Dismembership

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

The church I serve is 15 years old, and we’ve never had members. Most of the people who come are uncomfortable with traditional church culture, so although in some ways we have a very traditional service—word and sacrament, old hymns, liturgical art—the vibe is not "churchy." We don’t have VBS; we have art camp. We don’t have donuts at a coffee hour.

But we recently became a part of the ELCA, which requires that we have some form of membership. We struggled with how to do this. People repeatedly tell us they aren’t interested in a formal membership—anything that defines who’s in or out.

Finally we arrived at what seemed like a great idea: dismembership. We believe the community gathered around the gospel is always dismantling devotion to culturally constructed practices of power. We are disciples of another way. We are dissenters—disrupting, disturbing, disarming. People will become cooperative dismembers, like a co-op: when agribusiness, housing developments and banks are about serving power and money, people form cooperatives to better serve the community.

The graphic for our dismembership campaign is a body that is, well, sort of dismembered. Although it is not intended to be a disturbing image, after reading 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 I began to feel disturbed. What are we doing? We’re supposed to be remembering, not dismembering.

I like to think of how a God who gets a body overturns our idea of “God,” exploding our notions of the sacred and power and purity. I love to think of God being hungry, tired and needy, of the outrageous idea that God incarnate had a thyroid gland.

It's more confounding for me to believe that the church is now the body of Christ—that's a hard one for me. The church, with its sordid history and its present-day offenses. That God is manifest in a physical entity made up of human members—a chosen people, a living breathing body, a church—is essential to the Judeo-Christian faith. But it's also a little offensive.

Reading Paul while launching our dismemberment campaign, I had to confront my Gnostic tendencies. I like God embodied in Jesus Christ. I'm far less comfortable with the idea of God embodied in the church. It's just so often so bad (homophobes, misogynists, churches like mine dis-ing all over the place).

I like parts of the body of Christ. I like the brain and the ears and the eyes and the breasts. But do we really need the testosterone? The loudmouths? The aggressive superegos? If I want to believe in the radical implications of the incarnation, if I want to resist my Gnostic impulses, I’m going to need some of that love Paul talks about. It's tempting to see God in certain parts of the body of Christ more than others, but this excludes so much of life. The incarnation is a beautiful and ceaselessly scandalous revelation of the lush and excessive love and grace of God. I know I need it.

Additional lectionary columns by Blue appear in the January 12 issue of the Century—click here to subscribe.

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