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Embracing the Body :: a guest post by Tara M. Owens

Tara and I spent a wonderful lunch together in Denver over a year ago and, yes, we totally talked about Doctor Who. But she also poured out her dream and her process for this very book. It was a long road to see it come to light and I believe it’s a powerful book for our time.

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Tara is a marvellous woman: trust worthy, strong. If I had a spiritual director, I’d want her to be someone like Tara. Considering the damaging theology that some espouse, claiming that our souls or minds are more important or more spiritual than our bodies, this book seeks to reclaim the body in Christian theology, language, and practice. Wise, erudite, loving and tender, Embracing the Body will bring true healing and wholeness to our theology of our physical bodies as a church. Tara Owens is the perfect guide for this holy journey. I’m excited to introduce you to this book and also give away two copies!

Bristled. Burnished and brown. Baby-soft. With each cheek, I pressed my lips in deeper. With each person I became a little bolder. I looked into eyes shining with hope, heads bowed with heaviness. I wrapped my arms around those who were weary. I stood in tip-toed excitement to receive each one.

Earlier that morning, I was conscripted, deputized as a makeshift monk. In this community of artists and wanderers that I had called home for the week, I was asked to be a stand in for the holy. I listened carefully as our chaplain explained what I was to do. In a blessing of these who bring beauty into the world, each would approach with a request. In the manner of the pilgrims to the Greek Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain, on approaching a monk, the traveler would call out, “Bless me.” In return, I would acknowledge what already is—that they are chosen and called by God—by responding, “The LORD blesses you.”

“Then,” my chaplain said, “we will kiss them.”

I struggle to find words for the joy that sang through me on hearing those words. The surge of delight I felt was disproportionate, sudden and thrilling. While I recognize that most people, when faced with the prospect of kissing the cheeks of more than fifty near-strangers, would not be filled with excitement, I’ve been thinking, teaching, wrestling with and writing about the wonder of embodiment for more than six years.

In today’s context, we’re rarely given the opportunity to touch others in blessing, let alone get close enough to kiss them. But the act of embodying love, of reaching out of our imperfect, sweaty, awkward humanity to touch the trembling, holy, grace-infused stuff of another is a place of sacrament. As I touch you with my lips, I give form to love. As I lean close to bless, we insist together on the holiness of creation—even as we feel and know its limitations and vulnerabilities.

I’ve blessed people with oil before, marking them gently with the sign of the cross. I’ve rested hands on bowed heads, pressed my palm over a heart. I’ve supported cupped hands as they asked for God to fill them with His love. Until this particular day, I’d never kissed others in blessing, only in greeting, and then only with the anxious fumble of one who grew up in a culture devoid of these ritual greetings. Do I kiss once? Twice? Three times? I never know.

But now I am the moment’s monk. As each artist, each pilgrim comes with their brave petition—Bless me—and I unconsciously move toward them, grasping their shoulders, holding them in the surety of grace—The LORD blesses you—I am the one kissed by love.

Assured of our common humanity, the tenderness of skin and lips and hope and blessing, I have embodied Christ, watched Him spill out of others and into me. I have fallen in love again and again with each face, and the kissing has become a needful thing, something that is right and good and true. It is a reversal of Judas’s betrayal, and embodiment of not my will but thine be done, and a release into all that they are and all that I am and all that God is in and between and through us.

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This is how we begin to create community with our bodies. Not with kissing (although there is great wisdom to be gained in reflecting on Paul’s suggestion to greet one another with a holy kiss—Rom. 16:15, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:21, 1 Thess 5:25, 1 Peter 5:14), but with an attentive awareness of the tenderness of our very selves, the softness of flesh, the hope of movements toward redemption, the aching flaws of bodies that age and ail.

What would it mean to attend to one another’s bodies as if they were our own to receive and bless? Not objects to control, but members of ourselves, whose gifts and griefs are as real as our own. To make safe spaces for the grace of touch—a kiss, a clasp, a hand on a shoulder or arms that encircle—is to create a culture of body that embraces mystery and material together. These spaces, held open at once by our God and our bodies, speak safety—I see you, I feel you, you can relax now, you are safe—and incarnate the presence of God, whose love can move through us to bring healing and wholeness.

This is the kneeling of the body of Christ, together as a community. In kneeling, in blessing, we put ourselves in the most vulnerable position possible. We expose ourselves to hurt, we risk betrayal. We open the softest parts of our flesh to others and the world, and we do it with radical trust not that we will be saved from hurt, but that God will move through our vulnerability to bring the power of Christ into the world. This is the kneeling of Christ in Gesthemane, a kneeling not for himself but for the redemption of all, an opening of a way of return to the One who loves us all the way to death.

This is the risk we must take with our bodies, our selves. We must offer a hand to the one we fear to touch, a shoulder to the one whose load seems impossible to bear. These aren’t metaphors, we have to get up and move, to let sweat and smell make us uncomfortable, let words become meals shared and savored, let the promised prayers become bedside vigils beside the cots of the dying.

This isn’t a list of things to do, another heavy requirement of a life of holiness. It’s isn’t anything further from you than the next deep breath, the way the air fills your lungs and oxygen rushes through your arteries to sustain life. We are meant to live this incarnate life together, and, however dysfunctionally we do so, it is the togetherness that lets the blood of Christ flow freely, doing what our own blood does so well: it brings sustaining energy, washes us of what is wasteful; it gives us rhythm and movement, maintains warmth and holds us open to what is needed; it defends against what will infect, closing wounds so that the life within can heal and make new.

These are things to recognize in our life with Christ and with one another, not manufacture. The wonder of kneeling, of blessing, is that it is something that we receive instead of produce, it is not what we earn but what we make known.

 

owens-0496 copyTara M. Owens, CSD is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God In Our Flesh & Bone, published by InterVarsity Press. She’s a spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries, and the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She lives with her husband, Bryan, their daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo, in Colorado. She loves Doctor Who, red velvet cupcakes, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order.

Giveaway!

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win one of two copies of Tara’s book. And a pot of homemade Meyer Lemon curd because Tara is awesome like that.

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Continue Reading · book review, books, Guest Post · 34

Transformation by Interruption

Transformation by Interruption :: Sarah Bessey

By nature, by nurture, and by training, I’m a planner. I’ve always been able to make a plan, work a plan, stick to a plan. It’s one of my greatest strengths, a dedication that has served me well in everything from my former work in strategic development and marketing to my life now as a writer and a mother.

I can attest to the writer of Proverbs that it is wise to “do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house” (Prov. 24:27, NLT). I love an organized spreadsheet and a strong vision-mission-purpose statement. I will probably always be a planner because I find God there: it’s the gospel of joining with God to bring order out of chaos, perhaps.

Yet, I’ve experienced God most deeply when my plans are disrupted.

That’s how these things usually work. There’s a shadow side to our strengths, often discovered through some inciting incident outside of our control. We find God in the space between what we know to do and the unknown territory where our usual methods are useless. I call these moments holy disruptions. They’re the places where I run out, when I have to decrease, and then, wouldn’t you know it? I see Christ increase.

For me, motherhood has been the holiest disruption of all.

Read the rest of this post at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics….

Continue Reading · Guest Post, parenting · 5

Everything has to grow :: a guest post by Blaine Hogan

I’m excited to welcome my friend, Blaine Hogan here today. We met in Tulsa last June and found ourselves crammed into a booth, talking about the Enneagram until far too late at night. He’s a brilliant man and now he’s created a fantastic course called Make Better. It might be a great fit for many of you in this season of your life. Plus Blaine knows I love a deal – he’s brought along with a discount for us. – S. 

Everything has to grow :: Blaine Hogan

Our oldest, Ruby, turned four this week. It’s insane how fast time really moves these days. We also have an 18 month-old, Eloise, so we’re confident that time stands still as well. We’re in that constant flux between running to catch time by it’s tail, savor each and every moment, while at the same time desperate for 7PM to roll around so we can put these people who are ruining our lives to bed.

The keyword for us these days presence – standing still even when we can’t run fast enough, and standing still when all we want to do is kick that clock into gear.

As someone who has always struggled with anxiety, presence is pretty hard to come by. But these beautiful little ladies are helping me. Let me tell you what I mean.

The other day I was rushing to get Ruby and I ready to head to pre-school. It was a nice day and we’re close enough to my work and our daycare to walk. And so, Ruby needed her “fast” shoes. Normally she puts them on herself, but today she wanted my help. When I was a kid, my dad went on a bike ride with my brother and brought back a puppy. Long story! Anyway, we kept the thing. Even longer story! I remember my dad remarking how big that puppy was going to get?

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Look at those paws,” he shot back.

Well, Ruby has giant paws and that morning I was desperately trying to jam her feet into her size 11 Nikes.

“Ruby, your shoes are getting so small, because your feet are getting so big. You’re growing so fast!”

She looked at me dead in the eyes.

“Dad, everything has to grow.”

She was talking about her feet, but she was also talking about everything else in the whole wide world. Her wisdom shot through my heart and I nearly started balling right there.

“You’re right goose, everything has to grow.”

I’ve got quite a sordid past – major trauma as a kid, addictions galore, a real mess. I never thought for once in my 20’s that my 30’s would have me living in the suburbs in a tiny house, a growing family, and a church job. And I certainly never imagined a 4 year-old, my OWN 4 year-old speaking such truth straight into my heart.

10 years ago, after a series of E.R. worthy panic attacks helped me uncover a lot of broken stuff, I started to make some changes. I quit acting, went to a lot of therapy, spent 2 years in seminary, and decided to commit to the real me instead of the false one. And for the last 2 years I’ve been developing an online course meant to distill all that learning into an 8-week course that would help artists and humans alike, grow.

It’s called Make Better and our mutual friend, Sarah has generously allowed me to share it with you today.

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Everything has to grow and I hope you’ll let me be your guide.

MAKE BETTER is an 8-week online course designed to help people become better humans so they can make better art. It’s essentially a walk through my creative process via the refining fire of trauma, therapy, theatre school, and a masters in theology. In the end people are saying they leave the course with a better understanding of who we they are, what they are made to do, why they are made to do it, and how they should begin.

Registration closes on the 30th at midnight CST and right now you can take $100 off with the promo code BEMOREHUMAN.

Blaine-Circle-AvatarWith a BA in theater performance and an MA in Culture and Theology, Blaine Hogan has written books, directed films, created live events for over 1 million people, developed content for numerous Fortune 500 companies, and now works at one of the highest impact churches in the country. He wants to take all that experience and help you make better…everything.

Continue Reading · art, Guest Post · 0

Messy Women Lead Me Back to Jesus :: a guest post by Mary DeMuth

I love Mary DeMuth. And I don’t mean that in the lame say-it-but-don’t-mean-it way. She was my roommate when we were in Haiti together in 2012, and she is genuine, whole, brave, loving, funny, and smart. I’m honoured to host her words here today.

Her new book is a collaboration with bestselling author Frank Viola called The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels. I read it ahead of time and endorsed it: “Here is very simply the truth about Jesus and His relationship with women: He loved us. What a powerful truth for women in the world today! Jesus is always the hero of the story. Through this book, we see and know that He is the hero of our stories too.” – S. 
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When I write fiction, my characters change me. In fact, when I finish a novel, I go through a period of mourning, missing my characters, their voices, their quirks. Call me crazy (it’s okay!). I’m not sure why I didn’t take into account that the five women whose stories I expanded from the New Testament would have the same effect. Or even more so.

 

But oh how they did.

 

Atticus Finch said it well in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” When Frank Viola approached me about collaborating on The Day I Met Jesus, I was grateful. Most every writer struggles to get work, and I am no different. So we decided to work together, and he shopped the proposal around. Baker publishing said yes, and I was on my way.

 

Except I had Atticus’s pesky point of view homework, meaning I had to crawl into the skin of five amazing women. The nearly unclothed woman circled by an angry mob, stones in hand. The woman of the night who audaciously spilled her earnings on sacred feet. The racially-hated woman of Samaria who had her own painful divorce stories. The woman who bled and bled and bled. And then the woman who shares my name, Mary of Bethany, who unashamedly loved Jesus.

 

I realized, first, that these were not characters in a dime-store novel. These were living, aching, longing, beautiful women who walked the dusty streets Jesus walked. They were real. As in like you. Like me. These are not fancy stories we memorize or words on a page that become boring and rote.

 

Each story represents a human being.

 

Each woman taught me to see Jesus in a completely new way. I fell in love afresh with the God-Man who off-kiltered the self righteous, who crossed racial and gender barriers to have his longest conversation with someone. I wish I had seen His impossible eyes dance when He healed over a decade-long illness and ushered an outcast into community. And oh how I wanted to hear His words of affirmation over this Mary, that perhaps I had chosen the part that won’t be taken away.

 

Jesus is beyond my expectations. He was always confounding the disciples in like manner, refusing to fit into their Messiah mold. He went out of his way to find the unnoticed, the unimportant, the non-religious, the fray of society.

 

I follow this Jesus. As do you. The Savior of the second chance. The Messiah who made friends and didn’t care what wagging heads said in response. The One who laughs better and weeps deeper than we can imagine.

 

Walking around in the sandals and bare feet of these five women ignited a revival in me toward Jesus, the irresistible friend I’ve longed for my entire life. Revelation 2:4 cuts through me as I type this. Jesus said, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”

 

These women and their starkly beautiful encounters with Jesus help me remember why I fell in love with Jesus when He rescued me so many years ago. How He gently led me down a pathway of healing from my own story of sexual abuse, parental death, and suicidal thoughts. How He went out of his way to find outcast me. Oh to re-love Him lavishly!

 

So if you feel in the margins today, take heart. Jesus beckons. He knows. He sees. He offers grace. You don’t have to have your religious ducks in a row. In fact He specializes in messy folks. Why? Because we actually need Him.

 

That’s what I learned from those five women. They flat-out needed Jesus. And He honored them with relationship. May we need Him in the same way.

 

Continue Reading · book review, Guest Post · 3

The Strength to Be Where You Are :: by Brandy Walker

guest post by Brandy Walker

My three-year-old looked at me with big eyes yesterday. He told me that he does not want to be a grownup. And I laughed because I get it. Sometimes it’s really not very fun.

Meanwhile, my middle schooler keeps trying to sneak into the high school group at our church. She’s overwhelmed with problems that feel far too old for her. Struggling with the desire to be perfect and have everyone around her fall in line, too. That unique, torturous feeling of not-enoughness that often strikes previously confident young girls around puberty.

My son is a lot like his dad. Never in a hurry. Completely comfortable where he is.

My daughter, on the other hand, is exactly like me. As I battle my own demons of perfection and performance and doubt, it breaks my heart to watch her as she watches me and takes up her own sword.

I think of Jesus, when he talked about being a mother hen, wanting to hold us. I know he gets it.

I long to wrap her up in my arms. To gently shake all the insecurities off her shoulders. But I feel like I’ve got to work on my stuff before I can even begin to think about helping her with hers.

That’s what we’re told, right? I’ve got to get rid of my plank first.

It doesn’t work that way in parenting. You don’t get the luxury of waiting until you’ve got it all together before you have to approach your kids with seemingly sage advice.

The frustrating thing, of course, is that Jesus was perfect. He actually had sage advice.

When we think about being like him, though, I don’t think it’s perfection that we’re talking about. It’s the way he connected with people. It’s the way he tore down the old ideals of what being perfect is supposed to look like.

You could even say that he wasn’t perfect. Because perfect is a static state. It’s unchanging, steeped in tradition.

Instead, you could say he was what Brené Brown calls wholehearted. That is, he had the strength to be vulnerable.

Cultivating deep, loving friendships with men and women requires authentic vulnerability.

Telling people the truth in gentle yet challenging ways requires authentic vulnerability.

Getting pissed off at the broken systems and doing something about it requires authentic vulnerability.

Being scared of your calling and asking for it to be taken away, but ultimately submitting to the purpose of your life requires massive amounts of authentic vulnerability.

I am a writer and a life coach. I teach people how to find their purpose and go after it full-tilt, in the midst of real and messy life. Since I became a Christian 11 years ago, I’ve had a growing fascination with Lent. It’s about repentance and fasting and I suck at both of those things.

But I love how Lent follows Jesus as he accepts his own life purpose—one that led him to a place most of us would never want to fathom. But one that, as Christians, we celebrate, wholeheartedly. Because he showed us a new way.

One of the criticisms we get as a church is that we focus too much on Jesus’ death and not enough on his life. That’s what got me thinking about vulnerability.

I believe that it’s our drive to be perfect—prefect parents, perfect kids, perfect feminists, perfect students, perfect activists, perfect progressive Christians—that keeps us from stepping into our big, wide-open dreams.

A couple of years ago, I started an e-course called Be, a journey through Lent. Last year, we focused on rest and sabbath and deep self-care. Sometimes, in order to pursue your calling, you must first curl up into a ball.

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But after the soul-filling rest, what happens next?

How do you do find the meaning of your life in the middle of your actually crazy life?

I believe the answer can be found in authentic vulnerability. And I believe the journey through the Lenten season is the *perfect* vehicle for real transformation here.

In Be this year, we’ll create a safe space where we can take off our armour. We’ll talk about shame and the lies we tell ourselves. Once again, we’ll practice deep self-care. We’ll laugh and cry and bake together. We’ll find the courage and the breathing room, together, to find or submit to our purposes. We’ll create and solidify our sacred friendships as we walk closer and closer to Holy Week. Finally, we’ll celebrate Easter with all its new and outrageous implications.

Through it all, we’ll face life’s challenges as they come. We’ll hug our kids when they need to be hugged. We’ll trust their love when they want nothing to do with us. We’ll face good and hard personal news together. We’ll celebrate new jobs and dreams and possibilities.

Hopefully, we’ll walk away with new friends, a renewed commitment to our purpose in the world, and the profound sense that through it all we’ll have the strength to remain authentically vulnerable.

If that sounds like something you need in your life, I hope you’ll join us. The class starts on February 15th, but you have until Friday, the 20th, to sign up. If money is an issue, there are scholarships available.

Whether you’re dashing through life like my daughter and I, or plodding along at a brilliantly steady pace like the males in our family, may your direction lead you to your passion and your purpose.

May you always find the strength to be where you are.

10885151_10101648877255500_9196860507141744614_nWhen Brandy was in kindergarten, she used to get in trouble for daydreaming. Now she makes her living as a professional daydreamer. She talks about the intersection of shalom, feminism, and radical self-care at brandyglows.com. She helps creatives work through the blocks holding them back and dare to dream tornado-sized dreams. You can follow her random thoughts, big ideas, and pictures of her crazy, adorable kids on twitter at http://twitter.com/brandyglows.

 

 

Continue Reading · faith, Guest Post, lent · 7