The LORD upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
– Psalm 145:14 (NKJV)
I hate pants.
Three abdominal surgeries have left me with very sensitive skin and internal organs that don’t function properly. Anything tight is a big no-no. It’s a good thing that my style leans in the casual, comfortable direction already; I can’t really wear anything that is the correct size.
I was reminded of this yesterday after foolishly wearing a belt. My outfit for church was, if I may say so, very cute. Floaty summer top and slim khakis. But the pants don’t fit right. So I slipped the belt through the loops and anchored it as loosely as I could while ensuring that my underwear did not make an unexpected appearance.
Cue the nausea.
Hannah Anderson tweeted this yesterday:
So now I’m sitting here thinking about link [between] conservatives’ approach to healthcare [conversation] & [G]nosticism prevalent in evangelical church…
Gnosticism is our modern term for various ideas and philosophies, originating in the Jewish world of the first and second centuries, the proponents of which sought to attain “higher” or “secret” spiritual knowledge. An inter-religious movement rather than a distinct belief system, gnostics tended toward asceticism, disdaining the body and physical world as corrupted and of lesser importance when compared to the spiritual. Highly influenced by Platonism and comfortable with syncretism, Gnosticism emphasized personal experience over systematic doctrine and liturgy.
How is Gnosticism present in American, evangelical Christian teaching today, specifically in the context of healthcare?
Right there in the assumption that a Christian should be able to conquer her body.
If you would just eat this…. If you would just do that…. If you would drink this…. If you would take this herb/read this book/buy this flaxseed pillow…. If you would exercise harder…. If you would pray more….
The body is nothing. It is lesser. Mind over matter. Control.
Consider our Christian celebrity culture. What prominent pastor, teacher or author can any of us name who isn’t conventionally attractive? Who doesn’t have decent health? (Not perfect; we do love those who have beaten cancer). Joni Eareckson Tada, of course, but her teaching is really just for “those people,” right?
The ones that make us uncomfortable. The ones we shuffle off to the side.
No room for bodies that don’t conform.
I write very generally and I don’t seek to condemn. Not all Christians have these beliefs and assumptions. There is much compassion and acceptance among the people of God. But we struggle. It’s easy to comfort someone diagnosed with terminal illness. Even in our awkwardness, we know how to hold hands and shed tears and bake casseroles. This is good, necessary, gracious work.
When it comes to those whose pain has no expiration date, though, we don’t know how to respond. We don’t know what to do. Such suffering messes with our tidy theology. And so we let fear or discomfort cause us to release such people from the bonds of fellowship, never thinking to find creative ways to support and love them. Or, if we do think of it, we become terrified of doing it all wrong and stay away. Worse, we indulge in arrogance, taking health for granted and wondering, in some corner of our minds, if the chronically ill didn’t do something to bring on the illness.
Never mind that any one of us can be struck down, at any moment.
The next clear, painless breath is not guaranteed.
We don’t think about that.
We don’t dare.
So what do we do with verses like Psalm 145:14, which show us that God is intimately involved with the suffering? He holds up people who can’t take another step. He carries them. There is no hint of anger, no trace of, “well, if you had just….” What do we do with “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, emphasis mine)? How can we fully embrace that Christ was “beaten, He was tortured” (Isaiah 53:7a, MSG)?
This is why I wrote The Harm in That: False Gospels, Alternative Medicine and Suffering. Not to scream at people who hold fast to essential oils. Not to shame those who don’t understand exactly what they buy into when they accept “health and wealth” teaching. Not to make anyone feel bad and myself feel superior. I wrote this book because we, Christians, people of God, have go to come to grips with suffering. We have to learn to accept it as part of life on this broken earth, even as the eternal part of us, the part that cries out to God and knows that this is not how things were meant to be, rebels.
I pitched this book to many agents and several publishing houses last summer and fall. Over and over again I was told that my writing was good and the topic was one that needs addressing, but nobody wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Because it’s not a “happy, feel good” book. It’s not warm fuzzies and rah-rah time. It’s not a guaranteed best-seller. It steps on toes. Confronts some cherished beliefs. It’s messy. Unpretty. (It’s also not a “woman’s book,” but that’s an entirely separate issue, one that I could go off on for hours. I will spare you that).
So, convinced that this was something God would have me do, I self-published the thing back in January. No fanfare. No fuss. It’s sold a few copies. I’ve achieved starving artist status. Woohoo.
Really, making money isn’t my concern. This is a book that people need to read. Not because I’m amazing or the best author ever. I’m not. I simply believe that I have a perspective that is often lacking in Christian teaching. Again, not because I’m a genius. Rather, because the sick and suffering are marginalized, however unwittingly, by a church that doesn’t know how to respond, doesn’t have a clear understanding of how illness and faith can exist in the same body. Their voices are silenced in the face of a callousness that many probably don’t even know they possess.
Would I like you to buy my book? Of course. I got bills. But if you can’t afford the cost, I’ll send it to you. Free of charge. (No substitutions, exchanges or refunds, though). You can find my contact information on the “about” page. One thing I do beg of you: Please don’t take advantage of me. Like I said, I got bills.
Oh, if you do get the book, leave a review on Amazon. It’s painless and makes you an extra-awesome person. You don’t even have to leave a good review.
Okay, enough with the very uncomfortable self-promotion. Continue on with your regular activities.