Friday, September 19, 2008

Why My Church Should Be More Like My Gym

It's been one week since my initiation into the world of fitness centers. I have walked and biked several miles. I have pumped iron, a little (make that very little). I have bared my legs and jiggled my doughier body parts in a parallel universe populated by mostly younger people, many of them tattooed, hardbodied males.

So what has this experience taught me so far?

One thing I've learned is how the born-again Christian subculture permeates the rural subculture in which I live. The local tai kwon do group is explicitly Christian, in almost a defensive way -- you know, "It's okay for your kid to be part of this even though it's from the Far East." The center manager is a very devout person. The music blaring from the sound system may be headbanging Z-rock, but the sacred is not far from the secular in this place. The folks scratching their heads over Sarah Palin's rockstar status in Middle America would also scratch their heads after a visit to our local gym.

But I'm also thinking about ways in which the gym appeals to me in ways that church and churchy people, frankly, sometimes do not.

I've been very pleasantly surprised by the level of acceptance FT and I have at the gym by our younger and more fit companions. Maybe because I was always the stereotypical child picked last for teams in gradeschool gym class, I envisioned adult gyms as temples of catty physical one-upsmanship among the Beautiful People...but what I've found so far at our gym is not only acceptance, but actual helpfulness from other members. Age and fitness differences don't seem to be a big deal here. I mean, I don't know what the buff young fellow was actually thinking as he showed me around the weight equipment the other day -- "Get a load of the fat old lady" -- but he was a very kind and patient tutor. FT feels the same way. These are nice folks. And sometimes, frankly, church folks aren't nice to visitors or newbies or members who don't fit neatly into the congregational norm. There's not that sense of people helping one another work toward a common goal.

And it's also been interesting to hear stories. FT's next-door neighbor on one of the spinning machines the other day was a woman who'd lost 80 pounds over the previous year, who credits the gym for saving her life. That was inspiring for both of us. While the word "testimony" makes me cringe, I think there's value in people sharing their stories in the context of the faith community. I know I got a lot out of our church's "Bag" Sundays, a few years ago, when every week a member was asked to fill a grocery bag with three things that were important to them, and then shared those things with the rest of the congregation.

And, at the risk of losing my Lutheran union card -- I believe there's value in cultivating a culture of self-discipline within the faith community. Would that my personal prayer life, for instance, were as structured as my mileage goals on the treadmill and my repetitions on the weight machines. I think in our Lutheran horror of works-righteousness and our mainline horror of fundie legalistic nonsense we tend to lose our way when it comes to giving people tools for ordering their spiritual lives outside our worship services.

So I think it would behoove my church to be a little more like my gym. The music, though -- not so much.


EmJayDee said...

Great post! I must take out that gym membership I've been putting off because of MY preconceptions.

toujoursdan said...

I agree. Great post. Very insightful. As one of those more hardbodied ones, I think the friendliness is sincere. It's not so much how far along you are but that you share the same goal.

Diane said...

this is GREAT! Lutheran union card -- wonderful. I agree with everything you say.

I know that you don't live in MN, but dang -- it sure sounds like you do, sometimes.

even to the tae kwon do.

we have that too.