Bonhoeffer in a concentration camp
For anyone who knows me even just a little bit. Then you know how much I love reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think he was one of the greatest theological minds to have ever lived, and yet he died at such an early age (hung at 39), that he left much work to be finished.
But I have recently been re-reading his book, Life Together which he wrote from 1935 and following, when he moved into Finkenwalde. For those who don’t know Bonhoeffer’s life that well, here is a short excerpt about him from a biography about him.
After the Confessing Church was organized in May 1934 at Barmen, Germany, Bonhoeffer returned from England in the spring of 1935 to assume leadership of the Confessing Church’s seminary at Zingst by the Baltic Sea–a school relocated later that year to Finkenwalde in Pomerania. Out of the experiences at Finkenwalde emerged his two well-known books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, as well as his lesser known writings on pastoral ministry such as Spiritual Care.
This is the context out of which Life Together came. And it is this book that has helped me understand, and more influentially shape my views on community.
As I began reading yesterday, I came across this statement on the opening page. Bonhoeffer says,
It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work……..
It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethen……..
The measure with which God bestows the gift of a visible community is varied……..
This is something that I need to reflect on a for a little while, and that I need others to reflect on as well. Especially those that I am in community with, and those that are in community with one another at The Quest.
Because in our scramble and attempt to create community, I think we take it for granted that community is our right. That living among other Christians is always granted us. In our attempts at creating community, we forget that a visible sign of community is always an outpouring of God’s grace upon us. Maybe that is why Paul begins so many letters with grace and peace to you. It was a reminder to the churches then, and it is a reminder to us, that our visible gathering is because of God’s grace. It is not anything that we have manufactured, or can manufacture for that matter.
In fact, I will reflect on later the idea as Bonhoeffer puts it, that community is really a divine reality, not an ideal reality. Community exists because of God’s divine grace, rather than our wishful thinking, or attempts to create it.