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All the Saints

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I went to church this morning in Peachtree City, Georgia. The pastor spoke from Ephesians 6 where Paul writes about engaging in a battle against spiritual forces and encourages his readers to stand firm. The sermon contained nothing new. But I noticed something I hadn’t before that got me thinking. Paul concludes his description of the “full armor of God” with an injunction:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

While it’s true that the huge fault lines created by the Great Schism and the Reformation had not yet appeared in the church, still there were divisions. Even from the very beginning there were Grecian Jews who complained that their own widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6). Culture divided the church between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women. Yet Paul’s vision was of a church somehow still united, a church so devoted to following Jesus that it would pray for all the saints.

In our own day the church looks more divided than ever. Not only are there various denominations (and groups refusing to become denominations), the church is also divided between Democrats and Republicans, black and white, those who favor gun control and those who oppose it, pro-gay and pro-marriage, pro-abortion and anti-abortion. All the diversity found in our nation appears also in the church.

Some want to exclude those who differ in matters of politics or social policy by refusing to acknowledge that they are really brothers or sisters. Some want to deny that God’s grace might save a man without making him pro-gay or might deliver a woman without making her anti-abortion. But Paul makes it clear that all the divisions that separate us are nothing compared to the faith that unites us, faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

I certainly don’t want to pretend that the issues that divide the church are unimportant. They are not. However, we don’t have to let those divisions keep us from enjoying our unity in Christ. That enjoyment will present a powerful testimony to the world and open our own eyes to the possibility that each of us might be in some measure wrong. We can disagree. We can urge one another to see different points of view. But in all our interactions we must treat each other with love and respect. There should not be any name-calling or sarcastic put-downs. We ought not to mock or deride one another. We gain nothing by regarding one another as wicked or insane.

I confess, I have been guilty. I have joined with those who vilify fellow Christians for religious or political differences. Forgive me. With God’s help I will do so no longer. Instead, I will pray for all the saints.

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Retouched Bodies

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Read and comment on my blog.

Two stories in the New York Times this morning caught my eye, or rather, their juxtaposition did. The first concerns efforts of a French lawmaker to have retouched photographs used in advertising labeled as retouched. The second reports that the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has revised its policy about a technique for breast augmentation that uses fat suctioned from the hips or thighs.

The French lawmaker, Valérie Boyer, has two teenage daughters. Reflecting on the way they respond to images of idealized beauty has made her want to show them just how fake the ideal is. As the article notes, almost all advertising photos are digitally altered. Her proposal, if it becomes law, would require advertising photographs displayed or published in France to carry a label saying that they are retouched. The debate has expanded to include what constitutes beauty and whether advertising photos should be considered art.

Retouched photos falsify something, but what? And let’s face it: we are talking mostly about photos that make women look thinner, younger, and more sexually appealing. In fact, why stop at altering photos? Why not alter women’s bodies to make them more attractive?

That’s where the second article comes in. Some plastic surgeons have been doing it for years, but the procedure was frowned upon by their professional society. Now the society has revised its policy. The procedure involves liposuctioning fat cells from the hips or thighs and injecting them into the breasts to make them larger. It’s easy to see the benefits. No artificial implants; the injected material comes from your own body. You can make your breasts bigger and your thighs smaller just by shifting some of your own fat.

We not only retouch photos of women to make them more attractive, now we can retouch the women themselves, and in a way that merely involves redistributing their fat. Aren’t both processes driven by the same discontents? Which should I prefer—and which do I prefer—the artificial beauty of airbrushed perfection and impossible proportions? Or the natural beauty of an open countenance and a sincere heart?

Judging only by bumper stickers, more tourists travel to South Dakota to see Wall Drug than go to see the Badlands or the Black Hills. I’m not sure what this says about people, but it doesn’t feel right. It feels like the same sort of thing that drives some of us to prize artificial beauty.

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Body Talk

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My last post before I started this new blog was about the Christian view of the body, particularly that pernicious bent given to the body’s natural desires by the flesh. My purpose was to lay the foundation for a discussion of the way we now tend to separate the mind from the body. We have come to think of ourselves in mechanistic terms. Our brains are hardware; our minds are software. In principle, at least, if not in fact, our minds could run on different hardware, perhaps even on better, faster hardware. We could achieve a kind of psychic immortality by porting our minds to machines we would be better able to upgrade and maintain.

This kind of thinking now permeates our culture and causes us to regard our bodies as houses or shells in which the real person for a time resides. When the body dies, the person dies as well because there is no longer hardware available to support the software. And there is no backup tucked away in a closet somewhere to be taken out and loaded on new hardware. Dead persons are like lost software and go into the bit-bucket of time. There’s no getting them back, so let’s move on.

Some no doubt think that this mindbody split was inherent in Christianity. To a certain extent they are right. No less authority than Jesus himself told the dying thief he would see him in paradise, and Paul told the Corinthians that to be away from the body was to be with the Lord. But Paul makes it clear that while we may long to be with the Lord, it is not as bodiless spirits but as people having a heavenly body, not subject to the laws of sin and death as are our present bodies. So while Christians see the mind (or spirit or soulI intend the intangible part of a person without worrying at this point about subtleties) as distinct from the body, they also see mind and body inseparably joined as the design of God. If we succeed in porting the mind to a man-made contraption, the result will no longer be a human being and may be an abomination to God.

Christians also believe that the mind lives on after death apart from the body. Exactly what kind of life it is we do not know. Nor do we know much about the experiences or capabilities of disembodied souls. Scripture is nearly silent on the subject. We can infer that they experience pleasure and pain, are able to communicate (at least with God), and still have desires. But it is not clear that they are able to have any impact on the physical world. They also do not appear to have the power to communicate with the living, despite claims to the contrary made by spiritualists.

Many scriptures condemn the flesh, and some have therefore concluded that the body (or the material world) is evil. Christian orthodoxy, however, maintains that the body is good. Otherwise, there would be no point to the resurrection.

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