Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gutsy Faith

The BBC has a piece today about the role of the stomach in emotions and mood

all those neurons lining our digestive system allow it to keep in close contact with the brain in your skull, via the vagus nerves, which often influence our emotional state.

For instance when we experience "butterflies in the stomach", this really is the brain in the stomach talking to the brain in your head. As we get nervous or fearful, blood gets diverted from our gut to our muscles and this is the stomach's way of protesting.

Which suggests that the Greeks were right to locate the emotions in the bowels. About the only word I stil remember from learning New Testament Greek at college is splanchnathizomai (or something like that), meaning 'his bowels turned over'. It's translated as 'moved with compassion' in modern Bibles, but that's a pale shadow of the visceral and literally gut-wrenching emotions experienced by Jesus, among others.

Thinking more about sport and peak performance, the stomach seems more and more important: control of diet and of mood are vital. And I'm now thinking back over large parts of my Christian formation which seemed to assume that the brain was the only organ we had. Enough knowledge, enough truth, and behavioural change and Christlikeness would automatically follow. That now seems like the pastoral equivalent of Quantitative Easing. The Bank of England's pumping of money into the economy to stimulate growth has been described as 'pushing string' - yes you're doing something, but the link between cause and effect is very weak.

Legend speaks of a new vicar, who preached a very good sermon on his first foray into the pulpit. The congregation made approving noises afterwards. The following week he preached....exactly the same sermon. And again the week after that. Finally someone plucked up the courage to ask him why he was preaching the same sermon every week and he replied "as soon as people start doing the things I encouraged them to do in this sermon, I'll come up with something else." Our knowledge is way out of proportion to our obedience, and obedience is what counts: "we know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands...this is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:3-6)

One of our biggest local discipleship groups is Weight Watchers, a fellowship which meets to learn, encourage, hold one another to account, and be motivated to fight the good fight against the flab. It works. Why? because it pays close attention to behaviour, to the body, to how people feel about their bodies, and assumes that people are there because they want to change. The accountability is also key.

So maybe our preaching team needs a few weeks observing Weight Watchers, to see if there's a better route to discipleship and obedience than simply 'exhorting', and speaking only to the brain. Talk to the bowels, 'cause the brain's full.

1 comment:

  1. "That now seems like the pastoral equivalent of Quantitative Easing."

    I like it. And I know exactly what you mean.