Bonhoeffer and Don Quixote

Bonhoeffer treasured Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  He believed the beleaguered idealist was an apt metaphor for the Confessing Church.  He reasoned that the church needed new weapons, a new theology, new strategies to confront the rise of National Socialism.  The established state church reflected an old falsehood, a church which had burned its witness at the stake as the Nazis had burned books in the Bebel  Platz in Berlin.  Now, new “weapons of the Spirit” were necessary.

I led devotions for the Joint Peace with Justice Committee of the Minneapolis Area Synod and St. Paul Area Synod.  We first sang Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “Don Quixote”, which is based upon Cervantes’ book.  The main character, Don Quixote, “takes a battered book into his hand”, “takes a rusty sword into his hand”, and “takes a tarnished cross into his hand”.  He always “shouts across the ocean to a shore, till he can shout no more.”  The final lines, after he shouts once more, are:

Then in a blaze of tangled hooves
He gallops off across the dusty plain
In vain to search again
Where no one will hear.
The message, one of many, is that no one is listening because the message was false and the means of communicating the message was outdated.  Says Bonhoeffer: “Here is the immortal figure of Don Quixote… who takes a barber’s dish for a helmet and a miserable hack for a charger. [In Germany we have] “an old world venturing to take up arms against a new one or a world of the past hazarding an attack against the superior forces of the commonplaces and the mean.”
In Luke 5:37-39, Jesus tells the parable of the new wine and old wineskins: “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled out, and the skins will be destroyed.”  One of the meanings is the new MESSAGE of Jesus also means new METHODS of action to be effective.
Christianity, the Church, the People of God, need to RECLAIM the radical, transforming message of Christ AND discover new ways to give witness. Otherwise, we are only lifting an old battered book, a rusty sword, and a tarnished cross: captive to anemic theology, culturally-captive church, and the pablum of personal I-centered witness.
The Colorado Confession reflects the lessons from Bonhoeffer and Don Quixote. The Confession calls the faithful to look at reality, to admit to a “dis-ease”, to consider the common good, to affirm that all people are created in the Image of God and to demand that we all live like it, to be one with the poor and oppressed, to work so that all people have enough, to care for the earth, to be generous in compassion, to demand equal justice for all, to live nonviolently, to make for peace.
We are given Gospel dreams and we must fight to bring them to reality.


There is a song, sung by Brian Stokes Mitchell, called “Make Them Hear You”. It comes from the musical “Ragtime”.  Some of the words are: “How justice was our battle.  How justice was denied”. “Your sword can be a sermon or the power of the pen.” “Will justice be demanded by ten thousand righteous men[women]?” “Make them hear you!”

How do we make them hear us? Biblical preaching and Bible study with an ear to balancing personal and political, pastoral and prophetic, global and local, community and congregation. Commitment to active involvement in personal renewal and community action. Commitment to love and justice. Commitment to timely ministry of band aid and being a “spoke in the wheel”. Commitment to the possibility of martyrdom. Commitment to working ecumenically. Commitment to marching, sitting in, using Facebook and Twitter, writing a blog, attending meetings, meeting with senators and congresspersons, synod assembly actions, meeting with community leaders, writing letters, making telephone calls, meeting one on one at Starbuck’s, and ….

What are we fighting for?  Are we fighting at all?  Are we saying anything? Are we making people hear us? How are we fighting? Are we open to new methods? Can we risk trying something different?  Or, are we just a gathering of solemn assemblies?
Press on!
Originally published on the Colorado Confession.

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