The Body—theme of the 16th annual Spirit and Place Festival, November 4-13, 2011—got me thinking about “body” in my religious tradition. One of our earliest leaders used “body” as metaphor for community to teach the church how to live together. The people kept trying to value some of their members’ social status above others, as was the custom of their larger culture. In contrast, this leader wrote, “Now there are a variety of gifts…for the common good…the body does not consist of one member but many… If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?…” (1 Corinthians 12:4a, 7b, 14b,17). In this metaphor, diversity is valued as an important and necessary aspect of unity.
Community as body is a powerful metaphor. I have seen it in action. “Randi” stood up during the weekly service in one congregation. She was moving out of town and wanted to say good-bye. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I knew some in the congregation were very uncomfortable with Randi’s appearance and some of her behaviors. To my surprise, Randi thanked the gathered community. She said she never felt so loved and accepted in her life until she joined this little congregation. Somehow, the body worked. Imperfect people with a variety of gifts managed together to demonstrate the love that we claim is at the center of our faith.
A few years later Randi moved back to town and rejoined the congregation. Her appearance and behavior weren’t any more socially acceptable, but her gifts were added to the body, for the common good. Randi eventually developed a terminal disease and the congregation was able to care for her, however imperfectly, until the end of her life.
What if we could embrace this body metaphor, not just to serve one religious tradition, but to serve the community of Indianapolis? How shall we live together as people from many backgrounds and gifts, bound together by a common geography and a shared humanity? It wouldn’t be easy to see ourselves as a body functioning together for the common good. We’d have to admit to ourselves and to each other that we really do need each other. We’d have to agree that at some level there is a common good. But, can you imagine trying?
Christian Theological Seminary
Site host for “Growing Food for Growing Bodies: Healthy Choices for Hoosier Children” November 10, 7 pm