Peter Billingham [1953-2020] will not be forgotten, especially in his massive contribution to restoring Bishop Bell’s place in history– and George Bell House in Chichester.
This Poem was written after ‘A Celebration of the Life of Peter George Billingham [1953-2020]’ at St John’s Chapel in Chichester on Saturday, October 23 2021 [Published in the Chichester Observer – October 28 2021]:
“There are also, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Bell argued, moral questions to be addressed here…Dietrich Bonhoeffer…said…’Responsible action must decide not just between right and wrong, but between right and right and wrong and wrong’.
“So it is, exactly, here. There are no blacks and whites, just choices between blacker blacks and whiter whites. There are no triumphal personal qualities, and no triumphant outcomes. Just flawed individuals, who, at a time of what Bonhoeffer referred to as ‘moral twilight’, felt compelled to do the right thing as they saw it…
“In reading this book you may be struck, as I was in writing it, by the similarities between what happened in the build-up to World War II and the age in which we now live. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise, and democracies were seen to have failed; people hungered for the government of strong men; those who suffered most from the pain of economic collapse felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices; public institutions, conventional politics and the old establishments were everywhere mistrusted and disbelieved; compromise was out of fashion; the centre collapsed in favour of the extremes; the normal order of things didn’t function; change – even revolution – was more appealing than the status quo; and ‘fake news’ built around the convincing untruth carried more weight in the public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts.
This Brexit shambles exposes how far the Conservatives Party has degenerated. For all her faults, Mrs May remains the only adult in the room. At the top, the rest are just a bunch of self obsessed pygmies, charlatans and incompetents who should not be allowed to run a whelk stall
A good PM she is most emphatically not. But listening – and more specifically – watching Theresa May’s speech today, there are three qualities not even her worst enemies would deny her. Duty, Determination and Desperation.
“Bell shared the Anglo-Catholics’ conviction that the church was not, and must never be, the creature of the state. When he spent Christmas 1914 at Canterbury with the Archbishop, Davidson, he noted in his diary on 29 December that this was the day on which Becket was murdered, and went to the Cathedral to visit the place of his martyrdom. Indeed Becket was to become increasingly influential in the twentieth century Church of England, reminding it that there are times when the church has to stand against the state”
~ Alan Wilkinson [Source: “Britain and the Threat to Stability in Europe, 1918-45” – Ch 5 ‘Bishop Bell and Germany’ – Page 77]
Bernie Evans and Michael Meadowcroft respond to Martin Kettle’s article on the alarming similarities of Weimar Germany and Brexit Britain
As Martin Kettle says (Brexit Britain and Weimar Germany are perilously alike, 16 May), there exist in the UK at the moment far too many similarities with Weimar Germany for comfort. It is easy to see parallels in the falling out of love with parliament, the lack of cooperation between parties and the far right’s repeated message of national betrayal, and to link them with a possible surge in support for a rightwing autocracy.
It is worth mentioning, however, that Adolf Hitler’s rise initially was through democratic votes in general elections, with the Nazis becoming the biggest party in the Reichstag after the July 1932 election. It was after the November election of that year when they actually lost ground, when it was decided to offer Hitler the chancellorship, leading to the Enabling Act and the destruction of opposition parties.
Divisions on the left, with the inevitable lack of viable policies to challenge the promise of a strong Germany coming from Hitler, were an important factor in the rise of fascism, and must not be repeated here. The Labour leadership has a duty to provide a united opposition to the threat from the right; if Labour loses the support of its remain voters and their votes are shared around smaller parties, a significant and dangerous similarity could be created, with terrible consequences. Bernie Evans Liverpool
• Martin Kettle points to today’s echoes of 1920s and 1930s Germany. He is far from the only observer to make the point: in his final book, containing riveting biographical essays on individuals who stood up to Hitler, the late Paddy Ashdown wrote: “In reading this book you may be struck, as I was in writing it, by the similarities between what happened in the build-up to World War II and the age in which we now live. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise and democracies were seen to have failed, people hungered for the government of strong men; those who suffered most from the pain of economic collapse felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices … ‘fake news’ built around the convincing untruth carried more weight in the public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts.”Paddy comments wryly: “Painting a lie on the side of a bus and driving it around the country would have seemed perfectly normal in those days.”
Teaching the uncomfortable facts of history is crucially important and we neglect it at our peril. Michael Meadowcroft Leeds
Michael Meadowcroft concludes, after quoting from Paddy Ashdown’s last book before his death “Nein! Standing Up To Hitler 1935-1944” (‘Today’s disturbing echoes of the buildup to the second world war’, Letters, May 19):
“Teaching the uncomfortable facts of history is crucially important and we neglect it at our peril”
Also tucked away on page 301 of “Nein!” – not referenced in the extensive Index – is this prescient ‘gem of thought’ by the former Intelligence Officer and Liberal Democrat leader:
“There are also, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Bell, moral questions to be addressed here”
~ Richard W. Symonds
Ralph Lloyd-Jones of Nottingham is seriously mistaken in thinking George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four “was intended as a warning of what would become of Britain under socialists” (‘Orwell’s Dystopia is with us today’, Observer Letters, May 26).
As Orwell himself said in June 1949 – ‘Statement on Nineteen Eighty-Four’ – seven months before his untimely death aged 46 :
“But danger lies also in the acceptance of a totalitarian outlook by intellectuals of all colours. The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you” [underlining in original Statement].
~ Richard W. Symonds
“Orwell perhaps lacked poetry, but, looking at our modern world of ideologies and wars, he echoes the message of Wilfred Owen, the greatest poet of the First World War: ‘All a poet can do today is to warn’. 1984 remains, by and large, a necessary warning”
~ Stephen Spender
“Brexit? We are being swept up, and swept away, in a wave of nationalistic fervour and hysteria. We have been there before. Let history speak: There is no happy ending. As Orwell said: ‘Don’t let it happen. It depends on you'”
~ Richard W. Symonds
“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it”
The great preacher, writer, theologian and witness to the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,was executed on April 9, 1945, just days before the Nazi camp where he was held, Flossenbürg, was liberated. He was 39.
On 4 April 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators [those who had plotted for Hitler’s assassination] be destroyed.
Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner, Payne Best, to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”
Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on 8 April 1945 by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp, three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.
Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard where he was hanged, along with fellow conspirators Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Canaris’s deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack, General Friedrich von Rabenau, businessman Theodor Strünck, and German resistance fighter Ludwig Gehre.
Eberhard Bethge, a student and friend of Bonhoeffer’s, writes of a man who saw the execution: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer…In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
His legacy has been profound:
Bonhoeffer’s life as a pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality who lived as he preached—and his being killed because of his opposition to Nazism—exerted great influence and inspiration for Christians across broad denominations and ideologies, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the anti-communist democratic movement in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.
Bonhoeffer is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of several Christian denominations on the anniversary of his death, 9 April. This includes many parts of the Anglican Communion, where he is sometimes identified as a martyr.
In our own troubled time, Bonhoeffer’s courage in the face of evil, and his suffering in the face of persecution, stand as a testament to true Christian witness — the very essence of what it means to be a “martyr.”
His likeness is preserved in Westminster Abbey, alongside other martyrs, including St. Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King, Jr.
He continues to teach and inspire Christians today.
“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them,” he wrote. “Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word but also lends us God’s ear. . . . We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.”
He also urged us to be open to God’s will in our lives, whatever that may be.
“We must be ready,” he said, “to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”
“The fallible and multi-coloured humanity of the writer…The restoration of God’s image in us is the heart of what Christian theology, liturgy and contemplation all aim at. This is, indeed, as John Moses says, a Christian humanism, reminding us that the good news we so often seem to forget is that we are not only saved but enlarged by grace – made more, not less, ourselves, more aware of the mystery at the centre of who we are, more sceptical of all the various cultural disorders that seek so obsessively to make us less than we are”
~ Rowan Williams – Foreword to “Divine discontent” by John Moses
“We are all created in the image of God, but Thomas Merton seemed to be just a little bit more so…Straddling the divide between contemplation and action. Engaging with God and engaging with the world, he continues to speak, asking that we might look again at our preconceived ideas…”
~ John Moses
“Contrary to some concepts of holiness, my idea of the raw material of sanctity is not a thick river of molasses oozing sluggishly towards heaven. It is fire and passion and frustration and failure and renewed effort”
~ Naomi Burton Stone – “I Shall Miss Thomas Merton” – 1969