There is no perfect Christian community–never was, never will be. The paradox of our Christian journey in community, then, is that though we will never attain it, we are compelled to strive for it. We will never be perfect in love but we love anyway. We will never perfectly forgive or receive forgiveness, but we forgive anyway. Our hearts will never be pure, our motivations will be suspect, our actions, at times, questionable, but we move forward anyway not simply because it’s a good, humane thing to do (though it is) but because God desires it for us, for our communities, for God’s world.
I was reminded of how hard it is to be in community this past week. As I was preparing my sermon this relationship exchange from a distant past came to mind.
The church and society have been hotly debating the level of acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships for many years. More than a decade ago in the Lutheran Church, the conversation had risen to the forefront of our national and local conversations. As you know, there is no lack of passionate, deeply held positions on both sides.
One gentleman chose to make this a personal issue with me, as a representative of the larger church. So, for a season, I was lambasted with articles, postings, emails, phone calls, etc. Thank God there was no Facebook or Twitter at that time because the conversation would have gone viral for sure. We met for lunch. We met for breakfast. We met for coffee. Though it was apparent from our first meeting that the goal of the conversation was not healthy open conversation rather, what was expected of me and, by extension through me, was full repentance of the church today and the church universal. (OK, that’s a little hyperbole. But, it felt like that.)
For those of you who know me, you know that I’m a pretty good listener. I try to ask good questions to get to the story behind the story. I have a generous tolerance for diverse opinions and viewpoints, especially if I think the other person is open and has a teachable spirit. But, what you may not have experienced in me is that when pushed too far, I say to myself, “Game on” and I go for it. And, I’m pretty good thinking on my feet and I love to filet what I perceive to be rigid, non-thinking arguments. I even get to the point of creating argument for argument sake, even if I don’t hold a particular position.
Well, at our final conversation about the issue, I went there. It was almost an out of body experience. I began to sit up taller. I leaned in. I’m sure my finger started pointing as my eyes were shooting darts. All the while, I noticed the person shrinking back in their chair, a stunned look on their face as the argument darted from condemnation of their viewpoint to condemnation of anyone who could hold such a narrow minded viewpoint.
As I’m wrapping up my prosecution of the case and this person, a horrible thought passed through my mind. I had become what I despised–full of myself, rigid, unwilling to see the humanity cloaked behind the garments of our most deeply held beliefs.
Before the conversation ended, this question came to me, “to what end?” So, I said, “You know, we’ve been going at this conversation for many hours over these months. In all that time, we have not said or done one thing that builds the other person up or benefits the larger community. It’s obvious we aren’t going to convince each other to budge. But, can we work with each other to build–build up others, build up the community, build up our capacity to hold different positions on a range of issues but a common heart for love?”
It’s not easy is it? The reality is there are no perfect Christian communities because the communities are made up of imperfect people like you and me.
But, God has not given up on us. So, let’s not give up on each other.
It’s Monday. In conflict, seek the third way today–not your way or their way, but the way of love. Peace. Kai