Body of Christ

The Antifragile Body of Christ

Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile speaks of the fragile, the flexible and the antifragile. These three concepts are names used to describe how something or someone might respond to a shock.

Photo by  Vittore Buzzi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Vittore Buzzi on Unsplash

The fragile breaks with a shock.

The flexible absorbs a shock.

The antifragile requires shock to develop.

When I was younger I would say my faith was fragile. I would pray for something and if that something did not happen, then I would fall to pieces. If there were one too many “bad things” happening I would begin to abandon notions of God and love.

Of course, most of us grow up and we discover that our fragile faith or fragile selves will not make it in the world because shocks come. We discover how to be flexible. We are encouraged to roll with the punches and remain nimble in our lives. We know that shocks come and we should do what we can in order to absorb the shocks the best we can.

The fragile and the flexible still remain suspicious of different shocks in our lives and we would rather be flexible than fragile. However, even the most flexible regresses to a more fragile state. Flexible gymnasts at sixteen become fragile at ninety. Plastic containers become brittle overtime. Fragility is the endgame of the flexible.

Taleb introduced me to the idea of “antifragile.” This is the way of being in the world that does not shy away from shocks but need shocks in order to develop and mature. The classic example would be the immune system. Unless the immune system is shocked with virus and sickness the immune system does not develop. It needs the shock of being sick to become healthy.

The shocks in the UMC these past several weeks are real. Some in our churches are broken in light of these shocks. Others are trying to absorb the shock and make statements that “push back” to the decisions of a General Conference. Everyone processes and moves through these shocks differently, however the people and churches that I am drawn to are the antifragile. Those that take the posture that the shocks are needed if the Body of Christ is going to be strong and healthy.

The Body of Christ may be sick, but it is not dead.

How Jesus Knew The Church Would Always Be

Jesus says in Matthew 26:11, "For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." There is a lot of conversation about what this means and if Jesus was endorsing a social structure that keeps people poor. In the discussion I offer up the idea that Jesus said the poor will always be with you in the same spirit that he said, "Follow me." That is he said this as an invitation. 

As long as people are following Jesus and giving everything up, then there will always be 'the poor." In fact, being poor is one of the categories Jesus says is blessed in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. I confess that I am not the best at being poor in finances. Frankly, I am often embarrassed by what I do have, and tend to brag about the things I do not have. Even as a clergy person, I am not immune to Sin and in some ways. As a person with power, privilege and influence, I am often more in danger of the power of Sin. 

Jesus knew the church would always exist, even after his death, because there will always be people to take the invitation of let go and follow Jesus. There will always be people poor in spirit and poor in resources - these are the ones that Jesus blesses and even says he would be dressed as in the final judgement (Matthew 25). 

Pentecost and Moses

There are several connections between the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 and the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. It is worth your prayerful consideration how the story of Pentecost reverses the tower of Babel. It is also worth considering the ways Pentecost connects with the story of Moses. Specifically the fire that does not consume. 

Moses encountered a bush that is not consumed by fire. The disciples at Pentecost were on fire but were not consumed. There is a lot to unpack here, but might I just offer this one insight: God does not consume us, but allows us to consume him. 

In the communion liturgy and sacrament, it is God that offers himself for our consumption. God allows God-self to be consumed by the community, Where primitive religions fear a God that will consume (kill) them, the God manifest in Jesus Christ shows a God that does not consume humans. Philippians 2 speaks of Christ who did not see equality with God as something to be exploited but Christ emptied himself and took the form of a slave - willing to be crucified. 

I commend to your prayer life the question of what does it say that God is willing to be consumed rather than be the one who consumes? For some this is scandalous. To others this is foolish. But Christ crucified is Good News.

How Can Jesus Say Believers Will Do Greater Things Than He?

In John 14 Jesus speaks to the Disciples and says, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

How is it possible that we will do greater works than Jesus? I have not fed 5000 people. I have not healed the sick. I have not cured the blind. I believe in Jesus as the fullest expression of God known to us, however the only thing greater than Jesus I have ever accomplished is the amount of anger I have expressed. 

When we read the Gospels it is helpful to remember that we tend to default to interpreting it as an individual. So while as an individual I have not done much greater than Jesus, I can tell you that the single body of the Church has done very great things. I was told some years ago (and I have not yet been able to recover this to still be the case) that the United Methodist Church feeds 1 million children each day. Jesus fed 5000 in one day, the UMC (a single body full of believers) feeds many more than that everyday. 

Could it be that the message of Jesus is not limited to me and Jesus but extended to we and Jesus. We do things greater than Jesus... Me? Not so much.