Some people just can’t handle it.
An irritating person is in their Bible Study. A socially awkward man likes to speak up at all of the church meetings and eyes roll all over the room. A mentally disabled person makes weird noises at weird times and that is all people can think about as the sermon is being delivered.
My father in law, who is a pastor, says that because the church is supposed to be light, the light will attract bugs, in the form of strange, kooky, and difficult people. And he can tell you many stories of these bugs he has had in his churches.
I once heard a pastor speak with pride about asking a notoriously difficult and church hopping couple that they were not welcome at his church. He didn’t want their drama and peculiarities junking up his congregation.
It can be too easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback with some of these situations but I was struck recently by a phrase found in David Augsburger’s book, Dissident Discipleship. Augsburger says that Christian community is, “a web of stubbornly loyal relationships knotted together into a living network of persons.” I love that phrase “stubbornly loyal.” When was the last time we were stubbornly loyal to anything much less our church?
Augsburger expands on the stubbornly loyal idea and describes what this might look like in a church setting.
Recognizing that community is a place where both good friends and predictable frustrators are present, needed, valued, respected, incorporated, and indeed learned from in genuine dialogue, stubbornly inclusive participants do not give up on the irritating or withdraw into the conforming, but rather welcome both.
Augsburger thinks that we should welcome the irritating and even learn from them. Jesus’ disciples were always trying to shield Jesus from the irritating people around them but Jesus seemed to seek them out. He asked that the children come to him instead of pushing them to the margins. When random people touched him in a huge crowd, Jesus sought out some of those people much to the annoyance of the disciples.
What does it say about us when our instant intolerance overwhelms our willingness to welcome and include? What might God be asking us to learn from this situation? Do we think we are so good that we can’t humble ourselves to be a little uncomfortable?
Christ has been stubbornly loyal to his church, despite all of its division, brokenness, corruptions, and scandal. Maybe it is time for us to practice a little stubborn loyalty ourselves.