Musicians playing stringed instruments amaze me. Especially when they pick the strings to make marvelous melodies. I could listen to Christopher Parkening play Vivaldi or Bella Fleck play anything for hours. In certain circles, it is often said that musicians get together for "pickin' and grinnin'" - meaning there is such pleasure in making music together that the joy is evident all over their faces.
But not all picking is pleasant.
Picking sometimes turns into pecking. Maybe we call it nit picking. It can feel like being examined under a microscope. Ages ago when women regularly wore pantyhose, there was little else more frustrating than getting a pick in the fabric. A pick could lead to a run and a run meant the demise of the whole pair. Any fabric for that matter can suffer a pick that can lead to the unraveling of the whole shebang. Even the fabric of community.
And there's no grinning when it happens. Grimacing maybe. People take sides. Pick fights. Draw lines. Tug and pull and make the gaps wider. Try to split from or disassociate with those with whom they disagree. With this kind of picking there's only picking apart.
And it happens. We all have opinions. We all have perspectives. We all have filters through which we interpret events, experiences, and other people. The challenge of community is often felt in the tension between expressing oneself as a uniquely created individual and submitting oneself to something larger than, greater than, fuller than a solitary experience. We may resist the thought of submitting, but it is assumed that there is enough cohesion in community that it will hang together rather than fall apart. And that means not being picked apart.
On the first page of the first chapter of one of his books, Rob Bell writes, "I realize that when I use the word God in the title of this book there's a good chance I'm stepping on all kinds of land mines. Is there a more volatile word loaded down with more history, assumptions, and expectations than that tired, old, relevant, electrically charged, provocative, fresh, antiquated yet ubiquitous as ever, familiar/unfamiliar word God? And that's why I use it." That's quite a string of words, isn't it? We might be tempted to pick out only the ones we like being used alongside the word God. And we're free to do that. We're also free to disregard this book altogether or to read it and pick it apart. And maybe somewhere along the way we might wonder what goes on inside of us when we have that urge to pick in a way that doesn't bring joy. Especially when we are in community.
So, in the last chapter of his book, Bell makes some pretty strong statements. He says, "We all have a shadow side, the part of us in which our fears and insecurities and greed and terror and worst suspicions about ourselves reside. People deal with their shadow side in a number of ways, the most common way being to find outside enemies and point to them, demonizing them and blaming them for a long list of perceived evils. This strategy often does a very effective job of helping us avoid that which lurks within us." Reminds me of what Jesus is on record as having said: "Why do you see the splinter that's in your brother's or sister's eye, but don't notice the log in your own eye?" Then again, there are probably ways to pick even that apart.