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All You Need Is Love

In the evangelical Christian worldview, we like to have the answers for everything.  We like neatness and order.  We like clarity.  We like black and white truths.  We like boundaries. We like to know what is okay and what is not okay, what is allowed and what is not allowed, who is in and who is out.

Bonhoeffer on Community

I’ve written before about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s expression of intentional Christian community (see here and here).  Bonhoeffer described the number one characteristic of Christian community as Jesus as mediator.  When we communicate and interact through Jesus, when we view our brothers and sisters through Jesus, we cannot help but act and react, share and respond out of love.  When we know our brothers and sisters view us the same way, we cannot help but trust that their actions and communication are out of love as well.

Bonhoeffer also stressed the importance of confessing our sins to one another and forgiving each other as Christ forgives all of us.  One of my favorite lines in Life Together is when Bonhoeffer notes that it is difficult to interact with members of our community with anything but love and trust when we hear the confessions of our brothers and sisters and grant them absolution, praying together with them for the forgiveness and blessing of Christ.

The Life of Love

In the Critical Journey, the authors call Stage 6 the Life of Love.  (Here’s a great chart reviewing all the stages.) When we reach this stage in our journey, we live, serve, and speak out of our healing, out of the love we have experienced in our encounters with God.

We let go of the questions, the boundaries, the concerns over who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, and we just love on people.  We love people as Christ loved because our agenda is gone.  Our wall has been dismantled, and we no longer live in our pain and react out of fear and anger.

It’s no longer of principle concern whether we are warning people about hell or condemning their actions and words.  It’s no longer our concern whether people know and love Jesus as we know and love Jesus.  Only God knows a person’s heart, and we are not designed to fill in for God in matters of the heart.  We are designed to be God’s hands and feet in the world, the body of Christ among the people of God—all of them.

When we reach Stage 6, we no longer worry so much about the doubts and questions of Stage 4.  They may still be there, unresolved, unanswered, but they are no longer driving our thoughts and actions.  They are no longer overwhelming us.  They are rather a reminder that we do not have all the answers, that we do not have it all figured out, and that’s okay.  The one thing we are sure of when we reach Stage 6 is what our experience of God is like, that we want to continue moving toward God along with our brothers and sisters, and that we cannot help but share our hope with one another.

Paul’s Theology

Paul’s well-known 1Cor 13 passage is the epitome of the Life of Love.  No matter what wonderful things we have accomplished, what honest and intentional lives we lead, if we are still living in Stage 3 where our words and actions are coming out of our duty and our pain and woundedness are still skewing our efforts to serve God, then we are nothing more than a whole lot of loud and ineffectual noise.

I love what Paul says later on in the chapter about growing up in Christ.  When we are children, we behave like children, which is right and appropriate for our natural development.  Being a child is good—while you are young.

But there comes a time when our natural human development moves us into that wonderful world of responsibility, wisdom, and work called adulthood, and it is in this stage of life that it is no longer right and appropriate to behave like children.  Now it is time to grow up, get a job, move into your own apartment, pay taxes and bills, maybe join with another adult and start a new family.

This is natural and right.  This is good.  Behaving like child is good while you are a child, but behaving like an adult when you have grown up is just as good.

Just as we should not retain our childish interests and behaviors when we are grown, so we should not remain in our childhood or adolescent state of spiritual development.  This is another area where the lack of a holistic body theology is evident.  We too easily remain unaware of the necessity of spiritual growth along with physical growth.  As our bodies grow and change, so should our spiritual lives.

There’s a reason Paul uses the metaphor of a physical human body so often in his letters. The wellbeing of our physical and spiritual selves are intimately related.  Thus, they should both be growing.  We should pursue spiritual health and growth just as fervently as we pursue physical health and growth.

Too easily we are satisfied with life in Stage 3.  We think if we can get people to grow up enough to start giving back, then that’s enough.  We’ve arrived!

Never mind people are giving back out of their woundedness.  Never mind people are giving back out of their fear and lack of understanding.  Never mind people are following blindly after others who are giving out of the same woundedness, fear, and lack of understanding.

It’s no wonder so many Christians leave the Church when they reach Stage 4. In Stage 3 churches, there is no room for questioning and doubting.  There is no room for messy, for in-between, for grey.

It’s no wonder so many people view Christians as intolerant, rigid, ignorant, and hateful.  Stage 3 is a wonderful and necessary part of the Christian journey, but when we get stuck there, when we fool ourselves into believing we’ve “arrived,” then we become intolerant, rigid, ignorant and hateful.  We become everything we say we are against.

We become Pharisees.

But God has called us to more than this.  The Christian life is not about the conversion experience.  It’s not about the active Christian life.

It’s about the Life of Love.  It’s about love—dirty, messy, sacrificial, costly love. It’s about love that humbles itself to take the form of a human being.  It’s about love that humbles itself to become obedient to death by the most violent and painful method of execution ever designed.  It’s about love that follows after Jesus not because it’s what is acceptable or required but because the call to “come follow me” is irresistible and renewed each day.

Much-Afraid Becomes Grace and Glory

The allegory Hinds Feet on High Places ends with Much-Afraid’s arrival at the Mountain of Spices.  She is healed, transformed, and receives her new name, Grace and Glory.

But that’s not the end of the story.

In the sequel Mountain of Spices, Grace and Glory makes her way back down from the Good Shepherd’s home, back down into the Valley of Death where her family lives. She faces the cousins who tortured and taunted her, and she responds to them with love.  Her love confuses them! Her transformation inspires the journey of others in the Valley.

What Much-Afraid, Bonhoeffer, and Paul all have in common with the Critical Journey is Stage 6, the Life of Love.  It is when we are living and acting out of our healing that we are truly interacting with each other through Jesus as mediator. When we are living the Life of Love, we can confess our sins to one another and forgive each other.

When we live the Life of Love, being in community is a joy.  It may not be easy, and it may not be comfortable.  It may not even be “acceptable.”  It certainly won’t be ideal.

But it will be real.  It will be genuine.  It will be full of love that casts out all fear, in which we are rooted and grounded, in whom we live and move and have our being, out of whom we speak and act and are the body of Christ.

Having a holistic body theology is great, but it is nothing without love to drive us toward something fruitful, beautiful, honest, holy—without love to drive us toward God, always toward God.

May love be the foundation of our communities, lovely readers.  Let us be the beloved Bride of Christ, the Church active in the world and actively loving the world, our body theology lived out among the people of God.

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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

Saturday Sex-versations

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 Story Is Everything How does kingdom of God reshape the story of sex? How does new creation plot sex in its story?

2) Utah House passes bill to allow schools to skip sex ed “In truth, few of us are up to the task of effectively teaching our kids ourselves the things they need to know about sex.”

3) Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here But over the decades, many have discovered from personal experience that the practice [of yoga] can fan the sexual flames. Pelvic regions can feel more sensitive and orgasms more intense.

4) Why (and How) Abortion Should Be Talked about in Church Churches that speak of abortion without acknowledging that many women have experienced it as an injustice, not as a choice, drive women deeper into their pain rather than set them free from the captivity where they are both bound and gagged.

5) How Old Should You Be to Marry? It’s not just about meeting the right person, but it’s also about their personal maturity.

6) Aw, Hey, Fella Aw, hey, fella–/Whatcha gonna do/When a pretty lady’s/Not ashamed of what she’s got?/Better let her know/Just what nasty names you’re thinkin’/‘Cause it’s so much easier/Than changing whatcha think.

7) Pew for One: How Is the Church Responding to Growing Number of Singles? The church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with singles, especially in light of the increasing numbers of unmarried adults.

8) Breastfeeding in Church, and Other Petty Crimes Breastfeeding is itself a work of art wrought by the Greatest Artist.

9) Day 13: Seek Intimacy Now Do I find it easier to be loved by God because someone else has said that the body I was created with is beautiful?

10) Birth Control: Burden or Blessing? This decision was meant to be hard—God meant it to be hard. He wants us to contemplate life with the utmost care and caution. He wants us to deeply consider the potential for life that we carry around in our bodies.

Media Literacy/Cultural Discernment

1) Women & Social Media Women are moving from passive purchasers to online authorities and tastemakers.

2) America’s Top Magazines: Still Not Hiring Women Do we really have to educate editors that women can bring new perspectives on major stories, and not just to stories about living as a single woman or going through a divorce?

3) Gender bias in books journalism remains acute, research shows Vida is instead trying to support women writers throughout their careers, and attempting to encourage people to examine their own biases.

4) Dear Oscar: Women Have Stories, Too When girls grow up seeing story after story that tells them they are sex objects, accessories or victims, they will learn that to be a “woman” is to play one of those three roles.

5) O Women, Where Art Thou? Certainly, something like a feminist intersectional analysis is rarely performed in the boardrooms and cafes of the Los Angeles film industry.

6) The Hidden Damage of Eating Disorders This inadequacy is due to the lie that resides beneath our cultural over-emphasis on physical beauty: “The only thing that is truly important or valuable about your identity is your appearance.”

7) People for the Ethical Treatment of Anyone but Women PETA’s use of nudity and sexuality has long been criticized as being exploitative of women, but many feminists say the new campaign crosses a line by trivializing domestic and sexual violence, further injuring an already-fragile demographic.

8) Why Do Only Women Whine? By stating that determined women are “whiners” their opinions instantly lose credibility in a distinctly sexist way.

9) you is smart. you is kind. you is important. the messages passed on to many of us through our families, relationships, and some of our church experiences are more like: “you’re somehow not enough.”

10) Does “The Help” Hurt? It is all too easy to accept caricaturizations of others that affirms our sense of justice while never addressing the inherent assumptions that come from living in a culture that is still largely “white normative”.

11) 3 Lessons Every Writer, Speaker, Blogger, and Musician Can Learn from Led Zeppelin Sometimes staying true to your art grabs the multitudes. But more often it does not. Staying true to yourself and faithful to your calling should always be the goal.

Community: Equality and Other Issues

1) This Easter Season, Remember: Church Growth is About More Than ‘The Marrieds’ These latest reports about childbirth and marriage suddenly show us that our typical evangelism efforts in churches are aiming at less than half of our nation’s population.

2) “I’m Dad, the Babysitter,” and Other Cultural Myths Dads are parents, not babysitters.

3) Tell Your Story, Tell It Well The church, if it wishes to speak into the culture around it, must regain its ability to tell testimonies. It must read its history and learn to tell its individual stories, and to tell them well, so that hearers hungry for a roadmap might find it in us.

4) More Than Enchanting: A Q&A with Jo Saxton I hope it changes the minds of women who have given up on God, their call on the church because of how difficult it’s been for them. I hope it changes the minds of those who have felt too inadequate to respond to God’s call.

5) Helen Lee: On Not Playing It Safe I still struggle with moments in which I distrust myself, in which I doubt myself, in which I would rather disappear into the background rather than put myself and my ideas forward into the public arena.

6) Reading the Magnificat During Lent [B]ut our faith is not something that concerns just us. We exist as a body and as members of the body of Christ the disciplines we engage in should always work towards the good of that body.

7) Resisting a Segregated Church Except for church, my life was one of post-Civil Rights integration.

8) Good Girls Never Change the World: Part 2 Esther more closely resembles the monarchs favourite prostitute than she does his married-in-a-church-before-God-and-all-our-friends-in-a-white-dress wife.

Service: Social Justice Issues & Creation Care

1) Earth Care as Lenten Practice If fashioned from the earth, and blessed and called by God, how can we live into an awakened relationship with the earth?

2) Living Abundantly “We understand that we can’t think about food without referring to the narrative of creation and linking it with a deep understanding of how we have been created to be the bearers of the Spirit and part of the community of life on this planet, not its owners,” Claudio said.

3) Because Children Need a Defender For children suffering in silence…justice and healing may seem impossible. But they are not—not when there is a strong defender standing beside them in the fight for justice.

4) Finding a Home for Oklahoma’s Orphans While not everyone is called to foster or adopt, every follower of Christ is called to bring justice to orphans and can do something to change the outcome for these kids.

5) Criminalizing Homelessness? Fallout feared from anti-Occupy bill “It’s criminalizing the right to exist as a human being. It’s outlawing homelessness.”

6) Desmond Tutu: Tackling Child Marriage in India One of the most common features of all these women is that they are educated, but has it reduced their worth? No, their worth has been enhanced.

7) One Small Wardrobe, One Huge Cause “I’m using my body and what I wear to represent these women. I feel like they can’t speak.”

8) Black Evangelicals, White Evangelicals, and Franklin Graham’s Repentence They see those 2,000 scriptures about poverty and injustice. And this new generation of white evangelicals is committed to fight systemic and structural justice because of the Gospel.

9) Feeling a Sacred Trust But the idea that we are separate from our world is a dangerous delusion. Every breath of oxygen we take was first exhaled by a leaf. No animal, even us, can be safer or healthier than its habitat.

10) Altering Clothes, and Lives, with Design “You have these smart students who care about the community, the planet and using recycled materials, and we have these people here in Detroit who really want to work and need money.”

11) Picturing the hands of Christ I touch people on their hands and feet and bodies to be a reminder to them that they are not alone when they are ill or dying, especially when they are dying. It is a holy moment to be with people in death.

12) Our Hands Tell Our Stories We receive the body of Christ in upturned hands every time we kneel at the altar. And as we kneel and wait, our hands, so unique and revealing about our lives, are made equal.

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