Your Body is Mural: A Christian Case for Body Modification

For a single moment, in the waiting room of the tattoo parlor, I thought: “you can un-do this. There’s still time to take it all back.” And then it passed. I lay down. A whooping crane began to emerge somewhere on the back of my calf, still invisible to me at the angle I lay, and I thought: “Paul was wrong. The body isn’t a temple after all. It’s a mural.”

When Christians say bodies are temples, usually it’s a warning. It’s shorthand for all the negatives that will lead to destruction. We’re told it until it becomes a shock collar, and any time we treat our bodies as anything less than a static empty building, we’re filled with fear of our own destruction. When grown ups told us “your body is a temple,” usually what they meant was “your body is a house that’s been on the market for three months.” They mean: Don’t leave crumbs in the kitchen; keep the floors swept; erase the fingerprints and furniture marks; make it look like no one lives here so that when Jesus returns he can have his run of the place because he needs a vacation home.

We mean, “return your body to God the way it arrived to you. Don’t mess it up; don’t spend too much time in the sun; don’t run so fast you fall and get scarred.” When they say, “your body is a temple,” they mean “your body is a library book, don’t get fined when you return it.” But the body is not a temple, not literally; the body is mobile, it’s a vehicle, it puts on the miles. It’s built to carry a load, set it down, pick up another one.It’s not Paul who was wrong, it’s us who misinterpreted him. Continue reading

Advertisements

Militants and the Definition of Martyrdom

Until this morning, I found the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge baffling and mildly disruptive, like a pot of poorly brewed green tea. But this morning,  when I heard the one of the young militants responding to LaVoy Finicum’s death, something clicked for me. The man said, in an eerily even voice, “They straight up–they straight up killed him. You think I’m gonna leave? No. They can kill me, too.” The reporter’s voice tried to explain his stance, describing the sense of martyrdom surrounding Finicum’s death. Martyrdom?

Once in college, a student asked a professor to explain the logic of Westboro Baptist Church. The professor, a theologian and devout Christian, said “I can’t do that. There is no logic. There’s no way to understand it,” unless you buy into the whole extremist worldview all at once. The same is true of the Wildlife Refuge’s occupiers, leaving the media in the unfortunate position of explaining crazy to the mainstream. No wonder we’re all still confused. Continue reading

I Believe in Snow Shovels

Today I shoveled the neighbors’ driveway. Not because they’re disabled (they’re not), or because I’m especially good or kind (I’m average kind), but because I believe in snow shovels. Every time I hear the roar of a snowblower or smell the gasoline drifting across the still earth, the irony makes me cringe. Our fossil-fuel solutions to a snowy inconvenience is, after all, only going to contribute to a more extreme snow next time around. Solving climate with climate change makes no sense to me.

There are several families in our congregation who refuse to buy snowblowers. The reasoning is that this is the simple life—like our theological cousins, the Amish, the question these families have asked themselves is, “Will this new technology help or hurt our relationships with each other and with God?” Snowblowers don’t build relationships, as thoughtful as it is when the neighbors blow my sidewalk. In fact, the noise and the speed of the clunky thing rarely gives me even less opportunity to thank them. On some winter mornings, I’ve seen a half dozen neighbors out, each with their own snowblower, never speaking to each other. What an embodiment of excess and private ownership, for each of us to own our own machine to clear our own 10 feet of sidewalk! Continue reading

You Can’t Kill Hitler

Last week, while wandering through Exodus 15 debating whether or not the death of Pharaoh’s soldiers was justified, the teenagers (I would call them my teenagers, but they are uncomfortable with possessive pronouns, so these particular teenagers shall remain ambivalently “the” teenagers) stumbled into the age-old pacifist dilemma:

If given the opportunity to kill Hitler, would you, and would you still call yourself a pacifist?

Much to their frustration, at the time, I didn’t answer the question. The answer is, of course, no. The answer is always “no,” because this question is first of all a word-trap designed to catch pacifist inconsistencies. Its phrasing, almost always spoken by pro-war voices looking to poke holes in the pacifist stance, is based on flawed logic.

Die, fascist scum?

Die, fascist scum?

You can’t kill Hitler because you can’t kill Hitler. The whole premise of the question assumes (1) that there is such a thing as moral murder and (2) that it is possible for a human to, factoring all information, come to the utilitarian conclusion and carry out the ethical action that results in death. The question is, “Knowing what we know now, assuming you could apparate to a point in time in which all confluence of factors aligned to allow for the murder of a despot that is guaranteed to result in a net loss of fewer lives, would you align yourself to be the arbiter of death and justice?” Continue reading

Simply Seasoned: Cooking through A Cookbook in Three Years

Don’t worry. Gathering the Stones is not becoming a food blog. Probably. But the longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that one of the stones that needs an awful lot of gathering is the way we eat. It is one time I thank God for foodies and hipsters. Food is ethical. It should be treated with care. Always. It’s an act of faith.

When I talk about my faith, I talk about the Trinity. Of cookbooks. I talk about the Trinitarian God, too, who interdwells in a relational paradigm and all of that seminary fluff. But when I talk about being Mennonite, I talk about cookbooks. The three ways of eating revealed to us over time, practices that shape faith into our daily lives and   daily bread.

World Community cookbooks

Besides the trinity, of course there are other cookbooks–Mennonite Girls Can Cook or Fix-it-and-Forget-It or all the church and community cookbooks we’ve grown. To my mind, those are saints alongside the trinity. But only the trinity is canonical. Continue reading

In Defense of a Militant Diet

I’ve been vegetarian for almost a decade, but I’ve never been militant about it. My reasons weren’t noble in the first place–I changed because the meat in the college cafeteria tasted bad. In the years since, I’ve created a coherent and sustained ethic of eating, but never a militant ethic.

I chose vegetarianism. The act itself is something that marks me as Christian–choosing an alternative to the mindless, normative structures of the powers and principalities. It is an act that, three times a day, marks me as “in the world but not of the world,” that encourages a conversation about what I believe, that invites people into a dialogue about what it means to let your values shape your life.

Continue reading