I am a tenured professor at Huntington University. In addition to exemplary teaching evaluations, campus, community, and professional service, and letters of recommendation, a tenure application at HU includes an essay on how faith and subject matter interact. That faith-integration essay is the backbone for my Kinesiology and Faith series of blogs. If you’re interested in how fitness, health, and wellness, fit with a Christian worldview, read on …
We are not angels, pursuing God without physical covering, and if we try to pretend that we are – living as though the state of our bodies has no effect on the condition of our souls – all the proper doctrine in the world can’t save us from eating away our sensitivity to God’s presence or throwing away years of potential ministry if we wreck our heart’s physical home.
– Gary Thomas, Every Body Matters
The Christian college exists to provide an arena for faculty, students, and the community to contemplate academic subject matter within the context of Christian theology and worldview. In kinesiology, the contemplation of faith and its impact on subject matter is particularly salient. My experience has shown that throughout most of our Christian education, both at church and through formal academic preparation and/or reflection, we have been taught and trained on how to enrich our souls, often to the unintentional exclusion or detriment to our physical selves. The general thesis of this series is to remind us that to fully embrace Jesus’s command in Mark 12:30 (New Living Translation), “… you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, your entire mind, and all your strength”, we must also consider how physical discipline can enhance, or how the lack of discipline can weaken or undermine spiritual growth. Byl (2008) addressed this topic through a discussion on what it means to be made in the image of God (as described in Genesis 1:27) stating, “the image of God is not limited to a person’s soul, body, or relationships; the image of God is potentially expressed through all aspects of a person, and in the garden the imaging was very good” (p. 5). We represent God wherever we go and in whatever we do. When coupled with Christ’s command to love God with every part of our being, it becomes readily apparent that true, complete faith integration for the Christian kinesiologist must consider the physical dynamic of our humanity.
I am proud and grateful that Huntington University also recognizes the influence that physical well-being has on education and the complexity of complete personhood. In our Manual of Operations, under the Focus Statement (A.1.3.1) and Fundamental & Continuing Commitments (A.184.108.40.206), the Manual states that “Educationally, the University is committed to developing the whole person, including intellectual, physical [emphasis added], social, and spiritual dimensions. We believe this is a demonstration of our commitment to excellence” (Faculty Handbook & Manual of Operations, 2010, p. A-3). And again under the Philosophy of Education (A.1.5), “In developing the whole person, the University emphasizes intellectual, physical [emphasis added], social, and religious objectives” and “The University encourages the student to value physical well-being as a basis for wholesome living and good health [emphasis added], and to develop a personality that makes possible mutually satisfying and cooperative relations with others” (Faculty Handbook & Manual of Operations, 2010, p. A-5). Finally, and possibly most vividly stated, under the Philosophy of Athletics (A.1.9) (Faculty Handbook & Manual of Operations, 2010):
The physical body is part of God’s good creation. It deserves consideration, care, and intelligent development. For the one reborn in Christ, the body is also the temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, both in the original creation and in the new creation, care of the physical body and the development of physical skills are consistent with and important to Christian commitment.
Huntington University is committed to the development of the whole person. This holistic philosophy includes the physical as an important component integrated with intellectual, social, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the total person. It is, therefore, appropriate that the educational program of the University include formal academic opportunities for physical development through activity courses, informal opportunity through an intramural program, and organized activity through the intercollegiate athletics program. (p. A-14)
As I discussed in the Christ@Center@Huntington essay series (Ruiz, 2008) a few years ago, Christians in the field of exercise science, or more broadly, kinesiology, bring an important perspective on faith integration because we understand human wellness as a mixture of spirit, mind, and body. While our campus has many experts who teach how to enhance our spiritual faith through the disciplines of study, prayer, meditation, fasting, and others, how many could articulate the imperative of maintaining, enhancing, and even celebrating the physical component as described in the Manual of Operations. (To illustrate, I, one of the supposed “experts” on physical well-being on our campus, was not aware of the language in the Manual until I began preparation of this paper.) Often, in the pursuit of more spiritual discipline, the “strength” component Christ mentions in Mark 12:30 is often minimized or neglected entirely. A Christian kinesiologist such as myself is an excellent, and I would argue indispensable, complement to the experts who teach spiritual discipline by virtue of my ability to educate students (and other faculty) who have never reflected on the significance of the physical aspect of their personhood.
What do you think?
This thought will be continued in Part II …