Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: This Is My Body by Ragan Sutterfield

From Goodreads:
Many of us think of our bodies as burdens that drag us toward failure and guilt. But what if God actually glories in the flesh? What if we had the same joy about our bodies as God does?

Ragan Sutterfield brings us back to a biblical perspective—a freeing, corrective viewpoint that reminds us of the connection between spirit, mind, and body. Along the way, he shares his journey from overweight addict to Ironman competitor. He counts his success, though, not in his decreased clothing size but in his increased understanding of how much God loves the body and what it means to take care of his whole being. This is a story for each of us.

As a teenager, Ragan Sutterfield tried extreme dieting to get rid of childhood chubbiness. As a young adult, he wrestled with his Christian culture’s tenets about the dangers of the body. As a man, he became an obese smoker in a failing marriage. And he began a journey of understanding that changed his life.

Weaving together biblical insight, personal story, and thoughtful reflection, This Is My Body offers an inspiring look at God’s creation of each of us as human beings, in the flesh. It is an examination of spiritual disciplines, sex, self-image, eating, environmental responsibilities, and the church’s role in misunderstandings about the body. It is also a celebration of Communion—the moment when Jesus reminded his disciples that he, too, is flesh. Spiritually rich, this is an eloquent exploration of the body in all its God-given glory.
 
Before I start my actual review, I feel obligated to post a short disclaimer.  I've never met Ragan, but I do know his parents very well and even lived with them briefly before I got married.  Our lives have overlapped in many ways - we attended the same church (although at different times) and he was my sister's eleventh grade Worldview teacher (she says, "He deserved better than me and the rest of our horrible class").  I love his family dearly, but my love of this book is unrelated to my friendship with the author's parents.  It stands on its own merits.

Writing
Absolutely stunning.  I can't say enough about how refreshing it is to read a literary work of Christian non-fiction.  In terms of quality of writing, particularly as memoir, I think it stands in the same realm as the work of Ann Lamott or even Joan Didion's work in Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking.  It's so refreshing to read a Christian author writing beautifully about faith and taking on a subject that is frequently neglected in spiritual writing.

Entertainment Value
I have to say that one reason Ragan's book appeals to me so much is that our lives do overlap significantly.  He writes about the same trauma I experienced in Dennis Rainey's sixth grade Sunday School class about sex and his experiences teaching at a school I attended.  While our paths didn't cross, it's always great to read about experiences you can recognize well.  In addition, a lot of Ragan's struggles with his physical body mirror my own.  We both grew up in a culture that idealized the life of the spirit and minimized the physical body.  We've both struggled with weight and sex and food and the environment.  I could compare many of my experiences discovering yoga with Ragan's experiences discovering endurance sports and triathlons.

Overall
You'll definitely see this again on my end of the year lists.  It's beautifully written and contains life-changing and refreshing ideas about the complete spiritual person, including the physical body.  Chrsitians, particularly those who grew up in the evangelical movement of the 90's, will have a lot to identify with here, regardless of whether or not your life overlaps with the Sutterfields.  I'll be keeping this one on my shelf to refer back to frequently.
 

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