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.

Isolation in ordination


In my work with clergy, pastors often lament over how difficult it is to build friendships and social support.  For many, the clerical call carries with it a sense of isolation.  M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Seminary, calls it a “crowded loneliness”–a challenge that he reflects over in a recent article with the Christian Century.

For over 30 years I’ve struggled with the question of befriending parishioners. I realize that I’m supposed to maintain healthy friendships outside of the church, and I’ve taught this for years in seminary classes. The professional literature supports this call to maintain a distinction between relationships of mutuality and those of service as a pastor. I get that. But there’s a math problem—there isn’t enough time left over after serving the church to have healthy friendships.

Vocational ministry leaves little time for relationships of mutuality, so it’s only human that pastors would desire reciprocation and friendship from congregants. But this is only half the problem. Even when pastors use discipline in their relationships within the church, making these relationships ones of service, they still face pressure from congregants to be one among them, as a neighbor, partner, and friend.  Barnes continues,

When I knelt to receive the laying on of hands before I was ordained, the elders of the congregation were being led by the Holy Spirit to push me away from them. They were essentially saying, “We are setting you apart to serve us. So you can’t be just one of the gang anymore. Now you have to love us enough to no longer expect mutuality.” It wasn’t long after I stood up from the ordination prayer that I discovered this. But the elders have a hard time understanding the holy distance they created by their decision to make me their pastor.

Barnes doesn’t shy away from naming this unavoidable burden for what it is.

Ordination costs pastors, and one of the greatest costs is maintaining the lonely status of being surrounded by everyone in the church while always being the odd person in the room.

He goes on to describe how he’s learned to maintain friendships outside the church, mostly with other clergy members. He speaks to them on the phone weekly and is intentional about gathering with them for retreats (many pastors use Duke’s Study Leave program for just this sort of gathering). It sustains him, but it doesn’t remove the awkwardness and longing he experiences in the “crowded loneliness” of ministry. Whether congregants know it or not, this sacrifice is for their sake and good, a service of devotion and love. Israel’s priests were set apart from the people to make intercession and mediate before God for them.

Does this reflect your experience?  What ways have you found to maintain honest, supportive relationships of mutuality amidst the work of ministry?

–Tommy Grimm

(Photo by Flickr user dMad-photo/via Creative Commons)

Leadership and the Ideal Pastor


Working with pastors, I’m often struck by the diversity among those leading the Church. According to Stanley Hauerwas in the recent edition of Divinity Magazine, this diversity is nothing we should hide from:

Because leadership requires the development of practical wisdom, I worry about the attempt to develop general theories about what makes a good or effective leader.

There can be no generalized, uniform account of the ideal leader because a good pastor has a unique story, knows her own particular gifts, understands her community’s specific needs — and leads accordingly.

So what, then, does it mean to lead as a pastor?

In the same issue of Divinity Magazine, recent Master of Divinity graduate Sanetta Ponton described her transformed understanding of leadership.

After three years [at divinity school], I learned that leadership is born out of faithfulness to the gifts and graces God has placed inside of you.  There is no formula and there are no steps.  Its marker is a humble confidence in God’s magnificent creation in you coupled with the assurance that God will use all He has deposited in you and will complete the work He has begun in you.  For some it is a quiet leadership, faithfully leading your struggling classmates to the foot of the cross every week in prayer.  For others it is a graceful leadership, dancing through the chapel aisles to lead others in worship.  And for others it is preaching the message of the gospel with power, clarity, and conviction, helping to lead some to become more faithful to Christ.  It will look different in each one of us.

May we all serve this season with humble confidence in God’s work in and among us, and may we have the courage to be surprised by and embrace whatever form our leadership takes.

Tommy Grimm

(Image by Flickr user RichardBH /via Creative Commons)

Seeking Perspective


One of the central issues with stress is perspective. No matter how many times we’ve survived a flat tire, a disgruntled congregant, or a cluttered house, these troubles feel like epic challenges, threatening to unravel the fabric of our worlds. Our fretful mountains often turn out to be nothing but molehills, and so we miss the true mountains. We don’t pay attention to what’s truly majestic and encompassing. Our problems become the text of reality, and everything else is relegated to a footnote. As said long ago, we fail to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

Next time you need your perspective recalibrated, check out the web-program The Scale of the Universe. It’s an incredible representation of the wonder of creation, how there’s so much to life that’s bigger and smaller than us humans. Between the one nanometer Buckyball (composed of sixty carbon atoms) and the one million kilometer star Alpha Centauri B (the second largest star in the Alpha Centauri star system), the problem of next Sunday’s sermon might not seem as significant.

How do you put things in perspective?

–Tommy Grimm

(Image by Flickr user Lanzen /via Creative Commons)

The Truth of Illness and Health Limitations


In a book drawn from her experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, author Kat Duff writes about the reorienting power of illness:

Symptoms crack through the hardened facades of “health,” that mesh of habitual attitudes, assumptions, and successful behaviors that can so easily steer us off course from ourselves. Like all intense physical sensations, whether painful or pleasurable, they force the mind back toward feeling and the visceral truths of our immediate experience. When I am bone tired, I cannot pretend to be happy or gracious, nor can I pass as perfectly competent; I am what I am and that is all there is. As a result, the ongoing exhaustion of my illness has slowly undermined my “good girl” persona and perfectionist habits I had learned as a child to steer my way through the land mines of adult psyches, and it has cultivated in me a self-attentiveness I now need in order to survive. I could not say that I have the self-possession of a master…, but I do have the ability to pause and check in with myself while collapsed, and the license to say no to the things I do not want to do, and yes to that which I must do for the survival of my body and soul.

Sometimes I think we would lose ourselves altogether if it were not for our stubborn, irrepressible symptoms, calling us, requiring us, to re-collect ourselves and reorient ourselves to life. The longer I am sick the more I realize that illness is to health what dreams are to waking life–the reminder of what is forgotten, the bigger picture working toward resolution.

(The Alchemy of Illness, 32-33)

– Tommy Grimm

(Image by flickr user Stitch, via Creative Commons)


EWG’s “Good Food on a Tight Budget”


Grocery stores can be overwhelming when it comes to the number of decisions you have to make. Let’s say you need bread. Which kind of bread? Which brand? How much? It’s no wonder the check-out lanes are full of soda and candy. After making hundreds of choices up and down the aisles, we’re decision-fatigued, our willpower depleted, leaving us nearly helpless to resist the shiny packages with their sugary, savory treasures.

Just making it out of the grocery store without having bought a Snickers bar in the check-out line is an undervalued achievement. But to navigate the terrain well — choosing healthy, satisfying, and cost-effective food — we need a strategy.

Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) knows that our busy schedules make it hard for most of us to choose well and maintain a balanced diet without breaking the bank. They’ve created a nifty, easy-to-use guide based on their analysis of nearly 1,200 foods.

Not only does the EWG’s shopping guide (Good Food on a Tight Budget) list foods with high nutritional value at a low price, but their suggestions also take into account environmental pollutants and the use of pesticides.

In addition to food recommendations, the site provides various other resources: forms for making a shopping list and tracking food prices, and a link to EWG’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

Since coming across this material, I’ve been trying to be mindful of their recommendations as they relate to pesticides in particular.

If you have time to peruse the site, we’d love to hear about anything you find interesting or helpful.

Tommy Grimm

(Image by flickr user Didier Lin /via Creative Commons)

A Prophetic Ministry of Sleep


What can Christians do for the common good? Sleep more, says Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor of Spirituality at Duke Divinity School, in a 2006 Books & Culture article. On the theological, countercultural value of sleep, she writes:

It’s not just that a countercultural embrace of sleep bears witness to values higher than “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.” A night of good sleep—a week, or month, or year of good sleep—also testifies to the basic Christian story of Creation. We are creatures, with bodies that are finite and contingent. For much of Western history, the poets celebrated sleep as a welcome memento mori, a reminder that one day we will die: hence Keats’s ode to the “sweet embalmer” sleep, and Donne’s observation, “Natural men have conceived a twofold use of sleep; that it is a refreshing of the body in this life; that it is a preparing of the soul for the next.” Is it any surprise that in a society where we try to deny our mortality in countless ways, we also deny our need to sleep?

The unarguable demands that our bodies make for sleep are a good reminder that we are mere creatures, not the Creator. For it is God and God alone who “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Of course, the Creator has slept, another startling reminder of the radical humility he embraced in becoming incarnate. He took on a body that, like ours, was finite and contingent and needed sleep. To push ourselves to go without sleep is, in some sense, to deny our embodiment, to deny our fragile incarnations—and perhaps to deny the magnanimous poverty and self-emptying that went into his Incarnation.

We’d love to hear from pastors who have considered taking up this prophetic mantle, calling parishioners to an earlier bedtime.

Tommy Grimm

(Picture by flickr user Richard Masoner /via Creative Commons)

The “Food for Thought” Pyramid


Quick: when I say “well-balanced diet,” what comes to mind?

Amidst images of fruits, vegetables, and Cheerios, I imagine another top association is the USDA’s food pyramid. Even though they retired the model in 2011 (replacing it with their current My Plate diagram), the food pyramid still holds a fixed place in our national consciousness when it comes to nutrition and healthy-eating.

While we all know that nutrition is important, many of us have had our fill of nutritional advice. One such person is Laura McKibbin, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with a background in wellness promotion. She’s written, “We are constantly bombarded with information emphasizing healthy eating and exercise as the primary determinants of good health.  While these can be important factors for good health, when we focus too much on them, we tend to forget the many other factors that probably have an even more profound effect on health.

To make this point visually, McKibbon has produced a “Food for Thought” pyramid, challenging us to give a second thought to what really affects and enhances our health.

It’s not USDA-approved, but I love the tongue-in-cheek nature of this pyramid, teasing us for our (often counter-productive) hyper-consciousness about our health while highlighting the fact that some highly significant health factors, like our genetics, are outside of our control. And she’s certainly drawn upon a variety of sources!

What comes to mind when you see McKibbin’s pyramid? If you designed your own health and wellness pyramid, what would the different levels contain?

— Tommy Grimm

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone.


A billboard by British artist David Shrigley, displayed in New York City earlier this year:

The commissioner of this piece described it as “a reminder of our fears, insecurities, and paranoia, which are so familiar to our contemporary society.” I take it as a reminder that when I feel alienated and alone, I’m not alone in those feelings. There’s something humorous and comforting about a billboard broadcasting what most of us try really hard to keep hidden.

If you could put a thought bubble on a billboard to help people feel a little less alone, I wonder what it would say.

(Click on the picture above for larger version that’s easier to read.)

–Tommy Grimm

(Initially discovered on Daniel Smith’s blog.)

Help in the Weight Room: ExRx.net


A fitness center can be an intimidating place, and there’s no place scarier than the weight room. Forays through this metal jungle can be bewildering. As you look around for the few familiar machines you’re comfortable accepting torture from, you notice that everyone else looks like they were raised in the place, suckled on the bench press and taught to walk in lunges. They glide from one exercise to the next with effortless expertise. They move with clear-sighted purpose. There is no indecision–only muscle-rippling action.

You, however, are a stranger in a strange land. You try to study the brawny natives without them catching you stare. You wander around, studying the exotic devices. After bravely attempting an exercise or two, you ask yourself, “Do I really belong here?”

If you can relate to this, you’re not alone, and there’s a wonderful website that can help: “Exercise Prescription on the Internet” (ExRx.net), “a free resource for the exercise professional, coach, or fitness enthusiast featuring comprehensive exercise libraries (>1,400 exercises), fitness assessment calculators, and reference articles.” I would add that it’s also a terrific resource for those exploring fitness, a bit more suspicious than enthusiastic.

The site is incredibly expansive and can itself be intimidating, so I want to focus on its weight-training portion. Here are some highlights of what’s offered:

  • The “Beginner’s Page” contains helpful information about gym etiquette, which can relieve some of the anxiety about not standing out. (It also contains a questionnaire to take if you’re unsure you’re physically ready to begin an exercise program.)
  • The “Weight Training Guidelines” provides direction for how many repetitions of each exercise should be done, and how often.
  • The “Weight Training Instructions” directs readers to a workout that’s best for them, and leads to recommendations of specific exercises to choose.
  • Finally, my favorite aspect of the site: hundreds of exercises are demonstrated in the exercise inventory. This can be incredibly valuable for checking your form, for finding new exercises, or for learning more about an exercise you saw someone else performing. (Exercises are helpfully divided by muscle area of the body.)

If you’d like to explore the strange land of the weight room, perhaps one day becoming one of its denizens, ExRx.net could be a helpful guide. Again, this website is a bit intimidating and can feel overwhelming at first; if you’d like more personal assistance, consider working with a fitness trainer at your gym for one to two sessions. A trainer can introduce you to equipment and exercises so that you’re comfortable and safe (many  gyms offer equipment tutorials for free).

-Tommy Grimm

(Image by Flickr user Mr T in DC /via Creative Commons)

“I don’t” vs. “I can’t”


Many of the pastors participating in our Spirited Life program have had great success on Naturally Slim, a mindful-eating program that we offer them, but they often report that one of the hardest parts of their new lifestyle is saying “no” to sugar. We’re all familiar with the challenge of giving up a vice. Our resolve is strong in the first couple of days or weeks. But slowly, the siren song grows louder and more insistent. It demands a response. What will we say?

Interestingly, it may matter not only whether we say “no,” but also how we say it. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that people who say “I don’t” in the face of temptation are less likely to capitulate than those who say “I can’t.

As the University of Chicago Press reports,

In four studies [Vanessa M. Patrick (University of Houston) and Henrik Hagvedt (Boston College)] examined the difference between framing a refusal with the words “I don’t” vs. “I can’t.” “This insight is based on the notion that saying “I can’t” to temptation inherently signals deprivation and the loss from giving up something desirable,” the authors write. “For instance, when faced with a tempting slice of pumpkin pie, one’s spontaneous response, ‘I can’t eat pumpkin pie’ signals deprivation. Saying ‘I don’t eat pumpkin pie’ is more effective.” This approach signals to oneself (and others) a sense of determination and empowerment, which makes the refusal strategy more effective.

A group of 30 women were divided up into three different groups. One group was trained in the “I don’t” strategy; another, the “I can’t” strategy; and the third, a generalized, “just-say-no” strategy. These approaches were reinforced everyday with an email reminder, and participants were invited to share instances of success and failure with their assigned strategy.

Here are the researchers’ findings:

The “I don’t” strategy increased participants’ feelings of autonomy, control, and self-awareness; and it resulted in positive behavioral change. One participant reported “a renewed dedication to shedding those extra pounds….I bought a used folding bicycle this weekend that I can keep in my office and use to ride across campus.” Saying “I don’t” also led to increased longevity; participants reported using it long after the study was completed.

This is more evidence for the “fake it until you make it” approach to behavior change. Oddly enough, we listen to what we say, and what we hear shapes our behavior. A simple word change seems almost too simple to affect whether we reach our goals, but often the simplest tactics are the most effective.

Tommy Grimm

(Image by flickr user justinhenry /via Creative Commons)