Monday, September 03, 2007

Great summer and thinking about exercise

It has been a very long time since I have written here. I have spent most of this summer training for a triathlon and coordinating a summer project and RE for a local congregation.

It was very nice to get some media coverage for our work this summer. UUCSM was a great place to work and a great place to go to church this summer.

Just about every day (except for some Sundays) I have been working out. Saturdays have been coached with a team and the rest of the week has been on our own.

As someone who grew up during the 70s California fitness craze, I have always had mixed feelings about this level of exercise and sport. I grew up around several families "widowed" by active participants or passive consumers of sports. So I have tended to think of working out or higher level recreational athletics as somewhat self indulgent. There are a lot of things I could be doing with those 10 or so hours per week I have spent even if I've lost 30 pounds (my weight gain from two kids and seminary :)) and weigh the same I did when I graduated from high school twenty years ago but with a smaller waist.

The question I have been considering is how to decide when exercise can be good or even sacred versus when exercise becomes idolatry or self-absorption. When people hear that I am training for my first triathlon, they often ask if I am raising money for a cause. Perhaps they have heard recent ads for Team In Training from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society which is doing a great job of getting people trained for their first triathlon, marathon or half marathon while raising money for a good cause. Our local triathlon is a benefit for the work of the local Rotary but not particularly charity oriented. I think most people would feel it was a good thing if I was out raising money this way or that this is one way that exercise would be judged a priori a good thing. Perhaps the health benefits for myself and the role model it gives my kids also functions this way.

The other thing I did this summer was complete a course on early church history, with a heavy dose of critiques of Gnosticism and the influence of Augustine. The old stereotype of the shallow, self-absorbed yuppie at the gym, combined with a heavy dose of "Christian" body suspicion instigated this line of questioning for me. In Christian terms (via Irenaeus)if the body is good enough for the incarnation there must be something good about it.

But how do we devise a theological language that valorizes exercise or physical activity that does not denigrate some people with bodies or conditions that might make this difficult or impossible? Being influenced by Fat Is A Feminist Issue and writings about ability and access I have tended to avoid talking about exercise and fitness. I generally don't talk about the training I am doing though it has been a lot of work and something of an accomplishment.