You Are What You Eat
July 12th, 2010 by Sonja

The other day I wrote about a Barna survey that will be coming out with full documentation in about a year.  The posted statistics are quite provocative as I (and several other women) noted.  The data have raised a lot of criticism and left many women scratching their heads, thinking, “That’s not my experience, so how can those numbers be so high?”  It will be interesting to see the full report when Jim Henderson publishes his book next year.

FTR, I am still aghast that a man, without any co-authorship from a woman, is writing this book.  Upon reading Pam Hogeweide’s testimony about her involvement with it, I am further dismayed.  I don’t know Jim Henderson at all so I cannot comment on this.  I will speak my own mind and say that to me it feels as though he is stealing our voices for himself.  He has said that he is writing this because no woman has stepped forward to write it.  That may be.  It may also be that the time is not right for a woman to write it and therefore as a man he is taking away our right to speak for ourselves in our way, in our own time and with our own unique voice.  Que sera, sera …

I stopped writing about this issue for some time.  In fact, I stopped writing at all for a long time because I was and am undone by a lot of this.  I am struggling to find my place in the world; struggling to understand my faith without the trappings of church.  I don’t always know what is real and what is a reflection in a funhouse mirror.  But then I saw this data and began to remember …

I remembered a time when I might also have answered all those questions affirmatively.  Or in such a way that I might be part of the large percentage of women who were following the tail in front of them.  I grew up in an egalitarian home; a home in which my mother finally decided that she would NOT learn how to use a chainsaw because then she would have to use it more frequently than she wanted to because the boundaries between women’s work and men’s work were blurred (except dishes and laundry).  Everyone did everything.  I took shop classes in highschool.  My brothers took Home-Ec and I was jealous that my brother can still bake a better loaf of bread than I can.

Then LightHusband and I joined an EFree Church.  As a new believer I remember that I wanted to be like the other women in my church.  I think I wanted it mostly because that was the way to fit in and be part of the group.  But it was also the key … the key to being “Godly.”  In an evangelical or Bible-believing church, this is the defining characteristic of any adult … are they Godly?  I have no idea what that means.  What I can tell you is that people stand around looking very serious and hand out that superlative like it’s a crown.  It is placed on the head of this person or that person … it was never put on my head, I’ll tell you that up front.  Usually the character qualities that seem to be in common with a “Godly” person are those found in the fruits of the Spirit verses in Galatians:  self-control, patience, peace, etc.  They also have to be really good with their money (aka … rich).  Women should be submissive to their husbands.  Men should be the head of the family and make all the decisions.

I struggled to fit my round-peg into this square hole for 14 years.  I now battle an most likely lifelong case of depression because I so depleted myself from this.  I cannot even begin to catalogue the fallout from all of this in my life.  I’ve been gone for 7 years now.  I’m finally beginning to get my life and my mind back.  I have held on to my faith by the barest edge; the evidence of grace and love.

I did some poking around because of a throw-away comment in my earlier post.  I said that the Church is like an anorexic who looks in the mirror and sees someone who is fat and needs to lose weight, but the reality is she is wasting away and starving herself.  I thought about that some more and did a little research into eating disorders.  I found a little known cousin to anorexia called, orthorexia.  Orthorexia is like anorexia because people (mostly women) who become trapped in its snare waste away and starve.  However, the motivation for orthorexics is different.  It is an eating disorder characterized by a focus on eating healthy or natural foods.  The person who has become orthorexic feels better and better as they are able to purify their diet.  As it becomes an obsession, the person begins to focus more and more time and attention on what they eat.  I first discovered this through an on-line journal of a young woman who ultimately died as a result of her obsession with natural/healthy food.  As I discovered more about this, I found this helpful Ten Signs Of Orthorexia:

Dr. Bratman suggests that you may be orthorexic, or on your way there, if you:

  • Spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food.
  • Plan your day’s menu more than 24 hour ahead of time.
  • Take more pleasure from the “virtuous” aspect of your food than from actually eating it.
  • Find your quality of life decreasing as the “quality” of your food increases.
  • Are increasingly rigid and self-critical about your eating.
  • Base your self-esteem on eating “healthy” foods, and have a lower opinion of people who do not.
  • Eat “correct” foods to the avoidance of all those that you’ve always enjoyed.
  • So limit what you can eat that you can dine “correctly” only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family.
  • Feel guilt or self-loathing when you eat “incorrect” foods.
  • Derive a sense of self-control from eating “properly.”

Bratman suggests that if more than four of these descriptions applies to you, it may be time to take a step back and reassess your attitude toward what you eat. If they all apply, you’re in the grip of an obsession.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’ve included this here.  As I was reading about orthorexics and their quest for a pure diet, the parallels between seeking a pure and undefiled diet and seeking after a pure and undefiled faith became very clear to me.  They may not be to you.  But I began to look at the Church in terms of this obsession with pure food.  I think we all exist on a spectrum here.  Some believers have no issue with pure/right faith, others are obsessed with it to the point of starving themselves of any other sort of food than that which they deem pure.  Think about those 10 markers in terms of the faith of believers you know or about yourself –

  • Spend more than three hours a day thinking about a healthy faith
  • Plan your day’s faith practices more than 24 hour ahead of time.
  • Take more pleasure from the “virtuous” aspect of your faith than from actively participating in it.
  • Find your quality of life decreasing as the “quality” of your faith increases.
  • Are increasingly rigid and self-critical about your faith practices (and those of others).
  • Base your self-esteem on your knowledge of Scripture, your pure faith, etc., and have a lower opinion of people who do not.
  • Expose yourself to “correct” media to the avoidance of all those that you’ve always enjoyed.
  • So limit what you can be exposed to that you can practice your faith “correctly” only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family.
  • Feel guilt or self-loathing when you expose yourself to ideas, images, etc that are “incorrect” according to the tenets of your faith.
  • Derive a sense of self-control from practicing your faith “properly.”

So what does this have to do with women in church and/or church leadership? I’m not sure yet. But I do know that in many churches today there is an unhealthy focus on being “Godly,” on having correct doctrine, and on having a pure faith. For many of those churches, this includes attitudes about women and men that are not reflective of a healthy body. Some of these attitudes run to the extreme (such as a growing trend known as Christian Domestic Discipline, or another growing trend known sometimes as Quiverfull others as “radical family planning”).  Some of them are more middle of the road and merely separate men and women into different classes during Sunday School, women are not allowed to teach men either from the pulpit or in a class, etc.

No one can fault these churches or these believers because they really truly are seeking after God and seeking to find Him in the purest way they know how.  They get a lot of satisfaction from being a “Bible-believing” church, or having that crown of “Godliness” bestowed upon them.  And truth be told, we all get that sense of satisfaction when we’re told that we’re doing something good and pure and right.  It makes us want to be part of it and work harder for that cause … whatever that cause may be … so that we’ll get some more of that praise and that sense of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.  When we’re part of a group, that’s what happens in our socially-inclined brains.

But what do you do if your group is killing you?  I mean that both literally (sometimes women die from trying to have their babies unassisted at home in the so-called “Quiverfull” movement) and figuratively.  What if seeking after a pure faith (even walking in the middle of that road) isn’t an obsession, but just a concern … and the “food” you’ve decided is healthy, really isn’t?  How would anyone know?  How do you know when you’re being slowly inexhorably being poisoned and it’s gone on all your life?

7 Responses  
  • Bill Kinnon writes:
    July 12th, 201011:12 amat

    A powerful and important post, my friend.

  • Tweets that mention   You Are What You Eat — Calacirian -- writes:
    July 12th, 201011:49 amat

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bill Kinnon. Bill Kinnon said: Orthorexia & the Church – my buddy, @sonjaquilts with a very important post: […]

  • K.W. Leslie writes:
    July 12th, 201011:58 amat

    Christians tend to slide into loonyness as a result of no accountability. (I’m talking actual accountability, not Ted Haggard style accountability.)

    When I’m working with newbies, first thing I tell them is, “You need other Christians to keep you accountable.” Not to confess sins to (though often that’ll happen on its own) but to talk about Jesus with. These are folks whom they’ll honestly share their faith journey with—and questions, concerns, worries, discoveries, etc. I give the following guidelines:

    • More than one. Four or five is a good average.
    • Couples, and two people who are best friends, count as one.
    • Preferably co-workers and neighbors—people you’ll see regularly.
    • People who’ve been Christians at least a decade.
    • They’re actually following Jesus: they make an obvious effort.
    • At least one should be in a church outside your denomination.
    • They recognize they’re NOT in charge of your growth. God is.
    • They make you comfortable. (You could swear in front of them.)
    • They give advice, not judgment or condemnation.
    • They don’t creep you out.

    The relationship need not be formal; and it shouldn’t be. These aren’t bosses; they’re fellow disciples.

    I explain: “You don’t have to sit them down and say, ‘I want you to be my accountability partner.’ They just need to be folks whom you’ll actually share your faith journey with, whom you’ll always listen to. If they aren’t doing you any good, drop them—don’t necessarily end your relationship, but end THIS part of it. If they are doing you good, keep them. If you meet someone else you can learn from, add them.”

    Most discipleship programs involve one mentor who’s meant to be your spiritual boss, picked by your church’s leadership—thus guaranteeing conformity, but also guaranteeing that if your church (or your mentor, or you) goes horribly wrong, you’ll be the last to know.

  • Erin writes:
    July 12th, 201011:40 pmat

    I think you know, but my relationship with church almost killed me, because I was |this| close to taking my own life when I left…and leaving saved me. The expectations for women — ones I couldn’t live up to no matter how I tried — damn near killed me. I am certain that those expectations can lead to mental illness, as well.

    By the way, I came across CDD for the first time the other day, and I wept and wept. Sigh. I wasn’t brave enough to link to it, because it so devastated me.

  • Dana writes:
    July 13th, 201010:01 amat

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. You are right. I usually call it the “satisfaction of being Biblical with a capital B” instead of “godly”. Because I’m snarky.

    I’m also on my way out the door. I cannot stand there and watch it. I should be a “Titus 2 woman” at this time of my life, but I will not, cannot, say the things I know my church would require of me. I am involved in a couple of informal studies with young women, and I only tell them the truth as I know it. This will cause trouble sooner or later, and I know it.

  • Alaina writes:
    July 15th, 20101:17 pmat

    Wow. This post really hits me. I really think you are on to something here.

    I have watched so many church people who don’t enjoy anything about their faith. They enjoy their lives outside of church and feel guilty for doing things that aren’t ‘church-like’. They then spend their entire lives pretending to be happy serving a God they see as someone who only implements rules that cannot be followed.

    I am currently a pastor in an evangelical denomination and I have questioned my role. I went to seminary because I truly felt God was leading me there. I love what I learned and I love truly loving others. But I don’t fit at all. There is a box of who women pastors are supposed to be and I just don’t fit in the box.

    Anyway, I will be thinking about this for a long time. Thanks.

  • Christy writes:
    July 17th, 201012:29 pmat

    “He has said that he is writing this because no woman has stepped forward to write it.”

    Bullshit. MANY women have ALREADY written books about women in the church, both from a personal perspective, like Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and from a scholarly, academic perspective – In Memory of Her comes to mind. Evangelical men just haven’t read them, Christian bookstores won’t carry them, and Evangelical publishers won’t print them – and they have WAY better research than anything Barna has ever done.

    You are definitely on to something with the whole obsession with purity thing. Combine that with patriarchy, and it’s no wonder it damn near kills us. Stay gone. Take care of yourself. I’m glad you chose sanity over purity.


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