Acrobats, transcendence, egalitarianism, and the church

I went to a spectacular acrobatic/dance/skateboard/basketball/music/comedy/theater performance this weekend, “Traces” by 7 Fingers. This eclectic and playful show inspired critics to poetry: “effortless athleticism, balletic grace and youthful cool,” “the gorgeously pure, loose and personal circus,” “a heart-pumping, gritty twist on circus arts.” I think my mouth stayed open for the whole 90-minute performance of super-human flips and stunts. See a condensed version of the show here, and a few other samples here and here.

My favorite segment was a duet between a male and female artist, consisting of some stunning lifts and balancing feats—she did a one-handed handstand on his upraised hand; he threw her, she flipped and dove, and he caught her, her face just inches off the ground; and some other complex moves that I could only describe to a friend later by trying to act them out—in much-truncated form!

Despite the variety and excitement of the whole show, this segment is the one that has stuck in my mind and enthralled me. Something about that duet was stirring in a way that went beyond the exhilaration of watching the other solo and group segments. It seemed somehow transcendent in a way that I couldn’t articulate at first.

I gradually realized that I was drawn to this kind of gendered interaction, how lovely it was to see a man and a woman in a partnership in which both of them did what they were physically best at doing. They displayed their different-ness, their distinct gifts of strength, beauty, and agility. And in this partnership, they allowed each other to shine. Each did something unique that they couldn’t have done alone.

Because of our modern, egalitarian Western society, we don’t often see men and women interacting this way. We’ve come to recognize that men and women are generally capable of doing the same tasks in largely the same way. Yes, women are known for being more relationally in-tune than men, and men are known for being more competitive and strategic in problem-solving than women. But these are broad, general stereotypes with many exceptions. Both men and women can have the same types of skills, personalities, and interests.

This recognition has had enormous benefits for women, giving them a more valued place in society than they have historically had. Men and women are more alike in terms of intellect, abilities, and temperament than they are different.

Except when it comes to physiology. Our bodies are made in very different ways so that we can fulfill different purposes in family life, with women bearing and nursing children and men providing for and protecting their families.

So, in the completely different arena of modern dance and acrobatics, it was delightful to watch a man and a woman interacting in ways that were rooted in their very different physiology. Their differences did not make either one inferior to the other, despite our egalitarian society’s fear that difference equals exclusion, prejudice, and oppression. Instead, their physical differences allowed them to excel at different movements, in harmony with each other.

I think the body of Christ is similar to this. Though we share in the same forgiveness and eternal inheritance, we each have different spiritual gifts. In a healthy community, we partner together, appreciating these differences in each other, not valuing anyone above anyone else. We use these different gifts under Christ’s headship to create something together that is more beautiful than we could create on our own.

How have you seen the body of Christ, in all its glorious multiplicity, working together in unity in this way?

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