Damon Owens, founder and Executive Director of joytob, a teaching ministry discusses the interwoven nature of a theology of family, theology of love, and theology of the body.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Thank you for joining us this Christmas week for a special Focus on Faith edition of Family Policy Matters. Today, I am excited to have as my guest a wonderful man who has dedicated his life to proclaiming the joy of being made in the image and likeness of God, which seems particularly appropriate for this holiday celebrating the Incarnation of our Lord.
Damon Owens is the Founder and Executive Director of joytob [PRON: Joy To Be). joytob is a teaching ministry that utilizes new methods and zeal to make Jesus Christ and the joy found in His truth and love known through a variety of public and social media outreaches and activities. Damon Owens, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show today!
DAMON OWENS: What a privilege for me Tom. Thank you so much. God bless you.
THOMAS GRAHAM: If you would, explore with us a little bit this idea that family is the universal human experience and let’s talk, if you don’t mind, about how that plays into why family is so widely studied and debated, and ultimately central to society.
DAMON OWENS: Oh, would love to. It’s a heart issue. God has put such a zeal in me on this. And you know, this isn’t something that we have to convince ourselves of. Every one of us comes from a family. In a secular sense, we speak about function and dysfunction in our family because we’re a culture that values what we do. But what if we valued who we are. This, coming to know that I am worthy to be loved for who I am, not for what I do. That others are willing and capable of loving me the way I need and I desire. Those are relational things. They’re not about function and effectiveness. They’re really affective, they’re relational, they’re sensed in love. So if you ask the question, we’re all from families. We all need to know whether we’re worthy to be loved and whether others are capable and willing to love. That’s a human thing. I haven’t said anything about Christ yet, but that human need is affirmed in our faith. So the Christian faith—we say in our theology—it’s always the grace of God that builds on nature. So to be supernatural God is not to be other. It builds up in our experience. Grace always builds on nature, and the nature of the human person is that we’re deeply relational. We come to know who we are through these intimate relationships. We’re, literally, born inside another person. We’re conceived inside. We’re born from, that was the fruit of the union of two unique and unrepeatable persons, and the third person uniquely and unrepeatably created as the fruit of the union of the other two. We don’t even know who we are the moment we’re born. We look and gaze into our mother’s eyes for our what? Our identity. This is the gaze of a child who can only see from the breast to the mother’s eyes. Sight can’t go any further or any wider. Because all we need as human beings is to know that we exist, that we matter and that we’re worthy to be loved. And this identity that gets poured in through relationships is as natural as can be. And the circle grows. The circle from mother to child grows father to child in building the relationship. It’s taken from the mother and the father in this reality of what’s possible, in terms of love and communion in life. And it grows to siblings and neighbors and friends and church and community and nation and world. So if we look at it through a relational lens, the family is the primordial, literally, the first order placed, where the human person comes to know who he is, and we come to know who we are through these relationships of love. So, now we look at the supernatural. What is it that the Christian faith—what’s the Christian proposal that says, it does not just begin in the natural. The Christian proposal is that the Holy Spirit is the author and giver of life, that somehow, we cooperate, that God has allowed us to cooperate with this incredible life-giving reality of who He is. That our union in the natural, it’s an invitation and a call for God Himself to come in to us.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Yes indeed. Now I know a lot of your presentations focus on the interwoven nature of a theology of family, theology of love, and theology of the body. It sounds to me like you’ve pretty well got a perfect image in your mind of how all of that integrates and functions. Could you give us a little taste of what those three theologies are and how they are so intimately connected?
DAMON OWENS: Absolutely. We need categories just for our own mind, but realities are often less categorized and are more integrated. We speak about the distinct theologies. They’re all studies of God. They’re faith seeking understanding. So how do we look at it through a theology of love? Well, a theology of love begins about the truth of who God is: that He is Father and Son and Holy Spirit and that love, in that sense, is a self-gift. We have three distinct divine persons, in such communion that they’re love. That’s what I can do in a nutshell with eternity. But we’re made in the image and likeness of God, male and female, and He created us male and female so that in these body persons formed directly by God, now given and endowed with the spirit of God by His own breath, we’re this body/soul mixture. This composite—not a mixture—a composite. Thus, that what we do with our bodies is what we do with ourselves. And being made from love—this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in such communion that they’re one—and being children of God, male and female, we also have the capacity to live in love, expressed as communion. And that call to communion is not just emotional. It’s not just psychological. It’s all of these things that make us a human person. We can literally enter into communion so fully with another that we become something that cannot exist on our own. That’s the truth about God, it’s Trinity. That’s the truth about who we are as image and likeness. That’s the truth about love, that the ultimate expression of love is this free, total, faithful and fruitful self-gift to live this communion. This helps us understand why marriage is the bookend of the Bible from beginning to the end, why the family as the fruit of marriage allows us to expand this life-giving call with God. That’s a theology of the body, helping us see a theology of love and recognizing the family as the place where these two are interwoven.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Damon, that’s just beautiful. Now Damon, you and your wife have a beautiful personal story of openness to life that has resulted in a very full house, with seven daughters and one son, both biological and adopted, including a particularly interesting connection to North Carolina. Could you share that with our listeners today?
DAMON OWENS: I’d love to. God gave us these beautiful six girls in a row—no twins—just a beautiful unveiling from 1996 all the way to 2005. And we experienced, for the first time in our marriage, a real crisis of infertility. It’s a beautiful other story of suffering and presence of God. But in that time, He put on our hearts something we had not even talked about, even back when we were dating in 1992, of adoption. And very timidly, very afraid even after all those years of ministry, building a family, we were afraid of the idea of adoption. It just frightened us. It’s hard enough raising our own children, there’s something comforting about recognizing even the flaws and the quirks of ourselves in our children. It’s challenging but you recognize it. To take someone else’s child, not knowing their background, not knowing their own temperament, it was a field just outside of our bubble, our comfort zone. And God stretched it, and He called us and we said, at least, let’s just find out more. So a beautiful long story very short, we connected with Bethany Christian Services, a beautiful Christian adoption agency, and after almost 17 months of waiting and angst for a birthmother to choose us for her child we got a call from Winston-Salem—So there’s a North Carolina connection—and a beautiful young woman in a very terrible crisis situation—God redeemed all of us. And through that beautiful gift, our daughter Olivia came to us through adoption. To say that it changed our family is an understatement. God wasn’t done with us because within 12 months, the agency called us back and by a surprise turn of events my son Nathan came to us in 2010. So we have two beautiful children through adoption that has just changed our family. They’re my daughters, my son, my daughter. The only time I talk about it is when I’m doing interviews or speaking. Otherwise it’s just a way for us to really see how connected we are with each other […] and that we have a responsibility to each other to raise these children that the Holy Spirit has called into existence, if someone else cannot do it.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Damon, in talking about family life, you have reflected on the various seasons, or flavors if you will, of suffering, hardship, difficulty. What Scriptures come to mind that have given you cause for hope or perseverance during those particularly difficult and/or trying seasons?
DAMON OWENS: As far as overall books, the book of Ephesians has been such a guidance for me for these years. But I gotta tell you, when I really need that uplifting reminder of what I’m doing and why I’m in the middle of suffering, it’s John, in particular John, chapter 14, verse 11, when our Lord seems to summarize everything, all the law, all the commands, and He says, “I have told you all these things so that My joy might be yours, and your joy might be complete.” That’s not just aN uplifting bumper sticker. The entire thing is for the purpose of joy. And until we’ve achieved an attitude of joy then we are in process. And that has uplifted me. Including joytob as the center part of our mission is to proclaim everything with joy for joy, otherwise why are we doing this?
THOMAS GRAHAM: Yes, exactly right, exactly right. Now Damon, as we reflect on the Incarnation during this Christmas season, how ought the gift of God’s only Son impact our own perspective on the gift of life? Comment about that as we begin now to draw this interview to a close, would you please.
DAMON OWENS: Oh, my goodness. The Christmas season, Christmas day, the celebration, the solemnity that we hold so tight in our faith, it’s such a time of hope. Christmas is a time of hope that says we’re not hoping in something that has never happened. We’re not hoping in something that has never been seen or done before. We’re hoping for what has already been done to be effective in our own lives, to be present for us, to reach us in the midst of our sin, in the midst of our failures, in the midst of our brokenness, and for us to look and see what God has already done, and saying what Mary had said nine month’s earlier, “Let it me done to me according to your Word” and it was. That’s the celebration.
THOMAS GRAHAM: That is the celebration, and boy have you really nailed it big time. Damon, I have enjoyed our conversation so much but we are about out of time. But, Damon I’m sure many of our listeners today have really taken note of the many things that you have shared and would like to probably get to know you better. Where can our listeners go to learn more about joytob and your good work there? Where can they go online?
DAMON OWENS: I’d be honored to have your listeners visit us at joytob, as in theology of the body, jytob.org. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter and things like that, but the website will really help you to see this great mission of ours to bring joy to marriage and family. To help us recognize that the joy to be a man and the joy to be a woman is rooted in our joy to be loved as sons and daughters of our Father, and what does that mean for your family, what does that mean for your life. That’s the mission of joytob and I’d be honored to share that with your listeners.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Wonderful Damon. Listen brother, thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters today, and for your commitment to showing and spreading the joy of Christ in our world. It’s so desperately needed. Carry on and God Bless and Merry Christmas.
DAMON OWENS: Merry Christmas to you. Bless you brother.
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