The Health Hierarchy

The Fat Nutritionist, one of my favourite bloggers, posted today sharing her brilliant insights in the ways that we use health as a marker of success and how that affects people who are inherently “unhealthy.” Check out her post at When health is not on your side..

Health is the newest hierarchy that our culture has developed. We human beings seem to have an inherent need to find ways to rank ourselves. Wealth has long been a primary status hierarchy. Race has tragically been used too often to create a hierarchy of differences. Gender, of course, is still used to prove that one type of human being is better than another. But health is the current hierarchy fad, and we are being led to believe that it is something we can earn for ourselves. As The Fat Nutritionist writes,

By this definition, if you have good cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, and no notable illnesses or conditions, then you’ve achieved health.

There is, according to this definition, no reason that we can’t raise ourselves up on the health hierarchy. All you have to do is take care of yourself, right? Exercise and eat right and you will be Healthy. But, as she rightfully points out, that isn’t always possible.

I can’t help but look at the issue through my theological glasses, of course. Sometimes, Christians seem preoccupied with the importance of Health. The whole “Less of me and more of Jesus” approach to weight loss is a great* example. I think we might claim not to be worried about outward appearances (i.e. the ugliness of fat) but about the inward importance of physical health. I’ve heard the argument that we need to be physically healthy because then we will be prepared to do whatever work the Lord might ask of us (such as going on a foreign mission). I’ve heard the argument that being healthy is a way of honouring God in our bodies (we’ll ignore the context of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which is sexual morality not physical Health). Of course, there could be an argument that striving for health is a way of loving ourselves well.

I’ve often wondered how people with disabilities and illnesses feel about these arguments. The person with Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t know from day to day if he will be able to “do whatever work the Lord might ask.” He needs to trust that the Lord knows him and his weaknesses and won’t ask him to do something that his illness prevents. And the Lord is trustworthy, so he can rest assured that will be the case. The person with bad asthma may not be able to exercise to “honour God in her body” because she risks triggering a severe attack that will leave her weaker than ever and risk her life. She honours God in her body by serving Him faithfully in whatever way she can, knowing that will be enough for our good God of mercy. Striving for health might not be possible for the working poor. They spend all their time working just to make ends meet and then are often only able to afford “junk food.” I am confident that God recognizes their situation and is pleased that they are doing their best with what they have.

“Well,” you might be thinking, “but that all makes sense. The person with Multiple Sclerosis, the person with asthma, the working poor all have problems that are not their fault. What about the person who gave themselves Type II Diabetes or high cholesterol or overweight or whatever? They did it to themselves. They should feel bad. They did something sinful.”

First of all: did they? How do you know? Are you sure that you aren’t judging someone by their appearance without knowing the whole story?

Second: are you sure that unhealthy habits are actually sins? I’m not.

Third: so what? Do you think that God loves the fat person less? What about the person whose sweet tooth led to diabetes? What about the person who loves rich, greasy food and gave themselves a heart attack? Do you really think that these people are less important to God than healthy people?

 

Health is just another hierarchy. Christians are called not to consider ourselves better than others based on race, class, or gender (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28). Paul hadn’t seen a world where we treated one another differently based on perceptions of Health, but I think if he had, he would’ve added “healthy nor unhealthy” to his list. Actually, I take it back. Paul did see such a world. He saw a world where lepers and people with “imperfections” (anything from birthmarks to physical and intellectual disabilities) were cast out of society and had to live in squalor on the outside of the cities. He also knew a Saviour who walked amongst those people, who healed some of them of their diseases, and who promises that all are welcome in the Kingdom of God.

Our bodies are broken by the Fall. Some are broken more than others. Some are broken because they haven’t been loved well by themselves or by other bodies. But our broken bodies are a part of our humanity and our humanity is a gift from the God who made us in His image. As Christians we are called to love one another and to value others above ourselves. There is no room for judgment based on Health in that call.

One more quote from the excellent post linked above:

The reality is that health is not an achievement. It’s something you already have, and it looks a bit different for every person. Health is a dynamic resource that each person carries with them, in some form, through their entire life. …By coping well and caring for yourself, in whatever way works best for your unique habitus and challenges, and by living a life that matters to you, you are cultivating the health that is already yours.

As Christians, I would encourage you to take the health you have as a gift from God. Recognize that your body is broken but that the effects of the Fall are temporary. That doesn’t make our brokenness any easier to handle, but it will give us hope, leading us to care for ourselves and live our lives well based on our unique health resources. Recognize also that, even if you are temporarily Healthy, you have not achieved something that makes you better than anyone else. Beware of pride. There is nothing wrong, of course, with doing things like exercising or eating well, because those things make us feel good and could give us strength and energy. But they aren’t a form of righteousness and they never will be, just as eating some cake is not a sin (I will concede that eating ALL THE CAKES could be considered a sin, but gluttony is not the topic of this post). Most of all, loving your body is good, but loving other bodies is better. By that I mean that we should take care of our brothers and sisters and love them as they are, not as what we think they should be.

If you haven’t already, go read The Fat Nutritionist’s post. It was awesome and much better thought out than mine.

 

*and utterly humiliating. Christians can be so painfully cheesy sometimes.

 

Cultivating Wonder

A sea lion awaiting his meal at the Vancouver Aquarium

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Vancouver Aquarium with my husband, my parents, and my sister. Although we’ve lived in the Greater Vancouver area for seven and a half years, I’d only been to the Aquarium twice before this. That’s too bad, because, in my opinion, it is a local treasure. Many people are opponents of the facility, claiming that it is unfair to many of these animals to have them “imprisoned,” but so many of the larger sea creatures at the Aquarium  A Pacific White Sided dolphin jumps out of the water at the Vancouver Aquariumare rescues who would have perished on their own in the wild. Furthermore, the important research done at the Aquarium (it is a non-profit organization) helps us learn more about how to protect the wild cousins of the Aquarium’s residents.

But that’s enough apologetics for the Vancouver Aquarium. What I found there wasn’t just a large collection of interesting sea creatures. I also encountered my sense of wonder.

We live in a culture that is really good at destroying wonder, especially in adults. The mundane practicalities of life push aside our wonder. Stress strangles it. Pain and grief smother it. Worse, I think that some of us are taught—directly or indirectly—that wonder is something reserved for children, and that adults have matured beyond it.

For me, depression dealt a heavy blow to my sense of wonder. Things that would normally have brought me joy simply by existing were no longer able to raise that emotion in me. As I have been recovering from depression, I have also been recovering my sense of wonder.

So I enjoyed the Aquarium more than I had on my two previous visits (granted, for one of those visits I was battling the pain of a dry socket after a wisdom tooth extraction). This was helped along by the fact that we were selected by one of the A photo of one of the jellyfish tanks at the Vancouver AquariumAquarium volunteers to be taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the jellyfish lab!  I was so thankful that I am now in a place emotionally where I could really enjoy seeing the unusual beauty of the jellyfish and not feeling awkward about being singled out (depression sucks, literally).

As I’ve been reflecting on the visit, it has occurred to me that there is something special about the way that animals provoke our sense of wonder. This is especially true for me. I love stopping to watch birds or animals in our neighbourhood. It helps that I live somewhere in the world where it isn’t unusual to see a bald eagle flying around in the city. But as I was watching the dolphins and sea lions and porpoises and beluga whales, I was able to tap into that sense of wonder at their beauty, grace, and intelligence. The jellyfish are strange and otherworldly, delicate and deadly. The electric eel held my attention for a surprising amount of time.

I think it is important to cultivate wonder in our lives. Spending time with children no doubt helps facilitate the process. Ideally, a child still has their sense of wonder intact, and very young children spend time wondering at things we have long learned to take for granted. But even if there are no children in your lives, it’s possible to pull your sense of wonder out of the closet in your mind and give it some air. Spend some time looking—and I mean really looking—at flowers or newly formed leaves or a squirrel as it runs or anything else that tweaks your sense of wonder.

A sea lion awaiting his meal at the Vancouver AquariumListen to birds singing. Find a mountain and really think about how big it is. Stare up at the stars and remember how far away they are.

Isn’t this universe wonderful?

What provokes your sense of wonder?

Everything New is Old Again

The Daily Post started me thinking about how much technology has changed in the last 34 years by asking “Of all the technologies that have gone extinct in your lifetime, which one do you miss the most?” In general, I can’t think of anything that I specifically miss because so many of the technologies that no longer exist have simply changed over the years. Cassette tapes have been replaced first by compact discs and then by MP3’s (there was also the MiniDisk, but that never really took off in North America). Video games evolved from the Intellivision through the early generation consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System through several more generations to the motion capture technology we are seeing in the Xbox Kinect. Telephones first became cordless then cellular then texting took off and now we have moved beyond smart phones to SuperPhones. Even my television is “smart” now, and even books are read on devices.

I’m not even going to discuss the evolution of computers and the internet.

So, how much is there to miss, exactly? I don’t own a cassette player anymore, but I do still have all my old tapes. I’d love to find a way to get the music off of them and onto my computer (and I know such technology exists, but I am cheap and haven’t bought one yet). I know I could probably buy all those albums online somewhere, but a part of me (the cheap part, probably) finds the idea of having to buy new versions of things I already own rather irksome. I know some people jump on the chance to buy all their favourite albums on various new media, but I just get frustrated. I can’t watch my Star Wars Collector’s Edition VHS tapes because our VCR starting eating tapes (R.I.P., Good Will Hunting), and from what I’ve heard about the BluRay version, there were…improvements…made that I might not enjoy.¹

That said, I do enjoy being able to listen to hundreds of songs on a device that hides in the palm of my hand. I can hardly remember what life was like before the internet. I don’t miss having to re-thread those beloved cassette tapes when they encountered a dying Walkman. Netflix is amazing, but I actually do miss browsing the video store, especially independent video stores that carried more than the usual fare.

There’s a lot to be thankful for in the technological developments of my lifetime. Somehow technology has smushed together my Walkman, telephone, computer, video game console, VHS player, diary, calendar, library, Rolodex, calculator, television, and newspaper and put it all on one device. Then it threw in a video calling app and instant messaging—things that didn’t exist at all when I was born. That’s pretty mind-blowing. It doesn’t leave much to miss.

I look forward to seeing what new innovations will be available to us over the next 34 years. But I won’t stop griping about how I have to pay each time to upgrade to a new media (damn you, Nintendo, for taking away my Wii games’ online functionality). I know that technology isn’t always improved for the sake of making it better. Sometimes it is “improved” just to make us buy new things.

¹Han shot first.

Resurfacing

After a long hiatus, I’ve decided that the only way to get back into writing is to…get back into writing. But for me that means just writing, not worrying about making my posts deep or important or relevant. So I’m going to try a little writing (almost) every day, probably using the Post A Day prompts from The Daily Post here on WordPress. What that means for whoever is still reading my blog is that you will certainly see a mix of topics, and my focus is going to be on writing for writing’s sake. When I’m not using the writing prompts, I might start throwing in some fiction here or there as well. Fiction is my first love and I’ve put it aside for too long.

So here’s to recovering a piece of myself and sharing it with all of you.