As with many people I know, back pain is no stranger to me. I ended up with a pretty significantly herniated disc in 2012 and had fusion in the lumbar spine. In the physical therapy that followed, I probably missed a key point. It was at least a point I found too easy to forget. The purpose of physical therapy was to strengthen the core … to give strength to the muscles in the back and abdomen so they stop the vicious cycle where muscles tighten in response to inflamed joints and then the tightened muscles create even more stress on the joints. The trick is to strengthen the core. Those who know me can pretty easily tell that my body core can use some strengthening.
As I began physical therapy again this week, I was reminded that this was about strengthening the core, and I began to think about the core of my life in a more figurative way. What about the core of my emotional and mental life? Is that core given exercises to grow strong? What about the core of my ministry? Or the core of my spirituality?
Then there is the core of discipleship. So many of us want to be disciples … followers of Jesus … yet we fail to strengthen our relationship with him. We consider ourselves devoted children of God, yet we do nothing to strengthen our relationship with God. As a marriage is not possible without a dynamic relationship, so discipleship, by definition, has at its core a dynamic relationship with Christ.
The same holds true, as well, about how we exist in this thing we call Church. We want to consider ourselves as part of the community, but are we really willing to give ourselves to the deeper relationships within the community to make it strong. Are we willing to build the relationship we have with other Christians … some of whom have very different perspectives on things that are very important to us … in order to have an authentic Christian community. That, after all, is part of the core.
It is no secret that I remain concerned about the divisiveness and vitriolic ways we shout from our positions to each other … at each other … in our world today. We see it in our nation, we see it in our neighborhoods, we see it in our churches. When we strengthen the core, we are called into a sacred relationship with each other. We are called to practice listening to one another … hearing the motives, hopes, and fears that stand behind the positions we each hold. We are called to reflect upon our own motives, hopes, and fears, as well.
One of the keys I’ve discovered is that that the body core has many muscles, with some much smaller than others. Some of these muscles begin to react in ways that are hurt the body more than they help if they are not given proper attention. The trick to strengthening the core is to do exercises that are sometimes very small and seemingly insignificant yet which begin to stretch those muscles that we don’t even know we have.
In the same way, there are those whom Jesus calls “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.” (see Matthew 25). These are people who are often invisible to society. They are marginalized and considered insignificant … until something dramatic happens (often crime) where society then feels justified in demonizing the invisible ones and pushing them further into the darkness.
The key to strengthening the core of our culture and our church is to follow Paul’s lead as he talks about the church as the human body. He tells us that “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23, NRSV) It is not healthy … in fact, it is harmful … for us to simply ignore or marginalize any part of our body. As my back has forced me to attest, these muscles (both large and small) will finally make themselves known in ways that require greater attention.
So my prayer is that we be about strengthening the core … strengthening our relationships … and paying greater attention to those whom we too easily disregard. In so doing, we will discover stronger communities and communities of faith than we ever thought possible. As a matter of fact, I think I remember Jesus saying that all things are possible with God.