Rev. Sam Alexander: Paul Smith’s Book On Christianity Wanders Into Integral’s Arrogance Shadow

Rev. Sam Alexander is disappointed by Paul Smith’s book Integral Christianity. In his new review, Sam concludes:

So here is how Paul Smith describes a modernist view of the Bible: “The Bible is often viewed suspiciously as a relic from the past. It may be basically discarded or radically reinterpreted. Thomas Jefferson simply cut out the ‘irrational’ parts of the Bible to produce a truly ‘holey’ Bible.” Smith has given us a modernist view of Scripture, NOT an integral view.

But that’s not my real problem. My real problem is that, intended or not, the book becomes an apologetic for the superiority of the Christian scriptures. We after all, have Integral Jesus, and the rest of you are out of luck. And he bases this apologetic on his own editing, divined from his lofty integral perch. Second, it makes Paul Smith the final arbiter of truth. Integral shadow: arrogance.

Brett Thomas: Integral Must Find the Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity

Integral Should Be More Like Apple (Credit: Brett Thomas)

See Brett Thomas’s “Integral Should Be More Like Apple.” Money quote:

Those of us who are enthusiastic advocates for applied Integral Theory can be a lot like the early mp3 player manufacturers.

We often speak of the technical capabilities of this new “technology.” But rather than talk about transfer rates, megabits per second, and miniaturization, we speak of quadrants, lines, levels, states and types. We rave about remarkable innovations such as integral methodological pluralism. We are enthusiastic advocates things for second-order adaptive change methodologies that move sentient holons out of gamma traps, through flex states into new alpha configurations.

As integral enthusiasts, like the early mp3 manufacturers, we sometimes naively believe that consumers care about those things.
Its not that Steve Jobs didn’t care about the technology as much as his peers. Clearly, he possessed a deep and nuanced understanding of the technology that he intended to use to transform his industry (and other industries, as we have now seen).

What set Jobs apart was his understanding of what consumers cared about.

The people who would really benefit from an iPod didn’t care about file compression, transfer rates, or IDE miniaturization. They cared about music.

Read the whole thing.

What do people who don’t give a hoot about quadrants levels, lines, states, and types care really about? I’m talking especially about Americans, but generally: themselves.

Core Integral: Ken Wilber talks about Vision Logic, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, and Overmind

Ken Wilber (from KenWilber.com)

In a free audio posted on the Core Integral site, Ken Wilber addresses some tough questions from advanced students of Integral Theory.

The first question is from Kiernan who asks,

My question is about the higher structures in the cognitive line. Could you describe how you use Vision Logic, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, Overmind and Supermind in your day-to-day life, what does the experience of each look and feel like? And what did the move to each higher cognitive structure involve, how did you make the moves?

Ken Wilber’s response begins in this way:

Vision Logic is thinking wholes, Illumined Mind is sseeing wholes, Intuitive Mind is feeling wholes, Overmind is witnessing wholes, and Supermind is being whole.

Vision Logic, thinking wholes, feels just like thinking. What anyone would recognize when they think about thinking. But it thinks holistically. It thinks from one whole to the next. It doesn’t see individual ideas, but networked ideas, holistic ideas, big pictures, things that are hooked together intrinsically. And it still has a type of gross orientation to some degree. Nonetheless it is opening itself up as well into third-tier or more transpersonal aspects. But it is essentially thinking whole and in terms of wholes.

Illumined Mind is seeing wholes. That’s just actually an immediate perception so it’s not thinking from one whole to the next whole, it’s an immediate seeing of total wholes. And these just come into the horizon and it’s a total grasping, a total embracing. It’s seeing all the individual parts together in a single whole. And moment to moment, it moves from total whole to the next total whole to the next total whole. It’s very immediate and direct, as is Intuitive Mind, which is feeling whole.

I’m just giving very simplified versions.

Feeling whole is an immediate presence. It presents itself as a feeling awareness, but it is holistic. The thing that makes it somewhat different than the two preceding ones in terms of being more holistic is that it is actually feeling the connections. Instead of just thinking something or seeing something from a distsance in a third-person stance, it’s feeling it directly and immediately. It’s an immediate holistic presence that presents itself from moment to moment to moment from one felt wholeness to the next felt wholeness to the next. This feeling of whole is sunk in transpersonal awareness so it’s starting to include not just gross elements but definitely subtle elements. It’s an interesting type of cognition because it’s one of the first that’s anchored in an enduring subtle apprehension. It’s starting to see wholeness from the subtle domain. And yet because it transcends and includes it’s anchored in gross perception as well.

Overmind is where the witness becomes a permanent subject so it’s witnessing wholes and the Witness at this point is somehow, somewhat different from the Witness as a state at lower stages. The Witness as a state can be experienced at any structure, at any structure-stage. But here when the Witness becomes the permanent subject, absolute subjectivity, what it witnesses is whole. It is witnessing gross, subtle, and causal wholeness. That’s what makes the Overmind so interesting and so deeply holistic is that it is a permanent ongoing witnessing. It is a permanent ongoing radical subjectivity. It’s the subject that cannot be made an object, and yet what it is seeing, what it is primarily looking for, is gestalts. Holistic patterns. And these include patterns in gross, subtle, and causal domain.

The Overmind itself is anchored in the causal domain and so it sees from that perspective, and it sees a causal gestalt, subtle gestalt, and gross gestalts. And the gestalt nature is simply determined by the nature of what’s happening at any particular moment. So the gross wholes, subtle wholes, and causal wholes are simply those that present themselves from any of the quadrants at that particular moment that the Witness is witnessing. That just depends on where you are, what’s happening, outside and inside, and so on. But the difference here is that the Witness is being aware of gross and subtle and causal occasions, whereas the Witness as a peak experience can happen at red. And the it’s only aware of gross occasions. Red isn’t seeing anything in the subtle or causal domain. But here it is aware of all three.

And then Supermind is being whole. That is where suchness knows itself. Suchness is self-aware. That means with anything that enters the field of awareness is self-liberating, it’s self-cognizant, moment to moment to moment. That’s the ultimate state of cognition. And it discloses every single individual phenomenon in the entire world is self-manifesting, self-arising, self-knowing, and self-liberating. And that’s just all Supermind sees. It includes Big Mind, but it also has an awareness of all the earlier structures all the way down so it is the ultimate holistic viewpoint.

As the interview continues, Wilber explains how he uses these domains in everyday life to “spiritually hang out” and “check AQAL Theory” as well as how he moved from one to the other. He also answers the question of what he thinks is higher than Overmind, notes how his views compare to Sri Aurobindo’s, and where worldviews fit in.

Listen to the whole audio at the Core Integral Blog.

Four proposed tenets of Integral Christianity

Mike Morrell offers a heart-centered approach to spirituality, including this:

Jesus came to this planet as a master of the transformation of consciousness – he’s all about demonstrating and calling people to a new & higher degree of heartfulness; a deeper understanding, a more intimate, global, and non-divisive way of seeing a world held together in tender love.

While Morrell’s perspective isn’t exactly how I characterize my own Christianity-inclusive consciousness, it’s good to see the emergence of increased attention paid to this area of spiritual practice.

3 fundamental questions to ask in any leadership situation (article by Brett Thomas)

Brett Thomas (from Integral Thinkers)

In the article “AQAL Elements Applied to Leadership,” Brett Thomas applies Integral Theory to a new simple model of leadership development. He describes three broad groupings of activities to be used in organizational leadership: Awareness, Approach, and Action. These groupings in turn suggest three fundamental questions for leaders:

  1. What is really happening?
  2. What is most important and what is most needed?
  3. What is the most helpful action I can take?

Read the whole article.

“Unitas Multiplex,” A Proposed Motto for World Spirituality

E Pluribus Unum

The motto “In God We Trust” is familiar to many Americans as the country’s official slogan, but its origin is not correctly attributed to the founders of the nation. Instead, the motto reflects traditional consciousness as it has periodically gained strength in the Civil War and Cold War.

In Dissent Magazine, Thomas A. Foster writes:

Only the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”) survived the committee in which Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin had served. All had agreed on that motto from the beginning.

The current motto, “In God We Trust,” was developed by a later generation. It was used on some coinage at the height of religious fervor during the upheaval of the Civil War. It was made the official national motto in 1956, at the height of the Cold War, to signal opposition to the feared secularizing ideology of communism.

In other words, “In God We Trust” is a legacy of founders, but not the founders of the nation. As the official national motto, it is a legacy of the founders of modern American conservatism—a legacy reaffirmed by the current Congress.

Conservative Andrew Sullivan cites the historical record as evidence of a repeated resurgence of Christianism. It certainly does speak to a periodic renewal of traditional religious values significant enough to change public policy.

A Motto for World Spirituality

Nations rely on mottos, but so too do movements and sometimes organizations. A motto can provide inspiration to participants and succinctly communicate a movement’s essence to outsiders.

The history of the rise of a truly global spirituality has yet to be written, the movement still being in the midst of birth. But is it too early to speculate as to what a suitable global motto might be?

E Pluribus Unum is a compelling contender, I think, in Latin or its English equivalent, “Out of many, one.” The motto is close in spirit to Ken Wilber’s motto for the Integral consciousness: “Unitas multiplex.”

In One Taste, Wilber quotes Jerome Bruner as saying that human existence has many local or surface features but also underlying universal structures:

Languages differ, but there are linguistic universals that make access into any language easy for any child. Cultures differ, but they too have universals that speak to the generality of mind and probably to some general features of its development. Unitas multiplex may still be the best motto.

Allow me to cast a vote for Unitas Multiplex as a proposed motto for worldcentric spirituality. I’m not a Latin scholar, but the translation to English that works best to my ears is Unity Within Diversity.

Unity Within Diversity speaks to the World Spirituality practitioner on multiple levels. As a political statement, it describes an orientation that incorporates both conservative (“unity”) and liberal (“diversity”) polarities.

And as a theological statement, it describes a unity between a radical diversity of manifestations of the divine (6,840,507,000 persons who are Unique Selves, completely irreplaceable and infinitely valuable individuals) as well as a radical unity of all beings (the True Self, of which there is only one.)

Unitas Multiplex, a motto of a global spirituality inspired by the philosophy of Ken Wilber and other integral thinkers? Perhaps. Now if only there were a global language in which to speak such a motto instead of Latin, one that is inspired by many languages not merely one with Western lineage!

Just as the U.S. history teaches, mottos come and go. One can even go so far as to imagine a future world in which Unitas Multiplex was not only the motto of a spiritual movement, but also the official national motto of countries throughout the globe.

On Integral World, Joe Corbett Calls Ken Wilber Not-So-Nice Things

Joe Corbett on Integral World

Joe Corbett’s “Ken Wilber: Philosopher King” (newly published on Integral World) is one of the most disappointing articles I’ve read recently purporting to address an integral worldview. It almost begins with an astute observation: there is limited attention paid to Justice in mainstream Integral Theory discourse. (Actually, I’m being too generous. Corbett falsely says that Justice is “absent” in the AQAL matrix.) Thereupon, the article self-destructs into (even more) psuedo-scholarship.

For example:

  1. Exaggerations of the degree to which Justice is treated in Integral discourse, and a total failure to examine any of the literature that exists on justice, ethics, morality, feminism, etc., including Ken Wilber’s books. No examination of Wilber’s Prime Directive and how the “health of the Spiral” is connected to concerns of justice. No examination of Wilber’s inclusion of Carol Gilligan’s model of moral development (justice and care).
  2. The claim that Justice is not included in the triad of “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” without consideration that Justice is included within Goodness.
  3. Psychologizing criticism of the role of Justice by questioning the motives of integral thinkers, suggesting that they are motivated by “sleight of hand” or “misdirection” or “suppression” without citing any evidence.
  4. Using inflammatory, derogatory language towards other integral thinkers, calling them “devotees” of a charismatic cult reader, an insult and smear.
  5. Asserting a crude power analysis of integral institutions as arrayed worshipfully around a “philosopher king” of Ken Wilber, not only without evidence but without any detailed consideration of obvious counter-evidence (e.g., a plurality of integral thinkers and dispersed centers of influence, the existence of the blogosphere as well as publications such as Integral World).
  6. When Corbett does cite evidence, it’s laughable. In order to demonstrate the truth of his argument that the Integral movement is a personality cult, he cites that “Ken Wilber publications” are adorned with the face of Wilber. Corbett doesn’t bother to quantify how many times Wilber’s face is depicted on his books’ covers compared to the total number of his books or explain why this is evidence for any substantive argument about anything that we should be concerned about. It’s all supposed to be self-evident for Joe and whoever it is he is writing for.
  7. Corbett attacks the existence of paid subscription sites which give privileged access to certain thinkers over others without telling us how this is any different from the way academic institutions work or just about any other social organization. By Corbett’s standard, it seems, all academic journals that charge subscription fees are oppressive tools of evil capitalists. So are many social media properties and online magazines that have some content behind pay-walls. Okay.
  8. Joe also asserts that the existence of for-pay Integral movement websites is evidence that the movement is a “cult phenomenon,” without bothering to define what a cult is or how the existence of paid subscriptions to Integral publications is relevant to discerning a movement’s status as a cult.
  9. He ascribes to Integral thought “Social Darwinism” without defining the term or examining any of the texts which are critical of Social Darwinism (as in Wilber’s Eye of Spirit).
  10. He falsely claims that Ken Wilber claimed that Buddha was a Republican, citing the title of a blog post and audio recording by Clint Fuhs of Core Integral. The same article says that Jesus Christ was a radical socialist. All of these claims are obviously tongue-in-cheek, but they’re taken at face value (I think) by Corbett. (I must qualify that claim because one must question whether the entire article is serious or a parody of Ken Wilber’s most unhinged critics. As a parody, it succeeds.)
  11. He wrongly claims that Integral thought’s inclusion of the Upper Left-Hand quadrant (individual subjective perspectives) into an analysis of social phenomena is equivalent to “blaming and punishing the victims” and “conservative” doctrine. He cites not one instance of an Integral theorist blaming a victim for anything. One suspects there might be a legitimate criticism somewhere in there if one reads between the lines, but on the surface it’s absent.
  12. He asserts Ayn Rand is an influential figure in Integral thought, which is frankly the first time I have ever seen Ayn Rand mentioned as influential. In August, I wrote a blog post contrasting Rand’s Objectivism and Integral Theory, riffing on an article in Integral Leadership Review by Eugene Pustoshkin. I would be surprised if Joe can name even a few positive statements about Rand by an integralist, let alone provide evidence of his claim that the thought stream has been at all influential.
  13. Joe saves his most telling argument for last, the ad hominem, calling out Ken Wilber and others in not-so-nice ways (read it yourself). [Insert observation about shadow projection here.]

Although Joe’s biography on Integral World claims he has taught at certain unspecified American and Chinese universities, one doesn’t need to see his detailed C.V. to realize that his post is better categorized as a fact-free temper tantrum combined with ideological commitments that are neither brought into consciousness nor questioned than intellectually serious. He works in an evidence-free zone of pure emotion and presupposition that is foreign to the standards of mainstream academic discourse.

What a pity. It doesn’t serve the legitimate end of investigating the proper role of Justice within Integral thought whatsoever.

My own belief is that Justice is the essence of the intersection between Eros and Agape — an image of which can be found in what I call the “cross in the center of everything” in my book Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007). (That’s an image that I connect with my own theology’s roots in Latin American liberation theology and Reinhold Niebuhr’s social ethics, by the way.)

Not to mention that Wilber’s Foreword for my book shows his support of the gay rights movement, a pretty significant dimension of social justice in today’s world. I may be biased, but I think it says something positive that Ken selected Soulfully Gay, a book which makes a passionate case for gay marriage and equal rights for sexual minorities as an integral piece of a broader platform for human liberation, as the second book published by Integral Books. Wilber personally edited the Shambhala imprint and selected the order in which its books were published (Soulfully Gay was published immediately following his own seminal book, Integral Spirituality, in 2007). Ken gets no credit for this, of course.

It will come as no surprise to longtime readers of Integral publications that Joe Corbett’s sort of pseudo-scholarship is published too often on Integral World, detracting from the website’s overall credibility. I would enjoy the prospect of the Editor, Frank Visser, explaining how exactly Corbett’s article meets his publication’s editorial standards … or, alternatively, give us a notice that he’s now publishing a parody.

And if we are to speak of ethics, Joe and Frank, what ever happened to not bearing false witness against one’s neighbor? Isn’t honesty in speech still an important value for either of you?

Note: Edited on 1/17/2012 to remove profanity from the headline and clarifying point #13.

Is there an Occupy movement for consciousness? Jeanne Ball sees meditators as activists

Jeanne Ball

The Occupy movement includes a little-noticed dimension of activists seeking not only outer change, but inner change, according to Jeanne Ball. On Huffington Post, she writes:

Imagine: countless numbers of people across the country, in their homes or together in meditation halls, sitting, closing their eyes and transcending, experiencing a level of consciousness where we’re all interconnected. What if, by silently stirring this underlying, unified field, an influence of orderliness and cooperation could be created throughout collective consciousness — dissolving social tensions and relieving government gridlock, stimulating economic confidence and supporting positive change?

Such a project is quietly underway and gathering momentum, on both national and global levels. In Fairfield, Iowa, 2000 meditators — volunteers from 50 countries, of all races and religions — assemble morning and evening, seven days a week to further this endeavor. Similar large, permanent “coherence-creating” groups are forming in South America, Europe, Australia, and throughout India and Asia.

Read the whole thing.

Ball’s article points in a helpful direction, but it falls short of exploring how meditation — which is non-grasping and encouraging an inner state of equanimity — is congruent with the angry spirit of determination shown by the Occupiers.

Integral Thought and Queer Theory, a reply to Daniel Gustav Anderson

Daniel Gustav Anderson
The following letter by Daniel Gustav Anderson‘s just came to my attention this morning:

An Open Letter to Joe Perez

28 October 2011

Dear Mr. Perez,

We do not know each other well. So I hope it not too impertinent for a stranger like me to make a public demand on your time and attention. I do this in a spirit of friendship, and with an eye toward pushing the horizons of contemporary integral thought forward.

Here is the thing: It seems to me that you are in a unique position to contribute to the integral studies discourse in a productive and creative way, and not only because you already have a readership of significant numbers among those who are interested in this material. I am referring instead to your legitimacy in writing on issues of gender and sexual identity. You are able to write the queer with authority, as you did in Soulfully Gay.

That is point A.

Point B: There exists a lively, provocative, and occasionally problematic body of scholarship and reflection uneasily categorized as Queer Studies. You may be surprised to hear that there is significant and evocative overlap between your project in Soulfully Gay and the concerns of queer theorists such as Lauren Berlant, Michael Warner, and most especially Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who describes her experiences in meditation in Touching Feeling. I am also of the opinion that Juana Rodriguez’s Queer Latinidad is a quietly soulful book.

I am writing you to bring points A and B into meaningful dialogue in your mind. I am asking you, Mr. Perez, to give this work a careful and critical reading, and then to write about it. The readers of the JITP would surely benefit from this. How so? In a few ways. This will take some explaining.

I bring this up with the understanding that there is nothing particularly “postmodern” about the material I am drawing your attention to. Seriously. If anything (and Berlant spells this out in Queen of America), the practices described are a reaction to, a resistance to, the postmodern condition, to cultural life under Reagan and neoliberalism. (See David Harvey’s classic The Postmodern Condition, and Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, to specify my meaning. You surely know this work, Mr. Perez, but since this is also a public document, I want to foreclose public misunderstandings before they arise.)

Engaging with queer theory in detail will give you a chance to broaden the understanding of queer identities and experiences and practices in integral theory (which you are uniquely positioned to do), and along the way to tighten up the concept of the postmodern as it circulates in integral studies. That is the take-away. You can do this effectively, and this discourse will benefit when you do.

So please. Enlighten the counterpublic.

In friendship,

D.G.A.
Annandale, Virginia

Hi Daniel,

First of all, I really appreciate your remarks in the letter and that you’ve noticed that I’ve been pretty silent on the topic of Queer Theory since the publication of Soulfully Gay. If I’ve largely ignored writing about LGBT/Queer Studies scholars, it’s fair to note that they’ve ignored Soulfully Gay, so far as I know. That’s not true in the non-academic discourse of Gay Men’s Spirituality, by the way, even though my own work is located as a critical voice within that movement.

On my part, this is an oversight I intend to remedy in time, but I am blessed and cursed with several different areas and modalities in which I desire to contribute.  I do not foresee writing another book or substantial essay on Queer Theory for another year or more. I have a shelf on my bookshelf devoted to the latest developments in Queer Theory including some of the books you mention, and will be writing short pieces in the months ahead.

Let me be blunt: apart from a few authors such as Gilles Herrada, I have not yet read a single Queer Theory book even closely approaching an Integral or post-postmodern level of consciousness. That’s not to say there aren’t glimmers of post-postmodern insights in different writers, as one would expect a few decades into the rise of postmodern discourse in academia. Of course there are. However, academia is pretty abysmal right now. I perceive more interesting emerging integral voices in the LGBT community in spirituality, literature, art, and music — but not yet among academics.

I take issue with your judgment “there is nothing particularly ‘postmodern’ about the material…” of Queer Theorists. We clearly disagree. I guess that depends on your definition of postmodern. In 2009, I wrote a post for a popular audience called “Top 10 Signs Your Spirituality Might Be Integral” for Integral Life. It’s not intended as an academic paper, more of an “at-home self-test” of integral perspectives.

But if you ask questions like those 10 of your typical Queer Theorist you will find that the answer is definitely “No, their writing is NOT integral.” There are two important senses in which I intend this point: first, that the authors’ writing so far as I can tell probably does not evidence levels of ego-development centered at post-Individualist maturity in Susanne Cook-Greuter’s scale of ego-development maturity; secondly, that the positive values articulated by Integral Theory such as inclusion of developmental diversity, comprehensivity, non-dual perspectives on spirituality, etc., are not valued as such.

I try to hold the former judgments lightly (and generally privately), given that I have not administered any diagnostic assessment of the author and in any case it’s rarely necessary to talk about an author’s implicit psychological profile when it’s much easier to talk about the author’s explicit values.

A telltale sign of a postmodern Queer Theorist is that they value diversity in its own right and refuse to situate their discourse in a “big picture” of an evolving human nature; a sign of an integral LGBTQ/gay theorist is that they value both diversity and unity together and situate their discourse in a model of gender and sexuality capable of making sense of the facts of development in their particularity and in their general principles. An early exemplar of this approach is my own Soulfully Gay.

I want to add that there’s nothing wrong with Queer Theory as a vibrant, healthy postmodern (but non-Integral) expression of critical consciousness. “Not Integral” is not an insult in my book, it’s a tool of criticism itself, a pointer to the ways in which a writer has omitted something essential that could provide a wider and more useful perspective.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was a brilliant theorist whose contribution to scholarship was seminal; without her work in developing various postmodern critiques, integral scholarship could not stand on her shoulders. Her brilliance as a postmodern thinker is not diminished by the fact that she had not made certain connections obvious from a more integral perspective; indeed, it is from an integral view that her brilliance is all the more valued even as the partiality of her methodology comes more clearly into view.

Healthy postmodern perspectives are needed today inside and outside academia, just so long as they are willing to allow integral voices to work alongside them. There are destructive and constructive phases of postmodern criticism, and as writers naturally flow away from tearing down reality into appreciating and beautifying reality, they naturally progress into more integrative modes.

Warm regards,

Joe

P.S.: I contract every time I hear you talk on your blog about “Wilberians” and “Wilber and his followers,” or attaching “dynamics of exploitation” judgments to spiritual teachers without a justification that I find persuasive. Such dismissive pigeon-holing is a major turn-off to me; it’s a common tactic of academic writers, I know, but I find it cringe worthy. I’m looking forward to having time after my vacation to cutting through the contractions and commenting on your work including your new essay. Overall, Integral needs to pay more attention to justice issues, and I’m glad there are folks out there who take them seriously.

“The world needs more beauty right now…” — Sam Alexander’s message to young women

Portrait of a Young Woman

I just was turned on to a post on Sam Alexander’s Patheos blog from last month that I am sharing (with Sam’s permission). It’s called “An open letter to girls becoming women.”:

I worry about a world where the feminine – especially the young feminine – lives so much of the time in the darkness of sexual shadow. This is an open letter to girls becoming women. It is an invitation for you to come into the light and be seen for what you are – the life giving beauty which transforms the heart of any culture.

I’m reminded of a story about a girl who was able to save her community. It’s a Bible story – please don’t shut this down just because of that. These stories have been around a long time for a reason and this one might surprise you.

If you read one of the English translations of the Bible it will say Esther was “fair and beautiful,” but that’s not it. The Hebrew text says she “had a great shape.” They don’t tell you this in Sunday School, (or Veggie Tales), but Esther used that great shape of hers to get close to the King and because she did, so the story goes, she was in a position to protect her people. The King you see, was looking for a Queen. Every night his handlers sent in a new girl to sleep with him. When Esther was taken in, the King loved her more than all the others. The story says she won not only the King’s favor, but his devotion, so he set a royal crown on her head and made her Queen. Makes me wonder, what was so special about Esther? We’ll get back to that.

And what has Esther to do with you? Let’s start with this: if you look at yourself, you will find something beautiful emerging. I know, not everyone’s a d-cup, but then no matter what you may hear, not everyone likes big breasts. (If they did, all women would have them; natural selection would have taken care of that by now.) Of course you can look critically at your body and find something not to like. The most classically “beautiful” women I know are dissatisfied with something – ass too flat, legs too short, something. But if you look at your body and ask yourself what you do like, well then you will see a shape developing that has the power to allure and excite.

And if you look deeper, you will find other things in yourself that light up the world. Have you noticed how your hugs bring warmth to any room? Have you noticed that when you listen it makes people feel like they’re worth something? Or maybe you’ve found that you have a creative mind, sometimes playful, sometimes serious. If nothing is coming to mind, ask a good friend and believe what she tells you.

And if you look one step deeper still, beyond imagination, beyond the drama of relationships, beyond the worry and stress, you will find a quiet place in the center of your heart. When you go there, you will know beyond all doubt that you are loved. It is safe to say that you will have a full compliment of feminine power to work with. You all have it; I swear to God it’s true. The question is, “How will you use it?”

There were lots of girls for the King to choose from; lots of great shapes, eyes and smiles, quick minds, and charm; lots of girls who wanted to be Queen. Why did he choose Esther? I think I know. I’ve known many women who have significant feminine power. Some choose to manipulate men with it – or maybe they don’t even choose it, maybe it’s all they’ve seen or been taught. But when that happens, relationships become bartered arrangements without any of the intimacy I think you long for. You know, “If you treat me this way, then maybe you’ll get lucky and I’ll bestow my sexual favors on you.” Or worse, “If I give you my body will you love me? Please? Pretty please?” Neither satisfies, both leave you disconnected, used up, insecure.

I think Esther knew that because she is formed by something called Torah. She knew that quiet place in the center of her heart; she knew it was a place of connection to the very source of creative power. A place where she could connect to the God who creates beauty, who brings new life into the world, the God of love. Drawing on that creative power, Esther gives herself to the King. She gives him much more than her body, and the King becomes deeply devoted to her. That’s what makes her special.

I bring it up because the world needs more beauty right now. We really do, so please take care of yourself and when you go into the world dress to be beautiful. But I’d like you to think about what that means. If you wear a low cut top, do you really want every man who sees you to be distracted because half your breasts are exposed? Trust me, we are. Do you really want our collective pulse rate to go up or to interrupt conversation just by walking by in a skirt short enough to make us wonder what’s underneath? It happens all the time. Do you want the guys you know and like to feel guilty or embarrassed as they try not to stare – or worse still, not be embarrassed, but instead be rude and aggressive as their testosterone level climbs through the roof? I’m asking because it is that kind of thing that produces sexual shadow until it becomes a dark cloud threatening to obscure your incredible beauty.

As you move into womanhood let me say this. Your body is a wonderful gift – a gift for you to enjoy, a gift you have to offer. It will be yours to use, to nurture, connect, excite, comfort, encourage, and satisfy. I’m begging you to use it to fill this world with the creative beauty that flows from within you, a girl becoming a woman, who is loved by God. With that in mind, I offer some brief advice on dealing with physical relationships:

  • Be in control of your own body.
  • Learn how to enjoy your body. Sometimes it takes a while for a woman to figure out how. The physical pleasure your body offers you is holy and wonderful; don’t let anyone tell you different.
  • Learn how to use your body to satisfy another. There are moments to turn up the heat, moments that you can rock his world, (or for some of you, her world). Just be aware there is no amount of physical pleasure that can buy you the love you seek. It doesn’t work that way.
  • Seek to express yourself physically in proportion to the intimacy and trust of the acquaintanceships, friendships and partnerships you develop.

Let me say one last thing. I am absolutely certain that you will make mistakes, everyone does – everyone. Be kind to yourself, for the love of God that forms you, is always there to restore you.
Grace and peace,

Sam Alexander

What a gift, Sam. A few days ago, I enjoyed meeting Sam, a Presbyterian minister in San Rafael, California. As a man raised in a pretty traditional Roman Catholic tradition, there’s still a part of me amazed and surprised to hear Christian ministers speaking in a voice that is at once both honors the Christian tradition and is not held hostage to its vestiges of hostility to the body.

Sam is bringing integral perspectives to bear on faith on his Patheos blog and Grace Comes First.