(Update: when you finish reading here, see February 20, 2006)
(Also February 27, 2006)
(Also July 31, 2007)
My blog has received several hits in the last few weeks as the result of searches for the term "Bruderhof." I didn't think much about it because with the onset of Christmas I figured there could be an interest in religious subjects. This morning, however, I searched myself and discovered that the gentle, enlightened, and spiritually rich online presence of the Bruderhof Community has gone missing with no explanation.
Ir is a sad development to me but it is not surprising. As wonderful as it is to go to the beach, one cannot continue to swim in the waves forever. There will come a time when one has to stop swimming, go get something to eat, rest and sleep. It is the way our bodies are put together. We cannot do anything forever. And in the end, the ocean will continue to be there with or without our swimming. This image is what I receive when I try to imagine what has happened to the Bruderhof on line. I have no way to know for sure, but my instinct is that a very small handful of their number were ever involved with maintaining their internet connection. At some point, I am guessing, a kind of fatigue set in and a decision was made to redirect that energy to some more practical, tangible enterprise.
In Ecclesiastes there is some mention about "of words there is no end" and that is what the internet is all about: words. And images, of course, but with only a keyboard and monitor, the impact of words and images is sharply limited, especially when compared with spoken words audibly exchanged live, personally, once and for all between living persons in conversation with one another, together with body language, voice inflections, and yes, human touching...when compared with a living human exchange, the words of the internet are a very pale, even worthless substitute for the real thing.
My guess is that the Bruderhof have figured this out. I say, good on 'em. But I hope at some point some of them will be led to return to what struck me as a powerful online ministry, not unlike that of Gordon Atkinson whose Real Live Preacher was (is) a glowing ember in cyberspace for several years before he got all famous and published. He's still a real treasure, of course, but there was something very special about a preacher in a small Texas Baptist church with an anonymous online ministry reaching thousands more via the internet than he was preaching to in "real life."
There is a qualitative difference between living ministries and those directed by media. One glance at the dedicated television channels will quickly confirm this truth. Even the most unblemished among them -- the Billy Graham people come to mind -- are beset by what has to be a vast, mundane network of what can only be described as secular infrastructure, including careers, vacations, health care, and other benefits for those who work there, and all that goes along with maintaining a corporate presence that takes on a life of its own.
If even the pure Christ-driven message of Billy Graham can be subsumed by a secular infrastructure having nothing to do with that message, I can understand how the ways of the world can very easily come into conflict with the mission and themes of maintaining the Bruderhof community. From what I gather, they are not far removed from the Mennonites in lifestyle and purpose, a community of dedicated Christians seeking to live in but not of the world. This is a lifestyle not suitable for everyone. Just two days ago I listened to Krista Tippett's wonderful radio journey discovering the L'Arche communities and knew as I listened that I was hearing a description of a modern Christian ministry not unlike those of the monastic traditions. I recalled my visits to the Monastery of the Holy Ghost in Conyers, Georgia and wondered once again how anyone could take a vow of silence that might last for years, even a lifetime, and come to terms with giving up conversation, that most human of all human contacts.
Selfishly, I only wish that I had captured a little more of what I knew was there for the taking. I feel like the guest at a reception who remembered going home that there was yet another table of scrumptious delights in another room that I missed altogether. But I already ate and drank to my heart's content already, so I really have no reason to complain.
After the London bombing in July I came across, via ROFTERS, Johann Christoph Arnold's wise commentary. I captured a couple of paragraphs for my blog and left a comment at the Bruderhof site. The same day I received an email reply.
Thanks for writing in response to Johann Christoph Arnold's article. We forwarded your response to him. Due to traveling and his busy schedule (check out: http://www.breakingthecycle.us/ ), he may not have time to respond to you personally in the moment. But he reads all his mail eventually and appreciates feedback very much.
Ed & Julie
And within hours this came.
Dear Friend,That email response is for me like one of the little treasures in an autograph collection that really has no meaning for anyone else, but for me brings back imortant moments in my life.
Thanks for your encouraging words.
J Christoph Arnold
It has been my good fortune to have seen, sometimes even met and interacted with, a handful of individuals who have each left a mark on my development. I don't like name-dropping, so I resist the urge to do it here. But having said that, I will always include my brush with the Bruderhof on line and my little missals from Ed & Julie, whoever they are, and Johann Christoff Arnold as one of the most satisfying and important developmental experiences of my life.