“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” 1 Corinthians 12:12,13
“Body dysmorphic disorder.” Have you heard of it? Apparently it’s when a person becomes so concerned about his or her body image and convinced that he or she has a defect of some sort that they spend crazy amounts of time in the mirror and find it hard to function. So, for example- and we women are probably more susceptible to this, thanks to the messages the media sends us, but men are not immune either- an average-sized woman with an average-sized waist will look in the mirror and think she’s huge. That is body dysmorphia. It’s a bit like looking in a funny mirror and thinking what you see is reality.
Sometimes I wonder if the church has body dysmorphia, too. Sure, we at least pay lip service to the notion that we, the church, are “the body of Christ”- “one body” with “many parts” as the apostle Paul describes (1 Corinthians 12:12)- but then we spend far too much time looking in the mirror complaining about our nose. Or our breasts. Or our love handles.
We spend far too much time looking in the mirror when we could be looking at Him who is “the Head,” as Paul describes. We could be looking at Jesus. Instead, these so-called “blemishes” become easy excuses for not staying focused on Jesus and what Jesus wants for us. They become the obstacles we put up to Jesus’ invitation to join Him in the real world where the real action is.
If you’ve ever been around Christians who stare at their navels rather than gaze at the world around them, then you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever sat in a group of other “body parts” and found that the conversation revolves around the problems with just one body part and how things would all be different in the church if that body part were not there or underwent major plastic surgery, then you know what I mean. If you’ve ever been the body part that all the rest of us would like to cover up as “private” when it’s as obvious as a birthmark on the forehead, then you have an appreciation for what I’m trying to say.
Because wherever there is a church, there is a body and a “mirror” of sorts. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are. The people in our congregation we look to to define us and those we would prefer not to. The ways we see ourselves that clarify who we are and how we live.
But what if, instead of obsessing about ourselves in the mirror, and doing all we could to change certain body parts because they’re annoying or ugly or embarassing, what if we looked in the mirror and saw the face and head of Jesus? How would things change? Would we still be inclined to complain and belly ache about our church and its defects? Or, would we start to talk differently about all of the unique characteristics that make us who we are? The scar on our knee from a childhood bike-riding accident. Or, the way our shoulder clicks every so often when we move it. Or, the lazy eye that shows up sometimes in pictures. And what if we learned to claim these things as good and lovely because they belong to a body with Jesus at the head? What if we chose to do this, even if it felt uncomfortable or against our nature? What if we prayed to be able to do this? What would change? How would our life together look?
When I was a kid I had to wear braces because I had a crooked smile. My mother took me to an orthodontist for an evaluation: after asking me several times to bite down, smile and say “ah,” all the while quizzically looking at my jaw in relation to my face, he turned to my mother and explained that while, at the whopping cost of $5,000 they could fix my crooked teeth, they would not be able to fix the assymetry of my face. At that, my mother, who is one of the most soft-spoken, patient and slow-to-anger people I know, exclaimed that my face was “just right,” that there was nothing wrong with it, and that we would not be needing their services.
When Jesus is “the Head,” there is a sense in which we don’t need to worry too much about whether we’re “just right” or not. We can rest in the assurance that we are. That because Jesus loves us and has called us to Himself, and has gathered all of our broken parts together to be in Him, we are okay. We are accepted. In fact, we are more than okay and accepted. We are lovely and loveable. In the same way that a mother can exclaim at the perfection of her child. And this assurance in itself should be enough to help us start acting more like we really are- not what we think we are- in the world around us. More beautiful. More loving. With parts that, with all their eccentricities, come together to make up Jesus and function like it, too.