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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wheelchair Thoughts

It is strange the different perspective one has on the world from a wheelchair.

My bookshelves have a acquired a new interest for me. My eye level has changed and a new range of titles are on their way to becoming familiar as I roll up the passageway to the study: Theological Aesthetics – did I really buy that? I must have, but I doubt I ever got past the introduction. Perhaps this is the time to renew the encounter ... perhaps; I make no promises.

Other concerns engage my mind at the moment, and they are connected to this wheelchair phase of recuperation. My surgeon was quite wise when he visited me at some ungodly hour in my room and said, ‘you’ll find this recuperating stage very hard: anyone with a demanding job does; it’s hard to be away from the office for a long time.’ I accept that part of our ‘wiring’ is our need to be around and available in our work environments because of what can go wrong when we aren’t – ‘when the cat’s away...’ as the saying goes.

Unhappily this worldly wisdom applies in the church as much as in any other environment: the church participates in the brokenness of this world no less than any other institution – except that (on a good day) we acknowledge our brokenness and resolutely seek God’s grace to deal with it.

While organisational researchers often use systems theory to map and explain how organisations work, they don’t usually cite the bible. Yet Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12: 12-27) is a superb image for the interconnectedness that systems theory maps. One phrase sticks particularly in my mind – ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together’. The body imagery is utterly apposite. If there is an infection in a foot there will be a rise in temperature that will manifest itself throughout the body and may lead to other complications. Congregational life is very similar: you only need one person in any congregation to be harbouring a grievance and it is extraordinary how a kind of toxicity can spread through the community (especially now through technology - whether phone, email, or Facebook).

For me the real question is how a congregation responds to the one who is the ‘suffering’ member. If we ignore them, then we are actually doing damage to the rest of the body – because we are all affected, whether we are recognizing it or not. Equally, if we collude with them (whether passively or, God forbid, actively), toxicity spreads all the faster. For myself, I reckon the health of any congregation can be usefully checked by noting whether issues are brought out into the open or are allowed to fester. Of course the kind of robust openness that this requires is not simple but a spiritual discipline that requires a grace-filled and purposeful attention.

Strange, the benefits of this wheelchair: ‘new’ books come into view; ‘new’ thoughts make a fresh imprint.