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Is holistic holy?

The Salvation Army is good at meeting needs—but do we see spirituality as a need, or as a goal? asks Nathan Holt, corps officer at Rolleston Corps Plant, as he examines the Mission Plan value ‘Think Holistically’.
Here at The Salvation Army in Rolleston we are working through the Army’s Mission Plan. For every value we ask ourselves, ‘If we work to implement this value, what would we look like?’ This week we discussed the value ‘think holistically’ and asked: what would it look like for us, as a Salvation Army in Rolleston, to live out this value?

Is holistic holy?

The first question we asked was, ‘What does ‘holistic’ actually mean?’ That’s because ‘holistic’ is a word that evokes many different thoughts, emotions, and even fears.

The dictionary definition of ‘holistic’ (according to Google) is ‘the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole’.

But we also have other definitions that culture applies to this word. For some in our corps, ‘holistic’ was seen as an eastern religious worldview. They related the word to pot smoking and hippies, crystals and incense, robes, dreadlocks, and chanting mediation. They related it to things that they were taught, as Christians, not to mess with. So to them, ‘holistic’ was not a ‘Christian’ word.

Eastern or Western

But, as Christian activist and author Shane Claiborne states, Christianity is an Eastern religion. We Westerners have just tamed it. Therefore, our working definition of the ‘think holistic’ value must be interpreted through an eastern worldview.

The challenge for us is that we are living in the most advanced era of Western thought. I don’t mean ‘advanced’ as in ‘better’; I mean it as something that is fully, deeply ingrained. Everything in our culture in the West is segregated and compartmentalised. You go to school for your mind. You go to the gym or doctor for your body. You go to church for your spirit. You go home for community. You go to a therapist for your emotions. For every need you literally go to a different place. This is how we work in the West.

Spirituality as a need

As The Salvation Army we do a lot of work to help people who have needs. We feed people. We help with housing. We provide spaces for community. We provide social work, and so on. We meet needs. However, I would suggest that we don’t actually see spirituality as a need. We see it as a pinnacle. This is evident in our language. We celebrate the ‘saving of a soul’ much more than we celebrate the feeding of a stomach. This is okay, except it means we see spirituality as a goal, not a need.

At Rolleston, we discussed the difference it makes when we see spirituality as a need instead of a goal. We begin to treat our faith community gatherings the same way we treat our social services—and vice versa. We begin to develop plans for helping people with spiritual need. We adopt the Model of Care into our discipleship process. We see all people with physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual needs.

This might not seem like a big shift to some, but it will be. Seeing spirituality as a need could be one of the biggest steps in The Salvation Army’s pursuit of its Mission Plan values.

Everyone has a name and a story

To help us stop compartmentalising human beings, we’ve decided to insist that everyone has a name and a story. Before we provide help or express concern or set up some programme for the meeting of need, we must first learn people’s names and stories.

Jesus, through his actions, taught the value of re-humanisation. He refused to accept the labels people carried. He healed, taught, called, encouraged and celebrated all the ‘wrong’ people. They were all ‘nobodies’. They were all ‘clients’ or ‘beggars’ or ‘sinful’ or ‘poor’ or some other word that was used in place of their names. Jesus looked right through those labels and ministered to the person, who had a name and a story.

In The Salvation Army we run the risk, through our work, of de-humanising those whom God created, Jesus rescued, and the Holy Spirit anointed. If we are to truly think holistically, we must not be tempted to treat people like they are a number in a category. Everyone has a name and a story. It is our job to learn those first. We will not live out the value of thinking holistically until we can re-humanise society.

Open your life

Finally, we decided that we cannot be a people that value holistic thinking until we ourselves are willing to de-compartmentalise our lives. Our best strategy for this is living a life of hospitality, where we open up our entire lives to others. The goal of an open life is learning names and stories. We want to get to know, and fall in love with, people in our local community.

We carry the view that everyone has fallen short of God’s best. Everyone has needs. That includes a need for a spiritual connection with their Creator. We are not ‘haves’, giving to the ‘have nots’. We are needy people meeting other needy people, and creating mutually beneficial human relationships.

In all of this, we attempt to adopt the worldview that everything is connected to everything else. No one part of a human can be impacted outside of the whole. Our eating together is a spiritual act. Our listening to stories is just as good for the body as it is for the emotions. Our day-to-day life is not a series of categorised interactions that adjust one part of a person at a time.

We are holistic people living among holistic people, all in search of a fullness of life through Jesus Christ—mind, body, spirit, family.

by Nathan Holt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 20 May 2017, pp20-21
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.

Lieutenant Nathan Holt and his wife, Lieutenant Naomi Holt, lead a relatively new Salvation Army faith community in Rolleston, near Christchurch. 
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