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Forward Friday: YOU define body theology

I’ve been thinking all week about Isherwood’s definition of body theology as created through the body rather than about the body.  Our tendency is to relate to our bodies as something “other,” as a separate entity that is not the same as our “self.”  As Isherwood says elsewhere in that chapter, our language betrays our perspective when we say that we have bodies rather than that we are bodies.

This weekend, take some time to reflect and perhaps journal on the following question:

How do YOU define body theology?

This question is more than a cognitive exercise in generating a pithy statement about what you believe the term “body theology” means or what the phrase evokes in you, though these are of course useful exercises as well.  What I’m really asking here, what I’m encouraging you to ask yourselves this weekend, is this:

How does who you are as a mind-body-spirit being, designed by and created in the image of the Divine Being who defies all category and definition (including age, race, and gender), and believer in and follower of the way of the incarnate, flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing, dwelling-among-us, crucified-and-resurrected Emmanuel (which means God-with-us) — how do YOU define body theology? 

How is body theology defined through the unique physical human being only YOU can be?  What does your experience of being alive in your own skin bring to the table? What does your body teach us about who God is and about who we are as the community of God?  How is God made manifest in and through you that is only possible because you are a bundle of tangible flesh?

This is a big question.

Open yourself up to the possibilities presented by this kind of approach to theological reflection.  Really sit with the reality God reveals to you.  Write it down or talk through your experience with a trusted friend.

Then come back and share in the comment box below.  What came up for you as you meditated on these questions?

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What is body theology? another definition

This week we’re exploring the various definitions of body theology out there.  Read HBTB’s definition of body theology. Read James B. Nelson’s definition from Monday.

Now let’s consider an excerpt from Introducing Body Theology by Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart. Take some time to read and reflect on the passages below.

[B]ody theology…creates theology through the body and not about the body.  Working through the body is a way of ensuring that theories do not get written on the bodies of “others” who then become marginalized and objects of control. It is also a way of deconstructing the concept of truth that Christianity used to hold so many falsehoods in place.  Once one moves from the notion that there is absolute truth into which the bodies of people have to fit, the way is open to begin questioning and we soon realize that truth is not the issue in relation to prescriptions about the body, but power.  Christian history shows us the extent to which power has been exerted over bodies in the name of divine truth and the crippling results.  If the body is given the space and power to speak what will be the consequences for both the body and theology?

… Body politics have exposed the underlying power games at work in sexuality and society and by so doing have become a source of inspiration and liberation for many.  Christianity is an incarnational religion that claims to set captives free, it tells us it is a religion of liberation.  Yet it underpins many of the restrictive practices that body politics expose.  In some cases Christianity has been the instigator of these practices because of its dualistic vision of the world.

The questions being posed in our time are to do with the body, that of the world as well as the individual.  Can body politics ever become body theology in a truly radical and transforming way?  This might mean for example, that the Christian religion…risk taking the bodies of women seriously as sites of revelation in the creation of theology….That it develop a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desire of all and integrates it into a mutual and freeing celebration of embodiment.

…The Christian faith tells us that redemption is brought through the incarnation of God. A redemption that could not be wished or just thought, even by God herself, she had to be enfleshed.  Therefore, it can be argued that until the body is liberated from the patriarchal ties that bind it, many of which have been set in place by Christianity, creation will never understand the truly liberating power of incarnation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  React to and engage with the quotation above in the comment box below.

What is body theology? a miniseries

This week, let’s take a little step back and consider more about just what body theology is, how it has been defined and how we define it here at HBTB.

Read Holistic Body Theology Blog’s definition of body theology.

Below is an excerpt from Body Theology by James B. Nelson.  Take some time to read and digest what he says about the relation between our human bodies and the incarnation of Christ.

What, then, is body theology? It is nothing more, nothing less than our attempts to reflect on bodily experience as revelatory of God….Theologically, [embodiment] means Jesus as the Christ, the expected and anointed one.  Through the lens of this paradigmatic embodiment of God, however, Christians can see other incarnations: the christic reality expressed in other human beings in their God-bearing relatedness.  Indeed, the central purpose of Christology…is not affirmations about Jesus as the Christ. Rather, affirmations about Jesus are in the service of revealing God’s christic presence and activity in the world now.

…[T]he human body is language and a fundamental means of communication. We do not just use words. We are words.  This conviction underlies Christian incarnationalism. In Jesus Christ, God was present in a human being not for the first and only time, but in a radical way that has created a new definition of who we are.  In Christ we are redefined as body words of love, and such body life in us is the radical sign of God’s love for the world and of the divine immediacy in the world.

The time is upon us for recapturing the feeling for the bodily apprehension of God. When we do so, we will find ourselves not simply making religious pronouncements about the bodily life; we will enter theologically more deeply into this experience, letting it speak of God to us, and of us to God. (emboldened emphases mine)

Thoughts? Questions? Reflections? Share in the comment box below.

 

…and we’re back!

My August “pause and quietly think about” turned out to be more of a “work like crazy for three weeks and then go on a road trip.”  I didn’t get as much time for silence and reflection as I had planned, but what I did get was a whole seven total days without one single moment of work.

Todd Lake, Oregon
copyrighted

My husband and I drove almost 3,000 miles on our road trip through central California, northern California and Oregon, went on one backpacking trip (one night), enjoyed seven different hikes (eight if you count walking along the smoky rim of Crater Lake), stayed in four different hotels, and visited with two sets of Oregonian friends — transplants from Chicago.

My brain got a glorious break from all the rushing and working and pushing and preparing I squeezed into three weeks before our trip.

But my body — oh my!

Here’s the thing I like about body theology.  Since I first heard the term, sitting in that little third-floor classroom at Fuller Seminary about midway through my  program, my world has opened up.  I have been pushed and stretched and challenged to think about my body, my SELF, as part of my theology, as a full participant in the spiritual encounter of God in my life.

The thing I like about body theology is that it keeps me grounded.  It reminds me that the ordinary, the physical, the tangible, the real, the messy, the mundane, the accessible — this is all part of how we were created to experience the fullness of life and completion of joy that we have been promised.

Theology seems like a heady, ethereal, intellectual, intangible mist that we grasp for but can never really, fully reach.  Theology is such an distant, academic word.

But body theology brings all that misty intangibility into focus, gives it form, makes it grasp-able in the most literal sense.  Body theology is something we can hold onto.

Weaver Lake, Sequoya National Forest, California
copyrighted

As Matt and I hiked up and down mountains, slept in tents, wandered behind waterfalls, slogged through flooded meadows, drove miles and miles and miles (and even through a tree!), I wasn’t having intellectual epiphanies about my spiritual life or about God.

I was using my muscles.
I was pushing myself uphill till I nearly had an asthma attack.
I was lugging a too-large, half-empty backpack I borrowed.
I was squirming in the passenger seat.
I was being lulled to sleep by the motion of the car as the miles peeled away under our speeding bodies.
I was alternately pushing sleeping-Matt and getting pushed by sleeping-Matt out of the too-small beds in our cheap motels.
I was racing the sundown to the top of a mountain.
I was stretching my sore legs and eating breakfast for lunch and snapping an unmanageable amount of digital photos and listening to a good book being read badly on audio CD and enjoying being on vacation with my husband and hanging out with his Chicago-to-Oregon friends and blowing my dripping nose on wads of toilet paper as we hiked under tall pines and complaining that my back was killing me and massaging my husband’s neck as we drove and a thousand other mundane, ordinary, regular, unexceptional, physical things that mean that I’m ALIVE and DOING something outside in the world with other people.

It’s easy to live in my head because I work from home and have very limited community in a town we are still adjusting to living in after just over a year of settling in.  It’s easy to live in my head because I’m an introvert and a writer and prefer digital communication over picking up a phone.

Mostly it’s easy to live in my head because there is still a part of me that believes that in my head is where I will meet God, where I will mentally understand and logically decide and cognitively interact with the intangible-spirit-being that I grew up loving and seeking and learning to find with my mind. Faith seeking understanding.

That part of me is still pretty big and loud and commanding of much of my time and energy. But the part of me that is small and quiet and unassuming, the part of me that gives instead of takes, the part of me that is learning to rest and be instead of work and do, that part of me — the part that woke up the day I first heard about body theology in that little third-floor classroom — that part of me found its voice this past week in the mundane and ordinary, in the exercise and outdoors and movement from place to place.

That voice isn’t as loud or commanding as the voice of my head.  But oh, how it sings!

Forward Friday: Relational Living

Wednesday, I wrote about my purpose in blogging on Holistic Body Theology.   I shared that I write this blog because we are not made to be alone.  We do not walk this journey alone.

Relational living is a simple, yet vital, element of body theology. This weekend, as you spend time with family, friends, maybe a church community, take the opportunity to be mindful of the way God created us to be together.

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

How did you participate in the body of Christ this weekend?

Why Body Theology?

In an age when we can transplant blood and organs from one person to another in order to bring life; when people’s bodies can be augmented by artificial means; when a person’s sex can be altered; when beings can be cloned; when heterosexual and patriarchal understandings of the body are breaking down, issues of bodily identity worry us and yet in an age when aesthetics appears to have largely replaced metaphysics,

the body seems to be all we have

(even, as [Sarah] Coakley notes, as it disappears on the internet). The body matters and so it is little wonder that a distinctive genre of theology known as body theology has developed.  But in truth

Christian theology has always been an embodied theology rooted in creation, incarnation and resurrection, and sacrament. 

Christian theology has always applied both the analogia entis (analogy of being) and the analogia fidei (analogy of faith) to the body.

The body is both the site and the recipient of revelation.

– Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart, Introducing Body Theology (p. 10-11), emphasis added

Body theology — holistic body theology — is about knowing who we are in Christ and allowing that identity to inform the way we see ourselves, the way we interact with others who share the same identity, and the way we interact with the world as a whole.

Having a healthy relationship with our bodies informs the way we relate to ourselves, to God, and to each other. 

When we are free from the lies we receive and internalize, we are able to enter into the fullness of life God has promised and live in the already as whole, redeemed, holy people of God.

I write this blog because I need to be reminded every day that my body is good, has been redeemed, and is an inextricable and irremovable part of the way God speaks to me and uses me in the world for God’s good purpose.

I write this blog because I have met so many other people who struggle just like I do to live a little more in the already and recognize the sacred in ourselves and all around us.

I write this blog because we are not made to be alone.  We do not walk this journey alone.  Your comments, Facebook messages, and emails continually inspire, encourage, and challenge me.

Keep thinking.  Keep sharing.  Keep walking with me.  Let’s walk together slowly, faithfully into the freedom God has promised.

Was John Calvin a feminist?

It’s Blast from the Past Week on Holistic Body Theology.  Here are some of my theological reflections from a class I took on “Women in Church History and Theology” at Fuller Seminary.

First posted May 27, 2008 as “Calvin on Women”

Was John Calvin an accidental feminist?

Jane Dempsey Douglass, in her article “Christian Freedom: What Calvin Learned at the School of Women,” suggests that Calvin might be something of a cloaked and even accidental feminist. She notes that the significant mark of his attention to women is his choice “to place Paul’s advice for women to be silent in church among the indifferent things in which the Christian is free” (155).

In other words, Calvin thinks a woman’s silence is not an irrevocable command from heaven but rather a “human law which is open to change” (156). If this is the case, then churches have the freedom to decide individually what is and is not consistent with order and decency in worship.

Douglass argues that Calvin makes no remarks in his many works that would contradict her reading of the implications of his classification of a woman’s silence in church as “indifferent.” She notes that the “only mention of women’s subjection I have found is in the context of submission of the church to the Word of God” (160).

In fact, in the passage in his Institutes concerning head coverings, Calvin writes, “If the church requires it, we may not only without any offense allow something to be changed but permit any observances previously in use among us to be abandoned” (qtd. 158). Thus, argues Douglass, Calvin is open to changes in church order concerning indifferent issues.

She even goes so far as to suggest that “Calvin feels the need to correct the apparent meaning of Paul’s statement lest his readers understand that women lack the fullness of the created image of God” (159). He even allows women to speak in church should God call them in a special situation (164).

In light of this evidence, Douglass suggests several conclusions: Calvin argues concerning the subordination of women “in the context of Christian freedom” (165); he labels Paul’s directive as human, not divine, law; he advocates for women being made in the image of God theologically if not in the realm of human order; interestingly, Calvin seems to “relativize the authority of the epistles” because he does not take Paul’s statement or arguments at face value (166).

Nevertheless, Douglass must conclude that regardless of the implications Calvin’s classification raises, he “expected women to return to their traditional subordinate roles” (172). This conclusion leaves me with the question: how much good does a proposition like this do if it is unintentional and in any case not capitalized on in general church order during and after the Reformation?

Human vs. divine rule in Calvin’s theology

John Thompson, in his article “Polity as Adiaphora in John Calvin: The Strange Case of Women’s Silence in Church,” is less enthusiastic about the positive implications of Calvin’s classification than is Douglass. He argues that in fact Calvin would never have supported women speaking in church and wrote to that effect, because “such an office [of public ministry] does not befit one who is in submission” (2); Calvin was also unaware of the positive implications Douglass attaches to his classification since he never discussed them further; mostly, Calvin was not a man likely to approve any kind of change, much less one so controversial.

At best, Thompson asserts, Calvin means by his classification the possibility of “a suspension of the rules, not a change” (4). Thus, there may be occasions when the voice of a woman in church will be called for or at least unavoidable, but these occasions do not permit “a change in polity but a temporary suspension thereof in circumstances of necessity or emergency” (5), a position Calvin is not the first to hold (re. Vermigli).

Thompson also notes that while “polity is a humanly-created order,” there are some rules of polity that “are divinely-instituted” (6). Since Calvin’s only examples for his classification of women’s silence as indifferent concern occasional or emergency situations, and since Calvin does not seem to be aware of any other implications of his concession, it is more likely—Thompson argues—that Calvin is not advocating very much freedom for women at all but rather asserting that one’s lack of decorum in a certain instance will not endanger one’s salvation (8).

Models/lessons from Calvin

Calvin’s example of stressing order and decorum in church worship is commendable. As a Presbyterian, I can at least give him that much credit. His distinction between God-ordained commands and human-devised rules is also a useful model as we try to extricate from its cultural seat the truth of scripture for today’s practical application in our many and various church settings. Even his admittance that indifferent rules may be suspended when necessary (if not amended or entirely altered) shows a flexibility in order and structure that allows one at least to breathe, if not grow.

In my opinion, regardless of Calvin’s intention or motive, his classification of the issue of women’s silence in church as indifferent to salvation does have positive implications for women in ministry. He may not have meant to give the kind of freedom Douglass hopes for in her analysis of his humanist background and theological writings, but he did open the door for it.

Perhaps it is for later theologians and scholars to build on the foundation Calvin laid for an orderly kind of worship that he would not have been able to see clearly through his own cultural lens. If Calvin, in his context, could make concessions on a temporary basis, perhaps he has paved the way for more permanent changes in today’s context.

Forward Friday: What’s Yours?

This week I reflected on four aspects of body theology that are important to me: gender, sexuality, community, and body image.

This weekend, try reflecting on one aspect of body theology that is important to you.  Choose from the list below or make up your own.  Share what you reflected on in the comment box below.

  • identity
  • image of God
  • incarnation of Christ
  • physicality
  • sexuality
  • body image
  • media literacy
  • cultural discernment
  • community
  • body of Christ
  • equality
  • service
  • social justice
  • creation care
  • spirituality

Reflections on Body Theology: 10 Lies I Believe about My Body

1) I’m not pretty.

2) Even with makeup, I’m not pretty.

3) I need to lose weight.

4) I have too much hair in the wrong places.

5) I am responsible for how men react to the way I look.

6) Dressing in clothes that aren’t baggy is immodest.

7) Showing my legs or arms is immodest.

8) I should be ashamed of myself for wanting to look pretty.

9) My husband is not really attracted to me.

10) I’m not feminine enough.

Conversation: Are You an Ender or a Starter? Part 4

If you missed them, read part 1, part 2, and part 3 first.

More than Presbyterian

When I met my husband, I had already graduated from seminary.  During one of our early conversations about our faith journeys, he asked me if I was still Presbyterian.  I thought about it for a moment, and then I said, “Yes, but I’m more than Presbyterian now.”  He thought my answer was funny, and he still kids me about it, but I was serious.

My roots will never stop being Presbyterian.  I will never forget where I came from, and I keep the best of my Presbyterian upbringing with me now.  But I am also a little Charismatic, a little Episcopalian, a little Vineyard, a little Emerging, a little Non-denominational, a little Buddhist, a little Mystic, a little Catholic, and a little I-don’t-know-what.

I’m in the garden now.  My roots are growing down deeper.  My leaves are spreading wider.  My buds are blooming.  I’m adding my rich and unique beauty to the variety of the garden.  I am learning to live in harmony with the different plants surrounding me.  We are all growing together, and it is only together that we can call ourselves a garden. 

Remember when Rachel Held Evans called the Bible a conversation-starter?  I think she was right.  What kind of garden would we be if we get rid of all the variety and uniqueness and try to make the whole garden look like us?  We’d be a garden overtaken by weeds.  Weeds put a strangle-hold on their fellow plants and force them to submit to only one expression of plant life.  Good gardeners uproot the weeds to allow more space for all the plants to grow freely and fully as they were meant to.

Let’s stop using the Bible to end conversations.  Let’s stop using our swords to wound and instill fear.  Let’s be conversation-starters.  Let’s allow the different voices of scripture, of history, and of today to shape and inform the conversation.  One of my seminary professors once defined theology as God-talk.  Let’s allow our theology to be a work-in-progress, a work toward discovering together the truth about God and the truth about ourselves because of God.

Boundaries and the space between

I read about a study once where a community member drove by her child’s elementary school and noticed all the kids hanging on the fence at the edges of the playground.  Concerned that the fence was holding her child back, she had the school remove it.  Immediately, the children’s behavior changed.  They began to congregate in the middle of the playground, fearing the insecurity of the edges they once safely explored because the boundaries were gone.

I’m not advocating that we abolish boundaries and play with an anything-goes mentality. We all need boundaries to feel safe and to bravely explore the fullness of the space we have been given.  Without any boundaries at all, we would be like the children gathered in the middle, afraid to explore and play in the in-between.

But we won’t know where the boundaries are if we don’t spread ourselves out and grow into the space we’ve been given.  Through conversation, we can explore and experience that space together and learn what it really means to be the body of Christ.

I used to be a conversation-ender, but I’m a conversation-starter now. Which one are you? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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