While on deployment there's a temptation to narrowly view life and circumstances. Day after day I provide religious support to our troops in Iraq and encourage our efforts to engage and empower Iraqis in advocating for an inclusive, diverse and tolerant society. While this work, ministry and spiritual diplomacy is involving and rewarding, sometimes it becomes a maze in which it's all too easy to lose perspective, forget other relationships or obligations, and drift off the mission path. Today was one of those "maze" days.
In the afternoon, I was pulled out of the maze by taking a break, walking outside and sitting down to read The Lutheran. Voices from the magazine's pages connected me with ongoing issues, concerns, hopes and dreams in the ELCA.
Some authors highlighted problems of injustice, intolerance, inequity. Some brought hope for people who are homeless or in prison. Still other writers called me out of shortsightedness to gain perspective on the broader impact of the word and sacraments. In the heat of the day, I began to see my circumstances against the backdrop of the church. I felt anew the importance of my work and that of many others who minister, advocate and dare to enter very contentious environments to declare the day of the Lord is near.
|ELCA military chaplain Michael T. Lembke reads a Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography.|
This evening, as most evenings, I went "home" to spend some time with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am well into Eberhard Bethge's Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. I do a lot of reading during the day. I read Western and Pan-Arab media on Iraq. I read Operations Orders. I read many e-mails. But there's something special in reading about Bonhoeffer's life and work.
It often reads like a textbook for systematic theology, but what I find most invigorating is the personal perspective that comes from reading about the turmoil, tension and theological discourse during Bonhoeffer's time (1906-1945). Unlike many other scholars and academics, he integrated thought and action, discovering Jesus and the possibility of having a "living" theology. He was at home behind a lectern, talking with children, and writing both weekly Sunday school lessons and scholarly, ecclesiastical works for the leading journals of his time. Many of you will be more familiar than I am with Bonhoeffer's theology and life, but for those who wish a quick synopsis, see the brief biographical note below.
I'm glad for the expansive opportunity Bethge's book and The Lutheran magazine afford me. I am again reminded that while history neither ends nor begins with me, I can be aware of history and that each day I, too, can make history.
Who was Bonhoeffer?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer received his doctorate from Berlin University in 1927 and was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1931. From 1933 to 1935, he served St. Paul's and Sydenham Lutheran churches in London.
In 1934, 2,000 Lutheran pastors organized the Pastors' Emergency League, which was formed in opposition to the state church controlled by the Nazis. The league evolved into the Confessing Church, an independent Protestant body. Bonhoeffer headed up the Confessing Church's seminary at Finkenwalde. Nazi forces virtually outlawed the church, closing its five seminaries in 1937. But Bonhoeffer's active opposition continued to grow until 1940 when he was recruited into the Resistance.
At the core of the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler and overthrow the Third Reich was an elite group within German Military Intelligence, including Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, head of military intelligence; Gen. Hans Oster, who recruited Bonhoeffer; and Hans von Dohnanyi, who was married to Bonhoeffer's sister, Christine. All three men were executed with Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. His brother, Klaus, and brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher, were executed April 23, 1945, as co-conspirators.
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