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Who Am I?

In some of my various readings I came across a poem that profoundly spoke to me. It is by the German theologian and martyr for the faith Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

According to biographical information that I found, Bonhoeffer was a pastor, professor, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic.

Though his writings continue to be influential, the fact that he lived his writings in a very public manner—which eventually cost him his life—is what most people remember about him. Bonhoeffer was stalwart in his public opposition and resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Adolf Hitler.

Bonhoeffer was particularly disturbed by euthanasia of the disabled and the later genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the German Police and imprisoned at Tegel prison for a year and a half before he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Accused of being associated with the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with others accused of conspiring to overthrow Hitler’s regime and hanged on April 9, 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing. In fact, less than a month later Adolf Hitler would commit suicide and the camp where Bonhoeffer had been held would be liberated as well.

You would think of all people this man would be secure in who he was. That all doubts would be placed aside. Yet as we will read even this great man struggled. In the end all he could do was place who he was—both the good and bad—in the hands of God.

And the good news I believe is that that is enough. Simply recognizing we are each an unrepeatable miracle of God and then being willing to share that with others is more than enough.

As we will talked about in worship Sunday, it’s not about being perfect—because none of us are. Rather it is about being courageous enough to live as a child of God and give to God our entire being—warts and all—because that is what we are asked to do.

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 Equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really 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 expectations 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 contemptible 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, O God, I am thine!

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