Last week I got a call from Bob Smietana, the religion reporter at the Tennessean. It seems like Bob is always calling looking for some sort of response on the latest study or some political happening, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that he was looking for comments on a recent study out of Duke on the unhealthiness of clergy folk. I hadn’t read the study, but replied that I wasn’t very surprised, talking about how the pressures of schedule lead to bad eating habits, and a general aversion to exercise. Along the way I made an off hand remark that my running from place to place often leads me to too many McDonald’s drive-through runs. I didn’t think much about it . . . I was just talking to Bob . . . until the story came out the next day and I find myself as the poster child for clergy unhealth.
For the record, I know that I am beyond pleasingly plump, and at the boundaries of morbid obesity. Weight has been an issue all my life, a struggle that I have never mastered. I know what I need to do, and have sometimes been successful at controlling my weight in the past. But even though I see myself and the 75 pounds that I need to lose clearly, I still struggle with maintaining a lifestyle that leads to loss.
There is a tendency among some to see this as simply a choice. But no one chooses to be fat. I know that my success in ministry is limited by the image others have of me, and that weight tarnishes that image. I know that I feel like I have to work harder to influence folks in their faith than my svelte, well trimmed and handsome colleagues. That, of course, leads to greater stress, which makes finding the discipline to eat well and exercise more even harder.
Today the lay leader at a large church in the city wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that I simply needed to eat better and that I should donate what I spend on fast food to the local food bank. Frankly, I didn’t need that word — I hadn’t asked for the publicity about my struggles nor was looking for either sympathy or assistance with the lifestyle that comes with being a pastor. And while I appreciate the concern, it isn’t like I haven’t tried many of the things that she suggested along the way.
What I need is what all of us need — not someone to comment from afar but a supportive community who is willing to walk beside me, who doesn’t judge but rather encourages, who is willing to not only share words but is willing to give the time to walk with me — literally. Those of you who are in congregations, your fat pastor needs more than love and affection, they need to be encouraged to take time to be healthy . . . and it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a gym membership as well. Know that they are probably beating themselves up mentally for their inability to get their weight under control, and more than anyone else see it as a failing in their lives.
Yes, I am a fat pastor, who needs to be transformed like all of us. God is working on me, just like God is working on you, and some day I will move on toward perfection enough that I can leave the weight behind me.