Archives For Wilhelm Busch

christmas-buschWilhelm Busch, reflecting on Christmas past as a young German soldier in World War One, noted that the overwhelming sense of desolation and homesickness which had dominated the atmosphere, hindered all attempts to celebrate it.

After a large quantity of alcohol had been delivered and consumed, things went from sombre to surreal. Though Christmas celebrations were arranged, “everything went wrong”.

That dugout and this Christmas, any glimmer of consolation gained from communal conversations about gathering to mark the day had been lost.

No longer did this Christmas feel or even look as it could have.

Busch hints at a deep disconnect between the alcohol induced light-heartedness of his comrades and the heavy heart he felt for the clear absence of community marking the real value in Christmas.

Sorrow, loneliness and self-pity were being drowned in a sea of self-medication. With it, the beauty and healing that can come from a Christmas acknowledged and shared was abandoned.

Busch writes that he quietly left the noise behind him and walked outside to sit alone in the darkness.

Looking beyond the dugout towards what was left of an old village, he asked himself,

‘two years ago joyful people had celebrated Christmas there. Where were they now that their homes had disappeared?’[i]

According to Busch, this pondering laced with lament was interrupted by a Lieutenant who emerged from the smoke-filled, buoyant hole.

Not seeing Busch nearby the Lieutenant stopped stared out into the evening sky and then:

‘…pulled out from under his cape a glistening horn and put it to his lips.
The music sounded soft and strange as it carried over the devastated valley the tones of the carol:
‘Oh you joyful, Oh you blessed, grace bringing Christmas time…’
His blowing practically forced me to speak the words quietly along with him. And everything rose up in rebellion within me. ‘No! No!’ cried my heart. ‘It is not true! There is a village that’s destroyed. Every ruined house is a reminder of deep sorrow.
And here are the drunk, homesick men, back home the weeping women, children calling for their fathers.
Blood, death, misery … How can you play like that: “Oh you joyful…”?’ But he blew on unperturbed.
And it sounded accusingly: ‘The world was lost…’ ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘now that is altogether true.’ I had never perceived and seen it like that.
‘Christ is born…’ he blew into my thoughts. So bright, so jubilant that I had to listen:
‘Christ is born! Rejoice, rejoice O Christendom!’
Then it was as if scales fell from my eyes: this is Christmas, this and nothing else:
‘The world was lost; Christ is born! Rejoice, O Christendom!’[ii]

I see in this account a message deeper than that of the tragic complexities of war. Here we see the burden of expectations we place on ourselves by what we think Christmas should be, look and feel like.

The challenge issued to us from Busch is to stop seeking our perfect idea of Christmas, to at least refine what we expect Christmas to be. Instead, reflect on how Christmas finds us and on what it actually brings to us.

Christmas can be a confusing mix of wonder and dread. It can sweep us off our feet or remind us about the gloomy agony of isolation, ostracization.  At the same time Christmas can answer our despair with inspiration, overwhelming generosity, and breathe new life into each dark and exhausting step.

It is an act of joyful remembrance; a time of acknowledgement that the knowledge of who God is, and what God is about, is confirmed in His free act to be free for, with, and near us.

To act on Advent and Christmas is to acknowledge with humility and gratitude, in prayer, a season set apart for new life.

It is a moment beyond moments, one that transcends money, presents, deifying and impressing our neighbours or family. Such a time as this must be grasped as we are grasped and held.

Christmas is a season unlike any other that consists of one of two days in the year where we get to stop and acknowledge that in Jesus Christ we are truly reached for.

This is a moment in time that is not centred on our ego, although it is for us it is not about us. As Karl Barth would term it, Christmas is an event carved by God’s good pleasure into a calendar otherwise dominated by awkward celebration, loss and lament. Here, on this day, we recall that God’s Word of freedom is decisively spoken.

To act on Advent and Christmas is to acknowledge the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Without this, our celebration is an empty ritual filled with cheap decorations, avarice and religion. The weight of faulty products from a fallen people working too hard to please each other and ourselves.

To act on Advent and Christmas is to be moved politically and relationally beyond religion. It is the encroachment of God’s Kingdom come.

With Christ and in Christ, our celebration moves us beyond ourselves, our wallet and our pain. We are moved towards a light that was not lit by human imagination, but was and is an historical event in space and time. Responded to, reasoned about, joyfully acknowledged and reverently proclaimed.

“The world was lost;

Christ is born!

Rejoice, O Christendom!”


References:

[i] Busch W. (1897-1966) Stories from my life and times, in Puritz, C. 2013, Ed. Christ or Hitler? Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed. Loc. 637-638

[ii] Ibid, loc. 642-652

Originally published 24th December 2014

©Rod Lampard, 2018

The general reasoning against any sizeable interest in the suffering and pain of Germans in World War Two might go along these lines:

‘’Well, the fact that some Germans suffered horribly doesn’t equal the unnecessary loss and pain their country caused to the Jewish people or the Allies.’’

For obvious reasons, this response isn’t without justification.

However, any discussion about German suffering is avoided with the vigour of a young theologian. Who once confronted with the task of unpacking Karl Barth’s complex rejection of natural theology, quietly sums it up, then stamps it with a Dante-esk ‘abandon all hope – ye who enter here!

The conversation moves on and the issue is conveniently ignored.

So it is with some difficult primary documents.

They are politely ignored or misappropriated in haste. Sometimes dangerously decontextualised in an attempt to bring the past into agreement with the present[i]. In this case the intellectual method is betrayed and history is abandoned. Either in favour of an ultra-conservative or progressive party-line. Primary documents are for a time effectively written off, partially discounted, misused or conveniently ignored.

The victim? A warts-and-all linear view of history.

Read and received rightly, primary sources show us exactly where, how and when the past can read and inform the present.

Such an undertaking allows us to carefully acknowledge the past with all the seriousness and respect that it rightly deserves.

If allowed to speak as it is, what a primary source can teach us is invaluable. Their contents will challenge comfortable opinions by dragging us into the context. Sometimes even becoming a contradiction to the self-serving and selective views of history so endemic of our time.

For example: Not all Germans were National Socialists. Some even paid the high price of active resistance.

It’s a rare occurrence for those in the English-speaking world to be granted a first-hand insight into the pain, suffering and thoughts of those few Germans who went against the stream during World War Two. Their voice is smothered by the fog of war and their sacrifice forgotten. So when we get the chance to read about it, it’s worth every penny.

Christian Puritz’s 2013: ‘Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch’ is anexample of such rarities:

WilhelmBusch_Family photo 1943

Pastor Busch and Family, 1943. Just before Wilhelm’s son (centre) left for the Russian front where he died a year later.

 

Busch’s recount of what resistance was like and what it cost is described by him in his diary:

When my son reached the senior classes in the grammar school he himself wanted to resist the ungodly repression of those days.
He chose his friends from the Bible Circle that I was leading. This work had already been so defamed that only a handful of young people had the courage to swim against the tide and keep coming.
His friends decided one day to disobey the command of the Hitler Youth (to which all young people without exception then had to belong) to assemble on Sundays during the time of the church service. (Church Youth Groups were forbidden by the Gestapo, the Secret State Police)
I never commanded my son to enter my youth work; he just grew into it of his own accord.
My boy decided to do a bicycle tour. He invited his friends. And in the end he said it would be nice if his father came as well…
On one of the tours we made a discovery that shocked us. My boy had a nose bleed which just would not stop. We took him to a hospital and eventually were told: ‘This boy has haemophilia; his blood can’t coagulate.’
And yet later they conscripted him for the war in Russia. I ran to see the army doctor who examined him.
But a pastor who belonged to the ‘Confessing Church’ and who was not ‘standing without reserve behind our beloved Führer’ did not get a hearing.
I can still see the little troop standing on the station. Destination Russia!
They were just children, eighteen years old. I could have screamed when I saw my child marching away, looking so pale. What did this tender artistic soul have to do with an unjust war? He had been caught in a pitiless machine.
Then somewhere in Russia he bled to death. Abandoned and alone! No! Not alone! In his wallet was found a bloodstained scrap of paper with the words:
‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want… And though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.[ii]

It’s true enough that when compared to the suffering of millions under the Nazi reign of terror, this is of little consolation.

However, there is a uniqueness within these first-hand accounts. There is a solidarity of suffering which shows a different side to Germany during World War Two. By their resistance to National Socialist rules, they become an exception to the rule.

Not all  Germans were Nazis. There wasn’t a total alignment of Germans towards the totalitarian Fascist state.

This kind of insight is also reflected through the lives of German men and women, such as: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Theologian), Oskar Schindler (Industrialist), Paul Schneider (Pastor), Claus von Stauffenberg (Soldier), Edith Stein (Feminist/Carmelite Nun), and Sophia Scholl (Student).  {Oskar Schindler being the only one on this list to not be murdered by the Fascist State}

.       Left to Right: Bonhoeffer, Schneider,          .      Stauffenberg, Schindler Scholl & Stein

 

In these cases and the few like them, there is a juxtaposition of those inside the Axis with those outside it.

In their resistance we witness a politics of realignment. The unavoidable and political ”nein”  to any state, political party, ideology or politician who lays claim to being a secondary messiah equal to that of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

We are reminded by them, that in Jesus Christ we are turned back towards freedom. In their struggle we are handed the reminder that we may stand, must stand and therefore ought to stand against any stream, scheme or masked revelation that seeks to ‘tame and control the Gospel by adapting it rather than being adapted by it’. (Karl Barth CD.II/I:163)

In 1969, Billy Graham talking with William F. Buckley Jnr. outlined the finer points of dichotomy between the Christian revolution of the heart and all Marxism revolt.

 

Under Marxist rule the first victim is religious freedom. By their very existence, the genuine Christian, the sinner saved by grace, stands in direct opposition to Communism, because society’s salvation, criticism and hope begins and ends with the freedom and authority of Jesus Christ, not Karl Marx.

The Polish people exemplified this in the early 1980’s, when ‘their hostility towards Communism was demonstrated, not by riots, but by openly showing their allegiance to God…’ [iii]

This pertains to the pursuit of truth vs. political conformity. Where the freedom that gives life to the intellectual method is maintained against any who would seek to enslave it.

Just as

…’the light of eternity shines into the sadness.’ (Pastor Busch) [iv]

insight brings hope.

 ‘It would be wrong not to lay lessons of the past before the future’[v]
– (Winston S. Churchill, 1948)

 


References:

[i] For example: the attempt to synthesise Leftism (White Rose Society) with this, (The Historical White Rose Society).

[ii] Puritz, Christian (Trans/Ed.) Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966) (First) Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed.

[iii] Wojtyla, K. cited by O’Sullivan, J. 2006  The President, The Pope & The Prime Minister: Three Who Changed The World Regnery Publishing, Inc.

[iv] Puritz, Ibid.

[iv] Churchill, W. 1948, The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Vol.1 Houghton Mifflin Company Kindle Ed.

Billy Graham, 1969. The Decline of Christianity, Firing Line, William F. Buckley

YouTube: The Decline of Christianity

Stanford Transcript: The Decline of Christianity

IMG_20141130_140310I thought I’d share this story from Wilhelm Busch. If not for the humour in it, at least for the novelty of it.

First, though, here’s some necessary contextual background.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (19th Century) is considered the father of liberal theology; a branch of theology challenged by Karl Barth’s neo-orthodoxy.

According to Grenz & Olsen, Schleiermacher, along with Immanuel Kant and Hegel, was one of ‘three shapers of the 19th century…who looked to “feeling; special human experience” for the foundation of theology’[ii]

Barth disagreed with Schleiermacher, later ‘criticising liberal theology for turning the gospel into a religious message that tells humans of their own divinity instead of recognising it as the Word of God…In essence he was calling for a revolution in theological method, a theology “from above” to replace the old, human-centred theology “from below.”’[iii]

Busch:

‘Schleiermacher was really the exact opposite of Karl Barth. Barth’s theology says that what matters is the objective, the holy God and his great works in Jesus. In Jesus he has revealed himself. In Jesus he has reconciled the world.
These are the objective facts, whose truth does not depend in any way on us. Schleiermacher taught exactly the opposite. He put it like this: ‘Piety is neither knowing nor doing but a certainty of feeling. It is the feeling of total dependence.’
So here everything was based on the subjective, so that the revelation of God in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus almost completely disappeared. And now I hope that the great theologians will forgive me for trying to present such a serious theological problem here in such a simple way.
Yes, may they especially forgive me for having some fun; for I decided to hang the two pictures next to each other on the wall. Then my fathers in the faith would presumably be satisfied, since their way led through the middle between the two. They were convinced that the objective salvation of Golgotha must be grasped in personal life and subjective experience. That was what they taught, and that was how they lived. That was also what I found in the New Testament and believed myself.
As I was standing on a ladder and hanging up the two pictures, I said laughing to my wife, ‘I just wonder which of the two will fall from the wall first. Because I don’t think they can bear being next to each other.’ And what happened? Schleiermacher fell down! One morning his picture had disappeared. It had slipped behind the wall of books.
It was impossible to get it out of there except by moving each book-case.
My friends, all influenced to a greater or lesser extent by Karl Barth, were very pleased with Schleiermacher’s disappearance. Not until my house was almost completely destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943, and I took the rescued library away from the rubble, did the picture of Schleiermacher come to light again.’[i]

Being a book of reflections, as opposed to an auto-biography, one its key features is that it is a collection of short accounts.If you have space on your reading list this Christmas, I recommend adding ‘Christ or Hitler?‘ and then moving through it slowly.

For those interested, here’s my small review on Amazon:

“Puritz provides us English {speaking} monolingualists with invaluable access to a side of Germany during WW1 up until the close of the European theatre in WW2. It is a voice rarely heard. Wilhelm Busch’s first hand accounts of a Confessing Church Pastor are well-ordered and insightful. A must read for Pastors today, and any scholar interested in the Historical context of Christian resistance in Germany during the war. Among many noteworthy comments the most significant takeaway quote from Busch would have to be the challenge he put forth to German youths after the war: “Are you as you should be?”


Sources:

[i] Busch W. in Puritz, C.  (Trans. Ed). 2013 Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966) Kindle ed. Evangelical Press. (Loc. 2457-2473)

[ii] Grenz, S. & Olsen, R. 1992 20th Century theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age IVP Academic Press, p.25 & p.39

[iii] Ibid, p.67

Recommended further reading:

Friedrich Schleiermacher (dogmatics.wordpress.com )

Karl Barth (dogmatics.wordpress.com )

Christ or hitlerIt’s the middle of term four. Since we are negotiating the coming Advent season, along with all the strains and joys the Christmas/New Year holidays bring, posts are limited at the moment.

This hasn’t hindered my study, which has of late, included reading Wilhelm Busch’s journal reflections.

Here is a soldier, a world war one veteran, a young Lutheran Pastor and German theologian, having his embedded theology sharpened by the deliberative theology that comes to us in the tension between theological thought and application; i.e.: theology and ministry.

Ministry, through the Holy Spirit – God’s grace – empowers Busch towards God’s outcomes, without a lot of regard for what we would consider as successful outcomes. Outcomes generally based on mechanised formulas that produce productivity or a “butts-on-seats = success” mentality.

Practical efficiency is considered, yet the base-line; the rhythm, is a march to God’s heartbeat-in-Christ, and not that of human expectations. Busch gets it, and gets it the hard way. Christianity is rough and it exists because of God’s revelation that produces a relationship with the Thou and exists like no other. It exists because of a desire for connection from the God who has sought to be near to us, who seeks us and choses to dwell with us.

Reading through the text is insightful. As far as primary documents go, it’s a unique perspective on a very turbulent era in German history.

There’s a lot to draw on. Busch’s theological reflections, although set in a clear historical context, are at times universal. Each one seemingly more relevant than I’ve had time to digest.

One stand out example is as follows:

“Bielefeld was populated entirely by workers, who were consciously social democrats and trade unionists. As a junior pastor I had to reap the bitter fruits sown by decades of wrong attitudes on the part of the church, which had long stood in its unhappy defence of ‘throne and altar’ against the legitimate demands of the rising workers…
Then I experienced for the first time how much people had given up thinking for themselves in favour of adopting schemes and slogans. It was tiring to keep hearing the same phrases about ‘the misery of the masses,’ of ‘the guilt of the church’ when it ‘blessed the weapons’ and ‘kept quiet about the plundering’, or how ‘churchgoers are worse than others.’
My heart cried out with longing to hear something that had come from the speaker’s own thinking and from the heart. Sometimes it seemed to me as if people’s brains had been removed and replaced by gramophone records which can only produce certain catchphrases…” (Busch, circa 1920’s Germany)[i] 

My first thoughts about what Busch can teach us is in seeing that the road of reflection, paved in prayer and gratitude, is the main artery between theology and ministry. Whatever other general parallels that might exist here between then and now is something I’ll leave to the reader to discern. My own view is that this reads like an avid description of the present day ‘church struggle’. Reflecting the experience of pastors and theologians, particularly those brave interlocutors, who still respectfully enter debates that are quite often cynical, hostile and abusive. Sometimes simply only because of an aversion to the very presence of anything (authentically) christian.


Source:

[i] Busch, W. (1897-1966) Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed.