get in shape, girl!*

A friend recently pointed me towards a new column on a respected youth ministry site called "Muscular Christianity."

The author is a youth worker and fitness instructor. While these two things are not mutually exclusive from one another, they are not necessarily cohesive and candidates for conflation. Nevertheless, this author set about the task of creating a Christian ethic for physical fitness. According to the author, personal fitness is a matter of Christian obedience.

What are the grounds for such a claim? Jesus was fit. He writes, "There's absolutely no way a physically deficient man could've withstood the beating and the flogging He endured without passing out or dying prior to being hung on the cross." Christian fitness isn't about the person, it is a "kingdom enterprise." Exercising self-control over our bodies advertises the goodness of our faith and the Holy Spirit will give us power to do so.

While it is inarguable that there is an international crisis of overnutrition and obesity, I struggle to see how creating an ethic of working out and eating right will win hearts for the kingdom, even my own. Nevermind, we have no idea what Jesus looked like or that Jesus' divinity might have played a role in his ability to withstand torture.

This fusion of physical strength and prowess with spiritual fitness ignores the weakness metaphors throughout scripture and perpetuates the myth of the invincible Christian person. If one is only truly Christian if they are internally and externally perfect, muscular and invulnerable, a great number of us are in trouble.

I love to workout. I love to ride my bike. I love to run. They can be spiritual activities for me. They can even function as expressions of obedience to God. But it is not because Jesus was fit and it is not because I will proselytize with my body. It is because I am practicing stewardship and enjoyment of the body, metabolism, and capabilities that God has given me. Declaring the unfit (I cringe at the label!) to be disobedient places the societal paradigm of external perfection over top of the Christian paradigm for surrendering our lives to Christ.

Obedience is not a matter of working out and eating right. It is not a matter of reading the Bible every morning or doing the right thing every day. True obedience is setting aside my need to do the right thing in order to follow Christ. Guilt over cookies eaten and miles un-run is shed for joy in the Lord. All earthly standards of goodness are useless in the eyes of the Lord. This is my peace.  It is forever changing and teaching me.


*The title for this post is swiped from one of my favorite obscure 1980s toy and exercise atrocities.


This post is part of a synchroblog with writing friends. As they post, I will link to their writing. Please take some time to read their work: Wordshepherd, i write to be rid of things, nightsbrightdays, alishasharayah.


brnh said...

Hey! I had the Get in Shape, Girl! Gymnastics Ribbon. It was super fun.

Thanks for working out distinction for me. One of our bible classes at church right now is "Taking Back your Temple" and it was making me uncomfortable. I think that perfection v. stewardship battle is part of it.

Certainly there are several "fitness" metaphors in the Bible. (They all get trotted out for men's bible studies...) But you're right that it's firmly in the realm of taking care of what God has given you, rather than some other reason.

Gretchen said...

Harry Wendt (author of the Crossways curriculum) argued that fitness is indeed something we should do as good stewards of our bodies. His rationale is that if one person is ill, two people are out of ministry - the sick person and one person to take care of him/her. Thus we should do whatever we can to stay healthy and in service!

Alaina said...

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't teach healthy stewardship of our bodies.

I'm angered by the notion that if someone is obese or unhealthy they are somehow less faithful than those who are.

Wendt's argument could be extended to almost any issue: if one is elderly and in need or a person's care, they are taking that person away from ministry. Many times caring for a sick person IS ministry and many times sick people minister to the healthy. It is too circumstantial to hold up as good/bad dichotomy.