Archives For Embodiment

Last week, I posted “10 Questions to See If You’ve Accidentally Become a Christian-Gnostic.” If you missed it, you might want to check that out before reading this. 

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Gnosticism, that ancient belief that physical stuff is bad, has snuck back. While Evangelicals believe that Jesus had real hair follicles and sweat glands, rather than just appearing to be human, many of us still slip into gnostic thinking in other areas of our life–predominantly a sneaking suspicion that our bodies are bad. Or, at least, not as important than our spirits.

But if Christianity officially smacked-down Gnosticism in the fourth century, how has it managed to infiltrate our thinking without the alarms going off? As far as I can see, at least three factors make us susceptible to a soft version of gnosticism. 

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Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

1. Fallout from the Protestant Reformation

Zeal for the Bible drove the Protestant reformers to center their newfound churches around Scripture–literally. They moved the pulpit to center stage, abandoning the cruciform blueprints of cathedrals for more acoustic-friendly layouts where everyone could be sure to hear the preacher. Sola sciptura shaped their architecture.

In the reformers’ passion to recentralize Scipture, many jettisoned any forms of worship that seemed to distract from the Bible. Candles, incense, and icons got stripped away. Peaching, prayer, and singing dominated worship services. In a desire to elevate the teaching of Scripture, the reformers handed many of us a way of church that downplayed (or neglected altogether) more embodied forms of worship. Even communion–the central and very foodie sacrament–got relegated to a monthly add-on.

We Protestants downstream, especially of the low church variety, inherited this wariness of physicality in worship. And since the way we worship shapes the way we live, this skepticism of materiality easily spreads into other areas of our lives.  

2. An Evangelical spin on the Scientific Revolution

Even if we didn’t pith a frog in college Biology, the Scientific Revolution affects how we think. We want facts. We want proof. Rationalism shapes our Western consciousness, and also the church.

When fact-based reasoning became the default way of thinking, it didn’t leave much room left for mystery. Instead of seeing the Bible as a space where we encounter God, Christian rationalism reduces it to a doctrinal fact-book. Instead of a grand story told through multiple genres, each of which need to be digested differently, Christian rationalism flattens the Bible into a rule book for life.

Like a medical students cutting into a cadaver, Christian rationalism dissects the Bible, pulling verses apart to build systematic theologies. And while there’s a place for this type of technical handling, the factual knowledge rationalism gives us is incomplete. It lacks the imaginative knowing that comes from reading the Bible as literature. It falls short of encountering the God who speaks to us from beyond the ink. 

Within this Christian rationalism, following Jesus becomes popularly defined as believing the right things. Not about picking up our crosses. Faith gets reduced to a statement of faith–doctrines to be worked out in our minds and spirits, rather than our bodies.

3. The Bible’s tricky use of the word “flesh”

Then there’s the trouble with our bodies. They seem to lead us into sin–if it weren’t for our eyes, hormones, and genitia, we wouldn’t struggle with lust. Would we? 

On a surface level, body-blaming feels like an appropriate response to sin. Except sin isn’t just a body problem, it’s a human problem. Adam and Eve sinned, not because the fruit looked good, but because they reached for fulfillment and wisdom apart from the Creator. God made the fruit beautiful; feeling hunger and admiring its beauty weren’t sin. The will to disobey God in the face of their natural longings–that was the problem. 

But doesn’t the Apostle Paul’s condemn our flesh as bad? Yes and no. The New Testament uses two words that can be translated to flesh, soma and sarx, and Paul uses them in different ways. When he wants to refer to our salivary glands and small intestines–our skin-bound flesh–the apostle typically uses the term soma. He saves sarx for when he wants to refers to the part of us that is bent away from God–our spiritual dimension that pulls us toward sin.

So when Paul condemns the flesh, he’s not proposing that we try to free our spirits, as if our bodies drag them down bodies. He’s calling us to crucify the will, desires, and habits that shape us away from God, all while keeping his grip on our bodies and God’s promise to resurrect them. 

The Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and confusion over Paul’s use of soma and sarx opened the door for gnosticism to drift back in. But despite these drifts of thought, the Bible unapologetically presents a physical universe, including bodies, as indispensible to God’s plan for humanity. And if God holds the physical world in such high regard, when any thought pops up favoring spirits over bodies we need to sound the alarm. 

Question: How have you seen spirituality valued over physicality? 

I tried to peel myself off the alley as the Spanish words got louder, men’s voices, but my Columbia pants stuck to the dirt. My bones ached and bowels churned. Montezuma was mounting his revenge and it was one of the worst hours of my life.  

 

It was also one of the best days of my life, but you have to widen the edges of the story to see it. Zooming out, you’d see the alley I lay plastered in, tucked high up on a jungle mountain. You might see that–by a miracle of nature–later that day I’d steady my limbs and force them up ancient steps until I could look back over the green and grey city of Machu Picchu.  

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

 

One day, but two different stories depending on how wide you set the frame. In a similar way, Christians can cut the edges off God’s story. Sometimes we zoom in so tight on the cross, sanctification, and getting to Heaven when we die, that we crop the storyline. The Great Commission looms so large in our minds, that we almost forget about the first commission, the one God gave us in the Garden of Eden.  

Continue Reading…

 

The last couple years, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday has made me squirm. While I love listening to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, it’s the other dream that bothers me, God’s dream, the one in Revelation 5, that salad bowl in heaven where people of every skin tone are tossed in together and worshipping side by side. It unsettles me, because my life and church look more like a bowl of Breyer’s Cookies and Cream, light on the cookies. 

 

Photo 1452693051753 f0acd4cfe723Photo courtesy of Pumpkins via unsplash.com

 

When I listen to King’s dream, I can feel good about the fact that two of my best friends have been an African American and Korean American. I can feel proud of my great grandmother from Canada who told me how her town, one of the final stops on the underground railway, helped runaway slaves integrate into society. 

 

When I listen to God’s dream, though, I find myself asking some hard questions, like whether my mostly white church should be mostly white. Or, whether it’s enough to enjoy diversity without taking any steps to heal the racial issues in my country Continue Reading…

I sat on the rocky shore and gripped a small book in my hands, consuming its pages like a hungry teenager devouring pizza. A few days later I would return to Dallas changed—and not just from the mineral waters at Ouachita State Park.

 

Madeline L’Engle and her book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, gave voice to the questions simmering in my subconscious. Does art matter to God? What do our bodies have to do with faith? Does God care about physical things too, or just spiritual stuff? L’Engle’s book catapulted me into these questions and I began a journey that became this blog. 

 

Today, I want to introduce you to some of my traveling companions, in case you’re interested in a similar journey—an artist, an audio journal, a short-film series, a prayer idea, and the two books I’m so glad I read. You might not agree with everything they say, and that’s ok—I didn’t either—but, the way they think about faith and the other five senses is just so good that I had to share. 

 

1. Makoto Fujimura

 

Makoto Fujimura’s abstract art calls viewers home—home to life as it was meant to be when God created the world, home as it will be in the new Heaven and New Earth. Fujimura’s integration of art and faith earned him the “2014 Religion and the Arts” award from the American Academy for Religion.

 

  • Get it: Stroll through his online gallery, read some of his essays, or watch “Golden Sea,” a six-minute documentary about one of his recent paintings. 

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Walking on Water – Azurite by Makoto Fujimura

 

 

2. Mars Hill Audio Journal—Ken Myers

 

I met Ken Myers in 2013 during Arts Week at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). His lectures on “Creation and the Ordered Imagination” planted the seeds for my blog. In his audio journal (Mars Hill Audio Journal), he interviews artists, philosophers, and sociologists (just to name a few) who are exploring the connection between Christianity and culture.

 

I flitted through Hope Coffee dipping in and out of each photograph. I had promised myself to leave by 8:30 p.m. and it was already 8:45. In less than 12 hours, the men from church would be knocking on my door, ready to load up the U-Haul, and I still had packing to do. 

 

Attending the art show, which featured my classmate’s work, let me check two boxes off my to-do list. It fulfilled the “cultural engagement” assignment due Monday for my Theology of Art & Worship class, and it let me wave goodbye to the world before the tsunami of cardboard and packing tape pushed me under.  

 

Reflections on light and darkness. Each piece nodded to the name of the exhibit—light flickering off a child’s face, sun slicing through the distant clouds, a cobblestone street basking in the morning light. All of them saluted to the theme, except one.

 

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In The Mist by Paul Singleton, used with permission.

 

It stopped me as I buzzed around the corner and pulled me onto the cement jetty, past twenty-five seagulls, maybe thirty. It was hard to tell that far into the fog. Still. Peaceful. Stark. I felt those foggy mornings back up north on the dock, when the mist refused to say goodbye to the lake Continue Reading…

A 23-year-old Sunday school teacher converts to Islam after hours online with Faisal, a Bangeldashi man living in England. He tells her, “I know someone who will marry you but hes not good looking, 45 bald but nice muslim,” and Alex plans to fly to Austria to meet her future husband. 

 

What makes a church girl in rural Washington willing to gamble everything on the advice of a man she’s only ever met on Skype? According to an article in The New York Times, Alex longed for community and a more robust faith, and Faisal spent hours answering her questions. This approach, according to an expert, matches the advice given in an Al Qaeda recruiting manual: “Listen to his conversation carefully…share his joys and sadness.”  

 

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Photo courtesy of Brandon Doran via flickr.com

 

I can’t believe I’m saying this; but, maybe we can learn something from Al Qaeda.

 

Listening deeply, entering into a person’s joys and sadness, investing hours and months—this almost sounds like love. Unfortunately, though, it’s not always how we introduce people to Jesus Continue Reading…

The cop scribbled on his pad. “I don’t want to ruin your weekend,” he said. “So, I’ll run your card and let you off with a warning.” 

 

“Yes, sir,” I said, ducking my head. “Thank you, sir.” My head bobbed again.

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Photo courtesy of Areta Ekarafi via flickr.com

 

It’s been years since I’ve bowed to anyone, but suddenly I was back in South Korea squeezing my way through the teetering shelves of the neighborhood grocery store and turning around at the door. I’d press my hands together, duck my head toward the owner, and say “Annyeonghi gaseyo” before heading out.

 

I’d forgotten all about bowing until this cop and his pen almost scribbled two-hundred dollars out of my bank account. Suddenly, the habit came back in full force.  


Habits scuttle through lives our like mice—they scurry out when we least expect and the little buggers are hard to kill Continue Reading…

Six years ago, I clocked out of the burn unit for the last time and said goodbye to IVs, night shifts, and skin grafts. When people learn that I worked as a burn nurse they often blink and whisper, “That must’ve been so hard.” 

 

Working on a burn unit was hard, but not for the reason people think. Burn nurses walk onto the job each day expecting the worst. This protects us against emotional paralysis and allows us to focus on helping our patients—loading their IVs with Dilaudid, washing their burns, and slathering them with Silvadene. Burn care wasn’t always the hard part; often, night shifts were. 

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Photo courtesy of Alex Santos Silva via flickr.com (Used under CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

Unless you’ve stared 4 a.m. in the face, contacts blurring from dryness, you’ve never met the pit of night. Usually, by 2:30 a.m. my coworker and I had succumbed to silence. During the eternal inertia that stretched from then until dawn, I would agonize over whether another cup of coffee was worth the hole it would burn in my stomach.

 

One night, as I clawed my way toward morning, a patient’s call light turned on. I took a quick trip through Kubler-Ross’s stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before accepting the inevitable Continue Reading…

I was on a pre-break-up run. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but I had begun to worry about my dating difficulties, and pounding it out on the trail to White Rock Lake seemed like a good idea.

 

I felt stuck in one of those Vine videos on Facebook, looping through the same anxious thoughts, over and over, until I wanted to scream. If only I could close the browser on my anxiety or scroll past it like a Vine. But, anxiety doesn’t work like that. 

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Photo courtesy of Rula Sibai via unsplash.com

 

Sometimes, when people quote the Bible, they seem to imply that anyone can dispel anxiety with four easy steps: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer (Step 1) and supplication (Step 2), with thanksgiving (Step 3) let your requests be made known to God (Step 4). And the peace of God…will guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).

 

But, in all my years as a champion worrier, the four-steps approach rarely fast-tracked me to peace. True–that day on the path–praying and giving thanks reminded me that even if my relationship nosedived and I got wounded in the crash God would help me through. But, how could I get a grip on the anxious feelings

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Sensing the Way into Worship

smgianotti  —  February 24, 2015

Filming Much Ado About Nothing (2012) in black and white worked for Joss Whedon–in minimizing the visual input he managed to accentuate the drama. But this technique doesn’t always work, especially when it comes to worship. 

 

Reading through the Bible, I get the distinct impression that God means to impress the Gospel on our senses. In foreshadowing Jesus’s death on the cross, God told the Israelites to smear lamb blood on their door posts (Exodus 12:1-13).  At Mount Sinai, Moses showered the people with bulls’ blood as a sign of God’s covenant with them (Exodus 24:3-8). During the Last Supper, Jesus invited his followers to drink wine, stating that it was the new covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20). 

 

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My childhood church offered grape juice at communion, so I remember (quite clearly) my first sip of vino at a cousin’s church. A streak of warm flowed down my throat and nestled into my empty belly. A couple minutes later a soft fizz started dancing in my brain. Physically speaking, that one sip changed me. 

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