Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Body of Christ is like a Giant Space Robot

Thinking about the Church can be a bit overwhelming. Also called the body of Christ in the New Testament, a term that Paul favoured, it isn’t just our local church (though it includes that), but is the Universal Church spanning time and geography. And, it’s not just metaphorically Jesus’ body, but actually is. This is mind boggling to me, in part because of the fact that I am a part of it.

One image that I find helpful in thinking about the Body of Christ is a childhood hero of mine:

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Voltron, you see, is made up of five robotic lions, and each has their own function and role. In fact, each lion is specifically designed for the role they play. The green lion is the left arm, and was designed to be so. In the same way, God has designed and gifted each of us specifically for our role in the Body of Christ. This includes our temperaments, quirks, talents, and unique personalities (though marred by sin). Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:18 that God has placed each member into the body just as He desired.

  • We have God-given gifts meant to encourage, strengthen, and help each other. Your temperament, personality, and quirks – though marred by sin, are uniquely yours because of God’s design.

Each lion is necessary to Voltron; the red lion can’t say to the yellow lion “I don’t need you,” otherwise Voltron wouldn’t be able to stand (or fly). You and I need each other member of the Body of Christ too. This includes the people in our local church. All of them. It includes the poor, the mentally & physically disabled, those from other countries with different language and culture and skin colour. And it includes those who are just plain annoying. We can’t say to them “I don’t need you,” though in actuality we believe (or at least act like we believe) that we don’t. The challenge for us is to begin (if we’re already not) valuing all the members of Christ’s body as essential and necessary. Not just abstractly, but particularly – the person next to you in the pew, or at the back of the sanctuary. The Christian down the street, or on the wrong side of the tracks.

It also means that one denomination can’t say it to another either. The baptists can’t say to the Pentecostals “I don’t need you,” for example, or the Emergents to the Neo-Reformed. We individuals each have a specific role to play in Christ’s body, and so does each denomination. They need each other despite (or because of) their doctrinal emphasis and differences; otherwise His body isn’t whole.

The Voltron illustration goes deeper too. Each lion is piloted by a human riding inside it. Without the human inside it, it’s just a dead robot lion, and a lame robotic limb. The humans power and operate the robot. They are like the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and the Church (1 Cor. 6:19). Without the Holy Spirit we are dead and lifeless, and useless to Jesus’ body.

  • The Holy Spirit is like the blood that gives us constant and continual life. As we maintain our connection with Christ we ‘keep the blood flowing’.

Finally, Voltron’s purpose was to defend Earth from enemy invaders. It didn’t just sit around in a museum for people to look at; it made a difference. In the same way, as members of Christ’s body, we need to act too. Our purpose is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” And like the early church, we should be providing materially for the other parts of the body that are in need – both locally and globally.

While the Universal Church (and even the local church) is so much more than a giant space robot piloted by humans, it’s helpful to keep in conscious thought when you meet another Christ-follower, whether you know them well or just met them: “I need you, fellow member of Jesus’ body.”

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Whiskey Priests

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I enjoy ‘whiskey priest’ stories a lot.*  So much so, that I find myself seeking them out now. I haven’t read many, but they’ve spoken to me, called out to me, ministered to me even. In part, because I see myself in them (more on that later, though).

A ‘whiskey priest,’ a phrase coined by Graham Greene for his protagonist in The Power and the Glory, is a vocational minister – usually a Catholic priest – who has some sort of moral shortcoming. Despite this, and often along with accompanying guilt or feelings of ineffectiveness, God uses him to minister to people and ultimately shows His grace to and through him.

The Stories

My introduction to this genre was Doctor Faustus, a play by Christopher Marlowe Imagewhich I’d read at least a decade before anything else below. Though Faustus is not a whiskey priest himself, I’ve long identified with aspects of his character. At the beginning of the play Faustus is incredibly intelligent, and incredibly devout (umm, not those parts). Yet his thirst for knowledge leads him into the occult and alchemy and he summons a demon, trading his soul for knowledge and power (not those parts either…). At the end of his contracted life he desires to repent, and even confesses that “a drop, nay, half a drop even” of Jesus’ blood would be enough to absolve him. But he does not break his contract and is dragged to Hell. He knew the truth, yet turned aside from it. The reason he doesn’t fit is because during his post-soul-selling life, he does not in any way try to serve God, knowing that he has damned himself already. The play shares similar themes with the rest of the items on the list, however, such as Faustus’ knowledge of the depth of his sins.

The first time I read Shusaku Endo’s Silence, I knew it would be one I’ll go back to read again and again. ImageI’d initially picked it up because of the book’s cover, and because I’ve always been interested in the history of missions & Christianity in East Asia. The book blew me away. It’s about a Portuguese Jesuit, Father Rodriguez,  who goes to Feudal Japan at a time when Christianity is outlawed, looking for his mentor who rumor has it has apostatized.  Great story, with an incredible ending, and to me illustrates the enormity of Jesus’ “emptying Himself” (a la Philippians 2) out of love for His creation. Some  may not consider Endo’s protagonist a true whiskey priest, but I can’t help but see him falling in this category.

ImageNext I’d read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, and was here first introduced to the idea of whiskey priests. The nameless protagonist is a priest on the run from the 1930’s Mexican government, which is trying to stamp out Christianity. As he runs, he drinks, and he takes confession and offers communion in the communities he runs through. I’d picked up my copy at a used book store, and knowing nothing about it beyond what I read on the jacket that day, recognized that it was a famous author and novel and so should read it. No regrets there! Sadly, I no longer have that copy, and am on the lookout for another.

Sometime after that, I saw a movie called ImageThe Apostle written by, directed by, and starring Robert Duvall.  This time it’s not about a Catholic priest, but a Pentecostal minister, Sonny, who’s ousted from his church by his wife, who also happens to be having an affair with the youth pastor. Sonny kills the youth pastor in a fit of anger and goes on the run, repenting and trying to continue preaching the Gospel as he goes.

The Sparrow was next on my reading list, and was really the novel that started me off on this track of reading tales aImagebout struggling priests. Written by Mary Doria Russell, it’s set in the year 2016 when life on another planet is discovered. A(nother) Latin-American Jesuit, Father Sandoz, an expert in linguistics, is dispatched with the team, and is the only one to return to earth. While he tries to do good, he causes untold harm both to himself and those he interacts with (both human and not).

Currently I’m reading Godric by Frederick Buechner, and it’s the first whiskey priest story I specifically searched for. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but it’s a fictional retelling of the life of the saint Imagebased on his real-life hagiographies. Even in the first chapter I see how Godric easily falls into this ‘society of whiskey priests’ if you will. I love how he tries to scandalize the monk writing his biography; I find myself sometimes scandalized too by how frank and honest Godric is, yet without guile.

A Common Thread

While quite different overall, one common thread shared by all the main characters is that they have a troubled or dark past; they’ve all done things or had things done to them which affect what they do in their present. They are all fallible human beings, trying to do what they know to be right amidst their brokenness.

What else is on the docket? Not sure, actually. I’ve heard ‘Diary of a Country Priest’ fits this category, although I haven’t looked into it yet. ‘The Monk’ may as well. We shall see!

* I also enjoy scotch whiskey. As I wrote this post, I savoured a glass of Chivas Regal on the rocks I received for my birthday recently.

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