Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Pillow or the Porcupine?

From my "Open Letter to the Church" in How Healed Do You Want to Be?

"The best people I have ever known - the people I most want to be like and have most inspired me - are in my life because of you (the Church).

But it's also true that you have introduced me to the people who have brought me the most disappointment, the most heartache, and the most embarrassment.  

You have wounded me but you have also healed me. Clearly, Church, you are capable of both..."

These days there is a lot of talk about community.  People speak of how they crave it - how the world (and even the Church) has become so impersonal, commercial and dehumanizing.  It is said that the cure for this is something called "community". To be "in community" is to be in relationship with others - not just as passers-by but as true Brothers and Sisters.  

When you are in community, they say, you are family.  And when you are family, you really get to know one other and they really get to know you.  Community is about being real, feeling connected, and shedding masks. To be "in community" is to be accepted for who you really are - and to accept others in the same way. Who doesn't want that?  (Ummm, maybe you don't.  Not really.)

Why?  Because the
 ideal of community and the reality of community reside at two different addresses.  
Community - REAL community - BIBLICAL community - includes soaring moments of transcendent love, deep meaning and holy awe.  It also includes profound disappointment, frustrating conflict, and All even heart-rending pain.  This is what the record shows - including the record of the New Testament.  

There are times when getting to know me, the real me, can be like hugging a porcupine: the closer you get, the more it hurts.  But it can also be like hugging a soft satin pillow - ooooooohhhh.  The trouble is that you can't always know whether you are about to get the pillow or the porcupine.  Both experiences come with the territory called "community".
God knows that we need both the pillow and the porcupine.  Maybe that is why there are over 50 "one another" statements in the New Testament.  These include: "Love one another... Be devoted to one another in brotherly love... Live in harmony with one another... serve one another in love... forgive one another, just as, in Christ, God forgave you... bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have with each other... do not slander one another... clothe yourself with humility towards one another..."

You may notice how much ground those "one another" statements cover.  That's because taking one another seriously requires us to love, forgive and humble ourselves.  This is not only "not easy", it is humanly impossible - which is why we need the power of God's grace to equip us to do what we cannot do within ourselves.  This is how we truly grow.

In a day when so many churches emphasize crowds over community we might do well to go back to the Scriptures and compare those "one another" statements to our experiences.  After all, you won't find "park next to one another" in the New Testament, nor will you see an exhortation to "nod awkwardly at one another while passing the offering plate."  And just try to "greet one another with a holy kiss" and next Sunday's mixer and see where that gets you!  No, real community is the kind that leaves quill marks on your arms while also awakening you to the smoothness and softness of satin.

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