Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together makes much sense and no sense. Life Together is based on his experiences at the underground seminary he directed at Finkenwald, in what is now Poland, from 1935 to 1937. From then on, he was a marked man, eventually imprisoned in the concentration camp Flossenberg, where he was executed by order of Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo just days before the camp was overrun by Allied forces. He was executed because he was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. Previously a pacifist, Bonhoeffer came to recognize that extreme evil must sometimes be resisted by force.
Finkenwald was a community of theology teachers and their students who lived, worked, and ate together. From this experience he learned a number of lessons. Some of the lessons are simple but important, such as listening to each other, and helping each other, which often means bearing the burden of the other. This is actually quite insightful. Other lessons make no sense to me.
The good lessons
Bonhoeffer reminds us that God bore the burden of being tortured and murdered. “Human beings crushed God to the ground. But God stayed with them . . . In suffering and enduring human beings, God maintained community with them.” In the same way, we are obligated to maintain community with others. Yes, others can be a burden, but it is a burden we should take up gladly, remembering the burden Christ took up for us (pp 77-78).
Others aren’t just a burden because they demand much of us, or don’t do their share. Others are a burden because they are different and other. Humans naturally want to assimilate others to themselves, making others like them. In so doing we use others as objects. The only way of treating others as ends in themselves is to bear the burden of otherness and difference, seeing others first as fellow creatures of God.