top of page

THE ANOREXIC church

In my book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” I share about a time back in 1996 when in Vancouver, BC training with Dr. Stephen Madigan for my work in  Narrative Therapy.   As part of his training program, we in his course were privileged to observe what this school of therapy refers to as an anti-league.   This is a group effort among therapy clients joined together to combat false narratives aimed at robbing persons of their essential personhood.  One such example we in the course were able to observe was a women’s group called “The Vancouver Anti-anorexia League.”  (See also https://vsnt.live/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/The-Anti-amnorexia-League-for-TV.pdf.)   And one of the effects this observation had on me was this:  I wondered what if the Christian Church were to operate out of this same model instead of the traditional model dating back to its formal houses of worship constructed over the past 16 centuries or so?


Of all the lasting impressions the Anti-anorexia League members left me with was their willingness to talk openly about the lies that anorexia and bulimia had been telling them about themselves over the course of that previous week.   One example still in my memory was a member who confided to the group that it told her she would lose what little control she had left of her own life if she were to leave or separate from anorexia-bulimia.  She understood this to be a lie because it had become obvious through her participation in this League that what little control she had left of her own life, and indeed life itself, would be lost to her if staying with her anorexia-bulimia.  Not if she left it!   The group was able to validate her fear of dying if she and anorexia did NOT part ways, this eating disorder being the equivalent of an abusive partner with her as the battered spouse.


The problem story told of its victims by the eating disorders of anorexia and bulimia often begins in adolescent development with what we might call fears of negative comparison.   Compared to so and so you are fat, over-weight, ugly, unattractive, not popular, not likeable, not loveable.   The list goes on.   Fears of negative comparison.   These negative comparisons may be drawn with siblings in the family, or cousins, or with cheerleaders and other students in school, in the store, in church or anyplace else in the neighborhood.   And they extend to the media, anywhere from Instagram to the movie screen, from televised sitcoms to magazines.  For the adolescent caught in life’s universal identity crisis, this problem story becomes the personal narrative of “I am less than” and “not good enough.”      


Perhaps you can see how such a disorder operates.   A problem of one’s still developing identity in adolescence begins with a negative comparison.   One’s own imperfections are revealed.  So far we could call that a true story.  But then it becomes a false story and outright lie.  The lie comes about in suggesting that others are not equally imperfect.   “You are less than” becomes the problem story that instills a deep fear within the person of being “not good enough.”   All it takes is for anyone, family…..friend….or foe to not love this adolescent person and the lie becomes, “see, you are not good enough to be loved.  You are less than lovable.”   At this point the problem story takes over and the loving and lovable person is stopped from full development in one’s identity or personhood.


For the person struggling with a problem story of anorexia, then, we’re looking at a lie that says “see, you are not thin enough or feminine enough to be loved.  You are unlovable.”  Because the story provides one's own identity, the lie is really saying "see, I am not thin enough.......I am unlovable" as the newly formed self-talk.


I hope you’re getting the picture of how a lie about one’s personhood or identity in adolescence becomes baked into one’s beliefs about self in negative comparison.   Even to the point of eventual self-destruction without adequate intervention.  


I also hope you can join me in picturing a church that joins victims of such a lie together in an “anti-league” that heals and saves such victims by using love’s true story as the anti-dote for fear’s lie and problem story.   A church that gives persons back their true, lovable, and loving personhood as children of God in our world.


What if I told you that such a church did exist at one time?


For all practical purposes, the Christian church that existed from Christ to Constantine involved three centuries of work as an anti-league combating the lies fear told its members designed to rob them of their identity as loved and loving persons.   They met in home groups, not in "church buildings."   They cast a new narrative among the people involving the truth of love and positive comparison as God’s good enough children.   Fear’s problem story was revealed by Jesus to be a lie even as he overcome his own fear of death by extreme torture out of love for others.   And so the early church served out the function of an anti-league.   A love-fest of followers after the truth of God’s unconditional love as manifest in Jesus Christ, saving or healing persons afflicted by the lies fear had been telling them.


So if this were true about the early church, then what happened to that church?  


No single blogpost could begin to unravel a complete answer to that question,but please let me try at least giving a partial answer that seems plausible to me and perhaps you as well.  The church developed a problem story based on the lies of a Roman Emperor named Constantine.  The primary lie awaiting the new State Church of Rome was a clever one, as lies can be.  It was not based on a negative comparison but instead a positive.  It went something like this:  “You are more than, and you alone are good enough.”    This lie became the new mission of the church’s new anti-league, one might say, and it replaced the previous truth of “We are all good enough.”  


When the State Church, also known as Christendom, took hold of what we have come to call western civilization, the “we alone are good enough” lie became for the church what a smorgasbord of plenty is for a binge eater.   And the church grew fat.  


Now let’s fast forward a ways.


A fattened church with a new identity of “we are more than and you are less than because we alone are good enough” went to war against itself.  Much as binging can lead to purging in victims of an eating disorder, the church developed a “win a few, lose a few” pattern that became both blessing (we are now more than) and curse (we are now less than) as the centuries of church history developed.    With the Protestant Reformation and scientific Enlightenment, this binging and purging sequence began a disordered process not unlike the eating disorder of anorexia.   Christendom and Colonization provided the smorgasbord.  Secular and scientific Enlightenment became the bathroom stall of bulimia.   The Church began to self-destruct with its own problem narrative based on the binging/purging lie of being “more than and less than” as well as “we alone are good enough and not good enough.”   The Church’s fear story began to steal from its love story.   And even the personhood of Jesus Christ was stolen away.


Okay.  I get it.  My positive comparison of the church with an eating disorder is very far away from the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.   But perhaps it is a "good enough" metaphor for developing a saving and healing strategy (treatment plan) for the church at large in today’s world. 


What if today’s church, starting out at a local level with even one demonstration project, were to experiment with the mission of being an anti-league for the anxiety and depression plaguing many in our local communities?    What if we met in small homes or conference rooms, or even in video chatrooms, to support each other’s true love stories and challenge each other’s false fear stories?    What if we claimed a universal human personhood of God’s children with Jesus Christ and celebrated his own work of love casting out fear, truth casting out lies, and healing for our disordered minds and bodies?     What if the church’s mission became the restoration or re-storying of our own personhood and universal Godhead with Christ?   What if God’s loving influence became our identity and the world’s fearful control became the problem story, the lie, that we are called together to oppose in each other’s presence?


Within my aforementioned book, I have a chapter entitled “Sin” that reframes this common word within the church’s lexicon as being the universal human fear-story based on the lie of our not being good enough or lovable enough.  Fear has its own set of commandments, and they all have to do with taking control over some “other” in our lives.  I go on to write about “Salvation” being love that lets go of control and instead holds onto influence.   Fear drives and commands.  Love draws and invites.  Fear abuses us like, say, a controlling partner (see again https://vsnt.live/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/The-Anti-amnorexia-League-for-TV.pdf).    Love supports and empowers us to be the very best version of ourselves, which involves our transformation from hurt people hurting people to hurt people helping people.  When the church becomes the crucified people offering the re-storying / resurrecting narrative of God’s love in us as our true universal human story, then fear (even of our own cross) loses its control and love gains its influence.


I still have to wonder.


What if THE ANOREXIC church were to operate out of the model of a new life-giving anti-anorexia league?

50 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page