Physical fitness says something about our relationship with God.
Yesterday we began a conversation of fitness as a spiritual discipline. The first earthly gift God gives us is our bodies. Before we know what our interests and talents are, we are physical beings. In fact, when we draw our first breath, before we have contributed anything to the world, our bodies are protected by law. Human beings have always known the body was special.
One of the first Christians heresies was Gnosticism. In part, Gnostics believed matter was evil and the Spirit was good. Therefore, Gnostics argued they could do anything with their bodies. The writers of the New Testament disagreed. Our bodies do matter.
Because they matter, Christians need to deal forthrightly with issues of food and fitness.
And we can do so by embracing 5 Critical Shifts:
- Our approach to food is idolatry. When we talk about obesity, someone will wisely ask, “Is being overweight a sin?” Well, it isn’t and it is. Gluttony – the over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth – is. But not all overweight people are gluttons and plenty of skinny people are. The real problem is idolatry. Too many of us turn to food for comfort, celebration, fellowship, meaning, and life. We don’t eat to live, we live to eat. Whether we feel celebratory or sad, many of us turn to food. This is idolatry. We believe food will give us something more than fuel for our bodies and we are wrong. I know firsthand.
- Our over-consumption of food contributes to the marginalization and oppression of the poor. Many of us are over-eating while we know too many are not eating at all. We are all, in fact, God’s children. I have two daughters. Do you know what would make their father angry? If one of them ate all the food I provided for both of them leaving her sister without. A few weeks ago my wife, Rochelle, made a suggestion. She encouraged our family to stop going out to lunch on Sundays after worship services, just once a month. Instead, we would use the funds we’d spend feeding ourselves to feed someone else. We adopted a little boy, Vikram, from Compassion International. His dad makes less than $40 a month. By not going out to eat, we doubled the family’s monthly income. On those Sundays, we eat a light meal at home with friends, a food that is representative of what Vikram would’ve eaten that week – rice and lentils. How simple is that? It’s a simple, doable act of food justice and it’s just the beginning.In her book, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–and My Own Mika Brzezinski makes a compelling case that contemporary Americans are the first generation in the history of the world for whom too much food has been a problem. In fact, the average American will consume 23lbs of cheese this year. 23lbs! For most of history, humans has struggled to just have enough. Lack of food is still a reality for too many in our world, just not us. We should care about that.
- We should approach obesity like we would any other eating disorder. As a long-time youth minister, I dealt with a number of young people struggling with eating disorders. When a teen struggled with anorexia or bulimia, parents, youth leaders, and the entire church system rushed to help. We paid for counseling and prayed for relief. That is not happening for the obese. Not once do I remember someone in a church sitting down with an overweight member and treating their obesity as an illness, a problem. Rather, we make light. We laugh it off at potlucks and joke about eating dessert-first and the festival of fried death laid before us. Our response to obesity is humor. Yet we do not respond with humor when the effects of obesity ravage our church members’ bodies with cancers, diabetes, high-cholesterol, high blood-pressure and heart-attacks. So, it’s not that we don’t respond to obesity, we simply respond too late.
- We are God’s image-bearers. From the opening pages of scripture, God intends for us to know that we carry God in and with us both spiritually and physically. Time and again in God’s story, the human body is placed front-and-center, in fact, our bodies are the first physical gift we receive from God. We are encouraged not to defile them or violate the physical person of another. Lack of care for our bodies is a violation of God’s gift. Disagree? Think of the handicapped man or woman you know and what they would give to have the physical abilities that able-bodied people take for granted.
- We should recapture the Hebrew’s rhythm of feasting and fasting. Churches are great at feasting. We host countless lunches, potlucks, dinners, and parties. And we do these in a systemic way. Few churches fast systemically. Events like 30-Hour Famine, may serve as the exception, but rarely have I heard of a congregation, not only fasting, but implementing some means of accountability for the fast. We feast together, but we expect fasting to occur privately and individually. As every leader knows, what gets rewarded gets repeated. We are rewarding over-consumption, and we rarely even consider corporate fasting.
It’s time for many of us to step out of denial. We are fat and getting fatter. This is not a call for the Christian community to become skinnier; it is an encouragement to become healthier, stronger. Some of us need a hard conversation with someone, like the one I had with my doctor. The hard truth helped. I believe it saved me thousands of dollars in healthcare cost. Fitness has added years to my life and life to my years.
What are you willing to do to become healthier, to become happier?