Let the Bones Dance
Embodiment and the Body of Christ
What does it mean to have a body? And how do our bodies and their created nature connect to what it means to be a Christian? These questions require a new attentiveness to the language of the body for us to truly engage the answers. Even though Christianity is, at its core, an incarnational faith, bodies have been neglected and even rejected as a life-giving part of the human spiritual journey in much of the Christian tradition. Sin has been the central theological category used to describe and understand embodied existence. Let the Bones Dance explores the spiritual and theological promise of bodies by listening to the stories, poetics, and metaphors of embodied experience. Making space for body language to be honored invites the church as the Body of Christ to breathe in new vitality. Let the Bones Dance is an incarnational theology with healing at its heart.
“Mount Shoop thinks in new ways about central theological concepts and dares to imagine a new church emerging out of them. She combines the theological vigor of an academic with the heart and soul of a pastor who understands what it means to lead a congregation. Happily, she writes like a poet. Let the Bones Dance is provocative, stimulating, and readable.”
– John M. Buchanan, Pastor Emeritus of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, and the Editor/Publisher of The Christian Century magazine
“An incredibly compelling theological work. Bringing together a host of cutting edge concerns that matter not simply to academic theologians, but to the lived life of faith, this project invokes the importance of bodies and their marking by gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Mount Shoop uses these now-familiar themes to break new ground by revealing the inadequacy of the overly verbal and cognitive character of Protestant worship and practice. It is groundbreaking.”
– Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Professor of Theology, Duke Divinity School, and author of Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church
“Beautifully written and deeply felt. This work offers a vivid theology relocated in the flesh and blood of life’s utter physicality. Finally a book to recommend when people ask about resources on bodies and theology.”
-Bonnie J. McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Pastoral Theology, The Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University.
Question and Answers with Author
Marcia Mount Shoop
What is the book about?
This book is about what it means to have a body in the Christian tradition. And this book engages the problem of why the body has been ignored and even reviled in much of the Christian theological tradition. When we are attentive to the wisdom, ambiguity, pain, and promise of our bodies, what do we learn about how we are made and who we can be?
Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because of my own embodied experience as a Christian and as a human being. I also wrote this book because of all the pain and promise I feel and see in the bodies of the people I love and serve in churches and communities across the country. My experiences as a survivor of sexual violence, as a mother, and a child of God sent me deep into a quest for new language for my faith tradition and for more life-giving ways to be present to the spaces where language is inadequate to the task of hearing and heeding the stories our bodies have to tell. The why of this book is, at its core, about healing–not just my healing, but the church’s and the world’s.
Does this book deal with what is happening in the church today with sexuality, political polarization, and shrinking numbers?
This book addresses those issues, but in ways that are not often explored in the current conversations of the church. While I do not directly explore the question of sexuality and ordination and marriage, for instance, my work on bodies directly relates to those questions. Let the Bones Dance goes to root causes and conditions that give rise to the church’s most vexing problems. The book let bodies speak to us–with story, with poetics, with metaphors of tragedy, relationship, and ambiguity, in order to create space for exploring things like race, sexuality, and what it means to be a welcoming community. Befriending the stranger within our own embodied mystery cultivates generosity toward the strangers we encounter each day in the world.
Was it challenging to write a book about such personal experiences for you?
Yes, it was profoundly challenging. And working with churches and individuals on these issues continues to be challenging. And writing this book and engaging in the work that flows out of this book are also life-giving realties beyond measure for me. The book really wrote itself in my body. Putting it to paper was a spiritual practice, and radically healing for me as well.
Since you use experiences that many women have (rape, pregnancy, and motherhood) to frame your constructive theology, was this book written for women?
This book was not written exclusively for women, but it was written by a woman. Like my theological forefathers and foremothers, I write out of my faith tradition and formation and out of my experiences as a human being. My book is written for every body, just like John Calvin wrote his Institutes for everyone and Augustine wrote his Confessions for everyone. The experiences many women have (that some men have as well, like rape and parenting) are windows into more general human embodied experience (tragedy, relationally, and ambiguity). And they are vivid windows; and, more importantly, windows that have been shuttered and even shattered in the patriarchal patterns of the Christian theological tradition, especially in the Western church.
What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
This book is a healing invitation to all bodies and to the church, as the Body of Christ.
Who would be interested in this book?
Any body can find something in this book. It may particularly resonate with people of faith, and with those formed in Mainline Protestant traditions. But, I have heard from people from all over the world who have been formed by very different cultures and traditions than my own who resonate with Let the Bones Dance.
Reviews of Let the Bones Dance
“Mount Shoop is a gifted writer, whose very prose is immersed in a delighted bodiliness. Weaving Scripture, journal entries, and poetry with the theological argument, her writing is itself a healing balm to the wounded spaces we all carry, as individuals and as churches, and an exuberant invitation to join redemption’s dance. This is a groundbreaking book that is indispensable reading for theologians, students, and pastors alike.” Link to Full Review
–Elizabeth Webb, Theology Today
“I believe that part of the reason the chapter on rape/tragedy affected me so is that Shoop weaves poetry, quotes, journal entries, and examples into the warp of formal theology. She makes it all connect emotionally, viscerally even, in an incredibly effective way, allowing the reader to not just read, but experience the theology with his or her own feelings and body. So, be prepared.” Full Review
–Angela Adams, The Englewood Review of Books
“…she was able to generalize many of her experiences, with great success, helping me to connect them to my own.”
—Jason Whitehead, The Journal of Pastoral Theology
“Shoop certainly offers a good read for pastors, theologians, and church leaders…” Full Review
–Timothy Lim Tech Ngern, Pneuma Review
An Excerpt from the Foreword
of Let the Bones Dance
Foreword written by Wendy Farley
Marcia Mount Shoop takes us into territory mainline Protestants rarely go. She commits many and pronounced violations against Presbyterian propriety. She does not provide a nice, academic feminist critique of theological anthropology. She does not gently suggest we might be somewhat more inclusive in our worship. She uses her formidable academic training to tramp into our heads and hearts to set off one fire-storm after another. Both in her theology and in her writing style she engages in guerilla warfare against the disembodied, intellectualistic, fearful and homogenizing faith and practice of the Presbyterian Church. As myself a granddaughter, daughter, and sister of Presbyterian ministers, I read her with amazed and delighted wonder. Calvin himself could hardly have written more passionately or more provocatively as he called the church toward reform.
Bodies are not only fragile and vulnerable, they are also wildly diverse. With a delicate sense of the absurd beauty of all of God’s lovely, wise children, Marcia Mount Shoop displays the variety of bodies that bear Christ’s image. She gently reminds us that our anxieties imprison us in a sanitized homogenization. The spirited variations embodied by race, by wandering street people, by energetic styles of music and worship are denigrated or invisible. We betray the body of Christ when our fears defraud us of the adventure of welcoming more of the audacious beauty of Christ’s family into our own. We are embodied and our bodies are diverse, imperfect, suffering, interdependent sites of compassion and adventure. Our liturgy and our theology conspire to reinforce our fears that speaking the truth about bodies would be unseemly, inappropriate in God’s house. But what if God wishes to meet us precisely as we were created – embodied, suffering, confused, unique? “What if telling the truth really does set us free? What if living a lie really does afflict us?”
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