It’s About the Body

Insights come from all over. What’s wrong with American Christianity? Read Mama PhD.

We have a copy on our coffee table not because I’m a Mama or a PhD but because my younger daughter is co-editor of this important book. It contains essay after essay dedicated to the proposition, as my older daughter puts it in the title of her contribution, that “I am not a head on a stick.” Yes! Its time we faced that fact and thought about the consequences.

But American Christianity has all too often forgotten what Christianity is about. It began in New England and Virginia in the Age of Reason. Check out a traditional New England meeting house with its clear glass windows, white washed walls, and high central pulpit. It’s a place designed for appeals to the head with no color or movement to involve the body. Check out the language of the Virginians who wrote the Declaration of Independence and provided most of our first presidents and notice how they speak of self-evident truths and a Creator who never gets personal.

We are their heirs and the Christians who get the most attention these days are those who have an equally clear-glass view of God and the Bible. It’s all there in linear type and we need only read and believe.

But Jesus didn’t write a book. Authentic Christianity affirms God incarnate, God in a human body, a God who’s been there – and is here. The great festivals of the faith – forbidden in Puritan New England, neglected in Deist Virginia – are Easter (resurrection of the body) and Christmas (birth of a baby). The central act of Christian worship in most of Christian history – seldom celebrated in evangelical churches – is the Eucharist where the focus is on physical things, bread and wine, that we eat and drink to renew our membership in the risen but present body of Christ.

Can there be a greater contradiction than a Christianity unconcerned with bodies? There are Christians at work today trying to salvage New Orleans, affirming the right of gays to marry, sheltering immigrants, staffing soup kitchens, protesting an illegal war. It’s about bodies: living, breathing, bleeding bodies in whom Jesus is present. Don’t wave your arms in the air and yell “Hallelujah!” and vote for someone who increases environmental pollution, shifts the tax burden away from the rich, and rescues Wall Street banks but not people losing their homes.

It’s not just American Christians. Christianity has a long history of missing the point. The essays in Mama PhD are not overtly theological, but they are a vivid and vital reminder of something theologians forget at their peril: it’s about the body.


LibbyNovember 19th, 2008 at 7:21 am

Thanks, Dad!

CarolineNovember 19th, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Well put. Thank you!

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