Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why I Exercise 

We read a book for History of Christian Life and Thought III class, that, while it wasn't very good, provoked some interesting discussion today. The book is by ethnographer R. Marie Griffith and is entitled Born Again Bodies. It does a nice job of bringing up the dangerous theologies of Christian diet and fitness sub-cultures, but where it falls short for me is in that it does not detail a positive outlook on healthy exercise, eating, and general wellness. So, in defense of that, I submit this, my story and opinion.

I cannot tell you why I said yes a little over four years ago when Fox knocked on my door and said, "Whitley! Let's go to the gym!" I was always intimidated by the gym and the people who went there, always afraid they'd look at my scrony self and wonder why I was wasting my time; why this disappeared with Fox, who was and is much bigger and stronger than I, I don't know. Perhaps because he is such a close friend. So, all that is to say, I went. And I haven't stopped going since. Over the years, Fox and I shared a lot of time together in the gym where we talked and laughed, had a good time and discussed serious matters. When he graduated and came back for a visit the next year, he and I found our refuge together lifting weights once again. He taught me everything I know about weightlifting and for that I am thankful. Once he graduated, I found it was not nearly as fun or entertaining to go to the gym by myself; it had then just become something I do, like lunch - a part of my day. I asked around and found another weightlifting partner, BrotherBeal, only this time the roles were reversed. I was the stronger one and the teacher. Our friendship grew in the gym much like Fox's and mine relationship did. Through those years, I gained two of my best friends (not just because of the gym, but that time together was certainly a part of it).

Throughout that time, I noticed some positive improvement to my body. I was getting stronger. I found I had more energy. When playing sports, I was no longer winded as easily by my asthma. I felt like I looked better and that made me feel better and more confident about myself. When he graduated and we worked out for the last time together on a regular basis, Fox gave me a great compliment - "Well, my work here is done. You don't have tube-sock arm anymore." I took that to heart. The funnier thing was when I went back to Fort Myers and ran into someone I hadn't seen in a few years. Their eyes said what I had wondered all along - my physique had changed, it was noticible, and it was a good change.

Over the years, lifting weights has become a spiritual discipline for me. I take seriously the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor 6 where he says, "Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit?" I want my temple to be a strong, solid, and well built one, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The words of the ole Boy Scout Oath come to mind, "...to keep my self physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." Lifting is a way for me to de-stress and release tension and anger in a healthy and constructive way. Not that I have a lot of anger, but when I do, it really helps to lift. I find I make friendships in the gym that are unique. Now, I am training someone else in lifting and enjoying that growing friendship even as I am enjoying watching him increase his strength and tone his muscles, knowing my instruction had something to do with that. I don't think he can really see it yet, but he will soon. I exercise because it makes me stronger; it gives me more energy (MacDaddy always wants to know where I get the energy to do all the things I do); it relieves my stress; it helps be build relationships; it is one of my spiritual disciplines; and it makes me look and feel good about myself. I will never deny the self-serving aspect of it, but I will also highlight how I can put all of this to good use in situations that have not yet presented themselves. Maybe by my strength I'll save a life one day, or, just in the ordinary course of things, be able to help someone out who needs it. I enjoy exercising and feel no shame about it. I felt like the book was trying to say, to a certain extent, that we should be happy with the bodies God gave us and not worry about them. Well, that's true. I am. I also like to keep it in shape and improve it's capacities within its natural limitations. I have not, nor ever will, use performance enhancing drugs. I might not have the chiseled abs or ridiculously defined biceps of steroid or other performance enhancing supplement users - but that's not what its about for me. It's about looking and feeling good, and knowing that I did it, myself. I don't think God wants to take that away from me. I don't even think God cares that much about it to tell you the truth. As my Mother always says, "Leave God out of things that He never intended to be in, in the first place." God loves me whether I work out or veg on the couch. And God loves you too, no matter what you do. God's love is not dependant upon our health and wellbeing. Our health and wellbeing, so that we might better serve God, is dependant in large part upon us.

That is why I exercise.



I wouldn't say God had nothing to do with you winding up in the gym. After all, where else did He expect you to show off that insane (and completely useless) knack for the shoulder press?

By Blogger BrotherBeal, at 6:07 AM  

Well you some things up nicely. I too have my feelings about that book and class. Rather than bore you with a long comment, I will just ask a question. Why did we have to read that book for a history class and why in history did we talk about the future? Sorry that was 2 questions. My bad. Look forward to seeing you in the Gym

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:01 PM  

sorry about that some, rather than sum. I will blame it and any other mistakes on being a dumb jock

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:03 PM  

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