Our Junior High Director at SCPC offers a class every other year called “Pura Vida”. It started out as your basic “Christian sex talk” that is pretty important and standard fare amongst youth ministers.
What began as teaching about saving sex for marriage was expanded over time to become a multi-week, multi-faceted class on making good choices about God and your body.
Once when I was asking the Junior High Director about the content he mentioned that along with the usual topics of sex, drugs and alcohol abuse, one of the weeks they discuss “cutting” or growing and concerning problem of “self-injury” or “SI” that is becoming more prevalent amongst teenagers and others these days who use razors or other sharp instruments to make themselves bleed or in some cases cigarettes or matches to burn themselves. Most experts say that what begins as a unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with conflicted emotions can turn into a compulsive behavior that brings harm to their bodies.
The weird thing is that kids who “cut” say that it makes them feel better. The physical pain brings some temporary relief to the emotional pain. (Those who want more information on cutting can go here or here.)
For many adults this whole conversation leaves us both troubled and bewildered. Why would someone deliberately hurt her own body? What could possibly be gained by self-injury? And certainly most of us would never do such things.
But in a powerful and painful way self-injury happens with all-too frequent regularity in Christ’s body.
I am in the middle of a series inspired by five congregations that I know are in the middle of varying degrees of division and painful split. So far we have discussed that the most prevalent language about churches is the language of the Body of Christ that reminds us that the church belongs to Jesus (It’s HIS body) and to all of us (It’s OUR body). While pastors have a prescribed and limited role to play, the most important thing for a body is to stay connected to the head. But as important is for the body to practice “self-care” or body care. Next to loyalty to Christ is love for each other.
In my book, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian, I quote extensively from Emil Brunner’s book, The Misunderstanding of the Church. This book written over half-century ago remains the most profound theological work on what the church is and how we have relegated to nothing more than a “means of grace”. What is in fact, the very presence of God on earth has become for many of us a “helpful” yet optional part of the Christian life.
Brunner writes, The “togetherness of Christians is...not secondary or contingent: it is integral to their life just as is their abiding in Christ.” Did you get that? “JUST AS IS their abiding in Christ.” “The fellowship of Christians is just as much an end in itself as is their fellowship with Christ. “ Did you get that? “JUST AS MUCH an end in itself…”
Brunner is pointing to the biblical notion that if we are IN FACT, the body of Christ with Jesus as our head, then BEING the church and loving, caring and forgiving each other is just as important as the way that a healthy person takes care of his body.
My own church knows something of this pain and so today we are more tender to each other than a lot of congregations. Over a decade ago, the pastor left amidst a divorce (in fact, both the associate pastor and the senior pastor resigned in less than a year as their marriages crumbled.) As painful as it was to have the pastors leave, far worse was what the congregation did to each other. People took sides. Some wanted the pastor to stay, others cited biblical reasons why a divorced pastor needed to pull back from leadership.
Rumors flew, stakes were hammered in the ground. 100 families left the church. Half the membership, half the revenue walked out the door—more because of the rancor and pain in the church than anything the pastors had done or not done.
When the body of Christ turns on each other, pulls away from each other and separates from each other it is like a body rejecting an organ or burning oneself with a cigarette. The pain can be intense, the scars deep. But the amazing thing is what the body can do to find healing once it sets out to do so.
In an article about adolescents and cutting, experts say that what a teenager needs who is practicing self-injury is three things: 1) To be taught to accept and value their bodies. 2) To accept reality and find ways to make current problems more tolerable, 3) their parents to model healthy ways of dealing with conflict and problems besides self-mutilation.
Maybe there is something in here about what we pastors must do much better for the body of Christ. Bodies don’t just stay connected to the head, they care for the body itself.