The above text comes from Foundations of our Faith & Calling, a publication of the Bruderhof, a pacifist Anabaptist intentional community founded in the 1920s. It is, in effect, the Bruderhof Rule. I had coffee this morning with two members of the Bruderhof who are here at the Q Ideas conference. It was an enlightening time, and I made plans to visit them and learn from them as I research the Benedict Option book.
We agreed on the radical nature of the present moment in American life. One of the men told me that an Evangelical pastor told him yesterday, after listening to my speech about the Benedict Option, that conditions have changed drastically and quickly for his own community. It used to be that people in his area who weren’t church folks would nevertheless drop their children off at the church for day care and the like. Now, not only have many stopped doing that, they are actually organizing other parents to withdraw their children from the day care on the grounds that the Christians are “extremists” who are poisoning the minds of the young.
It’s happening. It’s not happening everywhere, yet, but it’s happening. And all the winsomeness in the world isn’t going to turn this back.
One of the Bruderhof men said that the rest of the American Christians world is going to have to learn, and learn quickly, that its present way of life is unsustainable in the world that is fast emerging. Said he, “It’s going to be community, or capitulation” — meaning that if we are going to remain authentically Christian, we are going to have to come together and help each other, or we are going to cave in to the anti-Christian culture.
Community or capitulation. There it is.
I would add that it cannot be community for the sake of community. There are many churches that worship the community itself, not a community constituted by a common faith and common worship of God. This is not going to work. I remember a parish I was part of in the past in which I concluded that it was not really a church community. I mean, there was truly no telling what the man next to you in the pew really believed, and no real expectation that you would agree on anything other than you both wanted to be here in the same place at the same time. That’s a crowd, not a community.
We are all going to learn these lessons, and soon, or we are going to dissolve. I can hardly wait to get started on this book, and to visit the Bruderhof and to discover what the rest of us can learn from their experience. These men were very friendly, and said they look forward to building ties with other Christian communities trying to live out the radical Christian faith in these difficult times. This too is a form of community, one that we will find, I’m certain, is not only desirable, but necessary.
So I wonder if a better way to think about the Benedict Option is not as a strategic withdrawal from anything in particular but a strategic attentiveness to the institutions and forms of life within which Christians can flourish. In other words, Rod’s post is the right starting place, and the language of “withdrawal” something of a distraction from what that post is all about.
My own inclination — but then I have been a teacher for thirtysomething years — is to think that our primary focus should be on the two chief modes of Bildung: paideia and catechesis. And I do not mean for either of these modes to be confined to the formation of children.
If we ask ourselves what genuine Christian Bildung is, and what is required to achieve it in our time, then we will be directed to the construction and conservation of institutions and practices that are necessary for that great task. And then the necessary withdrawals — which may indeed vary from person to person, vocation to vocation, community to community — will take care of themselves.
Strategic attentiveness. I like that emphasis. Withdrawal is a logical effect, but it reframes the action as moving towards something rather than away from something, though it refers to the same thing.