Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fidelity and Chastity

The session at Clarendon just passed another overture to the denomination's General Assembly calling for the removal of the so-called "fidelity and chastity" clause of our Book of Order that was put in to deny ordination to gays and lesbians. As the process plays out again, I've been thinking a bit about what fidelity and chastity truly mean, and about how honoring the body is a part of faithful living -- although not a part touched on at all by those who would deny ordination to some classes of people simply on the basis of sexuality.
Truly honoring the body with fidelity and chastity is a profoundly counter-cultural practice, because it reminds us that we are beautifully made in the image of a loving Creator. Honoring the body reminds us that each and every body – no matter age or gender or sexuality or appearance or sickness or health or size or status – each and every body is fearfully and wonderfully made. Honoring the body, then, turns us toward the Creator and away from images and ideologies that would devalue and devour our bodies.
As with so much in Christian practice and theology, we will understand this better if we learn if from those who are poor; in this case, poor in body. I shared a meal some time ago at the L’Arche community in the District. L’Arche is a global movement begun in France about 40 years ago by Jean Vanier. L’Arch communities create homes for people with severe mental and, often, physical disabilities, who live with their helpers in community.
Toward the end of the evening I spent with them, Andrew, a young man who does not speak beyond grunts, took me by the hand and led me around making sure that I had met each member of the community, as we had gathered after dinners in a couple of houses in Adams-Morgan. Andrew has dancing, smiling eyes, and his grip on my hand conveyed an incredibly deep hospitality.
Sometimes, Andrew has trouble walking. He had a bruise on his chin where he had hit his face in a recent fall. I was deeply moved, that evening, by the community director’s simple question: can you imagine what it would be like if falling down were a regular part of your life?
That reminded me that some people know they have a body because it hurts.
A few years back, Jean Vanier spoke at Harvard, and he said,
"Many people know they have a head because they have learned that two and two are four. They know that they have hands because they can cook eggs and do other things. Many know they have a sexuality because they have experienced strong emotions. But what they do not always know is that they have a well deep inside of them. If that well is tapped, springs of life and of tenderness flow forth. It has to be revealed in each person that these waters are there and that they can rise up from each one of us and flow over people, giving them life and a new hope."
I’m still not sure I know what fidelity and chastity really mean, or if the progressive church can really receive any gift from these words that have done such great damage to so many over the past decade in our denomination. But if there is a gift there to be discovered, I believe it has something to do with the way that honoring our embodied selves can tap that well and allow life and tenderness and love and faithfulness and wholeness and holiness to flow in and through our lives and our communities.

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