As I Lay Maturing

The seasons turn and I take stock.

Timeless by t1na

Timeless by t1na

22 means very little. In seven weeks I’ll be 23, and that won’t change anything. Age is just a number, but it’s equally true that age is anything but a number. What does 22 actually tell you about me?

My age is really more accurately described this way: I’m old enough to know how young I am. My maturity has grown enough to support an introspective vision of my immaturity. Before I was blinded by the bliss of youth, and someday I’ll be old enough to know I’m old enough.

My first year in college, when I thought I knew more than I know now, I read a little book about young love called Green Wheat, by Collette. Class discussion presented me with the idea that perhaps young people are actually tuned into the truth of some things, and that maybe maturity shrouds that understanding. I had believed that adults knew everything and that young people lacked the experience to have true understanding, but maybe it wasn’t always true that youth was wasted on the young.

As much as Green Wheat made me think, it didn’t eradicate my idea of adulthood being something I would gradually work towards and eventually arrive at when I reached a certain age. I had (and have) this image of what I’ll look like when I’m 28 or so, when I’m an adult and I know it. But once I asked my brother-in-law when it was that he realized that he was an adult and how I might know it, and he told me that, not only was he still becoming more adult all the time, but I was too. “You’re already an adult,” he said. He wasn’t just referring to my increasing responsibilities and privileges – he also meant that I was growing as a person into someone who could handle these responsibilities and privileges.

So on the one hand I am, most certainly, in possession of adult responsibilities and privileges, and, as I think my oeuvre indicates, adult thought-processes. I could convince you that I’m a grown man.

But, on the other hand, I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities and constantly call for help, I neglect or abuse my privileges, and I’m painfully aware of naivete in my thinking.

This all comes to a head now as I enter a new phase in life as a graduate student as well as a graduate instructor. I’ll be engaging with complex ideas and making complex arguments as well as taking responsibility for some of the education of undergraduates. These changes in education and employment come just after moving out on my own.

This is the peculiar burden for this time of life. It’s the great haunting thing which confronts and confounds me every day – this ambiguous adulthood. I don’t know how to measure it or control it, and certainly not how to conjure it. Sometimes I don’t even know where to find it. Appearing and disappearing, sometimes it emerges from within my spirit and other times it foists itself upon me.

I’m an adult, but it feels like I’m in single-A ball, not the Majors.

And this brings me back to this limbo, in which I know I’m not a child even as I don’t feel like an adult, and this struggle, this trapped feeling, presents me with a question, a question that would be tough for anyone, but especially for a writer.

Does what I say matter?

I have ideas on myriad different things. About 90% of my life involves observing things, thinking about them, and then, hopefully, sharing those thoughts. I’m being asked to do that for a job now, as well as a part of my studies. And, in my best moments, when I’m feeling the message of Green Wheat and I remember my brother-in-law’s words, I think that maybe what I say does matter, and matters quite a lot, because I’m pretty good at saying things. And I have a lot of people, some of them very close to me, that positively build me up in this regard.

But then that number floats past me. 22; or, everything I haven’t done. 22 means I’m too young to have seen so much from the past, and it means I’m too young to have experienced so much of the future. And I’m a young 22 – when it comes to worldly experience, trust me, my students will be more cosmopolitan than I am in a number of ways.  They’re kids, but I’m just a kid with bills who can legally buy and smoke weed. What do I know?

When I get to thinking like this, I fall back into looking forward to the 28-year-old version of me. Then, and only then, will I really know what I’m talking about. Then my opinion will matter. Then I can change the world, at least in a few small ways. And there are plenty of older folks who would rather I wait until I’m older before I pretend to know something.

Maybe, then, I should just keep quiet.

Or maybe not? By now you see the quandary of my age.

My middle school English teacher had a quote on the wall of her classroom, something that her husband, my middle school social studies teacher, had said years before: “They say that we are young and the world has much to show us. We say that we are young and have much to show the world.”

That quote barely registered in my pubescent brain. It came from a world that was foreign to me. I was young, but the kind of young that lacks self-awareness. But I’m there now.

And maybe I have something to show the world.

Just because I vacillate between feeling like a hopelessly immature adult and a decidedly mature child doesn’t mean I have to revert to childish ways or work my way towards the adult arena in order to have a relevant voice. So I will speak in a way befitting a man of my station, and what I say will be a reflection of this season, for better or for worse.

As I go through the daily exercise of responsibility and discovery, millions of other twenty-somethings face the same gauntlet of aging expectations. Which is comforting. But also not – because the experience of people my age has been distilled to cranky hit-pieces on why millennials are the worst and recycled Buzzfeed lists about things we all have in common. So in the end I guess I’m just reminded that 75% of adulting involves not being an adult.

But this distracts, if not outright denies, young people from their proper place. A fear and uncertainty about this middle ground between adolescence and adulthood shrouds this age bracket from within and without. This time in life becomes caricatured by its awkwardness, its naivete, and its precarious position that resembles a lifter just strong enough to carry something just heavy enough to hurt someone. And so we are asked to put on this fear and doubt and do a delicate dance in a maturity masquerade.

Nonsense, I say. If we wait until then to be real people, we’ll be waiting all our lives. Yes – we are the future, but we exist now, and we have been given just enough powder to go boom. So make noise, whatever noise that is well and good for a young adult to make.

I imagine it sounds like whatever noise a platypus makes.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

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David, Rizpah, and the Sons of Saul

2 Samuel 21 is an example of the beauty and complexity of the Old Testament – and a reminder of why Christians should still read it.

Rizpah keeps watch in the tranquil night over the decaying bodies of her sons - painting by Joseph Turner

Rizpah keeps watch in the tranquil night over the decaying bodies of her sons – painting by Joseph Turner

I’ve been simultaneously reading the Psalms, Luke, and 2 Samuel. And, recently, I found myself flipping back to 2 Samuel feeling a little defeated. I was unsure of what I was really getting from reading through Old Testament histories, other than just knowing what’s in the book that I claim to follow.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy 2 Samuel – on the contrary, the book is lit. 1 Samuel is probably more well-known, what with David vs Goliath, David vs Saul, and David’s ascension to the throne of Israel, but 2 Samuel goes full of Game of Thrones as we follow more of David’s military exploits, his destructive affair with Bathsheba, his son Absalom’s rebellion, and more. General Joab’s repeated appearances in the book are enough on their own to make it compelling, and he’s far from being the only memorable character.[1]

So it’s not that I don’t find the accounts interesting or affecting, because things like the loyalty of David’s men, Hushai’s subterfuge, and David mourning over the death of Absalom are all moving or memorable for one reason or another.

But, to get back to what I was saying – just recently, as I was flipping back to 2 Samuel with the feeling that I was doing little more than reading stories, I came to 2 Samuel 21, which has given me more pause than any other scripture recently, and reminded me of why I should read the Old Testament. You may want to read the first 14 verses.

Basically, there’s a famine in Israel and David asks God what’s wrong. God answers that the famine is happening because of the way Saul, years before, wrongly attacked the Gibeonites. So David goes to the Gibeonites and asks what they want to settle the old score, and they make the bold demand of executing seven descendants of Saul. David complies, and the seven are hanged (which could mean by a rope, or it could mean impaling or crucifixion (yuck)). The bodies are not buried immediately, as would normally be custom, and are left to rot (perhaps until the rains came and the famine ended). Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines and mother of two of the executed men, sits in sackcloth by the bodies of the seven and day and night fends off birds and beasts who would come seeking carrion. David is moved by this action, and he goes and gets the bones of Saul and Jonathan, and, together with the bodies of the seven, he has them all buried properly, together.

Then, and only then, does the author tell us that “God responded to the plea for the land.”

There’s any number of ways you can focus in on this text, and what I assume many readers will do first is consider the vengeance and punishment. This seems like a harsh decision from David, who turns over seven (probably) innocent men to atone for the sins of their father, something that seems in conflict with the book of Deuteronomy as well as some of David’s past actions. Taking this a step further, we might attribute this blood-debt-human-sacrifice thing to God, which seems to be another example of the OT God being kinda vengeful and terrifying. However you focus this particular lens, this aspect of the text becomes a commentary on sin, atonement, and God’s righteous wrath, which is pretty run-of-the-mill when it comes to the violent passages of the OT.

But then why all the fuss about Rizpah and the proper burial? And why does the author wait until after the burial to say that God ended the famine?

There’s a tendency among readers, Christians and non-Christians alike, to either over-simplify or over-complicate the Old Testament. Given the situation, it can help us come to grips with the mass amounts of violence, the sins of our heroes, and all of the WTF stories. You might have to breeze past or carefully maneuver through things like Elisha’s she-bears and the medium at Endor in order to avoid coming away from the OT discouraged and confused. But simplifying or complicating our readings can distort or displace the messages that might be found in a more…oh, we’ll say, “theatrical” approach.

So, in this story, when does God appear?

  1. At the beginning, when God tells David why the famine is happening, but doesn’t tell him what exactly he needs to do.
  2. Throughout the story, as David and the Gibeonites mention carrying this atonement out “before the LORD.”
  3. At the end, when God ends the famine after David has properly buried the seven, Saul, and Jonathan.

The author makes the two explicit references to God saying or doing something at the beginning and the end, which makes me think that, after defining the problem Israel has in the beginning of the story, God does not see the problem as solved until the very end. This could mean that God didn’t need an execution to satisfy his wrath in the first place. Maybe there was something else that happened that really led to God ending the famine.

So let’s, in a sense, take God out of the middle part of this story and replay with what we have to work with, as well as free of complicated symbolism and allusions:

David goes to the Gibeonites and asks them what they want. We know from the famous Gibeonite Deception that the Gibeonites were not your average -ites, and here they have a not-so-average demand. They demand a steep price – that sons should die for their father’s crime. David, apparently without directly consulting God, agrees.

Imagine now what this looks like for David, the Gibeonites, and the seven. David loved Saul and Jonathan, and has made certain to show mercy to Saul’s grandson Mephiboseth. Now, in order to end a famine, he feels he must hand over seven innocent sons of Saul. The Gibeonites aren’t seeing this as God’s prescription – they’re sensing an opportunity to satisfy a desire for overdue vengeance. And the seven? They are, quite unexpectedly, informed that they are to be executed for something they didn’t do. And so the three parties meet up at a mountain, and the seven relatives die next to each other.

That’s a pretty gut-wrenching scene, yes? You can almost see David and some of the Gibeonites turning away as brothers and half-brothers die a gruesome death together.

God isn’t so squeamish as we are, but still God does not appear – the famine has, apparently, not ended.

The Gibeonites don’t give the seven a proper burial. Perhaps they are waiting for the famine to subside before they do so, or maybe they’re just adding an insult to the house of Saul on top of their vengeance. As David and the Gibeonites go home, probably satisfied that their business has concluded and the famine will end, the stage is cleared for Rizpah, whose actions led me to think so much about this story.

Rizpah bore two sons to Saul as his concubine, and they have just been executed. It’s possible she was there when it happened. When everyone else leaves and the bodies of her sons and five others lay rotting, she stays. She stays and mourns, fending off not only the birds that come by during the day, but the “beasts of the field” at night. Beasts of the field? This woman is not only mourning the loss of her two sons, but she’s fending off beasts of the field? At night?

This doesn’t have to be in the Bible to be moving. That’s a beautiful expression of a mother’s devotion and a horrific consequence of humanity’s violence, with or without fitting into the framework of scripture. And this is what you might miss in the Old Testament if you breeze through it or pedal too hard – the pain and beauty that resonates with readers as humans. The Bible is, at its most basic, a story, and stories should be felt in the same way that we might feel a novel or a poem or a film. Don’t miss this.

I’m not the only one who was affected by Rizpah’s devotion – it moved King David to action as well. David went home after making his deal with the Gibeonites, but he heard about what Rizpah was doing. His response was to go get the bones of Saul and Jonathan, which had been buried in haste to stop the Philistines from desecrating them. Once he has these, he has the remains of Saul, Jonathan, and the seven sons of Saul taken to a proper burial ground and put to rest. It’s an act of kindness to Rizpah, a posthumous nod to his dear friend Jonathan and his master Saul, and probably a weight off of his mind.

And then God ends the famine.

Maybe God did require that Israelites die to atone for Saul’s sin and bring about the end of the famine. And maybe this story, like many others, calls us to account for this in our view of God and corresponding doctrines of sin and atonement. But, in this case, that would actually be imputing our narrative onto the scripture, because this passage doesn’t say that God called for this action. What it does say is that God acted (implying that Saul’s debt was paid) after David buried the bones.

So what does this tell us about God? It could suggest any number of things – God holds life sacred, God is more concerned with loving hearts than with robotic obedience, God is merciful even in vengeance.

But I think looking at the story this way tell us much more about us – and isn’t understanding God, the Bible, and theology fundamentally connected to understanding ourselves and how we fit into these beliefs? We can gain these insights by examining what humans do between God’s actions in the story.

Doesn’t this story teach us that we can be cruel, vindictive, and unjust? Doesn’t it show how savage our own ideas of vengeance can be? Isn’t there something here about the sacredness of motherhood? Shouldn’t it teach us about the beauty of human life and the evil of desecration? Can’t it move us to reflect on loyalty, family, brotherhood, and honor?

Perhaps, above all, this is a reminder to heed Micah’s words to “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” God doesn’t appear pleased when the vengeance has been satiated – rather, in this story, God appears pleased when Rizpah and David are just, merciful, and humble.

By taking a step back and taking this story as a story, by actively watching it rather than passively reading it, we can avoid the usual pitfalls of OT reading. And you won’t always find that approach in commentaries.

Reading the Old Testament is hard work. Thankfully, the meticulous study of theologians and scholars is good and helpful while illuminating many mysteries and raising further important questions. But sometimes, when we read, we make the difficulty of the OT into a burden that we’d rather avoid, either because it is challenging reading, boring, or disturbing. Sometimes it messes with our idea of God, and other times it is unclear how it should teach us anything about God or being a Christian.

The solution to these common problems might not necessarily be as complicated as you think.

Read it. Wrestle with it. Let it play out in front of you and move you.

Its complexities will unfold into great and terrible beauties and truths – sometimes in the most unexpected places.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

Notes

1 Seriously, Joab is a colorful, crazy, brutal, bad-ass general. My favorite Joab scene is when David is mourning the loss of his son Absalom (whom Joab killed, btw), and Joab gives him a good-ol-fashioned “What’s the matter with you?” (like Robert De Niro in Goodfellasbecause David’s mourning makes it look like he doesn’t care about his soldiers who were killed in the war with Absalom.

Wayne Grudem, Thomas Aquinas, and Cultural Blindness

St-Thomas-Banner-640x256

The evangelical world was caught off balance yesterday by a Wayne Grudem’s endorsement of Donald Trump. Actually, what the theologian posted on Townhall  goes beyond a simple endorsement, as he makes the argument that, not only is it morally correct to vote for Trump, but that it would be sinful for a Christian to vote for anyone other than Trump (even a conservative third-party candidate).

Wayne Grudem is a giant of theological intellect, and a much-respected and much-beloved member of the evangelical community. His magnum opus, Systematic Theology, is one of the definitive works of Western Christianity in the 20th Century. He has been name-dropped in lyrics by Christian rappers like Braille and Lecrae. I, like many Christians, am grateful to Dr. Grudem for his work.

But this article is really, really, dumb. A brilliant man used go-go-gadget arms to reach for Biblical interpretations and applications while making breathtaking leaps of ignorance and inconsistency. While some Christians have accepted his words as the sound work of a solid logician, many in the evangelical community are shocked and disappointed. I won’t bother to walk through everything that is wrong with what he writes – if you can’t recognize it on your own then I don’t think I’ll be able to help you see it, at least not in one go.

However, Grudem is not the first brilliant theologian with an authoritative tome to his name to have written something really, really dumb.

Just yesterday I was reading Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is, and she refers to a quote from the 13th Century theologian Thomas Aquinas, in which he claims that it is a failure of man when his seed leads to the creation of a female:

“Only as regards nature in the individual is the female something defective and misbegotten. For the active power in the seed of the male tends to produce something like itself, perfect in masculinity; but the procreation of a female is the result either of the debility of the active power, of some unsuitability of the material, or some change effected by external influences, like the south wind, for example, which is damp, as we are told by Aristotle.”

Another genius, with the epic albeit incomplete Summa Theologica to his name, basically said that a man’s sexual performance determines whether or not he creates another man or disappoints nature with another female.

Clearly, that is really, really dumb.

But Thomas Aquinas, despite being nicknamed the “Dumb Ox” by his classmates, was not dumb at all. And Wayne Grudem, as he has time and again demonstrated, is not a dumb man either. It would also be irresponsible to claim that either of them are bad men – indeed, those who know Dr. Grudem would say that he has only the best intentions.

And therein lies the danger of making this about Dr. Grudem. This is the urgent matter at hand: while not excusing his ignorance, Dr. Grudem is a product of the Christian culture from which he comes, one that has chased after the wind and missed the billionaire Leviathan coming straight for them.

We do not throw out Thomas Aquinas because of this one quote largely because this sort of view is not particularly unique among thinkers of the 13th Century. Rather than indicate something about Aquinas, what this really reveals is something about that culture. Sexism was so bad at that time that a genius could think dumb things like the above quote – and it is for this reason that Johnson uses this quote to highlight the need for feminist theology. Again, it doesn’t excuse Aquinas for his view, but it is much more a condemnation of the culture than it is of that one man. Christianity and slavery have a similar relationship. For example, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. That’s not about Edwards as much as it is about the evil slave-owning culture he lived in (and again, it doesn’t excuse Edwards).

Wayne Grudem’s argument reveals a strain of Christianity that is saturated with conservative principles, not the Gospel. Grudem dismisses all facets of liberalism, and asserts a desire for Christian cultural dominance and comfort. This is not written like a theologian who has decided it is time to get involved in politics – it sounds more like something Sean Hannity would write after Googling a few passages of scripture.

Now, if someone believes that Hillary Clinton must be defeated at all costs solely on the grounds of overturning Roe v. Wade, and if they think that overturning that decision will somehow end all abortions, and if the thought of the unborn being killed far outweighs any other moral issue, then I can’t really tell that person that they are wrong to feel that way. It’s an issue I wrestle with, as it is of great importance to me, too. So I get it – abortion is, for some people, the only issue that matters at all, and if that’s the case, I guess I understand why that person would vote for Trump.

But that isn’t what Dr. Grudem does. Rather, he writes a comprehensive list of reasons that make Trump a good candidate and Hillary a bad one, and each and every time it is on the basis of conservative far-right politics. Dr. Grudem is so committed to his ideology that he misses, ignores, or excuses all of Trump’s faults, editorializing a demagogue into a “good candidate with flaws.”

It’s not just that he’s saying that a vote for Hillary is a sinful choice – it’s that he saying that to vote for anyone besides Trump, to conscientiously object, and vote for, say, Gary Johnson or Ben Sasse or anyone else would be sinful.

The temptation is to make this about Grudem, and while it affects the way I see him, it should reveal much more to us about Christianity in America. What does it say about what American Christianity teaches and what it practices when one of the most influential minds since the Puritans can write something like this?

I believe it indicates that large portions of white evangelicalism in America are still plagued by racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism. They are still led astray by nationalism, militarism, and a need to be culturally dominant and secure. There is cowardice. There is ignorance. And there is an overwhelming anti-liberal sentiment. I’m sure many of you have felt that last one personally.

The Democratic National Convention made a tour-de-force case for their party and their candidate as the option for love, patriotism, and democracy, following up the bumbling and flailing efforts of the circus in Cleveland. I’m not saying that Hillary and the Democrats are really all about the things that were promoted at that convention, and it’s not like every Republican loves the idea of the authoritarian state which Trump envisions. But it’s remarkably tone deaf to denounce the comprehensive evils of liberalism after those two conventions.

But tone deaf is what much of American Christianity is, and we need to be aware of this and the way it affects our religion and our politics. This tone-deafness leads Eric Metaxas, the man who wrote a big book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to say that Hillary, not Trump, is like Hitler. C’mon man – you wrote the book!

It is important to be aware of our religious blindspots. Rather than trying to isolate particular cases as problematic, it’s important to see failures as the norm.

All this is to say, it’s not Dr. Grudem’s opinion that alarms me, so much as it is the culture that has shaped his brilliant mind.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

ESPN Does Nudity the Right Way

The Body Issue is art. Why aren’t we treating it that way?

Odell Beckham Jr CREDIT: Carlos Serrao

Odell Beckham Jr CREDIT: Carlos Serrao

Tomorrow, ESPN the Magazine will release its annual “Body Issue.” If you’re not familiar, the issue features photos of elite level athletes in the nude. At first look, it might appear to just be an answer to the swimsuit issue released every year by Sports Illustrated. It’s a natural comparison to make, but the Body Issue is only like the swimsuit issue in the most superficial ways. Yes – they are both exhibitions of the human body found in sports magazines. But while one uses sexy decadence to create attention and sell issues, the other is a true meditation on the nature of the body. Let’s put it this way – if the two annual issues were made into science fiction movies, one would be directed by Michael Bay and the other by Ridley Scott.

Perhaps the first edition of the Body Issue in 2009 was a response to SI‘s iconic swimwear showcase, but its true inspiration is rooted in some of the great works of art ever produced. While bodies have been the subject of many mediums, in no other form does it quite come to life as in sculpture, and most of the great sculptures are studies of the idealized human body.[1] For thousands of years we have been fascinated by presentations of human physicality.

And while the Body Issue springs from this ancient facet of our consciousness, it also exists at a time in which reevaluating physical ideals is a constantly trending topic. Discussions of body shaming, standards of beauty, health, and objectification are consistently lighting up social media and appearing *ahem* on blogs. At times it seems like no one really knows what to make of everything – it’s a complex conversation with its own lexicon.

So, knowing that humans have a history of considering physical excellence and considering the fluid and nuanced modern perceptions of the body, it might seem safe to assume that the contributions of SI and ESPN are just two more planes in Dechamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. But I do not believe this is the case. Rather, the Body Issue makes a definitive statement on the matter through a beautiful expression that is both a work of art and a triumph of human physicality.

This year’s edition will, like past issues, feature an eclectic group of elite athletes, including behemoth Vince Wilfork, tall and graceful Elena Delle Donne, petite and powerful Christen Press, and transgender athlete Chris Mosier, all of whom will be featured alongside more conventional Greek Gods like Greg Louganis and Nzingha Prescod. And they are all beautiful. They are all ideal. They were given different body types, but through their natural talents and hard work they perfected their bodies into their version of the ideal athlete. Color, shape, and size doesn’t matter in the Body Issue.[2]

By featuring the bodies of elite level athletes, ESPN promotes goals but denies standards. It displays the ideal, but subverts understanding of what is better or more beautiful. Just because there is something else we should strive for does not mean we need be ashamed of what we have. If the photos were just of attractive people with impressive physiques, it would lose some of its potency, because these bodies are shaped into serving a specific purpose. These impressive figures are used to compete in the great arena of sports, and knowing that there is a specific intent that goes into making these bodies makes them that much more inspiring and beautiful.

So our culture asks: What is the ideal body type? What is our standard of beauty? ESPN can answer by holding up any photo from their Body Issue archives.

Again, this does not mean that we are not beautiful just because we don’t look like Greek and Roman sculptures. What it means is that our beauty and our physical excellence is not defined by our skin tone, height, facial features, bra size, jock size, or bone size. It’s based in being our best self. Is that cliche? Maybe, but it’s the message of the Body Issue. It’s the message of I don’t know how many pop songs[3] and that remarkable AXE commercial from earlier this year.[4]

Sure, athletes are endowed with some things the rest of us don’t have, but they are not all equally endowed, and 99% of them only made it to the big time by improving on their natural gifts. They are the most excellent version of themselves – and that is a goal for any of us.

It’s the missing component of sport that makes me say that Sputting plus-size model Ashley Graham on the cover of their most recent swimsuit issue is a minimal effort at changing the body image discussion. They are still saying that beauty is based in a lascivious presentation of breasts and hips and a pretty face. And they are still making sex the purpose of her figure. They are not presenting her, or any of their models, as figures of speed, strength, and agility – just figures of sex.

But some might say the Body Issue is no better. They may claim that it is really just lewd objectification. What? Nude photos? What could be redeeming about that? My guess is that people who say this have not actually looked through the Body Issue galleries. Yes – some photos are a little more risque than others, but the vast majority have a clear artistic intent, and that is to demonstrate the excellence of thw athlete’s body. Something that makes these photos remarkable is that so many of them are of the athlete in a natural athletic position. In the photos, they are doing something that we would see them do in competition, and now, with clothes removed, we see their body in all its glory doing that athletic thing. Might that thing draw attention to their legs and buttocks? Yes – because the athlete needs their legs and buttocks to looks fabulous in order to do the things that they are doing. Christen Press, who will appear in this year’s issue, talked about how her body looks like soccer. The Body Issue captures the specific beauty of each sport as represented in the physiques of its athletes. It’s possible to see physical beauty without sexual edification, and that is what the Body Issue does. It’s beautifully designed, directed, photographed, and presented.

And maybe some will avoid the Body Issue on the simple basis of nudity. And maybe that’s best for some people, but, as a culture, this is the kind of nudity that we should embrace (uh, phrasing?) in the same way that we embrace the great works of nude sculpture. If nudity is a problem, it’s because we’ve made it a problem. We’ve lost the gift of admiring the strength, grace, and beauty of magnificent bodies because of our collective lechery. I hope that, through proper understanding of things like The Body Issue, we can recover a useful appreciation of the human body. And, to do that, we kinda have to look at the body when it’s naked.

The body and how it is valued and presented will continue to be a contentious subject. And, as confusing as some of it may be, these are good discussions to have. Meanwhile, the great sculptures will remain in museums to be admired by millions of visitors every year.

And, tomorrow, ESPN will once again step into these two facets of culture and expose us to the best kind of art – the kind that is beautiful and creative, and the kind that teaches us something about each other and about ourselves.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

10 of the Best from the Body Issue

  1. Indianpolis Colts offensive line
  2. Aly Raisman
  3. Nigel Sylvester
  4. Angel McCoughtry
  5. Kenneth Faried
  6. Sydney Leroux
  7. Danell Leyva
  8. Ashton Eaton
  9. Destinee Hooker
  10. Jon “Bones” Jones

Notes

1 But not just in the splendor of David or Venus – in the pain of Laocoon, the sleeping faun, the weary boxer, the winged woman, the defeated warrior. There wasn’t just one way to portray an ideal body in sculpture.
2 There have also been physically “disabled” athletes. I will add that there has been a dearth of Asian athletes. It’s possible that’s a cultural thing about modesty and Asian athletes turn down the offer…because obviously there are Asian athletes with impressive bodies. Then again, it could be a sorta racist thing (white imagination has a way of distorting views of non-white bodies).
3 Isn’t Mary J. Blige great?
4 I’m serious when I say this commercial is a work of genius.