Category Archives: Cultural Discernment
I’m happy to announce that I have joined a network called Speakeasy, which provides books for bloggers to review. I will, from time to time, be adding book reviews from this network to the Book Review page of my website. Email subscribers will automatically receive new book review posts when they are published.
The Willow Basket is a historical romance novel by Adrienne Peterson. I was first interested in reviewing this book because of its claim to involve elements of mysticism and faith through dreams, which greatly intrigued me. I was excited about the possible connections to be made between the spiritual life and the ordinary, daily life and the resulting possible implications for our ongoing discussion of holistic body theology.
Unfortunately, I was largely disappointed by this book, in part likely due to the expectations I brought to the experience of reading the novel. In addition to its poor writing style, undeveloped characters, and plot holes, I actually didn’t realize The Willow Basket was going to be a romance novel, which is not a genre I particularly enjoy. But that is all the literary critique I will offer.
What I appreciated about the novel was its attempt to paint the main character as an unintentional mystic who despite the lack of support and understanding from her boyfriend and family, not to mention her own apprehensions and confusion, managed to stay with the unexplained experiences she was having. Instead of shutting it all down, she willingly and intentionally opened herself up to the dreams/visions/ghost visitations (the plot was never very clear about that point), received from them what they freely offered her, and then used what she experienced to inform her work and even her life choices. Although the main character was clearly aware that her experience of the spiritual realm was counter-cultural, she leaned in anyway and chose to surround herself with those people (namely, her archeologist friend) in her life who would encourage and help her understand her experiences. I also liked that the mystical experiences she had were connecting her to past generations of women in her family history, which I think in our American culture we are often all to quick to forget or appreciate.
Ultimately, it was not my kind of fiction, and I found myself too easily pulled out of the story and distracted by the overall lack of craft. But if you like romance novels, then it might be worth a read.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
One of the central themes of holistic body theology is cultural discernment. Our culture has many valuable gifts to bestow, but there are also many lies and harmful beliefs perpetuated. That’s why media literacy is so important. We have to recognize the messages around us and decide for ourselves whether we will accept them as truth or not.
But before we can even develop that discernment, we have to first know who we are. If our identity is not sure, then we are so much more easily swayed by others’ attempts to tell us who we are or who we should be. As Christians, we identify as children of God. The foundation of our identity is built on Jesus, the incarnate divine being, perfectly holy and fully flesh.
Holistic body theology, then, is about realizing our embodied holiness in our everyday lives. This is hard enough for those of us who live out our lives in quiet and relative obscurity. How much greater the struggle for secure identity and wise discernment among the many messages of our culture when in the unique opportunity to create those messages for ourselves.
I don’t usually engage in ongoing conversations about the latest thing in popular culture, but Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus carries too important a message to worry about getting caught up in current debate. Regardless of the various opinions floating around about Ms. Cyrus’ motivations, etc., Ms. O’Connor’s effort still gets kudos from HBTB for being willing to speak hard truths about the reality of sexual exploitation of women working in the music industry.
Here are some highlights from her letter:
[…]Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent[….]
I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it’s associated media.
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever … Don’t be under any illusions … ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty…
Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you[….] And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself[….]
Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted … its so not cool Miley … its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers … that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career[….]
The value of Ms. O’Connor’s open letter is that her message is for more than just Miley Cyrus and other women in the music industry. It is also a message for those relative-obscurity-living-in people like you and I. We have a responsibility to engage wisely in the world around us. When we buy magazines or watch videos on Youtube or tune into entertainment news, we are telling the media and the world what we are interested in. “Sex sells” is a well-known and proven marketing adage for a reason. Sex sells because people buy it.
So, my dear lovely readers, here is my open letter to you:
Know who you are. Make choices that reflect your identity and honor your worth. Live a life that sells what is truly worth buying. Live a life worthy of the precious, beautiful, unique, beloved child of God that you are.
You, dear readers, are worth more than your body. You are worth more than your sexual appeal. You are too valuable just because of the simple fact that you are a human being on this earth to believe anything less about yourself or about any other human being on this earth. You are worth more than the low, base messages in the media. You and I, and Ms. Cyrus and Ms. O’Connor, and every other person deserve better. We all deserve to be known and honored and valued and loved for our whole selves — mind, body, and spirit.
Let’s sell that for a change.
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.
We live in a noisy world.
We surround ourselves with entertainment and news and music and talking and texting and constant accessibility to internet. We immerse ourselves in the many messages we hear from culture, family, church, school, and work. We are loud and wordy and flashy and full of so much swirling around that it often feels impossible to shhhhhhh… into a place of quiet, stillness, and rest.
At the less mature levels, religion is mostly noise, entertainment, and words. Catholics and Orthodox Christians prefer theater and wordy symbols; Protestants prefer music and endless sermons.
Probably more than ever, because of iPads, cell phones, billboards, TVs, and iPods, we are a toxically overstimulated people. Only time will tell the deep effects of this on emotional maturity, relationship, communication, conversation, and religion itself. Silence now seems like a luxury, but it is not so much a luxury as it is a choice and decision at the heart of every spiritual discipline and growth. Without it, most liturgies, Bible studies, devotions, “holy” practices, sermons, and religious conversations might be good and fine, but they will never be truly great or life-changing — for ourselves or for others. They can only represent the surface; God is always found at the depths, even the depths of our sin and brokenness. And in the depths, it is silent.
Thoughts? Comments? Reactions? Share in the comment box below.
You may have noticed this picture trending on Facebook and Pinterest this week.
I ran across it myself, which led me to discovering The Illusionists, a documentary that is currently in post-production and promises to be a balanced and informative look at the commodification of the human body. That’s right up our alley here at HBTB, so I thought I’d do a little plugging for them. Check out the video below.
I know this doesn’t have anything to do with Holy Week or Easter or anything in our theme last week and this week, but I couldn’t resist. If only we were all so enlightened, there would be no need for blogs like HBTB!
Storytelling was my favorite class in seminary. Out of all the classes I took, it was the one that scared me the most, stretched me the most, and inspired me the most. In Storytelling, I discovered part of myself that I had never recognized or acknowledged before. I found an untapped courage and an unheard voice. In learning to the art of storytelling, I began to discover the truth underneath my own.
Telling our stories is powerful work. Here at Holistic Body Theology, I write a lot about my own story. I bare little bits of my soul, take a deep breath, and hit “publish.” I share my story with you lovely readers because I hope that you will find something of yourself here, some bit of freedom or healing, some resonance or camaraderie or commiseration. If nothing else, it is therapeutic, part of my own journey toward self-awareness, healing, and wholeness. I write the truth not just to share it with all of you but to keep the revelation fresh and conscious. And I will keep on writing the truth until I convince myself.
But this blog is not just a platform for my own story. It is also a forum for the sharing of all of our stories. As I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also feeling a deep call to find my ears and learn to use them. I am learning to be a listener.
Story-telling needs to be unhurried and unharried, so the listener must be willing to let the narrative unfold….Storytelling is also a dialogue, and sometimes the [listener] must become active in helping shape the story. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction
I have been becoming a listener for a long time, listening to the stories of others and joining them with my own as we shape together the unfolding story of God in our lives. In a world crowded with words and noise and advertisements and cultural mandates and every message from everywhere demanding attention and primacy and response, the call to the contemplative life is something like a rising wind, blowing across the desert dunes with such force and persistence that the shape of the terrain is completely rearranged and made new. Suddenly the lay of the land looks different, unfamiliar. The path we have taken is wiped away. We can’t go back the way we came. We can only continue onward.
I want to listen to your stories, dear readers. As I share with you the journey I am on, I hope you will join me on the way and help me shape the story we are all in. The comment box is always open. For sensitive stories, I am always available by private Facebook message or email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. I am honored each time I hear from you, my dear companions on this journey. We are all exploring this intersection of mind-body-spirit we call the human life. We are all moving toward healing and wholeness together.
I am both listener and storyteller.
I am both silent and engaging in dialogue.
I am both resting and moving forward.
I am both broken and becoming whole.
Holistic Body Theology is the art of balancing and honoring the mind-body-spirit connection that makes us who we are: human beings created in the image of God. That is a story worth telling!
How do we engage culture and image and dialogue with truth?
Is there anything holy to be found in our visually driven culture?
If the line between secular and sacred is truly blurred, then how do we bring the holiness of God into our cultural conversations about what is beautiful?
In my own experience, it has been very healing to speak God’s truth into the lies I received from culture about my body image that I believed for so long without even being aware of their influence. This is one reason having a holistic body theology is so important and why I have dedicated my blog to writing about it. We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten who we have been created to be. Educating people about ways to deconstruct the advertising and entertainment industries can go a long way in bringing truth into cultural light.
Take, for example, Alison Jackson‘s photographs and her discussion of voyeurism in this TedTalk from 2009. In the video she describes how photography seduces us into believing things that aren’t true or into seeing things that we want to be true even when they aren’t possible:
I’m fascinated how what you think is real isn’t necessarily real. The camera can lie, and it makes it very, very easy with the mass bombardment of imagery to tell untruths. (Alison Jackson)
Our consumerist culture buys into nearly anything these days that will feed into the need for instant gratification. Marketing and advertising firms spend their resources on finding out what we wish were true or what we wish we were and then coming up with ways to exploit our wishes by making us feel inadequate, making us feel the need of something we didn’t even know we wanted — and suddenly that need is urgent and insatiable.
In other words, we are driven by fear.
Fear — which is the opposite of faith– and sin — which certainly gets in the way of experiencing God’s holiness — are the roots of many body image issues, especially in our western culture. There is that appealing quality about Gnosticism, for instance, which perpetuates the fear that the body will somehow hinder the soul’s search for enlightenment or perfection or completion. Or that fear of being out of control, which is certainly a known root cause of many eating disorders.
But we were given bodies, and our bodies were pronounced good — a fact we often forget in our effort to retain control.
We need to be reminded that experiencing abundant life necessitates a willingness to release control and by doing so open ourselves up to experience something extraordinary, something unknown, something beautiful — which is the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Next time you stand in line at the grocery store and stare at all those magazine covers, ask yourself what messages culture is sending you and whether those messages are designed to send you into a spiral of fear and sin or to open you up to the quiet beauty that is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
What cultural messages have you noticed recently? Share your experience in the comment box below. Let’s grow together in our discernment of culture and the media.