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Let the Bones Dance, reviewed by Timothy Lim Teck Ngern

But what has trauma, pregnancy and motherhood to do with redemption, ecclesiology and Christian worship? In Part II, Shoop proposes the value of embodying redemption through a theological rethinking of body language. One discovers God’s redemptive power in a number of ways. By encountering dissonance and ambiguity, one learns compassion. To deal with the tragedy of sexual assault, one learns interdependence and adventure. From pregnancy and motherhood, she learns relationality and how to cope with ambiguity in relationships. In other words, through compassion, interdependence and relationality, one discovers how redemption works in the bodies to bring about sanctification. How do these languages of the body connect with ecclesiology? The church then becomes a “connectional church” in interdependence (p.135) and overcomes moral relativism, structural chaos, and erosion of identity. The challenge for ecclesial formation then entails a re-conceiving of holy habits and sacred wounds; we revitalize the body, overcome the wounds of intellectualism, and create opportunities for learning about mystery and surrender when we encounter the strangers in ourselves, seek out differences, and embrace diversity. She calls this challenge “in-forming the Body of Christ” (p.141). Finally, for “re-membering the Body of Christ” (p.161), Shoop proposes enlivening modes of worship by examining the heart of Christian identity in connecting, integrating and joining with those who were harmed, severed, maimed, mutilated, and displaced. By becoming open to the bodies and feelings, the church frees people to worship with rhythms, music and their bodies, as if in a dance before the Lord!

Shoop’s proposal that the Body of Christ is an embodiment reality (which means that relationships in the church are more central to the church’s mission than a theology of church mission itself) is central to Shoop’s trumpet call. Shoop’s constructive retrieval of psychological experience of women bodies clearly has significance for the practical mission of the Church towards the wounded. She urges the Church to step-up to its role as a healing agent for women in distressed. She challenges the conventional pastoral approach of counseling church members too quickly towards forgiveness. Without undermining the validity of forgiveness, Shoop suggests that journeying through the experience of trauma entails the necessary step of allowing the bodies to discover its coping mechanisms without moving quickly towards the goal of forgiveness: she argues that to expedite forgiveness does not really heal the wound. She also calls churches to support pregnant women more intentionally. Women have much to teach the church about interdependency and relationality. Against the presupposition that mothers are self-sacrificing nurturers, Shoop recommends that motherhood teach the church about the embrace of different opportunities amidst ambiguity. Let The Bones Dance is however not a proposal in ecclesiology proper but in practical missional ecclesiology.

For the rest of this review, I propose to take Shoop’s theme of embodied theological reflection seriously in an egalitarian spirit. In today’s climate, egalitarianism is typically approached from the perspective of elevating female experiences (which is a much needed and much to be celebrated orientation for any discussion). But, for this review, I would like to ask Shoop and others in the field, how would males relate to their embodied experience? While it is not Shoop’s intention to ignore male embodiment in her pursuit of female embodiment in ecclesiology, what does masculinity contribute to an embodied theology of and for the church? Does Shoop already have a sequel in mind?

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About the Author: Timothy Teck Ngern Lim, M.Div. (BGST, Singapore), Ph.D. (Regent University), is a Visiting Lecturer for London School of Theology and Research Tutor for King's Evangelical Divinity School (London). He is on the advisory board of One in Christ (Turvey) and area book review editor for Evangelical Review of Society & Politics. He is an evangelical theologian ordained as a Teaching Elder with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has published in ecclesiology, ecumenical theology, and interdisciplinarity. A recent monograph published entitled Ecclesial Recognition with Hegelian Philosophy, Social Psychology, and Continental Political Theory: An Interdisciplinary Proposal (Brill, 2017).

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