BODY BY GOD

It is undeniable that God has housed us in bodies.  It is also undeniable that these bodies affect what we typically label our “souls” or “spirits.” Many times during the course of the day we are reminded of this fact. Migraines make it more challenging to pray.  Pushing ourselves during a workout can make depression recede.  We need help in this area as the much written about Gnostic tendencies of many modern-day Christians continues apace.

Breakthroughs in technology and research are allowing us to peer more deeply into our physical selves.  Rob Moll’s new book, What Your Body Knows About God (http://www.amazon.com/What-Your-Body-Knows-About/dp/0830836772/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8) is a well-written and accessible account.

Moll is an award-winning author, editor-at-large with Christianity Today, and communications officer to the president of World Vision.

Moore: As a young Christian I read Being Human (http://www.amazon.com/Being-Human-Nature-Spiritual-Experience/dp/0830815023) during a time of study at L’Abri in Switzerland.  It helped me understand the ever-present Gnostic tendency in American Christianity.  How does your book remind us that bodies are not bad things, but divinely designed for a purpose?

Moll: What Your Body Knows About God is a celebration of our bodies, created in God’s image. We ought to marvel and be filled with awe as we understand just how God has created us, and how God’s design leads us toward worship, love, and a better life.

For example, you mentioned that exercise can stave off depression. So does prayer. Prayer also leads us to be more compassionate. Not just because being closer to God makes us more like God in a spiritual sense. But prayer stimulates parts of our brains involved in compassion. We also have these mirror neurons that help us mimic the expressions and behavior of other people. So we can literally feel what another person is feeling. We can actually love our neighbors as ourselves, because God gave us the biology to do so. It is inspiring and motivating to realize this.

Moore: Did your previous book, The Art of Dying (http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Dying-Living-Fully/dp/0830837361) affect your motivation to write What Your Body Knows About God?

Moll: Absolutely. I can’t tell you how many times I would hear people at a funeral say something like, “Well the body is just a shell. She’s still with us.” When you’ve got the flu you don’t say your body has the flu, but the real you doesn’t so you might as well finish mowing the lawn. No, when your body has the flu, you have the flu. When your loved one has died, you grieve because you can’t be with that person any more. We mourn and weep because someone’s death isn’t just a death of the body. It is a death of the person. And our hope is not in a disembodied life in heaven. Our hope is in the resurrection of our bodies.

What I realized working in a funeral home and with hospice patients was that people who tend to deal well with grief, people who mourn productively, are those who deal with the body. Regarding death, they have a funeral with a body present; they carry the body to the grave and lower it into the ground. They might put a shovel full of dirt on top of the casket. They do things that recognize the body matters, and when we deal with the body in this way we deal with grief much more productively. So, I wanted to pursue a book that looked at why our bodies are so essential to our spiritual lives.

Moore: What encouragement would you give to those who feel that they have irreparably abused their bodies?

Moll: Our bodies are not static. If we have done something to abuse our bodies, that changes us. It can change us deeply. But it doesn’t have to be permanent. An addict may always be affected by the substance they abused, but we can overcome addictions. We can take steps toward changing ourselves in positive ways.

The brain is plastic. Everything we learn gets encoded into our brains by the growth and development of neurons. Our neurons are constantly growing and changing; therefore we are changing too. If the stroke victim can learn to walk or the 80-year-old can learn to play the piano–and they can–we can take advantage of our plastic brains and change for the better.

Moore: You have a wonderful section on how beauty affects us.  How important is it that we pause and consider that we are created with five senses?

Moll: Our brains process information by slicing it into pieces and storing it in different parts of the brain. In fact, one brain researcher says the brain processes information like a blender with the lid off, spraying data all over the inside of our skulls.

This matters for our worship. We often want people to remember a lesson from Sunday, so church is often like a class. But classrooms are terribly designed for learning. If we want people to remember things, if we want them to have meaningful experiences in church that go on to make a difference in their lives, then we need to do more than give them pieces of information.

That’s where beauty comes in. Since our brains are splicing up all this data, the more data we have the better. We can much better remember information that makes use of all our senses. A story, a theological truth, combined with visual beauty, a smell, music, and movement (like crossing ourselves) can turn a dry fact into something rich with meaning and value. In other words, the cathedral will always beat out the mega church as a site for worship.

Moore: How do habits help us utilize our bodies in productive ways?

Moll: We have two brains: our intuitive brain and our rational brain. The vast majority of our thinking happens intuitively, without our consciously paying attention. We’ve all found ourselves pulling into the driveway and suddenly realizing that we hadn’t been paying any attention to how we got there. Our brain has been on autopilot. That’s not a good thing when we are driving, but it is a totally normal thing. Our brains want to be so good at processing routine tasks that more and more of our thinking is on autopilot.

That’s why spiritual disciplines help us so much. They take an activity and use it to put spirituality on autopilot. We learn to pray automatically about whatever confronts us in our day. We develop discipline around our cravings because we fast. We learn to hold our possessions loosely because we tithe. Our faith shouldn’t be thoughtless, but if we are to become more like Christ we need the disciplines to make Christlikeness normal and natural.

Moore: A number of findings show that depression can be greatly helped by regular exercise, eating well, and consistent sleep.  This certainly does not discount the wise use of drugs at times, but how can we better encourage the depressed to avail themselves of non-chemical treatments?

Moll: It is my understanding that for people with minor depression, prayer is as effective as medication. And prayer’s side effect is merely greater compassion! However, sometimes our bodies or our brains simply aren’t functioning correctly. So we they need medical help. That’s okay too.

My concern isn’t really whether people use chemical or non-chemical treatments. My concern is that our culture and our churches pressure people to behave in “normal” ways–often ways that are unhealthy and that contribute to their anxiety or depression. We have little patience for people who might be suffering from some mental health or other health problem. Something like twenty percent of people are currently prescribed behavioral medication. (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/healthcare/health/healthcare/story/2011-11-16/Report-1-in-5-of-US-adults-on-behavioral-meds/51241236/1) That’s one in five people.

So for me the question isn’t whether or not they should get chemical help. (They should get help that works!) The real question is not what are they doing but what are we doing? How are we caring for our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends at church who are suffering from anxiety, depression, or other disorders? How are we helping them to live well? There’s a pretty good chance that fewer people would need medication if more church members lived compassionately.

Moore: Most of us have taken the transformation spoken of in Rom. 12:1,2 as simply a metaphor of sorts.  Do you think recent research about the malleability of the brain (neuroplasticity) is showing that there actually is a physical change to our thinking organ which comes from repeated behaviors?

Moll: We take these verses as a metaphor, but I’m not sure Paul did. He wrote that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds. When you read about the effects of prayer on our brains and how compassion leads to healthy lives, how the good life–scientifically speaking–is one lived with empathy for others and is filled with a sense of meaning and purpose, then you start to think that the biblical writers knew a lot more than we give them credit for.

So, yes, research is showing that whether or not Paul intended to use a metaphor, he didn’t need to. Our spiritual lives–especially when we engage Scripture, worship, and prayer with all of our attention–will literally transform our brains.

We can become spiritual because we are made physical.

STOP DOING THIS!

The first obligation of religion is to maintain the sense of the value of human beings. If you had to summarize the Old Testament, the summary would be: stop doing this to yourselves. But it is not in our nature to stop harming ourselves. We don’t behave consistently with our own dignity or with the dignity of other people. The Bible reiterates this endlessly.

(Pulitzer winner, Marilynne Robinson)

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5863/the-art-of-fiction-no-198-marilynne-robinson

 

SELECTIVE OUTRAGE ON THE LEGALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE

Let’s get one thing quickly out of the way.  I believe homosexuality is contrary to God’s design.  I also believe marriage is between one man and one woman. 

The legalization of homosexual marriage to some degree makes me feel like Marshall McLuhan who went to movies not to watch the movie, but to observe how other people watch movies.

Some good things have been said by Christian leaders.  Unfortunately, there are too many other Christians depressed over what all this portends for America.  This declinist narrative focuses like a laser beam on how the sin of homosexuality is to blame for a myriad of societal ills. 

My concern may be best stated by using an illustration.  Imagine that you want to start a landscape company.  You eagerly knock on your neighbors’ doors and announce the new venture.  The responses you receive range from amusement (“you can’t be serious”) to outright anger. Why?  The answer is simple.  Your yard is terribly overgrown and quite the eye sore.  You’ve received regular warnings from the Homeowner’s Association.

I’m not a cynic about the church, even here in America.  It is God’s primary means of accomplishing His will.  Some of the best people I know go to church on a regular basis.  And that includes some pastors!

However, I do have grave concerns about our laser-like focus over the horrors of legalizing homosexual marriage.  Yes, we need to say something, but I’m afraid our quickly cutting to the chase on this issue leaves many important things unsaid.  

My suggestion would go more along these lines:

We believe homosexuality is a sin.  We also believe that gluttony, gossip, adultery, sex outside of marriage, racism, unscrupulous business practices, the love of money, divorce, and a whole host of other things are sin.  Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job in communicating a comprehensive view of sin.  We have been selective.  Too many times we have been motivated by fear.  We have avoided addressing certain sins for fear our giving at church will plummet.  Too many of us have come across as both hating the sin of homosexuality and the homosexual.  We could go on with other specifics, but hopefully you get the point.  Our selective outrage has made us not act like Jesus.  We have been rather poor at modeling the “grace and truth” approach of Jesus. 

In our quest to proclaim the righteousness standards of God, I’m afraid our selective outrage presents a gospel which is no longer the gospel.  Consider another illustration.  Picture that you are driving a car.  In the passenger seat is a non-Christian.  You tune into your favorite radio station.  The problem is that you are not fully tuned in.  You are so accustomed to the static that you fail to hear it.  You turn to your non-Christian friend and expectantly ask what he thinks about the “amazing” music.  Surprisingly to you, he is not impressed.  You are baffled by his lackluster response but your habitual listening to music cum static has dulled your ears. 

I’m afraid many Christians in America love listening to music cum static and therefore think it worth telling others about.  Our penchant for focusing on some sins and not others (especially those which are common in the church) has made us tone deaf to what we believe are courageous and prophetic pronouncements, but could more accurately be labelled Pharisaical. 

During my years of doing radio interviews, I had the chance to interview Cal Thomas.  Thomas was one of the major leaders in the Moral Majority.  I was interviewing Thomas on a book he co-authored with fellow Moral Majority leader, Ed Dobson.  The title gives away the thrust of what the authors were trying to address: Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America.  It was a courageous and candid confession of zeal gone awry.  Among other things, the Moral Majority would purposely give prominence to certain social issues knowing these would increase their financial giving. 

I’ve been reading through various statements on the recent ruling about homosexual marriage by the Supreme Court. In the pages of Christianity Today Mark Galli reflects the tone that should be more widespread in the Christian church:

Another temptation now is to point the finger at the forces—political, social, philosophical, spiritual—arrayed against the church and its moral teaching. Without denying the reality of “principalities and powers” (Eph. 6:12), we do well to ponder this: What actions and attitudes have we imbibed that contribute to our culture’s dismissing our ethics? Our homophobia has revealed our fear and prejudice. Biblical inconsistency—our passion to root out sexual sins while relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, and other sins—opens us to the charge of hypocrisy. Before we spend too much more time trying to straighten out the American neighborhood, we might get our own house in order. Blessed are the poor in spirit who mourn their sins (Matt. 5:3-4).  (Emphasis added)

In the same vein, my dear friend, Pastor Jeff Teague, likes to expose how much we Christians tend to be insensitive to our own sin.  Utilizing his considerable acting abilities, Jeff asks with faux disdain, “Why is it that Jesus only hung around sinners?”  Many bite and respond with something like, “Yeah, that’s right.  He did hang around with a lot of unsavory types.”  By their response, many reveal that they feel different and therefore distant from the sinners Jesus regularly spent time with.  Then Jeff answers his own question, “Because sinners are the only people who exist!”

So yes, be ready to share about God’s design for marriage, but realize your answer may cloud more than clarify if it does not come with some honest comments about the sins which many times find safe harbor in the church.