Love and Community

Written over a cup of coffee, scrambled eggs, and a lemon poppy seed biscuit.

There is a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I once read, appreciated, and forgot about until yesterday – one I can’t shake this morning. Bonhoeffer was an ethicist, theologian, and rebel pastor during the Nazi occupation of Germany: an all around doer of hard things. He thought hard about the church, fought hard for the church, and left a legacy we would do well to imbibe. He had this to say:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1939

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1939.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”

Bonhoeffer knew the destructive power of loving ideas more than people; he lived during a time when social engineering reached its most intense and horrifying pinnacle.

Perhaps I can’t shake his words, because I am the kind of person to entertain ideas and love my dreams. I love to think about the church community in an abstract sense, picking apart what it is, should be, should do. I appreciate the prophetic voices who criticize the institution (as did our Congregational and Reformed forebears) and any who would seek to call the church back to its mission.

But love is more than the intellectual assent to propositions. For Bonhoeffer (and for all of us), love looks like embracing the community that is actually around us. Loving church means loving the concrete persons, the quirky individuals, who are the church.

It’s the same sort of thing in our relationships. We can either love our family and friends for who they are or merely the idea of what we think they ought to be.

And whenever we choose the latter, we risk missing them altogether.

For more from Bonhoeffer on community, read Life Together or (my personal favorite) The Cost of Discipleship.


Allen Marshall O’Brien
Licensed Minister
Elk Grove Congregational Church

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