Giving All to the Present

Future Hope column, Dec. 18, 2012

By Ted Glick

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

These words from this important man came to me a few days ago. They’re appropriate words for this holiday season, particularly for those who celebrate and draw strength from the birth in Bethlehem, Palestine over 2,000 years ago of a baby called Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a rising leader in Germany’s Lutheran Church in the 1920’s and 1930’s. As Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power, Bonhoeffer struggled with what he should do about it. After helping to form the “Confessing Church,” an alternative to the established Lutheran Church which went along with Naziism, Bonhoeffer ended up joining the underground resistance, including participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler. For his actions, he was eventually arrested and killed in a Nazi concentration camp.

It was during the 11 months that I spent in prison during the Vietnam War that I read Letters and Papers from Prison. Struggling as a 21 year old with the day to day, bring-you-down realities of prison life, Bonhoeffer’s letters were like cold water in a hot, parched desert.

I’ve internalized the “real generosity” quote, occasionally writing and speaking about it as is appropriate. I remember using it while speaking at a rally in downtown Newark, N.J. years ago as the Iraq war was just beginning, calling upon those listening to “give their all” as we worked to stop it.

I try to make this simple yet profound philosophy a guide to how I live my life. I know that I don’t always succeed. There are times when I let the immensity of what we are facing in our struggle for a new world overwhelm me, make me lose perspective. Rather than being generous toward the future and giving all to the present, I feel like I’m just going through the motions, spending more time than I want to watching TV, for example.

I’m often brought back to where I want to be as far as my level of personal commitment by hearing about something that another person or persons are doing. As Albert Schweitzer said, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful to those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

My spirit is rekindled by young people whom I see stepping forward to take up the struggle for a just, loving and in-tune-with-Nature world. Over the last several months it has been continually nourished by the risk-taking, heroic actions being taken by young people and others in the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas. Led by the group Rising Tide North Texas, they refused to accept everything that was stacked against them as far as the building of the southern portion of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Instead, for months, they have conducted one action after another, including a now-almost-three-weeks-long fast, and have skillfully built relationships with local landowners and both local and national press.

I’ve also drawn strength recently from a meeting with a young person, Brian Eister, who is planning with other young people to undertake a serious, D.C.-based, 30-days-or-longer, water-only fast in the month of April. The purpose: to call for a nonviolent uprising by the American people demanding action on the deepening climate crisis. This is a positive, important initiative that deserves support and participation.

I have found over the years that fasting is one of the best ways that I can stay connected to humankind’s higher purpose, give my all in the present for future generations. Fasting for more than a couple of days brings you face to face with yourself and what is truly important to you. When you are craving food, when your body is telling you to move deliberately and carefully because you no longer have your usual physical strength, you have to think deeply about why you’re doing this. In the process, a lifetime commitment to the loving struggle can be strengthened and deepened.

Giving all doesn’t have to mean civil disobedience or hunger strikes. For some people those just aren’t options, not yet at least, that feel right. What does feel right is hard work, smart work, reaching out to others, talking with new people, building the movement, organizing. Or in some cases doing intellectual work that is oriented toward social change. We each need to meditate on what is the right thing for us to do, constantly, being open to doing new things as the loving struggle unfolds.

As Bonhoeffer said in “Letters…”, “We have spent too much time in thinking, supposing that if we weigh in advance the possibilities of any action, it will happen automatically. We have learnt, rather too late, that action comes, not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. For you thought and action will enter on a new relationship; your thinking will be confined to your responsibilities in action. With us thought was often the luxury of the onlooker; with you it will be entirely subordinated to action. “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,’ said Jesus. (Matthew 7.21)”


For more information about the April fast contact Brian Eister at

Ted Glick is the National Campaign Coordinator of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and is on the steering committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate. Past writings and other information can be found at, and he can be followed on twitter at