Who Am I?
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, Like a squire from his country-house. Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders Freely and friendly and clearly, As though it were mine to command. Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune Equally, smilingly, proudly, Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved? Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!
Dietrich and his twin sister Sabine were born on February 4 1906 in Breslau (Wroc³aw), Silesia. Educated at Tubingen University and the University of Berlin, he taught at Union Theological Seminary before becoming an ordained Lutheran Pastor in 1931.
Frustrated with much of the Liberal Theology within the Lutheran church, Bonhoeffer formed close ties with Karl Barth and became one of the leading figures of the neo-orthodox movement of the early 20th century. A strong supporter of racial justice in America, he was also a participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was involved in plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned, and eventually executed.
'Torn in two directions, between self-confidence and doubt in himself...."the reason why Dietrich felt this problem so strongly was that during the course of his life traditional values were both put in question and put to the test"'
History has a way of repeating itself. What lessons can we learn from Dietrich Bonhoeffer for our own day and age?
Spoke in the Wheel
"In the first place [the church] can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Secondly, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community(!). The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself."
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