Weight, Don’t Tell Me! Jesus Died for Fat People Too?!

7 04 2012

*** I’ve been putting off a post like this for years, but I guess it’s time for the conversations to start flowing! ***

Sometimes what the Bible says seems crystal clear at first until that thing called contradiction forces its way in forcing you to question not God’s clarity, but your understanding.

Today was one of those days for me. Walking across campus to get my lunch, I passed by a swing-like seating area directly parallel to the dining hall. Filled with people enjoying the good weather and each other’s company I ran into a slight biblical dilemma.

Scripture says that Jesus considered the child among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He even says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18, NRSV) And this is my dilemma.

I know the text is speaking to purity of heart and ability to see Jesus as one who can be trusted, who you can give all of your love to, the one who cannot fail you. You come to Jesus exactly as you are and completely release yourself to Him. I get that. Total trust. Check.

What I do not get are the finer details of these pre-pubescent spiritual teachers. They are mean, or rather, they are honest which in turn becomes identified as mean (by sensitive adults like myself! Haha!).

Walking to and coming back from getting lunch, I heard a young girl whisper to the five or so kids around her, “Wow, look at how fat she is!” and “There is that girl again, so fat!”

I get it. I am fat. And no matter how nice people want to be, they can’t say, “No, you’re not fat!” because it is untrue. And I am an advocate of truth. I will say that I am working on getting to a healthier weight, but until then, I guess I will have to continue to hear kids whisper (or quietly exclaim) the truth.

And I will be honest, this truth hurt! I wanted to call her ugly or tell her how rude she was but this would not work out for three reasons: 1) She could not have been more than 6 years old and many times what comes off of a six-year-old tongue is not filtered too carefully; 2) My response would have been inappropriate and juvenile itself (plus there were adults around watching the kids, i.e. saying anything to a stranger-child would have caused suspicion and trouble); and 3) She was right!

I am fat. But what she failed to consider was why I am fat. Sure there is the technical aspect of eating too much in general, consuming too many sweets (my biggest weakness), not exercising enough (apparently walking to class will not cut it), etc. But then there are other aspects that she would not be able to process and consider.

In that moment, the child sees that I am fat but she does not consider why I am fat. She saw the “that-I-am” instead of the “why-I-am”.

The funny thing is that this girl was not entirely wrong. Her “that-I-am” observation skills were true. She saw the facts and she stated them.

But there was no way she could see everything.

She acted as a child would: she did not know it all, only some of it. But she was humble, completely honest, truthful, and engrossed in the aesthetic reality of my appearance.

It is interesting that this is what Jesus wants from humanity. He wants us to see Him and state the facts. He is kind. He is gentle. And there is something about Him that is extremely trustworthy, so we go to Him and believe what He says and follow His commands and know that somehow they are for our good. We become engrossed in pure faith.

There is nothing wrong with this, but it does show our shortcoming, our humanness. The best we can do is engage in blind faith, because we cannot see everything. We see only what our human vision tells us. The best we can do is humbly say, Lord, this is what I think I see and what I think I see is literally all I have to go by. This invites vulnerability, but also room for much error.

This is the downside of childlikeness, immaturity. The young girl saw the “that-I-am” and never thought to engage the “why-I-am.” Like this young girl the Pharisees see the “that-I-am” of many persons including the lame man (Mark 2), the bleeding woman (Matthew 9), and the man born blind (John 9) but fail to see the “why-I-am.” But the Pharisees prove even one step worse; they proceed to ignore the people around them. At least this girl allowed my condition to shock her!

The Pharisees know of these peoples’ conditions but can do nothing for them; therefore, over time, they do not see them. The “that-I-am’s” of these people do not phase them anymore. It has been filed away in the realm of forgetfulness along with these persons societal value, worth and importance. Like the young girl, the Pharisees let the “that-I-am’s” of people become their only definition and thus worth. But unlike, the young girl, in that moment the Pharisees have no reason to care about them anymore.

They are their condition, and this affects their spiritual and social participation.

This is terrible and sad and speaks to something very sinful in our human nature. People are forgotten or not cared for because they do not exist within a narrow norm. They are either forgotten or secretly despised.

I do not want this to be my fate. I do not want my appearance to be (secretly) disgusting to you. (I would have to devote an entire blog post alone to the secret and many times not so secret aesthetic musings we hold about each other within the body of Christ!)

I think it is unspoken in some churches and over-spoken in others (wrapped up in the language of “healthy spirit, healthy body” etc.) that the place of the overweight believer is a problem (and unfortunately I think it has less to do with their health and longevity as it does appearance and how a church “looks” not only spiritually, but also aesthetically).

Fat does not fit. It does not fit into the style of clothes that “this church wears.” It does not fit into the beauty and youth and energy a church is trying to convey. It does not fit into proper church clothes (i.e., it doesn’t look good in certain patterns of dress deemed appropriate). One’s “that-I-am” reality does not fit into a crucial aspect of the church, appearance. It does not fit into the constructed image of a pure, true Christian.

I press this issue of weight in the church because Jesus does not. For at least two decades I have wondered whether Jesus would be happy to or appalled to die for fat bodies: bodies that show “no concern for their health,” “don’t care how they look,” etc. Would Jesus want to die for bodies that apparently speak of that person’s negative life traits and attributes, their failures? I often wondered, would Jesus be okay with resurrecting a body that many assume shows a disconnect with “proper” spiritual and physical values?

Honestly, I am still trying to get myself to stop wondering, but unfortunately I have not stopped yet. From the stories in Mark 2, Matthew 9 and John 9, I want to see and believe in the other side of what the Pharisees failed to see. The Pharisees try to trap Jesus in wrongdoing and wrong-saying, but what I want to see in these narratives is Jesus in right-doing. Jesus does not heal for Himself alone, (He certainly gets the glory which is crucial!) but He also heals so that the once-handicapped (or dead) person might believe in Him AND that others witnessing these events might believe in Him too.

Jesus never says anything about what these bodies look like. He never says, “Stand up, and go eat a salad!” or “Take heart, you need to take care of your body better!” or “Go! Join a gym!”

Mark 2 is especially touching. Jesus first says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (vs. 5) Jesus first saw the “why-I-am” in this situation. He never got hung up on the fact that this man did not look normal or healthy or whatever. He saw that this man’s heart and soul had something that plagued him far worse than his physical condition.

Jesus saw the “why-I-am” in this man and decided that he was not only worthy of being forgiven, but that he was also worth dying for. I would even say that Jesus saw the bigger “why-I-am.” He saw and experienced within His own life how sin was an evil, powerful force that could alter people’s beings and lives. Jesus knew this and thus decided that judging people based only on their “that-I-am” condition was futile. He attacked the root of the problem, and conquered it through His life-death work.

Jesus saw us as important enough to give up His life. I think this is what I want to know the church for. Growing up in church there were times that I wish I belonged “better” but I wish I had known that I was worthy enough. I wish I was not indoctrinated and poisoned by what the proper way of being a Christian was (spiritually, aesthetically, and ontologically).

I wish I knew that we are all worth dying for. We are all worth the same thing, Jesus’ death. I am definitely glad that I know now, and even if it will take me the rest of my life to truly know what this means, I am glad that I have latched onto the journey of finding out what this means.

Our looks, our appearance, our aesthetics have nothing to do with God’s grace. Jesus does not formulate truth by looking at humanity’s outward appearance, nor does Jesus assume that it is an individual act of recklessness that got us to the sinful state that we are in. Jesus looks at the totality of our lives and how sin has entered into everyone’s lives and says, “This is worth dying for.”

I am still working out my thoughts on the aesthetics of theology and ecclesial life, but there is something there, something troubling, that I hope to continue to discuss and expose until it can only cower under the light of Jesus’ truth.

The notion that if my body does not look like yours, there is something inherently wrong with it and me is a false one. This mentality and type of Christian practice is isolating and perpetuates sin, for no one looks the way they do (entirely) because of their own doing. There is always more to the story. There is always something in or on the soul that people literally cannot see. This mentality signals a childlikeness that we must move past.

We must trust in Jesus completely, yes, but we must also trust that what Jesus did, die for the entire world, means something greater that outward appearance. It means that no matter what we look like, Jesus saw it as valuable enough to die for. Jesus loved us that much. What I hope to ask until this evil is destroyed is, “Why don’t we try harder to get past our childish vision and live into God’s vision of love and acceptance?”

 

 

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One response

10 04 2012
Heather Olson

Good post, Tomi, as always. It made me think about how the resurrection of the body took on a whole new meeting when I developed arthritis. Knowing that I (and every other diseased body) will receive a new/healed body is important when your body doesn’t work right. However, I always forget that obesity can be considered a disease. What do you think the resurrection of your body will look like?

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