Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Missing Church, Not Religion: Why I Read Marilynne Robinson

Posted on: October 19th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

Returning to the incredible sensory memories of church — and the feel of religion without evangelism.

 

By  

BuzzFeed Staff

 

 

Of apes and man (Film Review)

Posted on: October 16th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

By John Arkelian

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes imagines a war between humans and intelligent apes in the future and  gives us a parable about the dangers of tribalism in the present. Photo: Contributed

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Andy Serkis, who plays the leader of intelligent apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, says that “the heart of the story is about…family, empathy, prejudice and tribalism.” And, he’s right. Those elements of the film—before it inevitably segues into the pyrotechnics that dominate all big-budget commercial movies nowadays—are what make it worth seeing.

Action films and computer-generated effects are a dime a dozen; but what really makes an impression are stories about the human condition. In effect, the 46-year-old Apes franchise divides the human condition into two (armed) camps: human beings and anthropomorphized apes. Here, apes have gained intelligence and a rudimentary grasp of human speech, as a byproduct of drug tests that aimed to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s and that instead spawned a lethal epidemic that has devastated human civilization.

Serkis’s character, named “Caesar” by the human who raised him, leads a society of apes in a redwood forest near San Francisco. Their overriding commandment is: “Apes not kill apes”; and their guiding philosophy is expressed in just three words: “Home, Family, Future”—words, surely, that encapsulate what’s most important in our lives, too. But fear, hatred, aggression, betrayal and violation of the injunction not to kill all follow hard on the return of humans (who want to reactivate a hydroelectric dam situated in the apes’ territory). Past contact between the species has been difficult, to say the least, so their reunion is fraught with everything from wariness to outright hostility. The result is a parable about tribalism, that ubiquitous human habit of dividing “us” from “them.” Once such dividing lines are drawn—on the basis of race, religion or nationality—those on the more powerful side of that insidious boundary have all the excuse they need to exploit, oppress or attack those deemed to be “other.”

In the movie, species is the line that divides the tribes; but it might just as easily be any other perceived difference. Once we postulate a “difference,” we legitimize a dichotomy—between how we want to be treated and how we treat others. So it has always been throughout human history, alas. But there are also differences between individuals in each camp. Caesar can get past his suspicion of outsiders and his instinctive protectiveness toward his own people; he can feel empathy for the struggling remnant of the human race.

But his decision to co-operate and try to live in peace with the human tribe is an anathema to his closest friend: as the past victim of human experimentation on animals, Koba is too full of rage, bitterness and the drive to return hurt for hurt to accept living in peace. Sound familiar? It’s the age-old human story of sectarian conflict—in places like Israel and the Occupied Territories. Few things are harder for us (man or apes) to overcome than our deeply ingrained prejudices. But unless we do, unless we prevail over the deep-seated habit of dividing “us” from “them,” we will never outgrow the brutal, cruel side of our nature in favour of a world in which the lamb can lie down next to the lion.

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Anglican Journal News, October 16, 2014

“Living Reconciliation can transform our world” – Abp Welby in new book

Posted on: September 30th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

Not a churchy report, rather a lively and inspiring work on a crucial subject
Photo Credit: ACNS

From the Anglican Communion Office

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said he believes the subject of a new book called Living Reconciliation can help “transform our world”.

The book, written by two Anglican Communion Office staff, is designed to inspire ordinary people to live in a way that transforms their churches and their society. It is intended as a platform to enable people to engage with and live out the Archbishop of Canterbury’s thinking on ‘living reconciliation'; a subject he hopes will be the hallmark of Anglicanism.

Emerging from the life of the Anglican Communion and featuring stories from around the world, the book ustilises the theology and experience of Continuing Indaba – a project of the Anglican Consultative Council in response to the 2009 Primates’ Meeting.

It is not a report, rather a lively and inspiring work that challenges the reader to reflect deeply on Scripture and to apply it in their own context.

It is described by the Dean of Coventry John Witcombe as “a book [that] sets out vital principles, tells compelling stories, and inspires and challenges readers to live and make new stories of their own…An invitation not just to a way of thinking, but to a way of life.”

The Bible is central

Co-author the Revd Canon Dr Phil Groves said, “The Archbishop of Canterbury begins his foreword with the words ‘Reconciliation is God’s mission to the world in Christ; therefore it is our mission.’

“The book reflects the breadth of the Anglican Communion and is inspired by Anglicans working in their parishes and dioceses across the world. Underpinning every chapter is a belief that Christ came into the world to reconcile us to God and to one another.

“The Bible is central to the book, but the reader is often confronted with new ways of reading familiar texts. For example, they read the story of Sarah and Hagar through the eyes of a Kenyan woman theologian familiar with the conflicts inherent in polygamy.”

A book for all Anglicans

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the book is a tool and encouragement for all to live a life of reconciliation. Many others with experience of working for reconciliation between Christian-Muslim communities and Roman Catholic-Protestant communities in Northern Ireland have echoed his commendation.

However, Canon Groves stressed this is not a book for “some rare breed of conflict negotiators”.

“It has been written in dialogue with a group of ordinary Christians with no formal theological training,” he said. “Some of the greatest enthusiasm for this book has come from those involved in assisting parishes in conflict.”

Coventry Cathedrals Canon for Reconciliation Sarah Hills describes it as “the resource they have been looking for” and Sandra Cobbin Sandra Cobbin who runs courses addressing church conflict says it is “an essential read”.

Canon Groves added, “The Archbishop of Canterbury has called us to be reconciled with one another to be reconcilers in the world. The book is not inward-looking; it challenges the reader to bring reconciliation to our world.

“This is emphasised in videos on the associated website that feature the Bishop Moses of Mbeere in Kenya and Canon Jesus of El Camino Real in California who speak of how reconciliation in the church has gone hand-in-hand with peacebuilding between warring clans, and with challenging gang culture where they live.

Living Reconciliation is both realistic about the challenges and positive about the hope we have in Christ. Those churches that live reconciliation are faithful in prayer and growing in disciples. This is a book aimed at transforming both church and world.”

Living Reconciliation is written by Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones, and is published by SPCK in the UK and Forward Movement in North America. The Living Reconciliation website can be found at http://living-reconciliation.org/

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Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), September 30, 2014

Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines

Posted on: September 29th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF
GODDESSES AND HEROINES

by Patricia Monaghan

New World Library, 2014
$23.50  CAD. Kindle $16.71 CAD
432 pages. Paperback edition
ISBN #978-1-60868-217-1

 

Author Info:

Patricia Monaghan, PhD (1946–2012), was a
leader in the contemporary women’s spirituality
movement as well as an award-winning poet,
scholar, activist, and mentor. In 1979, she
published the first encyclopedia of female
divinities, a book that has remained in print
since then in various formats and that she
later expanded into the current volume.

Monaghan was a lifelong member of the
Society of Friends (Quakers) and also a
companion of the Fourth Order of Francis
and Clare, an interfaith religious organization.

Author’s Words:

In many cave paintings from around the world,
female figures appear with male figures. We do
not know if the female figures were considered
divinities but we do know that every culture since
the dawn of time has honored goddesses as well
as gods.

Then somewhere around 2,500 years ago,
monotheism emerged in the eastern
Mediterranean, first as a Hebrew tribal
religion, then as Christianity, and finally as
Islam. These related religions center their
worship on a single male divinity. In doing
so, they eliminate age-old reverence for
the divine female… No monotheistic goddess
religion has ever been found. It can also
be proven that patriarchy and monotheism
are not identical. One can exist without the
other.

There is no question monotheism limits
women in religious situations. Only recently
have some Christian denominations permitted
women to serve as priests… There is little
question that boys are taught that ‘god’ looks
like them, but not like their mothers and
sisters. They grow up differently than girls
who are taught the opposite.

It is probably not surprizing that those
raised with such an orientation find it
difficult to believe that our forebears may
have honored divinity in female form…

There is no doubt that once written history
begins, we find goddesses sharing the
religious stage with gods, and they take
on many forms and kinds of behavior.

This volume shows the breadth of possibilities
associated with the female through many
ages and cultures. Some will be familiar,
others obscure. Not all will be called ‘goddeses’
since between such figures and mortal women
exists a category this work calls ‘heroines.’
These too exist in many forms.

No encyclopedia can list all the goddesses the
world has known. Many stories have been lost.
But an impressive amount of information still
remains… This encyclopedia attempts to bring
together many sources to offer an entry point
for further research.

Sources are not only scholarly but exist for
children. Some literary sources do not yet
appear in English. Folklore as well as literature
provides a source of information about ancient
goddess figures.

 

Review By Wayne A. Holst

 

My Thoughts:

Early this year I introduced a posthumous
publication by the late Joseph Campbell entitled:

“Goddesses – Mysteries of the Feminine Divine.”

It provided a collection of his essays on goddess
figures in the mythological traditions he had
studied and – at the time of his writing these
essays –  between 20-40 years ago – it was a
very unique and a rather novel subject for
public consideration (check out that issue of
Colleagues List on the Campbell book) -

http://tinyurl.com/ovrfawf

Now, a work of even broader, more factual 
sweep appears at a time when the general
public seems much more open to consider
its feminine themes.

“The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines,”
provides extensive documentation of female
characters and feminine imagery from the
primal traditions,  all world religions, and all
corners of the globe.’

We learn that ‘from the beginning of recorded
history, goddesses reigned alongside their male
counterparts as figures of inspiration and awe.
Drawing on anthropology, folklore, literature,
and psychology, the author’s encyclopedia
‘covers female deities from Africa, the eastern
Mediterranean, Asia and Oceania, Europe, and
the Americas, as well as every major religious
tradition.’

Campbell’s book is an interpretive resource
while Monaghan’s is a research tool to help with
the investigation of goddesses and heroines from
a vast array of human sources.

Monaghan has made access to the information
very easy in the way she organizes the material
by various regional ‘pantheons.’ Each entry is
precise and well written. The bibliography and
index is exhaustive and this makes the book a
good first stop for further, more extensive
investigation of specific characters.

For those interested in goddess/heroine themes
that are carefully and clearly presented, this book
is a real gem.

 

Buy the Book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/o49ofc2

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.

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Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 9,  September 28th, 2014

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of St. Francis of Assisi

Posted on: September 29th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

EAGER TO LOVE
The Alternative Way
of St. Francis of Assisi

by Richard Rohr, 2014

 

Franciscan Media, 294 pp.
Hardcover $24.00 CAD.
Kindle $9.99 CAD
ISBN #978-1-61636-701-5

Author’s Bio:

Richard Rohr is a globally recognised Catholic
and Christian teacher focusing on mystical and
transformational traditions and is the founder
and director of the Center for Action and
Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
home of the Rohr Institute.

He is the author of more than twenty books,
including Yes, And… Daily Meditations;
Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self;
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves
of Life; and Breathing Under Water: Spirituality
and the Twelve Steps.

Author’s Words:

Francis of Assisi was master of making room for
the new and letting go of the tired or empty. Much
of Francis’ genius was that he was ready for absolute
“newness” from God and could also trust fresh and
new attitudes in himself…(The visible world provides
a doorway to the invisible world.)

In this book, I want to share with you one of the
most attractive, appealing and accessible of all
frames and doorways to the divine. It is called the
Franciscan way after the man who first exemplified
it – Francis, who lived in Assisi, Italy, from 1182 to
1226 CE. Francis and Clare, (his female religious 
associate) – when overly romanticised – can be
“dismissed too easily” (as Francis was not what
he has been too lightly made out to be by would-be
followers, even in our own time.)

Church and world. He was totally at home in both.
He and Clare were both very eager to love both,
and they knew that dying to the old and unneeded
was an essential part of living this love at any depth.

You too can let Francis and Clare show you how to
die into your one and only life, the life you must
learn to love… (I try to help them do this in my
book.)

The Franciscan way is to view the Gospel not as
a fire insurance policy for the next world but a life
insurance policy for this world…

My hope and desire in writing this book is that
you can know heaven on your own too, and now!

- from the Preface (with editorial licence)

 

 

Review By Wayne A. Holst

 

My Thoughts:

(In the June 8th issue of Colleagues List
 I introduced the 90 page study guide -
“Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy:
 Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St. Francis”
http://tinyurl.com/kdld38c

In a way, the current book under consideration
and the “how to” guide just noted have appeared in
reverse order for whatever reason. At least now,
with the appearance of both volumes, we have 
from Rohr a spirituality that is both theoretical
and practical).

 

For those unfamiliar with Rohr’s writing what
we have in this book is an introduction to
mysticism – one of his specialties. The mystical
way of living the faith is common to all the
great religious traditions and is also one of the
key linkages between them.

Read what Rohr writes about this.

We used to say – in Christian ecumenical
circles – “doctrine divides, service unites”
and this helped us to work together for
social justice causes with many different
Christians as well as non-believers.

Now, we might say the same about the
phenomenon of mysticism, it seems to me.
“Doctrine divides, mysticism unites,”  – and
this helps us to find common spiritual cause
with people of many faiths or no faith.

What Rohr is able to share with us is really
nothing new. It is almost a thousand years
old, since the time of St. Francis.  And yet,
because of its nature, it can reflect a very
contemporary way of living.

Rohr describes the meaning of mysticism.
He suggests contemplation is reasonable
but not rational – a different way of knowing.
It is an integrative, rather than an exclusivist
way of understanding reality. It does not
focus on right vs. wrong, positive vs. negative
or male vs. female like so much of our inherited
religion.

Franciscan spirituality as interpreted by Rohr,
engages some important contemporary themes -
like atonement theory, eco-spirituality, the
Christ who existed before Christianity and the
Christ who will live beyond it, an approach to
Islam, and living like Jesus lived.

I continue to marvel at the way Rohr helps
us to see that there are within the Christian
tradition many untapped resources that
we did not know existed.

I recommend this book. Whether you are
new to Richard Rohr or a veteran of others
he has written, this title continues the
spiritual journey of a modern pilgrim – 
grounded in good tradition – who is not
afraid to confront challenges to Christianity
today, and very open to new ways the Spirit
is guiding us.

 

A Review Summary:

Rohr’s attempt is to deepen contemporary
spirituality by linking it to Christian mysticism
and the contemplative tradition.

In “Eager to Love” he reclaims the mysticism
inherent in the Franciscan legacy and offers
it as an alternative to the hierarchical,
patriarchal and authoritarian Christianity
that he suggests has primary responsibility
for so much contemporary agnosticism in the
West… He is building a bridge between the
Christian mystical tradition and estranged
seekers of every ilk.

The book contains Rohr’s reflections on the
best aspects of the Franciscan heritage as
lived out by its founder and its early worthies -
Clare, Bonaventure and Dun Scotus.

The message of Francis offers an alternative
way of life, a different way of knowing
and a pedagogy that teaches through living
rather than through creedal affirmation.

According to Rohr, the starting point for Francis
was not the reality of human sinfulness but
rather human suffering. The Franciscan way
is prophetic rather than priestly.

Rohr admits that he is not a scholar but a
popularizer who is laying out a different
approach to the inherited Christian tradition.
His treatment, he acknowledges, is not
systematic.

Rohr both values the institutional church
and suggests ways to survive within it. He
admonishes Christians give priority to Jesus
and his message which we inherit through
Scripture and theological tools offered
through the church.

Francis was not a theologian, but a living
illumination of one open to the love of
God and eager to love God and all God’s
creation, especially the most lowly.

The church of the future will be mystical,
the author believes, and Rohr is attempting
to drive that message home.

- Dana Greene, National Catholic Reporter
  July 23rd, 2014

 

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/m9gbu7r

 

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.

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Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 8,  September 21st, 2014

Joan Chittister: Essential Writings Selected

Posted on: September 29th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

 

JOAN CHITTISTER
Essential Writings Selected
by Mary Lou Kownacki
and Mary Hembrow Snyder

Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY
2014. 239 pp. $16.60 CAD.
ISBN #978-1-62698-091-4

 

 

Author and Editor Bios:

Mary Lou Kownacki is a Benedictine nun in
Erie, Pennsylvania. She is the author of
“A Monk in the Inner City: The ABCs of a
Spiritual Journey.”

Mary H. Snyder is professor at Mercyhurst College
in Erie, Penn. She was the editor of “Spiritual
Questions for the Twenty-First Century”

 

Author’s Quotes:

The theme of this book is passion. To anyone who
has met, read, or heard Joan Chittister that choice
is obvious… For over forty years, she has tirelessly
crisscrossed the country and the globe driven by
God’s fiery word.

She has written “We talk religion in a world that
worships the bread but does not distribute it,
that practices ritual but not righteousness, that
confesses but does not repent.”

And yet Joan is not a doomsday prophet that leaves
audiences and readers depressed and impotent.
The words that burn also ignite the listener’s soul
and melt way layers of fear, apathy, and
helplessness. And she’s funny too…

Her words poke holes in the darkness, enabling
others to find their way.

For over thirty years she has been a columnist
for the National Catholic Reporter – and here
is a way of locating at least some columns:

“From Where I Stand”
http://ncronline.org/blogs/where-i-stand  -

She covered the Fourth World Conference on
Women in Beijing, the funeral of Pope John
Paul II and other major events in Rome.

Impressive as Joan’s vita is, perhaps her
greatest passion is reserved for people and
for life itself. She plays as intensely as she
preaches and can always be counted on to
party. The bulk of her writing is devoted to
helping ordinary people develop into their
better selves. She sets a standard for mature
spirituality, and the power and passion of her
vision compel people to reach beyond the
possible.

For spirituality, she has been called a
“passionate contemplative.” She views
herself primarily as a writer “writing is
all I wanted to do in life.” She has a great
passion for justice and a talent “for seeing
what she was looking at, and for saying
what she saw.” She has a passion for the
religious life. As often as she might have
considered leaving her order when things
got difficult, she has remained constant in
her commitment to it.

She is a woman of the church. Though she
has been a consistent challenge to it because
of it’s continuing stance toward women,
she remains profoundly a part of it.

In a poll by US Catholic magazine in 2008,
readers voted her “by far the most
inspirational woman currently alive.”
She has a unique ability to stand apart
from her church as a woman critic, but
at the same time demonstrate authentic
loyalty. This is a rare gift indeed.

Joan is a people-person. She loves them,
and they respond in kind. Many will attest
that their lives have been changed by
Joan’s writings, speeches, and personal
interactions.

Prior to the election of Pope Francis,
theologian Matthew Fox wrote a column
listing two nominees for the papacy. The
first was the Dalai Lama and the second
was Joan Chittister… and as a woman
of largesse, outrageous and extravagant
vision and heart, she is indeed one who
has loved the church enough to challenge
its unjust structures and has loved people
enough to beatitude living, because she
loves God enough to bring a brilliant
new spiritual vision to the times.

- quotes and interpretations from the
  Introduction by Mary Lou Kownacki

 

 

 

Review By Wayne A. Holst

 

My Thoughts:

I am neither a woman, nor am I a celibate
person in ministry, but if I had my druthers,
I would certainly desire the vocational gifts
of Joan Chittister.

Not only is she an intelligent writer, Gospel 
preacher and social justice advocate, but she
has the rare ability to speak truth to power
in a way that gets respectful attention.

I have to admit that I envy her.

Joan loves the church and her ministry so
much and so authentically that people who
might otherwise be threatened by her are
nonetheless attracted to what she has to say.

That is not to say that she has come by her
vocation easily. She has fought many battles
and received her share of wounds. But after
decades in her work she continues to be
admired, if not always appreciated – in
many quarters.

For those who have known some things
about Joan, but would like to know more
(and there are many research leads to
follow in this book as well) I would very
much like to recommend this volume.

It comes as one of more than 50 in the
Orbis series “Modern Spiritual Masters”.
I am pleased to be in possession of them
all, but would rate this one near of the
top of a list of many top notch entries.

The women who write the background
to the many great selections from her
writings are people who have lived with
her for many years. That means they
have an unusually good sense of who
Joan Chittister really is. They see her
at breakfast, and not just at the podium.
They know her small-talk and biases
as well as her quality writing.

Reading the Introduction to this book
is an inspiration in itself because it
was written by a colleague in the
community.

But in addition, there are many great
gleanings here, from her voluminous
writings over many years.

Joan Chittister may be slowing down
a bit, but she has not lost the gifts
she has always reflected. Here is
a good summary of what she has
to share with us – so far.

 

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/psogy9j

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.

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Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 7,  September 14th, 2014

Medicine Walk

Posted on: September 28th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

MEDICINE WALK
by Richard Wagamese

McClelland & Stewart, 2014.
Hardcover. 246 pages. $29.95 CAD
ISBN #978-0-7710-8918-3

 

Review By Wayne A. Holst

 

My Thoughts:

Wagamese is an emerging Canadian writer
who speaks to all Canadians, and not only
those who have a particular interest in
native culture and spirituality.

He stands on the shoulders of several
First Nations and other Canadian writers
who have been part of a movement during 
the last half century to bring a sense
of universality to the field of Canadian
literature.

Wagamese’s books reflect a high-
water mark in our nation’s literary
accomplishments and he certainly
deserves an important place in any
future edition of such respected
resources as The Oxford Companion
to Canadian Literature.

But even more importantly, he deserves
an honoured place on the bookshelves
of many ordinary Canadians who are
just struggling to find their way in
an age of moral and spiritual confusion.

Here is native spirituality that connects
to all of us.

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/o95nho4

 

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 5,  August 31st, 2014

A Fair Country

Posted on: September 28th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

A FAIR COUNTRY
by John Ralston Saul

Penguin Canada, 2009
Paper. 342 pages. $20. CAD
ISBN #978-0-14-316842-3

 

Review By Wayne A. Holst

 

My Thoughts:

After several centuries of interpretation 
of our history and identity through both
Euro-Canadian and American lenses we
have something unique here – a book
that tells our story from the perspective
of our First Nations. Of course, we still
have a Euro-Canadian telling it, but the
time when native Canadians start writing
their perspectives for all to discover is
not far off. In fact, that time has come.

This is an important book to help
create for us (what we used to call) a
paradigm shift, or way of seeing things.

Saul is a public intellectual, and not one
with a mass following in Canada. Still,
he has gained a lot of respect for his
writing and more needs to be done to
translate his creative ideas into a
language that more of us understand.

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/pvs5e3w

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 5,  August 31st, 2014

The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Interview with Charles Marsh

Posted on: September 23rd, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Interview with Charles Marsh

By

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin/bpk/Rotraut Forberg/Art Resource

On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian theologian who opposed the Nazis, was hanged by the regime on the grounds of a concentration camp. Nearly seven decades later, his theological writings and work continue to engage and inspire readers. In a comprehensive new biography, scholar Charles Marsh reconstructs the pastor’s life, providing intimate details using documents that recently have been made available. Earlier this month, Marsh spoke with Managing Editor Tiffany Stanley about the book, titled Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was published in April of this year by Alfred A. Knopf.

Marsh is a professor of religious studies and director of the Project of Lived Theology at the University of Virginia. He is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the University of Virginia. He is author of seven previous books, including God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, which won the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, and a memoir, The Last Days: A Son’s Story of Sin and Segregation at the Dawn of a New South. He serves on the National Advisory Board of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

R&P: We’re excited to talk about your book on Bonhoeffer, which is getting a lot of attention, so thank you. I know many years of work went into it.

CM: I initially signed a contract with Knopf to do a much shorter book that would have focused mainly on Bonhoeffer’s American experiences. It was actually a project called Bonhoeffer in America and, if I had known then that the project would have evolved into a cradle-to-grave treatment and taken eight years, I would have politely bowed out. I saw my editor a few weeks ago in Washington, and he confessed to having tricked me into writing about a full life. But yes, eight years is a long time.

R&P: After reading the book, I was struck because I had heard you say that originally it was going to be just his time in America and it’s so much broader than that.

CM: It’s a cradle-to-grave treatment. And what happened was that from my editor’s perspective and maybe my agent’s, it was inevitable. I didn’t know at the time because I had never written a full-length biography. There are these interesting biographies—of Einstein in Berlin, or Nietzsche in Turin, or Adorno in California. But in my estimation, to really set the stage meaningfully for Bonhoeffer’s year in America in 1930-1931, you have to do a lot of work on experiences that preceded that and fill in the gaps between the 1931 visit and the 1939 visit and by the time you’ve done that, you’ve started moving in the direction of a full life. Also, the other thing that really inspired the decision more was the availability of new documents and historical archives that made it possible, really for the first time, to write a biography of Bonhoeffer relying primarily on primary documents rather than on the great 1300-page biography that Bonhoeffer’s best friend Eberhard Bethge wrote in the late 60s.

R&P: That was something I wanted to ask about because Bethge’s book has been the seminal biography. There have been a few other Bonhoeffer biographies, notably two in 2010: Ferdinand Schlingensiepen’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance and Eric Metaxas’ bestseller Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Was it the new documents that really spurred you on? Or what context or information did you feel like you could add to your volume that previous books had missed?

CM: Bethge’s biography is, you know, a, magisterial work and has been for nearly five decades the touchstone of all Bonhoeffer scholarship. But, if you’re writing a biography about your best friend, moreover your best friend who was murdered by the Nazis, you’re going to be protective about certain aspects of his character, of his life, of your relationship. Eberhard is a dear friend of mine and has been very generous to me over the years in sharing documents. I would not regard his biography as at all hagiographic. I think he writes quite courageously in some of his interpretations of Bonhoeffer’s life. But, nonetheless, that basic narrative of Eberhard’s book is a grand narrative and it’s a narrative that shaped not only Bonhoeffer biographies but also Bonhoeffer scholarship as well. This includes Metaxas’s biography. Metaxas was using the basic script and applying his flair to that narrative in a way that really connected with a wide readership. But I had access to just a treasure of newly obtained documents through the library in Berlin, the Staatsbibliothek, and the documents appearing in published form in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke, which is now translated into English. The translation was just completed this past fall, the sixteen-volume, complete writings of Bonhoeffer. This is someone who died when he was 39 years old and whose complete writings come to well over ten thousand pages. As a discipline and in terms of my own creative process, I took all the biographies, including Bethge’s, and I hid them away and made myself, or told myself, I wouldn’t look at any biographical writing until I finished with my complete draft of my book, using only the primary materials and documents.

I remember that spring in 2007 when I was a visiting professor in Berlin, having access to what must have been 20 to 25 cases of documents that had just been sold to the Staatsbibliothek from the family of Eberhard Bethge. Bethge had died around 2000. And, just how every day brought discoveries. These were very personal documents, intimate documents, but also the kind of materials you need just to make a life vivid and give it a certain kind of cinematic clarity. Like I didn’t know how tall he was. And then, in a driver’s license or something, you see, oh, he’s 6’1”. And then the documents from his shared bank account with Eberhard or inventories of his library and his wardrobe, tickets to the theatre, or journals about his walk in the park, and shopping sprees and salon knowledge and just all of these aspects of character that begin to reveal—to me, at least—a fascinatingly different kind of portrait than the one of Bonhoeffer that I had carried with me for 25 years since writing a doctoral dissertation on his philosophical thought.

I had a friend who was one of the translators of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer works and I think one of the most brilliant of Bonhoeffer’s scholars in the world. Victoria Barnett is her name, and she’s the director of the Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in D.C. She tells me around the same time, “You know, I have translated Bonhoeffer, I have read Bonhoeffer, I’ve given much of my life to Bonhoeffer scholarship and history, and I still don’t know who he was.” I didn’t really know who he was either, and so I wanted to look directly at this new body of more intimate documents and let that unfamiliar picture of this Protestant saint and martyr and theologian develop in narrative form. I would say that while Strange Glory’s not the first biography written, it’s the first one that’s relied solely on primary documents, other than Bethge’s book. It’s the first one that’s really shaped by the new treasure of documents and materials that are available in archives and this volume of complete works.

R&P: As you mentioned, this isn’t your first book on Bonhoeffer. More than 20 years ago, your doctoral dissertation and subsequent book also covered the theologian. Why return to him now? And what was that like, coming back to him and learning so much more personal information about him?

CM: That’s a really interesting question. Thanks for asking that. As a child of the church, I certainly heard about Bonhoeffer by the time I reached college. In college, I was an English and philosophy major, and I read some passages of his more popular works, The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together. But I was late coming to Bonhoeffer’s, theology as a whole and it was the sort of the more philosophical writings that comprised his body of academic work from 1927 to 1933.

All my graduate studies were very much a part of the theory-separated branch of 1980s postmodern culture, and that was exciting in its own way. But in the summers throughout my graduate years, I went to Atlanta and I worked in an inner-city community center for minority youth in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. I was living in these two worlds. In the summers I was teaching my “Body and Soul” workshop, which was poetry, basketball, Bible study, and then just doing the things of a community worker, and equally fulfilled by this practical work. Then in the fall, I would drive back to school, whether it was in Cambridge or Charlottesville, and be excited about the new year, but I would be reading my German philosophy and feeling a million miles away from the community I served. It was liberating for me to discover Bonhoeffer, as a grad student himself and as a young professor himself who struggled with the same kinds of tensions, which are the tensions of many young scholars. He tried to think through classical German philosophical tradition to locate a more socially conscious, engaged, and relational conception of self and the self as an entity. That was helpful and then I wrote the dissertation and the book.

In the early 90s, rather than to pursue my second, more technical academic and theological project, I began having all of these questions related to my upbringing in the Deep South and inquiries about my childhood and the white evangelical church throughout the last years of the segregated South. I ended up with almost no skills in historical research or certainly in ethnography. I remember, I guess it was 20 years ago this summer, getting in my car in Baltimore where I was teaching at the time, and heading South with my credit card and my microcassette recorder and a list of questions. What were we thinking about Jesus in those churches that made us think we were both the most holy and pure out of all of the Christian churches in the United States while also being completely indifferent, if not complicit, toward African Americans in the Jim Crow South?

I tried to sort a lot of these questions out theologically, and in the course of what became not only God’s Long Summer but also three books on the civil rights movement, I found myself learning how to write theology as narrative, or theology as story. Over the years I taught Bonhoeffer to undergraduates and graduate students. I have a graduate seminar on Bonhoeffer and King. Eventually, Bonhoeffer was sort of standing there, waiting patiently, saying, “You’ve written these theological narratives, these stories, and theological accounts of Dr. King and Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis and others. Now it’s my turn.”

I think it was helpful, obviously, to have read all of Bonhoeffer’s writings because I had a sense of his intellectual importance and place in the modern story. Then that kind of decades-long tutelage in writing narrative nonfiction was what I finally needed to come back to him with the hope and the goal of creating a kind of storied and hopefully vivid and engaging narrative of this original, brilliant theologian, this dissident, this leader/activist in the German resistance and conspiracy.

R&P: The beginning of Strange Glory portrays Bonhoeffer’s childhood and early life as one with a lot of privilege and opportunity and accomplishments. It seems like he’s sheltered and shielded from a lot of the political turmoil going on in Germany at the time. I wondered if you could place that in context. What factors later galvanized him into the activist that he became?

CM: That is true, but he wasn’t altogether indifferent to politics. His older brothers were quite astute, and students of contemporary political and legal affairs, and so there was probably some sense in which he heard Klaus and Karl Friedrich, and then Walter before he died in the war, and his father, and other members of the extended family, many of whom where legal scholars and historians, ponder all these issues. But Bonhoeffer was himself a child of much more aesthetic and artistic sensibilities, and showed kind of a very early predilection for metaphysical speculation. The way I tell the story is in a way that’s true to Bonhoeffer’s later observations of his journey. When in prison he writes to Eberhard, and he recalls that there were only two times in his life that he could observe, from the vantage point of 1943, profound personal growth and transformation. One, he said, was “a strong impression of my father.” His father was a prominent psychiatrist, director for the center of nervous diseases at the University of Berlin. The other, he said, was “the experiences of my first journey abroad, my first experiences abroad.” He meant trips to Italy, and to Barcelona and to Spain, but more than anything else a year spent in the United States in 1930-31. On the eve of that trip to America, in August of 1930, Bonhoeffer is only 24 years old, and he has by now two doctorates, and he is a straight-arrow academic primed for academic fame within the very demanding German scene. He came to America as a visiting student at Union Theological Seminary, thinking that it would be yet another chapter in his privileged life. It ended up being an experience, a kind of immersion if you will, that gave him a wholly new way of thinking about his vocation as a pastor and theologian.

People who know Bonhoeffer’s story and have read his life know that he found plenty of things to criticize in the manner of theological education, and the theological education that defined Union Theological Seminary, really the Protestant mainline in the 1930s. He found the level of education sophomoric; he thought all Protestant, liberal theology was just all sort of indistinguishable from pragmatism, that American Protestant thought was really traded on the laziest aspects of German nineteenth-century liberalism. He thought that Reinhold Niebuhr was more interested in creating a center for labor organizers than really engaging theological education seriously. Beyond his sort of grumblings and mumblings and kind of pompous criticism, he was seeing theology in a strange new light. He’d never in his life seen a professor in a theology faculty at Berlin take a group of students out of the classroom into some blighted neighborhood of the city where there were families who are going through unemployment. It just wasn’t part of the German academic scene or theological world. That ultimately excited him and broadened his imagination. I think that in fact the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr on Bonhoeffer has been understated over the years. One of Bonhoeffer’s first encounters with Niebuhr—he took both of the classes at Union—Bonhoeffer turned in a paper that was a fairly straightforward, tedious exhibition of Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith. It was a fairly typical early twentieth-century Lutheran account and Niebuhr objected. He apparently wrote in margins of the paper, “There are no ethics here. Where is the ethical dimension in your account? A concept of faith without ethics is an empty concept.” Bonhoeffer was mortified by this, but in five years he was writing a book called Cost of Discipleship, and coining a phrase that’s become perhaps the most common phrase in the Bonhoeffer lexicon— “cheap grace.” And “cheap grace” is about obedience and exactly what Niebuhr was telling him in 1930 in response to that essay on Luther.

Bonhoeffer also met a largely vanished generation of mainline Protestant social organizers. It was also the golden age of the American organizing tradition. There were students going off to do labor organizing after they finished Union or during the summers. Bonhoeffer was introduced to members of the ACLU, NAACP, all sorts of labor organizations, and he spoke very favorably. He told his brother in a letter, “We’re going to need to organize an ACLU in Germany.”

Finally, it was Bonhoeffer’s immersion in the African American church that I think inspired what Bonhoeffer said in that same letter I mentioned earlier, in 1943, which he described as his turning from the phraseological to the real. I just love that expression. A black seminarian from Birmingham, Alabama, whose father was pastor of 16th Street Baptist Church church, where three decades later, four beautiful Sunday school girls would be murdered by a Klan bombing—from that same church, this young seminarian Frank Fisher invited Bonhoeffer in the fall to join him one Sunday morning at Abyssinian Baptist Church, where the great Clayton Powell Sr. was senior minister. This really began Bonhoeffer’s intense immersion in the African American church. He became obsessed with race relations in America, with the story of African American Christianity, and also with all of the extraordinary kinds of writings and compositions and artistic expressions of the Harlem renaissance, which was in full flower at the time.

I remember one of my first days sitting in the library in Berlin, holding up a box of papers and seeing a file, larger than any of Bonhoeffer’s files from those years, of research documents on the Negro question—files of studies of lynchings, of writings, of early NAACP field reports of conditions in the South. In the spring of that year, after, for him, the extraordinary experience of becoming an active parishioner at Abyssinian, Clayton Powell Sr. invited Bonhoeffer to preach once in the pulpit, which is a huge honor of any Baptist minister to yield the pulpit to another person, and in this case a sort of erudite Berliner whose sermons were not marked, shall we say, by great exuberance. He also taught Sunday school every week to a group of young boys, and he taught frequently in the WMU, or the women’s missionary union.

At the end of the year, he and some other students took a road trip. It ended up being just Bonhoeffer and a Frenchman because they let the other students off in Chicago and New Orleans. This is one of those research areas in the book where I invested a lot of time early in hopes of finding more primary documents. Bonhoeffer was a very committed journaler—he kept diaries and journals throughout his life. I was hoping to find the journal of this road trip, when in the spring of 1931, Bonhoeffer and this Frenchman named Jean Lasserre, who was a pacifist and would become a member of the French resistance, ended up driving 4,000 miles in an old beat-up car, an Oldsmobile, and then logging another 1,200 miles on a Mexican train. We probably don’t have this in writing because Bonhoeffer was driving; they were up and driving for over 14 hours a day.

But there are observations that conclude that when they were returning, instead of going back the way they came, which would have been through New Orleans and up north to Chicago, they pointed the car east and headed right into the Jim Crow South. Bonhoeffer wanted to see, to traverse this strange landscape he had read about in his courses. I worked with a geographer and I was able to reconstruct the route. They traveled from New Orleans and they went through Hattiesburg and Laurel and Meridian, Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham. They drove within 20 miles of Scottsboro, Alabama, where that same month the Scottsboro boys’ trial was beginning, and then they drove back up the East Coast. It appears that somewhere south of Scottsboro and west of New Orleans the two men stopped on a Sunday morning and worshipped in a rural black church. When Bonhoeffer got back to New York he wrote a paragraph to his supervisor—and this from a theologian who, when he arrived in New York and America eight months earlier, had just been completely contentious toward American Protestant life and culture and didn’t think he had anything to learn—and now was saying that he heard the gospel preached for the first time. And he did not mean the first time in America, he meant the first time for him.

Bonhoeffer returned to Germany with a dramatically different perspective on his vocation as pastor and theologian. He also returned to Germany with a love of the Bible. He had studied the Bible, he’d taught classes on the Bible, he’d written essays on the Bible, but he had never read the Bible devotionally. Now he began to just pour over the gospel narratives and become similarly obsessed with the Sermon on the Mount and what for him became the peacemaking mandates of these writings. He started going to church. He’d never really gone to church. He also asked if he could serve a parish in a city section of Berlin. Maybe Bonhoeffer had seen some unemployment or poverty in Germany, but I doubt it had ever really registered with him. Now he’s moving into the inner city in Berlin to work in a parish that is really the most devastated parish of the industrial layoff in Berlin. And he carried with him a collection of recordings of Negro spirituals and gospel standards. One of my favorite images of the German resistance movement as it clusters around the Bonhoeffer story is that of a group of seminarians at a semi-abandoned estate in northeast Germany, in an area called Pomerania. They’re gathered around a piano and Bonhoeffer is playing, rather theatrically, as he was wont to do. These are seminarians who are taking part now in 1935-36 as part of an experiment in creating a seminary of non-Nazi, anti-Nazi pastors. Bonhoeffer referred to this experiment as “an experiment in new monasticism.” That’s where the phrase the “new monastics” comes from and the new monastic movement that’s been happening here in the past 15 or 20 years. That’s the phrase that Bonhoeffer used in a letter to his brother. His brother was an atheist who was trying to figure out why his baby brother was such a fanatic. And he’s saying that what we need in such a time of deception and great propaganda and lies within the now-Nazified German Protestant church is a new kind of monasticism.

And anyway, they’re drinking their beers and smoking their cigars, and they’re singing, “Go Down, Moses.” The discovery that many of the same songs and spirituals that inundated and energized the black freedom struggle in the South 20-something years later were in the 1930s at the heart of the German church resistance movement that Bonhoeffer led was just wonderful.

R&P: Given with your own work how extensively you’ve written about the civil rights movement, was it a very moving experience to see Bonhoeffer travel similar roads through the South?

CM: Yes. It blew my mind to see Bonhoeffer traversing and visiting the American South really at the bleakest years of Jim Crow. These are the years depicted in Richard Wright’s memoirs, the long, iron years of Jim Crow. He’s asking questions and making notes. There’s a passage where he says, “I had spoken with some of the Negro intellectuals,” and he is referring to intellectuals not only in New York and in Washington, which he also visited in his travels, but also throughout the South, and he says, “It appears that there is a great revolution coming, if not immediately, soon enough.” And his observations of the white southern ministers, who he found—he used the word despicable. He described some of the white pastors he apparently conversed with, who—and this has to be conjecture—were explaining to him why they did not see a contradiction between their profession of the Christian faith and their adherence to the dictates of white supremacy.

There are probably 20 pages of direct observation of the American South. I’m drawn to narrative written by outsiders, or observations by outsiders, of very familiar places. Some southerners of my generation and of my parents’ generation would refer to that as just outside agitation or the critical scrutiny of someone who really doesn’t understand our manners and habits. But I’ve always been really intrigued and fascinated, and I’ve learned a whole lot, probably more from outsider accounts than from insider accounts, of familiar landscapes. To see Bonhoeffer—I had no idea that he had made this trip.

It was a transformative trip. Within two years of returning, the Nuremburg laws had passed in 1933. And Bonhoeffer is within weeks of the passage of the Nuremburg laws and the codification of anti-Jewish church policies in the so-called Aryan paragraph, or the Aryan clause, Bonhoeffer was telling a group of Lutheran pastors—whose jaws dropped—that the victims of state violence, whether these victims are Christian or not, that it was the obligation of the church not simply to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to crush the wheel itself.

There are a number of ways of understanding Bonhoeffer’s prescience, his clarity. I mean, he wasn’t always clear, and he very often made some serious mistakes of judgment. Often throughout the years of resistance and conspiracy, he did not know what the next steps should be, and he lacked clarity, and he fled to the margins to try to mull over options and many times he left Germany thinking he would never return again. But nonetheless he saw the appointment of Hitler as chancellor in 1933 as the emergence of this great masquerade of evil. He saw that with great prescience and clarity that very few, if any, of his fellow churchmen had. Bonhoeffer was raised to have an independent and critical mind, and he had a native distrust of anyone who presumed to speak authoritatively about matters of the state or matters of the heart. I think really the heart of Bonhoeffer’s prescience was that by 1933, he understood that the God of Jesus Christ could not in any way be identified with the voice of the Fuhrer.

R&P: Once he returned to Germany from the United States, he began speaking out against Hitler quickly. You note that on a radio broadcast two days after Hitler took power, he’s already denouncing the Fuhrer. By contrast, how were the majority of German ministers and theologians reacting to Hitler at that time and shortly thereafter?

CM: With great enthusiasm. He was offering the nation redemption from the shame of the Versailles Treaty and from its humiliation after the First World War and the attribution of guilt placed solely on Germany’s shoulders. He was offering the nation redemption and salvation from the kinds of moral torpor that many of the conservatives attributed to the Weimar licentiousness and sexual and political experimentation. Bonhoeffer understood that the so-called Fuhrer could see that there was a huge spiritual void in the lives of the country, and that the Protestant churches, which had been moribund and had no kind of theologically potent resources for distinguishing between the voice of the Fuhrer and the voice of God, had been complicit in this. I think he understood very clearly why this moment was received with such widespread enthusiasm. This is a moment that offers the nation a new identity, a new way of thinking about itself.

R&P: I want to switch gears to a more personal aspect of the book. You make the case that Bonhoeffer experienced a kind of romantic love or attraction to his best friend Eberhard. While you write that the relationship remained chaste, the notion that Bonhoeffer might have been gay has received a lot of attention in some quarters. So number one, I wondered, was this finding a surprise to you in your research? And what have you made of reactions to it?

CM: It wasn’t a surprise, this observation of Bonhoeffer’s romantic attraction to Eberhard. Over the years, I’ve gone to many Bonhoeffer conferences. This subject has been discussed often over meals and drinks and beers, but it’s never been discussed in an academic session or a lecture. But there’s been conversation among scholars for as long as I can remember. What I had that scholars didn’t have, and do now, is the body of letters that Bonhoeffer and Eberhard exchanged. They wrote when they were apart during those seven years of their partnership. To be sure, I was intrigued when I found in those archives in Berlin a statement from a joint bank account. I did not realize that their partnership had that kind of formality about it as well. So Bonhoeffer and Eberhard began giving gifts together as a pair, Christmas presents and the like. They traveled and shared a room. They were soul mates of a sort. Bethge never reciprocated the intensity of Bonhoeffer’s affections. I don’t think Eberhard was gay; I simply don’t have any reason at all to think that. I think that Bonhoeffer’s love of Eberhard was one that he, Bonhoeffer, wanted to define as a kind of spiritual marriage, but Bonhoeffer’s love of Eberhard was also deeply romantic.

The challenge for trying to narrate this complicated relationship is, on the one hand, it was a chaste relationship. It was a relationship that was centered on their shared love of Jesus and shared devotional practices and it had a kind of liturgical shape to it. And yes, Bonhoeffer also was in love with Eberhard, and wanted in some fashion to secure a spiritual marriage of sorts, and Eberhard could not and did not want to finally accept that.

Of course, Bonhoeffer became engaged after Eberhard became engaged. The engagement was formalized only when Bonhoeffer was in prison. Even so, in a curious letter—I think it’s kind of a humorous letter—after Bonhoeffer had matched Eberhard’s engagement with his own engagement, he wrote to say, “Now, we can resume our partnership, and we can travel together in those places where we found so much joy, and we can leave our wives back in Germany, in Berlin, or some place.”

I’m not surprised by the response. I’m really grateful for having the resources, the documents, and an opportunity to offer such detail because there’s great beauty and poignancy to this relationship. It does annoy me when someone critical of my treatment says, “Well, this is just like Jonathan and David in the Bible.” Or, “This is just revisionist, and you’re just superimposing contemporary categories on a friendship that in the 1930s and 40s had a very different cast.” But the thing is it did have a different cast; it was different in 1935 and 1936 in Germany. Bonhoeffer’s family was liberal and open yet was initially surprised by the sudden entrance of Eberhard into the family—but accepted him and accepted their relationship. Whatever it was, it wasn’t discussed or put in any particular terms, but they were surprised nonetheless. Once they understood that Bonhoeffer and Eberhard were together, they accepted them fully into the family. Even the recollections of some of Bonhoeffer’s students made it clear that some of them thought that he was gay. So this is not my own attempt to sensationalize a relationship. If anything, I tried to capture it and respect it in its uniqueness, and not politicize it or insinuate. It was understood as a unique relationship, a different kind of relationship, in 1935 and 1936. The letters that we have now between Bonhoeffer and Eberhard are love letters, at least Bonhoeffer’s letters to Eberhard. Bethge’s letters back, I should make clear, were always more perfunctory, and the romantic quality, the quality of enthrallment and enchantment, this sort of romantic love, were not part of Bethge’s responses to Bonhoeffer. But for Bonhoeffer, they weren’t just letters, but beautiful love letters.

R&P: The Nazis executed Bonhoeffer when he was only 39. Seven decades later, why do you think his life and writings continue to have such resonance among Christians and non-Christians alike?

CM: I think there’s the power of his story and the authenticity of his example. I think that one of the aspects of his legacy that I wanted to highlight is his originality as a thinker. I do think his writings, early and late, are marked by originality and genius and also by exquisite beauty. He was a theologian who could write about holy matters in a manner that is both accessible and artful. The heart of Bonhoeffer’s deep devotion to Christ is an equally great generosity. Such generosity is in fact enabled by his full devotion to Christ.

I think one of the things, too, that brought people to Bonhoeffer’s story, aside from his life and the power of his life and the drama of his story and his conscience, was the way he wrote with such attention and out of a particular context. He used to raise as many questions as he answered. He was always willing to ask the hard questions that the scholars and the academy would often be reluctant to pursue.

When he is in prison, he’s observing the ruin of Lutheran Christendom. The resistance church he served, it’s decimated now. The Nazi ideologues were referring to the pogroms and deportations and the death camps as finishing the work of Martin Luther, which is how some of the Nazi propaganda described the architecture of genocide. So Bonhoeffer’s reckoning seriously with the collapse of Western Christendom and wondering what, if anything, might be done. In prison, he’s not afraid to say that the language of the Christian faith has been so profaned and domesticated and misused that it has lost its meaningfulness. In one of this last theological writings in prison, he asks, what should the church do now? These are powerful, and undeniably urgent, meditations.

R&P: I really appreciate you taking time to chat with me today about the book.

CM: Thanks so much for your great work.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, July 31, 2014

St. Paul’s Institute September Update

Posted on: September 23rd, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

 

St. Paul’s Institute, London UK

 

COMMENT:

Late Summer Reading?

By Barbara Ridpath

Yes, it is a little late in the season to be handing out summer reading lists. Think instead one of those book reports you had to do at the end of the summer when you were still in school. I had the pleasure of dipping into several books relevant to the work of St Paul’s Institute this summer and thought readers might appreciate short reviews and recommendations on some fruitful reading.

Ethical Ambition, by Derrick Bell
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; (1 Sep 2003)
ISBN-10: 074756454X, ISBN-13: 978-0747564546

Of the four books covered in this article, Ethical Ambition is the easiest and quickest to read. Written in the breezy style of a mémoire, a US civil rights leader and law professor writes very personally on how an individual can not only pursue a career but also enhance their life’s experience by making decisions about both career and personal life within an ethical context. This is an extremely valuable book for anyone trying to be their authentic self in all contexts. Bell’s very personal example of someone who lived his principles should give courage to anyone who believes they have to choose between ethics and success.

Together, by Richard Sennett
Allen Lane; (2 Feb 2012)
ISBN-10: 0713998741; ISBN-13: 978-0713998740

Sennett is an American professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. This book is the middle book of a trilogy beginning with The Craftsmen, and ending with a yet to be published volume on the making of the urban environment. Sennett focuses on the history of cooperation, and how society, development and work have caused us to become ‘atomized’ as members of society. It then considers techniques that, with practice, might strengthen the bonds between people and recreate community. Amidst the forces that limit our direct contact with others: economic inequality, the ‘loose’ connections of a web-based society and the wholesale move around the world from the countryside to cities, this book offers some hope of ways to reconnect. I read it because I was pondering how we can solve problems together without understanding the perspective of the ‘other.’ While I found few concrete solutions, I came away with a far greater understanding of the reasons behind some historical customs, and a far deeper belief that living for and with others in community is a key part of life’s purpose and life’s joy.

The Acquisitive Society, RH Tawney
Martino Fine Books (1 Oct 2013)
ISBN-10: 1614274916, ISBN-13: 978-1614274919

The Acquisitive Society was first published in 1920 by the English economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist and Christian socialist, RH Tawney. It is not an easy book to read, but it reminds the reader that what we are living through today is not new; others have considered issues of inequality and the value of the accumulation of belongings.’ However, in 1920, it was still possible for the academic to write of ‘moral values’ of both Parliament and industrial organisations and prescribe solutions. He was, perhaps, the Thomas Piketty of his age, though he approached his subject without the volumes of data used by Piketty. Tawney examines what changed in the social structures of society from medieval society to his present day. He suggests that we need to put limits on surrendering the ‘unfettered exercise’ of economic rights by tempering them with social purpose.

Is there a Gospel for the Rich? Richard Harries
Mowbray (1 May 1992)
ISBN-10: 0264672763, ISBN-13: 978-0264672762

First published in 1992 by Richard Harries, then Bishop of Oxford, this book tries to set capitalism within a moral framework with some success. He looks to a wealth of other scholars, recognizing that there are almost as many ways to do this as there are Christians. The cynical reader might call those views with which he does not agree rationalisations or justifications, but Harries points quite clearly to a moral core of Christian values that can help the questioning Christian to develop his or her own views on the corporation, ethical investment, and globalization.

A singular source of pleasure in the book for me was rediscovering the famous John Wesley quote from a sermon preached in 1744: ‘Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.’

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St. Paul’s Institute, September Update, September 18, 2014