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The Body of Christ

2011 May 3
by Julie Clawson

If there is anything I’ve learned so far in life it’s that there are times and places where that whole “be all things to all people” thing makes a lot of sense. So, for instance, when I am sitting in a salon at the mercy of a stylist about to cut and color my hair, I’m going to pretend to be just fine with her never-ending prattle about birther conspiracies and her country music songs telling me that real Southern women always looks good and vote Republican. Call it lying or simply self-preservation, I know how to keep my mouth shut and nod along as necessary. But cultural differences aside, as my recent conversation in the salon chair unfolded, I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world the church can minister to this particular demographic.

As these sorts of conversations go, we had to cover the topics of children and vocation. I told her a bit about my kids including my daughter’s struggle with being by far the smartest kid in her class. I was then informed by the stylist (who used to be a teacher) that I needed to avoid getting her into the Gifted and Talented programs at all costs because the kids in those programs aren’t actually smart they just ask a bunch of really annoying questions and make it difficult for anyone to learn anything. Then after admitting to her (not without reservation) that I was in seminary studying theology, I got to hear her go off on what she hates about church. Basically, she informed me that she can’t stand that churches focus so much on the Bible and studying theology and learning history. In her view all of that was pointless and if a church wasn’t there to help her figure out how God can solve her problems, then she didn’t see the point.

It was a sobering experience sitting in the chair listening to her talk. She’s great at what she does (I love my hair), but it was a still a needed reminder of the perspective of the average American church attendee these days. Just as education is about passing a test and not real learning, church is about getting that magic God-fix and not being wholly transformed. I know that there are all sorts of churches (especially here in Texas) that cater to that sort of mentality, some even perhaps hoping that with bait and switch tactics they can get people to actually follow Christ once they get them in the door. But, listening to her just had me wondering how the church can faithfully minister to people like her.

Is it possible to call people to be living sacrifices when they can’t even be bothered to know who it is they follow? It’s hard enough to talk about turning the other cheek when there are celebratory flash mobs in the streets because we finally killed our enemy. Or to call the church to love their neighbor when people see giving to others as an infringement on their entitlements. But this goes even deeper. It’s a mentality utterly at odds with the entire way of Christ and yet its adherents still claim to be Christian. I struggle with knowing how to respond. I know this issue is nothing new; it’s just difficult to be reminded of its extreme in such a blatant way. But I keep wondering how can the body of Christ ever be healthy when so many of its members are non-functioning?

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. Stacie Cain permalink
    May 3, 2011

    “…because the kids in those programs aren’t actually smart they just ask a bunch of really annoying questions and make it difficult for anyone to learn anything”

    That was my situation in a lot of the Sunday schools I bounced around in as a kid. I could ask questions such as “what are the ten commandments”, but if I began asking questions that required Sunday School mother #3 to put some theological thought into it…I got yelled yet. Specifically there was this one time I asked if God loved Satan, and they took me out of the class because it was disruptive.

  2. May 3, 2011

    I almost find it easier to love thoughtful extremists who hate Americans, than I do bubbleheaded idiots who love America. Willful ignorance (and all of his cousins) drives me absolutely bonkers …

  3. May 3, 2011

    I didn’t grow up Christian, so it doesn’t particularly surprise me to find that many of my fellow church members view their religion through the lens of their upbringing. Many people who grew up in Texas were apparently told that their guns are a “God-given right:” hence the often thoughtless repetition of that meme that I recently had to denounce as blasphemy at a Texas Senate committee hearing. To follow the reasoning that 1) Jesus rejected violence and told his disciples to lay down their weapons. 2) Therefore this rejection is an essential part of the Gospel. 3) Therefore all Christians should do likewise. 4) The evocation of a “god-given right to own guns” is an instance of taking God’s name in vain – appears to be more than many people have ever been challenged to do. I recently had an extensive argument with a fellow church member who acknowledged that she could not conceive of a situation in which Jesus would tell anyone to defend him or herself with deadly force, but still insisted that her right to own a gun to defend herself was God-given.

    What’s going on here is that two fundamentally different worldviews are clashing, and, not surprisingly, the one that gets the most cultural support wins and subsumes the other one. Hence, people go around thinking they’re Christians because they’ve always been told they are, but they have never been given any reason to think about what that might mean for the way they’ve always been told to live, which they assume has God’s blessing because, again, that’s what they’ve always been told.

    Sorry to go on for so long, but one obvious answer would be to say that this is not the body of Christ we’re looking at. It’s just American culturally correct pseudo-Christianity. The body of Christ is a much smaller group, since, as the man himself said, “many are called but few are chosen.”

  4. Deb permalink
    May 3, 2011

    Studying the word of God is how we learn how to deal with our problems. Often by giving us a new perspective, thus eliminating or diminishing our percived problems. :)

  5. Erica permalink
    May 3, 2011

    I’m not sure there is much for you to do (in the scenario like with your stylist) unless the context of the interactions changes. Trying to influence foundational ways people see God, themselves and the world is arguably best done in longer term relationships where we “earn” a voice of influence.

    Practical? Nope. Effective? Yes.

    More of us should probably be spending more time with people who see things differently. Watching to see if our lofty words and vision actually match our lives will probably be the most convincing argument that our message is credible.

    I don’t think we can call people to be living sacrifices if they have a formulaic idea of God’s activity in their lives. I do think we should live it out and trust that, when folks see the difference from the rest of the world, they’ll want in on what we’ve got.

  6. Mouse permalink
    May 4, 2011

    God bless that hairstylist, however annoying she may be (and boy, how do I get riled up by random people who want to get into small talk about what I do, study etc and then proceed to put it down ). These are exactly the kind of people we need to be in relationship with. Jesus hung out with people who weren’t easy to love. And so often for us we understand it in the abstract- but when someone really, really pushes our buttons…. yep, that’s the kind of person we’re called out to reach out too.
    It’s easier to love the orphan in Somalia than the redneck etc. next door. I agree with the above post- these views can only be changed in “longer term relationships where we can earn a voice of influence”. It’s hard, naturally, especially when such interactions always leave you feeling weary, an attack on your values and up against a sea of ignorance and apathy. And sometimes it can be unhealthy to stick around these people for long, when all they do intentionally or unintentionally is tear down the values you live your life by.

    But what I find is, quite often, the person who holds some of the most backward and ignorant views… also suprisingly turns out to be the person who will unreservedly and unselfishly lend a huge helping hand in the most dire of situations. Don’t be too quick to write someone or a whole category of people off as “non functioning”. You never know. God can use the unlikeliest of people.

  7. May 4, 2011

    I really identify with these thoughts! My own blogging has slowed considerably as I have realized the vast gap between people even in their basic knowledge about just about everything, and how hard it is to bridge that gap.

    Nevertheless, I think we are called to tell the truth about who we are, how we live, and how we feel and think about things. That’s not necessarily a “stand on my soapbox and make them listen to my truth” kind of calling though! Actually, I think it is more often a “try my best not to offend or upset them or even make a big point of our differences” kind of calling. Even when we are trying to avoid that uncomfortable conversation, we make a difference just by being available to be that glimmer of light into a dark room, I think.

  8. May 6, 2011

    I am totally on board with Erica (and others above). I have been working through my thoughts on this for weeks and haven’t quite landed yet, but here is the basic rough idea:

    Thin evangelism works to get a non-believer to accept a proposition: to learn the password and the secret handshake to get into heaven. This is static, easy, requires no follow-up, and is, frankly, not very rewarding. Thick evangelism works to share our relationship with Christ through His love and the will of the Father for someone else. Thin evangelism only shares a belief. Thick evangelism shares God’s love. We cannot exhibit (by our behavior) our logical deductions to our neighbors. We can, however, exhibit our love of God by taking His abundant love and splashing it around on our neighbors and not hoarding it in a jar buried in the backyard.

    I asked one of our pastors why we don’t preach this. His immediate tongue-in-cheek answer was, “Because no one would believe it.”

    And now I am thinking about how true this is. No one would believe it is this easy — because in order to start loving our neighbors with the unconditional no-strings-attached love of God, we first have to give up our pride, our entitlements — and that part is really hard.

  9. Erica permalink
    May 6, 2011

    One further thought on this…we all have a pre-quel – a story behind our lives as they appear in this moment. Part of what longer term relationships with people of different views, theologies, etc. provide is a glimpse into their pre-quel. There are reasons they believe and behave certain ways. There is the general cultural influence, sure, but there are also specific life experiences that shape us.

    A quick example…
    a friend of mine was actively reaching out to a neighbor who was a 18 year-old mother of a 2 year-old son. This friend and her family invited them over for dinner regularly and slowly got to know them. At one point as the kids played (my friend has young daughters) and the adults talked at the table, the teen mom observed interactions of this other family and commented, “If I had a relationship like that [what she saw in the way my friend’s husband played with his daughters], I wouldn’t have been sleeping around at age 15.”

    Wow! What a glimpse into this young woman’s life….it is easy to look at teen moms, for example, with judgment, pity, confusion or whatever, but she connected her current situation to something that happened (or didn’t) years before.

    I always try to remember that story when someone I find challenging is wearisome or especially pushing my buttons. There is a pre-quel!

    A question I’ve thought about for a while and would love anyone’s thoughts…
    How does the Sabbath principle / pattern apply to relationships?

    • May 6, 2011

      Erica – I love your prequel idea. We all have an historical context which brought us to where we are. I need to get better at discerning the prequel in order to see the holiness in even the most annoying people I trip over on my journey through life.

  10. Laura permalink
    May 7, 2011

    It’s easy
    Build a relationship with her and show her through love and truth that God can help her out with her problems. It takes time and commitment, which we have to make a priority in the body of Christ. Impersonal church services won’t do it for someone like her. Living, talking, sharing, caring and truly being Christ to a lost world is our only hope.

    • Erica permalink
      May 8, 2011

      I haven’t experienced what you are proposing to be easy at all. I think it is rather difficult to actually do. I can agree with “easy” if you mean simple and straightforward from scripture, but I don’t think the deep relationships that lead to paradigm shifts or lifestyle makeovers are easy.

  11. May 9, 2011

    What a powerful conversation! I feel honored to have had a chance to read through these responses. Julie, I hope you are affirmed by the sheer quality of these thoughtful comments. You sure know how to get a party going!
    I do not know what I can add to this except some thirty thousand foot view: the emerging church, whatever it will become, is emerging from all of our bankrupt traditions. In our disintergrated and listless Xian communities, it feels as though we are already in crisis, but if Phyllis Tickle is correct, we truly ain’t seen nothin’ yet. In the purgative crisis which is coming in our time, some will respond to the king in openness and with hope. Others will turn on the open, loving ones with fury. Compare the disagreeable Saul/Paul’s response to his crisis (Acts 9) with that of the people in Jerusalem just a few years later (Acts 21:27-22:21). No one would have been able to predict in advance which people in era of the apostles, based on the narowness of their views or their backgrounds or pre-quils, were going to move either “goat-ward” or “sheep-ward” when the judgment came, but move, they did! Two definable, even visible groups emerged, all based, finally, on the overriding question: “Jesus of Nazareth, just who is that guy, anyway?” A society was irreconcilably divided over which Jesus he really was. Tickle schools us, this has happened since, over and over, again and again. As Rob Bell, put it, “which Jesus?”
    So, in our time, what sort of Jesus will stand up? Sarah Palin’s Jesus? Rick Perry’s Jesus? Newt Gingrich’s Jesus? Jim Wallace’s Jesus? A storm is coming. What good word or deed can we do between now and then? And when, as Julie wisely observed, is it best to be silent? I know this for certain: ours is a time for prayer and for groaning, and for hope!

  12. May 18, 2011

    Hi Julie. I know you wrote this awhile ago but I have to say that although my politics and opinions about education differ distinctly from your stylist, my reaction to most churches is the same.

    A church that ministers to ME would be a church that takes the emphasis off of “the Bible and studying theology and learning history” too and focuses instead on experiences where people love each other, try to fix the world and that provide time and space for me to participates in sacred rituals.

    Like not wanting to watch the sausage get made, I want to be led by people who have done that studying and who demonstrate through WHO THEY ARE that their studying reflects divine influence. But I don’t need to do much studying myself. Everyone has spiritual gifts and mine and your stylist’s are not for accessing the written past but for getting a God-fix and figuring out how to live successfully in this mixed-up world. This is no less an authentic experience of God than studying.

  13. lorna permalink
    July 21, 2011

    Memes is what our whole society scructures are built on…ideas about this and that. God is washing our memes into a meme that will spread perfectly…his one, this is why our churches are going through upheaval…and why everyone on the planet seems to be going through upheaval. He is burning away the dross…so that all that is left is pure, solid gold for his beautiful bride….the body of christ

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