Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

I did not intend for this blog to be principally about books. But I guess my "thimbleful of time" of late has been to thoroughly enjoy being a reader. So strap on your reading glasses because I have another book to tell you about.

If I were to list some favorite authors Gary Thomas would surely make the list. I was given the opportunity from Zondervan to get an early copy of his latest book Every Body Matters and couldn't wait to dig in. I've thoroughly enjoyed his books on spirituality (Sacred Pathways is a book I often recommend), marriage (if you haven't read Sacred Marriage, it's a must for every married couple) and parenting (yes, it's titled Sacred Parenting).

I want to tell you that I really enjoyed this book as well, but that would not be a completely honest account. I needed this book; I needed what Gary had to say to me and to the church. Sometimes the truth hurts. Page two of the book let me know what I was in for: "Whether you're in your twenties, thirties, or forties -- or facing your fifties, sixties, seventies, or beyond -- one thing is certain: you're doing it in a body, a body that not only contains a soul but affects a soul as well. We are not angels, pursuing God without physical covering, and if we try and pretend that we are -- living as though the state of our bodies has no effect on the condition of our souls--all the proper doctrine in the world can't save us from eating away our sensitivity to God's presence or throwing away years of potential ministry if we wreck our heart's physical home." In Gary's own words, "This entire book is focused on becoming "holy, useful to the Master, and prepared to do any good work."

I agree with Gary that our bodies matter when it comes to our relationship with God. It's very easy for me to live my relationship with God in my head and my hands. I love to read and think and learn; and I love to teach and serve and be available to God for his purposes. But somewhere in between I've neglected training for endurance and strength and stamina. I do not want to be a winded, breathly, weak and feeble Christian. I realize that the 25 extra pounds I carry is a weight on my soul as well as on my feet and back.

This is not a weight loss book, but a book that calls you as a follower of Jesus to be strong and fit. It's also a book that addresses the impact of laziness in our lives. "Confronting spiritual laziness doesn't mean ignoring physical life to tend to spiritual concerns, however; on the contrary Drummond urges us to use physical life as a primary training ground for spiritual growth." He goes on to say, "We should be asking ourselves how we can become places of outreach that love, affirm, and build up the sick, the lonely, the recovering addicts, and the weak, while affirming the call to become strong, fit, and active servants."

Gary tells his own story of being convicted to take his physical health seriously. There was no health scare, just a realization of the spiritual implications fitness has on our spiritual life. He became a runner with a goal to run in the Boston marathon. He also tells the story of Kristin Armstrong, Lance Armstrong's ex-wife, and how running and fitness was a catalyst for surviving her divorce. Frankly, I now want to get back to running, even at 52. There was something very compelling and right about the exhortation to fitness in this book.  It is not about pounds but about strength. I want to be a strong believer; one who can sustain all manner of life.

A few excerpts so you can get a taste of Every Body Matters:

"Desiring a silver soul (Gary is speaking of refining) means we stop treating our bodies like ornaments and start treating our bodies like instruments,vessels set apart to serve the God who fashioned them...It is about having a silver soul, not about fitting into a certain size of jeans." (15/21)

"Two areas of dross that received attention in previous ages are widely ignored today: excessive eating (in all its forms) and laziness when it comes to caring for our bodies. In ancient times, these hurdles were called gluttony and sloth." (21)

"What if exercise and discipline in eating isn't as much about physical health as about honoring the God who made us?" (47)

"One of the great dangers of gluttony, in John's (John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent) view, was that "to be unfaithful in the small things is to be unfaithful in the great, and this is very hard to bring under control." He adds, "Many who keep a hard check on the stomach can more easily restrain the blathering tongue." (81)

"Francois Fenelon (18th century author) warns, "But the most dangerous thing is that the soul, by the neglect of little things, becomes accustomed to unfaithfulness." ... There is little doubt that today's church views gluttony as a relatively "little thing." Our silence on the subject is more than enough evidence to suggest this." (82)

"Instead of attacking our anger or lust head-on, John Climacus suggests going to war with gluttony: If, in your humility, you reduce the amount you eat, your passions will be correspondingly reduced. To have an insensitive heart is to be dulled in mind, and food in abundance dries up the well of tears." (84)

"So I go to war against gluttony and indulgence, not because I want God to love me more, but because God, who already loves me perfectly, warns me that gluttony and excess are my enemies -- regardless of how good they may sometimes feel. I go to war against gluttony, not to build a body that others admire, but to maintain a soul "prepared to do any good work" that God can use to bless others. I go to war against gluttony because those who have walked closely with God warn me that overeating dulls me to God's accepting presence, makes me more vulnerable to other sins, negatively affects my relationships with other people, and robs me of the joy rightfully mine as an adopted, deeply loved, and accepted child of God." (88/89)

"Getting fit is not about what I look like in a pair of jeans; instead, I really care about being strong and having endurance spiritually" (Kristin Armstrong). (152)

"All this talk about fitness, facing the pain of getting in shape, actively combating indulgence and laziness, is in many ways an appeal for the church to get tougher. We are soft. We often cave in at the slightest challenge. Men are lost to superficial sins; women are lost to superficial cares, and the work of the kingdom is neglected. If we don't get tougher, the work will never get done." (193)

"I don't believe that riding a bike for a hundred miles, swimming across a lake, running a marathon counts as "carrying our cross," but getting in shape can help us build souls willing to carry a cross." (195)

See you out on the trail, I'll be the one walking before I can run.

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