Cal Samra, The Physically Fit Messiah: Wellness Wisdom PAST and PRESENT, Robert D. Reed Publishers

What a gift! When I received the book The Physically Fit Messiah for review, I had no idea that it would inspire, teach, share, enlighten, and encourage me in my love for health and wellness and from a faith-based perspective too. That is not to say that this book is only for a faith-based audience. Absolutely not! The book is suited for anyone who has any interest in health and wellness for the whole being. Samra is truly a journalist who knows how to tell a good story. But that is not to say that the book is fiction. The Physically Fit Messiah is like a documentary film in print. It is obvious that Samra has a journalistic background. His years as an AP reporter brought credibility to his fact-sharing and art in finding the heart of a story.

Samra tracks the development of health and wellness throughout the centuries to the present. If you love history, then you will appreciate this aspect of the book. In learning about the history of health and wellness, I was shocked to find out that the pursuit of good health actually began with the early church reformers, considering that “modern Christianity has tended to neglect the health of the body,” as noted by Samra as well. I love the quotes Samra captures and shares from his research, such as this one by Pastor Naumann: “Christians are good at honoring the body after you die, but not so much when you’re alive”. Samra tries to take an objective position as he recounts the long history behind the health movement, but one cannot help to feel his chagrin with the church in regards to health:

“A Preacher is a hospital administrator,” Martin Luther said. It also has been said that churches are “hospital for the sick.” If that is so, then why are so many parishioners dying before their time in pews? If that is so, then why not instruct their congregations on living healthy lifestyles? (16)

Samra builds a strong case for the church, in particular, to reclaim its position as a healing faith and become the gospel of health it was designed to be (3).

The Physically Fit Messiah, however, is not just about the beginnings of health and wellness but also about individuals, groups, doctors, and fields that have all promoted health . He covers Jesus’ lifestyle including the food he had eaten and his exercise regimen, which included walking by default since they had no cars. He mentions the lifestyle of centenarians, particularly in the “The Blue Zones” area in the Mediterranean. He includes medical doctors, such as Dr. Cooper who was a devout Presbyterian and who “attacked his depressive episodes with faith, prayer, exercise, and a sense of humor” (38). He also mentions Dr. Dale L. Anderson who believed “in stimulating the divinely created ‘internal pharmacy’ in your head and who created an exercise called J’ARMing—jogging with the arms, which stimulated the body to produce more endorphins– the feel good hormones (41). Samra documents the contributions in the area of health and wellness of almost all mainstream denominations, if not all.

Samra even tackles subjects such as mental health, which he noted is always treated with “kid gloves” by both the secular and religious communities. Samra goes after the facts and the truth. He is fair in his analyses criticizing not just the church but the media as well:

They blamed everything on the bishops and never investigate the role of the mental health professionals in the treatment of the pedophile priests.

The news media also failed to investigate the role of the mental health professional who was treating James Holmes when the disturbed young man shot dozens of people who were watching a Batman movie in a movie house. What kind of drugs had been prescribed for Holmes? What kind of psychotherapy? Was he under psychoanalysis? (110)

These are some valid questions that Samra presents to his readers.

Samra’s book is thought provoking but also uplifting. He litters it with inspirational quotes and embeds it with humor. If anyone is familiar with Samra, it is probably through his newsletter called Joyful Noiseletter, which promotes humor as a form of healing.

Though The Physically Fit Messiah approaches some touchy topics such as depression and Alzheimer’s, there is undoubtedly a warmth and a good-feel to the book, especially the chapter on the healing power of pets. The book is easy to read. It’s one of those take-along-books. I love the feel of the paper and the font size, which is little larger than usual. In other words, you won’t have to squint to read the lines or pull out a dictionary to check the meaning of a word. You may be inclined to do some further research because there is so much information that Samra does a touch-and-go in some places but just enough to wet one’s appetite for further study. Whether this is a negative or a plus, it is all up to the reader. I did not like, however, Samra’s choice of cover for this book. Though he explains why he chose it, I felt it gave the book an antiquated look. I guess, like they say, never judge a book by its cover, for inside this book lies a treasure trove. If you are a pastor or any type of religious leader, if you are in the area of health and wellness as a professional including in the medical field, or if you are interested in living a fit and healthy life, then, this is a must-read. Filled with references, stories, antidotes, quotes, cartoons and jokes, I can assure you it will be worth your time and be an investment that will yield a return.