The body and Christianity

I’ve just had this epiphany.  (A warning: my epiphanies have about a 50% success rate at seeming meaningful later.  Perhaps comments can help me decide if this counts as a real epiphany or not.)

It’s about how important the body is to Christianity.

Lots has been said, written, and discussed about how midevil Christianity perverted Christ’s message, most specifically in interpetting Jesus’ teachings as being anti-body, anti-flesh.  I’m accepting this premise as a given here; I’m not going to explore the whys, or the hows of where we went astray.  I’m more interested of what Jesus was about in the first place. 

My first realization was that the institution of communion is radically body-affirming.   When Jesus first mentioned that we would need to eat his flesh, scripture reports that he freaked many of his followers out.  It almost seems like a turning point.

Even by todays standards, this claim is down right creepy.  I can only imagine what it seemed like to Jesus’ followers.  They’d grown up in a culture where dead flesh and blood of animals were more than disgusting: these things so polluted us that they made us unworthy to approach God.  For us, dead flesh is a hygiene thing.  For them, it was a moral thing, an obedience thing. 

But Jesus said we need to take his flesh into our flesh.  His body into our body.  It wasn’t enough to take his ideas into our mind.  It wasn’t enough to internalize his teachings in our heart.  His flesh into our flesh… What an amazing declaration about the importance of the body!

I’m thinking about the words “incarnation” and “carnal”.  Interesting how they both how the same root, meaning “the flesh” in Latin.  We praise Jesus embodiement while decrying our own. 

This is not to say that being in the world is how we’re supposed to be.  This is not to say it’s o.k. to behave in ways we often describe as “of the flesh.”  But I think that locating, for example, sexual sin in the body is a cop-out.  It’s a way to pass the buck, to locate the problem elsewhere. 

Maybe what it all comes down to is that Jesus was about concrete, physical  things in the real world.  He made (multiplied) real loaves and fishes; he tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner.  He certainly new about active listening, and emphasizing, and all sorts-of touchy feely, non-physical ways we can take care of each other.

But he said that the church is his body, and that the church is his bride; two physical entities.  He could have compared the church to a conscience, or lots of other nonphysical things.  But he didn’t.  And I think that’s significant. 

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “The body and Christianity”

  1. For a little more thinking on this with a specific slant, have you read Phil Yancey’s “Rumors of Another World”? Specifically the chapter entitled “Designer Sex”?

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  2. No… But what little I’ve read of Yancey’s stuff I quite like. I’ll have to check it out.
    The book that did inspire this little mental trip was “The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives” It’s got sections by Andy Crouch, Michael Horton, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Brian McLaren, And Erwin McManus; I’d never heard of crouch before and he’s quite vehemetly anti-postmodern… (unlike me) nonetheless, he had some really interesting takes on baptism and communion.
    The format of the book is interesting: it begins with a pretty ordinary “Everybody gets his turn” approach… But the others comment mid-essay in a different font with there respective names attached.
    I feel bad for the moderns involved because the format itself is sort-of stacked against them. The whole thing ends up with this conversational feel that’s much more postmodern than it is modern.
    uhhm, but I guess nobdoy really asked.

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  3. Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren did a book with a similar format before. I agree–it would kind of leave a modern at a disadvantage–unless there were a bunch of moderns reading it, in which case the format might drive them nuts. (Speaking from experience with the group I read the Campolo/McLaren book with.)

    This Yancey book is the best I’ve read in a while. I actually find it hard to put down, which, I confess, was not the case with his book on prayer. (Quite possibly because of where I’ve been spiritually lately.)

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