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

fivequestionsonCultures

with Kristi Rice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Spiritual Practice of Smoking*

* HBTB does not promote or condone smoking. It is general knowledge that breathing nicotine into your lungs is toxic to your body.  This post is designed to focus on what smokers can teach us about the spiritual life.

The Spiritual Practice of Smoking (while not really smoking)

  1. Smokers listen to their bodies well.
  2. Smokers know the importance of taking regular breaks from the daily grind.
  3. Smokers appreciate the calming effect of deep breathing, in and out, in and out.
  4. Smokers understand the camaraderie of taking breaks with other smokers, sharing the experience of smoking together.
  5. Smokers enjoy getting away from it all, going outside, and having a moment apart just to tend to their body’s needs.

Next time you find yourself rushing through yet another busy day with your head spinning and time flying by, take your cue from smokers:

  • take a moment to step outside

  • breathe deeply

  • experience the community of shared interest and activity

  • tend to your body, your mind, and your spirit every day

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

fivequestionsonExercise

with Eric Hall

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

I started exercising when I was a sophomore in high school.  I think I mainly started to become more attractive to women and to feel better about my physical appearance.  My exercise habits have changed over time depending on how busy I have been.  In 2007 I exercised for around 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.  In 2009 I ran 7 days a week.  I still exercise but it usually last around 1 hour each time and it happens around 3 times a week.

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

It has helped my self-confidence when it comes to my looks.  I have had compliments about my muscles.  That always makes me feel good.  Right now I am still in pretty good shape but I am very aware of unwanted fat on my body.  At times that fat makes me feel less secure about my appearance (I know this is unhealthy).

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

It has given me conversations with others that exercise.  I know to some girls it has made me more attractive.  At least from their comments that is what it sounded like.  It has also taken me away from spending more time with people (I will talk about this more in questions 4).

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

At times my exercising habits have become an obsession.  I refused to spend time with others because I HAD to get my exercise routine done.  I, one time, made my family wait an hour after they had driven 6 hours to come see me because I HAD to exercise.  This was extremely unloving and very selfish.  This was a sin, so obsession with exercise negativity affected my spiritual life.  But…I do believe that as a follower of Christ I am to be a holistic person.  This means I should try and be as healthy as I can be spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I do believe it honors the gift that God gave us, our bodies, when we exercise.  But as I mentioned, exercise can sometimes become an obsession, which is unhealthy and sinful.

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

Exercise, but within reason.  Don’t let it become an obsession.  I do believe that it can be a way to honor God, which is great.  I also do not believe that it is wrong to also do it to make yourself more attractive to yourself and others.
 
Ocean Me 

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.

Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Food (with Jenn)

fivequestionsonFood

with Jenn

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

I have always loved food…the variety, the possibility, and the flavor.  However, my experience of eating food has not always been pleasant.  Ever since I was a baby, I have had digestive issues–meaning I had pain and discomfort often after eating.  Until I was 25, I thought there was nothing I could do to change my digestive issues besides medication remedies, and they often didn’t work.  
 
When I was 25 I began dating my husband who was gluten free.  As we often shared food on dinners out or I cooked gluten free to accommodate his dietary restrictions, something funny happened… I began to feel better! This began a journey of learning that what I eat, affects how I feel.  Five years later, I found  and have stuck to a diet that has brought me complete healing–the Paleo Diet.  No longer do I fear pain when I eat–and that is an amazing gift.  Some might say being on a such restricted diet would be too hard but it has opened my world in learning how to cook well and understanding the relationship between my health and food.
 

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

As I have experienced physically healing, my body image has become more positive.  My body looks completely healthy now.  I rejoice in that and thank God!
 

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

I find myself more passionate to educate and help others learn the importance of diet and nutrition.  As others in my life have come to realize a specific diet would help their health issues, I share my story and resources that I’ve gathered.  And while I once began my recipe blog simply to keep my recipes organized, I now write to give encouragement to others that eating Paleo is possible and yummy!
 

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

I attribute my physical healing to God.  I prayed for years to be healthy and He has answered those prayers. 
 

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

Reach out to others going through similar journeys, search online for support and resources, and seek the Lord’s strength and encouragement through it all.  Also, if you are interested in the Paleo Diet, check out my blog at: jennsartofeating.wordpress.org.
 
 

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.

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

fivequestionsonCultures

with Matthew Knowles

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

I have lived, worked and studied in China since 2009. The first thing that comes to mind is Chinese people are envious of foreigners figures. The girls all want to have white skin, protruding noses and double-skin eyelids. Many even go as far as skin whitening and plastic surgery to achieve these changes.
 

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

I like being tall, but I hate when a billion Chinese people call me tall everyday.
 

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

I get annoyed more easily because I’m tired of hearing the same words out of everyone’s mouth.
 

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

It’s made me frustrated more, depressed some, angry often, and overall pulled me away from God.
 

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

I need the encouragement! … But really, have anchors in your life. Get out and refuel when needed. Iron sharpens iron.

matthew

 

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.

 

Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Pregnancy (with Emily)

fivequestionsonPregnancy

with Emily Feig

Emily’s guest post below is a beautifully written narrative incorporating throughout her story the answers to the five questions on pregnancy (find them here).  Because it is a little longer, I included an excerpt here with a link to the remaining narrative. You won’t want to miss the end of the story!

Becoming a mom has been the most amazing, wonderful, challenging, painful, and sanctifying process, even more than becoming a wife. My husband is the most amazing man in the world, and the blessing of being married to him is more than I can find words for. I learned so much about God’s love through him and through being married to him. But it didn’t change or affect me the way becoming a mom did.
 
Before we even started trying to conceive, I spent a great deal of time praying about it. I turned my desires over to the Lord and asked Him to make my desires match His. I know for so many people it can be a long and painful path, trying for years with no success, and for others, they are trying not to conceive and find themselves pregnant but not ready. I knew I had to trust God’s timing and asked that He give us a baby at when it was His perfect timing, and to help me be content with His timing.
 
We had been trying for 4 months before we conceived. Interestingly, I had peace the first 3 months before testing and with every negative result, but the early morning hours on the day we found out we were pregnant, I was laying in bed, clinging to the daydream of a baby, knowing that my hopes may soon be dashed, but wanting those last few minutes of enjoying what might be. The test was slow to turn positive. Both my husband and I were pretty sure it was not, and my heart was much more disappointed than usual. We continued getting ready for the day, but right before the 5 minute mark, we looked again and saw the faintest positive. My husband was not convinced and suggested we try again the next morning. But I knew. The whole day my body buzzed with nervous energy, my hands shaking, my emotions pent up with no release. Since we were both at work, we had no time to talk or process it, and my husband still wanted to test again to be sure. After another positive test, we were eager to celebrate, and talk, and plan, and enjoy our baby, treasuring the secret until we were ready to share.
 
Everyone had an opinion about pregnancy to share with me. Some women went on and on about how much they had loved being pregnant, how beautiful they felt, how much they loved and missed feeling the little kicks, and how they enjoyed all the attention that being pregnant had brought them. Others recalled how horrible their pregnancies had been, how much it had distorted their bodies, how ready they were for it to be over.
 
For me, I fell somewhere in the middle. Read the rest of this entry

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

fivequestionsonExercise

with Anonymous Guy

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

Consistency is my challenge. Exercise perpetuates more exercise for me and inactivity perpetuates more inactivity. Staying somewhere in a healthy middle ground by exercising a few times a week is the toughest. I’ve gone weeks where I exercise 12-14 times for the week and then I’ve gone through a couple weeks where its hard to do anything.
 

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

Body image is largely a control issue for me. It’s been something I could control and when things have been beyond control in life, my mind has thought “well at least I can control how the body looks” and that anxiety is projected outward to the flesh. Being conscious of this idea has helped to be healthier and more moderate, though past emotional damage will always pervade my mindset in some way.
 

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

 If I am not confident in my body, I am not confident. My mind goes into ultra-introvert mode and I feel a sense of embarrassment being around others. Shame is a nasty attachment that maladaptive mental habits can create and perpetuate. What I act like on the outside is always a picture of how I’m processing internally.
 

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

When shame abounds, grace is the last thing I want to accept because something inside me tells me I’m not good enough – that I need to earn it. Of course, with my theological understanding of God, I know better… but the emotional and the rational/intellectual absolutely wage war between each other sometimes and that can adversely affect my overall being and spiritual life. 
 

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

Learn to love yourself. Don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard, but, instead, a standard that is one of integrity, health, and happiness – and accepting of the grace offered to us. Body image is never ever a primary issue… but it’s symptomatic of other things happening. If you ever feel not-so-confident physically, look beyond that at your mental and emotional workings. And remember that Jesus loves models as much as the chubbiest of chubby people. Grace is as far away as we allow it to be.
 

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.

 

Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Dating/Singleness (with Stacey)

fivequestionsonDating/Singleness

with Stacey Schwenker

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

I was single throughout high school and did not date or have a boyfriend until college.  Then I went through a long string of boys that felt very back-to-back (2 of them were and some could say I was not honorable to one guy as I began a relationship with another).  When I began seminary, at the age of 25, I began what has been a long period of singleness.  Through this time I have pursued both wholeness/healing (actively seeking counseling and other ways to emotionally and relationally grow) as well as my vocational goals (mostly in ministry).
 
At my current age of 31 and three-quarters, I have mixed feelings about dating and singleness.  Mixed mainly because some days I feel consumed by how horrid the situation is and I am convinced that I shall be alone forever.  While other days I feel calm and collected and convinced of how wonderful I am and how wonderful God is, so that surely I shall not be alone forever.
 
I question whether my personality, past, or theological achievements (obtaining a Master of Divinity) make me unappealing to men.  Yet the desire to share life with another is just enough hope to continue to pray for a partner and believe that God will bring me someone (if that’s even good terminology…).
 

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

Again, mixed feelings.  Mostly I put a lot of effort into my body.  Not in the sense that I obsess about it and try to look amazing, rather it’s quite the opposite.  I listen to it and try to eat healthy and exercise regularly.  I care about its well-being and taking care of it.  I put more energy into becoming a person who seeks after God and can be a fair friend than I do about my physical image.  Even so, I have deep and ugly fears that my body is something that is keeping men away from me.  I don’t pluck my eyebrows and I have thicker thighs. 
 
My thoughts about my body have come from a complexity of stories melded together.  Most likely I came to the current story from three main places.  First, is with my family and how I learned to value myself with a body.  There’s definitely an overtone of being thin that is present and my father is regularly ridiculed by and in front of the entire family for being overweight.  It’s taken a long time to fight judgmental voices that became a constant in my head and plagued me with most outfits and certainly every hair-do. 
 
Second, is with my boyfriends.  Depending on the day I’ll tell you that I’ve had 3 or 4 significant relationships.  Two of them were great and celebrated my body with generosity and complete embrace.  One of them seemed great but turned out to be more selfish than loving.  The other one was kind of a jerk the whole time and rejected me regularly.  It became a game of seduction where I sought to be a master.  Even now I am struggling with the repercussions of feeling continually unwanted and unwelcomed by any prospective man.  As if I am too much or too little.  Mostly it feels like both at the same time.
 
Third, is how my body has changed over the years.  It’s been 7 years since I’ve dated anyone and my body is not how it was then.  Honestly, I worry about not being attractive and fight against the lie that this has been causing my singleness.  I feel more and more comfortable in my skin.  Yet somehow men do not come to me.  What’s a woman to do…?
 

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

There isn’t enough space on this computer to adequately answer this question!  I will say that I am completely conscientious, honest, and present with everyone in my life.  I strive to love and honor them.  I strive to admit when I am wrong and make amends.  I am weary of my need to attach to someone (I’m a co-dependent) and have to fight hard to have balance and health in my relationships.  Though, I do fight hard.  I’m not flippant anymore and I am willing to work.  Mostly, the affects have been positive.
 

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

I’ve certainly experienced a lot more growth.  Honesty does that.  I’ve let God get closer than I could have imagined.  And I also see how much further I have to go.  Because I write weekly (and publically) about this aspect of my life – relationships and spirituality – I’ve spent a great deal reflecting on it. 
 
And I see things to be so inter-connected.  I consider my motivations and the larger networks at play in my life.  For example, I can’t think about dating without thinking about how busy I’ve let me life become, the I consider my vocational dreams, then I think about my ability to trust God, then I consider patience, and then faith verses works, and on and on.  Ultimately, the more I consider the more peace I have and the more I feel God’s presence. 
 
Perhaps the greatest benefit has been being peeled back like an onion in the presence of God.  I feel more known with God since I am actively writing about my singleness and wondering where God is in all of it.  Though, it doesn’t take away the questions, loneliness, or fear entirely.  But it does bring more meaning to my life and a greater calm.
 

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

We must be patient and never lose hope.  God is a creative God and will bring us unexpected things.  We can knead the dough we’re given and see what will rise. Invite Him into where you are.  Reflect on what you are doing.  We have the potential to do so much, right now!  We must not let any lies or fears get in our way.  I truly believe that when we pursue Him, He will grant us the desires of our hearts.

 

Crazy Hair
 

What about you?

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

 

Forward Friday: Create your own spiritual practice

This week we’ve been talking about finding spiritual practices within daily life, in everything from flossing to breathing.  In the words of Rob Bell, everything is spiritual.

This weekend, take some time to create your own spiritual practice.

It doesn’t have to be hard work.  We breathe without any intentional effort and only stop breathing with concerted effort and for an extremely limited time.  So, too, spiritual practice can be just as natural and even just as involuntary.

All it takes is desire and decision.

Find a practice that feels natural to you.  Maybe it’s taking a daily walk, reading a morning Psalm, making dinner, driving to work, or breathing.  Make it something that is already part of your natural routine, something that you can use to call your attention to the holy and sacred in the normal pace of life.

Whatever it is, decide to make that activity — however innocuous or normal it may seem — your invitation to the Holy Spirit.

Try it and see what happens.

Then come back and share your spiritual practice in the comment box below.

The Spiritual Practice of Flossing

I was never a fan of flossing growing up. Although I had the good fortune to have nearly perfect teeth (thanks, mom and dad), my gums have always been on the sensitive side, so flossing is an unpleasant task. When we moved to Santa Barbara, I switched dentists and have been enduring regular lectures at my cleanings about improving my flossing habits ever since.

Here’s what I’ve learned about flossing over the past year:

  1. It’s not just for after you eat popcorn or celery.
  2. It hurts, and it will make you bleed.
  3. If you don’t keep doing it, it keeps hurting.
  4. Not flossing can result in cavities in the impossible-to-reach-with-a-toothbrush places between your teeth, no matter how good you are about brushing.
  5. No matter how good your teeth are, if your gums are unhealthy, your teeth will eventually loosen and fall out.
  6. You have to floss regularly or you lose most of the benefits of doing it at all.
  7. You have to get way down into the crevices or it’s not really worth doing.
  8. Be gentle but also vigorous.
  9. Use antiseptic mouthwash after to kill off the newly-exposed bacteria.

I just went to the dentist last week and got the lecture all over again. True, I’ve flossed more in the last year than I had in my whole life. I’ve made progress, but I still have room for improvement. I can be more diligent, more vigorous, more intentional. I can pay more attention to the task at hand and properly prepare my gums for that final tingly rinse.

And I got to thinking, as I dutifully wound thread through my teeth every night this week, that God sure has a sense of humor.

Ever since I first heard of body theology back in seminary, I have been learning to be more attentive to the connection between mind, body, and spirit that makes up who we are as human beings, made in the image of God. But that first day, when my world opened up to a more holistic way of being and relating, I never would have imagined that several years later I’d be blogging about the spiritual lessons in ordinary bodily experiences like bathing, eating, sleeping, sneezing, menstruating, hiking, farting, or flossing.

God is having a little fun with me.  Well, two can play at that game. So here we go.

What’s spiritual about flossing? It’s a lot like confession.

In confession, whether we reveal ourselves to another trusted person or only to the God who knows all and loves us anyway, we learn to do the routine work of clearing away the debris from our hearts and minds.  But if we want to stay healthy and experience God’s healing in the deepest places, we’ve got to do more than brush the easy-to-reach surfaces.  We’ve got to do some flossing.

We’ve got to get way down into those crevices where our sin, shame, guilt and baggage like to set up residence.  Even if the big, outward parts of ourselves are pretty healthy, letting that stuff fester will eat away at our roots until the healthy stuff loosens and starts to fall away. We’ve got to be diligent and consistent, even though it hurts and there may be blood in the sink for a while. But then, once we’ve gotten way down deep and exposed that debilitating bacteria, we find we’ve made room in those crevices for the healing power of God, that tingly rinse we call the Holy Spirit.

Our gums won’t heal overnight. Some of the damage might already have life-long consequences or require intervention from a professional. But if we keep at it, night after night, we will find ourselves slowly being restored to full health, maybe a health we didn’t even know was possible.

God is big like that.

God does the work of healing and transformation in our lives. Without salvation, grace, and the powerful, active work of the Holy Spirit, we would all be toothless. But when we join in and take an active role in our healing, we find we are on the road to being fully restored as the mind-body-spirit beings we were created to be — the good and unique handiwork of God.

What healing and restoration is God calling you to in your own life? Think about that next time you floss.

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