Inspire, Nurture, Embrace: A Thought Experiment for our Church (part 1)

1 Corinthians 12: 12-13  “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

John 1: 1-4  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

We are a welcoming, spiritual community; anchored in love, and growing in faith.  It is our mission in this place to Inspire spiritual growth, Nurture all families, and Embrace the wider community.  —Vision and Mission of First Congregational Church of Kittery United Church of Christ, adopted at Annual Meeting 2019

Living in a culture/society that teaches us to think of ourselves as “individuals,” the work of Church in this time is to learn and practice thinking and being as God’s Beloved People, which is a communal identity.  We’ve been trained to think of ourselves as, primarily, individuals.  We are almost always focused most intensely on what is happening to “Me.”  With this frame of mind, we become attracted to things that benefit “Me” and we are repelled by things that seem too costly or too detrimental to “Me.”  Perfectly lovely, kind, wonderful people in our world, our country, our town, and our neighborhoods are prevented from living, acting, serving and growing in the world as we believe God desires simply because we don’t know how to stop thinking about “Me” before thinking about others.  It’s not a conscious choice…it is not something we do intentionally.  We do not think and act this way because we are lazy and selfish, or because we are greedy and bitter.  Those are attitudes that may develop from too much time focused on ourselves, but they are the result of “Me” thinking…not the cause.  

In ancient times, there was a particular word that was used to try and describe or explain why this is…that word was “sin.”  As many spiritual teachers have noted already, the word “sin” is so overused and overloaded in our time, that it is practically meaningless.  However, if we are to understand the original intention and meaning of the word, we could say that “sin” is nothing more than a state of being separated by God (according to Paul Tillich), which can be overcome when we choose to come closer to God, rather than remaining at a distance.  The choice to come closer to God is the choice to stop focusing on “Me” and start focusing on “We.”  Our Covenant Relationship with God frees us from our individual worries and concerns, inviting us to wider connections with neighbors, friends, family, strangers…as soon as the attention on “Me” becomes focused on “We”….we find ourselves in ever-expanding circles of love and service.  In short, our “We” keeps growing…the circle of relationship continues to expand…and “sin”—the state and feeling of separation, isolation, anxiety, fear—dwindles…and, just maybe, disappears altogether.  

The Way of Life which we follow as a Church trains us to think of ourselves as parts of this larger whole…individual dots on ever-expanding circles of connection and relationship, of which we are essential parts. Our church is an active, thriving, supportive community.  The biggest challenge we face has nothing to do with “doing.”  We do PLENTY, with lots of support from many different folks connected to many different communities.  Our biggest challenge lies in our BEING…how we ARE together…how we think and feel and move together.  Our work is grounded in building and strengthening relationships.  Relationship work becomes enhanced by thinking of ourselves as part of wider circles, and become aware of wider circles which, while they may or may not include ourselves, are all different parts of One Collective Body.

How might we come to imagine and understand this shared body of which we are all a part?  

When we take our understanding of Christ seriously, we recognize that “Christ” is an aspect of God that has existed since the dawn of time.  Christ was revealed in human life in the person Jesus of Nazareth, and as the church we claim to be “Christ’s Body” on earth to this day.  However, as early as the Gospel of John, Christ-followers had already begun to recognize that while the revelation of Christ was new to humans, the presence of Christ in the universe was not new.  John claimed that Christ was God’s Word, present “in the beginning with God,” animating all that is.  

Living in our particular moment, in which our world is constantly changing, God’s Creation itself is in peril, and we are searching for ways of articulating and communicating our faith that make sense to ourselves and others…is it possible we are in a moment in which we need to re-imagine what Christ’s Body on Earth might look like in the early 21st Century?  What if we stopped using Paul’s metaphor of the church as Christ’s human body, and we seek to understand the creative, sustaining, and redeeming power of other types of natural bodies?  

What might Trees teach us about being Christ’s body…collectively, together…in this particular moment? 

Brian Gruhn