Monday, October 27, 2014

Theology of Her Body

Although our culture drives a wedge between what is sexual and what is sacred, God sees things differently
                                 ~ Pope Benedict XVI

A woman's body reveals profound truths about who she is as a person. Because she is made in the image and likeness of God, this also means that she reveals certain truths about God. 
                                              ~Jason Evert 

     Discovering the Beauty and Mystery of Femininity

A number of years ago I was involved in this ministry that reached out to and formed community with those who were marginalized.  This ministry was fantastic when it came to social justice issues but eventually I realized the ministry itself flaked out when it came to calling people towards not only wholeness in Christ but also, and most importantly, towards a life of holiness.  A ministry devoid of discipleship became a ministry I felt I had nothing in common with.  One core value of the ministry was suppose to be that each and every person has been created in the image and likeness of God and yet, the very leaders of this ministry sadly missed the mark when it came to understanding this profound truth and if there is no understanding of such truth it's impossible to convey that to others.  There came a few bible studies where I would briefly touch on the basics of what it means to have been created in the image and likeness of God.  Something so simple and yet so profound that it's very easy to skip over and even though to get this truth is HUGE not everybody will see this. "So God created man in His own Image, in the image of God, he created him; male and female he created them," (Gen 1:27) There has to be some correlation between how God designed His image and likeness to be revealed in man and in woman and what that means in the unity and complimentarity between male and female/man and woman. The coordinator of this particular bible study pipes up, "why on earth does everything have to be about gender with you!?" To be honest, not everything is about gender but when it comes to understanding who God created us to be our basic biology is important.  I understand now her objections to my thinking when it came to talking about being created in God's Image.  Not too long after she came out and now she's married to another woman.  In order to justify gay marriage one has to present a very fragmented and disconnected view of what it means for a woman or man to be created in the image and likeness of God.  God does not exist outside of community or relationship.  Everything has a purpose so it makes sense there is something intrinsically valued when man and woman come together... the two become one.  He gives himself fully to her and she receives him fully.  This can be the deepest connection emotionally, physically, and sexually.  In no other  union can this depth of connection on so many levels take place.  Some may try but it doesn't even come close. 

When St John Paul II became Pope he began a series of talks called Theology of the Body.  Jason Evert has taken the principles found within St John Paul II's talks and revised it so that any young person can take what St John Paul II teaches and apply these truths in their lives and relationships.  It was creatively put together. Both Theology of Her Body and Theology of His Body combined into one book. Just flip the book over and two booklets becomes one.  In one direction you have Theology of Her Body and in the other direction is Theology of His Body.  I have chosen to focus on Theology of Her Body.  With his intended audience being young people this book is well written. Obviously this isn't an exhaustive take on the Theology of the Body but even still, I do have at least one criticism, although I readily admit I have yet to read this book fully.  I can say that with what I have read so far there is a somewhat of a narrow view in his writings when it comes to Theology of Her Body.  It is possible the writer focused on what he sees is most common among women who respond to life's circumstances that seem to challenge her identity as a woman; a woman created in the image and likeness of God.  

He writes the following, 

"Because of the effects of original sin, a woman may cast aside her mysterious nature and elect to receive passing satisfaction from those who also lack patience.  Because she does not believe that she deserves to be pursued, she begins to pursue.  Instead of waiting to reveal herself to the one who is worthy, she exposes herself to those who have no right to see her.  This process may begin with immodesty in speech and dress, but it often progresses to sensual flirting and outright sexual aggressiveness.  While such a woman may assume that she is being confident and assertive, the only thing she is revealing is her insecurities.  Because she does not realize her own great worth, she accepts to be treated without reverence.  Perhaps without realizing it, she becomes, in the words of one blunt woman, "walking entertainment for men."  

There is a lot of truth to this.  A multitude of women have issues around body image and in our complex nature we will have complex ways of responding to various experiences from early childhood and as we mature into womanhood.  It is because of original sin our ability to see ourselves in the way God intended has been ruptured in more ways than one not only because of experiences we may have had with men but also because of media and the messages that media portrays to young women these days. As a result, as women, we'll form ideas about what it means to be a woman through the lens of our experiences and the culture we live in vs through the lens of God's intentions for us.  Some will bend into the cultural stereotypes influenced by misogynistic views and may accept it as their reality and grow to have such a low view of themselves that they come to believe the only way to receive love and affirmation is by giving into pressures created by the lust of men.  Still there are other women, who's low view of what it means to be a woman becomes such a low view there is a complete rejection of her femininity.  Either way, there develops this fragmented understanding of what it means to be a woman.  She either responds by exerting her sexuality towards men or in shame will not only reject her own femininity but will cover up.  Sometimes this will result in wearing baggy clothing and gaining weight.  She may even develop a pseudo masculine way of relating to the world around her which often times is reflected in her appearance and behaviour.  It ceases to be just a rejection of her femininity but the rejection of her body as well as her femininity.  The writer does touch on this a little but I realize it's impossible to really address everything in depth and in detail.  Again, for a scholarly book revised with young people in mind I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to encounter more fulfillment and joy in their lives.

I think it's important to say that when we talk about the church's teaching on sexual ethics people can sometimes develop the view point of it being restrictive and joyless.  This can't be furthest from the truth. These things are intended by God to increase our joy and to bring greater fulfillment in our lives.  After all, God is the one who created us, He created our bodies.  If I may use the language used in the Theology of the Body, God became the great architect of our bodies.  Perhaps, in knowing this, we'll view sex in a different light than what we see in our culture today. 

In Theology of the Body, we learn a profound truth.  That is, the inseparable quality between the physical and spiritual.  To believe otherwise is to align with Gnosticism, one of the oldest heretical teachings the church has ever known.  The sad reality is, with each passing generation or century Gnostic beliefs find subtle ways to invade not only our relationship with God but our relationship with one another.  We fail to see the sacredness of our bodies and physical acts while devaluing sex forgetting that sex is actually God inspired and deeply spiritual.  It's no wonder we read in scripture a calling to chastity and that the sexual union had always been intended to be between one man and one woman.  It's no wonder that our sexual identity is being subtly attacked by Gnostic beliefs.  A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon this blog post titled, Gnosticism and the Language of Sexual Identity. I highly recommend reading this blog post if you wish to dive deeper into what is being said here.

Thankfully, Christ did not come to condemn but to save.  He came to 
redeem not only our souls but even our deepest desires.  
There is no wound that cannot be healed, 
and there is no human longing that is not fulfilled in Him
~ Jason Evert
(Theology of Her Body/Theology of His Body) 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Love Revealed

Deep within 
I welcomed Him in 
Into my brokenness  
Jesus broke through the darkness

Over the last couple of years I have struggled with my faith and healing journey.  A number of years ago I became a participant of this inner healing prayer ministry.  I eventually joined the team volunteering my time to join others on their healing journey.  I look back at that time with much gratitude for a number of reasons. During my time as a participant I had so many encounters with God.  It was such a different concept from what I had previously believed.  I had placed such a heavy emphasis on being the Christian that was expected of me. That quickly became an exhausting place.  I had to be strong, I couldn't be weak or reveal any weakness.  Vulnerability was something to reject and I had this false belief that suggested the less I struggled and the less I experienced any form of temptation towards sin would somehow speak to the level of maturity achieved.  Most importantly, I couldn't admit to any kind of struggle towards same sex attraction. I had to be anything but gay.  All of this only increased the toxic shame I had experienced in my life as well as this intensified growing hatred of myself.  I couldn't be a person in need and yet I recognized I had needs and I hated being a needy person.  I had to be self-sufficient in every way possible and yet I could never achieve what I felt people expected of me.  To admit failure is to admit weakness and it would expose me in ways I didn't want to be exposed.  At least that is what I had believed. Needless to say, when I became increasingly aware of this growing conflict between my faith and sexuality I couldn't admit it and it seemed to have been a defining marker in my faith journey.  For a time I could repress it all and pretend it wasn't there. The end result was that I had become so disconnected with my feelings and emotions I didn't experience any form of attraction and lived as this asexual person.  The problem with this, that when you cut yourself off from perceived or real negative emotions you cut yourself off from all emotion. Not only would you not feel sadness but you wouldn't feel any happiness or joy.  The only feeling I felt if I felt anything at all would be anger.  When I became a participant of this inner healing prayer ministry I quickly realized that maturity was the ability to admit weakness, to admit struggle, and come to believe that vulnerability was good even if it meant being hurt and actually feeling the pain and sting of rejection.  

When I first began to share with people I thought were my friends I faced a lot of rejection and was hurt by many within my church community.  It was perhaps one of the loneliest and darkest of all places I had ever walked through.  I wasn't involved in the gay community.  I was involved in the church community.  So... if I didn't have the gay community and didn't have the church community... what community did I belong to?  I continued to attend church.  I smiled at people as I greeted them Sunday morning.  I sang on the worship team and every morning I entered the church with a smile on my face but increasingly I'd leave church Sunday morning feeling even more alone and would hurt more leaving church then when I had first arrived. My experience at that church wasn't all bad.  At times God intervened.  It would be enough for me to press through it all and hang in there just a little longer.  I remember one experience I had.  There was this couple attending the church.  He was a retired Pastor turned bus driver and she was the former ministers wife.  This church was a relatively small church in a small town where most people knew me.  I was painfully aware of the the grief I had felt in the loss of my mother which seemed unbearable.  My mother had passed away when I was 2 and so I grieved not knowing her.  I was siting by myself in prayer.  I prayed, "God, I know you are the father to the fatherless but who are you to the motherless? I don't remember the voice of my mother, I don't remember her embrace, so God... in my grief, in my loss, in my suffering, in my very legitimate needs who are you to me?"  I was praying this silently in my heart.  As I sat quietly by myself the former ministers wife siting behind me reached over and wrapped her arms around me so tight I felt like I was inside this little cocoon.  She held on tight and to the point where it had become awkward but I remember this time so vividly because it was a turning point for me.  Though feeling this uncomfortable sense of awkwardness I sat there until there came this ability to receive whatever the Lord wanted to give to me at that particular moment.  She just held on until she sensed released to let go.  The awkwardness of it all also came at moment of silence during the worship service.  It was quiet yet the church was packed full.  The worship band stopped playing their instruments and the place grew silent.  I sat there with this lady I didn't even know with her arms wrapped around me so tight I could barely breath.  It was then, at that moment I sensed God say to me, "this is who I am to the motherless and this is a mother's embrace," I began to cry uncontrollably. I broke through the silence.  I cried so aloud I disturbed everybody in the church but didn't care because this was a God moment.  

The church is great at being spiritual sisters and brothers but few have the ability to become spiritual mothers and spiritual fathers and yet what we need most in the church are men and women willing to convey the love of God as spiritual mothers and fathers.  

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon this song from the Vertical Worship Band. I had this song on repeat as I began to write this blog post. There is more I could write and I probably will expand on this in my next blog post but for now I'll leave you with this song.

How Great is the Love

Thank you for the way that you love us
How you love us
Thank you for the way you have made us
We were created for your pleasure, for your presence,
For the glory of your name
Thank you for the way that you love us

Jesus, faithful King 
Lord, with grateful hearts we sing
How great is the love 
How great is the love
Of our Saviour 
The weight of your cross, the curse of my shame
You carried it all and you rose from the grave
How great is the love, how great is the love 
Of our Saviour

Thank you for the grace that has saved us
You forgave us
Thank you for the way you have freed us, 
We have been ransomed
We've been rescued 
We've been purchased 
with the price of your own life
Thank you for the way that you love us

I'm convinced that all healing begins with the foundation of being loved and knowing your loved. With that knowing of being loved we have the freedom to become the women and men we're called into.

It is from that place security in our identity as children of God begins to grow.  Without that foundation we'll never be able to break free from the toxic shame that had controlled our lives.  

From that place of being secure and in that kind of genuine love received we're less likely to bend into our insecurities and the false identity we've created of ourselves and it's also from that place we're able to then look outward to love others authentically (as our true self), and love others well in the process.   

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Myth Buster #2: Being single is the cause of loneliness

I often hear people who are single complain about how lonely they feel and say marriage would fix their feelings of loneliness. I understand because it's actually quite common for single people to go through feelings of loneliness and it's easy to blame feelings of loneliness on being single.  Over the years I've also observed a trend of people going from one dating relationship to another just because they don't want to be "alone" while believing it is better to date somebody, anybody, even if that means getting involved in a bad or unhealthy relationship or caught up in a situation where morals and convictions are compromised.  I don't know much but what I do know is that if getting involved in a relationship with somebody causes me to compromise my moral and ethical convictions then that person is not the person for me.  However, if that person encourages and inspires me towards my moral and ethical convictions they're a keeper.  I also know that if I think marriage is the cure for my feelings of loneliness I set that marriage up for failure and if I get married to show "how much God has brought healing into my life" and "how mature I am" then not only am I not mature enough yet but I'd be getting married for all the wrong reasons.  

So if being single is not the cause of our loneliness ... what is? 

We haven't yet realized the gift of solitude.  Learning the art of solitude vs being alone is a lot easier for the introvert than it is for the extrovert but here's a challenge for all of you who are extroverts.  I mean, many introverts compromise on some of our boundaries when we make the choice to go out and socialize when we would really just like to go home and read a book. Yet the extrovert will rarely spend time in solitude.  For some of us the idea of going out to see a movie alone or hanging out at a coffee shop with a book instead of with a good friend seems torturous.  The idea here is to learn how to enjoy the simple things in life while in solitude.  I think, for some, this would be a hard transition to make but not impossible.  So I have a couple of challenges and if you're just crazy enough perhaps you'll take me up on this challenge. 

Can't remember the last time you were single? 

If you can't remember the last time you were single and you know the person you are dating is not right for you then maybe it's a good time to set a year apart to be single.  Yes, you heard right. I challenge you to be single for a period of one year.  The challenge is not just to be single for that one year but to dedicate that year for personal growth while learning the art of solitude. What do I mean by the art of solitude? Find a good book to read, commit to reading one chapter of that book each day.  That isn't too difficult when most books these days a chapter is like 4 pages. Find places to go like your favorite coffee shop or the beach or your favorite chair at home and read that chapter.  Being in solitude doesn't mean that you have to remove yourself from civilization and it doesn't even have to mean ignoring the people around you either.  It doesn't have to be reading a book.  You can just as well set out to go watch a movie by yourself.  I know, what a concept it is to spend a night out at the movie theatre by yourself.

Tired if being alone? 

The greatest challenge to experiencing joy in life is learning to be content in whatever season we find ourselves in.  Learning to be content in a season of singleness can be difficult but not impossible.  I'm not talking about the lowering of expectations or withdrawing from community altogether and becoming like a hermit but chances are if you are tired of being alone you kinda do feel like a hermit. Set out to do one activity one day a week.  Take a book with you and go to your favorite coffee shop and strike up a conversation with the stranger siting close by or set out to go watch a movie at the movie theatre by yourself.  Find an activity you enjoy and allow all your senses to take in the environment around you.  Find a group of people and socialize.  A good mix of both men and women would be best.  If you have the finances get yourself a pet like a dog.  Dogs can be a good companion to have and when you don't have anybody at home greeting you when you walk in after a difficult day at work you can bet your dog will come running.