Real community involving real people is messy. After an initial honeymoon period, every human relationship always undergoes a period where we are unable (0r unwilling) to hide the less-than-perfect parts of our personality and conflict begins. In order for relationships to deepen, these aspects of the personality must be recognized, the conflict dealt with, and trust built. Once this occurs, the result is usually a new level of intimacy which makes the relationship more satisfying.
The process of achieving this level of intimacy requires risk, and risk is more easily avoided than embraced. Often, this risk is worth taking in the context of a new romantic relationship on the basis of passion and attraction. Friendships too often pass these trials easily enough on the basis of an initial shared interest.
But what about the context of shared community? What is it that induces a group of people who share little else in common to offer one another their real self, despite fears of rejection? One of the rare places this occurs in our culture is the church. Based around a mutual desire to be faithful to the claim that God has on each of their lives, groups of Christians assemble and consciously enter into a dangerous but authentic community life.
In this process of achieving an authentic community life, a growing intimacy reveals features that others find disagreeable. People are then confronted by the challenge of choosing to act kindly toward a person with whom they have a legitimate complaint. Sometimes this is a passing difficulty, much like one faced in marriage: one partner has aggravated the other and rather than venting their frustration, they continue to show love and kindness until the breach is healed by mutual communication, forgiveness, and reconciliation. But sometimes two people rub each other the wrong way constantly. If two people, once revealed in all their warts and glory, maintain an air of civility and kindness, is this an act of selflessness or hypocrisy?
A charge oft leveled against Christians is that they are hypocrites. By this critics usually mean one of two things: either the Christian is saying people ought to act a certain way and then proceeds to act in a way that contradicts it, or the Christian is pretending to be nice while concealing a heart of arrogance, self-righteousness, or condescension.
The two conflicted persons mentioned above cannot be hypocrites by either definition. Rather, they are exhibiting a divine attitude of patience and forbearance in spite of personal contrary feelings. This is one of the things that distinguishes the Christian community from virtually all other social forms. Unlike family or work relations, the Christian community is a voluntary association. Each is not required by blood relation or labor contract to put up with others whom they find disagreeable. Rather, they do so out of a desire to love like their Lord, who drew near to them in spite of their unlovable features.
Finicky hearts are as present in the Christian community as anywhere else in human society. But it is here that one can find acceptance and love as a conscious choice, a deliberate act of love in the full face of whatever true person lies beneath masks and pleasantries. It is a wonder that my Christian brothers and sisters treat me with kindness and dignity in spite of the difficulties I place in their path as they learn who I truly am. And I look forward to the ways in which our hearts will change as the One who transforms works His wonders on each of us in the midst of this authentic community.