Real community is messy. - 2 Timothy - pages 227-238
I see this in myself as much as I see it in people around me.
I love to make stuff up to suit my desires. I love to gather around me what want to hear. I turn aside to myths with the best of them. Anyone who says they don't, is either lying to you or lying to themselves. To some degree, we are all guilty as charged of this misdemeanor.
But there is one area I see this manifesting itself lately that is deeply concerning to me. The area I'm talking about is "community". The myths we've made up about community are ridiculous.
It's really easy to be in love with the idea of community only to be quite unnerved by the reality of it. It's easy to say that you love the local church, but have you ever tried to be a part of one for an extended period of time? You can't control who you're going to run into, or who's going to run into you. You can't selectively weed out "crazies" only to have close relationships with the one's who fit your refined criteria. You are forced to have biblical community, which has very little to do with an idea and whole lot to do with a messy melding of mold, mothballs, and mildew; mud,muck and mire. There are personalities that annoy you. There are voices that are obnoxious. There are situations that are awkward. It's just plain messy.
You hold in high regard this ideal picture of community that you've manufactured in your fertile skull. You nurture it, journal about it, sculpt and shapen it, feed it and care for it...but in the end it's just alot of woolgathering (idle daydreaming) and mental role playing. It's not real. People, the kinds on the other side of your cranium crammed with clever contri"visions", are enigmas... hybrids of the image of God and invasion of Satan. Both Glory and Gory. Both awesome and aweful. And we have a choice of what to do with this "less than ideal" reality.
We can curse it and quarantine ourselves in regulated environments with firewalls to ensure only the worthwhile get welcomed into the inner sactum, or we can bless the mess with a presence that penetrates and permeates, absorbs and invites, melds and melts into the cracks of someones brokeness. We talk of loving the broken, but if you're anything like me, they never fit the brokenness that I've conjured up in my head...I want them to be the exact kind of brokeness that I feel compassion for...homeless, but not homely...lonely, but not loners...lost, but not losers. You know, rags without the rage...hunger without the desperation...filled with needs without being needy...starving, but not leachy...I think you know what I'm talking about.
So we all have these ideas of our dream "life group". We have concocted these fantastical pictures of "doing life with a community". We have dreamt up our own "Shire", our own "Narnia", our own utopian land of thoughtful wishing and wishful thinking. It's real pretty, but not real. It's quite literally unbelievable! And we wonder why we wander about looking for that which doesn't actually exist, stumbling from one friendship to another, one church to another, one job to another...we are looking for what is right in front of our face, we just have made a graven image that we bow to that distracts us from "Reality" and thus "Truth".
We have "read into" the Bible for too long. The woman at the well was a beautiful woman with an education that had some dirt on her face and a tattered robe. All she needed was attention and "whalla"...transformed into an upright, articulate model who now speaks at school assemblies about how wonderful it is to meet Jesus.
The little man in the tree is a shady business man that just needed someone to invite themselves over to his house and "Badaboom!", he's an emotionally centered soul who starts FPU classes for the community and becomes the lead character in the movie "It's a wonderful life!"
The woman caught in adultery just needed someone to defend her from her accusers. She didn't stutter and keep harassing Jesus every time he saw her from that point on with unreasonable conversation...no, people in the Bible that Jesus helped never were leachy with co-dependency issues and insecurity complexs and obsessive compulsive disorders. Nope, they were normal people with some dirt on their face that just needed someone to give them an "Extreme Makeover" and Presto...you have a well adjusted conversion that leads to a Great Awakening...and so on and so forth about "So and So" and "Such and Such"...it's fiction at it's best...and we buy it. We sell it.
And all around us the kingdom is pulsating. It's not the kingdom we've made up, but it's no less real. It's not the kingdom we're wishing for, but I believe it's the one we're looking for. It's less than ideal, but it's real. It doesn't make sense, it's not convenient, it's not pristine...but it's wasn't for Jesus either. We've just doctored up history with quixodic little stories and romantic fairy tales. And it's deception at it's finest. We are self-decieved.
You don't have to look any further than our portraits of Jesus that we humans have drawn...and then drawn conclusions from. "White, handsome, slender, blue eyes, muscular jaw, feathered brown hair with blond highlights, clean shaven face...Shouldering a little lamb, all the while playing with little kids who are propped up on his lap. He seems so calm, cool and collected. Wow...I wish I could be Christ-like!" Give me a break.
When will people die to their dreamworlds and come alive to the real world? Will we keep walking by the "guy in the tree" (Zach) and the "crazy dude in the graveyard" (Demoniac) and the "desperate chick looking for attention" (Mary) and the "religious zealot with an agenda" (Nic) and the "cocky guy who lives a double life" (Judas) and "the promiscuous girl who can't pull it together" (Woman at the Well). Who do we think these people were? Normal people with some dirt on thier clothes? Educated people a conversation away from being catapulted into Church Leadership? Broken people on the brink of breakthrough leading to healthy interactions and smooth success? Do you think they smelled like B.O.? Do you wonder if the continuation of the story was less exciting than the initial encounter? Do you ever think that Jesus needed to get away with His Father less to pray and more to recover from the onslaught of "real, everyday human beings"? I do. I don't really wonder...people are people, people were people, people will always be people. The same yesterday, today, and forever...until we are enjoying life on the other side of the Crystal Sea. And who knows that Heaven isn't going to be filled with people that get under your skin and on your nerves. It's free from sin, not personality. It's free from tears, not souls. I hope we're not cookie cutter robots without freedom of expression and emotion. And with expression and emotion comes tension and apprehension. "Be angry and sin not"... what that tells me is that you can emote without sinning. Hmm...I don't have time to go spelunking down that cave.
All I know is that everywhere I go I meet people and they never seem like the people in the books I read. I don't see quick change. I don't see radical transformation. I don't see rags to riches. I see humans being humans. I don't think they know about my fanciful ideas about who I wish they were, they just put themselves in front of me and I'm left to "can the ideal" and "embrace the real". And maybe, just maybe, all my stupid fabrications are the "vain imaginations" that Paul was so adamantly condemning.
We must move away from these myths we've created.
The Vanity of our Imagined Stories can keep us from living the Epic Story of God's Redemption in Everyday Human Beings. Warts and all.