Collapsing Our Dichotomies
In Defense of Flesh, Blood, Fat, and Dust
by Carol Howard Merritt
Epistle Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
The Hardest Question, For Sunday, February 13, 2011: Year A – Epiphany 6
I grew up in Florida, in a little beach town...
Though I loved spending time on that shore more than any other place, I learned to hate my body there. People don’t wear many clothes in Florida. Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was just being a teenager, or perhaps it was because I felt so exposed all the time, but when I looked in the mirror I loathed what I saw. I despised the curves that developed and any ounce of fat. I deeply detested my flesh.
When I think back at all my friends who had eating disorders, I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t alone. The images of beauty in our country are often emaciated, and the fact that I didn’t match up to this gaunt perfection became clearer each time I donned my bathing suit. I knew that something was wrong as I watched as the smart, gifted girls around me struggle to stave off starvation and self-mutilation (usually cutting).
As I think back to those fragile years, I know my faith added some poison to the toxic stew in which I was raised. My church was not helpful when they lifted up passages like this one. They set up a dichotomy, encouraging us to be people of the spirit and not of the flesh. The flesh tempts us to jealousy and bickering, but the spirit moves us to a greater maturity. We were encouraged to think of eternal things and disregard the temporal. They taught me to hate my flesh.
The problem exacerbated if the polarizing effects did not stop in our own bodies. The earth itself was seen as material, finite, and so we did not fight to protect the planet.