On Christian Nudism

Yes, you read that correctly.  Although, if you think about it a moment, you’ll probably agree with one writer who finds this just another entry into the category of Christians who segregate themselves from the world with Christian radio stations, Christian plumbers, and Christian bookstores.  I always wonder why believers advertise their faith; it seems to me nearly an excuse for mediocrity–sure my work ethic and expertise suck, but I’m a Christian!–but that’s probably a diatribe for another day.

I find two fundamental issues with Christian nudism as described, at length and NSFW, by one adherent.  Let me disclaim first, however, that I couldn’t possibly belong to the Puritian/Pietist tradition that would have women wear Christianized burkas, if at all possible.  The gratuitous nudity in Game of Thrones doesn’t bother me a bit.  My skepticism concerning Christian nudism doesn’t belong to the Victorian stripe.

It does belong to a conviction that Christian nudists (and I can’t help but chuckle each time I type that) are after the wrong goal.  Attempting to return to some bucolic state isn’t what the Christian faith is all about.  We’re not trying to become like Adam and Eve, even before the Fall–and Weinstein does get style points for using “prelapsarian”, by the way.  Being nude neither returns us to a state of pre-Fall grace, and neither does it indicate we have been returned there. Our state of grace is both secured and advertised by the cross of Christ.  And I wonder: If existing in the state that Adam and Eve did pre-apple is so faithful, why stop with nudity?  Why not live outdoors in the Fertile Crescent?  Only eat what can be gathered locally?  Forgo medical care?  It does seem interesting that wanting to live in Adam’s and Eve’s prelapsarian world appears to start and stop at getting naked.

I’m also a bit skeptical about the movement’s use of nudity.  Weinstein’s description of it sounds a bit bipolar, to be honest.  On one hand, it’s a sign that believers are redeemed; on the other, it’s so diminished as no big deal that adherents sing hymns in the buff.  (Please, no jokes referencing “Rise Up, O Men of God”.  I just don’t think I could take it.)  But nudity is an essential part of the human condition, which is to say it gets to the essence of being human.  We are embodied souls, and to diminish or laud that truth too much is to get into trouble.  Our embodiment, which includes our nudity, should raise our thoughts to God and his heaven.  This is, in part, what the Renaissance artists did in their depiction of nudity.  Yes, they were drawing from Classical antiquity when displaying the human body nude–Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” comes to mind–but the incessant nudity in depictions of Biblical scenes such as the Sistine Chapel indicate that the human body could very well be devotional and meditative in a way that seems to escape the contemporary Christian nudist.  Conversely, a fixation on nudity without the devotional element, which is the scourge of our culture in pornographic material, launches a myriad of problems upon us as our thoughts are drawn away from the Creator and debased to the more animal elements of being embodied.  

Quite frankly, the self-indulgence of Christian nudism seems to be a benign version of the latter instead of a strident attempt at the former.  So if you want nudity to be a part of your Christian devotion, throw on something comfortable and study Michelangelo’s “David”.  It comes with the added benefit of not having to cover your barstool before bellying up.

Aside

A spectacular article in which a leading LGBT advocate and the owner of Chick-Fil-A bridge the gap.  Here’s the key line: “We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people.”

Abortion And Guns

Between the gun advocates and the abortion advocates, surely the former have the better bumper stickers.  You can easily see and hear, say, a Sam Elliott remarking, “You can have my gun when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers.”  But how ’bout a twenty-three year old female abortion supporter?  What would she say?  “You can have my [what?] when you [uh. . . .] it out of my–”  Okay.  Nevermind.  We’ll stop there and hand the trophy to the gun folks.  They probably have a hunting mantle to put it on, anyway.

As the “national conversation” on guns digs it heels in, the issue of abortion has likewise risen to the fore.  Partly because of the Roe v. Wade anniversary and partly because of the horror of children’s lives being ended all too soon, the question of abortion is becoming a part of the gun question which is already part of the “culture of death” question.

Pastor Eugene Cho is quite right to remark that being pro-life is hardly limited to the abortion issue.  I’m rabidly pro-life, and I add to Cho’s list issues such as war and the death penalty.  My denomination, the PCUSA, considers being pro-life important enough to tackle the gun question, but is silent on the abortion front, at least as far as this dialogue is concerned.  The Reverend Jeff Gissing tackles head on whether that is a workable approach, or whether something more could, and should be said.  And the Roman Catholics are tying the two together: For many of their leaders, standing against abortion and standing for gun control are part of the same passion for life.

I agree wholeheartedly that the culture-of-life question is an amalgam of many of these issues and cannot be distilled down to one practice or policy.  But I am wondering if the life question is the one to ask with respect to both abortion and guns.  It seems to me that there is something linking abortion and guns, but the issue of life may not be it.

We now live in a post-Christian culture where humans are viewed as the sum of our cells and nothing more.  The doctrine of evolution, the philosophy of materialism, and the culture of narcissism have all combined to convince many in this land that we belong to the animal kingdom as equals, not as betters.  In fact, anecdotally judging by the homeless pet adverts on Facebook versus the homeless children plugs, we might not even be equals.

We are, of course, part of the animal kingdom, but we are not only part of the animal kingdom.  If you believe, along with the Psalmist, that we are made just a little lower than the angels; if you believe, along with the writer of Genesis, that humans are appointed over the rest of the created order; than you believe that we are part of the animal kingdom but not limited to it.

If you don’t believe those convictions, then animal is all we are, and anyone who has owned a pet knows that they’re not very good at self-restraint without a lot of (usually expensive) training–and then it’s no guarantee.  Which is to say, that in this evolved, materialist, narcissistic culture in which we live, we have ceased believing that the human being can control herself.  She is the sum of her cells and enslaved by passions and instincts unrealistic to control.

Well, in that case, we most assuredly don’t want to give her a gun!  Who knows what she’ll do with it!  And of course she shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of sexual activity.  After all, she’s just doing what humans naturally do.  Seen in this light, guns and abortion become less about which policies promote a culture of life and become more about how we see ourselves in the natural order.  Can we act with reason and responsibility, or are we beholden to a more bestial nature?

I don’t believe in materialism; I believe in Christ.  And I don’t believe Christ came to change policies or to relieve us of our responsibilities.  I believe he came to transform us into a goodness we can scarcely imagine.  And that’s why I believe that when the Church engages in that transformation, many of our policy discussions become a moot point.

On The Inauguration

Much has been written about Barack Obama’s second inauguration as President of the United States of America, and a great deal of that has focused on the steady tradition we have in America of peaceful transfer of power.  Since most of us are acclimated to such a transfer–the racial tensions of 1901, amongst others, notwithstanding–we can have a difficult time understanding what a truly remarkable thing this is.

So congratulations to President Obama upon his inauguration.  For there is an importance that lies beyond just the concept of democratic election and peaceful transfer.  Surely, most Americans of voting age remember the electric drama surrounding President Clinton–most involving women.  There were land deals and saucy mistresses and fundraising questions.  Surely, nearly all Americans of voting age remember the electric drama surrounding President Bush.  There were DUIs and questions of cronyism and issues of preemptive war.

President Obama is ideological.  Of that, I think there is no doubt.  But above and beyond the political, surely he must pose a solid figure on the personal front.  A faithful husband and a devoted father, there is simply none of the personal drama surrounding President Obama that surrounded his two predecessors.  By all accounts, he is a family man–and a serious one, at that.  Pictures of him dancing with his beloved bride at his second inauguration are surely boon to his leadership to this country, even if his politics should prove unsuccessful.

The actor Will Smith was commented that he seeks out movie scripts that portray black men as strong and familial and dutiful.  President Obama’s politics may be off–that will be for history to decide–but his personal convictions seem true.  His devotion as husband and father surely lend example to the many young men–of all ethnicities–that they should devote themselves to something greater than themselves.

And that cannot be a bad thing.

Aside

A family who converted from Islam to Christianity gets fifteen years imprisonment from Egyptian court.

(Via InstaPundit.)

On Guns

I was writing a sermon a few years ago and struggling with how to convey ritual uncleanness.  I fought with the sermon in general and that concept in particular for the better part of a day before giving up and looking to the next day.

It hit me early the next morning while getting ready for the day and I rushed to my notebook and wrote down the image.  I knew it worked when I preached the sermon that Sunday: “Ritual uncleanness is like that moment when you get out of the shower and accidentally brush up against the toilet and immediately you feel the overwhelming need to jump back in the shower and wash all over again.  The toilet is (mostly) clean.  It only touched a fractional part of you.  And yet, you feel dirty all over somehow.  One could just as easily argue that perhaps your freshly soaped person has made the toilet clean, and yet that just isn’t how it feels.”

The Judeo-Christian tradition has longed struggled with the balance between what makes us lesser beings: Is it the stuff out in the world that is bad for us, or is it some interior calibration that needs to be re-engineered?  Anyone who has seen the films Footloose and Dirty Dancing has watched this discussion unfold around dance.  The American Prohibition era saw internal battles both verbal and martial waged over this question as it concerns yummy booze.

In Christ’s time the issue was what food was eaten and how.  Some thought that we could be made unacceptable to God by what we ate and how we ate it.  Others thought that our behaviors and attitudes were more important.  It is easy to caricature those discussions now, but if we imagine the topic being something like pornographic magazines or hyperviolent movies, then it begins to make a bit more sense.

Or guns.  In the wake of the horrific Newtown massacre, voices on one side are calling for more attention to be paid to the availability of guns.  Voices on another side are calling for more attention to be paid to mental health or the absence of strong male role models.  The discussion is the same, however: Are we made a better or lesser people–a holier or more profane people–by the objects of our environment or by the character of the person using said objects?

Money, movies, cars, booze, sex–the list goes on well nigh indefinitely–are parts of our world, and people have always tried to improve the community by regulating how these things are used.  And here is the perennial struggle to answer questions: Are we made lesser by the mere presence of these things?  Or are these things made gifts or tragedies by how they are used?  Perhaps guns–perhaps all of these–are neither holy or unholy.  Perhaps those are distinctions are best saved for the people who use them.

Why I Don’t Do New Year’s Resolutions

One year, for Lent, I gave up television, thinking that a few weeks of more quiet and rumination would surely be a good thing.  I failed to think ahead enough to realize that March Madness is within the bounds of Lent, and I do so love college basketball, so, needless to say, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I don’t do that often–giving up something for Lent, that is.  I have teenagers, so I do the weeping and gnashing of teeth thing all the time.  Sometimes I do some sort of Lenten practice, but in all  honesty, it’s often ends just a vehicle for doing or not doing something that should already be in practice: Less caffeine, more prayer, less Internet, more writing, less booze, more something, less whatever.  In seminary, I had a friend who gave up sex for Lent.  That borders on  madness, if you ask me.  Some things just shouldn’t even be attempted.

I’m not crazy about Lenten fasts because it always feels so legalistic to me.  I hear people advertising what they’ve given up for Lent and it’s hard not to hear that as bragging.  I feel compelled to do my Lenten thing to the point where it becomes a burden that actually makes me want to do it even less.  And there’s nothing that makes me want something more than to give it up for a set time.  Probably the best way to get me to eat healthy food is to ban it for Lent.  I crave what I cannot have.

That’s the Law.  That’s why Paul writes that the Law brings death.  Not only can we not live up to it, but it makes us want what we cannot have, and it makes us avoid what we desperately need.  The Law illumines our hearts as deceitful, and our hearts respond by being even more so.

That’s why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  And it’s why everyone else’s New Year’s resolutions don’t make it past Dr. King’s birthday.  When we pledge to go to the gym more and eat less chocolate and speak more kindly to the cashier and give more to the Church and pray more and cuss less and spend more time with the kids and diet and help wash more dishes, we are burdening ourselves with more Law-weight.  The taste of what we want to accomplish sours in our mouths as obligation drains the joy out of a thing.

So don’t make a New Year’s resolution.  If you want to change something, change your heart.  Pray for cashiers, and you’ll speak more kindly to them.  Thank God for what health he has given you, and you’ll want to guard it more closely.  Be grateful for your spouse, and you’ll be glad to help out with the chores.  The Law is death, but the grace of God is life.  When we have that grace, everything else falls into place.

Happy New Year.