A Book Review of Against the Wind: Eberhard Arnold and the Bruderhof
For many of us, commitment to a smaller intentional community of people who follow the way of Jesus together is a fairly new and fresh idea. Terms like “new monastic” imply that there were “old monastics”, such as the desert fathers, but some of us have a hard time relating to monastic communities from hundreds of years ago. I have recently begun to study the history of like minded communities in the Protestant tradition in recent history, and I am often astonished at the resonance I feel with these stories. The Bruderhof is one such practical Christian community. They have origins in Germany in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and the legacy is still moving forward today in communities in the United States.
Against the Wind is the story of Eberhard Arnold, a visionary leader and author who founded the Bruderhof. His story is like many others. He grew up surrounded by Christianity, and initially his views were typical of others in Germany. The state church was dominant in the Christian faith. However, in his adult years, his study of Scripture combined with his fascination with the youth movements of his day brought steady changes to his beliefs and eventually his actions. His most famous work, titled Innerland, was actually edited several times. It evolved over the years as his faith evolved. He began to believe that the Kingdom of God was referring to something beginning in the here and now on earth, not just about the afterlife. He became convinced that Christians should not partake in war. He began to dress in ways that identified him with younger and more radical groups. One article from his day reports shock at his casual clothing and short pants that showed his “hairy legs” as he spoke at a Christian conference.
Eventually a small community of like minded people surrounded Eberhard and his family. They shared everything and moved to the country in a simple house. Their community was supported by his publishing house. Many of the articles that Arnold published were actually from the entire community, acting as a collective. He believed strongly that everyone should have a voice. The community was learning and living together. He did not cling to his authority and leadership. However, people naturally followed him. They were drawn to his passion for following Jesus and life in community.
The community was deeply committed to children, both their own and also orphans. They established their own school, and Arnold himself found great joy in spending time teaching the children. For a time he spent every morning with the children. They were a valued part of the community and were known for their singing. The entire community was apparently quite dedicated to singing songs both old and new. They were also studious. From the records we have, it seems they spent a lot of time reading and talking about church history.
Eberhard Arnold died at the age of 52, but he lived a full life until the very end. Some have called him a “modern day St. Francis.” He was committed to discipleship, non-violence, community and the Sermon on the Mount. The Bruderhof went through a difficult season with the rise of the Nazi Party, but eventually their way of life survived. The intensity of their commitment to one another and to the way of Jesus is inspiring.
I would love to learn more about the Bruderhof movement in modern day America. I am sure that we have much we could learn from them.