[This is a book review that was posted today, February 8, 2021, on the website of Englewood Review of Books.]
A Review of Another Life is Possible: Insights from 100 Years of Life Together
Clare Stober, Editor (Hardback: Plough Publishing House, 2020).
Reviewed by Leroy Seat
“This is a beautiful book . . . beautiful in the images it gives of simple and harmonious relation with an environment, but beautiful also in its chronicling of lives that have been held and healed in this shared enterprise of the Spirit.” So says Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, in the Foreword of the excellent new book that briefly chronicles the one-hundred-year history of the Bruderhof (x-xv) but mainly tells the stories of one hundred people who live(d) in Bruderhof communities.
There are vast differences between the “pomp and circumstance” of the Anglican Church and Westminster Cathedral and the simplicity of the Bruderhof in the way they live and worship. But for a century now the Bruderhof, started in 1920 by Eberhart and Emmy Arnold, has maintained an intriguing paradox of separation from the world and engagement with the world. Indeed, as Archbishop Williams remarks, the Bruderhof’s “intellectual hospitality” is “as warm as the literal hospitality the visitor experiences.”
This beautiful book is also a large book—9” x 12”—that was “created” (authored/edited) by Clare Stober (b. 1955) of the Fox Hill Bruderhof community near Walden, New York, and is filled with striking pictures by British photographer Danny Burrows, who traveled around the globe visiting Bruderhof settlements. He submitted over 3,000 photos for use in the book, and about 200 of them are used in this work that is beautiful largely because of Burrows’s photos.
The Bruderhof has an interesting mix of simple, non-pretentious living and an emphasis on high quality, such as is seen in their Community Playthings, children’s furniture they have been building and marketing since the 1950s as a main source of their income. This centennial book about the Bruderhof is beautiful and of high quality, just as are the chairs, tables, and other wooden items they make for children—and there are several references to and pictures of Community Playthings in the book.
Author Stober’s own story is told briefly on pages 17-19. She was a successful entrepreneur who built a graphic design and advertising agency near Washington, D.C., but about thirty years ago she gave that up to join the Bruderhof with no personal income at all. In the book, many residents of Bruderhof communities tell how they left “successful” stations in life to experience the new, fulfilling life that is possible in those communities.
The first of the 100 profiles in Another Life is Possible is, most appropriately, of Eberhard Arnold, who with his wife Emmy founded the first Bruderhof house in 1920. On eight pages with seven photographs, the biography of the Arnolds and the beginning of the Bruderhof in Sannerz, Germany, about 50 miles northeast of Frankfurt, is succinctly told.
Interestingly, the profile following that of the Arnolds is that of Sung Hoon Park, a Korean man. The Bruderhof house in Korea was not established until 2018, and it is still the only one in Asia. Currently, there are more than 3,000 people living in twenty-eight Bruderhof settlements on four continents.
The wide variety of persons profiled in this appealing book includes several past members, such as Latvian Else von Hollander (1885-1932), Bavarian Josef Stängl (1911-93), and Floridian Dorothy Mommsen (1922-2007). On the other hand, several profiles are of young men and women who were born in the 1990s—and there are no members born in the 2000s, for people must be 21 before becoming a member. Most of those people in their 20s grew up as children in a Bruderhof community and then joined after a year or more of living apart from the community, which most do after their 18th birthday.
Interspersed with the stories of those people, past and present, who are a part of Bruderhof communities are pertinent quotes from a wide variety of notable thinkers/writers of the past, such as Mother Teresa, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Dorothy Day, C.S. Lewis, Leo Tolstoy, and Francis of Assisi, among many others.
The 320-page book is organized around ten different themes, each of about 30 pages. Beginning with “What Money Can’t Buy” and “Working for a Purpose,” the following themes include “Building Justice” and “Seeking and Making Peace” as well as sections dealing with concrete issues, such as “What About Technology?”
Both from the stories and the numerous photos, it is quite evident that the members of the Bruderhof communities around the world love nature and love children. The seventh section of the book (174-205) is “Children and Education.” Profiles are of teachers and students in various parts of the world but especially in Mount Academy, the outstanding Bruderhof high school located about halfway between New York City and Albany. It also includes stories of special needs children, such as Ben, who was born with Down syndrome in 2002, and Luke, who died a few hours after his birth in 2015.
The children and most adults in the Bruderhof communities have little screen time—and yet the Bruderhof actively reaches out to others by means of the Internet. Three web links are given on the final page of the book, one being Plough.com, where a request can be made for the “Daily Dig,” a short quote from a wide variety of writers that is delivered by email every day to those who sign up for it.
Here are the final and important words of the Afterword, written by Paul Winter, the senior pastor of the Bruderhof communities: “Whatever our beliefs, let us hold on to the hope that another life is possible: the life of love, justice, and joy that every soul, in the end, longs to find.”
As Archbishop Williams writes in the Foreword, “The Bruderhof gently holds up a mirror to the Christian world and asks, ‘Why not this?’” That is a good question, and one that presses down on those of us who read and ponder the stories in this centennial book of the Bruderhof and gaze upon the beautiful photography intertwined with the well-worded written text.
This book belongs in every church library and on the coffee tables, or their equivalents, of anyone in the world thirsty for examples of wholesome, peaceful, and beneficial living.