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From Objectification to Embodied Stewardship

Not many have a personal stewardship journey quite as juxtaposed as our writer this week, Sarah Renfro. In today’s column she describes her journey from professional model to pastor, and where stewardship played a role. In the end, Sarah argues for an embodied stewardship that we all would do well to embrace.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders 


From Objectification to Embodied Stewardship

Rev. Sarah Renfro

As a former model, my body was a clothes hanger, an object to be dressed, painted, posed, and photographed. It was the source of discussion, as if my body wasn’t also connected to my soul, my spirit, and my mind... me. Others demanded that I lose weight and tone my muscles, clear and tan my skin. Put simply, I was objectified.

At a certain point, I began to treat my body as an object as well. I fell into the dualistic trap of thinking my body and spirit were two separate entities. I abused my body by denying it nutrition, feeding it toxins, and allowing it to be used for the pleasure of others. I objectified myself.

Eventually, with the help of God, I realized that my body and spirit were interconnected, and that what I did to my body, I also did to my spirit. Both had been subjected to physical, mental, and spiritual harm. Gradually I discovered that the more I focused on the health and well-being of my body, the better my spirit reacted. I retired from modeling. I ate nutritious food and exercised moderately. I started counseling to restore health to my mind. I began to see both my body and spirit as a gift: a gift God had created, breathed life into, claimed, sustained, and redeemed.

Temple of the Holy Spirit

Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19, NIV). A temple is a sacred space where we worship God. Worship manifests in service, inside and outside the worship space. Once we recognize our bodies as a gift from God to be used for the glory of God, we are freed to appreciate our bodies with reverence and wonder. 

When I embraced my body as a gift, I was able to view my body as no longer an object but a subject with agency, a valuable part of the temple of God called and gathered by the Holy Spirit. When our bodies and spirits meet the bodies and spirits of others, we are transformed as agents of service for the sake of the world. This transformation of our physical bodies invites us into a life of stewardship: a life that breathes hope, healing, and wonder as the Spirit weaves together our unique gifts and abilities for the sake of each other. 

Stewardship Embodied

I now seek to use my eyes to see injustice, my ears to hear the cries of the oppressed, my nose to smell the freshly baked bread of Communion. I use my mouth to pray and speak up for those who have been silenced, to share a smile in solidarity, to taste and know that the Lord is good. I give thanks that I am able to use my mind to ponder and think of others. My shoulders are tear gatherers, strong enough to bear others’ burdens. My arms hug, lift, build, and stretch across boundaries; my hands create, caress, and hold other hands. My hips carry myself and my daughter; my legs dance, and my feet march in protest and for peace. As a mother, I have the privilege to know how my belly and breasts carried and fed a child, even as my heart heaves and my lungs sigh deep breaths for those who have longed to know this.

Bodies are diverse and wonderful in their own way -- each one a gift to be cherished and cared for, nourished and in which to take delight. And as we care for our bodies in loving acts of stewardship, we may find that our spirits come alive as well, igniting in us the passion to use our bodies to serve the world God so loves.

For More Information

Rev. Sarah Renfro is the Pastor of Connections at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fishers, IN. As a former international model and current minister, her passion is presenting body image workshops, leading retreats, and keynoting camps on faith and embodiment. She writes about marriage, motherhood, ministry, mental illness, and more on her website m-bodied.com. Sarah is married to Rev. Kyle Brown and mother to first-grader Miriam. She also bleeds blue for her hometown University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. For more information visit: Lake Institute

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"Union Square, San Francisco" image by Brandon Duran. Creative Commons licensing via Flickr.

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