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Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance. It is the position our body assumes when we aren't paying attention, the basic attitude we carry through life. Often it's difficult for us to discern our own posture—as an awkward, gangly teenager I subconsciously slumped to minimize my height, something I would never have noticed if my mother hadn't pointed it out. Only by a fair amount of conscious effort did my posture become less self-effacing and more confident.

Now, in the course of a day I may need any number of bodily gestures. I will stoop down to pick up the envelopes that came through the mail slot. I will curl up in our oversized chair with my daughter to read a story. I will reach up to the top of my shelves to grab a book. If I am fortunate I will embrace my wife; if I am unfortunate I will have to throw up my hands to ward off an attack by an assailant. All these gestures can be part of the repertoire of daily living.

Over time, certain gestures may become habit—that is, become part of our posture. I've met former Navy SEALS who walk through life in a half-articulated crouch, ready to pounce or defend. I've met models who carry themselves, even in their own home, as if they are on a stage. I've met soccer players who bounce on the balls of their feet wherever they go, agile and swift. And I've met teenage video-game addicts whose thumbs are always restless and whose shoulders betray a perpetual hunch toward an invisible screen. What began as an occasional gesture, appropriate for particular opportunities and challenges, has become a basic approach to the world.

Gestures Toward Culture

Something similar, it seems to me, has happened at each stage of American Christians' ...

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In the Magazine

September 2008

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