Edited by Charles E. Moore. Plough Publishing House, 2016. 357 pages. $18/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
As Quakers know, community building is hard, especially in a culture that values individualism and equates it with freedom. Called to Community, a series of essays by writers ranging from Dostoyevsky to Mother Teresa to Quaker figures such as Rufus Jones and Elton Trueblood, attempts to describe and find approaches to the problem.
The book’s 52 short sections are grouped under four larger headings: “A Call to Community,” “Forming Community,” “Life in Community,” and “Beyond the Community.” Most of the essays are quite short, cut down from longer pieces, and are meant to be read in small groups, with discussion questions at the end for each of the 52 (a year’s worth) sections. Many of these excerpts are quite powerful.
When reading them, I was reminded of walking the labyrinth: most of the essays most relevant for today were written farthest from our time, a stunning commentary on how seriously our social safety net has unraveled. For example, Christoph Blumhardt’s “Style of Life,” written before 1919, could have been written in 2017:
Today it is coldly said of millions, “They shouldn’t worry. If they would only work, they would earn their wages” [but] . . . the majority of working people still do not have jobs worthy of a human being. They live scattered and isolated lives. What a misery it is to have to . . . work two jobs. Yet how many people have to do it! . . . How can I say to such a person “don’t worry”?
Plough is the publishing house of the Bruderhof Community, which has a vision of an uncompromising and radical sharing of all goods and resources—and this animates and energizes these essays, even when, as is most often the case, they are written by people from other faith communities. Like the Quakers, the Bruderhof groups practice peacemaking and simplicity, and their idea of communal ownership of goods is one both stunningly countercultural and well worth reflecting on in our deeply materially unequal society.
The essays express many different perspectives on community, and the book as a whole makes no attempt to reconcile them all. Thus, it might be interesting for small groups to put certain essays with sharply different viewpoints into dialogue with each other. For example, George MacDonald’s “A Vision,” a fictionalized account of a loving community, could be fruitfully juxtaposed with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Idealism,” which shows the actual difficulties of living in spiritual community and raises concerns with the idea of idealizing such community. Likewise, Arthur Gish’s “Surrender” could converse readily with Ed Loring’s superb essay in “Wounds,” the first focusing on the need of the privileged to get beyond self; the second, on the needs of the of the subaltern to have their selves honored and seen.
This is a widely diverse collection, which I found moving as a whole, especially as the topic of community is extraordinarily important for our times. Essays I particularly resonated with included Basilea Schlink on mistrust, Eugene Peterson on comfort zones, José Miranda and Helmut Gollwitzer on Christian communism, and Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice on interruptions. While I fully support LGBTQIA rights, I hope disagreement with the Bruderhof heterosexual marriage stance won’t cut Quakers off from considering these thoughtful essays by writers across the Christian religious spectrum. Instead, these essays might inspire dialogue with communities with whom we may disagree, including portions of our own.