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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Church (with Chris)


with Chris Nelson

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with church or other Christian communities.  If it has changed over time, describe the change.

As a kid I would go to church on Easter and Christmas with my Grandpa. It was definitely his community and it was a place we were invited into on those days. In high-school I had some friends that attended church and then it became a place where you could just hang out, on weekdays, not just holidays. After becoming involved in that church Sunday mornings became a time to grow in relationship with the whole congregation, young and old and share that experience of church with each other.
Now that we have settled into our church here in Colorado Springs, I see it very much as “the body of Christ” in the way that we all need to bring our gifts and skills to serve and provide a different function of the body. I think this approach has been amplified recently as several families, even families that had been at the church for 20+ years left because the church refused to leave the denomination over the issue of homosexual ordination.

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

Honestly not much. I theoretically understand the connection between how we understand the two and I can explain it as such to people but in general the movement goes the other way. How I understand my body and my self image affects the relationship/experience of church. In general I try to take care of my body but don’t always do the best job. In order to combat that I try to develop habits that allow that to happen. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not.

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

It helps me to deal with people that do not think like me or do not have the same skills that I do. Instead of simply writing them off as having nothing to add because they are not “on my team”. I try instead to see how their unique functions might be a part of the body of Christ.
Again, all this is theoretically informing how I act and I am by no means saying that I always accomplish this way of thinking.

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

Primarily in understanding that my spiritual life is inextricably tied to the spiritual life of those around me. I can’t go it alone and need others to grow with and also be held accountable by. If I try to go it on my own, then it is all about me and I don’t think that is the ultimate goal of spiritual formation.
Slightly relatedly I also establish patterns of taking care of my body (jogging, eating right..) and try to apply those to my spiritual life (serving, attending worship, reading the bible, praying). Like exercise it is much easier to do with other people around you though there are times when going alone is nice too.

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

Everything is connected. As much as we like to be lone rangers, and as much as our culture shapes us into believing that is the ultimate goal, it goes against the way we are made.
Just like your body is messy, so is community, it is not always going to be smooth sailing but if my hearing starts to give me problems the solution is not to cut off my ears, it is to find hearing aids, to support the function that is faltering.

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.

Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  – Luke 2:10-11 TNIV

More than any other emotion, fear is what keeps us apart from God.  We fear that we are not worthy.  We fear that we are not enough.  We fear that the letting go will hurt more than the holding on.

As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus on this Christmas Eve, consider once more the powerful words of Henri Nouwen, this time from Gracias!

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy.  This is the greatest mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain.  Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.  Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him — whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend — be our companion.

My prayer for us all this Christmas season is that we would allow God to walk with us in our deepest places, hold us in our pain and loneliness, guide us in our confusion, forgive us in our guilt, and wash away our shame.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us receive fully and respond with joy to the real and active presence of God in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

I Gave Up BEING AWAKE for Lent!

I’m excited to have my friend Jenn Cannon guest posting this week.  She’s going to be sharing some of her journey with fasting and healthy living in light of the Lenten season.  Before I turn my blog over to her, I thought I’d prime the pump, so to speak, by sharing some of my thoughts on Lent and body theology.

I never knew much about Lent growing up.  My church didn’t really follow the church calendar outside of Christmas and Easter, and I only knew about Ash Wednesday from my Catholic friend.  I was in college before I was ever encouraged to “give something up for Lent.”  That first year, I followed my friends’ lead and gave up sweets.  I lost eleven pounds in time for Easter Sunday (oh my, what a sweet tooth I had, especially with unlimited soft serve in the dining hall!), but I missed entirely the spiritual purpose of preparing my heart and mind for the celebration of the resurrection.

A couple of years back, I gave up driving for Lent.  I could, because I lived close enough to walk pretty much everywhere I needed to go.  Walking has always been a spiritual experience for me, although to be fair, I usually prefer to walk in nature than along busy city streets. For the first time, during that season, I sought the spiritual side of Lent and allowed myself to experience the loss of my car and enjoy the presence of God on my daily journeys.

The next year, I stayed overnight at a monastery on Ash Wednesday and learned the spiritual practice of silence. It was a painful time for me, and learning to be silent and still became disciplines I will always carry with me.  I wrote a little about my experience at the monastery here.

Giving up BEING AWAKE for Lent

This year, Lent sort of sneaked up on me, and I wasn’t sure I would give up anything at all.  But I’ve been uncommonly tired in the last few months, and recently I’ve been pressuring myself to get out of bed and be productive again.  Today I decided (a little late, I know) to give up this spirit of doing for Lent and practice being.

Giving up doing for Lent may not sound very applicable to body theology, but it really is.  Our western society is collectively sleep-deprived.  While most people sleep an average of six hours per night, most people need eight or nine hours.  That means most people are living on two or three hours of sleep fewer per night than their bodies really need to function properly.

Last week, after a super-fun sleep study and nap study (during which I was sorely unable to do much of either), I met with my neurologist to find out that my body most likely needs ten to twelve hours of sleep per night.  That’s two to four hours more sleep than most people need–and four to six hours more sleep than most people get!

So, for the rest of the Lenten season, I am going to be sleeping as close to ten hours a night as I can.  That means moving my work schedule from the morning to the early afternoon. That means going to sleep instead of squeezing in that extra Netflix episode.  That means allowing my body to receive the rest that it needs without pressuring myself to get up and be productive all day.  That means practicing the spiritual discipline of rest.

We’ll talk a little more about the theology of rest on Thursday.  For now, get ready to meet my new guest poster, Jenn Cannon.  It’s gonna be awesome!  Until then, I wish all you lovely readers peaceful sleep and pleasant dreams…..zzzzzzzzzzzz.

7 Thoughts on the Incarnation

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the tendency for people to return to a focus on the Incarnation, the act of God becoming flesh.  Throughout the rest of the year, it is easy to forget the very tangible physicality of Jesus and put too much emphasis on the spiritual side.  Now, I think the intangible side of our lives is incredibly important (see my spirituality blog here), but we are left floating in space without the solidity of body theology to help ground us.  So, here are some great thoughts on the Incarnation I’ve run across during the last few weeks.  Let’s try to keep these insights close by as we journey into 2012 together.  Enjoy!

#1 Jan Johnson – December 2011 Wisbits
The incarnation of God in humanity (advent) reveals the beauty and humility of our God who likes to just plain be with us.

#2 Steve Knight – Incarnational or Missional?
The idea of incarnation is central to the missional shift in the Church and in Christianity. “The risk of incarnation,” as Palmer puts it, is one very beautiful (and biblical) way of describing the invitation we have been given — to join God in the renewal of all things, to participate in the dream of God, to be a part of what God is doing in the world.

#3 Bruce Epperly – Parenting the Divine: A Christmas Mediation
As an early Christian leader proclaimed, the glory of God is a person fully alive. In the incarnation, God was fully alive in the call and response which enlivened Mary, Joseph, and their wee child. They responded to God’s unexpected movements in their lives – bringing forth wonders that pushed them beyond their comfort zones to become partners in God’s holy adventure. They became fully alive, contributing to the unique divine presence in Jesus, by their responses to their angelic visitors.

#4 Ron Cole – Christmas…a revolution birthed in pain
But in the midst, if you really listen humanity groans…for something to be birthed beyond anything we can imagine. Revolutions are birthed in the midst of pain. Jesus’ birth is about the birth of a revolution. It is about a revolution to re-write the narative that would finally recaputure the imagination of humanity.

#5 Chaplain Mike – David Lose on “The Absurdity of Christmas”
He then chronicles several reasons why people find it hard to believe the Christmas story. First, the four Gospels themselves don’t set forth a unified, consistent account of Jesus’ birth. But beyond that sort of Enlightenment style criticism of the text, earlier skeptics found the concept of Incarnation fantastic, even unseemly. As far back as the second century, gnostics like Marcion found Jesus’ full humanity a difficult concept to square with their idea of God. Apologists like Tertullian responded by saying things like, “You repudiate such veneration of nature, do you, but how were you born?” In other words, if God is put off by such things as the messy birth of a baby, what makes us think he cares about real people at all?

#6 Bruce Epperly – Mary, Joseph and Mysticism
God is not aloof, but present in cells, souls, and communities. A one-dimensional faith – defining everything according the tenets of the modern world view – robs life of beauty, wonder, and amazement. The incarnation raises all life to revelation; each moment – even tragic moments – as a potential theophany. Sleepers awake! God is with us!

#7 Chaplain Mike – Frederick Beuchner: “Christmas Itself Is by Grace”
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Joy to the World

One of my favorite classes in seminary was Storytelling.  One particular assignment we had for that class was to make up a story based on the painting handed to us.  The painting I was given was a picture of the Nativity scene.  Here’s the story I told as inspired by that scene.

My best friend Mary got married two and a half years ago, and about five weeks ago, she had a baby.  Her husband left me a voicemail message in the middle of the night, and when I woke up in the morning and listened to the message, he just yelled, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!”  Now, I was a little frustrated with her because she is supposed to be my best friend and didn’t even tell me she was pregnant.  We’ve fallen a little out of touch since I moved across the country, but I still expected to know about the milestones in her life.

I waited a few days to give them time to adjust to being new parents and then gave her a call back to get the whole scoop.  We’ve always told each other all the gory details about everything, so I asked her what it was like having a baby. “How did it happen?” I asked.  “Where were you when your water broke?  What hospital did you go to?  Tell me everything!”

I could hear the fatigue thick in her voice as she tried to answer my questions.  Finally, she said, “You know, I’m so tired right now I can’t think of anything to tell you.  I just remember this one moment.  I had been pushing and screaming and screaming and pushing, and when she came out, before they cleaned her off or cut the cord or anything, the doctors just propped her up on my chest.  In that moment, I could have done it again six times over.  I was just so overwhelmed with emotion for my little baby.”

By this time, I was going to be late for my next class, and I knew she needed to take a nap while the baby was sleeping. “Well, I’ll talk to you later,” I said. I was about to hang up when I remembered my the most important question.

“Oh by the way, what’s your baby’s name?” I asked.

And she said, “Joy.”

 The angel said to them, I bring you good news of great joy for all people.  Today a baby has been born to you, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2)

The Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1)

As we prepare for Christmas during this Advent season, let’s not lose sight of the very real physicality of the Emmanuel–God with us.  This is the very basis of body theology.

Jim Wallis on Christmas and the Incarnation

As we draw closer to the 25th, let’s wait with joyful expectation for the “celebration of the Incarnation.”

Regardless of your opinion of Fox News or what Wallis calls “civil religion,” I really like the way he describes the Incarnation as the real point of Christmas.  Here’s an excerpt:

What is Christmas? It is the celebration of the Incarnation, God’s becoming flesh — human — and entering into history in the form of a vulnerable baby born to a poor, teenage mother in a dirty animal stall. Simply amazing. That Mary was homeless at the time, a member of a people oppressed by the imperial power of an occupied country whose local political leader, Herod, was so threatened by the baby’s birth that he killed countless children in a vain attempt to destroy the Christ child, all adds compelling historical and political context to the Advent season.

The theological claim that sets Christianity apart from any other faith tradition is the Incarnation. God has come into the world to save us. God became like us to bring us back to God and show us what it means to be truly human.

That is the meaning of the Incarnation. That is the reason for the season.

In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets.

It is theologically and spiritually significant that the Incarnation came to our poorest streets. That Jesus was born poor, later announces his mission at Nazareth as “bringing good news to the poor,” and finally tells us that how we treat “the least of these” is his measure of how we treat him and how he will judge us as the Son of God, radically defines the social context and meaning of the Incarnation of God in Christ. And it clearly reveals the real meaning of Christmas.

The other explicit message of the Incarnation is that Jesus the Christ’s arrival will mean “peace on earth, good will toward men.” He is “the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” Jesus later calls on his disciples to turn the other cheek, practice humility, walk the extra mile, put away their swords, love their neighbors — and even their enemies — and says that in his kingdom, it is the peacemakers who will be called the children of God. Christ will end our warring ways, bringing reconciliation to God and to one another.

(Read the full article here.) Wallis has it right when he highlights Jesus’ emphasis on caring for the poor and being peacemakers.  This is why I believe body theology is about more than just the way we see our bodies or think about and experience our sexuality.  Jesus did not “become flesh” just to be human but to do–to redeem and bring to completion all that we as “bodyselves” were created to be and do.  Body theology is about who Jesus is, who we are as God’s family, and how we should respond because of who Jesus is and who we are.  Body theology is about both identity and activity.  Christmas is a time to remember Jesus’ identity as divine-becoming-human.  Hearing this good news, how will you respond?

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