Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why It's Called Faith in Community, Part II

Faith is born, deepens and grows in community. "This is most certainly true." And what Luther calls "the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints" happens in all kinds of communities: between parents and children on the way to school, in formal Bible studies, around dinner tables and at pot lucks, at the grocery store and while walking the dog, over coffee hour and while sharing the peace. We experience God's mercy and forgiveness often most often in community: when another person bears our burdens, shares their faith, weeps or rejoices with us, walks with us in doubt, teaches us a new thing.

And in a world of isolation and loneliness, real community is a great and a rare gift.

But there's another part of it, something just as true but that we rarely talk about.

Bonhoeffer, I discovered, also talked about this other aspect of community in his book, Life Together. He writes:

The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves. (pp. 26-27)

In other words, just as we experience God's mercy and forgiveness in community, so often we are most likely to experience sin and brokenness in community: other people's, and our own. In community we allow ourselves to be both loved and hurt; we love and hurt others as well. Perhaps that's why Christian community is not embraced by everyone.

A friend of my whose parents divorced when she was a girl explained her mother's decision to me once: "She finally decided what she wanted to do with her life," my friend said. "What was that?" I asked. "Live by herself."

I don't want in any way to belittle the hurt and pain inflicted by dysfunctional Christian communities. But even in the healthiest churches, we will experience both grace and sin. We will be disillusioned by the church's failure to live up to its ideals, we will be let down by other people on whom we depended. And, as Bonhoeffer says, if we are fortunate, we will become disillusioned with ourselves as well.

If we are fortunate. Odd words.

If we are fortunate, we will in community realize our deep brokenness, and God's constant and unending love.

In the poem, The Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost writes of a broken down man who goes back to one of the places he worked. He is dying. The wife wants to give the old man, unreliable though he was, a place to die. He doesn't really have another home. The husband wrily observes, "Home is the place where, if you go there, they have to take you in." The wife replies, "I should have called it/Something you somehow haven't to deserve."

A true community is a place where, if we go there, they have to take us in. It's where the hired man goes to die. It's where we come to feel useful, to lean and to be leaned on, to rest and to work. And, in community, again and again we see ourselves for who we are: brokendown, unreliable, lonely, mean and beloved, beautiful, forgiven and whole.

When I was a little girl, my brother had a rock tumbler. I was fascinated by the machine, which with grit and lots of noise tumbled dull old rocks into beautiful agates. Now, sometimes, I think of the church that way: as a rock tumbler, where we are bound to rub each other the wrong way, but where God is making us beautiful.

And that's why it's called Faith in Community


Rowan The Dog said...

Sometimes you leave me not knowing what to think but convinced that I must.

I mean that in a good way.


Pastor David said...

I love the image of a rock tumbler. I agree that it is one of the biggest gifts of the church - we are also real people with real flaws - while also being the very thing that keeps many people away.

Diane said...

Lindy, I'm thinking maybe I still need to work on this post, too. It's more difficult than the last one. I've been thinking about it for awhile.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

mmm good stuff there. is it inappropriate to scream "STOP the rock tumbler I want to get off!"???

some days are like that...

but I'm holding onto the promise of the "end product" here - something beautiful and shining.

Anonymous said...

I liked the rock tumbler idea too. I still wonder, though, about how we have so many different ways to connect with God. For example, monks who live in isolation from the world may still forge very strong spiritual connections. But is that the type of Christianity that Jesus calls us to?

Wyldth1ng said...

Diane, I must tell you your posts make me think a lot and ponder your writings, which in turn make me feel I need to type essays in return.

I want to comment on the photo, it seems to have been ingrained in my head and when ever I see it I think of good times and fellowship with others.

I really enjoy your analogy.
Thank you.

Pastor Eric said...

I have enjoyed your posts about community. It is amazing how much titles say about a person. You have blessed us with a peek into you soul. Thank you.

lj said...

The rock tumbler ... wow. That'll preach! Great post, Diane.

David said...

I can't add anything to the comments already made, especiallyabout the rock tumbler metaphor. what a blessing for your congregation to have a pastor who preaches, teaches and models the community of the faithful!

LawAndGospel said...

Very thought provoking especially for one who is a part of three faith communities at the moment, each with its own idiosyncrasies, good and other. What I find fascinating is standing at the crossroads of the seminary, the teaching parish and the home parish and pondering your post. I too am a fan of the rock tumbler, although I have used it as metaphor for the discernment/seminary process. I am not sure I would refine this post, but maybe look at it from a different angle in a new one.

RevDrKate said...

This is indeed thought-provoking. I don't think we like so much that dream-shattering part, that grit part that rubs us. This has been what my "post-ordination formation" has been all about this year. Hard but full of its own grace. Thanks for wrestling with this.

FranIAm said...

This is so lovely- thank you. The rock tumbler is such a vivid image and metaphor... love it.

I was reminded of this quotation...
"Community is not a fixed reality or an ideal that one is drawn to like a magnet. It is created by the interaction of the individual people who make it up." Thomas Merton

As for grace and sin together, that is the essence, isn't it? Real life, real spirit happens in the in between places. Not good or bad, right or wrong, happy or sad, big or small.

No in all the non-dual inbetween places, which to me, are community.

Katherine E. said...

Yes, I've been disillusioned recently. Your post reminds me to step back and look at the bigger picture, Diane. God is still here, still nudging, still whispering in that still small voice. (Guess I wish God wold yell every once in a while!) Anyway, a very helpful post. Thank you.

Gartenfische said...

Oh this is beautiful. A friend of mine in junior high had a rock tumbler--it's a great metaphor for what God does with us!

I am one who tends to focus more on the solitude side of the journey, but I believe God wants both from us. Like Bonhoeffer said: "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone." (It's not always what makes us the most comfortable that we're called to do, it seems!)

Thank you. There's much to think about here.

Rowan The Dog said...

No, no, no! Don't "work on" it. I just have to think about it, that's all. It was clear. It's good. I wouldn't want you to monkey around with it. I mean, do what you need to do. But, I think it's provoking as it is. You've made me think.