Category Archives: Equality

Helen Fisher on Why We Love and Cheat

I ran across this video and wanted to share it here. Back in 2006, Helen Fisher shared some of her research on the brain chemistry of love.  It’s a bit longer than most TedTalks, so if you’re running short on time, I recommend jumping to minute 7:45-13:20 where she talks about the impact of women in the workforce and gender differences in the brain or to minute 13:20-18:00 where she talks about sexuality, love, and marriage.

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Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 2)

From the archives: originally posted January 18th and 19th, 2012

Read Part 1.

Now to come to the point.  After all this journey toward freedom from gender-specific language about people and about God, I still don’t have all the answers. I still don’t have it all worked out.  I’m not sure anyone does.  We live in a time where change happens so quickly.  We try to define the era we live in while we’re living in it, an impossible task.  So instead of being prescriptive and laying out a neat outline of what must be done as an advocate of gender-inclusive language, I choose to be descriptive and share what works for me and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.

I think any effort to be gender-inclusive, even if it’s done imperfectly, should be commended for the effort itself.

So if you like to “he/she” and “himself/herself” your way through the world, that’s wonderful.

If you prefer to “he” your way through one paragraph and “she” your way through the next, that’s excellent, too.

If you’re a “oneself” kind of person, which some people consider a little stilted and impersonal, I will still appreciate you.

And if you’re like me, you might prefer simply “we”-ing through the whole thing and when “we”-ing doesn’t fit well, bringing back the singular “they” which had fallen out of use for a century or two and is steadily gaining new life again.

Then of course, let’s not forget to transform those “mans” and “mankinds” into “humans,” “peoples,” “humanitys,” “human races” and even “humankinds.”

(Confused? Here’s a helpful guide on gender-inclusive language.)

So “we” have now established that effort toward a mindfulness of gender-inclusive language is preferable when talking about ourselves and each other.  But what about when we talk about God?

Remember when Madeleine L’Engle was writing about her perspective on gendered language? She referred to Genesis 1:27 as the basis for “man” being inclusive of both male and female.  Here’s how the TNIV translates the verse:

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

If it takes both a man and a woman together to represent the image of God, then why is it that we often only use male language when referring to God?  One common argument is that God is described in male language in the Bible; therefore, Bible-believing Christians must follow God’s example and continue to use male language to describe God.

Let me be clear.  I do not think there is anything wrong with using male language or masculine imagery for God.  In fact, God as the Father is one of my most precious expressions for God in my personal spiritual journey.

What I think is unhelpful is referring to God using male language at the exclusion of female language and feminine imagery.  Christian mothers like Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena helped bridge the gap by describing God using male language and at the same time feminine imagery.  For example, Julian of Norwich wrote of Jesus nursing us at his breasts and described Jesus as “our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

In today’s Christian culture, many people are too quick to settle on God as Him and dismiss the movement of the Mother-Father-God-ers as radical and perhaps even heretical.  For me, I strive for a more moderate stance.  That’s why I avoid gender-specific pronouns when I talk about God.  That’s why I still refer to Jesus as male (because he was a man, even if he isn’t still).  That’s why I like to refer to the Holy Spirit as female, because so much of my experience of the divine feminine has come through encounters with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit-inspired.

Even when I must use gender-specific pronouns so as not to write myself into ridiculously awkward sentence structures, I try to use “he” and “him” or “she” and “her.”  That way I know I am not saying God is “He” as in God-the-All-Masculine or “She” as in God-the-All-Feminine.  Instead, I say God is “he” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-masculine or God is “she” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-feminine.  In this way, I am able to balance the masculine and the feminine aspects of the Trinity, which is very biblical.  At least for right now, this is what works for me.

(Does the idea of God as “she” rock your world? Ask yourself what it would be like if the situation were reversed and God as “he” was revolutionary.  Watch out for double standards and try to be mindful of the way language may affect others, even if it doesn’t affect you that way.)

We all know that when the pendulum swings away from one extreme, it inevitably swings right past the middle and reaches the other extreme before it can gradually settle more and more toward the balance the middle brings.  My journey with gender-inclusive language has swung from one side where “man” includes both men and women to the other side where God as “He” and “Him” makes me feel like I, as “she” and “her,” am not part of the image of God after all.

Maybe my reaction is too extreme.  Maybe as the pendulum of my journey continues to swing back and forth, I will come closer and closer to the perfect balance of the middle ground.

But I’m not there yet.

So for now, oh ye readers, you will see me still swinging.  Let’s approach both ourselves and each other with grace, and give each other room to swing out as far as we need to, safe in the knowledge that we will also have room to swing back.

 

Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 1)

From the archives: originally posted January 16th and 17th, 2012

I grew up in a politically and spiritually conservative Southern hometown.  When I was younger, I thought conversations about gender-inclusion were silly, that people who made such a big deal out of small things were petty and that they should stop trying so hard to fight against what’s normal and accepted and expected.  The first time I read dear Madeleine L’Engle‘s Walking on Water, I agreed with her when she wrote,

I am a female of the species man. Genesis is very explicit that it takes both male and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word man includes both….That is Scripture, therefore I refuse to be timid about being part of mankind. We of the female sex are half of mankind, and it is pusillanimous to resort to he/she, him/her, or even worse, android words….When mankind was referred to it never occurred to me that I was not part of it or that I was in some way being excluded.

I agreed with her because I thought that was my experience, too.  I thought I understood myself as intrinsically included equally in the world alongside my brothers, my father, my male classmates, and all the men I knew.  All through grade school, high school, and most of college, I maintained this understanding.  Then in my search for a church community near my college, I stumbled upon a respectable little PCA church nearby.

Being ignorant of the difference between PCA and PCUSA denominations, I began attending. For a while, I enjoyed the verse-by-verse explication of Galatians in the Sunday School class, and I dutifully followed the class into the sanctuary each week for the main church service.

But then I noticed something disturbing.

The senior pastor, a man, would lead us in a weekly congregational prayer for all the men in seminary and all the men on the mission field, asking God to empower the future leaders of the Church.  I found myself wondering, what about the women in seminary and the women on the mission field?  At the time, I already had close female friends in both categories, not to mention I have a number of female missionaries in my family tree, including my grandmother.

Then I noticed something else. There were only men up front.  Men preached.  Men led and performed the music.  Men prayed.  Men served communion.  Men took up the offering.  Once I saw a woman stand up to share an update about the Children’s Ministry, and I was shocked when she stood on the ground in front of the pulpit while the man in the pulpit unhooked the microphone from its stand and handed it down to her.  Why didn’t he just move over so she could speak on the raised stage where everyone could see her? I wondered.  Her speech seemed disembodied because I could only see the slight movement of the top of her head as she spoke. I was disturbed to see a woman in ministry so publicly and literally positioned below a man in ministry.

That was the last time I attended that church.

I didn’t think too much more about the issue until I moved to California after college to enter seminary.  I was surprised at some of the reactions I got from my friends back home.  Some asked me what degree I was pursuing and were visibly relieved when I told them I wasn’t planning to be a pastor.  Others actually told me I was going to hell and stopped speaking to me.  While some of my family members were supportive and even encouraging of my seminary training, others became hurtful and even combative, telling me I should come home, that I shouldn’t be in seminary because I’m a woman.

Then there were the people I met in seminary, both students and professors.  Not just women, but men were advocating for women in ministry, arguing for equality, and providing opportunities for women to step up into leadership positions.  My seminary has a seminary-wide gender-inclusive language policy, and I was surprised as I began sitting in lectures and writing papers how thoroughly ingrained I was in gender-specific language, especially when it came to language about God.

The more I thought about the language I used, the more I realized that I had been wrong when I thought the issue was silly and petty.  I was wrong to agree with Madeleine L’Engle that everyone was intrinsically included in gender-specific language.  The more I learned about the history behind the language and the way it had been used to marginalize and oppress over the centuries, the more convinced I became that it was my responsibility as a woman, as a Christian woman, as a Christian woman who–dare I say it?–has been given certain qualities and skills of a leader, to hold myself to a higher standard of language and to advocate for gender-inclusion, not just in language but in life–church life, home life, and public life.

That’s a tall order.  And as an introvert, as a conflict-avoidant person, and as woman who grew up believing barefoot-and-pregnant was all was I meant to be, living into my calling as a female Christian leader seems impossible. Yet, God does not call us to impossible tasks, for the Bible tells me so: the Spirit of God does not make me timid but gives me power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

Indeed, the Spirit I received does not make me a slave to culture or to other people’s expectations of who I am supposed to be so that I return to live in fear again of coloring outside other people’s lines; rather, the Spirit I received brought about my adoption as a daughter of God–by which I receive all the honor, standing, and inheritance of the Most High God. And because of this Spirit and this adoption, I cry out to God with all the confidence and innocence of a toddler calling for “ma-ma” or “da-da” (or “a-ba”)…and I know God answers me with all the immediacy, care, and tenderness of a proud and loving parent (Romans 8:15).

To be continued in the next post.

 

Rilke on the connection of spiritual and physical through sexuality

Well, lovely readers, I am back in California and getting back into regular life after my second and final session of training in spiritual direction.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last three weeks of guest posts as much as I have! We will continue to have Five Questions on… every Friday for as long as we still have willing participants.  Everyone is welcome, so please feel free to share your responses and add your voice to the conversation.

I had some grand ideas for launching back into regular posting here at HBTB, but I’m afraid I’ve suffered from technical difficulties (three laptops in three weeks!).  For today, let’s enjoy this little snippet from the ever-wise Rainer Maria Rilke on the connection of the spiritual and the physical through experiencing our sexuality.

In the Fourth Letter of Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes:

We can recall that all beauty in animals and plants is a silent and enduring form of love and longing.  We can see the animal just as we perceive the plant, patiently and willingly uniting, multiplying, and growing, not from physical desire, not from physical grief, rather from adapting to what has to be.  That existing order transcends desire and grief and is mightier than will and resistance.  The earth is full of this secret down to her smallest things.  Oh, that we would only receive this secret more humbly, bear it more earnestly, endure it, and feel how awesomely difficult it is, rather than to take it lightly.

Oh, that we might hold in reverence our fertility, which is but one, even if it seems to be either spiritual or physical. Spiritual creativity originates from the physical. They are of the same essence — only spiritual creativity is a gentler, more blissful, and more enduring repetition of physical desire and satisfaction.  The desire to be a  creator, to give birth, to guide the growth process is nothing without its constant materialization in the world, nothing without the thousandfold consent of things and animals.  Its enjoyment is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is filled with inherited memories of millions of instances of procreation and births. In one thought of procreation a thousand forgotten nights of love are resurrected and that thought is fulfilled in grandeur and sublimity…

Perhaps the sexes are more closely related than one would think.  Perhaps the great renewal of the world will consist of this, that man and woman, freed of all confused feelings and desires, shall no longer seek each other as opposites, but simply as members of a family and neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to simply, earnestly, patiently, and jointly bear the heavy responsibility of sexuality that has been entrusted to them.

Thoughts? Questions? Reactions? Share in the comment box below.

Bumper Sticker Wisdom

Women who behave rarely make history.

Women who behave rarely make history.

In general, I’m not a fan of bumper sticker wisdom. The pithy sayings might be humorous, clever, even witty, but rarely are they truly wise.  They usually over-simplify or take an extreme view that only alienates those who disagree.

But this one I loved.

I loved it so much I had to snap a shot with my phone on the poor unsuspecting driver innocently pumping gas in front of me, whom I cut out of the shot before posting. I did my best to be discreet, but really, how does one take a picture without appearing to take a picture? I’m pretty sure he saw me and thought I was crazy.

The picture is terrible, I admit. You probably can’t even read the sticker after all that. It says, “Women who behave rarely make history.” (You may recognize the line from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book.)

I love that. It reminds me of Kathy Escobar’s post last year on being an ex-good-christian-woman.  Or more recently the Brain Pickings article on Mark Twain’s children’s book for mischievous girls.

I love it so much I’ll say it again: Women who behave rarely make history.

Pithy, yes. Simple, yes. Wise, oh yes!

Now, let’s make some history, ladies!

What is body theology? another definition

This week we’re exploring the various definitions of body theology out there.  Read HBTB’s definition of body theology. Read James B. Nelson’s definition from Monday.

Now let’s consider an excerpt from Introducing Body Theology by Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart. Take some time to read and reflect on the passages below.

[B]ody theology…creates theology through the body and not about the body.  Working through the body is a way of ensuring that theories do not get written on the bodies of “others” who then become marginalized and objects of control. It is also a way of deconstructing the concept of truth that Christianity used to hold so many falsehoods in place.  Once one moves from the notion that there is absolute truth into which the bodies of people have to fit, the way is open to begin questioning and we soon realize that truth is not the issue in relation to prescriptions about the body, but power.  Christian history shows us the extent to which power has been exerted over bodies in the name of divine truth and the crippling results.  If the body is given the space and power to speak what will be the consequences for both the body and theology?

… Body politics have exposed the underlying power games at work in sexuality and society and by so doing have become a source of inspiration and liberation for many.  Christianity is an incarnational religion that claims to set captives free, it tells us it is a religion of liberation.  Yet it underpins many of the restrictive practices that body politics expose.  In some cases Christianity has been the instigator of these practices because of its dualistic vision of the world.

The questions being posed in our time are to do with the body, that of the world as well as the individual.  Can body politics ever become body theology in a truly radical and transforming way?  This might mean for example, that the Christian religion…risk taking the bodies of women seriously as sites of revelation in the creation of theology….That it develop a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desire of all and integrates it into a mutual and freeing celebration of embodiment.

…The Christian faith tells us that redemption is brought through the incarnation of God. A redemption that could not be wished or just thought, even by God herself, she had to be enfleshed.  Therefore, it can be argued that until the body is liberated from the patriarchal ties that bind it, many of which have been set in place by Christianity, creation will never understand the truly liberating power of incarnation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  React to and engage with the quotation above in the comment box below.

Imaga Dei

My brother complained recently that my blog is too often about “women stuff.”  Well, he’s right. I write toward a holistic body theology from my perspective as young, white, female, married, member of the 99%, seminarian, and writer — just to name a few descriptors.  I don’t speak for everyone’s experience. I can only speak for my own and hope that some part of my story may inspire, inform, or challenge part of yours.

But lovely readers, today is an especially “women-stuff-filled” day, so prepare yourselves.  If you are a woman, perhaps you will find something of yourself in the post below.

If you are a man, I hope that you will keep reading and recognize within yourself as you do the way you feel as you read on.  Do you feel somewhat excluded? Do you find yourself doing some mental gymnastics to get at the part that relates to your own experience?  If so, then you are on your way to discovering what it’s like for women to experience God in a patriarchal framework.  My hope is that you will find the experience useful in your own spiritual growth.

*****

If you follow my profile on Goodreads, you’ll know that I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd‘s book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.  I could have quoted half the book for you, but the following passage stood out to me as particularly necessary to inform our holistic body theology.

In Christianity God came in a male body. Within the history and traditions of patriarchy, women’s bodies did not belong to themselves but to their husbands.  We learned to hate our bodies if they didn’t conform to an idea, to despise the cycles of mensuration–“the curse,” it was called.  Our experience of our body has been immersed in shame.

Let me interrupt to say that the understanding that patriarchy has had a negative impact on female body image is not a new idea for this blog.  We’ve touched on this idea here, for instance, and here and here, and even here.

This negative impact must be recognized as a lie and uprooted so there is room for planting new understandings of the body that are more in line with the truth about who we are as human beings: male and female, together we are created in the image of God. 

We’ve talked before about how the foundation of holistic body theology is our identity in Christ, but this truth is much more difficult for many women to embrace on a heart-level and experience in their own bodies than it is for men because we first have to break down the gender barrier.  We have to “enter into” our identity as the image of God “in a new way,” through an embracing of our physical selves.

Waking to the sacredness of the female body will cause a woman to “enter into” her body in a new way, be at home in it, honor it, nurture it, listen to it, delight in its sensual music.  She will experience her female flesh as beautiful and holy, as a vessel of the sacred.  She will live from her gut and feet and hands and instincts and not entirely in her head.  Such a woman conveys a formidable presence because power resides in her body. The bodies of such women, instead of being groomed to some external standard, are penetrated with soul, quickened from the inside.

I’ve been working on this process for a long time.  At my awakening to the need for this “new way,” I struggled to give voice to my experience and name my pain.  Now, I am still in the process toward accepting the truth about myself in my physical being and experiencing God in myself in this new way.  The journey is not complete.  There is more work to be done.  One day I trust that I will be able to see myself fully — both spiritually and physically — as the embodiment of God, the imaga Dei.   

This is where I am on my journey toward holistic  body theology.  Where are you?

What did this passage stir up in you?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or via email: bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.

The Compassionate Life (Part 2)

We’re still making our way through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.  Read last week’s posts.  This week, we’re in Part Two: The Compassionate Life. This is my Part 2 on their Part Two, so be sure to read Part 1 here.

We left off Monday talking about Christ Transforming Culture and the redeeming power of voluntary displacement.

More on The Compassionate Life

The authors stress that voluntary displacement is not a method or formula for creating community.  We can’t arbitrarily decide to move somewhere, set up “voluntary displaced community” and somehow magically become compassionate:

[V]oluntary displacement can only be an expression of discipleship when it is a response to a call — or, to say the same thing, when it is an act of obedience…the climax of many years of inner struggle to discover God’s will…Those who practice voluntary displacement as a method or technique to form new community, and thus to become compassionate, will soon find themselves entangled in their own complex motivations and involved in many conflicts and much confusion. (69)

Living compassionate lives within the community of God through voluntary displacement is something that God has to ignite and maintain.  It is our role to listen for the loving voice of God, watch for the action of God in the world, and go join in what God is already doing in which we are called to participate.

What we hear, what we see, and what we are called to join into will not be the same for everyone.  In fact, what we are called to may not look like anything we were expecting at all:

God calls every human being in a unique way and each of us ought to be attentive to God’ voice in our own unique lives…[We must] begin [not] by displacing ourselves…[but by identifying] in our own lives where displacement is already occurring. We may be dreaming of great acts of displacement while failing to notice in the displacements of our own lives the first indications of God’s presence. (70)

Displacement begins with the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and it is that movement that we must be sensitive to if we are going to identify and join in the calling of God on our lives. 

Here I always think of one of my aunts who underwent renovations in her home over several years.  As a homemaker, my aunt found herself enduring the brunt of the daily coordination with the workers, making sure she was always home when the workers were there to answer questions and give them access to different parts of the house.  She was getting tired of all the interruptions and lack of privacy as working men tramped in and out of her house day after week after month, making loud construction noises and leaving the mess of in-progress projects everywhere she went.

She told me last Christmas, as the last of the renovations was finally completed and the workers moved on to another project, that she was surprised to realize how much she had learned about the lives of the men working on her house, how she had had many unexpected opportunities to listen to their stories and problems, offer advice and a new perspective, and even represent a Christian witness in their lives. What had seemed to her an ongoing frustration and imposition while they were working in her home now seemed more like a rare and precious opportunity to be a compassionate presence in the lives of these men who perhaps will never set food inside a church building.

Nouwen says it best:

Displacement is not primarily something to do or to accomplish, but something to recognize. (71)

Careful attention to God’s actions in our lives thus leads us to an even greater sensitivity to God’s call…But no one will be able to hear or understand these very blessed calls if he or she has not recognized the smaller calls hidden in the hours of a regular day. (72)

Voluntary displacement, then, is a lot less about doing and a lot more about developing an attitude and posture of listening for the voice of love in our daily lives. And we are able to listen best when encouraged and supported by the community of God:

[V]oluntary displacement is not a goal in itself; it is meaningful only when it gathers us together in a new way…[and] leads us to understand each other as women and men with similar needs and struggles and to meet each other with an awareness of a common vulnerability. (75)

The Christian community, gathered in common discipleship, is the place where individual gifts can be called forth and put into service for all. It belongs to the essence of this new togetherness that our unique talents are no longer objects of competition but elements of community, no longer qualities that divide but gifts that unite. (77)

If we cannot give and receive compassion among one another within the community of God, how can we hope to live a life compassionate toward everyone else?  If we are struggling for power and control in our own communities, how can we release and share that power with the poor and marginalized all around us?

This is why body theology — specifically the emphasis on equality within the community of God — is so important.  We cannot hear the voice of love for our communities if we are busy fighting among ourselves, worrying about who’s right, who’s biblical, and who’s allowed to do what in the pulpit or in the the pews.

Sharing power and control does not mean we lose everything. It does not mean we give up or quit or run away.  It does not mean we make ourselves less than we are, deny ourselves, or put on false humility. It’s about a choice, a paradigm shift from me-first to preferring-the-other:

Self-emptying does not ask of us to engage ourselves in some form of self-castigation or self-scrutiny, but to pay attention to others in such a way that they begin to recognize their own value…To pay attention to others with the desire to make them the center and to make their interests our own is a real form of self-emptying, since to be able to receive others into our intimate inner space we must be empty.  That is why listening is so difficult. It means our moving away from the center of attention and inviting others into that space…The simple experience of being valuable and important to someone else has tremendous recreative power. (79-80)

When we listen to God’s loving voice as well as the voices of our communities, especially those who are marginalized, we are invited into the perspective of another, and we create space for God’s healing and restoration to begin.  This is also body theology — recognizing ourselves in others and allowing the different perspectives of others to inform our own understanding of what it means to be the image of God and the body of Christ:

When we form a Christian community, we come together not because of similar experiences, knowledge, problems, color, or sex, but because we have been called together by the same God. (81)

Without a diverse and unified community of God around us, we cannot hope to become the compassionate beings God has called us to be.  But when we listen to the voice of God and the wisdom and experience of those around us, we are finally able to recognize the displacement happening in our lives and join in, together, as the BODY of Christ:

God calls everyone who is listening; there is no individual or group for whom God’s call is reserved.  But to be effective, a call must be heard, and to hear it we must continually discern our vocation amidst the escalating demands of our career. Thus, we see how voluntary displacement leads to a new togetherness in which we can recognize our sameness in common vulnerability, discover our unique talents as gifts for the upbuilding of the community, and listen to God’s call, which continually summons us to a vocation far beyond the aspirations of our career. (84)

Living the compassionate life is possible, but only with a listening posture, a community of God, and a willingness to choose the unique voluntary displacement to which God calls each of us.

Next week, we’ll look at Part Three and the Conclusion.  Get excited!

 

The Compassionate Life (Part 1)

We’re making our way through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.  Last week, we looked at Part One: The Compassionate God.  If you haven’t read last week’s posts, I highly recommend starting there.  This week, we’re in Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

As a reminder, last week we learned the definition of compassion (emphasis mine):

To be compassionate then means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition. (6)

Part Two: The Compassionate Life

In Part One, we learned that our ability to understand and give compassion is only possible because we have already experienced the compassion of God in our lives and been given the example of compassion in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Now, in Part Two, the authors’ premise is that living a truly compassionate life can only happen through and because of our participation in Christian community:

Compassion is not an individual character trait, a personal attitude, or a special talent, but a way of living together. (47)

A compassionate life is a life in which fellowship with Christ reveals itself in a new fellowship among those who follow him. (48)

Relationship with Christ is relationship with our brothers and sisters. This is most powerfully expressed by Paul when he calls the Christian community the body of Christ. (49)

This is why body theology is so important.  We cannot truly experience the life we are called to experience in God if we are not connected to the community of God.  We do not have a holistic body theology if we do not have both the body of CHRIST and the BODY of Christ — participation in the community of God and the action of service in the world.

The authors are very clear as to why we need the community of God in order to live a compassionate life:

As a community we can transcend our individual limitations and become a concrete realization of the self-emptying way of Christ….Left to ourselves, we might easily begin to idolize our particular form or style of ministry and so turn our service into a personal hobby.  But when we come together regularly to listen to the word of God and the presence of God in our midst, we stay alert to the guiding voice and move away from the comfortable places to unknown territories. (56)

It’s easy to become comfortable.  We are creatures of habit and sameness and whatever-is-easiest, especially those of us living in the First World where materialism and consumer culture define our sense of security and success. But God calls us to a radically counter-cultural paradigm shift that the authors call “voluntary displacement,” the individual choice to move ourselves out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.

When we are willing to make this shift, we are placing ourselves in a position to be compassionate:

Voluntary displacement leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings. (62)

We have the most excellent example of voluntary displacement in the person of Jesus Christ, who made the choice to move out of what was comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God:

The mystery of the incarnation is that God did not remain in the place that we consider proper for God but moved to the condition of a suffering human being…In the life of Jesus, we see how  this divine displacement becomes visible in a human story…It is in following our displaced Lord that the Christian community is formed. (62-3)

This is why body theology begins with the incarnation of God.  Without the choice God made to become human flesh and live among us, we would have no example to follow and no reason to follow that example.  God chose to become like us, to become one of us, to become the same as we are so that we could experience the compassion of God in our individual lives.  In the same way, we are called:

Voluntary displacement leads to compassionate living precisely because it moves us from positions of distinction to positions of sameness, from being in special places to  being everywhere. (64)

When we’re in the position of sameness and everywhere, competition loses its ability to separate us.  When we relate to one another though the compassion of God, we cannot help but live compassionate lives — lives defined by kindness and gentleness to those who get hurt by competition.  We no longer have to struggle and fight to keep what we believe is rightfully ours or worry that sharing power might lead to losing what we have worked so hard to gain.

Because body theology begins with the incarnation, it ends with our own voluntary displacement into the lives of others through service as the BODY of Christ in the world.  God’s choice and our choices bring our theology full circle and enable us to discover and experience the compassionate call of God in our minds, souls, and bodies — both individually and corporately as the community of God:

Living in the world by hiddenness and compassion unites us because it allows us to discover the world in the center of our being…displacement makes it possible to be in the world without being of it. (68)

This is what Richard Niebuhr would call Christ Transforming CultureRather than hiding from the world or fighting against it, we can embrace those around us with compassion and in doing so create space for all of us together to experience the redeeming and transformative power of God.

We’ll continue our journey through Part Two on Wednesday.

An August of Selah

 

Hello, lovely readers!  It’s been about six months since I began blogging regularly here at Holistic Body Theology, and I’ve decided to take the month of August off from blogging and dedicate the time to praying, planning, and preparing for the future of the blog.

Although I won’t be posting anything new, I’ll still be around, so feel free to connect with me and let me know what you’d like to see here in the future.  Leave a comment in the box below, or hit me up on Facebook or by email. I would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, here are some of the most popular posts from the past few months to tide you over until I get back.

Sex is Good, Even When You’re Not Having Any

Reflections on Body Theology: 10 Things that Annoy Me about Being a Woman

My Body Is Rebelling

Choosing Church: A Lament (Part 1)

What Is Body Theology?

Conversation: Are You an Ender or a Starter?

Bathtub Spirituality: Getting Naked Before God

Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God – Part 1

Why Jesus Taught in Parables

It’s Holy Week! Part 3

The Spiritual Practice of Sleeping

Against the Flesh: Part 2

See you all in September!

 

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