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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Cultures (with Kristi)

fivequestionsonCultures

with Kristi Rice

1) Describe your experience in other cultures and the attitude toward/relationship to body image you observed there.

Bob and I live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is a region plagued by extreme poverty, but where the people are resilient, loving, and often hopeful in the midst of their daily struggles. Disease, hunger, and even malnutrition are common.  There seems to be a pretty clear distinction that people who are larger (weigh more), tend to be those who are more well-off economically. Among the population in general, people admire and envy people whose bodies are larger – because usually they perceive that those people don’t have to walk everywhere or are able to eat meat or rich foods more often. People generally prefer to have a little ‘cushion’ on their bodies, perhaps so that they have some ‘reserve’ in case they get a sickness that causes them to lose weight.
 
During our first year in Congo, we spent one month in a rural area to focus on language learning. We did a lot of walking in hot weather during that month and by necessity ate a lean diet. We had no intention of losing weight, and did not even realize that we had until our Congolese friends expressed concern and dismay upon our return to the city. “You’ve lost so much weight!”, some would say, “That trip was too hard on you.” They wanted to feed us well so that we would return to our former ‘healthy’ weight.
 
Congolese tend to be conservative in how they dress. Women (married women, especially) have at least two layers in their skirts, and wearing shorts would be considered nearly obscene. Yet, sometimes they also seem to have an open-ness and acceptance about their bodies that surpasses ours. Sometimes when we visit someone who has had surgery, they are eager to show us the wound, even if it might be in a less “appropriate” spot. Congolese are also not inhibited to comment on someone else’s body – “I wish I could be fat like you,” is one phrase that we have heard said. We have tried to observe and learn so that we can respect their culture well and live within it.
 

2) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

I find that in one sense I am more conscious of my body because of the frequent comments from friends or strangers about my body. If I have been away for more than a week, people who I greet on the street are likely to make an assessment like, “You’ve gained weight! Must have been a good trip.” Or “Did you get sick? You’ve lost weight.” Often, we will hear both paradoxical perspectives in the same day, so we’ve learned to laugh and not take it seriously. Yet, the Congolese perspective has made me less self-conscious about my body size also. I have learned to appreciate being healthy more than having certain image. As white people living in an African country, we are often stared at, scrutinized, and touched simply because of the novelty of seeing a foreigner up close. So – it really helps to be comfortable with who you are!
 

3) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you relate to others?

I feel a greater sense of freedom in relating to others. Joining the Congolese in their culture of being frank and open about our bodies seems to help me be more “real” in other aspects of the relationship. Last year I shared with Therese, a Congolese friend, about my embarrassment and annoyance when people on the road would make comments (sometimes shouting comments) about my body as I was jogging. Therese laughed, shared her own even more humiliating experience, and told me I should not let it bother me. Those shared experiences are so encouraging and helpful!
 

4) How has that relationship/attitude affected your spiritual life?

Living in Congo, where we are daily confronted with people who are hungry, sick, or desperately poor, has prompted me to be grateful for the simple, basic things in life, like being able to choose the food I eat or walk up the stairs. I am grateful that God made me the way he did…in my case, it is much more valuable for life in Congo that I don’t have food allergies than that my body were thin or beautiful. The nudge to be grateful as well as the openness about body image in Congo has enriched my sense of who I am as a creation and daughter of God. In spite all of my faults, sin, and stumbling, I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.
 

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Reiterating what I have learned to appreciate about Congolese culture, take a risk with being open and honest –with yourself, with others, and with God. And be grateful … for whatever your body looks like and the way God created you to interact with the world.
 
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What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with George)

fivequestionsonExercise

with George Ratchford

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise. If it has changed over time, describe the change.

I have never been one to exercise for the sake of exercise. I need a goal or a purpose. In the past I have stayed in shape so that I can play sports and be strong for surfing. It’s also for the purpose of feeling better, sleeping better, and self-confidence. Recently, I trained for my first ever half-marathon. The great purpose was to raise money for clean water wells in Africa through Team World Vision. I trained with a team of 30 people from two churches. It was communal, it had a greater purpose and allowed me to push myself to new limits.

2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

It makes a lot of difference. I feel sharper mentally and spiritually. I feel like I look better and have a better “bounce” to my step. It just feels good.

3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?

Since it is mostly about sports and surfing it has all been connected to the relational side of things. The recent Team World Vision experience was phenomenal as it connected the team on a deeply spiritual level.

4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?

Brings me discipline. Gets me outside. Allows me to connect with others. These are not always the most powerfully spiritual moments, yet they have a way of drawing my attention to God more often. So I would say that it affects it in a subtle yet profound way. It is a discipline that keeps me filled with joy and Christ said he came to bring us a fullness to life (John 10:10).

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Allow exercise to fit into the Great Commandment. Make sure the discipline is a part of loving God with your entire self. Also, to use it as a way of self care and loving one’s self more deeply (confidence). Lastly, make sure exercise is communal in some aspects so it allows you to connect with your neighbor.
 
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What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

Forward Friday: Listen to the Voice of Love

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.

We’ve been going through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life for the last couple of weeks.  If you’re feeling moved by Henri Nouwen’s message of choosing voluntary displacement but are unsure how to start listening to the divine voice of love, I encourage you to check out Tim Hoekstra’s wonderful devotional Miles to Run Before We Sleep.  All proceeds from book sales are donated to World Vision‘s clean water project in Africa, so you can’t go wrong.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my husband and I know Tim (he married us in April 2011), and he is an unbelievably gentle and driven man of God with a passion for both running and racial reconciliation in the Church.  His devotional provides readers the opportunity to think, pray, move, and discover the unique calling on each of our lives toward what Nouwen calls voluntary displacement. 

Both of us are reading through the book ourselves and have already had some very unexpected insights.  I may share some of my meditations here in the future, but for now, I highly recommend Tim’s book to anyone looking for guidance in recognizing the displacement in our lives.

If a devotional isn’t your thing, you may also find one of these books helpful in learning to listen to the loving voice of God:

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Sacred Compass by Brent Bill

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr

If you need more suggestions, drop me a line! I’d love to chat more with each of you.

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