Last week, I wrote about how important it is to remember that unity and uniformity aren't the same thing. I particularly focused on how the apostle Paul uses the image of the body to make this point in his letters to fledgling Christian communities. We are all members of one body, each of us with unique gifts that contribute to the wholeness of the body, just as the body benefits the wholeness of its parts. We are connected and when our relationships are healthy, we are healthy and the body is healthy. Well, it seems like a pretty solid metaphor.
And it is. I also shared a few thoughts on "calling" (what body part are you?) and how we engage people to share in building the body in which we all grow, as the body grows (themes in the letter to the Ephesians).
The thing about metaphors, though, is that they focus on one or two facets of something much more complex. Consider all the metaphors we have for Jesus, for example: bread of life, light of the world, the true vine, the good shepherd and many more. Each represents an aspect - or aspects - of our relationship with Jesus and speaks to many, but not all. None express the whole completely or to everyone.
But they can also raise more questions and lead us to explore more deeply our understanding of the original thing. And the body metaphor does that, I think.
Think for a minute about the wholeness of the body.
Body image issues and superficial and subjective judgements aside, let's be a little literal for a minute (always a bit dangerous where the Bible's concerned). We already have a preconceived idea of what the body should look like and how it should operate. There's a foot at the bottom of each leg, a hand at the end of each arm, the various bones are connected where they ought to be and "dem bones gonna walk around," as the old spiritual goes.
But when you start connecting people, diverse and individual, you don't really know what you're going to end up with, and "like" people often gather together. A mouth doesn't always look for a hand, for example. What if the body were all mouths and no hands? Or, worse, if it were all mouths and hands and no eyes or ears?
More often than not, we're like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with no picture to show you what it should look like. We come together piece by piece, seeking the right fit, making something that's living and organic (like a body), but without any real idea of what it should look like until it starts to take shape.
At least, we should have an idea that there should be love and respect, care and mutual support (that's the "ligaments" Paul refers to in Ephesians). But if we already have an idea of what form we must fit into, that's not creative, that's confining.
Now's a really good time for the body called "church" to remember that. For centuries we've fit into a certain body type. But the body's going through changes, as it were, and we need to be more open to new shapes and sizes.
At a recent meeting, while discussing the options being consider for restructuring the United Church, someone expressed the concern that too much freedom for individual congregations may inspire some to go "rogue." I said then, and still say, I'd love it if someone thought my church had gone "rogue!"
Yes, I know they expressed a legitimate concern about a congregation straying too far from church doctrine and yes, "rogue" can have a very negative connotation (thank you Mission Impossible franchise for making that point in your latest film). But following the way of Jesus is revolutionary in so many ways, it can sometimes challenge doctrine and, most importantly, challenge us to go places we've not been before and build communities that are new and different. Maybe we need to go a little bit "rogue" to build the new body.