Marvin Repinski: War, veterans and Bonhoeffer

Published 5:32 pm Friday, May 27, 2022

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“Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.” “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” (The Bible, the Psalms)

This writing is a kind of summary of some of what life has taught me. At age 17, I entered college. After attending several educational institutions and receiving degrees over a 10-year period, I was assigned in 1964 to a church in North Minneapolis. Over several years I pastored in a community that was gradually changing from the residence of Jewish families (three synagogues then), to many Black families who found a welcoming environment in North Minneapolis. Eventually two of the synagogues were purchased and became enthusiastic Black churches. My friendships in that community were, I’m sure, a bit strange; a Methodist pastor developing friendships with Jewish and Black families! I was on a learning curve that never ended.

From those early years in church, and bishop’s assignments throughout eight different churches across Minnesota, my memory is that there were always veterans of several wars. To their gatherings, I offered prayers and walked in a number of parades, sometimes wearing my white clergy gown. I have been affirming and a friend to vets. Memorial Day is an important part of our nation’s history. Shame if we cannot pause to reflect on what men and women have given to our country where democracy is even now a hallowed privilege.

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While a student at Luther Seminary, I began to read the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born in Breslau, Germany on Feb. 4, 1906. He died by execution in the Flossenberg Prison on April 9, 1945.

His belief was that the Germany of his time “had become entirely corrupt and immoral, and that a false faith is capable of terrible and monstrous things.” For Bonhoeffer, Hitler was the Antichrist, who enjoyed destruction, slavery, death, and extinction. His conscience led him to join a resistance to the brutal war crimes of his country. For that, after several imprisonments, he died and was viewed by many as a martyr. The larger story of this man may be read as widening of belief in the urgency of a greater, deeper embrace of the Christian faith.

My thoughts move to another area related to my appreciation of veterans. I believe it was American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman who said, “War is hell.” Yes. Our world today is involved in wars on almost every continent. The extensive enlargement of suffering in all wars, gang violence, and shootings in our schools, invokes personal questions for the Divine Presence. I’m pressed to ask the nun of our extended family, Sister Martha, “How shall we pray? What words shall we use; for what in devotion, shall we humbly pray to the Lord who we believe in?”

In a past issue of Newsweek magazine, Anna Quindlen, a magnificent writer, quotes Julia Erickson, the executive director of City Harvest in New York City. This operation distributes food to soup kitchens and food pantries.

Julia writes: “Look at the Rescue Mission on Lafayette Street. They used to feed single men, often substance abusers and homeless. Now you go in there and there are bike messengers, clerks, deli-workers, dishwashers. Soup kitchens are now buying booster seats and high chairs. You never used to see young kids at soup kitchens.”

Added to this assessment, I wish to praise the many volunteers in Mower County, who in similar ways to the New York operation, are committed to finances, care and time. I add to these practices of compassion, a new direction of the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority, where action is being taken to build a number of new residences where low income families — some bordering on homelessness — will be provided with living space within their means. Thank you to the board of HRA, staff and volunteers!

I quote Father James Steffes of St. Augustine Catholic Church: “We know that the evil one is always lurking, looking to pounce upon us with temptation, and yet, we need to be even more aware of the greater power of the Spirit that guides us and protects us and the assistance of the angels.” It reminds me of the Bible verse, “render unto God the things that are God’s and unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

This essay is an attempt to place the many-sided life experiences of war, veterans and Bonhoeffer into a circle that calls for our research, compassion and honor. They are conflicting themes of life, but they are our lives!

Joining others, who have known personally the realities of which I write, is another person whose life ended by the evil that is so aggressive.

“How wonderful it is that nobody wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” (Anne Frank)