United Church of Christ

Freaky Future

"There is no longer male nor female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free." - Galatians 3:28

I was hiking in the mountains with two sages recently, both age 12 and female. We were remarking on the explosive new trend in t-shirts sporting girl-positive statements, like, "I'm all kinds of fabulous!" "You got this!" "Girls can do anything!" What kind of a world do we live in that we need sparkly axioms to correct the power and worth imbalance--and can a t-shirt really fix what's broken?

It would be better, said one of the sages, if we could actually put on each other's lived experiences, rather than a slogan shirt. What if we could live inside of each other's skin for a while? We decided if our Freaky Friday body exchange happened from ages 13-18, it would probably do a great deal to correct a lot of the rampant misogyny, white supremacy, and bigotry still at work in individuals and systems.

And now there is some hard data to back up that claim.

In Barcelona, a group of scientists experimenting with virtual reality have figured out how to make a subject wearing a VR headset feel that they are truly in the body of the person they are watching on the screen, a process they describe as Virtual Embodiment. Through a deceptively simple process of stroking the back of the VR wearer while they watch a figure in front of them experiencing the same touch, the brain begins to identify with the virtual body: to inhabit it psychologically, in all its particularity.

They have used this method of embodiment with perpetrators of partner violence: putting them into the body of a small, female character who is then harried and verbally abused by a much larger male person. The perps afterward describe feeling more empathy toward their partners.

In another experiment, the New Yorker reports, white participants spend about 10 minutes in the body of a black person who is doing Tai Chi. Afterward, their scores on a test designed to reveal unconscious bias shift significantly, and "seem to last for weeks," one researcher said.

I believe that someday, we will be liberated from the particularity of these bodies, and move on to another reality in which we are still really ourselves, but, as Galatians avers, without the external attributes that are a part of the glory of embodiment but also give rise to so much malignant abuse between humans.

Until then, as we continue to play inside the current "virtual reality" of human incarnation: how shall we see beyond skin, and shape, to the soul?

Prayer

God, the Really Real: every day, in more and more ways, help us inhabit each other's lives, to tender us and make us ready for heaven, both here on earth and with You eternally. Amen.

About the Author
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.

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