March 9, 2008
I’ve been thinking about “One Punk Under God” since we watched one of the episodes last week. It has made me ask some uncomfortable questions, such as: is it possible for a church community to be open, welcoming, and healing to those who differ in their sexual orientation without making the theological proclamation that homosexuality is not a sin? I had several gay and lesbian friends in college; we were able to enjoy each other’s company and have lively literary discussions even though they knew where I stood on the issue. But a one-to-one relationship has more flexibility, I think, than a church structure charged with moral teaching. It just seems to me that Bakker believed he had to make a theological shift in order to open Revolution’s doors to the homosexual community, and I wonder if that is the only solution. The concept of sexual orientation has a foot in the discussion we had the week before about body theology. If the Church isn’t capable of handling a healthy and theologically sound discussion regarding heterosexuality and its implications for gendered leadership and family life, is there any hope for discussions and theological understandings of less straight forward forms of sexual orientation? Gender and sexuality issues, though hot topics in the western (or at least American) Church today, are so uncomfortable and so deeply rooted in our very identities as humans and as children of God that it has been more often than not simply swept under the rug or whispered in hallways. The undercurrent of discomfort and the inability to speak freely and knowledgably on issues of gender and sexuality has drastically overblown these topics that, in scripture, relatively speaking, play a much smaller role than we are often led to believe by the historical emphasis on the squelching and misrepresentation of the biblical understanding of the body.
Again I am drawn back to the first discussion of the relation between holiness and beauty. Why is it that in the realm of art the body is glorified, nakedness and even sexuality are lauded? Historically, on a skill level, an artist had to prove command of both the complicated representation of the crucifixion and of the human body in its original, uncovered state. Yet in the Church, once a great supporter of artistic expression in all mediums, we fear and shame that which art simultaneously reveals as beautiful in the name of piety. In our effort to be pure, we have lost that sense of holiness present in the very fact that our physical forms were created in the image of God, by God, and pronounced good. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we confuse the recognition of beauty and holiness in the human body with lewdness and vulgarity, but in our efforts to avoid the latter, we have lost in some profound way our understanding of the former. Fear and shame, those stumbling blocks to faith, have skewed the lens through which the Church views the world, to the extent that some churches refuse even simple stained glass or a cross hung on the wall for fear of idolatry. For the sake of a holiness we cannot understand, we have lost that sense of beauty that was meant to be its vehicle. I am reminded of Aristotle’s discussion of the chairs: the painting of a chair points to the chair itself, which is more real, that in turn points to the true Form of the chair that exists outside our realm of perception and is most real, the epitome of reality. Not that we can’t take issue with Aristotle’s Forms, but there is a correlation.
March 2, 2008
I loved The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Watching the film reminded me of our earlier discussion of the relation between beauty and holiness. There is something extraordinarily beautiful about the way the main character chose to express himself poetically despite the tediousness of the task and the utterly humiliating state of being he had been reduced to from his former position of influence and affluence. I was most impacted by our conversation afterward about the reality and positive nature of imagination. Story has in the modern world been considered as falsehood or at best as escapism, yet the tide is shifting as we come to realize the power of imagination for good purpose. I remember the story Olive Drane told us in my storytelling class last quarter about the twin boys Truth and Parable, how only when Truth was disguised in Parable’s clothing was he accepted and listened to among the townspeople. I have for several quarters now been wrestling with the concept of story and how truth plays out in the midst of it. I still don’t have it figured out, but I keep coming back to a line in my favorite poem by Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” Yet one of my favorite short story writers Flannery O’Connor determined to write her message in large print on the wall so that the blind could see it. Is it subtlety or shouting that wins the day? In the film, Bauby tells his life story in painfully real detail, yet the success of his life lies in his ability to imagine, to feed his soul though he is locked in. Jesus, who is the truth, speaks often in parable and usually refuses to explain himself even to his disciples. What is the role of the artist, then? To imagine, surely, but also to explicate? It is this tension that I have yet to work out.
The class on body theology brought up several different issues for me. Not entirely unrelated to the above consideration of story and truth is the question we tried to answer: what does it mean to engage culture and image and to dialogue with truth? Our discussion reminded me of the link between beauty and holiness. Is there anything holy to be found in our visually-driven culture? If the line between secular and sacred is truly blurred, how do we bring the holiness of God into our cultural conversations about what is beautiful? I know that in my own experience it has been very healing to speak God’s truth into the lies culture told me about my body image that I believed for so long without even being aware of their influence. I think educating people about the ways to deconstruct the advertising and entertainment industries can go a long way in bringing truth into cultural light. It reminds me of the Alison Jackson photographs and our discussion of voyeurism. Our consumerist culture buys into nearly anything these days that will feed into the need for instant gratification. The naming of the root cause as fear is especially apt and perceptive. Fear, which is the opposite of faith, and sin, which certainly gets in the way of experiencing God’s holiness, are the roots of body image issues, especially in the west. There is that appealing quality about Gnosticism, the denying of the flesh in order to free the soul. That fear of being out of control is certainly a known root cause of many eating disorders. But we were given bodies, and our bodies were pronounced good—a fact we often forget in our effort to control something. It is worth remembering that abundant life necessitates a willingness to release control and experience something extraordinary, something unknown, something beautiful.