Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Touch of Flea-Riddled Burlap

As Eli covered a day or two back, the creed that has given the world (nominally) celibate priests, hairshirts, flagellation, and assorted other manifestations of "mortification of the flesh" has kept, it's safe to say, a vexed relationship with the human body over the ages. 

St. Paul, arguably Christendom's first compulsive writer of overlong, fevered, unsolicited letters, didn't care for the icky flesh:
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:13)
He took up the theme even more forcefully in Colossians 3:
[S]eek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry ...
Don't even get him started on vaginas -- it's the flesh that famously discharges more flesh! It turns out, however, that the guy who wrote several of the books of the New Testament has Christianity all wrong, says Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who finds support in John's gospel:
[John] bears witness to a sensual God. Jesus washed human feet, smelled perfume, and tasted abundant wine. He used spit and dirt to heal a blind man, and his gut churned when he looked upon the hungry crowds. Salty tears ran down his face. He smelled the stink of death on Lazarus, his friend. Jesus’ very own flesh tore when he was beaten and crucified.  When he rose from the dead, he told Thomas to touch his wounded side, which was not perfected, but bore the scars of having lived. Then as one of his final acts on earth, he ate grilled fish on a beach. These experiences of the body are not things to be spiritually transcended — they are perhaps the very things in which we find Christ ... This Christianity stuff is not a religion of disembodied spirituality at all. This is a religion of Word made flesh, of God revealed in the vulnerability of newborn flesh in a cradle and in heartbreak of broken flesh on a cross.

Given that they've had a couple thousand years (give or take a few) to sort this out, you might think Christians would have decided on either rejecting or embracing the human body, or arriving at one or another consistent view of how it fits their scheme. Alas, no -- the contrasts evident in the works of the earliest canonical authors remain present and unreconciled today.

I don't even mean to say Christians are not allowed to be confused (I am ever so generous) -- they're as welcome at the human imponderables factory as anyone else, with no special badges required. Since, however, they offer what they claim is the unique set of doctrines, tenets, and observances by which every single person will attain either salvation or damnation for the next eleventy trillion centuries and beyond, the ante-upping has been all theirs.

There's a word for people who loudly demand our attention only to present confused gibberish when we turn to them -- well, OK, there are at least three terms for it -- obnoxious children, drama queens, and attention whores. Whatever might be said of those three sometimes-overlapping categories of people -- who can deny their fun side? -- they are notoriously unreliable sources for clear thinking or good living.

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