Category Archives: Flesh vs. Spirit

I Can’t Look! You’re Gonna Fall!

Afraid of HeightsI have, among other slight psychological disorders, something that I call, Vicarious Acrophobia Syndrome. VAS (which is not included in the the American Psychological Association’s DSM-5, is a very real problem. It means that you have fear of heights for someone else. Just to be clear, I have very real fear of heights for myself. Only in recent years have I gotten to where I can scale a ladder and get onto my own roof, but watching somebody, like this fool sitting on the edge of oblivion in the photo, makes me crazy.

I first recognized my struggle with VAS back at Boy Scout camp a number of years back. As an adult, I had been enlisted to help out with an evening’s adventure, guiding boys to scramble up a challenging but not terribly dangerous rock formation. I say that it was not terribly dangerous, but the top of the formation was also the top of a 60-foot cliff.

The guys in charge of the outing had me go up the rocks first. “Just keep everyone from going crazy up there,” they told me.

To me, the way that you keep from going crazy at the top of a cliff is to hold onto a tree–or better yet lash yourself to said tree–30 or 40 yards away from the edge. Instead, these boys would walk up to the brink of the cliff and stare down into the void. I thought I would die.

My rational mind knows that a 12-year-old boy can stand on the edge of something–a rug, for example–look down, and not totter over onto the floor. Why shouldn’t he be able to stand on the edge of a cliff? That’s my rational mind, but my VAS-afflicted, emotional mind was going crazy.

Why am I thinking about this today? That’s probably fodder for another entry, should I ever get around to it, but thinking about my lifelong struggles with VAS leave me wondering about a struggle I don’t have.

Every day, I see people who are standing on the brink of an eternity in hell just as surely as those Boy Scouts were standing on the brink of the cliff. And while those Boy Scouts were not about to suddenly plunge to their deaths, these unsaved people will someday face death and plunge into that doom unless something brings them to Christ.

Why do I, the VAS-obsessed guy, not have a similar dread of their very real fate?  Why is a highly-unlikely physical risk so much more frightening to me than a completely-certain spiritual risk? I wish I could answer that. More importantly, I wish I could generate the sort of empathy for those standing on the brink of hell that I have for those standing on the brink of a cliff.

Yogini or Yogurtini?

YogaI am conflicted when it comes to the practice of Yoga. My decidedly secular college fills up as many Yoga classes as they offer. While I have never attended one of those classes, I feel confident that there are no mantras chanted, no chakra magic invoked, and no references to Lord Shiva or any other Hindu deity.

Yoga is, stripped of the Hindu mumbo-jumbo–that’s a Sanskrit term, I’m pretty sure, synonymous with “folderah”–can provide good exercise and stretching. I do a couple of Yoga poses in my lower body strength training but without calling them Yoga. The “locust” asana or pose came to me as a “Superman.” You lie, face-down, on the floor and then lift up your head and arms at the same time that you lift your legs, leaving only your mid-section on the mat. The plank pose, basically holding yourself in an “up” pushup position, is not one of the traditional positions from what I can discover, but it is a staple of Yoga classes today. Hold either of these positions for 15 seconds or so and you’ll probably be feeling less spiritual and more shaky than before.

My mixed feelings come from the very religious, very Hindu roots of the practice. The traditional 84 Yoga asanas were supposedly created by the Hindu god Shiva. One traditional sequence, the surya namaskara, is known in English as the Sun Salutation. Essentially it is a form of worship toward the Hindu sun god. The whole purpose of Yoga practice, at least originally, is to allow the yogi (male) or yogini (female) to be able to meditate for long periods of time. This is a very religious practice in its origins.

While I can use my two “poses” and not feel any risk of being drawn into Hinduism, I’m reluctant to fully explore this sort of exercise. On the other hand, I wonder at that original purpose.

How many Christians fail to worship to their ability, fail to pray deeply and effectively, and fail to have the focus necessary to really embrace a long sermon because their body is saying, “No.” I once heard good advice for teachers: “The brain can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

Shouldn’t Christians tune their bodies just as carefully as Hindus tune theirs? Shouldn’t we do our best to ensure that achy joints or finicky backs do not  limit our ability to worship the one true God? When we have a living object for our worship, shouldn’t we do our best to make our bodies capable of enduring and enjoying that worship?

The 3,500-Calorie Rule is Malarkey

It turns out that everything I thought I knew is wrong. Or maybe not. For years we’ve been taught that burning 3,500 calories will make you lose a pound. Like so many things in the realm of diet and nutrition, this is just way too simple apparently.

The video below provides a brief overview of how weight loss might be viewed differently.

It occurs to me, after watching this video, that there’s a good bit of truth here–not just scientific truth but spiritual truth. Compare the idea of weight loss as described in the video, with the gradually flattening chart line, to the sanctification that we experience after salvation. Have you ever been frustrated by your lack of progress in losing the “fat” of sin? Think of Paul’s words in Romans 7:15: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

There are no diet pills to eliminate sin and the math of sanctification isn’t particularly simple. However, unlike with weight loss, we have a uniquely effective personal trainer to assist in the effort. And He’ll help with the weight loss for no extra charge.

But Don’t Love That Body Too Much

Muscle BoyAbout two weeks ago, I mentioned a post by Paul Maxwell in which he questioned male body image problems. Maxwell suggested that we’re trying to impress five different people/groups/entities for five different wrong-headed reasons. Here are his five headings:

  1. To our selves, we want to be confident.
  2. To the opposite sex, we want to be sexy.
  3. To our peers, we want to be intimidating.
  4. To our fathers, we want to be competent.
  5. To God, we want to be superhuman.

I’ve been letting Paul’s ideas float around in my mind since I originally agreed, and I have to say that I’m now convinced he got it wrong. Yes, these five reasons to want to have chiseled bodies are wrong, but they are not an exhaustive list.

A couple of years ago, right about the time I started to get my diet and exercise house in order, I taught at a church children’s camp. My lessons used the idea of masks as a metaphor. Recently, I saw a photo from that camp and–I kid you not–asked this question: “Who is that fat guy in the mask?” It was me, fifty pounds ago. With that in the background, let me tour the five audiences above.

I want to look good for myself, because looking good …well, looks good. I’d rather look in the mirror and see a healthy-looking me than the one in that camp photo. I’m not particularly vain, but I know that a less flabby, more muscular body translates to health and energy and other good things. (Proverbs 27:19)

I want to look good to the opposite sex, or at least one member of the opposite sex, my wife, because I love her and I care about her and I want to demonstrate that love and care by keeping my body healthy and reasonably attractive. (Proverbs 5:18)

I want to look good to peers, but not to intimidate. I’m not going to intimidate anyone, but by having an unfit, unhealthy body, I become a distraction. When I speak with my peers, I do not want them to be thinking of me as the fat guy or the wheezing guy or the guy who is probably going to have a heart attack. (Judges 3:17-23)

I want to look good for my father, but not really. My father passed over a decade ago. However, since I carry his name, I believe that my appearance will reflect on him. It’s a matter of honoring my father when I take care of my body. (Exodus 20:12)

I want to look good for my God. But actually I don’t want to look good so much as I want to have a functional, healthy body. God will never be impressed by how I look, but He can be pleased with how I treat the body He gave me. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

When I look in the mirror, I see a body that could stand to lose 10 pounds but that is in the acceptable range of fat and muscle. My wife is pleased. My peers are not distracted. I believe that my appearance mostly honors both my father and my God. These are sufficient outcomes, and they are worthy reasons to pay attention to that image in the mirror.

13.1 Miles and Goal Achieved

At a little after 7:30 am this morning, I started running the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon. Somewhere around mile 9, I thought my body was going to cease to function. Heavy legged, I kept trudging through the miles, desperately wanting to slow down but perhaps more desperately wanting to make that sub-2:00 goal.

2015 Rock the ParkwayLet’s be clear. A two-hour half marathon is not going to get me a shoe endorsement contract. I won’t be picking up any awards even in my age group. Plenty of guys over the age of 50 can run long distances faster than me. But a two-hour half marathon is something I couldn’t have thought about two years ago. It’s 11:19 better than I did ten months ago. (At this rate of improvement, by the way, I’ll hold the world record in this distance in five years.)

When you’re running a two-hour race and obeying the rules against earbuds, you have a lot of time to think, and this morning I put that time to good use. It occurred to me that running such an event is something like a metaphor for the Christian life. The parable of the sower could be adapted as the parable of the runner.

Some of us run fast, like the guy who won this morning at 1:07; some of us are slow, maybe still on the course now as the shadows gather outside. But the key to Christian life is that we prepare ourselves to run our best race and then keep the legs turning over even when lungs and heart and muscles scream for us to stop.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul uses this same metaphor, recognizing that he is approaching the “finish line” of his life:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness,which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

The key to this understanding of living in Christ is that a PR, a prize, or an impressive finish time isn’t the key thing–which is really good news to me. Whether you run your race of life fast or slow, a long distance or short doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you run your best race, that you keep pushing on toward the prize even when the temptation to stopping screams into ever cell of your life.

That’s what I had time to think this morning.