The very second post on my blog, almost 7 years ago to the day, two blog addresses ago, and just a 2 months before I moved overseas, was about kidney donation – specifically, mine.
(You can read about it here – so long as you bear in mind it was written 7 slightly more naïve and less eloquent years ago).
I still struggle a bit to explain why I did it. At the time – and even thinking on it now – it didn’t feel like a big deal. I’d been presented with a need, and I had the means to meet that need. And, because it was a serious need, a literal life-and-death one, I couldn’t really imagine not at least trying.
I knew there would be a lot of steps and tests and time involved, and I knew it carried risks, too. But, even counting those up, it made the most sense. As I journaled at the time, ‘How could I not give something, at little cost to myself, that would have a great benefit to another?’
I realize now that this was the same motivation behind wanting to move overseas and striving to serve at the margins – in humility, trying to discover where there was a need I could meet, and giving myself to meet it. Philippians 2 tells us to count others more significant than ourselves and to look to not only our own interests, but also the interests of others. Galatians 6:10 tells us to do good to all people as we have the opportunity. Proverbs 3:27 warns not to withhold good from those to whom it is due when it’s in our power to do it.
And while I’ll admit, applying the Luke 11 passage that talks about giving your neighbor one of your tunics if you have two to your kidneys is a stretch, there is a general life principle there about going with extra while your neighbor goes without.
Kidney donation took this to an extreme, yes – but it was an opportunity to model the love I had been shown. After all, Romans 12:5 tells us, we are one body, members belonging to each other. If my brother was in need of what I had, who was I to deny that?
This was all brought back to me recently through a post I saw from the writer Carolina Cisneros after the succession of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, advertising blood and marrow drive for hurricane relief efforts at church. Seeing people sign up to give blood and marrow to those in need gave a whole new meaning to talk of us being ‘the body’; a reminder of the physicality service and sacrifice can take that shows we belong to each other – literally.
There is a cool-looking muscle called the psoas muscle we all have that connects on the lumbar spine. If we overuse or injure this muscle, it can overstress our lumbar curvature, and take important space away from the spine. This is space our body needs – going without it can put a lot of stress on the upper body, creating tension headaches and fatigue, and harm our posture. This is one example of about a million of ways our bodies compensate for other parts, but cannot function that way forever, or without consequences. (source)
Our bodies are very resilient and can be excellent communicators if we’re willing to listen to them. They figure out ways to perform when we need them to, even if something is off. We are wired to compensate for parts that are working insufficiently. But that compensation can only work for so long before something breaks down. Our bodies try to tell us that it is compensating, usually by way of pain. And the weakest link in the kinetic chain is often the one that ends up suffering the injury. (source)
The same is true for us who are Christ’s body and each other’s members. When there is pain in the body, it is eventually felt – somewhere. Even if it’s compensated elsewhere for a while, if it’s not dealt with, the whole body starts to break down. An unresolved or unacknowledged rift in one area is eventually felt by the whole church if it’s not dealt with.
This is the beauty of pain, too, and its ultimate purpose – it tells us where we are not functioning as we should be, and where we can rebuild. If we listen to pain and take our injuries seriously, we can begin to heal. When there is brokenness, division, hurt and rift, it should signal to us a need to compensate for our hurt and weakness – and where restoration and healing are needed.
But the first step is listening, and taking our pain seriously. And before we can do that, we need to recognize our body as our body. That sounds obvious, but it isn’t. Particularly in such divisive times, do we really see ourselves as part of each other? Or do we sort out our Democrat organs from Republican limbs, blue-collar head from white-collar torso – and pretend this isn’t our body after all? Do we really believe as though we belong to each other, we rely on each other, we are in fact one body in Christ?
Of course we belong to each other, metaphorically. If we’ve read Paul or at least heard his letters preached, we are familiar with the word-picture (and I do love a good word picture). But what if we took that picture literally? What if we interpreted it physically, and practically?
There is a small sign in a hallway at my husband’s parents church in Stevenage, England. I saw it there the first time I visited, and it made me smile. I don’t remember the wording exactly, but it says something like “What if the church saw blood and organ donation as part of its giving?”
But what if we did? What if we really did? What if being good neighbors and lovers of God (and therefore lovers of the people he made) included seeing the very blood in our veins (and maybe even our spare kidneys) as another avenue for giving life, another way to restoration, another avenue of many several thousands of living toward the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?
Could we view our very blood and bodies as one small avenue of kingdom-come? One small avenue of incarnation?
To take it further, could we attune ourselves to pain? To the pain of others? Attune ourselves to listen to it, to find the source, to ask questions, dig deeper, be honest about ourselves and our institutions, and be willing to compensate for a time, as we look to the health of the whole over our own small parts?
I would love if the church was known for people who worked for the health of communities. Just like Caroline shared on Twitter, her church organizing sacrificial bodily giving for the benefit of others. I love that. People of the body and the blood. People of giving and life-giving. People who care for the blood in their neighbor’s veins as they do their own.
May it be so.