It was almost a decade ago that I was reading Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and ran across the phrase “transforming the body of the world into our bodies.” This turn of phrase has stuck with me over the years and, like a bit of popcorn kernel in between the teeth, nagged me. Perhaps more appropriately like a grain of sand in an oyster, it has irritated me in the best possible way and slowly transformed into something like a pearl of wisdom, one that I have yet to completely unpack. So I have decided to change the umbrella for my writing here on the internet to “Transforming the Body.”
At the risk of demystifying the phrase entirely, I sense (including, but not limited to) the following meanings in the phrase “transforming the body” as it relates to my thoughts and writing in this space.
- As in Pollan’s quote above it is about consuming the fruit of the earth to transform it into our own bodies. This concept also connects to ecology and interdependence.
- It refers to the Body of Christ and transforming the church and faith as it has transformed and evolved throughout history. This meaning also considers how it should be transformed moving forward.
- At the heart of an incarnational theology is the idea that the most fundamental move God makes in Jesus Christ is crossing over to the Other, bridging the immense chasm between the finite and infinite, the Creator and creature. A lot of work on racism, LGBTQ, and sexism talks about bodies and the way they are perceived by the dominant perspective. For my transgender brothers and sisters this can quite literally involve the transformation of their body and appearance in any number of ways. In this meaning of the phrase I see the possibilities of transformation of our perception of and relationship to bodies; black and brown bodies, queer bodies, and female bodies.
- Finally, we cannot leave out our relationship with our own bodies and what it means to be creatures that inhabit flesh. Many different industries worth billions are dedicated to getting us to believe that something is wrong with our bodies and appearance. In this sense I take transforming the body to mean both transforming our perceptions as well as becoming healthier in our relationship to our physical selves.
I hope to unpack further some of these thoughts and meanings of this phrase, how it relates to my new tagline, “Imagining a post-Christian, post-industrial, sustainable faith community,” and my work in cross-cultural contexts bearing witness to God’s presence and work in the world. One final thought as I wrap up this first attempt…
My mentor and seminary professor Dr. Michael Stroope often cited his definition of missions during my time at Truett and it has stuck with me over the years, “People being transformed by people who are being transformed.” We read and dissected David Bosch’s seminal work Transforming Mission (which I highly recommend). Transforming in this title is both adjective and verb. Bosch describes a kind of Christian mission that is transformative for all that participate, but also indicates that this kind of Christian mission will require transforming our understanding of what Christian mission is and does. Dr. Stroope plays off of Bosch’s work and takes it a step further in his recently published book Transcending Mission in which he unpacks the history of the term mission and argues that it is time to let go of that term to describe Christian witness and activity in the world. Indeed, transformation includes encountering the transcendent.