In thinking about the theme of Sex and Bodies for the annual Queer Theology synchroblog, I’ve been thinking about a moment in my childhood when my sisters and I, in the backseat of the family car, got into big trouble for playing what turned out to be an adult game.
I was maybe 10 years old, my sister Dina was 12, and Maria would have been about 7. We were returning from a day trip to New York City. My dad, Pete Toscano drove, and my mom, Anita Toscano, sat in the passenger seat smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes and reading. She was a constant reader, everything from trashy romance novels to literary non-fiction. When she read, the book formed a force-field around her that virtually nothing could penetrate. And we three kids in the backseat played our little game.
We used a pack of Necco Wafers, these were disc-like chalky candies in weird flavors like licorice and clove. They came in a round pack about the size of a roll of quarters. In our game one person was the giver and the other the receiver. The giver took a single Necco wafer, turned to the receiver and said, “The Body of Christ, broken for you.” Then with the wafer on the tip of the tongue, the receiver responded–“Amen.” The Body of Christ Broken for You. Amen.
What an odd expression–The Body of Christ broken for you. I mean when a body is broken that’s not typically a good thing, not something to celebrate. Like when I was a kid and Dr. Cornelius, my favorite Planet of the Apes Action Figure broke in my hands while I was playing at my grandmother’s house. I gasped as Dr. Cornelius’ head fell off and rolled under the couch, his limbs dangled by rubber bands, and I was left holding his disconnected torso. I was inconsolable. On the phone my mother tried to comfort me, “We’ll get you another one.” I’m sure she did, but not all broken bodies get replacement parts or a reboot.
Often a broken body represents pain, tragedy–like the brokenness that comes from an accident, illness, or abuse. The body may heal up, but is left with scars; a disability can last a lifetime. Sometimes a broken body leads to death. Some could say that we are right now living on top of the largest broken body of them all–our planet. After years of exploitation, abuse, and relentless polluting, our earth is weakened, changing, and failing right before our eyes.
Recently on my podcast I reflected on the popular modern theological notion that in relation to the planet and the life on it, we are to be Stewards. Some eco-minded theologians charge us with the tasks to be the caretakers of the land and caregivers to the living things on it. A lofty place for one of millions of species on the planet.
I am not a touchy feeling granola new age environmentalist, but even I can see that there is an interconnectedness. When I breath out, I release a little bit of carbon dioxide and a lot of nitrogen. The carbon dioxide is in turn absorbed by plants and ultimately gets transformed and released as oxygen.
I am not a distant other caring for a needy planet. Rather I am part of a system, one that I need for food, air, and life.
If I were to be cynical about it though, the actual relationship I see that humans have with the planet is parasitical. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. We have a negative connotation to the word parasite. It can be used as an insult in an argument, “I tell you Leonard, I can’t take any more. You are sucking the life out of you. You are an emotional and financial parasite!”
My husband is writing a novel that includes a character that is a talking tape worm, one that possesses the body of a young boy in hopes of manipulating the boy in order to save the world. (Strangely enough I am working on an illustrated story about a talking holy placenta.) Over meals and before going to sleep, I have heard a far too much about parasites. Now there are actually good parasites, beneficial parasites. Researchers have begun to point out that many intestinal parasites actually help us. These microbes swimming in our guts might be responsible for activating our immune system and staving off problems caused by intestinal inflammation. There is a give and take with these parasites in our systems. We benefit each other.
While it doesn’t sound terribly appealing, I believe that instead of seeing ourselves as stewards of the earth, we should think about how we can be downright neighborly beneficial parasites on this large body we call home.
But let’s return to the backseat of that Ford station wagon, that time capsule of my childhood memory. Playing our little game, my sisters and I went through pack after pack of Necco Wafers–The Body of Christ broken for you–Amen. The Body of Christ Body for you. Over and over until we got so obnoxious, we pierced the smoky protective seal that formed around my mother as she enjoyed her book. She snuffed out her cigarette, threw the paperback to the floor of the car, spun around to face the backseat and barked at us, “Knock it off already for Christ’s sake!” But we couldn’t. We were addicted to our little game, like we can get addicted to so many of the games we play in life. As it grew darker outside, we huddled in the backseat whispering to each other. The Body of Christ Broken for you–Amen.
You can hear an audio version of this essay:
You can read more submissions in the Synchroblog series:
- The Ripening of the Plum, a poem by Kathryn Mahan
- When a Porn Star Taught Me How to Pray by Ric Stott
- Sexuality and Vulnerability by Jarell
- Qeer Theology Synchroblog 2015 My Queer Place in the World by Neil Ellis Orts
- solidarity with “the strangest thing in christianity” by H.H. Brownsmith
- my body. by Oliver
- Poem, ‘noli me tangere’ by Jarel Robinson-Brown
- Is My Shame a Gift? by Shannon TL Kearns