The honesty necessary for community

July 26, 2010

The major threats to our survival no longer stem from nature without but from our own human nature within.  It is our carelessness, our hostilities, our selfishness and pride and willful ignorance that endanger the world. M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie

There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside onself.  Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

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One of my great gifts as a seminary student and new pastor was to see the problems in everyone else.  I had a unique ability to spot hypocrisy, to notice manipulation, to dissect another pastor’s sermon, or critique methodology.  People around me never seemed to get it right.  But (lucky for them!) I did.  Even more, I could attribute this to my intuitive gifts, or my prophetic sensibilities, or better yet…to my deeper maturity.

Evil thrives on my unique kind of delusion.  Rather than creating community, it breeds suspicion, mistrust, and division.  From the sidelines, criticism creates a feeling of power.  However, life together does not happen with people sitting on the sidelines.  Community happens as a wounded and wicked people engage in mission and in relationship.

I can write about community because I have failed doing it, over and over again.  Henri Nouwen envisions the pastor as a “wounded healer,” but too often I’ve been the “healed wounder.”  Healed wounders believe they are sinners, but believe that their sin doesn’t stink as bad as the next guy’s sin.  Healed wounders walk around shaking their head, wondering why people don’t think as clearly as they do.  Healed wounders lead small groups that complain about the church.  Healed wounders begin sentences with, “You know, I’m not trying to be critical but…”

I know, because I’ve been there, and too often remain there.  But community begins as we really begin to get the fact that we are the problem.  One commentator on the Exodus journey writes that the Israelites really began their journey when they realized that Pharaoh was not the problem.  Instead, they were their biggest obstacle to Canaan’s promised land.  A wilderness community that stops blaming Pharaoh is a wilderness community that begins to make progress on the way.  But we’d rather point the finger.

Here’s a way to get community going.  Ask the question:  How am I an obstacle to us, as a community, becoming the very presence and incarnation of Christ?  Or try this one:  Do you see me leading by cynicism or by humility?  Jean Vanier, a mentor to Henri Nouwen and the founder of the La ‘Arche communities for the mentally disabled, says that, “There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside onself.”  It always strikes me that Vanier, of all people, can say that.  He is man who has literally cleaned the bottoms of the mentally disabled while changing the face of disabled communities across the world.  And yet, Vanier continues to look within, at how he has failed his community.

What might his humility say to us?