From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together”:
“Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian Community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves…”
I come upon this quotation from Bonhoeffer as I prepare to spend weekend talking about community and neighborliness to a small group of college students. I come at this as a pastor serving my third small, aging mainline (Presbyterian, in my case) congregation. I come at this as an outside observer to conversations being held by those who feel they can no longer stay within our brand of Presbyterianism.
How much of our being disgruntled in the communities in which we find ourselves – whether they be churches, neighborhoods, small groups, nations, or families – has to do with our unwillingness to overcome the disillusionment that will inevitably come when our idealized vision of that community is not realized? In my own life I would say those idealized visions have caused me far greater harm than I want to admit.
No family, church, denomination, neighborhood, or nation will live up to our ideals of what they should be. To force our ideals upon another is a cruel form of violence. How different could your world be if you more fully endeavored to love the communities that God/fate/chance has given you in reality instead of those for which you dream.
I found this on an old sheet of paper in my last church:
I think that I shall never see/a church that’s all it ought to be/a church whose members never stray/beyond the straight and narrow way/ a church that has no empty pews/ whose pastor never gets the blues/ a church whose members always seek/ and none is proud, and all are meek/ where gossips never peddle lies/ or make complaints or criticize/ where all are always sweet and kind/ and all to others’ faults are blind/ such perfect churches there may be/ but none of them are known to me/ but still, we’ll work, and pray and plan/ to make our own the best we can.
You can take out church and substitute just about any community there as long as you are willing to love the ones that God/fate/chance has brought together without forcing them to live up to an unattainable dream.