DIETRICH BONHOEFFER was a German pastor and theologian known for his opposition to National Socialism-Nazism and Adolf Hitler. His ties to the July 20, 1944 conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler and to overthrow the Nazi regime led to his arrest. In April 1945, weeks before the war ended, Bonhoeffer was hanged.
His theological writings are regarded as classics throughout the Christian world. One of those writings is Life Together-a Discussion on Christian Fellowship. Bonhoeffer had opened an underground seminary where he served as dean. He wrote Life Together for the seminarians who were having a difficult time-living together and being the church for each other.
Bonhoeffer was engaged in a most serious, dangerous and joyful life-giving endeavor-living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For him and for us the gospel is one of both social transformation AND personal transformation. These two transformations do not happen in unison. Bonhoeffer confronted the ills in society and the ills in himself. His faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ enabled him to do both. Like the first disciples of Jesus, he was silenced, imprisoned and executed. Yet Bonhoeffer was known roundly as the kindest and most generous of souls. He even provided pastoral counseling for his Nazi prison guards. He is truly among the cloud of witnesses.
THE FIRST SERVICE that one owes to others in the Community consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to God’s Word, so the beginning of love for the sisters and brothers is learning to listen to them.
It is because of God’s love that we not only have the Word of God, but also the ear of God. So it is that we learn to do God’s Work for our neighbor when we learn to listen to our neighbor. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, as though this is the one service they have to render…the official opinion….listening can be much greater.
MANY PEOPLE ARE looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians…Those of us who can no longer listen to our brothers and sisters will soon no longer be listening to God either; we will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life…
There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening that actually disregards the neighbor and is only waiting for a chance to speak. Our attitude toward the other only reflects our attitude toward God. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen seriously… We should listen with the ears of God, that we might speak a word from God…
At First Grace we have been given the particular blessing of a deep and robust diversity in regard to ethnicity, age, straight, gay, trans, station in life, etc. Diversity is a blessing, difference is a burden… We come from different places and experiences, yet we all have hearts that know love and hurt. Our blessing and our burden invites us to listen to each other longer. If we do not understand someone, it does not mean that they are not communicating. At First Grace we get to learn the blessing of listening longer with an open heart and mind until we do understand a little better. The capacity to empathize and accept difference in new ways, will be God’s blessing for our efforts.
A Navajo Discipline: When I lived on the Navajo Reservation, I came to recognize a “strange” pattern of speech, or shall we say-an unexpected moment of silence. When a person is speaking to a traditional Navajo, the Navajo will leave a space of silence after the person has finished speaking. This space demonstrates an attentiveness to the one speaking, and an assurance that the person speaking has completed their thoughts. During this first week of Lent, maybe we can be borrow this discipline.
Bonhoeffer’s “Four Services” have been modified
to be gender inclusive byJohn Winn