the never ending work of church reformation

"Your Body Needs Work" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Your Body Needs Work” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Own the ORIGINAL or buy the PRINT of this cartoon!
In the church of San Damiano near Assisi, Saint Francis heard the call of Jesus: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.”

“Yes!” said Francis. “This is what I want, this is what I long for with all my heart.”

That was around 1205 AD. Not much has changed.

Whether we believe in divine beings or destiny or heavenly callings or not, I believe the church began as a model of what healthy community could be. It was to be a microcosm of the macrocosm. A unified collective challenging the divisive dispersion of its surrounding culture. I believe it lost this essential ethos. It’s not too late to restore it.

However, it will be impossible unless we reject a ghettoized, insular, provincial, and alienating view of citizenship in this world. It will be impossible unless we realize it is not compatibility that binds us, but open-mindedness, compassion, and tolerance. Our theology, whether it is literal or metaphorical, can fuel our passion for healthy community in constructive ways.

I strongly believe that we can create small communities that speak hope to the world… that unity in diversity is a reality that can be made manifest locally and everywhere. We need communities that prove, “This is possible globally!” This is one of my most important projects.

This, I suggest, is at the heart, or should be at the heart, of church reformation. Church reformation is not about drawing lines of exclusion, but erasing lines for inclusion. Unless the church has the whole world compassionately and inclusively in its vision, then it has become church deformation, not reformation.

This is not only a theological problem, but a practical one. Love looks like love. Our theology needs to sound like love. And our churches need to look like it. Only in this way can it be a symbol to the world that this is what the world can be like.

Some might ask, “So why did you leave the ministry? Why did you quit the church? And why do you keep talking about it like you care?” Well, because I do care. I felt my deep interest in community was limited by my career as a pastor and the local church. I believe the call for unity in diversity is a universal, global calling and project not limited to the organized institution we call church. The world is my parish. Because I believe the kind of community I’ve tasted in the past and enjoy now is possible in this life and in this world.

As I’ve written before when I did a review of Richard Miller’s book

“The humanistic implication (of Miller’s thesis) is that these Gospel stories are not the “sacrosanct possession of a major religious tradition”, but of all humankind. It belongs in the annals of our story. “To know human nature most deeply, one must become a student of the sacred.” Do these early texts, and does Christianity as a religion, contain an appreciation for humankind’s highest virtues and most noble ideals?”

Whether supernatural or human, the germ idea of the church, I claim, is that global unity and community is not only possible but necessary.

(*** Edit: I want to be clear about the cartoon’s message. I wanted to portray Jesus’ body as unhealthy, so I drew it how I feel my body looks when I’ve let it go and have let it become unhealthy. It isn’t intended to shame size. Thanks!)

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6 Responses

  1. terri jo says:

    Thank you for sharing your creative genius with all of us. Thank you for your patience and tolerance with emotions bubbling up at times. Thank you for the humility to admit that you are a student of life and spirit, for asking questions, and accepting that we also have doubts, traumas, talents and insights. Thank you for showing me a healthy example of leadership. I have been a part of 12 step “recovery” for almost 20 years now. This is from an excerpt of literature from one program:
    “Anyone may join us, regardless of age, race, sexual identity, creed, religion, or lack of religion.We are not interested in what or how much you used or who your connections were, what you have done in the past, how much or how little you have, but only in what you want to do about your problem and how we can help. The newcomer is the most important person at any meeting, because we can only keep what we have by giving it away. We have learned from our group experience that those who keep coming to our meetings regularly stay clean.”

  2. Brigitte says:

    Last week, there was a broadcast with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, three Muslim women leaders and a female moderator from India. The question to be discussed was “Women in Islam”. The thing went back and forth, seemed unfocused at times and shouting matches ensued. The point to me in the end was this: a very strict Muslim woman who was shouting down Ayaan was asked: “What is more important: Human rights or Islamic law?” She shot right out: “Islamic law”. — The answer, or course, should always be “human rights”.

    “Human rights” can also be a continuous discussion, as there will be my rights vs. your rights, and endless issues that constantly arise. These things need to be addressed with fairness and an open mind. Nevertheless, the guiding principle here is that the law must serve humanity and that therefore any law should be continuously under scrutinized for its usefulness. Some things all humanity holds as valuable, and some wisdom is universal. These things must not be lost or superseded by legalism. –That was the kind of thing Jesus was constantly pointing out.

  3. terri jo says:

    Jesus fires me up when I read about how he rebelled fearlessly against the “Law”. Because it is “law”, and enforced by “authority” is not evidence that the law is humane. TY Brigitte, oh yes, love to imagine and feel and emulate the peace love tolerance respect courage of being humane

  4. Brigitte says:

    Talking about Jesus’ out of shape body that needs some reforming and shaping up, let me say something else about the Reformation of the Renaissance times, as the representative of the official Lutheran line. While politics always gets messy and rights and priorities clash, and yes, as has been pointed out to me Luther has clay feet and does not make a good god (yes, I know and never said so, nor did he claim to be, but at the end everyone was clamoring for his opinion on everything, sometimes he was quite wrong), we can make some points about what were the issues, the goals and objectives.

    First of all the issues were of pastoral nature: people who were looking for forgiveness of sins and spiritual help and comfort were assailed by the indulgence salesman. Somehow, the theory was, if you pay money, you can get forgiveness of sins for yourself and getting people out of purgatory. This was greed on the part of the church and soul-killing for the conscience. Bad. Bad and Bad. St. Peter’s was built with this money plus money from Simony. Not o.k. Money as god, Mammon. Watch out.

    To this day, we have places where baptisms, indulgences and such things are given in exchange for money. We have American style prosperity gospel and other manipulations.

    Secondly, pilgrimages, relics and useless acts of devotion. You can use up a good chunk of your lifetime on acts of devotion, just to earn some brownie points, and that don’t anything for the community or the mind. It is really kind of primitive. I am not sure what is analogous, these days. Together with this is monasticism that makes it more spiritual to be sequestered rather than participating in the community. While a retreat is nice here and there, it’s not the normal way to have a common life, nor is it to be held as meritorious or better than active work.

    I know from experience that Americans can be really big on Henry Thoreau and how he sat by himself in the wilderness (although I read also, that he was not very far from town). Again, this sort of ruggedness may have it’s place, and could be a great experience or experiment, but it is not “better” than living in town. “Civilization” does not need to be stamped out nor put down as evil corruption. Engagement and active calling is the regular thing and all ivory tower theorist or academicians benefit from having some of it in their life, at the very least. Hence, I am also not a big fan of Buddha leaving his calling to wander about, nor any of those who feel they should go around begging as monks or as those who believe in loafing while others bust their buts. That is not being “more” spiritual.

    Again, with pastoral care, we had issues such as the adoration of the sacrament, and the rigors of how it was supposed to be stored, transported, and so on. The body and blood of Christ, in fact, is for consumption by the people to assure them of the forgiveness of their sins and belonging. The people are the church, not the “priesthood”. There is the priesthood of all believers and the holy things belong to them all in common.

    And the matter of people’s sex lives. Celibacy is not the normal/ regular way of being. Human beings procreate, make love, form families. This is how the world works. Praise it, engage with appropriate gusto and sensible rules to protect it. I think we can see that attempts at celibacy have been a terrible failure. I also think that modern life pulls us in so many directions, that the modern family hardly has time for enough sex and relaxation. This is a very sad state of affairs. We really should roll some of these developments back, somehow. It is no wonder that the divorce rate has gone up. There are many reasons, but surely this has got to be one of them.

    Then there is of course, the matter of the Gospel. If the preacher preaches endlessly about however many things, but does not preach the Gospel, he has been a robber and a thief, says Luther. The preaching and application of the Gospel is the special calling of the pastor. Of course, nowadays, many have fallen entirely away from that and that is the real problem. It is easy to find some sort of law or legalisms to preach, things we might imagine that we can keep and possibly push ourselves up with over and against other people. This sort of hubris is very dangerous and very silly. On the other hand, we may not keep them and not hear the gospel and despair entirely…

    In that sense, also, the service and the scriptures should be in the vernacular so that the people can actually understand and engage with the texts, become literate and useful administrators of a variety of affairs. To that goal, literacy is always an important goal. Everyone has a right to a decent education, young and old, boys and girls. Learning of languages, math and science and all sorts of useful and creative arts are to be encouraged everywhere.

    (I’ll quit here and do some “real” work. I am afraid I am dodging it to the detriment of my family.)

  5. terri jo says:

    Wonderful Brigitte! Thoroughly enjoyed that first taste and I will nosh on it a bit later!

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