Do You Want to be Well? John Wesley and Primitive Physic

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A Spoonful of Sugar, Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

“Do you want to be well?”

Jesus asks this of the man who had been ill for 38 years. In the John 5 story, the man doesn’t answer the question, but instead gives an excuse: no one would help him. Jesus ignores the excuse and tell the man to stand up, take up his mat and walk.

He does.

I’ve thought often about how this man’s life changed. He had neither walked nor worked. He’d spent his life begging, never earning a living, tending flocks or field which would have been the normal pattern. By standing up and taking up his mat, he also entered the world of the well, the place of responsibility for the self. No longer could he beg or ask others to care for him. His health and his life were suddenly his responsibility and his alone.

This scenario came to mind as I recently saw a commercial for a drug that purports to lower blood sugar. The number of side effects, many common and some extremely serious, boggles the mind. One medical writer has called this the worst new drug of 2014.

The drug will probably sell wildly. It is being heavily advertised to the average person–the commercials feature middle-aged, middle-class, slightly overweight individuals–many of whom will end up developing diabetes if they can’t keep their blood sugar under control. The developers will make a fortune.  But many will find themselves far worse off after taking the drug than before.

The worst part of about this? Blood sugar can be effectively managed almost totally by diet and adequate physical activity, particularly for people targeted by this ad, those with “pre-diabetes,” a made up disease created to get people onto more and more drugs.

The real culprit in our diets is the amount of sugar nearly everyone in the so-called civilized world consumes.  A quote from this op-ed piece about the addictive nature of sugar shocked me: “If you consider that the added sugar in a single can of soda might be more than most people would have consumed in an entire year, just a few hundred years ago, you get a sense of how dramatically our environment has changed.”

One can of soda has the equivalent of ten packets of sugar in it.  A year’s worth of sugar. Wow. There are 17-and-one-quarter sugar packets in a 20 oz soda bottle. Consider that a medium-sized drink from a fast food restaurant is at least 21 ounces.

Here’s a site that shows visually how much sugar is in many common items. Many foods marketed as “low-fat” are extremely high in sugar since the removal of fat also removes the flavor. As a rule, we are far better to eat the normal fat products as smaller portions will satisfy more quickly and greatly lower the amount of sugar consumed.

Artificial sweeteners are more than likely making the situation worse. Not only do they probably help increase caloric consumption over all, a fair amount of research suggests that they may increase metabolic syndrome, a precursor to full-fledged diabetes. Furthermore, other research suggests they seriously disrupt the body’s blood sugar controls.

Not a pretty situation.

A long time ago, I realized that we make a mistake when we separate the way we care for our bodies from the way we care for our souls. This was hardly an original insight. John Wesley, in his book, Primitive Physic: An Easy and Natural Way to Cure Most Diseases, had great insight into the best ways to help create good health.

Here are some suggestions Wesley makes about exercise:

  • A due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life.
  • Walking is the best exercise for those who are able to bear it; riding for those who are not. The open air, when the weather is fair, contributes much to the benefit of exercise.
  • We may strengthen any weak part of the body by constant exercise. Thus, the lungs may be strengthened by loud speaking, or walking up an easy ascent; the digestion and the nerves by riding; the arms and hams* by strong rubbing them daily.
  • The studious ought to have stated times for exercise, at least two or three hours a day; the one-half of this before dinner, the other before going to bed.
  • They should frequently shave, and frequently wash their feet.
  • Those who read or write much, should learn to do it standing; otherwise, it will impair their health.
  • The fewer clothes anyone uses by day or night, the hardier he will be.
  • Exercise first, should be always on an empty stomach secondly, should never be continued to weariness; thirdly, after it, we should take to cool by degrees, otherwise we shall catch cold.
  • The flesh-brush is a most useful exercise, especially to strengthen any part that is weak.
  • Cold bathing is of great advantage to health; it prevents abundance of diseases. It promotes perspiration, helps the circulation of the blood; and prevents the danger of catching cold. Tender persons should pour pure water upon the head before they go in, and walk swiftly. To jump in with the head foremost is too great a shock to nature.

Most of this stuff could have been written today, although we do generally wash our feet routinely these days.

As 2015 begins, I ask the same question that Jesus asked, “Do I want to be well?” Am I, are you, willing to take up our mats and walk? Will we address what our way of eating is doing to both our personal health and our national health? Will the clergy boldly address this from the pulpit?

Or, will we continue to mistreat the physical selves given to us by a Holy God, who expects us to use these bodies as the hands and feet of Jesus?

Simply put, the amount of sugar, both natural and artificial, that we consume is slowly killing us.

Should John Wesley be writing to the people called Methodist today, he would probably say something like:

  • Eat only wholesome and whole foods that feed the body and nourish the soul.
  • Avoid anything made with artificial products and added sweeteners of any kind.
  • Cooperate with the Creator in the healing process and in living as well people.

Something to consider for this next year. And for the rest of our lives.

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  • http://noihasseen.wordpress.com gksafford

    Funny I should be reading this because I’ve been thinking about this whole issue as it relates both to my physical and mental health. On the cusp of 50 years old, I may feel inside little different than that 25-or-so-year-old, but events this past year have taught me something very differently. I am now, and will be for the foreseeable future, on medication to regulate my emotional state. I plan on restarting talk-therapy as soon as possible, in order to come to terms both with this reality as well its underlying emotional causes. Finally, it would be nice to lose more than a few pounds. My frequent trips to the doctor since April have confirmed I am, fundemantally, in good health – my vitals are all strong, my blood sugar is just about where it should be, and while my cholesterol was high through diet and exercise I managed to bring it down to the brink of healthy. There is always room to do more, and it all involves both discipline and self-responsibility. Both of which should be practiced not to to benefit ourselves, but so that we are fit for what God is calling us. So, thanks for this, Christy.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtfulpastor Christy Thomas

      You are welcome. I radically changed the way I eat about three or four years ago, and saw an incredibly improvement in my health and sense of well-being. Now at 65, I take no meds, and am (I think at least!) in astoundingly good health. So many of the ills of modernity can be attributed to what we put into our bodies.

  • http://noihasseen.wordpress.com gksafford

    Funny I should be reading this because I’ve been thinking about this whole issue as it relates both to my physical and mental health. On the cusp of 50 years old, I may feel inside little different than that 25-or-so-year-old, but events this past year have taught me something very differently. I am now, and will be for the foreseeable future, on medication to regulate my emotional state. I plan on restarting talk-therapy as soon as possible, in order to come to terms both with this reality as well its underlying emotional causes. Finally, it would be nice to lose more than a few pounds. My frequent trips to the doctor since April have confirmed I am, fundemantally, in good health – my vitals are all strong, my blood sugar is just about where it should be, and while my cholesterol was high through diet and exercise I managed to bring it down to the brink of healthy. There is always room to do more, and it all involves both discipline and self-responsibility. Both of which should be practiced not to to benefit ourselves, but so that we are fit for what God is calling us. So, thanks for this, Christy.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtfulpastor Christy Thomas

      You are welcome. I radically changed the way I eat about three or four years ago, and saw an incredibly improvement in my health and sense of well-being. Now at 65, I take no meds, and am (I think at least!) in astoundingly good health. So many of the ills of modernity can be attributed to what we put into our bodies.

  • https://www.facebook.com/peggy.w.stahl Peggy Ware Stahl

    I have several good friends who are Seventh-Day Adventists. I learned from them when I was about 27, their principles for good health. Many, of course, in modern times even in that church, do not follow these guidelines. But for me it was transformative because I had not grown up with anything but health classes at school and my mother’s Southern cooking. Often the SDA’s programs include cooking classes along with nutrition information. I often told my students that if you want to drink a soda, just go ahead and put all that sugar in a glass and eat it. Every single one would groan and say “No way.” It would be the same if we actually saw what was in our artificially prepared foods as well. But we tend to like what we like, and become addicted to all manner of things not good for us. I also became a vegetarian during this time since it was a time many news shows were giving information on the sorry state of animals raised for slaughter and their processing. I very much believe health habits of all kinds (and taking care of the earth) have an important place in our relationship with God. Carrying it out…that’s always the challenge, especially if one is not in good enough health or income to shop or grow the best foods and then store/prepare it.

  • https://www.facebook.com/peggy.w.stahl Peggy Ware Stahl

    I have several good friends who are Seventh-Day Adventists. I learned from them when I was about 27, their principles for good health. Many, of course, in modern times even in that church, do not follow these guidelines. But for me it was transformative because I had not grown up with anything but health classes at school and my mother’s Southern cooking. Often the SDA’s programs include cooking classes along with nutrition information. I often told my students that if you want to drink a soda, just go ahead and put all that sugar in a glass and eat it. Every single one would groan and say “No way.” It would be the same if we actually saw what was in our artificially prepared foods as well. But we tend to like what we like, and become addicted to all manner of things not good for us. I also became a vegetarian during this time since it was a time many news shows were giving information on the sorry state of animals raised for slaughter and their processing. I very much believe health habits of all kinds (and taking care of the earth) have an important place in our relationship with God. Carrying it out…that’s always the challenge, especially if one is not in good enough health or income to shop or grow the best foods and then store/prepare it.