Our Lenten journey is rapidly drawing to a close, friends. Yesterday in a hotly contested matchup between Constance and Julian of Norwich, Julian prevailed 55% to 45%. She will meet the winner of today’s Faithful Four battle between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sojourner Truth for the Golden Halo.
In the last in-season episode of Monday Madness, Tim and Scott discuss the millions of blank mugs sitting in a warehouse just waiting to be graced with the image of the 2016 Golden Halo Winner. Among other things.
After today, the scene will be set for the Championship Round on the Wednesday of Holy Week, aka “Spy Wednesday.” In the meantime, go vote!
As we begin Holy Week reflecting on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man whose lifetime could have overlapped mine if only he had been less courageous and committed to living a fully Christian life, I find myself queasy. Queasy over his gruesome death at Flossenbürg only days before that death camp would be freed by the allied soldiers. Queasy over my knowledge that much as I wish it weren’t true, I wouldn’t have his courage.
Bonhoeffer came from a privileged family where a life of music, scholarship and travel was the norm. Yet when the German Evangelical Church welcomed the Nazi regime into power, Bonhoeffer joined the “Confessing Church” in protest. He began teaching at Finkenwalde, a Confessing Church seminary. But in 1937 the Nazis declared the teaching of these students illegal. After two years of being banned from teaching and even from public speaking, Bonhoeffer left Germany to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Within a few weeks he felt that he had made a mistake and made plans to return to his homeland. His New York friends, fearing for his safety, encouraged him to continue doing God’s work of teaching and preaching far from the threatening Nazi regime. But, he opted to go back to Germany knowing of the dangers.
At about this time, Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi was employed in the Nazi’s military intelligence office. In 1940, D
ohnanyi arranged for Bonhoeffer’s employment in his office. But while in this role he was assisting with the resistance movement. As part of this work, he and his brother-in-law amassed large financial donations ear-marked to help Jewish people escape Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries. It was by tracking these funds that the Nazis found out about their resistance work and had both men arrested, ultimately leading to their deaths.
After the war, ordinary German people, many of whom considered themselves to be Christians, said that they were unaware of the extermination of millions of people. They didn’t speak out against the atrocities because for years they had been stirred into a frenzy of hatred and fear of the “other.” Did they not really know what was happening to those families who were disappearing? Did they not really know what was happening in those camps?
Of course, they didn’t have 24/7 news cycles and social media as we do today. We don’t have an excuse to ignore those who stir up hatred and fear. As Christians, we must speak out against those who create dissent because of fear of people of another faith tradition or those speaking another language. As we worship in this Holy Week, we are called to follow Jesus. And we have the added benefit of having Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s example to follow. His witness and courage spans the decades, challenging us in this 21st century culture of “us” versus “them.” I pray that we will heed his message.
When I started researching Sojourner Truth, I knew about what a 5th grader knows while doing a basic report for Black History Month: she was an ex-slave in early America, and gave a famous speech about women’s rights. She had that catch phrase, “Ain’t I a woman?” which made her sound folksy, like someone you’d want to drink a beer with.
What I did not expect was how stone cold brilliant she was. She spoke Dutch and English fluently. She spoke extemporaneously about political and social issues with more persuasion than men like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. She carved out a place and a name for herself with little more than her wits. Her words remain as wise, as relevant, and as slyly funny as they were in the 19th century. (“Oh no, honey,” she said once. “I can’t read little things like letters. I read big things like men.”)
Sojourner was so prescient as to be eerie. Her advocacy of prison reform, for the abolition of capital punishment, for the rights of women, and for Black women specifically, reflect concerns that few others were talking about at the time, but would occupy American politics years in the future (and continue to occupy us today). Before the end of the Civil War, she asserted that newly-freed slaves would need reparations, and access to the property that had been confiscated from former Confederates, because otherwise they would be restricted to sharecropping, and other forms of economic slavery. (She was right).
But it would be a grave mistake to relegate Sojourner to being only a social activist. She did everything she did because of her unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ, and in her identity as a beloved and chosen child of God. She walked away from her life in bondage because Jesus told her to go. She changed her name because Jesus told her she had a job to seek the truth. She traveled the country, preaching the Good News of the equality that was the reality in God’s kingdom, and how to make that a reality in the kingdoms of the world. And she fought, tooth and nail, to live her life to make that true. Her every action was grounded in her faith in Christ.
I cannot imagine being in Sojourner’s shoes. Her life was filled with tragedy from a young age; not to mention what she faced from society at large. Yet, in the face of all that was arrayed against her, Sojourner held on to her faith, and her vision of Jesus called this world to, and with her heart fixed on these, she left us an incredible example, leading the way to a new world. After all, in her own words, “The truth is powerful, and will prevail.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Sojourner Truth
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (52%, 3,836 Votes)
- Sojourner Truth (48%, 3,521 Votes)
Total Voters: 7,357