I do not “fill the
birdbath”. I am “answering
the prayers of a bird.”
I do not “fill the
I do not “fill the
birdbath”. I am “answering
the prayers of a bird.”
This morning I ran across this article on Instagram: Everything you know about obesity is wrong, by Michael Hobbes and his team. Hobbes makes a startling point: that the blame for fatness – and it is very much blame – is still laid at the feet of the wrong things, like willpower and self-control, rather than increasingly unhealthy food systems and proven research that for most people, weight loss diets just don’t work.
It’s a fascinating article, and I encourage you to read it in full. Hobbes writes about the culture of fat shaming in our society and touches on how many larger people have internalised this fat shaming, leaving most of us feeling lonely and dejected.
I want to add something to this discussion from a religious – specifically a Christian – standpoint. It’s pretty much encapsulated in the title of this post: being fat is not a sin.
Now, I’m sure if you asked most people, they’d say that no, they don’t think being fat is a sin. But is that how they act? From my own experiences in and around churches and Christians, the answer to that is “no”. A resounding no, even. At best, being fat is disapproved of – quietly and behind your back (although never so much behind your back that you could remain blissfully unaware of it). At worst, it’s seen as a slippery slope, because if you can’t muster self-control over your eating habits, it must follow that for you, it’s open season on other sins.
This attitude was brought painfully home in a book my Bible Study group started a few weeks ago (we stopped when I told them the book made me uncomfortable). In Priscilla Shirer’s A Jewel in His Crown (Moody Publishing), she writes the following:
Weight is a big problem, and many women are plagued by it. However, the Lord is showing me, slowly but surely, that my weight worries are really not only a physical problem. At least part of the problem is spiritual. My struggle with weight has taught me two very important things about my relationship with the Lord.
First, a continued struggle with weight, if it is not the result of some medical condition, is a direct sign that we have not submitted ourselves completely to the Lord. A woman who struggles continually with weight due to lack of self-control eating will also struggle with other self-control issues, such as immorality and anger. It’s not about our weight. It is about not allowing the Lord to be the Lord of our body.
For this reason, our bodies can become a very negative reflection of the power of God to do magnificent things in the lives of His daughters. How can we minister to drug addicts and tell them to be rid of the disease of drugs when we cannot rid ourselves of our addiction to food? It is so important for us to allow God to gain control of us in this area, and we can only begin this process by praying. We must ask God to forgive us our arrogance in assuming that he can’t handle our weight.
In her next point, she talks about how weight is tied to low self-esteem, and how we can’t have faithful sisters believing the lie of low self-esteem. But again, the blame – and it’s very much blame, with an added dose of self-righteousness – is laid at the feet of these fat women, and not the culture body shaming them into low self-esteem in the first place!
In essence, Shirer’s brand of Christianity (and she’s far from alone; see, for example, how popular Saddleback Church’s “Daniel diet” is) has adopted the body shaming culture around it – a culture steeped in capitalism, exploitation, superficiality, fads and discrimination – and justifies it by falling back on an attitude of quasi-asceticism that applies only to body weight and not, for instance, fair and just use of money, to name the most obvious shortcoming of this particular hive-mind. To Shirer and her ilk, fatness is a symptom of a deeper malaise of sinfulness. What she doesn’t say, but which is nevertheless heavily implied, is that it’s because it’s such a visible sin that it’s a problem.
I fear, at the heart of her writing is the very simple belief that fat equals ugly, and that ugly is bad for the church’s image.
I have a bit of a history with the concept of “visible sin”.
A church I attended, notable for its yearly Daniel fast, had an obsession with what I term “visible sin”.
To this church’s way of thinking, visible sins were things like drinking, smoking, foul language and living together before marriage. The church policed people’s Facebook accounts and shamed them from the pulpit for their “visible sins”. But by all accounts, invisible sins – asking for disproportionate amounts of money for ego projects, for instance, or being deeply controlling, judgmental, and narcissistic, or even adultery, domestic violence, pedophilia and misogyny, were smoothed over. The facade was what mattered.
If you’re someone who equates fatness with sinfulness, then yes, fat people must make you uncomfortable. Fat people and other visible “flaws” (flaws in this way of thinking) inevitably end up taking the congregational or societal flack so that people don’t have to confront the darker, deeper, invisible sins people can’t see (read: judge) in passing. The truly troubling spheres of behaviour.
I think, in their heart of hearts, the people who think fatness = sinfulness and belabor the idea that what matters in weight loss is strength of will (and therefore, strength of character), do so because it makes them feel better about their own perceived strength of will. At the end of the day, no matter what else is going on in their lives, no matter how deeply they sin, at least they’re not fat, right?
“It feels like the worst kind of weakness,” says one of Hobbes’ interviewees. In Christian culture, that weakness – the idea that you’re just not trying hard enough, that you’re being greedy or selfish or entitled or lazy – is made out to be a moral failing.
Although fat shaming has been a constant throughout my time in church, before this article, I’d never thought to connect it to my present alienation from institutional religion.
Has my fatness become the metaphor for all the things “wrong” with me, in a Christian sense? Has my fatness been connected to my character, to my character’s disparagement?
Have I been found fat, and wanting?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that if being fat is a sin, then being fat and female is even more so.
Fat shaming has a uniquely misogynistic element to it that goes all the way to its roots.
Culturally, fat shaming is shaming someone for the “crime” of being fat. All things being equal, fatness is only a crime because our current society equates fatness with unattractiveness, and what’s attractive or not is primarily defined and determined by men. One could therefore argue that fat shaming is shaming someone for being visible in an unapproved-of-by-men way.
Now, add to this already ugly cocktail the institutionalised misogyny of your average church.
In terms of Christian culture, if fatness equals sin, then fat shaming is merely sin correction; and if the offending fatty is female, then fat shaming her attains a gendered prerogative to also subdue her. Being fat, female and Christian in a mainstream, conservative church must therefore equal being in rebellion.
It’s hard for me not to wonder how many people have seen me as being “rebellious” simply because I was there, and I was female, and I was fat, and I was not sorry enough by their standards for any of it.
“[T]here is no magical cure. There is no time machine. There is only the revolutionary act of being fat and happy in a world that tells you that’s impossible. We all have to do our best with the body that we have,” dietician Ginette Lenham told Hobbes. “And leave everyone else’s alone.”
If we want to go around calling ourselves Christian, then Lenham’s advice must strike a deeper chord with us. The church has fallen into the trap of buying into the pervasive “beauty culture” of which fat shaming – a layered shaming in the church, as we’ve seen – is an integral part. It’s endlessly ironic to me that the same churches who would warn their congregations against the dangers of worldliness probably don’t realise that their conscious and unconscious prejudice against “visible sinners”, like fat people, are rooted in the very worldliness they preach against.
Because let me tell you, it isn’t rooted in God.
I know, it’s been ages and ages since I’ve posted here. Someday I’ll get into why, but for tonight, I just wanted to share this piece I found via Twitter. It’s called “God is a woman and she is growing older”, by Rabbi Maggie Wenig. Read it in its entirety here.
God is home, turning the pages of her book. “Come home,” she wants to say to us, “Come home.” But she won’t call. For she is afraid that we will say, “No.” She can anticipate the conversation: “We are so busy. We’d love to see you but we just can’t come. Too much to do.”
Even if we don’t realize it, God knows that our business is just an excuse. She knows that we avoid returning to her because we don’t want to look into her age-worn face. It is hard for us to face a god who disappointed our childhood expectations: She did not give us everything we wanted. She did not make us triumphant in battle, successful in business and invincible to pain. We avoid going home to protect ourselves from our disappointment and to protect her. We don’t want her to see the disappointment in our eyes. Yet, God knows that it is there and she would have us come home anyway.
My women’s Bible Study group started Renovare’s Prayer & Worship: A spiritual formation guide last week. One of the things you’re asked to do at the end of the first chapter (on worship), is to pen your own psalm. Using Psalm 42 as an example, the book examined worship as a thirst for God. It’s this theme that inspired my own “psalm”.
A psalm by Lee
I do not thirst for You as a deer thirsts for water, Lord; that would be too easy.
I am not always sure that I thirst for You at all.
And yet… And yet there’s something, Lord.
I look for it on the Internet and in books, on blogs and at the bottoms of cookie jars, in saying the rights things and trying to act in the right ways, in having a clever answer and a chip on the shoulder, at the tops of fluffy white clouds and at the bottom of the soles of my feet squishing into soft grass, in good humour and PMS and quiet moments and deep, long sighs.
I perpetually pat my spiritual back pockets, checking to see if that something is still there, but I do not know what it is.
I therefore must conclude that it’s You, Lord. Can it really be that easy?
I’d rather it be harder, I think; that way I can get more credit for trying, and thus, more leeway for my standard ill-appreciation of Your grace.
What, after all, does the deer do, other than thirsting, for You to answer it?
What a scandalous notion, that my thirst is answered on no account of my own!
And yet… And yet it makes sense that You. omniscient, loving, kind, patient, forgiving and forbearing, make no sense at all.
You are not human logic but Logos. “Love” is the Word.
In the meantime, I will check mashed potatoes for that something, and being irrationally irritated by minor inconveniences. and judging people by their velocity in supermarket aisles.
Just in case, You understand.
Man! It looks like I’m a deer thirsty for water after all!
In the unlikely event of a gun being put to my head in order to discover my true and final opinion on Patrick Henry’s The Ironic Christian’s Companion, I still wouldn’t be able to offer an answer without some sort of qualifier. Did I like the book? I did; Henry is clever and I appreciated many of his insights; one or two of them made me sit back and go, “Huh” in an impressed way. Is it a good book? Sure, but I don’t think it will be to everyone’s tastes. Would I recommend this book? Maybe, depending on who was asking for the recommendation. Do I like Patrick Henry? Eh, I’m not sure; there’s more than a little self-importance there, tempered with (what I’m hoping is) genuine reform. You see? It’s complicated.
I picked up the book on sale; that and the title was the deciding factor for the purchase. I’m vain enough to think of myself as an “ironic” Christian (someone who is Christian but not as Christian as the obviously stupid people who are also Christian, in essence). The book is a series of ten essays, all loosely connected to the theme of being a Christian who has doubts and reservations about their religion, if not always their faith.
Henry’s writing is an interesting mix of memoir, theology and academia, with keen insights and the patience to let you discover them for yourself.
Title: The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the marks of God’s grace in the world
Author: Patrick Henry
Publisher: Riverhead Books (1999)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.41/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s eminently quotable.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on navel gazing at times.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of suicide (Henry’s father killed himself).
You’ll like this if… You, like me, are stupid enough to think your faith is “ironic”.