Category Archives: Body of CHRIST

Flora Slosson Wuellner on being in community

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Joan Chittister on being in community

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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Church (with Chris)

fivequestionsonChurch

with Chris Nelson

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with church or other Christian communities.  If it has changed over time, describe the change.

As a kid I would go to church on Easter and Christmas with my Grandpa. It was definitely his community and it was a place we were invited into on those days. In high-school I had some friends that attended church and then it became a place where you could just hang out, on weekdays, not just holidays. After becoming involved in that church Sunday mornings became a time to grow in relationship with the whole congregation, young and old and share that experience of church with each other.
 
Now that we have settled into our church here in Colorado Springs, I see it very much as “the body of Christ” in the way that we all need to bring our gifts and skills to serve and provide a different function of the body. I think this approach has been amplified recently as several families, even families that had been at the church for 20+ years left because the church refused to leave the denomination over the issue of homosexual ordination.
 

2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

Honestly not much. I theoretically understand the connection between how we understand the two and I can explain it as such to people but in general the movement goes the other way. How I understand my body and my self image affects the relationship/experience of church. In general I try to take care of my body but don’t always do the best job. In order to combat that I try to develop habits that allow that to happen. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not.
 

3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?

It helps me to deal with people that do not think like me or do not have the same skills that I do. Instead of simply writing them off as having nothing to add because they are not “on my team”. I try instead to see how their unique functions might be a part of the body of Christ.
 
Again, all this is theoretically informing how I act and I am by no means saying that I always accomplish this way of thinking.
 

4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?

Primarily in understanding that my spiritual life is inextricably tied to the spiritual life of those around me. I can’t go it alone and need others to grow with and also be held accountable by. If I try to go it on my own, then it is all about me and I don’t think that is the ultimate goal of spiritual formation.
 
Slightly relatedly I also establish patterns of taking care of my body (jogging, eating right..) and try to apply those to my spiritual life (serving, attending worship, reading the bible, praying). Like exercise it is much easier to do with other people around you though there are times when going alone is nice too.
 

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Everything is connected. As much as we like to be lone rangers, and as much as our culture shapes us into believing that is the ultimate goal, it goes against the way we are made.
 
Just like your body is messy, so is community, it is not always going to be smooth sailing but if my hearing starts to give me problems the solution is not to cut off my ears, it is to find hearing aids, to support the function that is faltering.
 

What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

Bumper Sticker Wisdom

Women who behave rarely make history.

Women who behave rarely make history.

In general, I’m not a fan of bumper sticker wisdom. The pithy sayings might be humorous, clever, even witty, but rarely are they truly wise.  They usually over-simplify or take an extreme view that only alienates those who disagree.

But this one I loved.

I loved it so much I had to snap a shot with my phone on the poor unsuspecting driver innocently pumping gas in front of me, whom I cut out of the shot before posting. I did my best to be discreet, but really, how does one take a picture without appearing to take a picture? I’m pretty sure he saw me and thought I was crazy.

The picture is terrible, I admit. You probably can’t even read the sticker after all that. It says, “Women who behave rarely make history.” (You may recognize the line from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book.)

I love that. It reminds me of Kathy Escobar’s post last year on being an ex-good-christian-woman.  Or more recently the Brain Pickings article on Mark Twain’s children’s book for mischievous girls.

I love it so much I’ll say it again: Women who behave rarely make history.

Pithy, yes. Simple, yes. Wise, oh yes!

Now, let’s make some history, ladies!

The Compassionate Way (Part 2)

It’s our final day with Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Last week in The Compassionate Way (Part 1), we talked about what it looks like to live a life of compassion through voluntary displacement, the individual choice to move ourselves (both inwardly and outwardly) out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.  We established that we cannot act — rightly, timely, compassionately — if we have not first established a lifestyle of prayerful listening to the loving voice of God through the discipline of patience.

More on The Compassionate Way

It is not just the practice of prayer that positions us for compassion.  It is also the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

When we eat bread and drink wine together in memory of Christ, we become intimately related to his own compassionate life. In fact, we become his life and are thus enabled to re-present Christ’s life in our time and place. (111)

[O]ur praying together becomes working together, and the call to break the same bread becomes a call to action. (113)

This is one reason I am in favor of the open table, which allows everyone (even those who may not fit into our neat categories and labels) to participate together in one of the most sacred and intimate sacraments of the Christian faith.  When we pray together — listening for the loving voice of God — and eat together — with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our minds and hearts — we cannot help but be drawn together toward compassionate action as the unified body of Christ.

The authors are adamant that we need both prayer and action to live the Compassionate Way:

Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. (114)

But our actions — like our prayers — must be tempered by the discipline of patience that marks the Compassionate Way. It is only through this patient action that we can truly experience the Compassionate Life we have been called to by our Compassionate God.

Patient actions are actions through which the healing, consoling, comforting, reconciling, and unifying love of God can touch the heart of humanity. (115)

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian….Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and response to it wherever he is revealed….So worship becomes ministry and ministry becomes worship, and all we say or do, ask for or give, becomes a way to the life in which God’s compassion can manifest itself. (119)

It is important to remember, above all, that when we choose voluntary displacement, guided by the loving voice of God, we are merely joining in with what the Spirit of God is already doing in the world.  The Compassionate Life is really an invitation into the fullness of life that we have been promised.  It is the ushering in — as well as the recognition of — the kingdom of God:

Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplished. (121)

At the end of The Compassionate Way, the authors add that a compassionate act may also require confrontation — both of the sin in ourselves as well as the harmful competition and pursuit of power in the world.  Without this confrontational voice, we would not be able to be defenders of God’s justice.  If compassion is the daily act of kindness toward those individuals hurt by competition, then compassion is also the confrontation of systemic injustice in the world:

Compassion without [humble] confrontation fades quickly into fruitless sentimental commiseration. (123)

Confrontation always includes self-confrontation…each attempt to confront evil in the world calls for the realization that there are always two fronts on which the struggle takes place: an outer front and an inner front. (124)

Only when we voluntarily displace ourselves, listen to the voice of love, and follow that unique calling into patient prayer and patient action will we truly experience the freedom offered to us as children of God because of the compassionate obedience of our incarnate God. The Compassionate Way is the way of grateful, free, and even joyful action:

[T]he compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating. (125)

This is the deepest meaning of compassionate action. It is the grateful, free, and joyful expression of the great encounter with the compassionate God. (127)

Conclusion

[Compassion] is hard work; it is crying out with those in pain; it is tending the wounds of the poor and caring for their lives; it is defending the weak and indignantly accusing those who violate their humanity; it is joining with the oppressed in their struggle for justice; it is pleading for help, with all possible means, from any person who has ears to hear and eyes to see. In short, it is a willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. (136)

In the conclusion, the authors restate the message of Compassion as the true mark of the Christian life precisely because compassionate action is larger than any one person or organization. Compassion is the collective activity of the body of Christ in the world to bring healing, justice, wholeness, and completion to the broken world our incarnate Christ died to save. Compassion is living into the kingdom of God:

[W]e can only live the compassionate life to the fullest when we know that it points beyond itself…There is a new heaven and a new earth for which we hope with patient expectation.(131)

How are you ushering in the kingdom of God?

What do you think of Nouwen’s perspective on the Compassionate God, the Compassionate Life, and the Compassionate Way? Is he right?

Listen to the loving voice of God in your life. What is God revealing as your unique calling to the Christian life of compassion?

 

The Compassionate Life (Part 2)

We’re still making our way through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.  Read last week’s posts.  This week, we’re in Part Two: The Compassionate Life. This is my Part 2 on their Part Two, so be sure to read Part 1 here.

We left off Monday talking about Christ Transforming Culture and the redeeming power of voluntary displacement.

More on The Compassionate Life

The authors stress that voluntary displacement is not a method or formula for creating community.  We can’t arbitrarily decide to move somewhere, set up “voluntary displaced community” and somehow magically become compassionate:

[V]oluntary displacement can only be an expression of discipleship when it is a response to a call — or, to say the same thing, when it is an act of obedience…the climax of many years of inner struggle to discover God’s will…Those who practice voluntary displacement as a method or technique to form new community, and thus to become compassionate, will soon find themselves entangled in their own complex motivations and involved in many conflicts and much confusion. (69)

Living compassionate lives within the community of God through voluntary displacement is something that God has to ignite and maintain.  It is our role to listen for the loving voice of God, watch for the action of God in the world, and go join in what God is already doing in which we are called to participate.

What we hear, what we see, and what we are called to join into will not be the same for everyone.  In fact, what we are called to may not look like anything we were expecting at all:

God calls every human being in a unique way and each of us ought to be attentive to God’ voice in our own unique lives…[We must] begin [not] by displacing ourselves…[but by identifying] in our own lives where displacement is already occurring. We may be dreaming of great acts of displacement while failing to notice in the displacements of our own lives the first indications of God’s presence. (70)

Displacement begins with the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and it is that movement that we must be sensitive to if we are going to identify and join in the calling of God on our lives. 

Here I always think of one of my aunts who underwent renovations in her home over several years.  As a homemaker, my aunt found herself enduring the brunt of the daily coordination with the workers, making sure she was always home when the workers were there to answer questions and give them access to different parts of the house.  She was getting tired of all the interruptions and lack of privacy as working men tramped in and out of her house day after week after month, making loud construction noises and leaving the mess of in-progress projects everywhere she went.

She told me last Christmas, as the last of the renovations was finally completed and the workers moved on to another project, that she was surprised to realize how much she had learned about the lives of the men working on her house, how she had had many unexpected opportunities to listen to their stories and problems, offer advice and a new perspective, and even represent a Christian witness in their lives. What had seemed to her an ongoing frustration and imposition while they were working in her home now seemed more like a rare and precious opportunity to be a compassionate presence in the lives of these men who perhaps will never set food inside a church building.

Nouwen says it best:

Displacement is not primarily something to do or to accomplish, but something to recognize. (71)

Careful attention to God’s actions in our lives thus leads us to an even greater sensitivity to God’s call…But no one will be able to hear or understand these very blessed calls if he or she has not recognized the smaller calls hidden in the hours of a regular day. (72)

Voluntary displacement, then, is a lot less about doing and a lot more about developing an attitude and posture of listening for the voice of love in our daily lives. And we are able to listen best when encouraged and supported by the community of God:

[V]oluntary displacement is not a goal in itself; it is meaningful only when it gathers us together in a new way…[and] leads us to understand each other as women and men with similar needs and struggles and to meet each other with an awareness of a common vulnerability. (75)

The Christian community, gathered in common discipleship, is the place where individual gifts can be called forth and put into service for all. It belongs to the essence of this new togetherness that our unique talents are no longer objects of competition but elements of community, no longer qualities that divide but gifts that unite. (77)

If we cannot give and receive compassion among one another within the community of God, how can we hope to live a life compassionate toward everyone else?  If we are struggling for power and control in our own communities, how can we release and share that power with the poor and marginalized all around us?

This is why body theology — specifically the emphasis on equality within the community of God — is so important.  We cannot hear the voice of love for our communities if we are busy fighting among ourselves, worrying about who’s right, who’s biblical, and who’s allowed to do what in the pulpit or in the the pews.

Sharing power and control does not mean we lose everything. It does not mean we give up or quit or run away.  It does not mean we make ourselves less than we are, deny ourselves, or put on false humility. It’s about a choice, a paradigm shift from me-first to preferring-the-other:

Self-emptying does not ask of us to engage ourselves in some form of self-castigation or self-scrutiny, but to pay attention to others in such a way that they begin to recognize their own value…To pay attention to others with the desire to make them the center and to make their interests our own is a real form of self-emptying, since to be able to receive others into our intimate inner space we must be empty.  That is why listening is so difficult. It means our moving away from the center of attention and inviting others into that space…The simple experience of being valuable and important to someone else has tremendous recreative power. (79-80)

When we listen to God’s loving voice as well as the voices of our communities, especially those who are marginalized, we are invited into the perspective of another, and we create space for God’s healing and restoration to begin.  This is also body theology — recognizing ourselves in others and allowing the different perspectives of others to inform our own understanding of what it means to be the image of God and the body of Christ:

When we form a Christian community, we come together not because of similar experiences, knowledge, problems, color, or sex, but because we have been called together by the same God. (81)

Without a diverse and unified community of God around us, we cannot hope to become the compassionate beings God has called us to be.  But when we listen to the voice of God and the wisdom and experience of those around us, we are finally able to recognize the displacement happening in our lives and join in, together, as the BODY of Christ:

God calls everyone who is listening; there is no individual or group for whom God’s call is reserved.  But to be effective, a call must be heard, and to hear it we must continually discern our vocation amidst the escalating demands of our career. Thus, we see how voluntary displacement leads to a new togetherness in which we can recognize our sameness in common vulnerability, discover our unique talents as gifts for the upbuilding of the community, and listen to God’s call, which continually summons us to a vocation far beyond the aspirations of our career. (84)

Living the compassionate life is possible, but only with a listening posture, a community of God, and a willingness to choose the unique voluntary displacement to which God calls each of us.

Next week, we’ll look at Part Three and the Conclusion.  Get excited!

 

The Compassionate Life (Part 1)

We’re making our way through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.  Last week, we looked at Part One: The Compassionate God.  If you haven’t read last week’s posts, I highly recommend starting there.  This week, we’re in Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

As a reminder, last week we learned the definition of compassion (emphasis mine):

To be compassionate then means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition. (6)

Part Two: The Compassionate Life

In Part One, we learned that our ability to understand and give compassion is only possible because we have already experienced the compassion of God in our lives and been given the example of compassion in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Now, in Part Two, the authors’ premise is that living a truly compassionate life can only happen through and because of our participation in Christian community:

Compassion is not an individual character trait, a personal attitude, or a special talent, but a way of living together. (47)

A compassionate life is a life in which fellowship with Christ reveals itself in a new fellowship among those who follow him. (48)

Relationship with Christ is relationship with our brothers and sisters. This is most powerfully expressed by Paul when he calls the Christian community the body of Christ. (49)

This is why body theology is so important.  We cannot truly experience the life we are called to experience in God if we are not connected to the community of God.  We do not have a holistic body theology if we do not have both the body of CHRIST and the BODY of Christ — participation in the community of God and the action of service in the world.

The authors are very clear as to why we need the community of God in order to live a compassionate life:

As a community we can transcend our individual limitations and become a concrete realization of the self-emptying way of Christ….Left to ourselves, we might easily begin to idolize our particular form or style of ministry and so turn our service into a personal hobby.  But when we come together regularly to listen to the word of God and the presence of God in our midst, we stay alert to the guiding voice and move away from the comfortable places to unknown territories. (56)

It’s easy to become comfortable.  We are creatures of habit and sameness and whatever-is-easiest, especially those of us living in the First World where materialism and consumer culture define our sense of security and success. But God calls us to a radically counter-cultural paradigm shift that the authors call “voluntary displacement,” the individual choice to move ourselves out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.

When we are willing to make this shift, we are placing ourselves in a position to be compassionate:

Voluntary displacement leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings. (62)

We have the most excellent example of voluntary displacement in the person of Jesus Christ, who made the choice to move out of what was comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God:

The mystery of the incarnation is that God did not remain in the place that we consider proper for God but moved to the condition of a suffering human being…In the life of Jesus, we see how  this divine displacement becomes visible in a human story…It is in following our displaced Lord that the Christian community is formed. (62-3)

This is why body theology begins with the incarnation of God.  Without the choice God made to become human flesh and live among us, we would have no example to follow and no reason to follow that example.  God chose to become like us, to become one of us, to become the same as we are so that we could experience the compassion of God in our individual lives.  In the same way, we are called:

Voluntary displacement leads to compassionate living precisely because it moves us from positions of distinction to positions of sameness, from being in special places to  being everywhere. (64)

When we’re in the position of sameness and everywhere, competition loses its ability to separate us.  When we relate to one another though the compassion of God, we cannot help but live compassionate lives — lives defined by kindness and gentleness to those who get hurt by competition.  We no longer have to struggle and fight to keep what we believe is rightfully ours or worry that sharing power might lead to losing what we have worked so hard to gain.

Because body theology begins with the incarnation, it ends with our own voluntary displacement into the lives of others through service as the BODY of Christ in the world.  God’s choice and our choices bring our theology full circle and enable us to discover and experience the compassionate call of God in our minds, souls, and bodies — both individually and corporately as the community of God:

Living in the world by hiddenness and compassion unites us because it allows us to discover the world in the center of our being…displacement makes it possible to be in the world without being of it. (68)

This is what Richard Niebuhr would call Christ Transforming CultureRather than hiding from the world or fighting against it, we can embrace those around us with compassion and in doing so create space for all of us together to experience the redeeming and transformative power of God.

We’ll continue our journey through Part Two on Wednesday.

Making God Visible

Nobody can say “I make God visible,” but others who see us together can say “they make God visible.” Community is where humility and glory meet. – Henri Nouwen

What I tried to say last week with so many words, Nouwen achieves (as always) with a few, well-chosen and profoundly accurate.

Without the body of Christ, we are just fingers and elbows and appendixes.  We need each other, not only for the value of being in community but also for the ability to be — collectively — the image of God in the world.

Participating in the community of God requires preferring the other — letting go of our need to be always right, always first, always best.  But when we are working together through the power of the Holy Spirit, we not only experience God ourselves, but we also create space and opportunity for others to experience God.

This is how we can glorify God and enjoy God forever.

This is how we have been created and designed to be.

This is body theology — the community of God making God visible in the world.

Forward Friday: Reflect [on] the Body [of Christ]

 

This week we talked about what we can learn from each other about God and what we can teach others about God.

This weekend, identify one person in your life who has taught you something about God.  How has that person’s presence and action in your life revealed the truth of God to you?

Extra credit: let that person know how they have impacted your life.  Write a thank you note or letter.  Take them to coffee.  Leave a shout out to them in the comment box below and send them a link.

Then, take some time to reflect on the role you have in the lives of those around you, both within the community of God and beyond.  How will you be the body of Christ in the world?

Come back and share your thoughts in the comment box below, or send me a Facebook message or email. I always love hearing from you!

Shalom, lovely readers! Peace be with you all.

 

From Bent to the Body of Christ

 

On Monday, I shared what  my husband taught me about God. But there’s more to the story of the incarnation (and more to body theology) than our individual connection with God.

The experience is also corporate.  We teach each other about God every day, whether we intend to or not.

We all know the negative impact Christians can have on each other and on the world with careless statements of judgment and intolerance, falls from pedestals into sexual sin or greed, the authoritarian parent who teaches young children to fear punishment, not to mention the dark elements of our Church’s history (Crusades, Inquisition) we’d rather forget.

We understand and interact with God and with each other through the lens of our own experience.  Sometimes our experience has influenced us negatively, but we can also redeem our experience of who God is and who we are because of God through one another.

This is what body theology is all about.  This is why Paul’s metaphor of the community of God as a human body is so apt.  Our corporate (all together, working in unity within our great, beautiful, and necessary diversity) function in the world is to be the body of CHRIST — the community of God encouraging and sharpening one another — and the BODY of Christ — the community of God in action in the world according to the example, teaching, and calling of Jesus.

We have a responsibility to represent the truth about who God is and who we are in Christ to everyone we meet, not just with our mouths but with our actions. 

For all the people in the world  (like me!) who have deep-seated trust issues, we have the opportunity to show people God is trustworthy by being trustworthy ourselves.  For all the people in the world who are at heart struggling with a seemingly unshakable sense of shame and un-loveliness, we have the opportunity to show people God loves them by loving them ourselves.

This is not to glorify ourselves but to work by our small and unique activity in the world to point to the truth that is fuller and greater and more complete than anything we can experience on our own.

For this reason, social justice is necessary.  For this reason, gathering together as the community of God is necessary.  We cannot see the truth fully on our own.  Our individual lenses are small and dirty and fractured.  In the words of C. S. Lewis, we are bent.

We — and by we here I mean every human being — need each other to know the truth of God fully, to experience God fully, through relationship as we have been designed to receive and understand ourselves and the world around us.  We do not exist in a vacuum. We experience our lives among others and in the world.

Whether we like it or not, whether we intend to or not, we are affecting the lives of those around us, and we are representing the truth about God to those around us.

Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to speak (and act) into the lives of others with purpose and intention as we learn more about the truth of God together.

 

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