Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mary Glazener - A Tribute

The email said:  Mary Glazener had died. Mary—dead? Grief mingled with memory swirled. I took down from my shelf the book she had written. What a woman and what a story. Mary was a member of my church in Clemson.  Her Sunday School class was studying a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison. Something real took hold of Mary. She began to study Bonhoeffer’s life. He was a Lutheran Pastor. He wrote a score of books. He lived during those awful Hitler-days. As a Christian he could not keep quiet about what was happening to his country. He came to America as Hitler rose to power. He taught at a Seminary in New York and was deeply moved by the black churches he attended in New York. He wrote that out of their blackness and oppression they sang and were faithful. Word from home said Hitler was gaining more power and Jewish citizens were rounded up and sent somewhere far from home. So, at great risk, 
he left the safety of the United States and returned to his homeland. It was a dangerous move yet Bonhoeffer went home to be with his people. 

Because of his resistance to Hitler he was sent to Flossenburg Concentration Camp. As the war was being lost in Germany Adolf Hitler signed Bonhoeffer’s death sentence. On April 9, 1945 Bonhoeffer was put to death. This was eleven days before the U.S. soldiers liberated that concentration camp. 

Mary Glazener couldn't get the book that Bonhoeffer had written in prison, Letters and Papers From Prison off her mind. She especially was intrigued by Bonhoeffer’s resistance to Hitler and how he worked with others to stop this man who was destroying the lives of millions. 

So her own journey began to discover the secret of Bonhoeffer’s faith and courage. She read most of what he had written. She enrolled in a German class at Clemson. In the evenings she would read and listen to German conversational tapes. This 52 year old woman who had never written anything but some plays for her denomination, this secretary and mother of three set out to write a novel of the man who had inspired her faith.

Friends wondered about her task. With the support of her husband  she began her treck. She discovered that Bonhoeffer’s cousin and best friend, Eberhard Bethge and his wife were living in Boston. She called them up and they were so struck with her intensity that they invited her to visit. They told Mary of many experiences they had had with Dietrich. And they gave her a list of folk who could help her with her story. Bonhoeffer’s  fiancé was living in Boston. Mary left the Bethge’s home and visited Bonhoeffer’s fiance. She learned much from these encounters and was given more names of people that she might contact.

Mary had never been to Europe but armed with names and addresses in Germany she boarded her first international flight. She met Bonhoeffer’s sister, sisters-in-law and former students that knew Bonhoeffer. She was introduced to Fabian von Schlabrendorff, who was the Resistance member who placed a bomb on Hitler’s plane in 1943. Mary stayed in Germany five weeks. She came back home to write her own take on Bonhoeffer’s life. 

This task was not easy. This 52 year old woman who had written little. But she began. Through research and conversations and hard work she worked year after year. Some people wondered if her dream was realistic. How could a woman who had written so little in middle age write such a story? Seventeen years after she first read Bonhoeffer’s diary from prison her book was published. This week I held the book in my hand and read the title again: The Cup of Wrath—The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s resistance to Hitler.  It is 447 pages long. 

This is not the end of the Mary story. She was invited to give the Inaugural Lecture at the opening of the Chapel at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham. She traveled far and wide to seminaries, colleges and churches telling the Bonhoeffer story and introducing people across the country to her book. She was invited to become a member of the distinguished International Bonhoeffer Society. Those making a film on Bonhoeffer’s life employed Mary as a consultant. She was interviewed many times on television and radio. 

I told Mary one day—your book tells a great story. But Mary, your story might be just as great. That should be your next book. What? she exclaimed. Mary—how this whole journey has changed your life. This woman, quiet and gentle, could not believe anyone would want to read her own odyssey of faith and miracle. That journey of more than 17 years changed her life forever. In middle-age, 52 years old Mary slowly discovered she was a great deal more than just a secretary, a housewife and mother of three. She did all of these tasks well—but even Mary, looking back, could not believe all the wonderful things that have happened to her.

And so as I heard about her death I remembered once again her own journey and Bonhoeffer’s story. Who knows, across the land and world how many 52 year old women have nestled inside of them much more than they ever thought? Mary blessed my life. Mary blessed her family which she loved fiercely. Mary’s incredible story reached out and blessed people everywhere.

I still say her journey to tell the Bonhoeffer story was great. But the greater story is that of this woman who was quiet and gentle and kind and did not like the spotlight—could in middle age spread her wings and fly and fly and fly. Mary may be gone but her book and her own story are with us still. 

(Funny story one Sunday Mary Glazener came by and whispered:"Eberhard is here today." I said: "Eberhard Bethge?" She nodded. "Mary I am preaching a Stewardship sermon today--and I'm sure he'll be bored and I'll be mortified." "No he won't," she said. I walked off saying: "Eberhard Bethge is here today? Lord!")

--Roger Lovette /

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