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Born May 18, 1953; got saved at Truett Memorial BC in Hayesville, NC 1959. On rigged ballot which I did not rig got Most Intellectual class of 71, Gaffney High School. Furman Grad, Sociology major but it was little tougher than Auburn football players had Had three dates with beautiful women the summer of 1978. Did not marry any of em. Never married anybody cause what was available was undesirable and what was desirable was unaffordable. Unlucky in love as they say and even still it is sometimes heartbreaking. Had a Pakistani Jr. Davis Cupper on the Ropes the summer of 84, City Courts, Rome Georgia I've a baby sitter, watched peoples homes while they were away on Vacation. Freelance writer, local consultant, screenwriter, and the best damn substitute teacher of Floyd County Georgia in mid 80's according to an anonymous kid passed me on main street a few years later when I went back to get a sandwich at Schroeders. Had some good moments in Collinsville as well. Ask Casey Mattox at if he will be honest about it. I try my best to make it to Bridges BBQ in Shelby NC at least four times a year.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Bonhoeffer in Alabama

     In the Spring of 1931 Dietrich Bonhoeffer rode up HWY 11 through NE Alabama right in front of my Mother's house. She woulda been 7 then about to turn 8 on July 6 in a month or so.
     Now Reading my acquaintance/friend Charles Marsh's bio of Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes even more transcendent the life of my Mother, an otherwise anonymous person of the 20th Century as her Saintly life, though flawed and very human, was at a fleeting moment twenty yards from the great Christian martyr of the 20th Century.

     I have been enchanted, in wonder these last few days reading Marsh's biography. It is even stronger knowing his metastasized witness and telling of the Civil Rights era in Mississippi adds and overshadows the drama of my family's days in South Carolina. We are both Baptist preacher's sons; I am about 5 years older than Marsh. If nothing else knowing his work, his memoir of Laurel Mississippi, and now this majestic, transcendent biography; well if I never touched the hem of Jesus Garment I can say I pretty much know Paul and Silas.

   Marsh's Chapter "I heard the Gospel Preached in the Negro  Churches" makes a strong case it's not too much a stretch of Divine Imagination to see Marsh as a John the Baptist come to announce God's Kingdom in America's Civil Rights Movement 20 years after Hitler had Bonhoeffer killed. In fact as Marsh points out it is quite likely Bonhoeffer heard MLKing's predecessor at Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, the legend Vernon Johns preach at Abysinnian in NYC in 31. And in his 9 months at Union Seminay in NYC, Marsh befriended Franklin Fisher son of the then pastor of Birmingham Alabama's 16th Street Baptist Church.
   In a letter to his brother Karl, Dietrich wrote there is a movement forming here in America for people of color. Bonhoeffer told his brother they will be leaving much more than a collection of lively songs and Negro Spirituals.
   Another Bonhoeffer friend at Union, Myles Horton later established the training Center in Monteagle, Tennessee where the famous photo of Rosa Parks and MLKing was taken in 56 and used by the Birch Society and White Citizens Councils on Billboards all over the Southeast to say they were at a Communist Tranining Center.  A deacon in my Dad's church in Gaffney, South Carolina saw the billboard and it made a believer outta him.

    There are grand moments throughout in this story. One that was strong for me registered from an oft told anecdote of my father in his sermons about the Profession of faith of George W. Truett in Hayesville, North Carolina in the 1870s. On the loafers bench on the town square the next day when talk got to the Baptist church the news one nothing much had happened, just a boy got saved.
    That boy was George Truett who many say was the most remarkable Baptist in America the first half of the 20th Century.

    Likewise, Bonhoeffer in 32 as a 26 year old young an is preaching an Advent Sermon to a congregation of about 40 souls, as Marsh says as if he was preaching to the Whole World. And so he was. I've heard and read many great sermons, but this ranks up in the top eschelon.

    And again before he became a martyr for the ages, August 28, 1934 at Fano Denmark Bonhoeffer is preaching to a gathering of European Progressive Christians on the Unity of the Faith. This time to about 200. He got a standing ovation.

    These moments as the story builds, are gripping, even if you happen to be a Unbeliever.

    The easily googled Cardus Review, and Sunday's WSJ Wiman review shout out this is a book you must read if your Christian Pilgrimage is of any value to you.

     All I can do is add a few incidentals and maybe a tweak on Schleiermacher and Bonhoeffer;  but that for later.

   One thing I was proud to see was Wiman of Yale  in WSJ accent Marsh's storytelling gift. I was in the Spirit already when I read Marsh telling of Bonhoeffer's comfort in hearing faintly on the winds, church hymns on Sunday mornings from his jail cell. Reminded me of James Wood's Review of Denis Johnson's Train Dreams.  So in the eternal congregation of Bonhoeffer I offer this quote:


Robert Grainier, the protagonist of Train Dreams, cannot or will not tell his own story, and so Johnson tells it for him, which is to say about him. Whereas The Name of the World grants us a mere slice of Reed’s life (the novel spans a period of roughly a year) Grainier’s life is presented in something like its entirety. He is born at or around the dawn of the 20th century and dies in the late ‘60s, having been a laborer and man of faith all of his days. Here he is on a visit to Bonners Ferry, the Idaho town on whose outskirts he lives:

“Over on Second Street, the Methodist congregation was singing. The town of Bonners made no other sound. Grainier still went to services some rare times, when a trip to town coincided. People spoke nicely to him there, people recognized him from the days when he’d attended regularly with Gladys, but he generally regretted going. He very often wept in church. Living up the Moyea with plenty of small chores to distract him, he forgot he was a sad man. When the hymns began, he remembered.”

 If you are a literate person and there are a few others in your congregation who can understand the English language, take up a collection Sunday. Get a copy for the church Library. At a minimum go to a nearby Barnes and Noble and Read the Chapter: "I Heard the Gospel Preached in the Negro Churches". Read the context for Bonhoeffer ridin in front of Momma's house.


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