Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Community as a condition of the heart

I was talking tonight with my church choir about community. We started with a reading from the writings of Henri Nouwen, in which he spoke of community as sometimes a good thing (eating together, supporting one another, sharing a laugh) and sometimes not (having to subscribe exactly to a particular point of view, or naively glossing over genuine conflict to preserve the status quo). I'm paraphrasing here, but what struck me was his starting point that community is a "condition of the heart."

I spoke of the conflict so deeply embedded in our national/global/insert-your-group-here culture...of how easy it is to find examples in which each side of a dispute is rock-solid sure that their point of view is the right one...and (here's the disturbing part) that the other side is not just wrong, but bad, and even out to get them.

There's just so much shouting everywhere.

As a person who lives to create harmony, I've found this increasingly distressing over the last decade or so. I'm deeply concerned that we're losing the capacity for rational disagreement: that so great is the need to be right that it just doesn't matter whom we demonize, whom we hurt, whom we shut out in the process.

I spoke of my relief at coming to church choir every week: we're there to train not just our voices, but our hearts as well. Singing in a choir requires humility, the ability to truly get yourself out of the way and listen, and generosity of spirit. You can't hear the group if you're trumpeting your own part so loudly that you drown it out. You won't like every piece of music that you're called to sing. Sometimes the crazy director will ask you to take a risk, or do do something that seems downright weird or silly...and singers faithfully, courageously, generously try.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not naive to the fact that sometimes, there is evil that needs to be addressed. There are p-l-e-n-t-y of times when it's necessary to speak truth to power. But I think we have to be very careful about our own motives; it's so easy to become righteous rather than loving. It happens when you're not looking.

Not listening.

Jesus asks us Christians to "love our neighbors as ourselves." Every major faith system has a tenet very much like this. I love being a church nerd because it's a place where we try to pay attention to one dare to open ourselves up to a greater possibility than anything we can construct on our own.

It's risky. It's messy. And it's exactly the training our hearts need to cultivate the condition of community.

The world needs all of us to take this training seriously. And to do it joyfully!


Crimson Rambler said...

thank you so much for this...I preached (at a St. Cecilia evensong) on the work of the choir as community practice: listen to each other and attend to your breathing! (and look at the conductor from time to time!)
blessings on your day!

Catrina said...

How did I miss the fact that you posted something recently?! Welcome back to the blogosphere!

Regarding this thoughtful post - the longer I have been a pastor, the more I've come to realize that many situations in the world come down to this:

You can be right. Or you can be in relationship.

When I was younger I pretty much just wanted to be right,, wanted above all else to preserve the integrity of my rightness.

As I've gotten older and (hopefully) wiser, I've discovered I'd much rather be in relationship, and above all else strive to preserve the integrity of my relationships.

Thanks for the work you do, CG, to help us all "grow up" and develop such needful skills for relationship-tending. . .even when the skills are being built via messy, crazy Italian madrigals. ;)