Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fat As a Bad Witness?

When I was in college I knew a student through one of the campus ministries. This woman was kind and compassionate, with an extensive knowledge of the Bible. She led a weekly Bible study and was diligent in discipling other young women. She seemed to have a real heart for reaching out and loving others. She was everything a fine, upstanding, Christian college student should be. But she was overweight.

When she graduated from college she wanted to go on staff with this particular ministry. Now, I wasn't there in the interview. I didn't hear all that was said. But I remember hearing the upshot. They would accept her as a staff member only if she lost weight because "being overweight is a bad witness."

I still reel when I think about this.

Let's unpack this. "Being overweight is a bad witness." Says who?

Those who have no problem with this statement will usually come up with, "well, gluttony, after all, is a sin." But who says she is a glutton? Unless you get ahold of her medical charts and her personal history and a map of her DNA and a long term calorie count, there is no way for you to truly know the source of her weight problem. And unless you can see to the depths of her heart, there is no way that you can know that she is a glutton. Gluttony, after all, encompasses a heck of a lot more than a passion for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

People are overweight for all sorts of reasons and sometimes these are reasons beyond their control. Some people are overweight for medical reasons. Some people are overweight due to side effects from a medication they take. Some people are overweight because their body just doesn't burn fuel like thinner people. Some are overweight because their appetite control mechanism seems to have gone wonky. Some people are overweight because they have totally screwed up their metabolism through diet after diet after stinkin' diet, in pursuit of some sort of cultural approval, only to find themselves fatter than ever.

And some people ARE overweight because they eat too much. But we don't always know why. Some, having grown up with deprivation, are terrified of going hungry. Some, having been violated by the opposite sex, are terrified of having an attractive body. Some are using food to fill a hole, a deep longing. And some are eating too much because it just plain tastes good. Perhaps this was the problem the Powers That Be at the campus ministry assumed. That my friend was overweight because she ate too much and that was a bad witness.

Tell me, why can't you be fat and be a good witness? After all, a witness is somebody who shares their side of the story.

If you are called in to court as a witness to a crime,you are not called in to recount the laws of the land, you are called in to tell what you experienced and what you saw. That is it. This is what you know.

Unless this woman was specifically committing the sin of gluttony (and that is a Pandora's Box if there ever was one), why should she be kept from ministry just because she is overweight?

As I see it, she would be just as, if not better, equipped to minister to others as anyone out there. Not only does her weight in no way hinder God working in her life, she could have a much deeper view into what it means to cling to God when you are scorned by the beauty standards of our world.

I cannot imagine being a college student struggling with my weight or my lack of physical beauty and finding that only thin, fit, pretty, perky people representing Christ on campus. What does that say? That God doesn't care about you if you are fat or homely. I would want to have someone to turn to who knows rejection and shame and heartbreak. Being a fat person in today's world pretty much guarantees you all of those.

I see nowhere in the Bible where we are told that somebody's BMI will limit the working of God in their life or through their life.

Might there be issues in her life that needed to be dealt with? Sure! Might it be good for her to develop, if she already hadn't, a healthy lifestyle? Of course! Could she be a witness, even a GOOD witness, for Christ, even if she was fat? Absolutely!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Young Pastor

Lately I have seen a number of articles where highly respected pastors and Christian leaders give their advice to young pastors. What advice would I give young pastors? Well, it didn't take me long to figure that out. So here goes:

Dear Young Pastor-

I am sure you are on advice overload by now. I am not seminary educated. I am not a pastor myself. I am not a high profile believer of any stripe. I am just a person.

I see a lot of advice to young pastors about knowing theology and about knowing the Word of God. That is good and fine. Theology is important. You don't need to be preaching heresy. The Word of God is important. You have to know the foundation of what you believe.

But who are you preaching the Word of God to? People.

For all the advice to make yourself a student of God's Word, along with that, I would highly recommend you make yourself a student of people.

Because ministry is not just a bunch of impressive sounding words and lofty theologies.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just about checking all the boxes as a good Christian.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just a spiritual stepping stone to a successful career.
Ministry is people.

Knowing people is essential. There is so much variation in how God made us. In our temperament, gifts. Our life experiences. Learn. Learn from people.

It takes humility to learn from others. That may be hard. From what I hear, it is easy to come out of seminary convinced that you have all the answers to life's questions wrapped up in a tidy package. The truth is, we all have more questions than answers.

Ask questions. Listen to people. Listen to their stories. Refrain from wanting to fix them or give quick answers for their questions.

Learn about people. About how God made people. It warmed my heart to see a young pastor friend of mine post an article on Facebook about introverts with the comment, "I am beginning to understand."

Seek out information on things you don't understand. What happens to a woman's heart when her husband is unfaithful? What happens to children whose father walks out the door? Or dies before their eyes? Or spends years in prison? What happens to someone who is physically or emotionally or sexually abused by those he trusts? What happens to a man's sense of worth when he loses his job and can no longer provide for his family? What makes some people seek to lose themselves in a world of drugs or alcohol? What pain do they flee? What is it like to be in rehab? To be at war? To come home from war more wounded inside than out? What do young women go through when faced with an unplanned pregnancy? What does that kind of panic and helplessness really feel like? What is it like to give up the child you grew inside or walk past the protesters and have an abortion? What is it like to keep that baby and raise it on your own? What makes a man abuse the woman he vowed to honor and cherish? What is it like to learn differently from everybody else and to feel like the odd one out...all your life? What is it like to be the last one left when every friend of yours has died? What is it like to be the only single person in your entire group of friends? To always be the last one picked for the team? What is it like to struggle with mental illness? To face racial prejudice? To be beaten while you are down?

Every time you listen, you learn. And every time you learn, you are expanding your ability to care for others.

And people know if you care.

Thank you for listening.
Ginny, A Person

The Perk of Failure

Over the years I have moaned on and on and waxed eloquent and sometimes not so eloquent about my failure as a mother. Or at least my failure as a mother in the success-driven, competence-glorifying, "you must do it right or else" culture that is my world. (

Last night, however, I was having a discussion with a friend about a phenomenon that is all too common. The perpetual mother. You know them. Perhaps you have one of them Perhaps you ARE one of them. This is the mom who, regardless of the age of her child, really has trouble letting go and transitioning to that adult to adult relationship.

Her child can be 30 and she is still hovering or chiding. We see it on sitcoms. We hear it from friends. We may say it ourselves. "She treats me like I am 13!" (Insert eye rolling here.)

Well, for once, I am pleased to announce that my pathology has a good side. I don't have that problem. For all my failure as a mom...all those structures I didn't impose, all those homework assignments I didn't assist, all those chores I didn't dish out (the list could go on ad nauseum)...taught me something important. I am no good at managing people. Especially little people. But really any people.

And when you are tired and when you are tired of being a failure (by the standards of the day, anyway), you take the first exit ramp at your disposal. That exit ramp came none too soon. My kids now range from 19-25 and I am oh, so happy. In spite of my feeble efforts, they are fabulous, wonderful young adults. I love being friends with my children.

If by some miracle they come to me and ask for my input, no problem. I am happy to share what limited wisdom I have scared up in 51 years on the planet. But if not? I love them. I am here for them. But I want to treat them like the adults they are. And what a relief that is.