By this point in the semester daily patterns set in: who we study with, who we hang out with, where we hang out, what we do. For an outsider entering into Christian community for the first time (or second or third), nothing feels more alienating, than people set in their patterns. But for someone in a friend circle this ease and comfort is the natural fruit of their hard work to connect.
In Veritas we struggle almost every year with this tension.
To those of you in comfortable community: it is not wrong to have close friend circles. This is the nature of friendship. However, ask yourself if you ever exclude people intentionally, for the sake of exclusivity. In an effort to feel cool, or “in” have you ever intentionally left people out? Have you publicly spoken about a “small party” for elite friends? Is there a set “us”? A set “them”? Are there some annoying people who pursue friendships with you, that you avoid for the sake of keeping face? Do you intentionally tell inside jokes to make others aware of your status in the in group? Do you spend a lot of time dwelling on your friend circle? How do other people describe you? Do they describe you as welcoming?
Everyone struggles with this, because we all struggle on some level with making idols out of friendships. In Christian communities idolatry sets in when people start identifying themselves primarily with a group, rather than with Christ.
The disciples tried to use their connection to Jesus–a powerful healer–to alienate others and feel superior (Matt. 15:23). Likewise, we destroy Christian community when we make it about “us” and not Jesus by excluding others. We tear down the gospel, by laying waste to God’s Kingdom, so that we can build our own.
To those of you who feel excluded: it’s worth the hard work to make friends. Some people expect to arrive in Christian circles and be automatically accepted. They cheapen Christian community by using it as a way to avoid the hard work of making friends. That is an idolatrous attitude opposed to Christian community, because it makes human acceptance the chief desire, rather than joy in your acceptance in Christ. Making friends is always hard work, but with other Christians you share a savior, and a father.
Do you find yourself dwelling often on your exclusion from certain friendship circles? You may idolize these circles, and in doing so alienate yourself from them. Do you become angry about cliques often? You probably do not find your acceptance to Christ, and look for it people; when they reject you, you feel anger.
For everyone: no group or person can bear the weight of your worship. When you worship your clique (or getting into one) you destroy yourself, and cannot ever be satisfied. You will always need to exclude another person to feel worthy. You will always feel depressed and angry, because people reject your worship.
Only in Christ, then, is there hope for us to love one another well. On the cross he freed us to worship him, and transformed our heart’s desires so that he would be the greatest object of our worship. Only by worshipping him are we satisfied enough, to avoid manipulating satisfaction out of the friendships of others (1 Pet 1:22-23.