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A friend of mine from South Louisiana told me, “Those Cajun boys know how to dance.” She was talking fondly about a particular young Cajun man as if to say, “I love dancing with that guy.”

I wondered what it must be like to dance so well that other people want to dance with me for the sheer joy of it. To move with such energy and grace and abandon that others are swept up in the movement.

Willam H. Johnson’s “Children Dance”

 

From time to time I find myself—with some reluctance—on a dance floor. While I’m under no illusions about my abilities, I do still aim for a sort of John Travolta thing.
I’m not thinking of the wiry, lithe Travolta of “Saturday Night Fever.” Instead, I picture myself as the older, chunkier Travolta of “Pulp Fiction.”
In that film, his Vincent and Uma Thurman’s Mia win a twist competition at a fifties-themed restaurant called Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Their version of the twist was way cooler and, well, hotter than anything Chubby Checker ever dreamed of.
My flailing arms and wooden footwork bear no resemblance to Travolta’s sensuously effortless turning and twisting. A fair description of my dance moves might include words like awkward and stiff.
And yet, despite my clumsiness, my wife Joy and I have fun when we dance. It always takes me a few minutes to get past my self-consciousness, to push through my fear of looking foolish. But everything changes once I get over myself and get into the spirit of the thing.
Being the Church is a little like dancing. Actually, it’s a lot like dancing. That’s because the Church is the Body of Christ in motion.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us that the Church is not primarily an institution. Jesus started a movement, not an institution or an organization.
Paul taught us effectively that we are the Body of Christ. But we misunderstand the apostle  when we think of ourselves through the lens of anatomy and physiology. Who we are is not our shape and our structure.
Our identity as the Body of Christ is how we move. To understand who we are we need to apply spiritual kinesiology: the study of how the Body of Christ moves. I suspect that this is what Jesus meant when he talked about the Spirit of Truth.
We are genuinely being ourselves as the the Body of Christ—as the Church—when our movement is animated by the Spirit of Truth. As I’ll explain in a moment, the Spirit of Truth is compassion. It’s how we move in the world.
But first let’s set aside a misguided idea about the Church and the Truth.

Edgar Degas’ “Blue Dancers”

 

Some religious people use what they take to be the truth as a weapon. Simply put, they assume that they have the right ideas about what God is like and how people must act to please God.
Armed with this presumed truth, they go into the world intent on producing conformity.
They are right and good. Everyone else is wrong. They figure that being wrong gets you damned. So they’re doing you a favor by leveling judgment and condemnation at you while you’ve still got time.
In other words, possessing the truth makes them the spiritually in-crowd. Gives them a privileged position. A height from which to condescend.
And this misconception of the truth distorts the Church, debasing the Body of Christ into the theological police and the moral hall monitor.
But the Truth is not our possession. Something that we have the duty or the right to impose upon others. And it is certainly not a stick to beat people with.
It is neither a set of calcified ideas nor an unyielding list of rules. To be precise, the Truth is not an “it” at all. The Truth is a person. Jesus is the Truth. And we are the Truth’s Body.
The Church is Jesus’ compassion in the flesh—our flesh—healing and renewing this world. Ever since Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, God has been saturating the souls and bodies of all the baptized with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Truth. The divine compassion.
Compassion has an empathetic impulse at its core.
We understand what someone else is going through because we’ve undergone sorrow and loss and suffering ourselves. We connect with broken people as broken people ourselves. Our love arises from a sense of solidarity in weakness and need, not from spiritual or moral strength and superiority.
To paraphrase a teaching by the Episcopal priest Claire Wimbush: Christ only works through broken bodies. Broken people. We are the broken Body of Christ given for the beloved, broken people of God.
Sympathy, by contrast, condescends. It says, “I feel sorry for you.” From the distance of relative comfort and security, sympathizers offer aid to unfortunates who suffer some adversity or trouble that the sympathizers have never endured. Those who offer sympathy view themselves as healers who need no healing, as the righteous who need no saving. (Cf. Brene Brown, Rising Strong)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Weddings Dance”

 

In other words, sympathy is not how the Body of Christ moves. Compassion is.
Even when our bellies are full, the hunger of the world leaves our souls malnourished.
Sitting comfortably under our sturdy roof, the homelessness of veterans and the mentally ill and the down on their luck leaves us vulnerable to the elements and to predatory people.
The oppression of minorities despised for their race or their religion or their country of origin or their sexual orientation or gender identification diminishes our own dignity.
Nestled in our safe, quiet neighborhoods we are still robbed of peace by violence against anyone anywhere on this planet.
Moved by the Spirit of Compassion—the Spirit of Truth—whatever shatters one shatters all. The Body of Christ does not hide itself behind walls to protect itself from the misery and the need and the grief others endure. That’s not how we move.
We reach out to the broken as the broken. That is the dance of the Body of Christ.  That is what we remember and reclaim on this Pentecost, on this commemoration of our birth as the Church.
We have made mistakes. We still do. Our movements are frequently ungraceful. And yet they are grace-filled. Of course they are. Our hands and our feet are saturated with the Spirit of Truth. With the Spirit of Compassion. With Jesus himself.

Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, husband, dad, and movie-goer

2 Comment on “Body of Truth

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