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?

5 thoughts on “The honesty necessary for community

  1. Boy that hits me in the proverbial “2×4 sticking out of my eye”. You just gave me a shot of “what do you thing you are doing?” Thanks for the heads up. Maybe I can try using a little more humility and a lot less criticism. Okay, not maybe, but I will try.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Chuck,
    I see your point and perhaps in a blog you can’t go into lots of details but this does raise two questions in my mind:

    1) Your post seems to ignore the possibility that people can be critical of the church and also be correct. What if I’m correct to be suspicious of my pastor or others in the church, correct to think he’s manipulative or hypocritical or whatever? There’s no contradiction between me recognizing that I can be dishonest whilst also thinking that my pastor is more dishonest than I am.

    2) If I ask myself “how am I an obstacle to my church becoming the presence and incarnation of Christ?” wouldn’t a valid answer to that be to decrease my involvement in the church so I’m less of an obstacle? I might know that the “correct” answer is to change my personality so I’m less of an obstacle but what if I know the truth is that my personality won’t change?

    Possibly, of course, my questions are related to the fact that I walk around shaking my head and wondering why other people don’t think as clearly as I do, plus I’m really gifted in the areas of cynicism and criticism, but I digress…..

    1. Paul, A professor of mine once said, “If you try to say everything, you end up saying nothing at all.” Please forgive the limitations that come with writing short blogs. And thanks for writing.

      As for point 1…you are no doubt right that cases like those do exist, and a more thorough treatment of the subject would need to address that.

      As for point 2…I think the answer that Jesus gives is to consider the plank in your own eye, and own it honestly within the community in and through repentance. As a person who works with people who need to change, and often do, it’s hard for me to believe that a personality cannot change. Most often, the person who tells me they can’t change is not unable, but unwilling. It is very self-serving not to change…much harder to enter into the painful wilderness of transformation where our hearts are exposed.

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