Monday, March 14, 2005

The finicky heart: Selflessness and hypocrisy in community life

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.


Gunslinger said...

Ted and I were just talking about this very thing at lunch today. I want to have a sit down with you as well. We, or rather I, was ranting about the Hypocrisy concept with a lot of "Christians" and how they are perceived by the unchurched. Which of course usualy leads the unchurched to form an opinion like "Those churchy types are assholes, always preaching the word, but not living it."
I witnessed this recently and it really bothered me. Like a lot. It made me realize that what Christians do in public is scrutinized heavily by the unchurched. Perhaps it is taking the easy way out to call bullshit on a christian when they act human, rather than take the big step. I dunno, but I want to sit and talk to you about it, because it really got under my skin.

ted said...

Eric was telling me that he was bothered by seeing some people who were Christians talking with what seemed like nostalgia of things they did before they were saved.

I told him to go to hell, took a belt of brown likker, and punched a hooker in the mouth.

What seems to get lost a lot of the time is that both the saved and unsaved are likely to agree that voluntarily limiting your actions is difficult. Not swearing, not gambling, not treating others poorly, getting up early on Sunday,etc. is often hard to do. That's why God asks us to do it. If God commanded that we all take a deep breath to recieve a place in his court, everyone would do it because it takes no effort (those with COPD excepted, of course, as they would probably have to spend eternity in the abyss).

What the unsaved are less likely to be aware of is that when Christians fall down is when they are relying on their own strength and abilities, as man is often wont to do.

Alien Shaman said...

I don't think I agree with the concept that someone that says one thing, but lives their life another has a divine attitude toward life.

Here is my example...

A father that is "Christian," controls his family with an iron fist. One can not watch TV, listen to non-christian music, and must wear modest clothing, in his family. In addition school is important, no drinking, no drugs, just live life the straight and narrow.

He is then addicted to pain killers, smokes weed, takes clients to strip clubs, and has an affair.

But he hides it from his family and goes to church on Sunday pretending to be a proper Christian man.

I recognize that if he accepts Jesus that he is forgiven, and therefore a Christian - but I have a problem with that, and perhaps why I am human.

Is a child molester and murderer that accepts Jesus a decent Christian?

I think that a community, or a family, has a lot of hidden secrets that once they are realized should not be tolerated and the people should be ostracized.

If the father above was a member of my congregation I would have no respect for him. Nor would I for the rapist.

God will judge each on his own, but am I to be tollerant of scumbags until their day of judgement?