Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up with some advantages. He had a father - and what a father! - and a mother - with familial lineage to some of Germany's past and present theologians and learned men - and his siblings. His extended family of aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins simply added to the pastel of relationships Bonhoeffer enjoyed and benefited from.
His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, had a way of conducting family business. He was a believer in gathering the family around the table at mealtimes for discussion. From there, discussions about anything and everything would ensue. But the structure had the indelible imprint of Bonhoeffer's father, for his way of conducting a conversation around the table was this:
"Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say. He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride. His children loved and respected him in a way that made them eager to gain his approval; he hardly had to say anything to communicate his feelings on a subject. Often a cocked eyebrow was all it took." (Metaxas, Page 15)
His children were taught to be in firm control of their emotions, according to Metaxas. While a certain part of this was cultural and familial practice, some of it is not, imho. The drive from Karl Bonhoeffer to his children was to know what you believe and what you think before you say it. . . so as to not be embarrassed when others find fault in your reasoning and logic. Fair enough, and actually, quite a gift . The art of speaking and debating around a table at mealtime - and learning how to speak - is quite the lost art in the current culture.
Structure, whether it be from the direction of conversation conducted by father Karl, or the ministrations of activities and learning from mother Paula, was a given that gave root and order. . . and a way to explore the world and find meaning in it.
From this foundation, Bonhoeffer was allowed to bloom in his own time. Bloom he did!
He would invite his students to his parent's house, where his father would engage, with his son, Bonhoeffer's young charges in discussion and lively debate. Of course there was food to eat, the centerpiece of any good conversation. Once established in a cabin in the woods, he would invite his students to come visit him there, away from Berlin and the big city, to talk and reflect. At one point, he told his landlady to allow some hooligan type students from the government run and funded state school (similar to a public high school in a way in the United States) to come in to his quarters. She complied, but wondered in amazement at the amount of trust he gave such young, undisciplined, potentially troublesome youth. And he would feed them there. His kitchen and icebox (or refrigerator, not sure without further research) weren't off limits to their hungry appetites. Such a draw, eh? (wink)
Now, I've got to confess. . . as a public school educator, if I allowed my students, once outside back in society, to do that, my wife for one would wonder if I had gone nuts or if I was losing it. That kind of act of hospitality is truly a mark of a believing follower of Christ. And that he did, but not from his childhood. The moment of trusting Jesus Christ to save him from his sins took place when Bonhoeffer was a young man, while still learning and preparing for his life's work. And he would revisit his faith and beliefs from time to time, deepening his relationship with Jesus and with those who are of the ekklesia - the called out ones of God - who knew and walked with Jesus. This is not the same group of people known in that day as the government state supported Lutheran Church (to be German was to be Lutheran). Not at all! It was the voluntary group of people who confessed Christ as Lord.
Other ways of showing people care were visiting the sick in the hospital, showing up at home after class to inquire as to the health of a student (and to give him classwork and/or tutoring), and visiting relatives regularly and often. Letter writing, the thing back then instead of texting or emailing, was de rigueur for Bonheoffer and his family. In this way, through letter writing and visits, he got to know a good deal of his extended family in person in his abbreviated days on this earth.
These kind of actions are familiar to me. They were not always demonstrated or instilled from my childhood, but as young believer in Jesus Christ, I saw them demonstrated over the years in his people, the church. I particularly remember my Young Adult Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, M. Craig Barnes, delivering his message - actually sermon quality stuff - to our assembled class in the Cathedral Room in Hansen Hall, then ending it with this invitation: "I invite you all to come - well, not all you, but as many as Ann and I can fit into our living room - to our house. I'm going to leave the address and directions on the board so you may copy them down. Phone number is on the board should you get lost. . . there's a hill or two out east on our street for those who don't get out that way much. Hope to see many of you there tonight where we'll continue our conversation. . . this time by you asking the questions, instead of me posing them for you." Golden words by a gifted pastor, then as now. Who could resist such an invitation to come and spend time in great conversation. . . and ice cream to boot? I learned much from my time spent with Craig at his house.
Ice cream. . . makes me think of another gifted pastor, Todd Dubord, and his wife Tracy. Back in the days when he served as Pastoral Assistant at First Presbyterian Church of Palmdale, Todd would invite the church to come out to a local restaurant for "Pie a la mode," as he termed it. This was in reality his "dry run" for his sermons he gave on Sunday mornings at the church. . . but not everyone caught on to that. Todd would pose the provocative question for the day, and we would discuss and debate the thing. . . sometimes for hours. I never stayed past Midnight, though, if I recall correctly. Fun times, and a great time to get to know others who were passionate and willing servants of Jesus.
Life together. . . Eating together, conversing together, doing tasks together, helping one another together. . . this is how Bonhoeffer realized how Christians should live - in community. To learn from one another. . . together. Of course, one of Bonhoeffer's written works is titled Life Together. This isn't a review of that book, however. . . but nonetheless you get a flavor of where he was coming from in this reflection here from Metaxas' excellent biography of the man.
My adult Sunday School class at Grace Chapel had in attendance this past Sunday two young missionaries to the Middle East. I asked the question: "So how do these folks who know the Muslim faith quite well hear you out. . . how do you reach them and communicate with them the Good News of Jesus Christ?" Words to that effect. The answer is disarming: "I simply say God's Word to them from the Bible. The Holy Spirit will illumine their hearts and help them to turn to Jesus Christ, if they will but let him." See! Our battle is not against flesh and blood. . . for these Muslim folks are just the same spiritually speaking as anyone else in the world who is without Christ. . . lost and in spiritual darkness.
This is what Bonhoeffer eventually realized. Without God's Word, we are all lost and in spiritual darkness, being apart from Christ and his blessings of Heaven. So, as I always strive to do, I'll leave you with an applicable Bible passage that speaks to the topic at hand. From 1 Corinthians 6 (New Living Translation):
3 We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. 4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us,[c] and by our sincere love. 7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. 8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
11 Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. 12 There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. 13 I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!
Open our hearts to us! The call the Apostle Paul had for the Corinthian church, and the call Dietrich Bonhoeffer had for the students and community he served. Don't withold. . . don't keep back. . . but open wide your heart, not only to us, but to Jesus Christ, the Living One, the Firstborn of the Dead, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. What a charge to keep this is. . . and may God help me to do it day by day, in his power, not my own.