father’s help.  [We all have a rich Daddy!]  Don’t hesitate or sputter.  Don’t merely repeat flowery words, “reminding” God to bless your plans.  Your needs are already known (except by you).  Seek to know.  Be direct.  Try this:  

O, Father of us all, Un-Flappable. 

Purify my sense of Our Nature.

Reveal our citizenly duties to your realm.

Remind us that your plan for Earth, today, is as beautiful as Heaven itself.

Sustain us day-by-day with manna appropriate for today — letting go of our shortcomings to the degree we cease keeping score of others.

And guide us past temptation, rescuing us from the peril of rebellion. 

For You, Father, own it all, powerfully bright in glory, as it should be, and is.

(memo: Those who forgive, will be forgiven; but if we neglect to let go of the failures of others, Father will not excuse us until we doget this!)

Ask your Friend persistently, expectantly, sorting needs from wants.  Knock yourself out.  Don’t be timid.  Be familiar!  It’s Father’s nature and compassion to give that most-holy gift to those who ask for the Breath of the Spirit – which we are then able to give back.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  [Relax.] Inspiration, yes, Peace, and Presence forever.  Be.  Hear.  Now.  Alive.  

Another point:  charity is not to be done to impress others, to duck our duty, or to win favors from The Father, who can’t be bribed.  Father sees all, so be real.  And if you need to fast, don’t do so as a performance.  Seek an audience of One, telling nobody. Then invite relocation of your appetite from your belly to your heart. You will find balanced nutrition is your heart’s natural desire. Your spiritual appetite will increase, and your belly’s demands will decrease, as dining daily with Father satisfies like nothing else.  

We become what we seek, so make integrity your ideal, conforming your life to the divine, instead of to pleasure, power, prestige.  What you value will fill your soul.  But if you chase fantasies, they will vanish into nothingness. Pursue pure light rather than mere flickerings, and it will reveal a unified, holy environment surrounding us all.  

We can’t serve two masters — God and worldliness – so don’t!  Serving yourself never works, as your self is an incompetent master, luring you into a tail-chase. Yeah, yeah, details:  food, clothing, shelter, and God knows what else. Really!  So quit burdening yourself with worldly distractions, giving priority instead to what is central, as God knows and shares how to keep it all balanced.  (¿Who do you serve — God, or capital?)  Let God govern your priorities by serving the Father first, sending masterfully-selfish impostors to the unemployment line – and then you will find divine balance. Concerning others, demonstrate your trustworthiness in the smallest of things, and you will be entrusted with larger.   

Quit worrying about tomorrow, as it never comes. It’s always today, and we have plenty of employment dealing with stuff that needs correction right now, today, the only day we will ever have.

A graceful entry requires balance, which takes practice, discipline, persistence – as The Way is narrow, admitting only one at a time.  ( ¡ Can’t make juice without squeezin’grapes ! )  So practice walking uprightly to avoid stumbling into hell, as that road is spacious, ruining many by group-think.  And be alert, as there are phony visionaries along that road who would lure you astray.  Instead, notice behavior which exposes selfish motives.  Sour fruit is detected quickly as unwelcome at the table, being from wild vines which, being separated, are fit only to fire the oven.

Nobody gains access to the kingdom by lip service – by merely speaking My Name as a password.  But those who recognize my presence everywhere-always, awaken to realize holy ground is already beneath their feet.  Yet those who merely talk a good name-game will hear The Owner say “Who are you?  Talk is cheap.  ¡Clean out your locker, slacker!” 

“So, listen up, and work smart: build your life on bedrock instead of on shifting soil, if you don’t want it to collapse into rubble.”  

Those present, who heard his liberating words, [and we, by their referrals] are awe-struck by the demonstrated power of his compelling reasoning, even yet today.


Later, Jesus said to his proteges “Let’s sail to the other side.” He slept aft during the crossing.  Soon a furious storm began to swamp the vessel, and his students awoke him, pleading “Master, don’t you care that we’re all about to choke?”  So he arose, and silenced their alarm, gently pronouncing:  Peace.  Turmoil vanished, replaced by a pervasive calm.  

He then asked What is fear?   Have you no trust?  They were too stunned to respond, asking themselves  ¿ who is this guy, that even a tempestuous sea submits to him ?

Psalm 107 : 1   O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.   2  Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;  [ . . . ]   28   Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. 29  He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.


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ALSO: I urge you to consider reading a book by Professor Bart Ehrman, titled Misquoting Jesus: the Story Behind Who Chnaged the Bible, and Why, in which he argues that each of us is an interpreter, whenever we read.




Double Portrait by Carl Fredric von Breda: prince-redeemer

Double Portrait by Carl Fredric von Breda.    (Nordiska museum)

S/He who is not part of the solution, is part of the problem. 

My recent effort to discuss racism blew up in my face.  The mistake of making a racist statement as parody didn’t work, causing friends and wife much pain. I thought they knew I was not a racist.  Again, I’m deeply sorry. We will not run the instant replay.  Yet I still have passion for the topics of racism, justice, and slavery.  (Regarding the portrait above, it is discussed far below.) 

I’ve spent most Saturdays since 1999 as a volunteer, talking with imprisoned sons of neighbors, ages 18-80, conducting what I call a stealth ethics-class disguised as a nondenominational Bible study (discontinued last summer after relocating to our seasonal home in Yucatan.)  Also, in mid-1970’s I brought home a black woman I was dating, to meet my parents and siblings on T-Day. (She eventually cut me loose, wisely saying our future would be too tough.)  ¿Am I a racist?  ¿ Are you?  Let’s gaze into the sacred mirror to examine ourselves. 

This essay is not about plantation owners of the past – it’s for today.  I’m asking you, regardless of your skin color, whether you’ve been released yet from enslaving stories. It is likely most of our human ancestors, male and female, were at one time slaves of those stronger than they — which, in one word, was the answer a tough-guy lawyer named Thrasymachus gave to Socrates, when addressing that central question of Plato’s Republic Q: What is justice?  //  T-guy’s A: the advantage of the stronger –see 7th ¶.   (Yes, the one-percenters, dominators, owned most of us, going way back, and maybe still do – but our sense of the past may be the toughest owner of them all.) Continue reading