God is a community of persons, a community that is open to humankind in all our woundedness and immaturity, making a space for us to participate in and contribute to the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven.How the Body of Christ Talks by C. Christopher Smith
In How the Body of Christ Talks, C. Christopher Smith reveals to readers the sacrament and vital function of conversation within Christian communities. He draws upon experience and stories from his own church’s initiation into healthy, deep, faith-based conversation, as well as stories from a variety of other religious communities. Weaved throughout the book is also a passionate vision of the church’s role within its surrounding community. Smith presents an expansive view of the church’s position in the community that is both exciting and challenging.
Smith gives guidance on moving carefully but determinedly from a state where conversation is lacking or too shallow, to gradually approaching more challenging topics and making larger decisions as a healthy body. Far too many churches fall into the traps of sticking to shallow discussions to avoid conflict or limiting what’s permitted in conversation to fit an imposed and often top-down unity. Smith reminds us that while we come together to find common ground and faith, homogeneity leads to brittle social structures that can be restrictive and easily shattered. His examples of the conversations some churches worked through together were difficult at times, as an LGBT person of faith, to read yet more stories of the trouble some have in finding love and acceptance toward people like me. However, Smith clearly expresses the need to prioritize the well-being and wholeness of oppressed and abused people as we engage in these conversations.
As a Quaker, I recognize some of the problems discussed around lack of deep conversations about faith, and I appreciated that Smith draws upon Friends’ communities and practices in parts of his writing. His approaches are not reliant on clergy or church hierarchy, leaving space for a wider range of religious communities to follow his advice. He also shows a deep respect for discernment within a whole community that feels deeply compatible with Quaker process. I believe that following Smith’s advice around conversation, combined with an openness to prophetic witness, could bring a renewed health and vigor to religious bodies of any tradition.