If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
And if they were all one member, where were the body?" (1 Cor 12: 14-19)
In a lesson on unity yesterday in elders' quorum, we talked about this passage. The high council member who was teaching used it to make a good point: being unified does not mean we need to be the same. Different people contribute to the work of God in different ways. And we should respect that.
I completely agree with him, but I'm not sure our discussion did justice to just how difficult it is to respect a different member of the body of Christ. Our whole ideas about discipleship are so shaped by our own talents and roles it's difficult sometimes to realize that other people's very different attitudes and behaviors might also have an equal place in the kingdom.
Let's talk first about a foot. What role does a foot play in the body? It helps it move from one place to another. What makes a foot good at its role? It should be reliable, strong, and consistent. It should take direction well. A good foot makes subtle modifications to maintain balance, but largely stays the course once in motion.
Let's talk next about an ear. What role does an ear play in the body? It helps gather and process certain types of information from the outside world so the body can remain oriented within its surroundings. What makes an ear good at its role? It should be open and attentive to many different sources. It should be able to pass on what it gathers. A good ear should be patient and non-judgmental.
Odds are, good feet and good ears drive each other crazy.
From the perspective and values of a foot in the body of Christ, an ear must seem so lazy and distracted. "Why can't you be more focused?" the foot might say, "Why can't you just do what you're told like a good Latter-day Saint?"
But the foot seems just as crazy to the ear. "Can't you sit still even for a moment?" the ear might say. "Can't you be more flexible--even the hand is flexible!"
And so it is that the ear offends the foot and the foot offends the ear. And perhaps, through their mutual offense, both foot and ear become disaffected with the body as a whole.
"The body of Christ is basically a cult," the ear might say. "Just a bunch of feet obsessed with obedience."
"I don't see much point in going to church," the foot might say, "all they do is talk and talk--what's the point?"
We can be unified across our differences. But in order to do so, we need to work hard to appreciate people on their own terms. We need to understand that some of their most frustrating behaviors may be closely intertwined with their greatest strengths. And we need to stop expecting others to speak the language of values we know best, or taking offense when their advice reflects their perspective rather than ours.
I like to think about things a lot, but I owe a lot to people who act more quickly than I do. I enjoy nuance, but I owe a lot to people who can bring out a little more of the black and white in some of my favorite shades of grey.
May God bless me to stay grounded in my gratitude for such people. May God bless the earth through the gifts he gave them and not me. And may God give them the grace to let me do work their virtues cannot qualify them for, to reach people they might never reach.