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.
I’m extremely proud and grateful to host a guest post from my wonderful, brilliant husband, Matt Cavanaugh. In addition to the privilege of being married to me, Matt is a musical composer, avid hiker, and lover of all things REI. He holds a masters in Worship, Theology, and Art from Fuller Seminary as well as undergraduate degrees in psychology, theology, and church and ministry leadership from Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL. Find more from Matt at his website.
God created us each with purpose in mind. It could be purpose as in singular or purposes as in plural. But we’ve been created with — what I believe scripture would support — a ton of intention. (Is there a person who has read Jeremiah out there who can give me an “Amen”?) Not only do we have a purposeful existence, but we also have a purposeful time and location.
I believe that we are living at a very important point in Church history. We’re coming out of the Seeker/Modernist movement and a shorter but important Emergent/Postmodern movement… and now we’re in what I’d consider an idling spot. If we are talking about cars, we have our car still on but at a red light, awaiting a green to move forward and go to the next place.
And so I ask… what is this next spot? This next movement/evolution/step?
Is it the pendulum swinging back towards the more conservative movement (ala Neo-Reformists like Piper, Driscoll, etc…)?
Or is it more progressive?
Or, to think more multidimensionally, is it not a question of more liberal/more conservative or progressive/regressive but instead an entire paradigm shift?
God created us at turning point, and I believe that each of us has a role that requires our integrity and intention. God’s purposes are great for Creation; I believe that (and hope you do too!), and we have been invited to play a part in this wonderful drama of God’s world.
What is your role? I’m not necessarily talking Strengthfinders 2.0 or Myers-Briggs but instead your ROLE. How is/will God use you to further the growth and development of the Kingdom? How will your existence be important to the further unveiling of God’s heart and Plan? (This is not rhetorical… I really would love to hear your answers!)
What might be God moving us towards next?
I have a feeling that the next movement will have to do less with theology and more with physical and emotional socialization. Our world is becoming more isolated physically but more social in a digital sense. I anticipate seeing this trend further, where church (and The Church) is becoming more about what is convenient for our busy schedules. I anticipate people’s spending less time in chapels and more at home with virtual socialization. Maybe someone will figure out a way to create increased digital social community, more developed and fulfilling than what we have already.
How would this more digital and physically isolated experience of the community of God affect our body theology?
Regardless of what the future holds, know this: You have purpose. I have purpose. God is purposeful. Let’s be intentional as we play our part in the future of Church.
My husband and I spent several months looking for a church when we moved to a new area. You can read a little about our experiences here and here. We finally decided that we were not going to find The Perfect Church and that we needed to just pick one and make an effort to be part of the community of God.
The church we chose had some very positive traits. Some of the important elements we were were looking for in a church were present, and we were hopeful that we might be able to plug into the community and begin to make friends. It wasn’t the best fit, but we hoped it might be good enough at least for this season.
Fight or Flight
Now, after about three months of intentional effort to get to know people and become involved, it is clear that this church is not a good fit. These are kind, welcoming people. They are genuine and earnest in their pursuit of God and of community with each other. Because of these traits, their lack of support for women in ministry was an issue we thought we could overlook, but I have realized I do not feel safe here.
I will never feel safe here. I cannot share myself with these people because they will not understand or accept me. They will never be able to support and encourage me to live fully into my gifts and calling because their worldview does not allow it.
Since I moved to California, every time I have begun to participate in a community, I have found myself in leadership positions. Sometimes they were vacant, and I just happened to fill them. Sometimes positions were created to fit gifts and skills that were emerging and being recognized in me. Sometimes leadership opportunities were ill-timed or even unwelcome as I was struggling with accepting who I am and who God has called me to be.
I’ve spent so much time learning to spread my wings and trust them to keep me in flight that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have them clipped. Now that I have experienced freedom and have begun to live into my gifts and calling, I can’t go back to the way things were. I can’t go back to being satisfied with being in the background, watching and listening as the men lead, accepting their leadership without question, following well.
I can’t go back to being silent.
And I can’t watch these brilliant, gifted women assume the fullness of their roles in the kingdom of God is only available in the room where there are no men present. It’s too painful. It makes me angry.
Where is the freedom of Christ here? Where is the blood of Christ that covers us all? Why are we standing so far apart on our respective hills, the theological ones we’re willing to die on, when we should be kneeling together at the foot of the cross where we are all on common ground?
At the heart of body theology is the incarnation of Christ. Christ lived and died and rose again in the actual, fleshly sense. Through Christ we have been redeemed: body, mind, and spirit. We are made new. There is no longer race, class, or gender to divide us. All are one in Christ Jesus.
How can we regain our connection with the ideal, the beginning, the first bloom of the coming together of the community of God?
The first step is to recognize our strength and that our strength is far greater than that of the leash that ties us to satisfaction with complacency.
If we can’t be silent and we can’t speak, where does that leave us?
I feel dishonest, sitting in a folding chair on community night while these earnest people open up their lives to each other, knowing I am not being vulnerable in return, knowing they would not know how to respond if I were, knowing there is no room for me here.
I want so much to join them. I want so much to leave.
I feel like the sluggard who buried his talent in the sand rather than using it to his advantage. Here I am with a seminary degree, a woman with all this knowledge and training and no where to put it to use. Here I am, sitting in that chair, keeping my mouth shut, unwilling to rock the boat, unable to move at all.
How can they be satisfied with so little? How can I expect so much?
I feel like a freak for not being satisfied among these people, these brothers and sisters, these members of the body of Christ. Their complacency wounds me, and I can’t even begin to explain it to them. I am already too defeated to try.
There is no room for me here. This space is too small and cramped. I can’t even squeeze in as it is. How can I grow?
I can’t stay here. But there is nowhere to go.
What follows is the conclusion of Part 2 that I posted an excerpt from in my previous post.
Art has a prophetic role in the Church today.We must regain what we have lost—that understanding we used to have of the deep connection between artistic beauty and an experience of the holy.What others can do with a paintbrush or a chisel, I can do with words.When I relate my own experiences, my own journey through uncovering lies to the healing truths that come with learning to relate to people in a way that does not exploit or ignore my “bodyself,” I give voice to those around me who journey similarly—wading through lies, searching for truth.It feels very selfish to invite others to walk with me on a very personal journey that includes criticism of a tradition that I respect and love dearly, that has molded and shaped me into the kind of person I am, that has deeply embedded within me a profound sense of God’s goodness, grace, forgiveness, and mercy.But I believe that in my willingness to be thus publicly vulnerable, to open myself in that vulnerability to attack for my criticism, is a necessary part not only of the healing process but of the role of the artist—whether I am “really” an artist or not.
Art for art’s sake has its place.But there is need for artists to restore in the Church a sense of God’s holiness as expressed through beauty, and beauty in the human form.This is not to say that the artist has free reign to sensationalize, shock, or otherwise offend the Christian community carelessly in the name of the prophetic voice.But gently, with kindness and genuine understanding, the more subtle artist is uniquely positioned to affect real change in the orientation of the spiritual life to the body, welcoming that necessary and undeniable part of ourselves into the conversation, into the experience of relating to one another and relating to God, and God incarnate—as images of the beauty of God’s holiness.
 Indeed, “works of art can awaken faith, or at least the longing for faith” (Harries 132).
 “If a religious perspective on life is to carry conviction it has to account of the powerful spiritual impact which the arts, in all forms, have on people.Christianity needs to have a proper place both for the arts and for beauty” (Harries 2).
 Nelson uses this term frequently.
 Martin explains that if God is primary beauty and the created order is secondary beauty, then according to Jonathan Edwards’s theology of the body, it is “the work of grace that facilitates perception of that primary beauty that places the secondary beautyof the world in authentic perspective” (31).
 “Beauty defined in imagination,” notes Barger, is “truly transcendent of shifting cultural trends” (42).
 “True beauty,” Harries writes, “is inseparable from the quest for truth and those moral qualities which make for a true quest.In the world of art this means integrity” (62).
 Harries asserts, “The yearning aroused by experiences of beauty is a longing for God himself, for communion with his beauty” (94).Again, “we are invited to take the divine beauty into our very being through Eucharist” (98).Barger also notes this correlation, advocating that “ritual connects the body with spirituality” (183).
 Nelson writes, “In a culture that does not really honor matter but cheapens it, in a culture that does not love the body but uses it, belief in God’s incarnation is countercultural stuff” (195).