Hold It All

Tag: Dorothee Sölle

Facing the Burden of History

Dorothee Sölle, The Arms Race Kills even without War

This is a short collection of talks (rallies, radio programs) mostly given to German audiences in the days when West Germany still existed. The context for much of these—early 80s—is NATO, the Reagan arms build-up, and the re-activated European (and American—“there are two Americas” is a refrain) peace movement. Later on, her work would peer into the abyss that was Central America, compliments of the Reagan administration.

The following are worth my attention—

How to be a Christian is something you do not learn from books or information packets, but primarily from other human beings. 39

Nothing brings my own aging home to me as clearly as the impossibility of passing on to my children the meaning of Auschwitz for my generation. 14

To pray means to collect ourselves, to reflect, to gain clarity about our direction in life, about our goals for living. It means to remember and in that to achieve  a likeness with God, to envision what we seek for ourselves and for our children, to give voice to that vision loudly and softly, together and alone, and thus to become more and more the people we were intended to be. 23 Read the rest of this entry »


Dear Yehudit

So, this month, in addition to reading Dorothee Sölle (superb!)
I am also reading a lot of Nawal El-Saadawi

Egyptian novelist, physician
Thorn in the side of patriarchy

She reminds me of you
You both remind me

of the Quakers’ enumeration
of three states of being

worth cultivating:
boundless happiness

absolute fearlessness
and constant difficulty

Here’s Nawal…
“You cannot be creative in a system that is very unjust, like the system we live in, unless you are a dissident. Because when you are creative you are for justice, for freedom, for love. It’s by nature like that. You feel that you want to do something. You cannot accept injustice. You become angry, if this injustice is happening to you or to others. If you are walking in the street and you see children who are begging, beggars, who are starving, they are dying of hunger, what do you do? You become furious. You want to change the system that created this hunger. You discover it’s not national only, it’s international.”



–from novel-in-construction, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Worth Reading

Dear Irina,

Here are some books that may speak to a few of your questions, interests,  and enthusiasms.  I’ll send more later on if you want….



Daniel Berrigan, Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears. This Jesuit priest was a formative influence on me my senior year in college. His commentary on the biblical prophet Isaiah has many lines worthy of meditation, like this: “It cannot be said too often that the works of justice, the vocation of the Servant, are the preeminent form of honoring and glorifying God. They are true worship.”

Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Buddhist teacher’s practical wisdom for working with fear and developing compassion. She observes, “Just as alchemy changes any metal into gold, Bodhicitta [awakened heart] can, if we let it, transform any activity, word, or thought into a vehicle for awakening our compassion.”

James Cone, Martin, Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare? Comparative study of two African-American leaders in the freedom struggle. In this riveting study, Cone stresses, “We should never pit them against each other. Anyone, therefore, who claims to be for one and not the other does not understand their significance for the black community, for America, or for the world. We need both of them and we need them together. Malcolm keeps Martin from being turned into a harmless American hero. Martin keeps Malcolm from being an ostracized black hero. Both leaders make important contributions to the identity of African-Americans and also, and just as importantly, to white America and Americans in general.” Read the rest of this entry »

Then and Now

Why had I never noticed the number of sick who appear in the Gospels? Who or what made them sick? Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality …. Extreme misery prevailed within this pax romana. When you consider the New Testament as a whole, it  is truly astonishing how many sick people abound, how they are gravely and incurably ill, the paralyzed, and the psychically ill, who are connected with demons, on nearly every page of this book. Sickness, misery, despair, and hopelessness seethed everywhere on the edges of this empire, where the poor lived.

–Dorothee Sölle, On Earth as It Is in Heaven: A Liberation Spirituality of Sharing

Dorothee Sölle Collage

Why had I never noticed the number of sick people who appear in the Gospels? Who or what made them sick?

It was not theologians who invented the cross, rather, the Roman Empire thought up this method of deterring people who heard the cry for liberation by slowly and publicly torturing to death those who cried out. Anyone who has ever read reports of torture, for example, from Guatemala, anyone who has seen a film like Two Worlds about South Africa knows that it is not a matter of something exotic but of the normality of imperial suppression which now presents a slow method of torture as “low intensity conflict” for whole regions.


Our pattern was to provide political information integrated with biblical texts, a brief address, calls for action, and finally, discussion with the gathered congregation. The basic elements of all subsequent Evensongs were information, meditations, and action.

I use the gospel, or other religious traditions, to say something that is vital to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Kafka’s Axe

Dear Bella Levenshteyn,

Was reading Kafka’s letters earlier today.  The passage caught my eye: “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

Imagine, if Kafka were able to have absolute authority in a society like ours to proscribe the inessential books! The great Jewish moralistic totalitarian, forbidding those facile self-help books, predictable trash novels, lawn care manuals, celebrity memoirs, ephemeral best-sellers. Read the rest of this entry »

A Poem by Dorothee Sölle: hospital in haiphong

doan is three years old
in his head a fragment
of that handy bomb
that leaves buildings undamaged
never puts a factory out of production
doesn’t even harm bridges Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to Clarity during the Vietnam War

At first I would not believe that our allies, our liberators, the Americans, would plan and carry out programs which were total annihilation sweeps. I felt as did so many good Germans during the Nazi period. “The Führer does not know about this!” But the Pentagon knew.

–Dorothee Sölle,The Arms Race Kills Even without War

Crosses, Values, Options


“Really living like Christ will not mean reward, social recognition and an assured income, but difficulties, discrimination, solitude, anxiety.  Here, too, the basic experience of the cross applies:  the wider we open our hearts to others, the more audibly we intervene against the injustice that rules over us, the more difficult our lives in the rich unjust society will become.”

–Dorothee Sölle, Germany


“In the university, the essential character of the society comes across: no matter what the students are told to read, the values of the world outside those college gates constantly intrude.”

–Daniel Berrigan, U.S.A.


“Marx did not invent class struggle—much less did we. It’s out there. And any true pastoral activity will be conflictive as is the gospel itself. To opt for the poor of the earth means opting in a saving manner ‘against’ the rich of this world.”

–Pedro Casaldáliga, Brazil

Activist, What Do You See in the Night?/2

During a recent theological conversation with a friend in Louisville, I mentioned several thinkers and writers who had been very influential on me over these years. That exchange led to this concise collage….


For a long time during those frightful years I waited for a great voice to speak up in Rome. I, an unbeliever? Precisely. For I knew that the spirit would be lost if it did not utter a cry of condemnation when faced with force. It seems that the voice did speak up. But I assure you that millions of [men and women] like me did not hear it and that at that time believers and unbelievers alike shared a solitude that continued to spread as the days went by and the executions multiplied.

It has been explained to me since that the condemnation was indeed voiced. But that it was in the style of the encyclicals, which is not at all clear. The condemnation was voiced and it was not understood! Who could fail to feel where the true condemnation lies in this case and to see that this example by itself gives part of the reply, perhaps the whole reply, that you ask of me. What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could arise in the heart of the simplest [man or woman]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of [men and women] resolved to speak out clearly and to pay up personally.

Albert Camus


No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.

Irving Greenberg Read the rest of this entry »