… but any wiser?

Many years ago, before the ‘war on terror’ had entered our vocabulary, I was a student at St Andrews University, reading for a degree in Practical Theology.  One particular course I took was in “theology: theory and practice”, specialising in the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Our aim was to study how his theology influenced the practice of his faith, and how the practice of his faith interrogated his theology.  In late 1942, Bonhoeffer wrote an essay entitled ‘After 10 years’. He gave three copies to his friends, and hid a fourth one in the loft of his house – where it was later discovered after his arrest and execution at the hands of the Gestapo. It represents a mature and reasoned reflection on the experience of living through evil times.

Since I cannot open a newspaper or visit a news website at the moment without seeing an allusion to the impending 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I have found myself returning to this gentle, profound, and challenging document. Below are some salient selections from After Ten Years, and tomorrow I shall reflect a little further on the task of preaching this Sunday.

  • Surely there has never been a generation in the course of human history with so little ground under its feet as our own.
  • The man of freedom…is ready to sacrifice a barren principle for a fruitful compromise or a barren mediocrity for a fruitful radicalism.
  • There is no defence against folly Neither protests nor force are of any avail against it, and it is never amenable to reason.
  • The only cure for folly is spiritual redemption, for that alone can enable a man to live as a responsible person in the sight of God.
  • The man who despises others can never hope to do anything with them.
  • We know that hardly anything can be more reprehensible than the sowing and encouragement of mistrust
  • If we want to be Christians we must show something of Christ’s breadth of sympathy by acting responsibly
  • It is not the genius that we shall need, not the cynic, not the misanthropist, not the adroit tactician, but honest, straightforward men.
  • Tomorrow may be the day of  judgement. If it is, then we shall gladly give up working for a better future, but not before.

Note the absence of bitterness, but also the deep sense of personal responsibility. The language seems a little stilted, and its male bias sounds very out of place in 2011. Are there not lessons for us here though , ten years on?

The attic where Bonhoeffer's essay was written -image from blogspot.com