Book Review: Life Together
A Book for Difficult Times
In times like these, when voices are raised in anger and hate out of fear of an uncertain future, when people are turning ever more frequently in their confusion to the first strong voice that rises above the din and are often mislead, here is a book filled with quiet reason and sound advice, written by one who lived in far more difficult times than these. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian theologian who established an illegal seminary in Nazi, Germany, to teach community and love for one another, who would be martyred by the Gestapo near World War II's end, has much to say about living peacefully together.
This book provides readers seeking closer community with many guidelines for establishing a strong a vibrant community. However, since this classic of Christian literature was written in the 1930s in the context of his experience building an all male seminary community, you have to overlook the use of what I'll call the "royal he." The guidelines Bonhoeffer sets down, hard won by experience living communally under the yoke of the Nazis, are still invaluable, no matter how they are couched. My suggestion to you is that you highlight all the passages that seem important to you as you read. Do this because on first read your modern mind will be clouded to what is said by all that use of "he" and the distractions that come from saying to yourself, but I can't possibly do that first thing in the morning and but I don't live in a community where we can gather for that reason at the end of the evening. Go back and reread what you have highlighted and you will be surprised at the good information and valuable guidelines you will run across on second reading.
If you worship in a church that is struggling, with members pitted against each other, have everyone who is willing read this book and then hold a retreat to explore it. You may end up with a stronger community. The same goes for a neighborhood.
A few excerpts from the book:
p. 43. "The Bible also speaks of the morning hour as the time of God's special help. ... For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day's work. ... With remarkable frequency the Scriptures remind us that the men of God rose early to seek God and carry out His commands ..." (Turn off the Palm Pilot, the cell phone, the iPad, the Netbook and spend a little time with God, you frazzled Christian you ... whatever your sex.)
p. 73. (A way to end the day peaceably): "A day at a time is long enough to sustain one's faith; the next day will have its own cares./ Again the Christian family gathers together. The fellowship is united at the evening table and the last devotion. ... The prayer of the Psalms, a hymn, and common prayer close the day, as they opened it. / ... This is the appropriate place for common intercessions. After the day's work we pray God for the blessing, peace, and safety of all Christendom; for our congregation; for the pastor in his ministry; for the poor, the wretched, the lonely; for the sick and dying; for our neighbors, for our own folks at home, and for our fellowship." (Did you notice how the prayers extended beyond the Christian community? Take note of that.)
p. 82. "In our meditation we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day and for our Christian life, that it is not only God's Word for the Church, but also God's Word for us individually. We expose ourselves to the specific word until it addresses us personally."
I could go on and on, but the real impact only comes when you sit down with this classic and read it all the way through for yourself. The book is broken down into the following chapters after the introduction: I. Community; II. The Day with Others; III. The Day Alone; IV Ministry; and V. Confession and Communion. Pay particular attention to Ministry. From my Protestant position, we are all members of the "priesthood of all believers" and so we are all ministers to one another. Here as the aspects of ministry according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Ministry of Holding One's Tongue (this is the very first ministry and these days one most needed); The Ministry of Meekness; The Ministry of Listening; The Ministry of Helpfulness; The Ministry of Bearing; The Ministry of Proclaiming (look how far down the list you come before you get to speaking); and finally the Ministry of Authority (which is servanthood to others).
Here are a couple of small gems from the chapter on Ministry. From the ministry of bearing ("Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2) "Bearing means forbearing and sustaining."), two points to make: p. 102. "If the strong person falls, the weak one must guard his heart against malicious joy at his downfall. If the weak one falls, the strong one must help him rise again in all kindness. (Wouldn't that make for a different world?) p. 103. Forgiveness and bearing one another: "The service of forgiveness is rendered by one to the other daily. It occurs, without words, in the intercessions for one another. And each member of the fellowship, who does not grow weary in this ministry, can depend upon it that this service is also being rendered him by the brethren. He who is bearing others knows that he himself is being borne, and only in this strength can he go on bearing."
All of 122 pages long, this is a quick read and in its paperback form, it is also easy on the wallet and well worth whatever you pay for it. Good luck and I hope you develop a blessed community as a result of reading this classic work.
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