Friday, April 26, 2013

Earthen Vessels: A Recommendation

Despite the fact that we attended the same small university for four years, I have very few memories of Matthew Lee Anderson. The only one that is vivid occurred during our student orientation, in which Matthew stood up in a room of several hundred of his peers and asked staff if the rumors were true about the proportions of one on campus group’s population to another. Seeing as Biola had a 3:1 female-to-male ratio at that time, the entire auditorium assumed that his question was in said regard and laughed accordingly. Matthew then said, “Guys, I was talking about teachers to students.” This too received a laugh. Matthew’s cleverness and self-assurance were evident to me then (and, if I am honest, a source of envy), and his writings at and Earthen Vessels, affirm his intelligence further.

Make no mistake however, Earthen Vessels is not light and humorous (though asides of such nature are present). On the contrary, the work is a serious, forthright admonition from Matthew to his Christian siblings to grow in their relationship in the Lord through a better understanding of their bodies.  This synopsis may sound like another emergent or evangelical attempt to subvert tradition by connecting with God through some new practice skewed toward materialism or new age sensibilities, but Matthew’s work could not be further from such an assumption.

This book is grounded in not only tradition but scholarship and theology. Matthew is well-versed in the thinkers of the past as well as the present, and he draws from them all when developing his approach. His humility in this process is front-and-center, for he is earnest in acknowledging and examining his own shortcomings, particularly when deconstructing ideas with which he disagrees.

I would divide the book into three sections: The Body and Personhood, The Body and Culture, and The Body and Family (or, Church). Each section is interesting in its own right and towards its own ends, with overlap throughout (making the work cohesive) and with particular rhetorical flare being shown in portions on tattoos, sexuality, and corporate worship. Matthew engages his subjects with a thoroughness that I found personally humbling, as he raised ideas I had not previously considered on a variety of topics.  Having gone through a personal journey of weight loss and increased focus on health and wellness, I have considered matters of the body and its importance often and deeply. To find a work that addresses so many gaping holes in my own outlook was of great benefit to me.

Conversely, in some ways Earthen Vessels feels incomplete, but in a fair way: One sign of a good text is the reader’s desire that the author had continued and addressed more. I ended the book with further questions: What about obesity, both from sloth and health related issues? What about disease and frailty? What about the body as a tool of communication (body language), for praise or affirmation or sensuality? What about Christ’s admonitions to remove those parts of the body that lead to sin? Frankly, Matthew may have answered these questions, and I simply failed to recognize them, but my point is that Earthen Vessels, full as it is, could use a sequel—one that I would be glad to read (after all, the body has over 2000 parts--according to that soap commercial, anyway).

As I said, however, this is not a shortcoming. Rather, Earthen Vessels conforms to the old adage,  “always, leave ‘em wanting more”—a testament to its usefulness not only in bringing subjects to the front of the reader’s mind but also presenting those subjects in way that welcomes further elucidation.

Dear readers, I recommend to you Matthew Lee Anderson’s Earthen Vessels, an engaging and scholarly work that will deepen one’s value of the body by raising new questions and ideas about its purpose, value, and relationship to its creator.

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith can be purchased on in paperback or Kindle formats.

As always, thanks for reading,

Please Note: I recognize I have provided neither quotes nor direct commentary on specific matters in the text, but that is by design. I do not want to spoil the best lines or remove anything from the specific context and careful orientation in which Matthew presents it.

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