My husband and I spent several months looking for a church when we moved to a new area. You can read a little about our experiences here and here. We finally decided that we were not going to find The Perfect Church and that we needed to just pick one and make an effort to be part of the community of God.
The church we chose had some very positive traits. Some of the important elements we were were looking for in a church were present, and we were hopeful that we might be able to plug into the community and begin to make friends. It wasn’t the best fit, but we hoped it might be good enough at least for this season.
Fight or Flight
Now, after about three months of intentional effort to get to know people and become involved, it is clear that this church is not a good fit. These are kind, welcoming people. They are genuine and earnest in their pursuit of God and of community with each other. Because of these traits, their lack of support for women in ministry was an issue we thought we could overlook, but I have realized I do not feel safe here.
I will never feel safe here. I cannot share myself with these people because they will not understand or accept me. They will never be able to support and encourage me to live fully into my gifts and calling because their worldview does not allow it.
Since I moved to California, every time I have begun to participate in a community, I have found myself in leadership positions. Sometimes they were vacant, and I just happened to fill them. Sometimes positions were created to fit gifts and skills that were emerging and being recognized in me. Sometimes leadership opportunities were ill-timed or even unwelcome as I was struggling with accepting who I am and who God has called me to be.
I’ve spent so much time learning to spread my wings and trust them to keep me in flight that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have them clipped. Now that I have experienced freedom and have begun to live into my gifts and calling, I can’t go back to the way things were. I can’t go back to being satisfied with being in the background, watching and listening as the men lead, accepting their leadership without question, following well.
I can’t go back to being silent.
And I can’t watch these brilliant, gifted women assume the fullness of their roles in the kingdom of God is only available in the room where there are no men present. It’s too painful. It makes me angry.
Where is the freedom of Christ here? Where is the blood of Christ that covers us all? Why are we standing so far apart on our respective hills, the theological ones we’re willing to die on, when we should be kneeling together at the foot of the cross where we are all on common ground?
At the heart of body theology is the incarnation of Christ. Christ lived and died and rose again in the actual, fleshly sense. Through Christ we have been redeemed: body, mind, and spirit. We are made new. There is no longer race, class, or gender to divide us. All are one in Christ Jesus.
How can we regain our connection with the ideal, the beginning, the first bloom of the coming together of the community of God?
The first step is to recognize our strength and that our strength is far greater than that of the leash that ties us to satisfaction with complacency.
If we can’t be silent and we can’t speak, where does that leave us?
I feel dishonest, sitting in a folding chair on community night while these earnest people open up their lives to each other, knowing I am not being vulnerable in return, knowing they would not know how to respond if I were, knowing there is no room for me here.
I want so much to join them. I want so much to leave.
I feel like the sluggard who buried his talent in the sand rather than using it to his advantage. Here I am with a seminary degree, a woman with all this knowledge and training and no where to put it to use. Here I am, sitting in that chair, keeping my mouth shut, unwilling to rock the boat, unable to move at all.
How can they be satisfied with so little? How can I expect so much?
I feel like a freak for not being satisfied among these people, these brothers and sisters, these members of the body of Christ. Their complacency wounds me, and I can’t even begin to explain it to them. I am already too defeated to try.
There is no room for me here. This space is too small and cramped. I can’t even squeeze in as it is. How can I grow?
I can’t stay here. But there is nowhere to go.
It is impossible to separate the way we feel about ourselves from the way we feel about one another. – Wuellner
We’ve been touring Flora Slosson Wuellner’s Prayer and Our Bodies last week and this week, looking for insights to encourage our pursuit of holistic body theology. Just as body theology is about not only our own bodies but also what we do with them in the world, so Wuellner’s book encourages prayer not only with our own bodies but also with our community body. She writes, “The nurture, inclusiveness, and sensitivity which we try to bring to our own bodies is precisely the same nurture, inclusiveness, and sensitivity we are asked to bring to our community body.”
Chapter 8: The Healing and Renewal of Our Community Body
Being in community with others is hard work. As we learned through our discussion of Bonhoeffer’s ideas about community, prayer with and for one another is one of the best ways to come to love and respect each other. As Wuellner puts it, “The health of a community body depends so utterly on its tenderness and its honor toward all its members.”
A spiritual life, and a body theology, experienced entirely as an individual is deficient. We are not living out our participation in the incarnation of Christ if we are not participating in community:
It is in community that our true faith is revealed and tested. Just as our spirituality must be experienced in our personal bodies, so must it also be experienced in our community bodies. If our spirituality has become merely an individualistic exercise–if our whole self (body, emotions, spirit) is not part of our community context–we have missed the meaning of the incarnational life.
Wuellner acknowledges that it’s easy to overlook the difficult members of our community–the homeless, the disabled, the emotionally dependent: “How often is our politeness merely a way of distancing ourselves from honest encounter? If we learn honesty within our own bodies and hearts, can we at last begin to learn it with one another?”
She describes healthy community as having “not only nurture for its members but also openness towards new members, new ideas, new ways of living. A healthy family is not a closed circle; it reaches beyond itself in interest and concern or its spirit will die.” We cannot be exclusive and be a truly healthy community where “all are equally heard, valued, and nurtured.”
How often are we divided over issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation? How often do we hold grudges against past offenders, despise those who have wounded us (either individually or communally), and refused to be reconciled? Is this what it means to be the body of Christ?
What would it look like if we threw a healing party? Everyone in our community could come with their individual gifts and strengths, and we could celebrate being the body of Christ together. Then, before we leave the “party,” we could pray together for our community to be healed and become whole. Is there any better party favor than healthy community?
We can achieve healthy community, Wuellner suggests, through communal prayer:
Let us in our churches, prayer groups, and personal prayers begin with boldness to explore in depth these new frontiers of prayer for the radical healing of our family bodies, our church bodies, our racial, national, professional bodies.
If you and your community are ready to experience healing and wholeness as the body of Christ, I encourage you to throw a healing party. Begin to pray–individually and communally–for God’s healing to come. Wuellner offers this guidance as we enter into communal prayer:
- God is the healer. We are to be the transmitters, not the generators, of the healing light and energy.
- Face our true feelings about the person or the group or the situation. The feeling itself will never be a block to God’s work of healing if it is faced. We admit what we feel to God and let God do the loving.
- Our prayer is not meant to be either diagnostic or prescriptive. There will be changes, but they are not always what we expected, and they do not always come at the time we expect.