For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘body of Christ

I had a dream last night about this post, and about a new metaphor for pastors. We are preachers, teachers, counselors, visitors, business managers, supervisors, coaches, cheerleaders, leadership developers, fundraisers, advocates, biblical scholars, facilities managers, marketing directors, administrators and a dozen other things—often all of the above in the course of a day or week. To that list, I would like to add the title of spiritual personal trainer. (Not that we need more things to do, but I do think that a good metaphor helps us sort out what it is we are doing.)

First of all, the description of the skills needed to be a personal trainer sounds quite similar to a list of pastoral skills:

Personal trainers need to have a multitude of skills. You should be analytical, patient, nurturing, persistent, organized, an effective motivator and, most importantly, a good listener. You should love working with different kinds of people and be a self-motivator. You don’t have to look like a body builder to be a fitness trainer, but you should definitely lead a healthy lifestyle to be a good role model for your clients. (from about.com)

If you replace fitness training with discipleship or spiritual development, it’s a pretty good match. We pastors do not need to be saints, but we should definitely  have a healthy spiritual life to be a good role model for our churches.

What does a personal trainer do? Personal fitness trainers work with individuals on developing a healthy lifestyle through improved diet and exercise. They help people identify their own goals for their body and develop a plan for growing into those goals, encouraging and challenging them along the way. They have a reputation of pushing people beyond what they perceive as their own capacity. People sometimes get angry at their trainers for pushing so hard, demanding so much—but they praise them for the results and for helping them become more and better than they could be on their own.

The body we are training is not the physical body, but it is the Body of Christ. We are working the various muscle groups and strengthening the core so that we can better serve God in this world.

I think this metaphor is especially apt as we work with church leaders. We have the opportunity to work with leaders to set personal spiritual goals and then to live up to them. We can challenge them to grow in prayer, in communication, in evangelism. We help them tend to various parts of the Body of Christ and keep all the parts working together as a whole.

My church is preparing to enter a capital campaign. We will be asking people to make a sacrificial gift to our church in order to help us renovate our building and move into what we believe God’s vision is for our future. We will be asking people to stretch themselves, to act in faith, to dig deeper than we have in a generation. As pastor-who-is-personal-trainer, I want to challenge them to do more than they think they can do, to exercise greater generosity (even if it hurts a bit), to exceed their own expectations. The exercise of growing in generosity will, I believe, strengthen our Body in faith, commitment and connection to Christ, and equip us to serve God more effectively in the future.

I am imagining myself as a personal spiritual trainer, building up the Body of Christ. What do you think? Does this metaphor make sense to you?

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Take This Bread: A Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-First Century Christian by Sara Miles, 2007, Ballantine Books, 294 pp.

This book was so rich and full it is hard to describe. The pink pen I was using to make notes and stars and underlines seemed to bleed across every page. Sara Miles is a beautiful writer with a powerful story and a profound witness of faith to share.

Take this Bread is a spiritual memoir centered around the experience of feeding and being fed and developing a theology of the Body of Christ. Miles’ story begins with an atheist childhood and early adulthood spent as a reporter covering left-wing radical revolutionaries, who shared whatever scant food they had with her. The turning point comes one day when she stumbles into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. She receives her first communion there, unprepared and uneducated, and finds her life transformed by the sacramental experience. She experiences a mystical encounter with Christ’s body in the bread and in her connection with the bodies of those around her. With joy and trepidation, she launches on a quest to understand this experience and share it with others. This pursuit leads her to found a food pantry at St. Gregory’s, and then more pantries across the city.

Take this Bread is her interpretation of those experiences as a journey of hunger and its satisfaction, and the deep connection between the hunger of the body for food, the hunger of the soul for God and the hunger of the creature for community. Miles makes a passionate argument, grounded in mystical experience and biblical theology, that our mortal bodies matter, that the Body of Christ is all about our bodies connecting with other bodies we might not choose to know or love, and that God blesses all of it when the hungry are fed.

This summary does not do justice to the beauty and passion of her writing. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

From her war reporting years:

What I learned in those moments of danger and grief informs what I now call my Christianity. It was a feeling of total community with others, whether or not I was like them, through the common fact of our mortal bodies. We all had bodies that could suffer and be killed; we all had hearts that could stop beating in an instant. In war, I looked at other, different people and saw them, face-to-face—and in seeing them, felt a we. (p. 39)

From her first communion at St. Gregory’s:

There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements. There was the suggestion that God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and loved without reason. (p. 64)

From her experiences at the food pantry:

This was where I found my faith: a faith expressed in the wild conceit that a helpless, low-caste baby could be God. That ugly, contaminated and unimportant people embodied holiness. That my own neediness and misfitting, not my goodness or piety, were what God intended to use. … The kingdom was the same old earth, populated by the same clueless humans, transformed wherever you could glimpse God shining through it. (p. 222)

Throughout the course of her memoir, Miles talks about sacraments beyond communion (baptism, anointing, marriage), about her disappointment with the imperfection and rigidness of the church, about the various people she comes to know through the food pantry, about family tensions and forgiveness. Take this Bread is a treasure trove for preachers, an affirmation of social justice and social service Christianity, a witness to the mystical power of the sacraments, a moving spiritual autobiography and a bold theology of the Body of Christ. I can’t say enough to describe it, and I can’t recommend it to you highly enough. As Anne Lamott is quoted on the cover, this is “the most amazing book.”

 


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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