KOH2RVA: Day 257

feral-cat-1Someone was asking me about First Baptist’s year-long, every-member mission trip recently, and wondering how we organized it. “How did you find something for everybody to do?” she asked.

The answer: we didn’t.

I told her what I’ve said again and again since coming to First Baptist, that there must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth and that our responsibility is to look around for anything that doesn’t look like heaven and then roll up our sleeves and get to work. I’m convinced that if we look at the world through our own eyes, we will see the things that break our own hearts and call us to action.

That’s so much easier than trying to come up with one, big mission project that everyone can embrace, and so much better than giving someone an assignment and saying, “Here, go do this.”

It also leads to some interesting results.

For example: I heard from one of our members recently who said she was bringing heaven to earth by feeding the feral cats in her neighborhood. And she said she’s using the premium cat food, not the cheap stuff.

That’s pretty much all she said, but I can fill in the blanks. She’s telling me that when she sees those skinny, half-starved cats it breaks her heart, she feels moved to do something about it. And she is moved because she believes those cats are part of God’s creation, and that God has it in his heart to redeem not only his human creatures, but everything he has made and called good, including cats (Rom. 8:18-21). And so she has taken on this ministry to the homeless, and she dishes out the premium cat food because she thinks of cats as something God made and loves, and not as a nuisance.

Chances are good that if she had submitted this idea to the church it would have never been approved. Someone would have said, “We don’t want to encourage this kind of thing,” and someone else would have said, “Are we supposed to pay for the cat food?” But she heard me say, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth,” and she looked around for anything that didn’t look like heaven and saw this—skinny, half-starved cats—and it broke her heart, and she rolled up her sleeves and went to work.

That sounds like a parable to me. I can almost hear Jesus say, “What is the Kingdom of Heaven like, and to what shall I compare it? The Kingdom is like a woman whose heart was broken by what she saw in her own neighborhood, and who had the gumption to get up off the couch and do something about it.”

“I Hate My Body!”

You never know what you might find in a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves, or in a chapter called “Joyous Body: the Wild Flesh,” but I was delighted to find this important corrective to much of what our culture has taught us about our bodies.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes:  “My friend Opalanga, an African-American storyteller, is very tall, like a yew tree, and as slender.  I am built close to the ground and of extravagant body.  In addition to being mocked for being tall, as a child Opalanga was told that the split between her front teeth was the sign of being a liar.  I was told that my body shape were signs of being inferior and of having no self-control.

“How amazed I was to hear Opalanga say that as an adult she had journeyed to the Gambia in West Africa and found some of her ancestral people, who lo! had among their tribe, many people who were very tall like the yew trees and as slender, and who had splits between their front teeth.  This split, they explained to her, was called the Sakaya Yallah, meaning ‘opening of God,’ and it was understood as a sign of wisdom.

“How surprised she was when I told her I had also as an adult journeyed to the isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico and found fome of my ancestral people, who lo! were a tribe with giant women who were strong, flirtatious, and commanding in their size.  They had patted me and plucked at me, boldly remarking that I was not quite fat enough.  Did I eat enough?  Had I been ill?  I must try harder, they explained, for women are La Tierra, made round like the earth herself, for the earth holds so much” (pp. 201-202).

What wonderful pictures of womanhood!  And how wonderfully different from that bosomy, airbrushed and unattainable image on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine month after month, that image so many women keep trying to force their perfectly tall, gap-toothed, or beautifully short, earth-shaped, bodies into.

I wonder…was Adam a balding, bow-legged Semite, with crooked teeth and twinkling eyes?  Was Eve a squat, heavy-thighed helpmate, with lovely gray locks and a voice like running water?  Did God look on his creation in that moment, made in his own image, and say with a smile, “Behold!  It is very good!”?

I don’t know.  I may never know.  And I wouldn’t want to suggest that whatever shape we’re in is the shape we’re supposed to be in.  There is still much to be said for a reasonable diet and regular exercise.  But let me say this: there is a difference, a theological difference, between getting yourself into shape and getting yourself into someone else’s shape.  To do the latter is to deny the goodness of God’s creation.  It is to say that somehow, when God made you, he made a mistake.

That is a lie.

As the psalmist says, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes might say, as you yourself can say without fear of divine contradiction:

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” (Psalm 139:14).