Radical Integrity: The Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Faith was no escape hatch from the power of evil men; true faith often placed one directly in the grip of evil.  Hadn’t Jesus Himself provided a demonstration of this truth?

-Radical Integrity, p. 161

I really like biography.  I like to peek into someone else’s existence to see how they negotiated mortality.   It’s not always the first thing that I reach for when I want a good book. But I have never been disappointed by a biography (and I tend to forget that when I am on the hunt for a new read).  That being said,  I did quit reading a biography once right in the middle because the subject of the book was a little bit too good, too patient, too kind for me.  I was in the throes of childbearing and wrangling small children.  The goodness didn’t inspire me; it made me feel wholly inadequate.  So I put it down  and read some Harry Potter.  Even though I couldn’t resonate with the biography,   I still learned a lot and felt like I knew the subject a whole lot better than when I started and I was glad to have that.  I learn a lot from what real people have done and the way that they have confronted challenges-or let them pass by.

I read this short biography by Michael Van Dyke QUITE some time ago but it was too good to pass by without a blog nod.   I was interested in Bonhoeffer, what he was all about, and why he kept surfacing here and there as a WWII ‘hero’.  The book was perfect:  short, sweet and to the point.  I liked it.  I liked Bonhoeffer the man; in fact, he’s worthy of a longer book-much longer book-which is out of the question for me right now.  So, I sit happily satisfied to know something of the man who gave his life in the name of Christian martyrdom just weeks before WWII ended.  It’s such a tragedy!  All of his training, and traveling, and thinking, and courageous acting put in the hands of the Gestapo.  Bonhoeffer had the moral certitude to stand against long-established religious tradition in the hopes of lifting mankind to a better life.  He had a sweetheart, a life passion, and the energy and courage to make something of it.  But, it was a merciless time for any outliers and stories like this are difficult for me to swallow sometimes…non-fiction, you know, where the plot can’t be twisted to  a beautiful ending.  What remains of Bonhoeffer are some writings and that haunting title: Radical Integrity.

Radical Integrity- doesn’t that just rattle your soul?  I wouldn’t characterize myself as a radical about anything.   I speak up loudly and vociferously about many things that I feel strongly about.  But I’m not sure that I’ve crossed over into the ‘radical’ category.  (Unless you consider having seven children and going to church every Sunday radical-then I’m a radical to the umpteenth degree.)  But if I had to choose something to be a radical over, I wish it could be integrity.  If I have to die a martyr let it not be over doing the dishes AGAIN or  helping out THAT family AGAIN.  Let it be over something that really matters -like integrity.  I believe that this is my favorite of all of the virtues.  For me it seems to embody all of the other virtues,  with Shakespeare’s ‘to thine own self be true’ topping the list.   I love the idea that in every situation we come across, we can evaluate what we know, activate our principles, and then lead with integrity.  Integrity keeps our souls at peace.  I think we  instinctively trust people with integrity-even if we don’t like them. But if we do like them, integrity makes them even more likable.  It’s that little character secret that helps us to win friends and influence people.  (Oh hey Dale…) And it’s better than power or prestige any day.  It keeps us from back biting, judging, and being unkind even in the face of unfavorable circumstances.  I am still working mightily on that one.

All in all, a  great read.   I believe that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is worthy of our attention in 2016 for he ‘strove to be a man of God  in a time and place that had no use for him.’ (Radical Integrity p. 204)  and I have a premonition that a few of us might be riding along in his watercraft.

Something to consider:

‘That Nazism could arise in one of the most Christian nations in Europe was an abiding concern of Dietrich’s.  It fed his increasing criticism of religion as a social construction that was opposed to faith itself.  Later, this line of thinking would lead him to look for what he would shockingly call ‘a religionless Christianity.”

-Radical Integrity, p. 142


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