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Body of Broken Bones

I seldom notice the beating of my own heart. I do not give it much attention when I am engaged in some strenuous activity, because that is normal. However, I do tend to notice this chest-throbbing sensation when I am not doing much at all. My heart is telling me that something in my environment is not quite right.  Hearing the news of Ahmaud Arbery being shot while taking a jog in a South Georgia neighborhood, and seeing images of George Floyd being slowly kill on the streets of Minneapolis, roused my heart to beat in a cacophony of compassion and fury.  I do not know what to think when I see all of the riots boiling over into the streets, but I can tell you that my heart pounds in my chest with each new image.

It is a curious thing to feel your heart beating in your chest. I remember another curious time when I could feel my heart pounding. On this occasion, I felt it not in my chest, but in a specific location in my arm just above my wrist. On this day particular day, each alternating contraction of this muscle in my chest was amplified in both pressure and pain at the site of my broken forearm.  It was like the beating of a Viking wardroom, each tha-thump coinciding with the steady rhythm of my throbbing forearm.  Interestingly enough, this particular pain came as a result of an intentional re-break and resetting of my broken arm. I had fallen off a roof in Mexico, had the arm set and cast in Texas, only to find out when I got back home in Tennessee that it was not set properly. 

The pain of the initial break had actually gone away, and the arm had started to “heal.” The problem was that given the proximity of the break to my wrist, if the bones grew back misaligned, the doctor said that my wrist would  not have the full range of motion that I once had.  If I wanted that full range of motion, I would have endure the process of resetting it. The pain would be worth it.

There are various kinds of pain: there is the pain that comes with injury; there is the pain that comes from healing; and then there is the pain that comes from realignment.  The pain of realignment is a mixture of both the pain of injury and the pain of healing. The painful throb in my wrist was because something bad had happened — I fell off a roof and broke my arm. But the painful throb in my wrist was also due to something miraculous.  With each painful pump, brought with it a steady supply of oxygen rich blood, red and white blood, cells knitting together invisible bonds that would ultimately restore my arm to health and its full range of motion.  

The church in America should be in pain. It is not like the pain of breaking a bone.  Rather, it is the pain of re-breaking an improperly set bone.  And while the heart of God is found in the body of Christ, that heart throbs most intensely at the sight of brokenness. This is a necessary pain. This is the necessary pain that comes from resetting a bone that had been improperly set and cast.  Some believed that the abolition of slavery and the Civil Rights movement properly set this once broken bone within the body of Christ, restoring its full range of motion. However, when one arm has a different range of motion than the other arm, we know that a resetting needs to take place.  When a black body does not have the same range of motion that a white body has, then a bone needs to be reset. When a black body cannot jog down an otherwise safe neighborhood street without being gunned down, that body does not have the same range of motion as the other, and a bone needs to be reset. The black body that is told to “get up and get into the car” does not have the same range of motion as the white body that pins that black body to the ground with a knee to the back of the neck.

The body of Christ is a body that possesses a full range of motion as well as a full range of color. That is the reality that every Christian (and ultimately every human being) is invited to move towards.  And so as we move towards this embodied reality, we have to acknowledge the areas where we are hindering the full range of motion of Christ’s body.  

The body of Christ is in pain, and we have two choices: we can either love or we can hate; we can either go to the site of this pain, and being with us the healing power of the Spirit of Christ, or we can draw back from the necessary pain. Thomas Merton articulates this situation aptly:

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. 

There are two things which people can do about the pain of disunion with other people. They can love or they can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion.

We have a choice. We can recoil from the sacrifice and sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones.  Or, we can allow our lives to be caught up in the current that flows form the very heart of God.  If we choose the latter, we choose to go to sites of pain and to be present. The mystery of God’s presence flows with us to these sites.  But perhaps even more profoundly, the mystery of God’s presence is already there in those spaces. 

The presence of God is with Christ who utters the words “I thirst” as he is nailed to the cross.  The presence of God is also with women standing at the feet of Jesus, aching with the pain of inadequacy of not being able to give Jesus that drink. The presence of God is with George Floyd who utters the words “I can’t breath” as he is pinned to the ground. The presence of God is with the people standing at the sites of vigils and protest with the pain of inadequacy of not being able to give George Floyd that breath.  

Any yet in all of this, we do not grieve as others do who have no hope.  We grieve and lament with the conviction that the presence of Christ is with us in these spaces. And as we flow to these spaces of brokenness and even death, may we also find the reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ. Such a reality gives us the boldness to expect that all bodies can experience their full range of motion within the Body of Christ. Until that day, we will not be satisfied with one misaligned bone within this body, no matter how comfortable some of us have become with it.