Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Quotations

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic, Life Together (found here), explores not only the importance of Christian community but how that community should be grounded in and conducted through Jesus Christ. As he often writes, Christian Community can only be found, “in Christ and through Christ.” Below are a collection of quotes that I found to be exemplary in point, precision, and articulation. Of course, another who reads through this work may find a different collection (as the one I currently possess has highlighter marks – though against the rules of borrowing the book – which I didn’t always find helpful.)

919yabqy9klThe following paragraphs may be skipped, but they are provided to add a bit of context to each of the quotes:

Chapter 1 – Christian community can be found in almost any circumstance: for long periods of time or for as short as a prayer. But, in any case, we do not live for the experience of Christian community but will seek to understand what that community means and how it is to function for those who do find it. The central issue everyone in Christian community will face is this: will you view your fellow friend in the eyes of God, and therefore in God’s image, or in your own eyes, and try to form them in your image?

Chapter 2 – We should begin and end each day in the community of believers and in the Word of Christ. What we should be weary of is having our prayer life hinder our work life and our work life hinder our prayer life. They must not only work together, but also understood in proportion to each other. As God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, so we should understand that most of each of our days will be consumed for work, but this work will be as a prayer and unto God.

Chapter 3 – We should dedicate an hour per day to meditation and reflection. This is not to be used for focusing upon other issues or to attempt to understand scripture, but to simply have God’s Word impress our minds. The test of our meditation, of impressing ourselves with God’s Word and making it our own, is how we respond when we are out in the world: do we forsake Christ or further proclaim His Word?

Chapter 4 – We can only be effective ministers of God’s Word if we are effective in all of our ministries. We must understand when and how to hold our tongue, and ensure we do not allow evil to flow from our mouths; We must become meek so we may see the world as God sees the world and our place in it; We must be willing to hear our fellow Christians on their terms, to understand their needs, so we may effectively help them; We must be helpful in every good work, not being too busy or too proud for any task; We must be willing to bear the burdens of others as Christ carried ours on the cross; We must proclaim God’s Word in the fullness of God’s character – showing both mercy and judgement, love and grace;  And we must understand that our authority does not rise or fall upon our attractive characteristics or personality to the church but upon how faithful we are in executing the commands of Christ.

Chapter 5 – We must hear out our fellow Christian’s confessions and forgive them in the name of Christ. This is what makes Christian fellowship so intimate – in seeing each other as Christ sees us, fallen man in need of a savior, we begin to bear the love for each other that Christ has for us. But, in this intimacy, be careful to not use confession as a power over others or make it a pious ritual. Confession should be heard by those who also practice confession.

The culmination of Christian fellowship is found upon the sacrament of Communion: to break bread together, in full community and in the truth of each others’ existence, as Christ broke bread with his disciples.

Chapter 1 – Community

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Not that he believed that everybody must act as he did, but from where he was standing, he could see no possibility of retreat into any sinless, righteous, pious refuge. The sin of respectable people reveals itself in flight from responsibility. He saw that sin falling upon him and he took his stand.” – Bethge, A friend of Bonhoeffer commenting on his retreat from pacifism.

“It is not simple to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end of all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the think of foes.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“[T]he Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him guilty, even when he does not feel his guilt, and God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him not guilty and righteous, even when he does not feel that he is righteous at all.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ. On this presupposition rests everything that the Scriptures provide in the way of directions and precepts for the communal life of Christians.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“When God was merciful to us, we learned to be merciful with our brethren. When received forgiveness instead of judgement, we, too, were made ready to forgive our brethren. What God did to us, we then owed to others. The more we received the more we were able to give; and the more meager our brotherly love, the less we were living by God’s mercy and love. Thus God himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“My brother is rather that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, delivered form his sin, and called to faith and eternal life.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality. Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“God is not a God of emotions but the God of truth.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crises (the coming to face with ugly and unhappy fellowship), which insists upon keeping its illusions when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds them together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first, the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and, finally, the despairing accuser of himself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brothers becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“When the morning mists of dreams vanish,then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The basis of the community of the Spirit is truth; the basis of human community of spirit is desire.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“[H]uman love is by its very nature desire – desire for human community. So long as it can satisfy this desire in some way, it will not give it up, even for the sake of truth, even for the sake of genuine love for others. But where it can no longer expect its desire to be fulfilled, there it stops short – namely, in the face of any enemy. There it turns into hatred, contempt, and calumny.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“It [Spiritual Love] originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and his Word.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself. This means that I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce, and dominate him with my love.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become. it takes the life of the other person into its own hands.”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“[S]piritual love lives in the clear light of service ordered by truth.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The existence of any Christian life together depends on whether it succeeds at the right time in bringing out the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God’s reality, between spiritual and human community.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“In other words, life together under the Word will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis, but rather where it understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, catholic, Christian Church, where it shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole Church.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“A purely spiritual relationship is not only a dangerous but also an altogether abnormal thing. When physical and family relationships or ordinary associations, that is, those arising from everyday life with all its claims upon people who are working together, are not projected into the spiritual community, then we must be especially careful.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow of fellowship in a few days of life together, but nothing is more fatal to the sound, sober brotherly fellowship of everyday life.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting experience of genuine Christian community at least once in his life. But in this world such experiences can be no more than a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life. We have not claim upon such experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of acquiring them. It is not the experience of Christian brotherhood, but solid and certain faith in brotherhood that holds us together. That God has acted and wants to act upon us all, this we see in faith as God’s greatest gift, this makes us glad and happy, but it also makes us ready to forego all such experiences when God at times does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Chapter 2 – The Day with Others

“Common life under the Word begins with common worship at the beginning of the day.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Therefore, at the beginning of the day, let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“In the Psalter we learn to pray on the basis of Christ’s prayer. The Psalter is the great school of prayer.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“We can and we should pray the psalms of suffering, the psalms of the passion, not in order to generate in ourselves what our hearts do not know of their own experiences, not to make our own lament, but because all this suffering was real and actual in Jesus Christ, because the Man Jesus Christ suffered sickness, pain, shame, and death, because in his suffering and death all flesh suffered and died.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Is this [Psalm 119 and other reiterations] not an indication that prayer is not a matter of pouring out the human heart once and for all in need or joy, but of an unbroken, constant learning, accepting, and impressing upon the mind of God’s will in Jesus Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“What he [Oetinger] had discerned was that the whole sweep of the Book of Psalms was concerned with nothing more nor less than the [seven] brief petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“But there can be equally little doubt that brief verses cannot and should not take place of reading the Scripture as a whole.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and is intended to be used as such.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“So perhaps one may say that every Scripture reading always has to be somewhat “too long,” because it is not merely proverbial and practical wisdom but God’s revealing Word in Jesus Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what god did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“How, for example, should we ever attain certainty and confidence in our personal and church activities if we do not stand on solid Biblical ground? It is not our heart that determines our course, but God’s Word.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“How often we hear innumerable arguments “from life” and “from experience” put forward as the basis for most crucial decisions, but the arguments of Scripture is missing.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“But one who will not learn to handle the Bible for himself is not an evangelical Christian.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Often the difference between an experienced Christian and the novice becomes clearly apparent. It may be taken as a rule for the right reading f the Scriptures that the reader should never identify himself with the person who is speaking in the Bible. It is not I that am angered, but God; it is not I giving consolation, but God; it is not I admonishing, but God admonishing in the Scriptures. I shall be able, of course, to express the fact that it is God who is angered, who is consoling and admonishing, not by indifferent monotony, but only with inmost concern and rapport, as one who knows that he himself is begin addressed. It will make all the difference between right and wrong reading of Scriptures if I do not identify myself with God but quite simply serve Him. Otherwise I will become rhetorical, emotional, sentimental, or coercive and imperative; that is, I will be directing the listeners’  attention to myself instead of the World. But this is to commit the worst of sins in presenting the Scriptures.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“This song has a different ring on earth from what i has in heaven. on earth it is the song of those who believe, in heaven the song of those who see.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Where the singing is not to the Lord, it is singing to the honor of the self or the music, and the new song becomes a song to idols.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“No matter what the objections there may be, the fact simply remains that where Christians want to live together under the Word of God they may and they should pray together to God in their own words.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Prayer, even thought it e free, will be determined by a certain internal order. It is not the chaotic outbursts of a human heart but the prayer of an inwardly ordered fellowship.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“[W]here there is mistrust and uneasiness, one must bear the other in patience. Let nothing be done by force; let everything be done in freedom and love.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Praying and working are two different things. Prayer should not be hindered by work, but neither should work be hindered by prayer. Just as it was God’s will that man should work six days and rest and make holy day in His presence on the seventh, so it is also God’s will that every day should be marked for the Christian by both prayer and work.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Prayer is entitled to its time. But the bulk of the day belongs to work. And only where each receives its own specific due will it become clear that both belong inseparably together.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Thus every word, every work, every labor of the Christian becomes a prayer; not in the unreal sense of a constant turning away from the task that must be done, but in the real breaking through the hard “it” to the gracious Thou. “Whatsoever ye do in the word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).”

“A day at a time is long enough to sustain one’s faith; the next day will have its own cares.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“It is an excellent thing if the evening devotion can be held at the actual end of the day, thus becoming the last word before night’s rest.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“When we grow weary, God does his work.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“It is a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that every dissension that the day has brought must be healed in the evening.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Most remarkable and profound is the ancient church’s prayer that when our eyes are closed in sleep God may nevertheless keep our hearts awake.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time, the very alienation that creates the deadly isolation of man. The disintegration of communication and all genuine experience, and finally resignation and spiritual death are the result of such attempts to find a cure.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Chapter 3 – The Day Alone

“Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in fellowship.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“”Seek God, not happiness” – this is the fundamental rule of meditation.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Prayer means nothing else but the readiness and willingness to receive and appropriate the Word, and, what is more, to accept it in one’s personal situation, particular tasks, decisions, sins, and temptations.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Intercession means no more than to bring our brother ito the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“He who denies his neighbor the service of praying for him denies him the service of a Christian. It is clear, furthermore, that intercession is not general and vague but very concrete: a matter of definite persons and definite difficulties and therefore of definite petitions.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Who can really be faithful in great things if he has not learned to be faithful in the things of daily life?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Ever day brings to the Christian many hours in which he will be alone in an unchristian environment. These are the times of testing. This is the test of true meditation and true Christian community. Has the fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure? This is one of the most searching and critical questions that can be put to any Christian fellowship.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Has it [the fellowship] transported him for a moment into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of god so securely and deeply in his heart that it holds and fortifies him, impelling him  to active love, to obedience, to good works? Only the day can decide.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Chapter 4 – Ministry

“Where is there a person who does not with instinctive sureness find the spot where he can stand and defend himself, but which he will never give up to another, for which he will fight with all the drive of his instinct of self-assertion?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“He finds it only in comparing himself with others, in condemning and judging others self-justification go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“What does it matter if I suffer injustice? Would I not have deserved even worse punishment from God, if He had not dealt with me according to his mercy?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brothers’ confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Nobody is too good for the meanest service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Only where hands are not too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness can the mouth joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The brother is a burden to the Christian precisely because he is a Christian. For the pagan the other person never becomes a burden at all. He simply sidesteps every burden that others may impose upon him.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“To bear the burden of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The weak must not judge the strong, the strong must not despise the weak. The weak must guard against pride, the strong against indifference.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“He who is bearing others knows that he himself is being borne, and only in this strength can he go on bearing.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The basis upon which Christians can speak to one another is that each knows the other as a sinner, who, with all his human dignity, is lonely and lost if he is not given help.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bid us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction. We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity. Why should we be afraid of one another, since both of us have only God to fear?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“The person whose touchiness and vanity make him spurn a brother’s earnest censure cannot speak the truth in humility to others; he is afraid of being rebuffed and of feeling that he has been aggrieved. The touchy person will always become a flatter and very soon he will come to despise and slander his brother. But the humble person will sick both to truth and to love…. Because he seeks nothing for himself and has no fears for himself, he can help his brother through the Word.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Our brother’s ways are not in our hands; we cannot hold together what is breaking’ we cannot keep life in what is determined to die. But God binds elements together in the breaking, creates community in the separation, grants grace through judgement.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Chapter 5 – Confession and Communion

“The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“We cannot find the Cross of Jesus if we shrink from going to the place where it is to be found, namely, the public death of the sinner.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“Confession as a routine duty is spiritual death; confession in reliance upon the promise is life.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Lessons from Redwood – Week 0

“What is celebrated is repeated.” ~ Chafer Cox

Today is October 27th, 2016. It is one-thirty-nine in the morning. It has been approximately 75 days since Redwood Camp ended, 73 days since I said my final goodbye’s as each of my friends went their separate ways. It is neigh time to flip through my journal, relive the experiences I quickly jotted down, and reflect upon where I had been, how far I have come, and what I hope the future may bring. My hope in writing these thoughts, undoubtedly expanding my journal with my own memories and annotations, is that someone, somewhere would be blessed and encouraged that the best of times can also be found in the most unlikely of places.

However, before I begin writing about week zero, I must begin just slightly before arrival. To explain, in a quick and lacking fashion, a few truths I had formed as principles of living that eventually led me to Redwood Camp.

First, I have quickly discovered that in life there are two paths for personal development: either you accept criticism, learn from it, and become a better person, or you reject criticism, act as if nothing has happened, and cease becoming a better person. There is no possible way in which we never accept an ounce of criticism and become a better person.

Second, if I were to sum up all the criticisms I have received from friends, family, acquaintances, and random people who cross my path and give me a good run for my money, it would have to be this: “You’re often too quiet, not at all engaging, and difficult to connect with.” Whether or not it is true to the point is irrelevant to the question of if I will learn from it or not and try to improve.

And third, hospitality isn’t always natural. Making people feel comfortable in our own homes, as fish out of water, isn’t as simple as a three-step plan. Often hospitality is deliberate and seeks to serve those around you in a way that you may never see returned. And in times when your guests are still uncooperative, it is not your cue to close up your house, give them the boot, and try with someone else. It is opportunity to refine, to practice, and to try, try again.


 

“Go for it and see what happens.”Many of my friends have insisted  this has been my life motto. And, for it is worth, I have always replied that if I ever wrote a book about my life, the first chapter will be dedicated to Leeroy Jenkins. That little man who knew that sitting down, calculating your future sometimes isn’t enough, you have to shoot from the hip even at the disgrace of the rest of your team.

But as it were, I remember driving home from school one afternoon. I was sitting at the light just across from Home Depot when I thought to myself, “Why shouldn’t I become a summer counselor? Sure, I have no experience working with children. Sure, once I sign-up I’m locked in for ten weeks. Sure, I was told that there will be a moment I will ask myself, “Am I in hell right now?” So why not? Let’s go for it and see what happens.”

Arriving at Camp…

I arrived at camp on June 3rd. The weather was decent and the ride wasn’t too long. But I distinctly remember two things. First, the realization that there is a lot of nature at Redwood Camp and the Redwood trees are much larger in person than I imagined. And secondly, there was something oddly depressing about the accuracy of the title, “Craft Shack” – the spider webs hanging about and dead flies as though a cleaning rag had never been dedicated to the shack’s service – and something not too comforting with leaving my bags inside. But perhaps this was just the surface of my deeper concerns – can I really call Redwood my home?

Soon I was greeted by fellow staff. I can’t recall their names, but I do remember hearing camp names for the first time and throughout the summer. There is that initial shock of knowing “Mr Incredible” isn’t his real name but having to go with it anyways, or the awkwardness of calling someone “Honey,” which is probably more closely inspired by honeysuckle or a sweet additive than a nickname husbands give their wives.

But I do remember my first conversation with Peanut and Ragamuffin about Starwars, Star Trek, and several other movies in the pavilion. It was brief as we were quickly told to place our luggage into to where we would be sleeping.

I took my stuff to my cabin and found three gift bags which indicated I’d have two cabin mates for the week – my friend Peanut and, a late arrival, Rocket. The feeling of entering that cabin alone, for the first time, reminded me of those scenes in the movies where the child is sent off to a boarding school and arrives at his room. There was the same thud as my bags hit middle of the cold floor but instead resounded in that hallowness that doesn’t permit an echo. The cabin was dark, and the webs from the ceiling only indicated what terrors scurry along the floor. I sighed deeply to myself, “This is it”, ensured my bags were zipped and my pillow case tied, and headed back to the meadow.

Once most of us had arrived, Topanga gave us a camp tour.  I can’t say my initial excitement increased…. What jumped into my mind were those scenes where a terror-stricken parent walks into a Chuck-e-Cheese for the first time and greeted by a staff that couldn’t have been sustained by anything else than soda, pizza, and energy that is the offspring of something wrong in the head. I remember crying to myself, “If all the staff is like this, I won’t survive long.” What I do remember quite distinctly was that the men’s bathroom smelled like some disease. I can’t say it improved much over the summer, but it was enough to make you want to gouge out your own eyes.

At this point, my memories and journal begin to become jumbled – I remember and wrote down events, but not necessarily in order. So pardon me if a careful reader finds several severe errors, what happened is true, but perhaps not the order they are found.

“Find a Freak”. We were informed that Santa Cruz has many freaks, but we must find the correct ones (the staff were going to be dressed up along Pacific Avenue). I knew I’d get along with the camp director. I laughed, knowing that at least one other person had a sarcastically saturated and egotistically imbued sense of humor: To be willing to laugh at yourself and at others almost indiscriminately. I also remember meeting Kuya and Meadow for the first time. Not only were they in my group, but I remember talking to Kuya along the way about some of his life troubles, life perspectives, and some of his philosophy of how he bridged the two. Meadow spoke to me along Pacific Avenue about college life, answering hard questions, and what our future life would be like after we tried to find our third freak.

Rocket becoming quite sick. I remember listening to him cough well into the night and thinking, “Oh man, that has to suck so bad.” He ended up feeling so bad about, despite Peanut’s and myself constantly telling him to not worry about it (Actually, my greatest concern was changing my sleep schedule from 2am back to 11pm).

First counselor meeting. I remember standing in the main rec room, just across from the dining hall, after we were told to find a counselor, get to know him, and share that information to the other. From across the room I made a quick, and I ensure it was no more than momentary, eye contact with Tank. I knew instantly he would come over and be my partner… And he did. He introduced himself and I found out that his camp name wasn’t inspired by neither a military vehicle nor a container of some sort but from a sort of contraction of his last name – having a somewhat enjoyment in hearing unique and elegant last names, I was glad to find this one in possession of both.

Bats and Apples. Our male counseling staff took the the male counselors down to the meadow for “some fun game.” Obviously, we all knew that contextualizing a “game” and “fun” meant it would be utterly something else that required a bold-faced lie to get us to actually come down. And it was somewhat true, but in a good way. We were all given apples and told to write down the one thing we’ve been struggling with, something that we believe doesn’t allow us to fit-in, wouldn’t allow us to counsel to the fullness of our ability, anything as Christians we were holding onto and unwilling to let go. After we finished, they all gave us bats (or tennis rackets) and told us to explain what we wrote on our apples, and then hit the apple like a baseball, asking God to forgive and to allow us to smash what we were holding onto. All the touching moments were periodically interrupted by how bad of baseball players we actually were.

By midweek I developed a classification for spiders:

  • Spider-mites: These were the spiders that you didn’t know were spiders until you looked at them really close. Is it a fly? Is it a flea? No, it’s a little spider-might.
  • Jackals: These ones were the non-jumping spiders that somehow learned how to jump if you came too close to them. They were fairly harmless, but their presence preceded their reputation as some flying object approached your face.
  • Widow-Maker: These were the decent sized spiders that were roughly the size of a common black widow. You could still step on them, if firmly pressed into a corner with no escape or during a hostage crises.
  • Corvette Class: Wolf spiders. Fast. Big. Hairy. Gross. These ones you just picked up your stuff, dust off your shorts, and pretended you didn’t see it and hope it didn’t see you.
  • Camp-Ending Spider: This was the one that it’s mere existence haunted your dreams. They were about the size of a small child. The most horrifying encounter I had was with one on the bathroom wall, just before I entered into the shower. It was fifteen or so feet away, but when I got out, it was gone…. Little did anyone know, I kept my stuff packed for all of week zero knowing that if I woke up with such a tarantula on my sleeping bag, I was ubering my way back to Sacramento. Peanut and Rocket thought I was joking… No, it was definitely real, every night felt like it could have been the last.

Tri-Group meal. I think the only thing that matched my disinterest in speaking to more people I didn’t know was the awkwardness that ensued. But, looking back, I was glad to know that my feelings were greeted, not in word, but in deed. Everywhere I glanced about the room, I could spot fellow redwood counselors, many alone in a new group, popping their heads up about the dinning room in a silent but desperate plea for help… for someone. I was fortunate enough to be in a tri-group with our male counselor lead. One thing I do remember is my male counselor lead insisting that I did not work for him but worked along side him. I had mentioned it over the table and he simply replied, “No.” I looked at him, knowing I was right and knew his responsibilities. So I said it again, maintaining eye contact, and he replied again, “No.” And so I invited him to describe his job to me, which he gladly said, “I’m the male counselor lead which means I work along side my counselors to make sure they’re okay.” Fine. You win.

Ice Cream Night. They say that our memories are more often tied to our senses than to our ponderings. One night, we were given a small, make-shift ice cream social on at the edge of the craft shack. I don’t even recall the name of the ice cream (many swore by it, but it didn’t affect me the same), but it was in that moment, for the first time, I realized that this was it. This was the group of people I was meant to be with.

Beach day. On our last day before our first wave of children would arrive, we headed down to panther beach (I hope that was the name, it had a small cover which connected to an adjoining beach via a cave. There was also a pathway to the top of a large cliff with a memorial to a son who had fallen off). We played ultimate frisbee, spike ball, football, almost pegged a few bystanders (we actually knocked a case of beer out of one man’s hand, but he took it all in good fun). We also watched and laugh at Topenga’s “joy dance”. I’m not sure what she was happy about, but it definitely made it quite fun.

When we ended our time there, I remember making the climb back up to the tracks, turning around, seeing the sunset, and thinking, “Tomorrow, our lives will be utterly shaken to the core; chaos will come by force. And the team bonding we have sworn in our words will be tested in our actions.”… And they were.

Week zero began with shaky hopes but ended with excitement and determination. I was thrown into a group of people that, at the surface, looked all identical in personality and I was a bit of the sore thumb. As one of my later friends asked, “How did you even get here?” But by the end of the week I realized how varied the personalities were, that we were all coming from different lives, with different hopes, with different expectations, but we were all committed in our mission, willing to lean on each other, and, more often than not, laugh at each other.

Things I learned…

Looking back through all the training for that week, there were a few things I learned:

1.) Working together is a must. Find someone, find a project, and work with them to complete it. There’s nothing more effective than coming together with someone and see the project to its end. I spent a good deal of time working on the Victory Circle (VC) background and dock with Mr. Incredible, Stryder, Ragamuffin, Irish, and Kuya.

Mr. Incredible was extraordinarily concerned for safety. He always made sure the workplace was safe (obviously, my handling of the saw wasn’t up to pare, as he quickly left to go grab a tourniquet.). But, in his defense, when I began hanging off a twenty foot ledge, one hand holding a ladder for support, and the other fully extended trying to drill a screw, he said he’d get the camp murse (male-nurse). Stryder was a pleasure to work with. He was very much like myself: if you want me to do what you want, you must explain your plan. None of this, “just do what I say and don’t ask questions.” Raggs had a particular ability to multi-task: this includes painting extraordinarily well while dancing on a ladder. What can I really say about Irish? We were almost complete with our task of building a dock when I asked him to remove one of the footings so I can have it replace with a less rotted one. He flipped the dock, smashed the board clean from the dock, and almost destroyed all of our work – I loved it. Kuya, he’s such a character. Despite continually repeating, “Guys, I’m so glad you’re here because without you this wouldn’t get done,” he is one of the few people that I know who can carry a conversation all by himself while making everyone around him laugh.

2.) The only normal person is the one you haven’t met. I could describe this maxim, but I think experience will imbue this statement with more wisdom and laughter than I could possibly express.

3.) Small talk is important. Coming from a person who despises small talk, I learned how important this was by directly seeing how much other people  reacted. Some people need it, others enjoy it, and few hate it. However, I found that sacrificing what I thought was a waste of time always produced a wonderful opportunity to learn something about the person – the way they laughed, how they expressed themselves, what they enjoyed, etc..

In the coming weeks there are a few things I’m looking forward to:

1.) Reliance. We really don’t know what it means to work alongside another person when your own survival depends upon the duties of other people. When you’re put into a position where you rely or die.

2.) Working with Children. A part of me is excited to do something I’ve never done with a segment of mankind that is often the rich source of material for horror stories.

3.) Separation through adversity. When things become tough, emotional, and exhausting, you’ll see which characteristics are your crutch, that part of yourself you will begin leveraging in every situation. Don’t do it. Don’t focus on the easy things, keep pressing through the difficult ones.

13435332_10153887884453073_8410253855776147314_n

Panther Beach

 

Training Week (Week 0) Video:

John Jay: Quotations

john_jay_gilbert_stuart_portraitAs more quotes become available, this list will be properly updated.

Many of the quotes below can be found in the article The Education of John Jay or the book John Jay:The Education of an American Leader (ISBN978-1944241-61-2). The citations provided below were found through my research.

 

“Too many in your State, as in this, love pure democracy dearly. They seem not to consider that pure democracy, like pure rum, easily produces intoxication, and with it a thousand mad pranks and fooleries.” – John Jay, A letter to Judge Peters on July 24, 1809

“By this history, as well as by those of former times, we are taught the vanity of expecting, that from the perfectibility of human nature an the lights of philosophy, the multitude will become virtuous and wise, or their demagogues candid and honest.” – John Jay, Letter to George Washington

“Human knowledge and experience will doubtless continue to do good, in proportion to their extent and influence; but that they will ever be able reduce the passions and prejudices of mankind to such a state of subordination to right reason as modern philosophers would persuade us, I do not believe one word of.” – John Jay, Letter to William Vaughan, New York, 26th May, 1796

“He nevertheless, during one of his visits, very abruptly remarked, that there was no God, and he hoped the time would come when there would be no religion in the world. I very concisely remarked that if there was no God there could be no moral obligations, and I did not see how society could subsist without them.” – John Jay, Letter to John Bristed, Bedford, 23rd April, 1811

“The philosophic topics of consolation are familiar to you and we all know from experience how little relief is to be derived from them. May the Author and only Giver of consolation be and remain with you.” – John Jay, A Letter to Philip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, concerning Hamilton’s death

Children and Market Mobility

72cf4f53d06873154609215618d5cc15

Over Thanksgiving week, instead of spending time with my family over a turkey dinner and Hawaiian roles (my favourite), I drove out to a nearby Christian camp to help counsel 3rd-4th grade boys for a five day family camp. On one of the evening sessions, we hosted a massive game rotation; two counselors  were assigned per station to explain, run, and monitor each game. After a given time, an alarm would sound and the children would be sent rushing to another station.

A friend and I were assigned to the game Transformation.

Transformation:

The game Transformation is nothing more than a slightly more complicated game of Rock-Paper-Scissors (or, as my children called it, “Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoe”, though I though ‘shoot’ would have been better word choice) where roughly* each win granted you a promotion and each loss a demotion.

Everyone begins the game as an egg, if you win you are promoted to the next level – an egg to a chicken, a chicken to a dinosaur, a dinosaur to a super hero. However, if you lose, you are demoted one level – a super hero to a dinosaur, a dinosaur to a chicken, a chicken to an egg. The object of the game was to become a superhero before the alarm sounded.

*Note: I had said “roughly there is a promotion and demotion” because superheros cannot be promoted any further and eggs cannot be demoted any further.

First Rendition of the Game:

After the alarm sounded, I was in-charge of explaining the game to the first wave of twelve children. I did so fairly quickly and without any hitches. However, we ended a bit earlier than I expected with roughly half the children as superheros and roughly half the children remaining as eggs.

I thought this was a perfect opportunity to ask the children how they enjoyed the game. So I asked one of the superheros and he told me there was a problem, “If I challenge an egg, I can only lose and he can only win.” He had already understood a loophole in the system that was found at the upper and lower bounds. He continued by telling me his secret tactic which was that he would only challenge other superheros so as to knock them down.  And, if you think about it, that’s actually an incredibly smart decision by a 3rd or 4th grader. Why challenge an egg that has zero change of loss when you can challenge a superhero that has the same odds as yourself, of course with the added bonus of knocking him down if you win.

Identifying the Problem:

The problem that needed to be solved was this: how do I incentivize superheros competing with the eggs?

My first realization was  this problem was encapsulated by two consideration. First, the game needed to have a reason to compete. We needed the children to desire to challenge each other so as to improve their position – so everyone being winners was out of the question. And second, any alterations to the game had to be as minor as possible. If the game became needlessly complicated, I would either loose the attention of the children in my explanation or simply make more loop holes they could exploit – so making special rules for each promotion was also out of the question.

This resulted in a two-part alteration.

First, the game needed to cease being capped. In the prior game, I had noticed that even when there were cross-class challenges, the promotion at the expense of another player (a demotion) was the least of our concerns. Inside of a capped system, there are only a limited number of possible promotions – there were not only going to be superheros but there had to be eggs. Therefore, there was no way that everyone could become superheros. So I decided I would open the cap at the top end of the promotion hierarchy (a positive incentive) instead of opening the cap at the bottom end of the system (a negative incentive).

When a child asked me, “What happens when I’m  a super hero and win?” Instead of responding, “You stay a superhero” I was able to say, “You become a super-super hero. And if you win after that, a super-super-super hero,” and so on and so forth. This meant that superheros still had something to gain by working with eggs, while eggs, as before, were still incentivized to work with superheros.

And second, there was an additional component added to the game called Empire. Once a sufficient number of children hit the minimum of “superhero” status, or once the game hit an equilibrium where the ratio of superheros to eggs hit a rough standstill, the game would fundamentally change. The change was simple. Wins would now not result in promotions but in team expansions, where the loser to a challenge would join the team of the winner (if a team lost to another team, that entire team would join the winning team). This would go on until there was a single, massive team which would indicate a single, massive winner (namely, the captain of that team).

Second Rendition of the Game:

After the alarm had rung and the children sent to the next game, my friend was responsible for explaining the game to our second set of twelve children. This gave me ample time to watch the dynamics of the game and see if the second group would fall into the same demeanor as the first – they did. After the bell had rung, the children dismissed to their next game, and the third wave of children arrived, I decided to implement my alterations. And they were quite effective.

Instead of almost half of the children remaining as eggs without challengers and the superheros resorting to knocking each other down, the super heroes were trying to challenge as many kids as possible with the hopes of bettering their own rank.

By the end of the first round, we had only a single egg remaining! Not only that, but the single egg was a child who didn’t want to play the game. Of course, there were a few super-super-super-super heroes… And they were exclusively better than the ol’ regular super hero.

The Pearl inside the Game: Free Markets equals Free Mobility

Now many of my readers will be thinking, “Is he really going to try to tell us how to run an economy by watching just a few rounds of a children’s game?” Yes and no. Bare with me on the limitations of sample size and allow us to focus on principles involved.

Many of the popular social justice warriors, or those who crusade for economic equality, often begin with the same mistakes as we did in the first rendition above. The assumption is that the game, or in this case the market, is fixed by some force of scarcity – the schoolyard sandbox has only a fixed amount of sand. If this were true, then the social justice warrior would have a legitimate claim in arguing that wealthy people only become wealthy at the expense of everyone else, or that superheros only become superheros by ensuring the eggs don’t become chickens.

Not only is this not true, it also stifles maximum competition and kills all the fun (as we noticed in the game). The people who “make it” try to keep it for themselves and those who remain at the bottom try to claw their way out by offering extra-game favors (or illegal favors in the case of economics).

If we remove the assumption that the sandbox is never going anywhere, if we remove the policies that attempt to make our false assumptions into a reality, we often experience the same effects as we did in the second rendition of our children’s game – everyone not only competes, but everyone becomes better off for it. The superheros, or the wealthy, are no longer penalized for working with the eggs, but instead incentivized, by their own success, to work alongside the eggs.

When we form free market policies, instead of capped market policies, we experience the competition and fun that comes along with it.We experience the possibility of unlimited upward movement that is incentivized by personal success.

Objection 1: But don’t the superheros only work with the eggs as long as they benefit from them?

No. Every time a superhero wanted to challenge an egg, he ran the risk of a demotion. However, that risk was outweighed by his own possibility of success. So, in many cases, it cost the superhero to challenge an egg, thus the benefit for the egg.

Objection2: But everyone in life doesn’t begin as an egg.

Well, this is true more or less. As mammals we don’t begin as eggs… or at least in the out of body eggs we were imagining during the game. But everyone is ensure equal protection under the rules of the game. You had the freedom to challenge whomever you wanted (the right to voluntary contract), you had the right to benefit from you own decisions (the right to private property and ownership of means of production), and everyone was held accountable for their respective wins and losses (the right to the rule of law).

Now you may be remembering about that single child that stayed an egg. Yes, in every economy, or children’s game, when you’re given the freedom to succeed, you are also given the freedom to fail. Some people have argued that the top percent and the bottom poor stay poor for their entire lives, I would encourage you to do your research. It is true that the statistics representing those two classes stay relatively fixed, but the people who possess those categories do not. If we were to track an person’s income through time, as we would track a baseball player’s batting average, we would discover that roughly 3% of the United States population remains poor over an 8 year span, and almost 4% of the nation’s wealthy stay wealthy.

So it is true. There will be roughly 7% of a free market economy that will stay fixed, but the question would be, “What other economy produces better results?”

Objection 3: No, you still don’t get it, we all don’t begin as eggs!

Okay, okay. You’re absolutely right. People are born into different families, with different abilities (physical, charm, intellectual, etc..), with different economic availability (both within a single economy and across the world), with different historical context (within one period or many) and so on and so forth. The real question that arises isn’t “What do we do about them?”, but, “What can we do about them?”

And often, to answer that question, we must become more metaphysical than most metaphysicians (or metaphysicists for those who care) by not only entering into the realm of counter-factuals but holding people morally responsible for them.

Let me put it another way through affirmative action policies. Affirmative action policies begin by arguing, “Black people have suffered some harm from the United States’ involvement in slavery.” (For the sake of momentary simplicity, we will ignore any African’s who immigrated after American slavery.) They then have to hypothesize what those people’s lives today “would have been like given slavery hadn’t happened.” They have to hypothesize a counter-factual timeline that not only spans 150 or so years, but also holds the beneficiaries (For the sake of momentary simplicity, we will ignore any Europeans who immigrated after American slavery.) morally responsible. Once that has been established, then begins the process of exacting the moral recompense of those who are alive today.

Most of the challenges against this sort of hypothesizing is that we have no idea what history would have been like if slavery hadn’t taken place in the United States. Could the black population in the United States have been better off? Sure! Could they have been worse off? Absolutely! Could they have never come to the United States at all? Perhaps.

It is at this point that most people ditch the counter-factual timeline and argue from some innate moral principle. We must institute affirmative action policies because “that’s what good people do.” At what cost are you willing to institute those policies? At the cost of creating procedural injustice for everyone else? At the cost of being immoral or unjust?

When we begin to compare Free Market policies with the alternatives, we begin to notice that the Free Market attempts to address the problems we currently struggle against. And, for what it is worth, we are much better at solving the problems in our street today than in a village 150 years ago. Free Market policies are the policies of the greatest trade-offs.

Question 1: What is a free market system?

I’m glad you asked, but you’ll have to wait for the next blog post, creatively entitled, “What is a Free Market?” For now, however, there are two central foundations: private property (economic foundation) and rule of law (legal foundation).