>Developmental Theology (or: Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes)

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My final molecular genetics course is Mol Gen 608: Genes and Development. It’s a fascinating topic and, to me anyway, a little more palatable than the nitty-gritty cell biology I took last quarter. But I guess 607 (and to some extent 606) is to 608 what organic chemistry is to biology, in that I do need to understand how basic mechanisms like signaling and cytoskeletal changes occur, in order to understand how larger changes happen. (But, oh, the pain, the pain, the pain!) I’ve learned a lot more about fruit flies and nematodes than I probably ever need to know (and thoroughly overused the word vulva, teehee!), and as always I see metaphors for my spiritual life.

Planarians are flatworms, but these primitive little critters have the amazing ability to regenerate their bodies from a 1/279th fragment. The catch is that this fragment must contain a type of cell called a neoblast. Basically, the neoblast is the precursor of all other cell types and forms a structure called the regeneration blastema. Cells in the blastema differentiate, establish patterns for the new body parts, and coordinate remodeling of existing cells in a process called morphallaxis. Eventually, the regenerated body parts reach fully functional homeostasis.

Jesus is the neoblast. When life has cut me to pieces, He can regenerate me. I was reading Romans 12 today and verse 2 instructs us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” My Bible commentary said that regeneration (salvation, in theo-speak) is instant, but transformation (sanctification) is a process akin to remodeling…or morphallaxis. That, I think, is the hard part: ripping down old habits, thoughts, feelings that have been hijacked by sin and changing them for better use. I’ve never renovated a house, but I’m sure there are times when it is so frustrating it might seem easier to just buy a new place. But that’s not an option when it comes to life (as many times this week as I wish it were so!) I have to work with the broken bits that I have, but with Jesus as my neoblast, it’ll happen.

The neoblast is capable of generating many, if not all, types of cells; that is called pluripotency (or totipotency, in the case of embryonic stem cells which can generate an entirely new embryo). I am not totipotent…only Jesus is. I was reflecting on Joe’s sermon about “One Body, Many Parts” (Ephesians 4) when I realized that I am often trying to be too many parts, to be the blastema, as it were. But the magic of the blastema is that it can generate all sorts of differentiated cells. If it never differentiated, all you’d have is a mass of tissue, maybe with some teeth or hair poking out in weird places. Differentiation is crucial, and maybe the reason I feel so off-kilter is because I’m trying to be too many things and just winding up a big ball of stress. I think, deep down, that this is so I don’t have to rely on anyone else. I was always taught to be independent, to take care of myself, and it has definitely been difficult learning how to trust others to do things for me. And I am still unwilling to reach the point of needing someone else. After all, aren’t I supposed to rely on God to supply my needs? But on the other hand, sometimes He works through people. Then there is the pride that comes with self reliance and sustainability. Where is the balance? I don’t know yet, but I better figure it out because I’m sick of being a mutant mass of whatever.

It’s so wild that Joe preached on this topic this week, because during our prayer meeting on Sunday I felt compelled to pray that our members can find out what it is that they uniquely have to offer this particular body. I’ve been thinking about it more as we start the transition to next year’s leaders, and while part of me is a little scared to be “replaced,” a larger part of me is afraid there will be no one to step up. But maybe that’s okay, after all, no one says that XA has to follow my particular vision, and maybe it’s time for me to bring that somewhere else. I still pray that everyone can know what part they are supposed to be, though. Knees, for prayer. Shoulders, to offer comfort and strength. Arms, to carry through mercy. Hands, to help, heal, and hold in solidarity. Feet, to move the Gospel and march for God’s justice. Toes, to wiggle in worship. Ears, to hear God’s spirit and listen to people’s hearts. Eyes, to see God’s children and past people’s masks. Noses, to detect the stench of sin before it spreads. Mouths, to proclaim, preach, and praise. Minds, to think and to teach. Hearts, to drive our actions. And of course, Jesus is the head. (The analogy gets even crazier, since embryonic patterning happens in an anterior-posterior direction, but I think I’m already treading the Lunatic Fringe with this one, so I’ll back off. …I have been studying for so long I think I may be clinically insane.)

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