A few months ago I began listening closely to the lyrics of the Laura Mvula song “Diamonds.”
“Sometimes the grass ain’t greener on the other side,” Mvula sings. “But you’ve got diamonds under your feet.”
These lyrics remind me of a saying sometimes attributed to James Oppenheim: “The foolish seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet.”
I’ve been reading books on embodiment and Christian theology on and off for several months now. I’m in the middle of M. Shawn Copeland’s Enfleshing Freedom; this morning I started Karen Baker-Fletcher’s Dancing with God; and I’m reading through James D. Tabor’s Paul and Jesus with Renewed Heart Ministries’ advisory board.
Tabor’s book is interesting: according to the author, Paul anticipated believers would receive new, “spiritual” bodies after death. He didn’t predict that their physical bodies would be restored and reanimated. According to Tabor, then, Paul’s hope was to be “raised” after death, not to be resuscitated with other believers in bodies that break down. He rather hoped to be “glorified” with other believers in a new level of embodiment beyond the ordinary and physical.
Whether we share the beliefs of the ancient Paul or adopt the interpretations of contemporary scholars, the question underlying it all is “Do we matter?”
Not just our consciousness, not just our affiliations, but also our personalities and unique material forms and identities: do these things matter? Resurrection as resuscitation is an argument that they matter to the point that the cosmos puts all these life pieces back together in some way on the flip side of death. By contrast, as Tabor explains it, resurrection as “being raised” is an argument that they don’t matter to that degree, that there is a “spirit realm” that transcends and is more significant than anything material, and that that realm is where we should invest our attention and energy.
Theologies of embodiment engage arguments like these. They’re part of that multi-century debate between those who cleave “spirit” from “flesh” and rank them distinctly. (The debate won’t be solved in this post.) A common phrase in the readings I’ve seen so far, many of them womanist and otherwise progressive, is “Black and brown bodies.” It’s a figure of speech, a synecdoche, a way of using the part (e.g. bodies or voices) to stand in for the whole (e.g people).
But because of Toni Morrison’s influence on me, I’ve begun to wonder about this phrase. Just as Morrison counts off grains of rice and enslaved people in the ledgers of the trans-Atlantic trade, I wonder how easily we’re counting off inert bodies and not whole humans as we analyze the social movements of minoritized people.
I’m yet to hear “bodies” used to refer to socially empowered White people, yet I hear it often to describe Black and Brown people, especially those who suffer what Baker-Fletcher calls “unnecessary violence.” I’m mulling over why that’s the case and what it implies for the “bodies” that, at least socially, are “underfoot.”