Reading Vanier's book I was struck by the following passage on what makes community so difficult yet so important. Though Vanier is speaking to communities living under the same roof, I believe his insights apply to all faith-based communities. Think, in reading this, about your church:
Community is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egotism are revealed to us. We discover our poverty and our weaknesses, our inability to get on with some people, our mental and emotional blocks, our affective and sexual disturbances, our seemingly insatiable desires, our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy. While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, living with them all the time, we realise how incapable we are of loving, how much we deny to others, how closed in on ourselves we are.I think the reason I found this quote to be so powerful is that I've encountered many Christians who love people in the abstract. That is, they believe they love everyone. But when it comes time to loving flesh and blood people they remove themselves from the daily grind of simply getting along with others. (The classic illustration of this is liberal Christians talking a great deal about loving the poor but never getting around to being friends with any poor people.)
I used to think this was a failure of effort, of not wanting to put in the time and effort to be in concrete relationships with others. But in light of Vanier's quote I wonder how much of this might be driven by ego. The disciplines of community expose our selfishness, vanity, impatience, entitlement and our brokenness. Rather than face this exposure it's easier to withdraw and live with the illusion that we're awesome loving people.