Category Archives: Social Justice

Book Review: The Story of Our Time

The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness by Robert Atkinson is an interesting argument for the ultimate trajectory toward unity of all world religions throughout history through the lens of the religious contributions of 19th century founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah.

Although this book is structured in the form of an academic argument, Atkinson tends to make broad statements of opinion as though they were fact. I also found much of his supporting evidence anecdotal, which ultimately made it difficult for me to follow the logic of his argument.

Nevertheless, I appreciate his effort to encourage a conversation that focuses on commonality rather than difference and celebrates a hopeful vision that humanity’s future is one built on common ground. In these divisive times, his vision of spiritual and cultural oneness is certainly inspiring.

If you’re looking for an academic view of history’s global evolution toward spiritual awareness through the lens of unity, then add this book to your reading list.

Link-Love:

Robert Atkinson’s Website
Robert Atkinson on Facebook
Robert Atkinson on Twitter

#TheStoryofOurTime

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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.

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Cameron Russell on the power of images

Today I thought it would be fun to share this TedTalk by Victoria Secret model Cameron Russell on her experience winning the “genetic lottery” and benefiting from a social system that oppresses so many people based on how they look.  It’s a little awkward, very honest, and definitely thought-provoking.

So, what did you think of Russell’s talk? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Eve Ensler: Suddenly, my body

Today I’d like to share with you the beautiful, honest story Eve Ensler shares of her journey with her body.  (Fair warning, you’ll hear the words vagina and rape.)

Poet, writer, activist Eve Ensler lived in her head. In this powerful talk from TEDWomen, she talks about her lifelong disconnection from her body — and how two shocking events helped her to connect with the reality, the physicality of being human.

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.

10 Concepts of Compassion

If you missed our series on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, you can find quick links to the posts below, or scroll down for a brief recap in 10 Concepts.

The Compassionate God
The Voice of Love
The Compassionate Life (Part 1)
The Compassionate Life (Part 2)
The Compassionate Way (Part 1)
Compassion in Everyday Life
The Compassionate Way (Part 2)
 

10 Concepts of Compassion

1. To be compassionate means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition.

2. We learn compassion by the example of God, who showed us compassion by sending the incarnate Christ to become obedient to the cross on our behalf.

3. We experience God’s compassion through listening to the loving voice of God in our lives.

4. When we listen to the loving voice of God, we discover our unique calling to voluntary displacement.

5. Voluntary displacement — and thus compassionate living — can only happen within the community of God.

6. Voluntary displacement is first an inward shift before it can ever be an authentic shift outwardly.  It is not primarily something to accomplish but something to recognize.

7. We must be disciplined and patient in order to hear the loving voice of God.

8. The first action of compassion is the discipline of patient prayer.

9. The second action of compassion is the participation in the Lord’s Supper.

10. The third action of compassion is the voice of confrontation — both self-confrontation and confrontation of injustice in the world — spoken humbly and gratefully.

The Compassionate Way (Part 2)

It’s our final day with Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Last week in The Compassionate Way (Part 1), we talked about what it looks like to live a life of compassion through voluntary displacement, the individual choice to move ourselves (both inwardly and outwardly) out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.  We established that we cannot act — rightly, timely, compassionately — if we have not first established a lifestyle of prayerful listening to the loving voice of God through the discipline of patience.

More on The Compassionate Way

It is not just the practice of prayer that positions us for compassion.  It is also the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

When we eat bread and drink wine together in memory of Christ, we become intimately related to his own compassionate life. In fact, we become his life and are thus enabled to re-present Christ’s life in our time and place. (111)

[O]ur praying together becomes working together, and the call to break the same bread becomes a call to action. (113)

This is one reason I am in favor of the open table, which allows everyone (even those who may not fit into our neat categories and labels) to participate together in one of the most sacred and intimate sacraments of the Christian faith.  When we pray together — listening for the loving voice of God — and eat together — with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our minds and hearts — we cannot help but be drawn together toward compassionate action as the unified body of Christ.

The authors are adamant that we need both prayer and action to live the Compassionate Way:

Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. (114)

But our actions — like our prayers — must be tempered by the discipline of patience that marks the Compassionate Way. It is only through this patient action that we can truly experience the Compassionate Life we have been called to by our Compassionate God.

Patient actions are actions through which the healing, consoling, comforting, reconciling, and unifying love of God can touch the heart of humanity. (115)

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian….Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and response to it wherever he is revealed….So worship becomes ministry and ministry becomes worship, and all we say or do, ask for or give, becomes a way to the life in which God’s compassion can manifest itself. (119)

It is important to remember, above all, that when we choose voluntary displacement, guided by the loving voice of God, we are merely joining in with what the Spirit of God is already doing in the world.  The Compassionate Life is really an invitation into the fullness of life that we have been promised.  It is the ushering in — as well as the recognition of — the kingdom of God:

Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplished. (121)

At the end of The Compassionate Way, the authors add that a compassionate act may also require confrontation — both of the sin in ourselves as well as the harmful competition and pursuit of power in the world.  Without this confrontational voice, we would not be able to be defenders of God’s justice.  If compassion is the daily act of kindness toward those individuals hurt by competition, then compassion is also the confrontation of systemic injustice in the world:

Compassion without [humble] confrontation fades quickly into fruitless sentimental commiseration. (123)

Confrontation always includes self-confrontation…each attempt to confront evil in the world calls for the realization that there are always two fronts on which the struggle takes place: an outer front and an inner front. (124)

Only when we voluntarily displace ourselves, listen to the voice of love, and follow that unique calling into patient prayer and patient action will we truly experience the freedom offered to us as children of God because of the compassionate obedience of our incarnate God. The Compassionate Way is the way of grateful, free, and even joyful action:

[T]he compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating. (125)

This is the deepest meaning of compassionate action. It is the grateful, free, and joyful expression of the great encounter with the compassionate God. (127)

Conclusion

[Compassion] is hard work; it is crying out with those in pain; it is tending the wounds of the poor and caring for their lives; it is defending the weak and indignantly accusing those who violate their humanity; it is joining with the oppressed in their struggle for justice; it is pleading for help, with all possible means, from any person who has ears to hear and eyes to see. In short, it is a willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. (136)

In the conclusion, the authors restate the message of Compassion as the true mark of the Christian life precisely because compassionate action is larger than any one person or organization. Compassion is the collective activity of the body of Christ in the world to bring healing, justice, wholeness, and completion to the broken world our incarnate Christ died to save. Compassion is living into the kingdom of God:

[W]e can only live the compassionate life to the fullest when we know that it points beyond itself…There is a new heaven and a new earth for which we hope with patient expectation.(131)

How are you ushering in the kingdom of God?

What do you think of Nouwen’s perspective on the Compassionate God, the Compassionate Life, and the Compassionate Way? Is he right?

Listen to the loving voice of God in your life. What is God revealing as your unique calling to the Christian life of compassion?

 

We’ve got to be moved by compassion.

 

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not much for politics.

With all the political issues floating around on the web these days, especially with the presidential election so close, I have made it a point to stay out of debates and arguments and keep to the goal of creating a space to think theologically and work out practically what it looks like to have a healthy, holistic understanding of what it means to be a human being — spirit, mind, and body.

But today I’m breaking my rule and getting a little political. Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech on ending human trafficking  and modern day slavery.  If ever there was an issue that coincided directly and intimately with having a holistic body theology, it would be this one.

If you missed the speech, you can read the transcript here.  I included a snippet for you below (emphasis mine):

Of course, no government, no nation, can meet this challenge alone.  Everybody has a responsibility.  Every nation can take action.  Modern anti-trafficking laws must be passed and enforced and justice systems must be strengthened.  Victims must be cared for.  So here in the United States, Congress should renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, Democrat or Republican, this is a no-brainer.  This is something we should all agree on.  We need to get that done.

And more broadly, as nations, let’s recommit to addressing the underlying forces that push so many into bondage in the first place.  With development and economic growth that creates legitimate jobs, there’s less likelihood of indentured servitude around the globe.  A sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, that has to be burned into the cultures of every country. A commitment to equality — as in the Equal Futures Partnership that we launched with other nations yesterday so societies empower our sisters and our daughters just as much as our brothers and sons.  (Applause.)

And every business can take action.  All the business leaders who are here and our global economy companies have a responsibility to make sure that their supply chains, stretching into the far corners of the globe, are free of forced labor.  (Applause.)  The good news is more and more responsible companies are holding themselves to higher standards.  And today, I want to salute the new commitments that are being made.  That includes the new Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking — companies that are sending a message:  Human trafficking is not a business model, it is a crime, and we are going to stop it.  We’re proud of them.  (Applause.)

Every faith community can take action as well, by educating their congregations, by joining in coalitions that are bound by a love of God and a concern for the oppressed.  And like that Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho, we can’t just pass by, indifferent.  We’ve got to be moved by compassion.  We’ve got to bind up the wounds.  Let’s come together around a simple truth — that we are our brother’s keepers and we are our sister’s keepers.

And finally, every citizen can take action:  by learning more; by going to the website that we helped create — SlaveryFootprint.org; by speaking up and insisting that the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the products we buy are made free of forced labor; by standing up against the degradation and abuse of women. 

That’s how real change happens — from the bottom up.

Be informed.

Be engaged.

Be the body of Christ.

 

Making God Visible

Nobody can say “I make God visible,” but others who see us together can say “they make God visible.” Community is where humility and glory meet. – Henri Nouwen

What I tried to say last week with so many words, Nouwen achieves (as always) with a few, well-chosen and profoundly accurate.

Without the body of Christ, we are just fingers and elbows and appendixes.  We need each other, not only for the value of being in community but also for the ability to be — collectively — the image of God in the world.

Participating in the community of God requires preferring the other — letting go of our need to be always right, always first, always best.  But when we are working together through the power of the Holy Spirit, we not only experience God ourselves, but we also create space and opportunity for others to experience God.

This is how we can glorify God and enjoy God forever.

This is how we have been created and designed to be.

This is body theology — the community of God making God visible in the world.

From Bent to the Body of Christ

 

On Monday, I shared what  my husband taught me about God. But there’s more to the story of the incarnation (and more to body theology) than our individual connection with God.

The experience is also corporate.  We teach each other about God every day, whether we intend to or not.

We all know the negative impact Christians can have on each other and on the world with careless statements of judgment and intolerance, falls from pedestals into sexual sin or greed, the authoritarian parent who teaches young children to fear punishment, not to mention the dark elements of our Church’s history (Crusades, Inquisition) we’d rather forget.

We understand and interact with God and with each other through the lens of our own experience.  Sometimes our experience has influenced us negatively, but we can also redeem our experience of who God is and who we are because of God through one another.

This is what body theology is all about.  This is why Paul’s metaphor of the community of God as a human body is so apt.  Our corporate (all together, working in unity within our great, beautiful, and necessary diversity) function in the world is to be the body of CHRIST — the community of God encouraging and sharpening one another — and the BODY of Christ — the community of God in action in the world according to the example, teaching, and calling of Jesus.

We have a responsibility to represent the truth about who God is and who we are in Christ to everyone we meet, not just with our mouths but with our actions. 

For all the people in the world  (like me!) who have deep-seated trust issues, we have the opportunity to show people God is trustworthy by being trustworthy ourselves.  For all the people in the world who are at heart struggling with a seemingly unshakable sense of shame and un-loveliness, we have the opportunity to show people God loves them by loving them ourselves.

This is not to glorify ourselves but to work by our small and unique activity in the world to point to the truth that is fuller and greater and more complete than anything we can experience on our own.

For this reason, social justice is necessary.  For this reason, gathering together as the community of God is necessary.  We cannot see the truth fully on our own.  Our individual lenses are small and dirty and fractured.  In the words of C. S. Lewis, we are bent.

We — and by we here I mean every human being — need each other to know the truth of God fully, to experience God fully, through relationship as we have been designed to receive and understand ourselves and the world around us.  We do not exist in a vacuum. We experience our lives among others and in the world.

Whether we like it or not, whether we intend to or not, we are affecting the lives of those around us, and we are representing the truth about God to those around us.

Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to speak (and act) into the lives of others with purpose and intention as we learn more about the truth of God together.

 

Saturday Sex-versations

My computer crashed this week, and I lost most of the interesting and well-written articles I had pulled for all you lovely readers this week.  I included below the ones I could recover, but I’m afraid the list is a little short this week.  To compensate, share your favorite conversation-starter article from this past week in the comment boxes and include the link so we can all benefit and stay informed together.

Stay informed about what the world and the Church are saying so we can discuss the issues, discern healthy, holistic body theology, and discover God’s truth in the midst of many opinions.

Here’s this week’s installment of current conversations on issues of holistic body theology.  (Links are organized roughly by date and similarity of content.)

A blocked quote indicates a highly recommended link.

Don’t be shy.  Share your thoughts in the comment section, or join the original conversations via the links provided.

Physicality: Body Image, Sexuality and Relationship Issues

1) The Fierceness of God In addition to expressing the nature of God’s protection over us, it also sheds light on the imago dei in women. Although men are traditionally construed as the “protectors,” I think we all know how fierce women can get with their children.

2) Are You There, World? It’s Me, Tina. Without Makeup. In a moment of pure insanity I thought, if my beautiful friend Claire can be honest about how many times she has weighed herself, I can be honest about what I look like without makeup.

3) Letter against gay marriage to be read in every Catholic church this Sunday The letter…restates the anti-gay-marriage campaign’s argument that “neither the Church nor the State has the power to change [the] fundamental understanding of marriage itself”.

4) Fit, not skinny I’ve decided to love my body no matter what the scale says.

5) Relationship Myth #2: If I Have to Tell My Partner My Needs… It is from this vulnerable place that we start to form the distorted thought, “If I have to share my needs, it doesn’t count because he/she should know me well enough to just know them.”

6) Rush Limbaugh and three evangelical blind spots Currently, evangelicals tend to force young adults, especially young women, into simplistic sexual categories. They are either “pure” or “impure,” “whole” or “damaged,” “virgins” or “sluts.” There does not seem to exist a vocabulary within evangelicalism with which to talk about men and women who are sexually active, but not promiscuous.

Media Literacy/Cultural Discernment

1) Loose All female sins can be reduced to same one: a refusal to allow men to define and control female sexuality.

2) My Take: New TV series ‘GCB’ portrays Christians as caricatures Still, “GCB” challenges every Christian – including me – to consider our own faith journey and if our talk really matches our walk.

3) What the Hunger Games Taught Me (and the Church Should Have) About Men In our culture, men are given license to satisfy their desires for pleasure by using women, just as women are given license to seek pleasure in pampering themselves. This message carries way beyond Christian teachers—it’s everywhere.

4) Gender Disparity in the Clergy: Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling Let us capitalize on this national moment of frustration and revelation and commit to concrete action in promoting women as religious thought leaders in our faiths, culture and society.

Community: Equality and Other Issues

1) Foundations in Community–Part 1 The geese know that their best chance of survival is to travel in flocks, yet value the individual goose enough that they will not simply abandon them in crisis.  We could learn a lot from these geese.

2) Femsculine Christianity As we learn more about God, we can live out a Christianity that is both uncompromisingly feminine and genuinely masculine.

3) Brew Pubs, Putting Down Roots, and What the Incarnation Means for Local Living A local gospel must be important for a God who entered our physical space, Emmanuel, to dwell with us.

4) Does Suburbia Hurt Christianity? Community is spread out. It occurs irregularly at appointed places such as schools, churches and athletic facilities that are miles apart. It offers little in the way of unifying cultural and civic institutions because there is no commitment to a place … because there is no “place.”

5) the underground railroad when we choose the path of leaving systems & structures that continue to keep us in bondage, we choose a lonelier, scarier road.

6) The Torah and Making Sacred Spaces Confronted repeatedly by frailty, isolation, mortality, and error, we find strength and solace in community and the achievement that community makes possible.

7) Down We Go: Practicing Equality Jesus broke down barriers of inequality. Now we need to play our part in it as well. Equality crosses more than just gender.

8) Taking Root: Creating The church recognized that because God’s attribute of creativity is so important and because people are made in His image, it is essential for humans to create. It’s a part of who we are.

9) The Myth of Religious Superiority [Y]et another group thinks Christianity is one way of salvation, a true way, but there are other ways too (pluralism).

10) Women: The Church’s Most Wasted Resource But for many women (particularly wives and mothers), leaving doesn’t mean walking away; more often it means showing up without being present. Women often do this because they want their husbands and children to grow spiritually.

Service: Social Justice Issues & Creation Care

1) What the “After-birth Abortion” and “Personhood” Debates Have in Common “Merely being human,” they claim, “is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

2) Let’s Retire the Term “Slut” The term hurts women. Men use it to hurt women. Women use it to hurt women. We think it’s time to stop using it.

3) Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh: Let’s Retire the Word “Slut” [M]ost people — women and men — who call women prostitutes, whores, or sluts don’t do so because they think that’s the truth. They do it to defame, demean, and shame. They do it to keep women quiet and to keep women cautious in speaking about their own sexuality….

4) ‘Dawn of a new hope’ for whom? Systemic violence and impunity plague women in Ivory Coast “Women have a lower status than men, even though the constitution recognizes women’s equal rights. Domestic violence is very accepted as a way of educating and controlling women. Sexual violence is then possible because we don’t see women as protected and supported by the general community.”

5) Compassion in the Everyday Do not fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, especially those who have the spotlight; reach out to those around you, wherever you are, and you will start to see your impact.

6) The best and worst places to be a woman 1) Best place to be a woman: Iceland

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