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.

Pastor Spotlight: Jim Bell on Spiritual Retreats


Jim Bell is a Spirited Life participant who serves as pastor of Rosemary UMC in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. For the past six years, he has taken a day away every three months for an individual spiritual retreat. Jim graciously took the time to answer my questions about this practice.

What does one of your typical spiritual retreats involve?

JIM: They include silent listening, scripture reading, reflection, spiritual reading, walking and praying, lunch – usually in silence – journaling, and assessment of my priorities for the next three months.

I have gone on these retreats at retreat centers – like Avila Retreat Center located north of Durham – camps, public libraries and college libraries.

Why do you take regular retreats?  What’s your motivation?

JIM: I realize that my spiritual well-being is essential to my life as a follower of Christ and as a pastor.  I do this to have an intentional time of listening to God.  In 30 minutes of silent listening on a retreat, I sense God’s presence and direction more powerfully and clearly than in most of my daily prayers.  It is very helpful to me to travel to a location besides my home or study.

I go on retreat to refocus my spiritual life and to refocus on God’s priorities for my ministry.  It is easy for me to get caught up in the day-to-day routines and demands of ministry and lose sight of the big picture.  Without fail, I depart from each retreat renewed, refreshed, energized and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with God.

How are you able to get away amidst the ongoing demands of your work?

JIM: I make this a priority for me.  I am intentional about scheduling these retreats months in advance.  Sometimes I have to adjust.  When a pastoral emergency occurred and I couldn’t reschedule the retreat, I went on retreat for half a day.

Do you have a favorite memory from your spiritual retreats?

JIM: In May one year I went on retreat to a colleague’s vacation home on Lake Gaston.  It was a couple of months following my mother’s death.  She had struggled with vascular dementia for eight years.  Helping to care for her during that time was a privilege for me, but it was also exhausting.

On the retreat these words from Psalm 23,  “He restoreth my soul,” and “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” echoed in my soul.  I reread Henri Nouwen’s book, In Memoriam, a personal account of spirituality and grief that he authored after his mother’s death.  To read it and let it soak into my heart in the beautiful solitude of the lake was a profound healing experience for me.     

Are there any resources on spiritual retreats that you recommend?

JIM: Two books that have helped me the most in shaping these retreats are A Guide to Retreat for All God’s Shepherds by Rueben P. Job, and Time Away – A Guide for Personal Retreat by Ben Campbell Johnson and Paul H. Lang.


Thanks, Jim, for sharing with us about this important piece of your life and ministry.

–Tommy Grimm

The Eternal Dance


Recently, I read a 2006 interview in The Christian Century with Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart, in which he discussed his book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami. The discussion I’ve quoted below reminded me of the “absurd impracticality” of human flourishing within a Christian conception. Though we are dust, and to dust we will return, we go on pursuing a life fully alive–not for the illusion of escaping death, but for the joy of grateful stewardship before our Creator and Sustainer.

To see the world in the Christian way–which…requires the eye of charity and a faith in Easter–is in some sense to venture everything upon an absurd impracticality… But, as I was writing the book, I found myself thinking again and again of a photograph I had seen in the Baltimore Sun.

The story concerned the Akhdam, the lowest social caste in Yemen, supposedly descended from Ethiopians left behind when the ancient Ethiopian empire was driven out of Arabia in the sixth century, who live in the most unimaginable squalor. In the background of the photo was a scattering of huts constructed from crates and shreds of canvas, and on all sides barren earth; but in the foreground was a little girl, extremely pretty, dressed in tatters, but with her arms outspread, a look of delight upon her face, dancing.

To me that was a heartbreaking picture, of course, but it was also an image of something amazing and glorious: the sheer ecstasy of innocence, the happiness of a child who can dance amid despair and desolation because her joy came with her into the world and prompts her to dance as if she were in the midst of paradise.

….That child’s dance is nothing less than the eternal dance of divine Wisdom before God’s throne, the dance of David and the angels and saints before his glory; it is the true face of creation, which God came to restore and which he will not suffer to see corruption. (“Where Was God? An Interview with David Bentley Hart.” The Christian Century 10 Jan. 2006: 26-29.)

–Tommy Grimm

(Photo by Flickr user Evan Long via Creative Commons)


Vacation Deprivation


A 2011 Expedia survey about time off from work concluded that Americans are “vacation deprived.” Here are the results, comparing vacation time given and taken among various countries:

Vacation deprived indeed! In half of the countries surveyed, the average worker received more than twice the number of days off than we do in America. In a Time article about European vacation policy, economist John Schmitt said, “The U.S. is the only [industrialized] country in the world that does not have statutory requirements on employers to provide paid holiday, paid parental leave or paid sick days. We are enormous outliers.”

But before we shake our fists at our national lot, we have to own up to the fact that even with our paltry supply of vacation, last year on average we left two days of vacation unused. Sixteen hours when we could have been at the beach, in the mountains, or under a blanket, we chose the office instead.

What gives?

Expedia asked participants why they don’t use all their vacation time. 15% of Americans said “they don’t schedule far enough in advance,” while another 15% simply said, “Work is my life.”

“Vacation deprivation” isn’t just a fabricated condition to help Expedia sell more plane tickets. Vacation is linked to improved relationships with coworkers and enhanced quality of work. It grants us perspective and motivation to achieve our goals.  And it may even make us live longer.

So why is it so hard for us to take a break?

–Tommy Grimm

(Image by Flickr user Via Tsuji/via Creative Commons)

Read more on the importance of vacation

“The Man in Bogota”


I was introduced to this piece by a friend. I often recall it when I’m disappointed or despairing. Enjoy.

“The Man in Bogota” by Amy Hempel

“The police and emergency service people fail to make a dent. The voice of the pleading spouse does not have the hoped-for effect. The woman remains on the ledge – though not, she threatens, for long.

“I imagine that I am the one who must talk the woman down. I see it, and it happens like this.

“I tell the woman about a man in Bogota. He was a wealthy man, an industrialist who was kidnapped and held for ransom. It was not a TV drama; his wife could not call the bank and, in twenty-four hours, have one million dollars. It took months. The man had a heart condition, and the kidnappers had to keep the man alive.

“Listen to this, I tell the woman on the ledge. His captors made him quit smoking. They changed his diet and made him exercise every day. They held him that way for three months.

“When the ransom was paid and the man was released, his doctor looked him over. He found the man to be in excellent health. I tell the woman what the doctor said then – that the kidnap was the best thing to happen to that man.

“Maybe this is not a come-down-from-the-ledge story. But I tell it with the thought that the woman on the ledge will ask herself a question, the question that occurred to that man in Bogota. He wondered how we know that what happens to us isn’t good.”

-Tommy Grimm

Photo by Flickr user Kate Burkowski (Creative Commons)

“When I run, I feel God’s pleasure”


If you remember one thing from the 1981 British film Chariots of Fire, it’s probably the iconic music played while a pack of runners glide alongside the ocean. But in terms of the film’s dialogue, there’s one line that stands out to me. Eric Liddell is being reprimanded by his sister for neglecting his responsibilities before God as he devotes his focus toward competitive running. Liddell responds, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

If only exercise were so easy for all of us, right? It must be nice to be an Olympic athlete who enjoys spiritual ecstasy while his legs pump and his heart pounds, but for many of us, when we exercise, we feel what could only be theologically-categorized as God’s wrath–a sweaty, heaving state of misery.

But notice how Liddell didn’t say he feels God’s pleasure when he exercises. For many of us, “exercise” is something we do for external benefits, an artificial activity we perform as a means to an end. We go for walks and do push-ups to lose weight, to raise our HDL, or to look better at the beach. We don’t exercise because it’s inherently good; we exercise because it’s good for us.

Liddell, on the other hand, feels God’s pleasure when he runs. As his pulse races and his skin drips, his muscles cycling perfectly between tense and relaxed, he feels the splendor that girds creation. He’s exercising in the literal sense: “exercising” his body, exploring its capacities, with innocent pleasure. We see this everyday on playgrounds as children sprint and skip and climb with shrieks of delight.

So if your whole body aches from your eyelashes to your pinky toenail when you even think about exercise, how can you begin to experience joyful activity of the Eric Liddell variety? That’s a post for another day, but until then, maybe this video will give you some ideas.

How do you transform exercise into joyful activity?

Tommy Grimm

(Image by Flickr user Dan4th Nicholas /via Creative Commons)

Living on a Scale?


Unless you wear inflatable clothes, you can’t get around the public nature of weight-management. We know people notice when we gain and lose weight because we notice when others gain or lose weight. We praise and revel when someone becomes slimmer, and we whisper and speculate when we notice new girth. You don’t have to be a contestant on The Biggest Loser to feel like your weight struggles are a spectator sport.

But I guarantee your weight hasn’t been as public as Wang Jun’s, a performance artist in China. According to China Hush, for a month earlier this year, Jun lived in a hotel room on a large scale displaying his weight, never leaving it (he set up a small curtained area on the scale to go to the bathroom). He abstained from hearty meals, sustaining himself on soup alone. His goal was to lose 15 jin, or 16.5 pounds, and the whole project was open to visitors and broadcast live over the internet.

Jun wasn’t only after a slimmer waistline or more twitter-followers; there was a deeper meaning to his performance. According to China Hush,

“Wang Jun’s weight loss program is closely linked to the social reality. [He commented,] ‘In this materialistic age, in the era of pleasure-seeking and greed, all things are inflated infinitely, slowly losing the beautiful and clear origins.’ Wang Jun told the reporter that his weight loss is also a metaphor of the current inflated era which should lose some weight.”

Jun thinks that in our era all things are “inflated infinitely,” and he offers his own weight loss as a metaphor for finding lives of greater simplicity and purity. But the more I thought of his performance, the more I saw it speaking to our society’s inflated interest in literal weight-loss itself, trapping and confining us to a life measured solely by a scale.

I imagine Linda Bacon might heartily agree. Bacon, author and nutrition professor at City College of San Francisco, believes we mistakenly conflate weight and health and that they really are two separate issues. She’s started the movement “Health at Every Size,” advocating that we appreciate bodily diversity and define health by mindful eating and joyful activity, not by where the needle settles on the scale. Jun’s performance embodies what many of us feel, that our lives are spent monitoring (and broadcasting) our weight, and Bacon believes this fixation gets in the way of living fully and healthily.

Jun lived a month on a scale because he believed our practices and pursuits have lost their “beautiful and clear origins.” Has weight-loss and -management supplanted the beautiful, clear reasons for health and well-being? If it’s not for an ideal size, then what do we want to be healthy for?

Tommy Grimm

(See here for an article reporting midway through Jun’s performance.)

Toward a Theology of Illness


Part of health and wellness involves how we respond to illness, whether it’s episodic, like the flu, or persistent, like arthritis. No matter how much we exercise or how many vegetables we eat, we will continue to suffer bodily afflictions. As a Christian, what does it look like to suffer well?

A friend recently emailed me a quotation by a French Orthodox theologian that gestures toward one possible answer to that question. I was challenged by it; perhaps you will be too.

The Fathers stress the point that “it is not in vain, nor without reason, that we are subject to illnesses.”  This is why they encourage us to be vigilant when illness strikes, and not to trouble ourselves first of all with their natural causes and means to cure them.  Rather, our first concern should be to discern their meaning within the framework of our relationship to God, and to throw light on the positive function they can have in furthering our salvation… Understood and experienced in this perspective, illness does not crush a person under the weight of their “mortal body” (Rom. 7:24), but to the contrary turns the person towards God.  It reunites the person to God, drawing him toward God as the true source and end of his existence.  It offers wisdom to his intelligence – that is, true knowledge of the world, of himself, and of God – and to his will it offers conformity to the will of his Creator.

(from Jean-Claude Larchet, The Theology of Illness. Translated by John & Michael Breck (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), p. 58.)

Tommy Grimm

(Image: Brent Moore via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Eating Healthy to *Save* Money?

Woman w/ Baby and Vegetable

Photo by USDAGov

It’s nearly a truism to say that healthy food costs more money. When we buy chard instead of chips, we tell ourselves we’re investing in our health, paying the price for good nutrition.

But what if eating healthy food could actually save us money?

That’s the finding of a recent USDA report. Our misconception comes from comparing food prices based upon the calories they contain. To consume 300 calories, you’re going to spend a lot more money on bananas than donuts. However, when we compare food prices in terms of average portion size, the healthy food comes out much better. I can eat two or three donuts before I’m full, but one banana usually leaves me satisfied.

Of course, it’s not nearly this simple. Just like there is cheap and expensive unhealthy food (mmm, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…), there’s expensive and cheap healthy food. Grass-fed, free-range beef may cost you a pretty penny, but beans and lentils will benefit your health and your wallet.

It may be hard to shake the idea that nutritious shopping at the grocery store requires extra funds. But perhaps all that’s really required is extra effort, to reduce our waist lines and our bottom lines.

(For more a more extensive summary of the report, see the Huffington Post’s helpful article.)

by Tommy Grimm

‘Testimony’ by Stephen Dunn


Plate of CookiesSince it’s easy for me to measure my health on a moral scale–either feeling guilty for the extra scoop of ice cream or righteous for abstaining–I have to be reminded not to take myself too seriously. And when a poem pokes fun lightheartedly at my faith and my dietary discipline, it’s too good (and too important?) not to share.


Stephen Dunn

The Lord woke me in the middle of the night,
and there stood Jesus with a huge tray,
and the tray was heaped with cookies,
and He said, Stephen, have a cookie,

and that’s when I knew for sure the Lord
is the real deal, the Man of all men,
because at that very moment
I was thinking of cookies, Vanilla Wafers

to be exact, and there were two
Vanilla Wafers in among the chocolate
chips and the lemon ices, and one
had a big S on it, and I knew it was for me,

and Jesus took it off the tray and put it
in my mouth, as if He were giving me
communication, or whatever they call it.
Then He said, Have another,

and I tell you I thought a long time before I
refused, because I knew it was a test
to see if I was a Christian, which means
a man like Christ, not a big ole hog.

(from The New Yorker: March 5, 2012)

by Tommy Grimm

(Sorry for the tempting picture of chocolate chip cookies. May we too have the grace not to be big ole hogs.)