Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On the apprehending of bodies

I have this basic thesis: bodies are the "matter" of theology for the 21st century.

Our current practices around deportation are increasing the disappearance of brown bodies.

Our most humane urban communities are recognizing the necessity of declaring sanctuary for bodies.

Tragically, white men think they can get together in back rooms while wearing ties and make decisions about women's bodies.

States still think it's a good idea to execute bodies in spite of the body of evidence proving the barbarity and injustice of the practice.

Racial justice organizers are recognizing the necessity of expanding the meaning of sanctuary to cover not just undocumented bodies. Sanctuary encompasses multitudes.

You know, I'm a pastor who has studied incarnational theology, preached on the body of Christ, holds to the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I believe in embodiment.

But I don't think I've considered the body as a locus of Christian theology, perhaps the locus for Christian theology, until I started hanging out with faith communities that radically emphasized it.

Turning points in my theological worldview have included the crossFerguson, climate change, and Jesus' sexuality.

I think of the trans community and its expansion of our sense of gender identity. I'm mindful of #blacklivesmatter and their commitment to the value of black and brown bodies.

All of this and more represents an awakening. So I am not surprised that a recent feature article in The Christian Century proposed that the next reformation would be a reformation of interpretation not of a text, but of bodies, asking a simple question: Who decides what my body means?

It's no surprise many Christians resist a reformation in our reading of bodies. Although they don't know it, the majority Christian community is now itself in the position the Roman curia was in during the Reformation. They're the establishment. They want the authority. Yet here comes the voice from Wittenberg, announcing a great insight, "You can translate the body and read it for yourself."

The great insight in our day is that we do not need to wait for some authority somewhere to interpret our body for us. The body is a gift, and our receipt of it is the freedom to interpret it. This parallels the Reformation insight concerning Scripture, which translated the biblical text into the vernacular and made the preacher and community the authority for interpretation of it.

So too today base communities are claiming their freedom to interpret their own bodies, to name them, to identify the very language they will use to name the body.

This new reformation isn't over. It's just begun. But it is revolutionary. In the meantime, those in authority are scrambling to regain control of the very thing they've enjoyed for so long: the control of other bodies. The authorities think they can just grab other people's bodies for their own purposes.

The new reformation declares: God loves free bodies. You don't get to possess other bodies, or make money off your neighbor's body. Your neighbor's body is your responsibility to protect and love, not claim.

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