Young woman performing warming up exercises
I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of graduating seniors and their families last weekend during a Community Baccalaureate Service. I shared from 1 Timothy about the importance of living godly, persevering, and being people of character.
I have just completed an intensive spring of travels and speaking, which had me thinking about the importance of preserving in every area of our lives. Specifically, I have recommitted myself to physical training and the strength conditioning of my body.
I was once a fit and competitive athlete. While serving in the military I always obtained top scores on my physical fitness tests. After transitioning to a different career, however, it was more difficult to be consistent in my workouts. I fell out of love with running. I didn’t have a goal or fitness test to prepare for, and I had lost the support of a like-minded community. I was suffering from a case of PAM:
PRIORITY – When my schedule got busy (which it often was), my workouts would be the first thing to drop from my daily routine. There always seemed like something else was more important to do. I have been really inconsistent over the past couple of years. I would wake up, attempt to get dressed and discover that I could barely fit into my jeans. I would work out consistently for a few weeks, drop the pounds, and repeat the cycle.
ACCOUNTABILITY – In addition to not prioritizing my workouts, few of my local friends prioritized their physical fitness. There were a couple of friends who I occasionally worked out with, but I didn’t consistently have a partner or workout buddy. No one called to make me get up early or challenged me to make the time in my schedule.
MOTIVATION – I can’t honestly say that I always wanted to work out. I have fairly good genes. Most of the women in my family are at or below the average American weight. I’m taller than the average woman and have always been fairly small. My motivation was never a weight issue. I also eat fairly healthy, and my vitals are always great when I go to the doctor, so I’m not all that concerned with my health. My biggest concern and the conclusion I have drawn is: This is an area in my life where I have become lazy. It is that simple and I don’t like it!
In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote:
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:7-8 NIV).
Paul also wrote in 1 Cor. 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
In these passages and other scriptures, the Apostle Paul makes the analogy between physical and spiritual discipline. His audience lived in a very athletic and militarized society, so he spoke in a language that they would have understood. He acknowledges the importance of training and disciplining our bodies. He connects the perseverance of this discipline to motivate his hearers concerning their spiritual life. He is basically asking them to consider:
If we are not disciplined in the simple things of this world, like the stewardship of our own bodies (which belong to the Lord), how can we persevere in the more important spiritual matters?
When we make daily decisions about the priority, accountability, and motivation concerning our physical training, we are disciplining ourselves and learning to persevere in the simple things of this life. This is good steward of the gifts of a healthy body and able limbs that God has given us.
I have decided to defeat PAM. I made some changes this year, particularly over the past two months:
PRIORITY – I thank God that I have been able to join a gym that offers classes. When I am not traveling, I schedule gym classes into my day like I would a meeting or a phone conference. Once the workout is on my calendar, I don’t miss it unless I have another option in the day that will work better.
ACCOUNTABILITY – The gym classes offer a great deal of accountability because I know when I am supposed to show up. We can call this self-leadership. When I get there, an instructor has prepared and motivates me to push myself along the way. I see the instructor as my accountability partner, he or she will not allow me to rest too long between sets or quit on myself.
My husband also bought me a Fitbit for Christmas. This helpful tool gives users the ability to track daily steps, sleep, food and calorie intake, heart rate, etc. I primarily use it to track my steps. So much of my work requires that I sit in a chair. My progress (or lack thereof) on the Fitbit lets me know when I have sat too long or when I need to get up and get moving around. It is recommended that we walk 10,000 steps a day to maintain weight on the average American diet. That is my daily step goal. Entering step competitions (which can include walking or running) with friends also keeps me accountable to this challenge.
MOTIVATION – I wish I could tell you that the Word of God convicted me and motivated me to change my slothfulness in this area of my life. The truth is female soloist at American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland, was my inspiration. I follow @mistyonpointe on Instagram and am constantly motivated by her strength and physical stamina. I will never have Misty’s body, but she has motivated me to work hard for my best physical self.
My five favorite exercises right now are:
The instructors always put push-ups at the end of the workout when I am weak, but I am working my way back up to proficiency in this area that used to be a strength.
Arlene Mckenzie, left, handles the cooking at a barbecue hosted by her church, Christ’s Southern Mission Baptist, on May 18, 2019, in North St. Louis. RNS photo by Eric Berger
James Clark has a perfect recipe for getting to know your neighbors.
Set up a grill.
Light some charcoal.
And put on some hot dogs.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Clark, vice president of community outreach at the nonprofit Better Family Life, was offering hot dogs to passers-by at Christ’s Southern Mission Baptist Church in North St. Louis.
Even the mailman dropped by to see what was going on. He joked that he planned to stop by for hot dogs at five other churches having similar cookouts for neighbors that day.
“That’s what I am talking about,” Clark responded and laughed.
The cookouts are part of “Grill to Glory” — a partnership between local churches and Better Family Life to build community in North St. Louis, an area plagued by violent crime.
In 2016, almost 70% of the homicides in St. Louis occurred in North St. Louis, according to an analysis of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department data done by the news organization The Trace and the Missouri School of Journalism.
That chaos creates a sense of hopelessness among people who live in that area, Clark said. And he thinks churches are the institutions best positioned to host barbecues and in doing so, change the psyche of residents who might otherwise be drawn to crime.
“It becomes a neighborhood magnet and conversations begin. Members of the church are there, and they are not aggressively trying to push the Bible. They are just saying, ‘We are the church. We’re here. Come fellowship with us. And if you are free tomorrow morning, why don’t you come to service?’” Clark explained.
Grill to Glory aims to bond North St. Louis through community outreach and fellowship. Photo by StockSnap/Creative Commons
So far, Cook has helped organize events at more than 60 churches around North St. Louis.
Grill to Glory is an offshoot of Better Family Life’s “neighborhood opioid triage,” in which the group tries to help addicts in open-air drug markets by handing out toiletries and Narcan (used to revive someone who is overdosing from opioids), offering to take them to treatment centers and grilling hot dogs.
At one such drug market near a liquor store on North Grand Boulevard, police were called “104 times in a 12-month period for assaults, shootings, drug use, fights and unruly behavior,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in March 2018. Crime analysts and community leaders have linked the growth of such drug markets to increased gun violence in recent years.
In January 2018, Leonard Missionary Baptist Church, located near a drug market, started to hold barbecues on Saturdays.
Some 60 guests would come each week, Clark said.
After seeing the growth, he thought, “what would happen to the neighborhood if we could get the collective church body to buy into this model? And it’s low-hanging fruit. The ask of the church is relatively small.”
So on May 4, Better Family Life, which is not a religious organization, launched the program.
The group has received a few $1,000 donations and has spent about $3,500 so far on grills, lighter fluid, charcoal and food items, said Clark. It’s also asked the churches to contribute supplies such as tables and tents.
Grill to Glory organizer James Clark, right, is greeted while visiting different church barbecue sites on May 18, 2019, in North St. Louis. RNS photo by Eric Berger
Clark, who has worked for Better Family Life since 1997, received the 2018 Nonprofit Executive of the Year Award from the St. Louis American Foundation, which runs the newspaper that covers the local African-American community. President Trump met Clark at a national conference and thanked him for his efforts to reduce violence.
Around 11 a.m. on May 18, Clark and BJ the DJ, the assistant program director for iHeartRadio’s local hip-hop, R&B and gospel radio stations, left the Better Family Life headquarters in North St. Louis with the goal of stopping at as many barbecues as possible.
BJ had been promoting the effort on his morning show on Hallelujah (1600 AM).
“James and I talked about it, and we saw that the churches were not connected to the community,” said BJ, who has invited clergy to talk about the program on air.
“A lot of times you go past the church and you don’t see any activities,” he said. “It’s like they are there but they are not there.”
At the first stop, Christ’s Southern Mission Baptist Church, Arlene Mckenzie stood over the grill; she’s the church’s culinary specialist.
She’s 63 years old and started attending the church as a young child. She now lives three houses down.
“My heart is for feeding the people. I pass out food up and down the neighborhood, and it’s just a vision of mine. I believe it’s really coming true,” she added.
Another longtime church member, Deborah Mason, said she thinks this is one of the church’s first such efforts since it moved into the neighborhood in 1960.
“People want to know that you care, especially the church. If we are supposed to be models of Christ — that’s what he did. He got up with the people. He was a party animal,” said Mason.
Cheryl Collins, right, chats with fellow attendees at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church’s Grill to Glory event on May 18, 2019, in North St. Louis. RNS photo by Eric Berger
At the next stop on Clark’s hop, Cheryl Collins, a member of Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, offered a hot dog to a young man walking by. He declined.
“How about a prayer?” Collins said.
He stopped and came over.
Church members were all smiles as they embraced Clark and BJ the DJ. Clark hopes to enlist 112 churches around North St. Louis.
“I’m having a ball, man,” said one church member. “This is where it’s at.”
Ike Ghee, a homeless 70-year-old man, said he was unable to bring anything to the barbecue — the church already had the necessary supplies — but wanted to participate.
“I had a divorce and things kinda turned but I’m still God’s child,” he said. “He’s showing me that he’s still here.”