Friday, December 30, 2005

Bruderhof online -- the light no longer shines

(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: ), 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,
Thanks for your encouraging words.
J Christoph Arnold
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.

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.


Dave Price said...


You were partially right on why the Bruderhof shut down their websites. Our church has had the joy of providing hospitality to three of their members lately. The communities are going through a time of shaping, repentance and introspection right now that is really encouraging to see. One of the biggest reasons they closed down their sites was that they felt like they were relying on that to be their outlet to the world to the exclusion of other venues. They are struggling with the way in which they are to be salt light and leaven to the world and closing down the websites did not give them the impersonal crutch that you were speaking of to rely on. They are also sending members out in teams of two with $50 and little else in hand (see Jesus' sending out of the disciples) which is how we have happened upon them. Their visits have caused us to think a lot about the ways in which we live and to struggle with it. Just thought you might like some more info on them.


Child of the Bruderhof said...

What you have seen is part of an ongoing cycle of abuse, through the use of crisis to manipulate and control Bruderhof members. Mourn not for the disappearance of the Bruderhof website, but for the pattern of abuse that is signifies.

Lest you question how I know of such things, I grew up in the Bruderhof, and seen how the pattern of abuse and control works. These cycles of crisis are part of a systemic "sickness" that has nothing to do with Jesus, but the quest for power over the hearts and minds of "my people".

Below is a poem I wrote some years back that describes how I felt at the time:

In fear of expulsion, exclusion, ejection,
men heap memories, lies, figments of imagination,
onto hapless victim of current crisis,
manufactured by manipulative ministers.

Oh brothers,
where is thy brotherhood,
Is it current feeding frenzy, of other brothers souls?

Oh sisters,
where is thy motherhood,
in giving in to others wishes for your children, against right, against defenseless children's minds, and hearts?

Oh leaders,
where is thy servanthood,
to be humble helper, foot washer, loving laborer, not towering tyrant!

Creation of flawed structure,
years after, cause pain, confusion,
untold suffering.
Flawed men, flawed structure,
full of pain, fear, gnawing emptiness.

Formation of friends,
with common bond,
of communal internment,
help each other shed chains,
freedom from bondage,
free from fear,
freedom to be oneself!

A polished mirror,
held up to Bruderhof faces,
reflects truths they cannot face.
In doing so,
would have to give up current "life",
to recreate oneself,
to re-create self,
to become oneself,
to become one self,
to fend for self,
to stand for self.

These many years later, my prayer for each member of the Bruderhof:

Lord, I beseech you to make yourself known in a deep and personal way to each man, woman and especially the dear children in the Bruderhof. Make your love and grace known in the hearts and minds of each one, drawing them into a real and personal relationship with you, dear Lord! As a child of the Bruderhof I know well the fear and longing to be free of mental and spiritual bondage. Heal the rifts that exist between family members inside and those out, rifts caused not by love, but by seeking to control the hearts and minds of our loved ones.

Lord, you know our pain and our grief. Heal the many wounds, the many relationships shattered by Bruderhof leadership. Work in the hearts and minds of the leadership, allowing them to break down the walls between them and you, oh Lord. Bring a sweeping new spirit, your Spirit, into their hearts and minds. Show them your Grace, dear God.

Lord, your know our hurts, our hearts, our minds. This Christmas, bring peace and healing to ALL those with Bruderhof heritage.

I ask this in the name of our Precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

Bruderhof graduate
Child of the King
Mike LeBlanc

Hoots said...

Thank you for your insights. I am aware of another, darker side of the Bruderhof. Searching to find what might have happened to the Daily Dig I came across several places where negative experiences and assessments were posted. Wikipedia references at least one.

Even a cursory look at a search will dredge up a netfull of negative reports, including lawsuits and references to cults.

Since I have no personal contact with anyone connected with the Bruderhof, my only impressions derive from their internet presence which, whatever its origins, fed a spiritual appetite for many people with no apparent damage.

I am reminded of a tight little group that came to my cafeteria a few times. Under the leadership of a charismatic individual they were a textbook example of a cult, later making the evening news because they ran afoul of local authorities with the Department of Family and Childrens Services. Seems they were whipping their children in church, in view of the whole congregation, in a manner that qualified as abusive.

When they left the cafeteria for the last time (long story...I tried to get their leader to quiet them a bit because their group's praying and chanting was disturbing others in the dining room...I wanted their business, but my attempt failed and they never returned) I asked one of my staff if she knew who they were. She said she did, that they had done a lot of good in the neighborhood, and a lot of people admired them. After seeing the people themselves, imagining what unstructured lives they must have come from, I decided that with all their shortcomings, the leadership of their cult leader may have been less dmanging than no leadership at all. And no leadership at all would have been the alternative for most of them.

The point about children born into such a group is well-taken.

I try to resist judgdment of those trying to do good. But I don't try to hide facts, whatever they may be.
Be advised accordingly.

Anonymous said...

If anyone is really interested in the Bruderhof beyond their web presence they should join the discussion at:

It's an open group, not sponsored by the Bruderhof or their detractors.

Hoots said...

In fairness to any seeker looking to know more about the Bruderhof, this link is a must-see.

A former member tells a sad account of his mother's passing, an event which he did not participate in because he had left the group. Even after she was buried details of her final days were kept from him, leaving a lot of obvious scar tissue.

Hoots said...

Wrong link.
Try this