Body image has really become an issue lately.
Nope. I misspoke. Body image has always been an issue. Thankfully, more and more people – especially young people – are speaking out and drawing attention to the profound impact your perception of your appearance can have on your wellbeing. That perception is skewed by society, social media, advertising and a host of other factors, all of which seem to have more influence than the truth: you are a perfect child of God, just as you are. You being you should be more important than being someone else’s idea of you. And that’s a struggle for us.
I wonder why we don’t talk more about body image in church?
Thanks to the apostle Paul, “the body” is an image we use frequently to describe the followers of Jesus. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27). And it’s a good metaphor, mostly. It acknowledges our diversity and embraces it. Everyone, in their own unique way, is a part of making the body whole. It celebrates our relationships, our interconnectedness, our need to be in community, our need to be active in being Christ-like – to be the hands and feet of Christ in doing, the eyes in seeing, the ears in listening, the mouth in proclaiming and so on. Most important of all, to be a part of the heart of Christ in our living.
It raises a couple of questions worth thinking about, though.
Like, which body part are you? It’s easy to think that we’d like to be the brains or the hands or the heart, but somebody’s got to be the parts we’d rather not mention. You know, those parts we’d rather hide, that we often use to label someone else’s behaviour in a derogatory way. We don’t really need those parts, do we?
Every part matters, says Paul. Even the parts we think need to be hidden, even the parts we think less worthy, even the parts we don’t like or think we can do without, those should be lifted up and honoured. Wholeness isn’t about having only the best parts, it’s about all things sharing in their connectedness to support the whole. The same is true of parts that are broken, old or lost. Jesus calls us to reach out to them and Paul’s image reminds us that our interconnectedness is why: “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
Just like our own body, a community will have a sense of self-esteem and its own perception of what it’s capable – and not – of doing. So a community of faith – a church – will have a sense of body image. And a good, healthy body image in the church body isn’t about appearance. It’s about our acceptance of each other for who we are and understanding that we each have unique gifts that we bring to share with our community. The sharing of those gifts is what makes the body what it is, a synergy: that “we who are many, and come from many places, are one.”