Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Are Christians Hiding from Health?


At the end of yesterday's post, I left you with the question, "How can we better embody the priority of health in the lives of our members, ourselves, as the community of faith?"

Our answers to this question will helpfully reflect back to us our basic understanding of "health," I think.   For example, it may be natural to think of our pastoral care ministries and our work with the sick, but does our understanding of health have a larger breadth and depth available to it?  Do we pray for the health of our ministries?  Do we at least think we know what healthy ministries would look like?  Can we name unhealthy ministries in constructive ways?  If we all want healthy communication, what would make communication unhealthy?  Just what is the difference, for example, between gossip and a prayer request?  Do we pray for disciplines and practices of spiritual maturity and well being to be evident in the common life of the Body of Christ?

Underneath or behind these questions, I believe there is another, rhetorical question: What part of ourselves does the Gospel of salvation not mean to touch?  The rhetoric of the question challenges us to explore those dimensions of our spirituality and ourselves wherein we resist the healing of God.  

And so we go back to the question:  
What does it look like to promote and embody the priority of health as the community of faith?
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In 1982, James Wilson and George Kelling wrote an article for "The Atlantic" called "Broken Windows."  In it, Wilson and Kelling offered a theory to 1) account for the increasing levels of urban criminal violence and 2) propose steps to regain a healthy order.  In short, broken windows argued that public order is fragile: if you don't fix the first broken window, soon all the windows are broken.

Says Kelling, "What Jim and I hypothesized in the paper was that disorderly behavior leads to citizen fear of crime, which in turn leads to citizen actions to withdraw, and as citizens withdraw control over territory, the predators begin to move in." (1)

NPR's David Schaper further explains:

Kelling says in the 1970s and early '80s, most police departments were letting the small crimes slide, reacting instead to the shootings, stabbings and other serious criminal problems so many big cities were facing. While residents certainly worried about such major crimes, Kelling says many people also were sweating the small stuff happening around their neighborhoods.

Kelling, again: "What Jim and I did was to give voice to a demand of citizens that wasn't being heard. And more than giving voice, we gave legitimacy to the idea that dealing with minor offenses was an important part of policing."

By giving legitimacy to the idea of dealing with minor offenses - by giving voice to the voiceless retreating - broken windows empowered residents to reclaim their territory and move toward community policing.
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Empowering the body to promote the health of the body - that sounds like a conversation that might interest the would-be, healthy Church.  Indeed, Kelling reports that many other disciplines are adopting versions of broken windows to promote an environment of health.  Does broken windows have any insight for, or application to give, Christians?  What would an application of the theory look like in the Church?  Is there any point of helpful overlap here with Matthew 18:15 - "if your brother sins against you..."?

I mean all those questions openly, as in, I don't have answers.  I am made mindful, as a beginning, of the importance of the audibly spoken forgiveness which we Christians are so often loathe to speak.  "Isn't it enough that I forgive her in my heart?" we say.  "After all, forgiveness is mostly for the one who needs to forgive."  But these words so quickly becomes an excuse for tolerance of small, broken windows, which signal to others a lack of an overall healthy order in and throughout the body.  Audibly spoken forgiveness, on the other hand, names a point of mutual accountability: the sin has been named and forgiven, the grieved and the griever have gone public in their intention toward visible reconciliation and peace.  And maybe most significantly of all, the body has been reminded of the presence and practice of restorative spiritual disciplines within the community of faith.  This reminder comes as an encouragement to the healthy, who can trust the body in the common commitment to grow into the full, mature stature of Christ.
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 (1) Kelling and Schaper quoted in the NPR story that ran on the day Wilson died, March 2, 2012.

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