Thursday 30 July 2015

Body Building

It's so important that we always remind ourselves that, when it comes to people, unity and uniformity are not the same thing.  Neither are consistency and conformity.

Don't let your thesaurus fool you: it's just not the same thing.

One of the ways the apostle Paul explains this is the image of the body.  In the letters to the Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians (perhaps written later by one of Paul's disciples), he writes that we are all part of the one body, but individually unique parts that make the whole.  Each of us has different God-given gifts that are important to the body, important because it makes the body complete.  Our relationship to each other is that intimate, that our wholeness as individuals and as the body relies on our connectedness.

The way of that relationship is simple, but not simplistic: it's love.  In Ephesians, he encourages them to live into "the part" each has, "to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1).  We should do that mindful of the unity of the body, but it is in living out our calling that we build the body and help it grow.  By being true to ourselves and the body, and "speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).

Here's a couple of things  about that, though.

Do you know what is your "calling" or your "vocation?"   It's origins might have been religious, but vocation is a word that readily applies to any work (in the most general sense) that you might feel especially drawn to, or to which you feel somehow deeply connected.  Thomas Moore, in his book A Life at Work, writes that "a calling is a deep sense that your very being is implicated in what you do.  You feel that you fit into the scheme of things when you do this particular work."  There's that connectedness again.

And it may not be readily obvious or as simple as the "what do you want to be when you grow up" question.  It may change over time, producing a lifetime at the end of which you might, as Moore suggests, see several occupations tied together "composing your lifework and answering your calling."

Discovering your calling is discovering about you and listening to your true self.  It means discovering, in the old Quaker saying, how to "let your life speak."  

When you do that, you grow.  When you share that, we all grow. As Ephesians suggests, we mature and grow together as a body, building itself up in love.

There's another thing, though.  Like all relationships, it's a two way street and engagement goes both ways and here, I think, there's a learning from churches that could be useful to the world, whether you see the church as an institution, a community or a family.

Every so often, we go through a phase of "how to be more welcoming," which is great: we all need to examine our hospitality and how we practice engagement with others.

Just having an open door, a sign that says welcome and greeting people with a smile isn't enough, is it?  It's also not enough to simply tell others that they should come and try your church because they might like what you do.  It's not even enough to put up a big sign that says "we'll take anybody."  You need to own that, too.

Once you've done all those things, true community is created by more than just assembling people of like minds and similar interests and common beliefs.  The body grows in health and wholeness when we recognize the gifts that individuals bring, value them and engage them as part of who we are.  We ask them to share who they are, "speaking the truth in love," and create a unity of uniqueness rather than uniformity.  We all grow together, rather than conform and assimilate into a preconceived model.

Our issues with body image aside, for a moment, the body will grow and mature, change and develop, as we age.  Here's how Eugene Peterson phrases Ephesians 4:1 in The Message, he says "in light of all this …I want you to get out there and walk - better yet, run! - on the road God called you to travel."