One of the most disturbing trends to emerge in recent years is “cutting.” Forms of self-harm exist far back in human history, but social media brought this painful practice to light. There is help for friends, parents, and others longing to support kids who cut as a strategy for relieving emotional pain.
The great teacher of early Christians, Paul, wrote, Christis just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. Certainly, the body isn’t one part but many. I Corinthians 12: 12-14.
Us churched folks often hear “the body” as a metaphor for our local church, where every person plays an essential role in community. But Paul’s vision is larger. He’s talking about the whole body of Christ, the expansive embodied presence of God working through the human community. We are one body, and the United Methodist Church a part of it, of Christ’s embodiment.
Is it possible that the heated conflict on sexual identity leading to next weekend’s Special General Conference is a form of cutting? It certainly is self-harm to the body of Christ. Does the bifurcated debate that stabs the heart and wounds those we see as “other”, somehow focus pain felt across the contemporary experience of following Christ? Is our sexuality-concentrated-conflict an unconscious effort to diffuse that pain rather than deal with its root causes?
If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? ……… 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 1 Corinthians 12: 20-21
Family systems theory points out that we human have a tendency to fuse (creating an insider group as a shield from perceived “outside” threat) or to cut off (discontinuing relationship with those who threaten pain). In Paul’s metaphor, it’s easy to imagine fusing and cut-offs as organic responses to irritants in our Body’s system. But even when an entire limb is cut off, “phantom pain” reminds survivors of the loss.
We are one body. The work of General Conference 2019 may reconfigure the function of that body called United Methodist (arm, eye, kidney?) but it cannot undo Christ’s work which makes us one by his very death and resurrection on our behalf.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. -1 Corinthians 12: 24b-27
It is true that healing occasionally requires the breaking and resetting of a bone, the lancing of a boil, or the rigors of chemo therapy. But a physician never says to any body part, “you are not part of the body.” The body holds together as it heals. That is life, God’s precious gift. How ridiculous would it be to blame the leg itself for the condition requiring resetting, or the breast itself for the nausea that comes with chemotherapy?
In his essay included in the Missional Wisdom collection “Rooted in Grace,” Larry Duggins writesCulture teaches us to band together with those who think like we do and to vilify those who do not. We are taught to pull together all the arguments about why we are right and to seek to destroy the arguments and positions of those who disagree. …. We set aside unity with Jesus and each other for unity with a much smaller band of like-minded people. We are not interested in witnessing to the outside group—we simply focus on converting them to our opinion or excluding them from our presence.For people who strive to follow the example of Jesus in daily life and who seek to live into the unity that Jesus prays for, such group against group antagonism is simply unacceptable. …… The truth is that the gospel calls us to behave differently than “the world” and to value the love of God and the love of each other more highly than any other position or criterion.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians continues, Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way….Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians, 12:31, 13:13).
What healing could we bring to the human body claimed by Christ if we chose to set aside the scapegoating currently characterizing too many United Methodist interactions (from every “side”) and work together, hope together, love together instead? Instead of pretending that we know the full mind of Christ, could we not tend the body with love, seeking to heal the real sources of pain? Could we ask forgiveness instead of standing in judgement? This would require a dedicated act of trust in the Great Physician.
Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. I Corinthians 13:12
The only “way forward” I see that will bring healing is one that draws every part of the United Methodist body prayerfully together in scripture, as a window to God’s living word and in prayer, open to God’s heart with no pre-conceived outcome. (In other words, without telling God what we will or won’t hear). Modern reading that sees “love the sinner but not the sin” and post-modern reading of “redemption still being revealed” cannot work it out away from engagement, as parts of one beloved body, with the texts. This is why it so frustrates me to see folks not participating in opportunities to be in scripture together. Instead we catch snapshots on social media, rely on Sunday School lessons from decades ago, or read a book that sets our own perspective in stone. And the word of God becomes a graveyard rather than food for the living body of Christ. We toss off well meaning phrases about love or diagnosis body parts (others) without examining what's clogging up the body's arteries.
I am convinced that if members of our Methodist “societies” had continued the Wesley’s practice of scripture as formation, not just information, we would have a different heart condition today.
Perhaps it’s not too late. If you’re someone who longs for a healthier discipleship journey, let your pastor know. If your pastor can’t help you, let ME know. I’ll help you find others in the same predicament and provide guidance for the new adventure you will share. If you’re a pastor who just doesn’t know what this could be like in today’s world, contact me. I understand how difficult it is these days. There are other parts of body ready to help you for the good of the whole body. And there are gatherings in the MidMaine district taking those deep dives into scripture together.
Let us pray, and let us live……
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.