Only recently I came across an interesting news item on the current longest living humans. They currently happen to be all women. The writer’s interest, of course, was the key to their longevity. From the comments of these women, I was struck by the significant place of rest, food, and faith. None of these women suggested any intentional desire or obsession on their part comparable to the modern obsession among some for ‘healthy’ living.
Health and healthy almost everything is like a mantra these days. And it is not uncommon to find flyers advertising seminars where food therapist (and they are many) are minting money to tell us what we ought to already know – for instance the importance of healthy feeding of Children’s brains and what foods they should eat. It is ironical that in a rich nation as ours we have to now invest in ‘food therapy’ to get our young ones and ourselves fed a diet that is healthy.
Now this health craze and the language around it, is not removed from Church. Besides a healthy church handbook, there are conferences such as ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ with titles that read like a health fix – the full and complete works at some well-known health spa. Everything one needs to know about ‘healthy teams’, ‘healthy future’, ‘healthy leaders’, ‘healthy mission’, and ‘healthy church’ among others, are served up with ease. I must confess that ‘with my unhealthy church habits’ I am simply turned off from these ‘healthy’ mantra that come my way. I prefer transgressive habits, even if other label them as unhealthy.
The obsession (my take) with ‘healthy’ everything in church-life suggests to me a movement in an unhealthy direction, as well as the nurturing of unhealthy habits. Let me highlight of few areas in which what are being proposed under the label of “healthy” may be “unhealthy”. It is certainly unhealthy that all the keynote and significant presenters (at the ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ conference) are only of the pale shade and largely male. I also find unhealthy the ways we deploy the category of healthy and its relationship (either by implications or directly) with that of unhealthy. My sense is that it runs into the danger of perpetuating unhelpful binaries, and consequently setting up one against the other, rather than seeing the complex and intersecting relationship between and among categories. History is replete with examples how polarising categories are.
Finally, a comment on the category of ‘healthy leaders’: Recent scandalous revelation of tax evasion by high flyers in our society and the connection of a priest who was a significant banking voice and consultant reveal a worrying state of affairs in church and society. Even more worrying is that this very person chaired the group that produced a significant report for an established ecclesial tradition on leadership, training and formation or as one colleague puts it the church’s ‘talent management programme’. The colleague goes on to compare that report to an ecclesial version of The Apprentice noting that “the church is looking for help from a sector that has proved time and time again to be morally vacuous”. (Anderson Jeremiah).
Churches need to carefully interrogate its leadership practices whether it is about representation, integrity or an allegiance to the ways of empire/Babylon. One can only hope that in any conversation on ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ such interrogating and confessing would be reflected in the conversations as we strive to embody and model well-being in the midst of all the ambiguities that constitute us.
© jagessar February 15, 2015