Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jesus Wasn't Nice

"Nice" in the South is a deadly word.  When a Southern woman says something is, "Nice," she's not offering a compliment. She's basically saying she's been taught if you can't say something good, then don't say anything at all. But most Southern women I know simply have to say something, so when asked what they think about the sawdust and turkey loaf drizzled with green slime that someone baked for the Church potluck, she will simply say, "It's nice."

Nice is also a deadly word for our faith. We like nice Jesus, nice disciples, nice God, and a nice church community. We want sweet, nice Jesus spouting sayings worthy of Hallmark cards with puppies and kittens, who never disturbs us. We want the people of God to be silent, smiling, and perfect living in a place where there is not conflict or trouble. Birds sing. Unicorns dance. And everything is nice.

And what we get? A Jesus who said things that upended and disturbed the way things were. The whole rich man in hell and poor leper in heaven scene should make more than a few endowed parishes rolling in the big bucks think twice. Love of riches and power in Jesus' understanding is almost always an expressway into deep soul trouble. We get a Jesus who made so many people angry we killed him. Think about that. His words were so disturbing, crucifixion seemed like the best option.

And the people of God? Well, they lied, cheated, raped, murdered, betrayed, and abandoned - and those were just the patriarchs and matriarchs. The disciples, the original Christian community (although they were Jewish, but many use this term to describe them) were part of a community of liars, cheaters, social climbers, doubters, betrayers, and general all around jerks. The people of God in holy scripture were deeply flawed and beloved of God who stumbled their way down a holy path.

So why, then, do we use the phrase "Christian community" to reflect a community where all is well and nothing bad ever happens? What are we saying when we say, "It's not a Christian community," to denigrate any gathering where people make mistakes, where choices hurt another, and where discord is present? Are we selectively seeing holy community in the same way we read the Bible - only looking for the pretty, sweet, nice parts while ignoring the difficult, challenging, and even distasteful parts?

My experience is yes.

I suspect we do so because we are terribly fearful of the darker, uncomfortable parts of life that, too, are part of the Holy. We are distrustful and afraid of how unrest and discord are part of our experience of God and each other. Our unrealistic expectation, even need, for nice - nice community, nice Jesus, says much about our discomfort with authentic vulnerability.

The hallmarks of holy community, as written in Holy Scripture and the accounts of saints and sinners throughout the ages, seem to be vulnerability and authenticity. People are joyful and angry and messy and hopeful and despairing. Perhaps an example of the holy community is best seen in 12 Step groups, where people gather not to proclaim their resumes or nice each other to death, but to speak in their pain, struggles, and hope. The people who gather in these groups come as they are, wounded and broken. And they gather in that deeply vulnerable place to be holy community.

Holy community is not pretty, nice, or neat. It has never been and will never be a gathering of people who never ever make mistakes and who are always sweet and perfect. That is a fictional story that takes place in Stepford.

Holy community is authentic and vulnerable. It has always been and is a gathering of people who struggle, who don't have all the answers and don't say the pretty words, but who touch their own brokenness and are surprised when they touch God in that place. Holy community is joyful and sad, beautiful in its messiness, and calls us more deeply into our truest selves. In our joys and triumphs, we experience God. In our struggles and conflict, we experience God.

No, it's not nice. But it is of God.


1 comment: