About Tommy Grimm

I have an M.Div. from Duke Divinity School and currently work as a Wellness Advocate with Spirited Life. Born and raised in the heartland of America, I'm a certified Hoosier who loves basketball. I've recently discovered the wonder of beets, and I take guilty pleasure in gas station candy, particularly circus peanuts and spice drops.

Pairing Motivation


Making time to exercise regularly is difficult, especially when other commitments begin to mount. In my work with Spirited Life participants and in my own efforts to make fitness a priority, few strategies have been more successful than pairing motivation. The concept is simple: in order to increase your motivation to exercise, you pair the activity with some other source of motivation. It sounds elementary, but it can be highly effective.

For one pastor I worked with, the early morning was his only time available for exercise, but a morning person he was not. We tried various techniques to raise his motivation, all to no avail, and then he had the revelation to try paring his time in the gym with one of his favorite hobbies: reading political thrillers. He began listening to audiobooks while he worked out on the elliptical machine at the gym, and in no time, he found himself awake and alert in the morning, no longer negotiating how he might sleep more. His first thought was, “I wonder what will happen next to Jack Ryan?”

Another pastor had similar success with exercise after pairing motivation. She had been struggling to set and maintaining a walking routine until we discovered the power of her love for music. Once she converted her walking time to worship time–singing along to praise and worship music from her audio player–she had no problems creating this habit. She had a new practice that nourished her body and her soul.


There are all sorts of motivations that can be tacked on to exercise: getting some fresh air, exploring a new neighborhood, listening to a favorite preacher, watching reality TV on a tablet, spending time with a friend, praying over a community, or paying attention to creation’s beauty. I’m much more motivated to put on my running shoes when it’s to spend time with my wife (on a run) than to go on a run (with my wife).

So get creative, pair your exercise with something way more interesting than…ugh… exercise, and share your attempts in our comments.

–Tommy Grimm

Image by flickr user John Carleton, via Creative Commons.

What will you regret?


Kindness mattersEarlier this year, acclaimed author George Saunders delivered the convocation address for 2013 graduating class at Syracuse University. Saunders knows exactly what’s typically involved in such speeches: “some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).” Nevertheless, he goes on share what he regrets most in his life, in hopes that the graduates will go and do not likewise.

What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class.  In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.”  ELLEN was small, shy.  She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore.  When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing).  I could see this hurt her.  I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear.  After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth.  At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.”  And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then – they moved.  That was it.  No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that?  Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it?  Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her.  I never said an unkind word to her.  In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still.  It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness

In our superficial, health-obsessed culture, it can be easy to think that your BMI measures your worth and your pants’ size your value. Many of our participants are putting tremendous effort into improving their health, causing us to beam with pride. Yet almost all of them are remarkably kind people, and that may be the most important thing of all.

Tommy Grimm

(image by Flickr user SweetonVeg /via Creative Commons)


Stoic Christianity


In our feature piece in Christian Century, our research director, Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, said that if she could magically accomplish one cultural change, she would “shift the way that congregants think about their pastor.” No matter the responsibilities a pastor is entrusted with, he or she is still a human being “with flaws and graces…a person who has a life that needs fulfillment.”

This is a change many pastors desperately desire. As one pastor said, “I don’t think our congregations know how unhealthy our vocation can be. They seem to think we are super-men and -women…I keep telling them our vocation is hazardous to our health. They just don’t understand that.”

While pastors feel this pressure uniquely, it’s by no means foreign to most people. Alan Jacobs, professor of literature at Baylor University, recently reflected on the stoic values popular in the American Midwest and South, and he recounted a time when the tacit code that one suffers in silence became unmistakably clear.

When my wife was seriously ill some time ago, people from our church contacted me to ask if we needed anything. When I replied that it was nice of people to offer meals but that Teri’s chief problem was simple loneliness — no one to talk to, as she lay in her sickbed, except a very busy husband — people were, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked. I had said something unexpectedly shameful. One person even commiserated with Teri: how difficult it must have been for her to have a husband who so openly admitted that she had personal needs in her illness.

1024px-Michael_Ancher_001Let me highlight that this was not the experience of a pastor, but of a lay person, who tried to be vulnerable with his congregation and was shut down. Expressing weakness in shameful not only among pastors, but among many segments of our culture in which class and status and power are incongruent with dependency and loneliness and desire. As Alanis Morisette sings, no matter what pain we’re experiencing, we prefer to stick one hand in our pockets while explaining, “what it all comes down to my friends, Is that everything’s just fine fine fine.” Nothing to see here, folks.

In a follow-up piece, Jacobs concludes that that the Christian scriptures encourage us “to accept suffering but not to pretend that we don’t hurt or that we are somehow above the pain. Rather, we are to seek out our brothers and sisters for sympathy and support.”

Parishioners may want a pastor who is superhuman, but perhaps what they need is a pastor who is utterly human, someone who bravely opens up space for it to be okay to be weak and have needs. Pastors may not be the only ones ready to scream under the suffocating silence of stoicism.

Tommy Grimm

(Painting by Michael Ancher, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Overwhelmed by abundance


Too Many ChoicesIn a recent article at The New Republic, Tim Wu argues that for most Americans and Westerners, the abundance we’ve worked hard to create is now suffocating us.

Over the last century, mainly through the abundance project, we have created a world where avoiding constant decisions is nearly impossible. We have created environments that are designed to destroy our powers of self-control by creating constant choices among abundant options. The path of least resistance leads to a pile of debt, a fat body, and an enormous cable bill; strenuous daily efforts are required to avoid that fate.

What a stark contrast to the true abundance that God offers! When God provided manna to Israel, there was enough for each day, enabling the people to continue their journey and perform their duties. But our society’s abundance, enough for far more than the day, makes us slow and lethargic, neglectful of our callings. When Israel tried to horde enough manna for tomorrow, they found what always occurs when we go beyond God’s provision: “it bred worms and stank” (Exodus 16:20, KJV).

So what can we do, as children locked in an endless candy store? A common answer is that we just need to “grow-up,” to learn some self-control and act like self-restrained adults. But Wu points out, citing the work of researchers Baumeister and Tierney, that this may not be as simple as it sounds:

One possible solution is to double-down on the self-control, and train ourselves to better resist temptation and stick with the program. But…there are good reasons to suspect that relying on willpower alone will not work in an environment designed to destroy it…Humans have tested and tried self-control in the face of temptation, and it has repeatedly been found wanting. After decades of dieting and good nutrition, Americans are fatter than ever…[We] have created conditions that exhaust our willpower, more or less guaranteeing failure.

So if strengthening our resolve and trusting in self-discipline won’t see us through this avalanche of abundance, what will? Is there no balm in our Gilead of choices?

It is time, as Baumeister and Tierney would agree, to think systematically about the human environments that we are creating with technological powers only imagined by previous generations. It is time to take seriously the problems of overload and excess as collective, social challenges, even though they may be our own creations.

We don’t need more discipline over ourselves; we need more creativity over our environments. I knew one friend who would turn her monitor off at work so that internet browsing would be less of a temptation. Some people set fruits and vegetables front and center in their refrigerators so that they’re easier to see and snack on. One pastor I know changed his route home so he avoids passing fast food traps.

How can we make living well less of a decision and more of a destiny?

–Tommy Grimm

(Image by flickr user justmakeit /via Creative Commons.)

Examining life


Woman & Mirror“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

So I learned in my Intro to Philosophy class my freshman year of college, as spoken by Socrates. Reading these word’s in Plato’s Apology felt like an epiphany; self-knowledge and philosophical reflection confer meaning and value to life. “Know thyself” is the answer to fulfillment!

But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that self-knowledge can enslave as often as it empowers. When we ask, “Who am I,” the answers can be too disappointing to bear. This can especially be the case for pastors. As parishioners exalt them to a high moral status, pastors can easily adopt for themselves those expectations for perfection. But when they examine their lives, they can find anger, apathy, and sadness. When they examine their ministries, they can find failed churches, disappointed parishioners, and uninspired initiatives. The unexamined life might be pointless, but the examined life can be depressing. Socrates encouraged us to look at our lives, but he didn’t describe how. What measure do we use? What lens do we look through?

Brennan Manning, a beloved writer best known for his book Ragamuffin Gospel, passed away recently. He spoke and wrote openly about his struggles with alcoholism but only as a window to a deeper reality to his life. Manning saw his life in the terms of his memoir’s title: All is Grace.

In an article on his website, Philip Yancey offered these words about his friend Brennan.

As you read this memoir you may be tempted, as I am, to think “Oh, what might have been…if Brennan hadn’t given into drink.”  I urge you to reframe the thought to, “Oh, what might have been…if Brennan hadn’t discovered grace.”  More than once I have watched this leprechaun of an Irish Catholic hold spellbound an audience of thousands by telling in a new and personal way the story that all of us want to hear: that the Maker of all things loves and forgives us.  Brennan knows well that love and especially the forgiveness.  Like “Christian,” the everyman character in The Pilgrim’s Progress, he progressed not by always making right decisions but by responding appropriately to wrong ones.  (John Bunyan, after all, titled his own spiritual biography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners).

Yancey knows that Manning’s story can be examined as a disappointment or a triumph, and the difference is grace. How do you frame your life? By the standard of “always making right decisions” or “by responding appropriately to wrong ones”? When we examine our lives, may we discover with Manning:

“All is grace.”

–Tommy Grimm

(Image by flickr user Cia. /via Creative Commons)

“Nice guys finish…?”


Give More Than you TakeYou’re at table with a couple other pastors and your district superintendent  (or a comparable denominational leader). As you discuss and report on life and ministry, two competing impulses arise.

The first impulse: what a chance for fellowship this is! I’m meeting with my spiritual adviser, and if I can listen openly to my colleagues while sharing honestly my successes and struggles, I may finally find that support I need.

The second impulse: what a chance to get ahead this is! I’m meeting with my boss, and if I can throw my colleagues under the bus (framed as offering them prayer for their struggles) while promoting my skills and accomplishments, I may finally get that promotion I deserve.

We know we’re called to follow that first impulse, but we also know that in this world, nice guys finish last. But do they really? Wharton Professor Adam Grant begs to differ. In a recent interview about his book Give and Take, Grant makes his case with the research he’s collected.

In one of my own studies, hundreds of salespeople completed a questionnaire on their commitment to helping coworkers and customers, and I tracked their sales revenue over the course of a year. I found that the most productive salespeople were the “givers”—those who reported the strongest concern for benefiting others from the very beginning of their jobs. They earned the trust of their customers and the support of their coworkers. Similar patterns emerged in a number of other fields, and before long, I had many data points showing that the most successful people in a wide range of jobs are those who focus on contributing to others. The givers often outperform the matchers—those who seek an equal balance of giving and getting—as well as the takers, who aim to get more than they give.

Does this mean that giving guarantees success? Not exactly, says Grant. While the most successful tend to give most generously, the least successful also give generously. What makes the difference?

Ultimately, the biggest difference between the givers who rise to the top and those who sink to the bottom is the boundaries that they set. Givers who burn out consistently put the interests of others ahead of their own, sacrificing their energy and time and undermining their ability to give in the long run. Those who maintain success are careful to balance concern for others with their own interests. Instead of helping all of the people all of the time, they help many of the people much of the time. They’re careful to give in ways that are high benefit to others but not exceedingly costly to themselves.

Give WayThe most successful give generously, but they’re strategic about it. They set boundaries and look at benefits over time, which allows them to sustain their contributions.

Of course, for pastors, it’s no surprise that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and there’s good precedent for giving so un-strategically that it’s scandalous (think of the “wasteful” beauty of the woman in Bethany lavishing expensive perfume on Jesus). But because we’re all tempted to think that in this world success only comes from self-seeking and miserly ambition, it’s nice to know that “this world’s” research supports giving–generously and strategically!

Tommy Grimm

(First picture by flickr user Your Secret General /via Creative Commons. Second picture by flickr user slimmer_jimmer /via Creative Commons.)

The baffling Church


3474771251_14226c1b2d_b“How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, though not completely. And besides, where would I go?”

-Carlo Carretto (1910-1988; Italian Catholic spiritual writer, desert monastic community member)

Tommy Grimm

image by flickr user wohlford via creative commons


Loving your future self


Drop-Dead-HealthyIn Drop Dead Healthy, A. J. Jacobs (author of The Year of Living Biblically) narrates his epic quest for health perfection. He begins with a body he likens to “a python that swallowed a goat” and fastidiously pursues “maximal health from head to toe.” He writes as a wellness wannabe, not as a nutritional-fitness guru, and his self-deprecating humor and light tone makes the book an easy introduction to various realms of wellness, such as sleeping better, avoiding dangerous germs, and preserving your hearing.

Part of his mission is to begin exercising more (as he puts it, “losing my gym virginity”), and one tactic he finds helpful comes from the field of “egonomics.”

Egonomics is a theory by a Nobel Prize-winning economist named Thomas Schelling. Schelling proposes that we essentially have two selves. Those two selves are often at odds. There’s the present self, that wants that frosted apple strudel Pop-Tart. And the future self, that regrets eating that frosted apple strudel Pop-Tart.

The key to making healthy decisions is to respect your future self. Honor him or her. Treat him or her like you would treat a friend or a loved one (p. 48).

5799948301_99c92573f1_zThis is easier said than done, right? We all have a general idea of what decisions in the present will make for a better life in the future: plenty of sleep, more spinach, less cage fighting, etc. But human nature gives us a penchant for preferring present gains over future losses. How do we value our future wellness, when that present donut looks so deliciously satisfying?

Jacobs solution was to use an iPhone app (HourFace) that digitally aged his photo. “My face sagged and became splotchy–I looked like I had some sort of biblical skin disease.” He printed out his elder self and taped it to his office wall. The result?

When I’m wavering about whether to lace up my running sneakers or not, I’ll catch sight of Old A.J. Respect your elder, as disturbing-looking as he may be. This workout is for him.

[My] future self needs to be around for my sons. They deserve to know him (pp. 48-50).

What strategies do you use to remember to respect your elder self?

Tommy Grimm


image by flickr user djwtwo via creative commons



If not for aesthetics, then why?


In his book The Cure for Everything, health-policy expert Timothy Caulfield tries to dispel various myths related to health and happiness. In his chapter about fitness, I was struck by a point about exercise by Todd Miller, a professor in the Department of Exercise Science at George Washington University.

People don’t [care] about health. People don’t say, “Wow, you have great blood pressure,” or “Check out that [person’s] cholesterol.” They may say they care about being healthy, but they really don’t…People want to look good, and they equate looks with health. The entire fitness and physical-activity industry is built on this reality. It is driven by aesthetics (p. 5).

Obviously, this is a cynical generalization, but I’ve been reminded of it every time I’ve seen a health magazine or commercial. Adonis-like figures are all over the place, implicitly promising me that if I buy their products and follow their routines, I too can be a buff beach-side beauty.

Caulfield believes research demonstrates that Miller has a point.

Research has shown that people do, in fact, care mostly about appearances; at least, this is one of the biggest motivators for exercising….Yes, there are vast cultural and age-related complexities associated with the issue of exercise motivation…, but looks and weight control (for the purpose of looks) are constant themes in almost every study (p. 5).

This creates an interesting challenge for Christians. As Lent reminds us, we take seriously that we are fragile creatures, that life is fleeting, and that true contentment is not found in personal health reform efforts. But just as Lent gives way to Easter, and Death to Life, is it possible that something as mundane as our motivation to be healthy might also be transformed?  Could it lie in the possibility that as healthier individuals, we might better serve others and live into the calling God has given us?

In Spirited Life, we feel privileged to journey with pastors as they explore these questions. To focus on one area of health, many have found that exercise has decreased their stress and given them more energy; it has helped them to prepare mentally for church meetings and bible studies and strengthened their discipleship.

As Christians and pastors, how have you wrestled to find a faithful motivation to exercise?

Tommy Grimm

photo by flickr user Thomas Hawk, via creative commons