Taproot Theatre in Seattle is presently running a play about one of my faith heroes, Sophie Scholl. Along with her brother Hans, these two were German students, members of the “White Rose”, whose mission was to incite German people to resist the reign of Hitler. The play is well-written and well-delivered, consisting primarily of dialogue between Sophie and her interrogator. If you’re in the Seattle area, I hope you don’t miss it (running through the end of April), not only because it’s a good play, but because it will provide you with a window into the heart and mind of a woman who embodied the kind of heart and mind needed today. Here’s why I believe the White Rose’s catalyst to action is worth pondering today:
Seeing the play provoked me to re-read this book. It’s about the role of the White Rose in the German resistance movement of the 30’s and through the WWII. Some books are live, in the sense that they speak differently each time you read them because you’re different, your world is different. We’re living in a time of global polarization between haves and have nots. Were living in a time of mass migration, as people flee death squads, poverty, violence, hunger, and disease. This migration has led to a backlash rise in unhealthy nationalistic fervor and neo-Nazi/white supremacist groups in Europe and the Americas. Shootings in Black churches, and synagogues are just the tip of this hate-filled iceberg.
The White Rose was awakened to action by two things:
I. An awareness that their culture had lost its anchor. One author says it this way: “In a universe where all values have been shattered, where religions and histories and literatures and social structures have lost their meaning, man has to stand up again and proceed to create his own world, his own values, his own decisions, his own actions.” The shattering of values that began in Germany in the early 20th century continues on, globally, at an accelerated pace, right to this very moment. Social structures such as marriage, and institutions such as the church and university, along with the meaning of family are all “up for grabs” as we’re cut free from the moorings and anchors of western civilization.
Members of the White Rose were horrified that the Nazi movement was creating new meaning by calling people back to a mythical golden age of Aryan supremacy, full employment, and the ouster of those who were different. Even though such an age never existed, its appeal in the wake of all the economic, political, and social chaos was strong enough to create a movement, and it was this movement that the White Rose stood against.
What enabled them to stand up against this romanticized future wasn’t simply a counterpoint set of ideals pulled out of thin air. Their convictions were born from revelation about the dignity of all people, and the dangers of all forms of idolatry, including the idols of materialism and nationalism. Their resistance literature essential said It’s not enough to end unemployment by building a vast military machine. It’s not enough, never enough, to enthusiastically swear allegiance to a leader, any leader, if said leader is asking you to believe lies, diminish and marginalize other people, and sacrifice your freedom of thought and expression on the altar of national loyalty. It’s not enough to believe that our strength is only gained through the diminishing of other peoples, other nations. We’re made for more than this. We are, as a nation, better than this.
What made these ideas better? Their source! Behind the curtain, Hans and Sophie Scholl were friends with Carl Muth, a theologian whose small magazine had been banned from publication by the Reich. Hans and Sophie met with Carl on a regular basis in his small house in the forest, which was, “nearly bursting with book, journals, and manuscripts.” Muth became a mentor of sorts for these two who would put their ideas into print and distribute them widely throughout Bavaria.
We too, have access to better ideas, ideas that speak to racism, addiction, loneliness, materialism, nationalism, and the many fears that inflict our culture presently. We have the same source of revelation Hans, Sophie, and Carl had – the scriptures. Do we know what those ideas are? Do we believe them? Or have we, through our own lack of discernment, allowed ourselves to be passively carried along? The White Rose serves as a perpetual reminder that ideas matter, and that the mark of Christian maturity must, among other things, include discernment. I say this, because lies and idols are often, as they were in Germany, couched in the same scriptures, used for dark ends instead of liberation. Without discernment, we run the risk of unwittingly aligning ourselves with hate, fear, and violence, and doing so in Jesus name.
II. A conscience stricken by silence. “‘Where are the Christians?’ Hans shouted after hearing an ‘enemy broadcast’ reporting that German Communists and Social Democrats had resisted the Nazis and been caught. ‘Should we stand here with empty hands at the end of the war when they ask the question, ‘and what did you do?'”
The White Rose spoke because, as Sophie said, “somebody needed to make a start of it”. MLK spoke for the same reason. So did Sojourner Truth. So did St. John of the Cross. But for every soul who spoke, there were too many… far too many… who remained silent.
While Sophie and Hans inspire us in the play, the interrogator is perhaps, the most important figure. He agreed with her convictions, or so he said. He was sympathetic. He understood. But he could not speak; would not speak. To do so would be too costly. His job; his reputation; in his time, even his life was at stake. The risks were too great, so he allowed himself to be carried along by the tides of culture rather.
For those who give voice to their call for racial justice, or environmental justice, or for those who call lies and idols what they are, or who speak up for life in the womb, victims of sexual violence, and human trafficking, or the countless others who have no voice – the risk of loss will always be there. But a life lived to carefully, is a life lived contrary to the fundamental principle and example of Jesus: “he who seeks to save his life will lose it… he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Our silence, at times, is our greatest sin.
“We will not be silent” is what Sophie said. May her tribe increase.