Bonhoeffer and baggy pants
by Jay Kim
“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.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together)
My friend Kurt Willems wrote a beautiful blog post this morning about his dreams for the church and it got me thinking about my own dreams for her. More to the point, it got me thinking about the countless mishaps I created while attempting to synthetically manufacture some of these dreams over the years. I can’t recall when or where I picked up this ridiculous idea but for a while, I thought that my job as a pastor was to create or produce a community of people who acted a particular way. This included the way they talked, what they watched, what they drank, who they befriended, and how they spent their money, among other things. I never said as much for fear of being labeled controlling or overbearing. But silently, I did my best to manipulate those in my church community into looking, sounding, and acting the particular way I thought best.
A few weeks ago the city of Collinsville, Illinois outlawed baggy pants. The ordinance reads: “Pants must be secured at the waist to prevent them from falling more than 3 inches below the hips.” Violators are fined $100 for the first offense and $300 for subsequent offenses. I’ve never been to Collinsville but from what I’ve read, it sounds like a decent place with good people. So how is it that good people from a decent place would pass such an asinine law? I think it may be the same reason I led with manipulative intentions early on in ministry. And it’s what Bonhoeffer writes about in Life Together. It is our honest, earnest, sacrificial desire to see a community fulfill our personal dreams for that community, rather than an honest, earnest, sacrificial love for the community itself. There is a world of difference between the two and we must take measures to navigate carefully away from the one and toward the other.
Bonhoeffer also wrote elsewhere that the church is a community of saints and sinners. By this, he did not mean to say that some are saints while others are sinners; he posits that we are all saints and we are all sinners. The church is most dysfunctional when it becomes a fragmented community, full of individuals fighting to create carbon copies of themselves. I think in many ways, we try to make others look like us to save ourselves the trouble of having to work on our own issues. But there is immense freedom in being honest with one another. There is a harmony created amongst us when we choose love over judgement. Communities centered on the person of Jesus Christ are called to be generous with not only their resources and time, but with their love and grace.
So whether we agree on everything or not, remember that you and I are both in this together. We have both received generously and are called to give generously in return. We are both called and invited by a grace beyond comprehension and completely undeserved. And we are both loved by God the same, one no more and no less than the other. So wear your pants however you’d like.