Interlude: Getting Past Bonhoeffer’s Language and Seeing the Common Vision

obey-picI need to interrupt my regularly scheduled blogging to rant about something so I can continue reading and enjoying The Cost of Disicpleship. It’s been bugging me quite a bit since the beginning (I blame my progressive/anarchist leanings), but some of Bonhoeffer’s language just bugs the crap out of me, particularly his use of the word “obedience.”  There’s other stuff as well (his exclusive use of the male gender, for example), but we’re going to give him a pass on this; it was a different time and a different era.

When I hear then word “obedience,” The first thing I think of is Shepard Fairey’s “Obey”street art. I think of Big Brother. I think of abusive sky gods manipulating humanity to their own oppressive and arbitrary rules.  The long and short of it: I don’t think of good things when I hear the word obedience. It speaks of oppression, blind ignorance, dictatorship, and fear.

It baffles me further that Bonhoeffer kept to such terms in his own context as well, given that he was writing this at the rise of, oh, I don’t know, THE THIRD REICH, the very epitome of crushing oppression and evil.  Perhaps ol’ Dietrich wasn’t interested in the connotations behind the word and more inclined to keep to tradition here (there’s a win for your conservative co-opters of his writings), or, I’m sad to admit, the problem could also lie with me.

I hate it when that happens.  Not that I’m willing to admit it quite yet…

OK, maybe we try and understand what Bonhoeffer means when he pushes us for “single-minded obedience.”  When Bonhoeffer was taking the rich young ruler story to task in chapter 3, it seemed to me that what he wanted the reader to understand was that utter dedication to Christ was key above all else (Duh, right?).  That complete devotion is something all of us are capable of; it’s not just reserved for monks in monasteries or priests in rectories. The thing for me, though, is that I’ve come to not view this as a matter of “obedience,” but partnership.

In a way, though, Bonhoeffer and I are talking about the exact same thing.  Although I view my relationship with God as a “partnership,” I still obey the commands Jesus set forth (well, as best I can, anyway). I’m doing what this guy said 2000 years ago because I believe what he said and told us to do can actually, you know, DO SOMETHING for our world (maybe even change it!).  Dietrich saw the same thing!  He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that single-minded obedience could save our world, even his own world, where hope had faded to a faint glimmer in the eyes of a few rebels who opposed a ruthless monster.

Whatever I want to call it, no matter how uncomfortable I am with the term obedience, I can’t help but see exactly what Bonhoeffer wanted for the world he existed in, and want the same thing for mine: a single-minded desire for the Kingdom of God to manifest here and now.   What that looks like is far more straightforward than we let ourselves believe, even though we like to argue about it all the time.   I don’t know how much Dietrich and I would have agreed on everything, but I count myself as his brother in Christ all the same because we want to see the sick healed, the poor uplifted, and the hurting comforted, no matter what we choose to call it.



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