We say we want community, but we don’t really. We want that close circle of connectedness where one experiences a deep sense of belonging, acceptance, and love. That’s the lure of community. But we don’t want to do what it takes to achieve it. A(n unnecessary) pastor friend of mine was telling me that driveways at parties sum up our feelings about community. We love to be invited to the party, but we park in such a way–even if it means walking a great distance–that we aren’t blocked in my anyone. We want to be around people, but we don’t want to take the chance of being trapped in by them.

I’ll be the first one to admit to you that the church isn’t perfect. But what churches are, in fact, are communities of people shaped by their fellowship with one another by the common belief in Christ. Churches aren’t supposed to be creating these uniform Christians in pursuit of the ideal of community. (Have you spent time with these “one size fits all” kinds of people? You get the feeling that there’s only one way to be spiritual. Reality dictates that my spiritual walk and journey isn’t like yours. Life would be boring if we were all uniform and the church even more ineffective if we all had the same gifts.) We have a bond in Christ, and the result of this bond should be a loving relationship, the picture of family at its best.

Unity in diversity.

We weren’t created to be islands of solitude. This self-sufficient image may work for some, but it is not what we were created to be. We’re born for relationships–be they family, friendships, or colleagues–and that is what shapes us (though the absence of relationships also form us). I am constantly bumping into people who have decided that community is over-rated, despite their obvious longing for community. These odd fitting pieces who define themselves or their specialness by the way they (purposely) don’t fit. There were sometimes when I wanted to just shake them and say “look, you act all tough and hardcore and offensive and then you wonder why people don’t want to be around you. You deliberately offend people and then wonder why they don’t like you. You put on an act and then wonder why they don’t take you seriously.” These people go through life with this defensive chip on their shoulder, like they dare you to accept them. Just so you can prove that “we” (whoever that “we” may be) don’t accept people.

A situation like this popped up not too long ago within the Horror Writers Association. A writer joined under the pretense of exploring the group to see if it were worthwhile. After stomping around for a while, showing his behind in every way possible, he exited. He chose to reject the community as a joke, he claims that he was never welcome, and that even his so-called friends didn’t take him seriously. That was the defensive chip in action, getting in the way of forming productive relationships.

I get the defensiveness. Many of us have been burned by friends, family, churches, or other groups in the past, so the idea of making ourselves vulnerable again for the chance of community (or quite possibly the chance of pain again) isn’t something we’re anxious to seek out. However, community works both ways. If you’re a malcontent a-hole (a-hole being one of those underused theological terms), you can’t blame others for not accepting you. Some folks simply don’t know how to play well with others. If you’re the “others” (and we’d rather think of ourselves as the “others” than the “a-holes”), you’re to love the a-hole to the best of your ability.

We want to reach that place of friendship, to be in those late night conversations that come from hanging out, to feel loved, accepted and needed. In short, we want to feel significant. We want to have a family that lives together and in the world in the way of Jesus. Formative communities. Church at its best.

One of the toughest things to learn to do within a community is learn the rhythm of other people. Doing stuff together, living life with one another, risks the chance of getting on one another’s nerves. People are messy, they have moods, they have quirks. We don’t always fit comfortably one with another. Frankly, some of you people get on my nerves. Some of you people I don’t want knowing my business. There are times that I don’t play well with others; times that I am the a-hole. That’s why we’re told to forbear (put up with) one another, encourage one another, edify one another, accept one another, and above all, love one another. Love is the glue of community and covers up a host of quirks and sins.

So to you, raging a-hole looking for community, you need to first ask yourself: “how well am I loving my brothers and sisters?” You have to wrestle with yourself, your ways, and figuring out who you are. Sometimes it’s a matter of becoming comfortable in your own skin. Sometimes being a part of community means putting aside your pride, asking for help, and letting people help you. I’ve often had to learn this the hard way, luckily I have community despite myself.

Community doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort, patience and love. We get community not by pursuing it, but by loving and serving one another. It’s about committing (or submitting) to something larger than ourselves.