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

fivequestionsonChurch

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.

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Forward Friday: The Meaning of the Story of God

Originally posted April 6, 2012

One of the most significant elements in body theology is the actual, physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s why Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are so pivotal. We Christians are who we are because of who Christ is and what Christ did for us.

Sometimes looking at the big picture of the course of biblical history can help us understand the rhythm of the liturgical year.  Although this year’s Easter celebration is over, let us not be so hasty to rush on to the next big thing.  Let’s take some time to pause and allow the passing of this season to inform the season to come.

As you reflect this weekend on the passing of Holy Week and Easter and the coming of Pentecost, read back over some of the key elements of the story of God from our little flash Bible course to dig into the significance of what we are about to celebrate. Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

What stands out as particularly meaningful to you?

1. God takes evening walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.
2. Becoming aware of their nakedness and feeling ashamed causes them to hide from God.
3. God’s people become afraid of God and ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.
4. God’s people are afraid even of the glory of God reflected on Moses’ face, so he has to wear a veil until the glory fades.
5. God instructs the people to build the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence will be confined among them.
6. The people never touch or open the Ark of the Covenant because it is so holy.
7. The Ark lives in its own tent among them, called the Tabernacle, where the people come to worship God.
8. After Moses, God speaks only to specific people God chooses, usually prophets, kings, or priests. These chosen few share God’s words with the people–who often do not listen.
9. To see the face of God is to die, and even the prophet Elijah–who asks to see God’s face–covers his face with his robe before meeting God at the mouth of the cave.
10. Once God’s people settle down in one place and begin to build houses instead of tents, God instructs King Solomon to build a temple for God to live in.
11. God’s presence is reserved for the Holy of Holies–a small area within the temple restricted from everyone where the Ark is kept, the entrance to which is blocked with a thick curtain.
12. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through an elaborate cleansing ritual in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal to atone for the people’s sins. (They even tie a rope around his foot each time in case he dies from the experience of being with God and has to be dragged out to be buried since no one else is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to retrieve a dead body.)
13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access. Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.
15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.
16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.
17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.
18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.
19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.
20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.
21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.
22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.
23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses. A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.
24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).
25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.
26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.
27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.
28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.
29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later. They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.
30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.
31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.
32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.
33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street. Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.
34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe. Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!

I’m Back! When it doesn’t feel like Lent…

I know, I know. I promised new posts for last week and didn’t deliver. Getting back into the swing of things after being in Arizona for two weeks proved more time-intensive than I expected. But now I’m back and ready to write!

If you’re wondering about my experience in Arizona, you can read my daily reflections over at my old spirituality blog: Of the Garden Variety.

This week I have a few disconnected thoughts to share with you lovely readers.  Let’s dig into it.

______

We are just under two weeks away from celebrating EasterHow is your Lenten season going?

For me, I’ve been so preoccupied with preparing for Arizona, being in Arizona, recovering from Arizona, and looking ahead to my next trip, that I’ve pretty much lost sight of Lent this year.  Rather than a season of reflection, contemplation, and experiencing the disconsolation of being without, I’ve been rushing, working, and experiencing sensory and information overload.

So what do we do when our season of life does not match up with the church calendar?  What do we do when the sermons and sharing of our community of God don’t resonate with our current experience?

I think we run into this dilemma more often than we like to admit.  We experience loss, but our community is full of celebration.  We experience rest, but our community expects more participation.  We experience peace, but our community is full of unrest.  We experience doubt and distance with God, but our community seems threatened by our questions.

Sometimes it’s so much easier to walk alone.

But community is central to our Christian faith for a reason.  Yes, we need the freedom to be who we are and where we are on our spiritual journeys, but we also need the experience of community to help us grow and change.  Community can be challenging, but it can also be revealing and healing.

When I think about participation in the community of God, I always return to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

We can never achieve this “wholeness” simply by ourselves, but only together with others. – Letters and Papers from Prison

(If you missed it, you can find our 4-part series on community in Bonhoeffer’s writings here.)

We need each other not only to fully experience God but also to become fully whole in ourselves.  I may not be in a season of life or a frame of mind to really engage in Lent this year, but being surrounded by a community of God that is engaged in Lent helps keep me linked to the seasons of the church year and reminds me that there is more to life than my momentary experience.

And who knows? Maybe next year I will be the one reminding my community just what the season of Lent brings to our experience of God.

That’s what community is all about.

Reconciliation and the Hidden Life

 

On Monday, we looked at an excerpt from Henri Nouwen‘s Sabbatical Journey and unpacked some of his reflections about Lent.  We focused more on the beginning and end of the passage, but today I really want to focus on what he says in the middle.

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.

I always love how honest Nouwen is about what it’s like to be human.  He acknowledges all our fallen nature, our pride and guilt and selfishness and all the rest, yet he uses his own vulnerability to draw us into closer relationship with the Divine.

How often I fail at living the “hidden life” Jesus modeled for us.  How easily I am distracted and motivated by the praise the world gives.  How quickly I stray from the one thing I want.  The psalmist calls it an undivided heart.  John calls it remaining in God.  Nouwen calls it communion with God.

It is only when we are living this hidden life that we are able to be in right relationship with others.  It is only when we acknowledge our need for and accept God’s forgiveness that we are able to acknowledge our need for and ask for forgiveness from others or give them our forgiveness, even if they do not ask or acknowledge the need.

Lent is a time for reconciling ourselves to God and to others (not to mention to ourselves) so that when Easter morning comes, we are fully able to understand and celebrate the event that forever reconciled the world to God.

This process is big and important. It is difficult. It requires humility and honesty, vulnerability and transparency.  It requires intention and space.

But the good news is, reconciliation starts with God, and with God, it is already finished!

 

Forward Friday: What the Story of God Means

One of the most significant elements in body theology is the actual, physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  That’s why Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are so pivotal.  We Christians are who we are because of who Christ is and what Christ did for us.  Sometimes looking at the big picture of the course of biblical history can help us understand what brings us to this moment of Christ’s preparation for death.

As you celebrate Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday this weekend, read back over some of the key elements of the story of God from our little flash Bible course this week to dig into the significance of what we are about to celebrate.  What stands out as particularly meaningful to you?  Let me know in the comment box below.

1. God takes evening walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.
2. Becoming aware of their nakedness and feeling ashamed causes them to hide from God.
3. God’s people become afraid of God and ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.
4. God’s people are afraid even of the glory of God reflected on Moses’ face, so he has to wear a veil until the glory fades.
5. God instructs the people to build the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence will be confined among them.
6. The people never touch or open the Ark of the Covenant because it is so holy.
7. The Ark lives in its own tent among them, called the Tabernacle, where the people come to worship God.
8. After Moses, God speaks only to specific people God chooses, usually prophets, kings, or priests. These chosen few share God’s words with the people–who often do not listen.
9. To see the face of God is to die, and even the prophet Elijah–who asks to see God’s face–covers his face with his robe before meeting God at the mouth of the cave.
10. Once God’s people settle down in one place and begin to build houses instead of tents, God instructs King Solomon to build a temple for God to live in.
11. God’s presence is reserved for the Holy of Holies–a small area within the temple restricted from everyone where the Ark is kept, the entrance to which is blocked with a thick curtain.
12. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through an elaborate cleansing ritual in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal to atone for the people’s sins.  (They even tie a rope around his foot each time in case he dies from the experience of being with God and has to be dragged out to be buried since no one else is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to retrieve a dead body.)
13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access.  Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.
15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.
16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.
17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.
18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.
19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.
20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.
21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.
22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.
23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses.  A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.
24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).
25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.
26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.
27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.
28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.
29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later.  They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.
30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.
31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.
32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.
33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street.  Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.
34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe.  Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!

And then, after Holy Week…

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of AtonementTuesday, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. Yesterday, we considered the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.  Today, let’s look at the coming of the Holy Spirit and the implications of this story for body theology.

32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.

33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street.  Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.

34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe.  Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!

When I was little, we used the phrase Holy Ghost.  Some people might have found that phrase a little scary.  To me, it was just a name, as incorporeal and intangible as today’s more common Holy Spirit.  Growing up Presbyterian, there was never much emphasis on the Holy Spirit at all.  We talked a lot about God as The Father and Jesus as The Son, but God as The Holy Ghost was just something we said as part of the Nicene Creed each week in the church service.

I’ve come a long way in my journey with the Holy Spirit.  That’s a post for another day.  What I want to share today is the continued trajectory of the story of God.

On Monday, we looked at the beginning of the story of God when God was present with Adam and Eve, walking in the garden.  Through the entrance of sin and shame, a barrier went up that kept the people of God from God’s presence with them.  As we walk through the story of God, we see God living nearby, but there is always something keeping the people from direct contact with God–whether that’s shame, fear, or the belief that they are too unclean or unholy.

But God was determined to be with the people again.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, we looked at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus–God in human form.  God broke the barrier by making the ultimate blood sacrifice so the people would never again be too unclean or unholy to be present with God.  But Jesus’ physical existence on earth–like ours–was only temporary, even after death.

So God sent the Holy Spirit–the presence of God–to remain in the world with the people of God and to actually live within the people, making their physical bodies into temples.  Now, people don’t have to go anywhere to be present with God.  No one can keep us away from God or force us to stay at a distance from God’s presence because God is now present inside the human body!

If that’s not the most exciting thing ever, I don’t know what is! Our bodies house the presence of God.  God’s presence inside us is what changes us, makes us new, and makes us holy.  There is nowhere we can go where God is not present.  There is nowhere we can go that is not made holy by God’s presence there.  The curtain has been ripped open.  The Spirit of God has been released into the world and into the body of every person who believes.

That is what body theology is all about.  That is why our bodies matter to our faith.  That is why the physical reality of God in the world matters to our theology.

So get ready for Easter, people.  The curtain gets ripped tomorrow.  The body of Jesus gets buried and the spirit of Jesus enters the place of eternal damnation on Saturday.  And then Sunday–oh glory!–we get to celebrate the living-breathing-walking-talking-eating-drinking-teaching-healing-actual-physical-human/divine-Jesus for defeating death, ending forever the need for blood sacrifice, forgiving sin, and making possible the presence of God in the world and in the body of every believer everywhere until the kingdom of God returns to us again one day soon.

People, get ‘a ready.  Jesus is ‘a comin’!

It’s Holy Week! Part 3

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of AtonementYesterday, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. Today, let’s look at the Passion of Christ and the rest of the Jesus story.

21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.

22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.

23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses.  A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.

24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).

25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.

26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.

27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.

28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.

29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later.  They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.

30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.

31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.

There are so many wonderful moments in this part of the story of God.  Jesus, a physical human being, dies a physical human death (of the worst kind), and is resurrected to again be a physical human being.  The women are the first evangelists.  Jesus promises to leave his spirit with those who believe in him.

But my favorite moment is the moment of Jesus’ death when the curtain is ripped in two.  Remember the curtain? That piece of fabric hanging in the entrance to the Holy of Holies?  It served as a reminder of the barrier between God and God’s people.  It blocked people from God’s presence with them.

In fact, only the people considered to be the cleanest and most holy were even allowed near the Holy of Holies. Even the high priest, the holiest person out of all of God’s people, was only allowed inside once a year to sprinkle sacrificial blood on the Ark to atone for the sins of the people.  God was just too holy to be with the people.  The people were just too unholy to be with God.

But God came to the people anyway, in the physical human form of Jesus.  God became the ultimate blood sacrifice–the last and final atonement for all the sins of all people everywhere throughout all of time.  God ripped the curtain (top to bottom) at the moment of Jesus’ death to show the people that there was no more need to separate the holy from the unholy–the sacred from the secular.

And when I think that God, his son not sparing,
sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
that on that cross, my burden gladly bearing,
he bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee.
How great thou art! How great thou art!

It’s Holy Week! Part 1

One of the most significant elements in body theology is the actual, physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  That’s why Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are so pivotal.  We Christians are who we are because of who Christ is and what Christ did for us.  Let’s take a little flash Bible course this week to dig into the significance of what we are about to celebrate.

Sometimes looking at the big picture of the course of biblical history can help us understand what brings us to this moment of Christ’s preparation for death.  Here are some key elements of the story of God.

1. God takes evening walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.

2. Becoming aware of their nakedness and feeling ashamed causes them to hide from God.

3. God’s people become afraid of God and ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.

4. God’s people are afraid even of the glory of God reflected on Moses’ face, so he has to wear a veil until the glory fades.

5. God instructs the people to build the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence will be confined among them.

6. The people never touch or open the Ark of the Covenant because it is so holy.

7. The Ark lives in its own tent among them, called the Tabernacle, where the people come to worship God.

8. After Moses, God speaks only to specific people God chooses, usually prophets, kings, or priests. These chosen few share God’s words with the people–who often do not listen.

9. To see the face of God is to die, and even the prophet Elijah–who asks to see God’s face–covers his face with his robe before meeting God at the mouth of the cave.

10. Once God’s people settle down in one place and begin to build houses instead of tents, God instructs King Solomon to build a temple for God to live in.

11. God’s presence is reserved for the Holy of Holies–a small area within the temple restricted from everyone where the Ark is kept, the entrance to which is blocked with a thick curtain.

12. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through an elaborate cleansing ritual in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal to atone for the people’s sins.  (They even tie a rope around his foot each time in case he dies from the experience of being with God and has to be dragged out to be buried since no one else is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to retrieve a dead body.)

To be continued…

Guest Post: 3 Must-haves for Lent: Part 2

My friend Jenn Cannon has graciously agreed to share her experience of fasting during this Lenten season and its impact on her body theology. If you missed it, check out Part 1. You can find more of her writing here.

Many people, in modern Christianity, have taken the idea of a fast during Lent and tried to turn it into a positive action.  Instead of simply abstaining from certain foods, people are opting to try another way to express the same idea without the physical side-effects.  As an example: my former pastor gives up his morning Starbucks and all fast food and then donates the funds that he has saved to his favorite charity.

Unhealthy Fasting

As I have journeyed to get healthier in the last 8 months, I have found that I cannot outright deny myself a certain food without the danger of a binge looming on the horizon.  If I tell myself I cannot have chocolate for 40 days (or 46 depending on how you count it), I will most certainly have a meltdown and gorge at the end when I finally allow myself the chocolate – or I will be frantically trying to find something else to fill that need.

Either way – I lose sight of the meaning of the fast, and also do myself more harm than good.  Many people who are journeying back to health will tell you the same horror stories – fasting from any certain thing is a recipe for a binge.

Healthy Fasting

So I have learned to eat things in moderation.  Great.  But then what am I supposed to do about Lent?  If I want to participate in the spiritual journey of preparing myself for the coming sacrifice of Christ, what then can I do instead of giving up meat (which I already eat very little of) or chocolate (again, a minor part of my diet and not really a sacrifice) or anything similar?

I am fasting from laziness.  Fasting from sitting on my butt.  My Lenten practice, this year, is to commit to some form of intentional exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.  I am choosing to observe Sundays as the mini-Easter that they are, and so are not part of the fast.

So – that is my physical piece.  But, as a Lenten practice, it is fruitless and self-serving unless I add in the other aspects of prayer and service.   So, my prayer (or God-focus) part of Lent is to read Scripture more regularly, pray while I’m on the treadmill, and change the music I listen to to help keep my thoughts centered on God while I’m walking.  As for service, I am always looking for the people who cross my path that I believe God sent to me.  Also, my discipline for service will take the form of writing.

Writing as Spiritual Discipline

I have a lot going on in my head as I journey back to health – and with nudging from good friends (like Laura) – am realizing I have much to say and share as I do.  So I will be writing – intentionally – during the full season of Lent.

My writing is intended to help others understand this journey of getting healthy, encourage those who are struggling with their own health, and – selfishly – to help me process some of the stuff I need to think about – specifically regarding my self-image.

Join the Conversation

So have you thought about what you’re giving up for Lent?  Do you have a reason for your choice?  And how does your personal choice (Self-focus) tie back in to the other two aspects of Fasting: God-focus and Others-focus? Leave a comment in the box below to share your journey this Lenten season.

I am a musician, a photographer, a theologian, a customer service rep.  I am a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  But mostly I am a child of God striving to live my crazy life the best way I know how.  These writings have been born from my journey back to health that I started in June 2011.  At that time, I weighed over 300 pounds and needed to lose at least half my weight to be considered in a healthy range.  Since then, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds through adjusting my diet and adding exercise.  The surprising side effect is the emotional changes that go along with getting healthy – and that is what has prompted me to begin to write.

Guest Post: 3 Must-haves for Lent: Part 1

My friend Jenn Cannon has graciously agreed to share her experience of fasting during this Lenten season and its impact on her body theology. You can find more of her writing here.

I am a musician, a photographer, a theologian, a customer service rep.  I am a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  But mostly I am a child of God striving to live my crazy life the best way I know how.  These writings have been born from my journey back to health that I started in June 2011.  At that time, I weighed over 300 pounds and needed to lose at least half my weight to be considered in a healthy range.  Since then, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds through adjusting my diet and adding exercise.  The surprising side effect is the emotional changes that go along with getting healthy – and that is what has prompted me to begin to write.

Last week, Christians around the globe marked the beginning of the season of Lent.  This season of 40 days (well, really 46) of preparation and repentance is observed so that we can prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Holy Week and Easter.  We intend to spend these 40 days focused on God and Christ and the upcoming sacrifice that saves us.

At least – that’s the intent.

Lenten Fasting

Historically, Lent has included a fast of some sort: abstaining from certain foods, from all food, from bad habits, from sex… The Lenten fast has taken so many different forms over the years.  In more Orthodox congregations, the fast is prescribed and required (with some dispensations granted for the extremely ill or weak).  In many Protestant churches, the fast is voluntary (at most) and unknown (at least).  Some congregations don’t observe Lent at all.

What then does this Fast, this abstaining, really mean?  What is the purpose and how do we observe it correctly?  And really – what does fasting have to do with Body Theology at all?

The Lenten practice was originally a 3-part one: prayer, fasting, service.  The idea is that one practice without the other 2 is incomplete.  So – if we choose to fast simply to fast, we miss the mark.  The whole point is to prepare ourselves for Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and life-giving resurrection.  If we focus ONLY on the fast, we miss the rest of the preparation.

Lenten Prayer

Fasting without prayer is simply denying ourselves.  If we use the popular example of food – we are simply denying ourselves sustenance, and missing the point.  Prayer – focus on GOD – is crucial.  Without it, we are perhaps using the fast in a multitude of incorrect ways: pride at our will or self-control; attempting to manipulate others (as in the case of a hunger strike); proof of our own piousness; and many others.  And physically, denying ourselves a certain food can enhance the desire for it – to such an extent that it could lead to a binge.  Unhealthy AND ungodly.

When we add prayer – or scripture reading or any other discipline that focuses our attention on God instead of ourselves – we immediately rescue the Fast from the worldly concerns and it can become, again, a part of worship.  We can worship through our physical acts, provided our hearts and minds are in the right place.

Lenten Service

As we worship God physically and spiritually, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor, as well. When pressed by the Sadducees to name the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus answered:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. ~ Matthew 22: 34-40

Christ didn’t make a distinction between loving self, loving God, and loving others.  They are all tied together into one answer.  The Greatest Commandment.  And so, too, should our Lenten practice be….

Come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion!

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