Good morning! What a gorgeous day, thanks for popping in here today, I’m thankful to be together … And I”m thankful that get this unique perspective up here – to look out at all of you and see this fully gorgeous array of bodies. A representation of what I could imagine as the closest thing to the kin-dom of God here on earth. A myriad of races, of identities, of able bodied and disabled bodies, of gay, straight, trans and queer bodies, old and young, bodies of all sizes, hairy – not-hairy, strong and just toddling…
And my heart skips a beat at this sight.
And what makes the kin-dom of God a powerful reality – not just a lovely sentiment, – is the attention to taking in the fullness of what this beautiful tapestries of bodies in the room bring with them…. Your bodies tell a story of WHO YOU ARE, of where you’ve been – your life…..
We’ve all traversed this life, encountering joys and traumas and pain and shame and fears and love. And yet – we are slow to speak on the terms of these experiences beginning with our physical bodies… our bodies are the nexus of every experience, of every feeling, struggle and triumph. We are quick to mention our bodies – when we feel good about our bodies… when we’ve realized our passions are birthed out of our bodies..- where we have the opportunity to love with our whole selves the world and the people around us with fullness of relationship and love… and yet it’s harder to speak of the reality of how our bodies are regarded in our everyday spaces – where we work, study, in our families. That often in these spaces our bodies are a battleground, that tell a story of a quest for acceptance, for value and for wholeness in this world.
To build the kin-dom, IS WORK. What makes the kin-dom so rich, is not just a push for all of us to do a really good job at this faith “thing”, individually … it’s to come together and hold space for one another –from all our different vantage points, with our lens of living in unique bodies.. and this takes work – and it’s the work of the holy – because it’s exhausting and uncomfortable. To talk of our bodies – to share with each other vulnerably, to imagine that someone on the other end is truly hearing us and “believing us”… is WORK. It is the work of our day, and it is the work that I think Jesus – who came in human form, in flesh and bone – calls us to… andhe teaches just how to do that, how to be fully in our bodies – as human beings.
Mariama White-Hammond spoke last week so powerfully – of Jesus our Savior. Jesus, – THE ONE who is a powerful , transformative force of love – and His prime location for that work, it seems is in OUR very bodies. And Jesus saves us from the threat of any messages about our bodies that would come against this powerful force of love in us.
This is why it’s important to keep talking about our bodies today, because it keeps a/live the message of Jesus.
We are in a series that I’ve been particularly helped by and thankful for these last few weeks, called “Embodied Faith”. Sometimes we plan our sermon series months in advance – I think we batted around this idea of “what would it look like to talk about our bodies?” 2-3 months ago. And I’m thankful for how the Spirit moves – even when those initial ideas aren’t fully framed… how the Spirit fills out our ideas and makes them impactful, nonetheless.
So, I want to talk today a bit more about how we honor and value our own bodies impacts how we value and honor the bodies of others.
In Genesis we see the origins of our bodies – our cells, and our muscles and our bones – in the 2nd chapter it says that “GOD fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. And the earth creature became a living being”.
If we can wrap our heads around the baseline of what these verses offer us – it’s a message that our bodies come from the earth that we all share, that we all walk upon – AND breathed into our beings, is the goodness, the perfection, the strength and the love of God. That is our makeup – our DNA…. It is what powers our bodies to be, and move in this world, and it is utterly divine.
If you’ve ever watched a toddler – you likely see the fullness of this message in action. As toddlers we loved our bodies fully. Toddlers don’t have a negative relationship with their bodies. Never did I witness any of my kids demonstrating self-consciousness of their squishy bellies – or counting their double chins in the mirror – in fact wonder and awe were usually in full display as they discovered – that they had hands and feet – and what they were capable of ….
And I think we can kind of dismiss this notion that toddlers are a picture of health in relationship to our bodies.. They haven’t taken in messages of critique, they haven’t been restricted from involvement with life or school or jobs – or felt levels of discrimination because of their bodies yet…
*and yet – I read a book by Sonya Renee Taylor , recently called “Your Body is Not an Apology” “Connecting to a memory like that might feel really distant – and maybe one that you can’t access at all – but just knowing that there was a point in your history when you once loved your body can be a reminder that body shame (as it enters in – through a myriad of messages), is a fantastically crappy inheritance.. We didn’t give it to ourselves and we are not obligated to keep those messages”.
And still- it is startling to realize how quickly messages about our bodies – come in and take up residence…. Messages that combat right away our extra-ordinarieness… and suggest instead a message of “disbelief” – a deep disbelief of who we were made to be. . Messages that say you are not good enough – or – you are too much… messages that say at their baseline , “I do not believe you”, “I do not believe that you came from Divine love and goodness”.
One of my earliest memories of my body was when I was little, I remember standing in my bathroom – naked, infront a full-length mirror. Absolutely unashamed and happy. And my mom walked in and said to me, “Ivy – you shouldn’t look at your body like that”.
And just like that – at age 4 I took in a message that my body was something to hide and be ashamed of.
That window of birth to toddlerhood is likely the free-est we will have ever felt in our bodies…. Because studies show that nearly ½ of 3-6 year old girls say that they worry about their bodies and becoming fat… Young boys receive messages this early as well that to be a “real boy”, they should assert power and control, and limit their emotions – and be muscular and big” in their bodies.
And these messages come in from all over – when we are young – they come from those closest in proximity to us ….and soon we take in influences from larger society, particularly via media…
I’ve taken time with my girls and my boy, in particular as they get older to sit with them and tell them how loved they are – how their bodies are immensely perfect just as they are, how they don’t need to conform to society’s gender scripts. And let me tell you – I feel pretty good about myself after these intentional conversations. I’m hopeful to be correcting messaging that they might be taking in consciously or otherwise… BUT therapist, Hillary McBride says – “ok, you can stop patting yourself on the back about this”… WHAT really matters is the thousands of moments throughout the day when you make what you think are subtle gestures about your bodies and others.. like walking by a mirror and poking at your double chin – or sucking in your belly… or mentioning how your shirt is showing your muffin top” .. THESE are the messages that developing minds soak up…. . “We are relational beings and we develop our identity in relationship to people around us”(McBride), and a big part of that relationship is our relationship to our bodies.
In middle school, I was informed by my history teacher that watching girls basketball games was like watching “paint dry”. I had just made the varsity basketball team.
And At age 12 I learned that my body wasn’t AS powerful or AS strong or AS good as a boys.
Now, I think it’s helpful to remember here – that mind and body are both equally us. This is why when we don’t like our bodies, we feel badly about our whole selves. Or, when we feel really powerful in our bodies, we feel really powerful in ourselves, like we have value. If our identity is just as much our bodies as it is our minds and thoughts, then when we hear how our bodies are not “good enough” or our bodies aren’t powerful – it’s not surprising that we take 1) match whatever the external expectation is, 2) to function in the world – and 3) for many of us – we take on these masks as a survival technique, because the experiences we’ve had, tell us that the outside world hates what our bodies represent.
So by the age of 12 I’ve already taken on 2 masks:
One to make sure I’m hiding myself, make sure I’m not too exposed. That I’m not gathering too much attention.
And the other mask to placate those that felt threatened or discomfort by my strength and power.
Both masks, in my case were my body’s SOS. A body that was being morphed out of fear. Who I was… wasn’t… who I should be… couldn’t be… ect…. Fear that I was learning – as I walked through more of my life – was not just found in individual voices – but messaging throughout systems and structures where I would go to school, work and live.
Not only has the very air we breathe become laced with messaging about what bodies are acceptable and valued and what bodies are not … but this messaging has become the backing of most of the systems and frameworks of our society: “Consider that the right to marry the person you love regardless of gender was only legally sanctioned in the US in 2015.
Consider that people with disabilities have higher rates of unemployment regardless of educational attainment.” (SRT)
Consider that a study done this decade – showed that resumes with traditionally European names like Greg, Ann or Emily – would get far more callbacks than individuals with traditional African American names – DESPITE the fact that in this study the resumes submitted were identical. IT took 50% more applications from the latter group to get a call back.
These are big issues folks! These are issues – economic and social issues that are about our bodies. They intersect with our race, age, gender and sexual orientation and a multitude of other ways..
Sonya Renee Taylor, this author I mentioned says that: “Racism, sexism, ableism, age-ism,m class-ism, homo- and transphobia, fatphobia are algorithms created by our struggle to make peace with the body.”
All of these “-isms”, send out a deep, hurtful and hateful message that “we don’t believe each other”, we don’t believe that we have the powerful image of God in our bodies.
After working at my first college internship for a few months, I was called into a meeting with 3 supervisors – who talked in detail about my attire, – humiliatingly so- and deemed it as inappropriate, suggestive and troubling. I apologized profusely.
At age 18 I learned that my body is an apology.
For so many of us, “sorry” has become how we translate the word “body”(Sonya Renee Taylor). And it is an exhausting work. It is hard because we talk about how much we value and honor the diversity of each other. And yet the messages we receive throughout our days and over our lifetimes seem to offer up the contrary. It seems like we infact value lines that dictate “sameness” and lines that are clear to draw what is “normal” and not normal”- and this is helpful to us because we can all be free of the discomfort of difference…I think we all play into this to some degree we are all drinking the kool-aid, that says “oh, actually…..there is a right way to have a body”.
And if we don’t find ourselves on the right side of these lines – these body lines that we’ve drawn – we might find ourselves offering up apology after apology….
And we take in the message that our bodies are wrong.
Serena Williams – who may be one of the greatest athlete of all times, has a short 30 second video. In this video we see simple clips of her playing tennis – and we hear her voice saying:
“ I’ve never been the right kind of woman”….
“Too oversized and too over confident
Too mean, if I don’t smile
Too black for my tennis whites
Too motivated for motherhood…”
I can gather quite a few memories of where I offered apologies throughout my life, “for not speaking up, or for speaking up too much….. I have apologized again and again for the presumed discomfort my body has caused in others”. It’s too controversial not to apologize. Maybe that’s why this ad, of Serena’s caught my eye – she is offering no apology for the ways that systems have placed the word “TOO” in front of her body. This tiny word “too”, insinuates that we, who make up systems – demand her to apologize for not fitting our mode of what is “acceptable” and “comfortable for us”. (that we haven’t actually taken in the story of her body – and how she’s experienced life, how many apologies she’s had to usher out)… We, expect accommodation and when we don’t get that – we are (panicky) & confronted by the ways , we ourselves have played into, become complicit in the very systems that have oppressed us.
It was easier for me – to be invisible – to wear the masks and to accommodate whatever the outside message of who I should be was.. MUCH easier than ripping off those masks and fielding the stones that said “you are too much” – or “your not enough”.
Serena, is living in a female body, a Black body, an aging body, a body that’s too big, and YET a body that is continually, unashamedly – visible to all of us.
Serena’s message and other brave messages like hers – disrupt my complacency to accommodate. It allows me to feel , even with masks on- and get in touch with dissonance I feel in my body. Of how I present to the world – and yet how I know , deep down in my DNA – how I was formed to be… Her message shakes and challenges me -it even highlights messages that I’ve been taking in for so long and didn’t realize…… Her message says to me, follow this homing device within your soul – the HOly Spirit – and navigate back to yourself, your origins of love.
And this message is full of power and permission to be my unapologetic, believable self.
To follow this homing device within us – gets us to what is buried ever so-covertly, in our bodies. It gets us to what has held these messages, “it’s better to be hidden” , “you aren’t really powerful”, “offer an apology to keep the peace”… in place for so long. .. It’s what took up residence from the first blush of standing in that mirror, when I was 4 – it’s’ this root of shame.
The work here, to uncover this shame is one that I believe is the work of Jesus. One that he sets before us in this well known passage – that we’ll read together, of the woman caught in adultery:
John 8:1-11, 15 (NRSV)
1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.[a] 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
15 “You judge by human standards; I judge no one”.
The Pharisees & scribes interrupt this teaching – they represent the powerful and dominant patriarchal and religious system of the day – and they are eager to uphold and carry out “justice”…
Justice it seems in their eyes – is to remove anything that is coming to threaten their authority and position. Attacking and trapping anyone that disrupts their sense of comfort.
And to attain their goal of upholding justice they seek to bring down Jesus – with the pawn in their midst – this body of a woman who was caught in adultery.
“Rabbi – this woman was caught in an adulterous act. Will you uphold the law of Moses which says that this woman should be stoned? Or will you uphold the Roman law?”.
“Come on Jesus, Pick a side. Where’s the line? Help us draw the line!” Jesus is silent.
And instead of talking, he bends down in the dirt (and there are many interpretations of what Jesus writes), John our author doesn’t give us much insight – however, I offer you another possibility, a simple picture.
Perhaps Jesus is drawing just what they asked. Perhaps he is drawing a line in the sand. A line that will give the Pharisees what they want – to separate out those bodies that are worthy and those bodies that are not.
Jesus I can imagine as he’s dragging his finger through the dirt is communicating to this woman… “you see here, this line – is the way to judge and condemn, this line is the way to maintain power, this line is the way to uphold “a Pharisitical version of justice”, this line is how one ensures that shame will take root in another. This line creates a system of religion – that will draw lines unto death”.
“But this line, dear woman, does not make way for me.”
SO as Jesus stood again, to his feet – standing on the side of the line with this woman – I can imagine him saying to the Pharisees “perhaps you missed my teaching in the temple earlier today. The lines you desire – to uphold the moral code you care so deeply about, these lines you desire to mark hierarchy, power and status at the expense of other bodies, those lines don’t actually exist in the kin-dom I invite you to build.”
Jesus is not choosing a side of the law to come down on – he’s choosing this human being in his midst. He doesn’t jeer at this woman, he doesn’t use this woman as a pawn, or a trap, or mock her or incite anyone else to do the same – he simply turns to this woman, with his body and bends to be closer to her…
This woman’s body matters to Jesus – even despite her sin – she is not just a violation of the Law.
The Pharisees plan to trap Jesus – in fact traps themselves – in their own humanity. Jesus in this simple question , “Which one of you is sinless – go ahead and cast the first stone” – reminds them – that they themselves are in violation of the law too. Moses Law said that both people involved in adultery should be brought forward.
THe job of condemning and judging if for anyone -would be reserved for Jesus.
However, Jesus desists this.
“You judge by human standards – which only creates lines against bodies and me…. I judge no one”.
And as the Pharisees and scribes exit the scene… Jesus bends down again – Here he is, going back to that line of the Pharisees and erasing it. He’s making clear that nobody and no body will be limited in their access to Jesus. That his body too, is free and available to all.
This is my way:
“The erasure of this line – is the way to liberation,
the erasure of this line is the way to access the power of me – within and beside you always,
the erasure of this line is the way to uphold “justice” – to value a physical, human being in front of you,
The erasure of this line is how one ensures that shame will not take root. The erasure of this line – makes way for life, with compassion and humbleness bent in a posture that comes close to this women’s face – where she can hear Jesus say, “I believe you”. I believe you are made from love.
A year ago my teenage daughter came to me and said that the boy she was spending time with, “had put his arm around her without asking, and it made her feel uncomfortable and unsafe”.
My reply to her was: “Could you not over react – it’s not really that big of a deal….I’m sure he didn’t mean to make you feel discomfort….”
At age 38 I learned that ingesting enough messages of body shame over my life – allows these declarations to become the narrative through which I speak to the bodies around me – even without noticing or intending to… bodies that I am here to believe in and nurture.
THis is the work of Shame – is a thief and a liar, and it’s toxin laces our tongues – and keeps us a prisoner under our masks.
Jesus says to this woman, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you”
Perhaps when we judge others and their bodies- We lay the same traps that the Pharisees do – … we set traps of shame, we force masks on people… AND we trap jesus too. If we see flickers in our systems that oppress and hate, that are eager to sanction, ignore and criminalize – we can’t deny that there is misuse of the bodies in our midst.
I choked on my words as they came out of my mouth to my daughter. Realizing I was judging her! Judging her feelings in her body – asking her to feel less – it would be more comfortable for everyone… Jesus encourages us – as he did with this adulterous woman – to catch the stones… and be more aware of the ones we might throw ourselves – of shame, of humiliation, control and of hate and arrogance.
When we can do this for ourselves and each other – Jesus I think does the great work of crushing those messages down to the Earth, freeing us all to return to what we’ve always come from – dust and love.
Shame only lives and survives where there is a judge.
And Jesus says to this woman “I’m not going to be your judge” – “go and sin no more” – and not because you are afraid of getting zapped at the line drawn in the sand (drawn by some person or system)…but because you have met me, where there are no lines……..
And not because you were rescued by the law, but because you were rescued by me, who fills out the Law with love and compassion.
Jesus isn’t worried about how much we get right or wrong when it comes to Him – or how much or How little we believe of HIM….. HIS hope, is that we would feel HOW MUCH HE BELIEVES IN US. And my friends, it’s a struggle to get there – it’s a struggle to sift through the messages and the masks… but it’s our work for each other.
A year and a half ago – I got caught in a riptide in Nicaragua with my 3 kids… I’ve told a portion of this story before – of how my kids were resilient and spurred me on to wonder and away from fear in the aftermath. BUT what I didn’t share was that at one point in the riptide, I realized I had to let go of my son’s hand. I was struggling and I thought I would bring him down with me. .as I let go of him, I submerged under the current and waves – and found myself suspended underwater – unable to reach the surface and unable to touch the ground.
This moment has chilled me for many months since then – not only for the obvious reasons – but because in looking back I realized that I felt no presence of God, no calming, encouraging whispers – no bright light of hope.
I’ve been processing this a lot – and I went through the scene with a friend a few months ago – and she said so matter of factly – “Oh you know, I often think in moments like these we are Jesus”.. And I could then remember that I came to the surface of that roaring ocean – and I grabbed my sons hand back, and I looked at him in the eyes and I said “You are going to be ok, we are going to ride this next wave in” – and we did.
At age 39 I experienced for the first time, what embodiment really means. ANd this was a deep knowing that Jesus and my body – were one – with power and agency.
Embodied faith isn’t just a concept to talk about – it is a force of the Holy Spirit and nature to experience. When Jesus says to His friends, (on your program) that “they will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them – and it is then that they will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth,” I realized – ah, yes they will be able to tell other people about God, once they have experienced and felt her in their bodies.
I learned that the Holy Spirit might be silent in separation, when there are lines and messages all over the place about who I am and who I’m not – – BUT she IS LOUD and glorious and Strong IN my body. The Holy Spirit – is not just soft wind and breath – but she is FIRE AND STRENGTH… And I fully embody her. Fully human. Fully alive. As one.
May the embodiment of God that resides in your physical body – in your skin, in your bones, in your cells – be the power that thrusts you out of the paralysis you might feel under your masks – and the sense of suspension you experience – when you are neither fully touching ground nor breaking through the ceilings that society casts on you – And may your bodies and the STORIES they tell – propel you into the faith we have in a JESUS who hears your bodies SOS’s and rescues you and helps you again and again BE human.
We would be remiss in this series about our bodies – to only talk from this stage – so today, I’ve invited my friend Miriam who is an exceptional dancer – and I invite you into an experience of God that goes beyond words. She’ll be moving to a song by Lauren Daigle, called, “Rescue”.
Jesus rescues this adulterous woman from death. Physical death, but also death-by-shame. Jesus rescued me in the ocean – physically, but also from the belief that my body was to be hidden, an apology, unequal , devalued, defenseless …. Every storyline – every narrative of Jesus with us – is for your rescue from death. This was His own story and our story too. I believe that JEsus wants a world where our bodies can be reclaimed as love”.. WHere we can say to each other, “There is no wrong way to have a body”.
Whole life flourishing: In what ways have you believed that your body is “not enough” or “too much”? Imagine that God, at every turn, celebrates your body and says to you that there is “no wrong way to have a body”. How does this impact the way you show up in the world and the way you witness others show up in the world?
(What messages have you taken in about your body? Such as you are “not enough” or you are “too much?”….. etc..)
Spiritual Practice of the week:
“Tear off the mask. Your face is glorious.” – Rumi
When you look in the mirror this week, imagine Jesus’ reflection looking back at you – with your eyes, your hair, your skin, your blood, your bones, your body. Fully glorious.
Imagine that you could go stand beside your 3,4,5 year old self – as you look at yourself in the mirror… What message, what words would you want yourself to hear.? What would you want your small child self to know – above all else.