A Poem from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, An Example of an Incarnational Leader


Bonhoeffer sacrificed much to lead. But he was a man very much like many of us. If there is one thing that might help us understand the inside of a man who would do such a thing, it would be his poem "Wer Bin Ich?" or "Who Am I?"

Who am I?

They often tell me
I stepped from my cell's confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I ?

They also tell me
I bore the day of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

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Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? Hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? they mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Source of Poem: Eric Metaxas, "How Good Confronts Evil: Lessons from the Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” from Life, God, and Other Small Topics, Conversations from Socrates in the City, ed. Eric Metaxas (New York: Dutton, 2011), picture panel prior to page 465.

Written by Bill Hull

Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.