Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Scenes From the Spiritual Gym (A Farce That's All Too True)

Scenes from the Spiritual Gym
(Part 1 of a Series)

Before and after weight loss surgery
(Photo credit: jackiebese)

At one of thousands of branches of the American Church Gym:

"Good morning, sir (or ma'am).  What are your spiritual goals, and how can I help you achieve them?"

"Well, I haven't been having my quiet times regularly enough.  I looked in the mirror the other day, and my 'quiet times' abs aren't looking much like a six-pack anymore."

"Oh, well, we can't have that, now, can we?  So, to help us get to know you a little better, please tell us which coaching model you prefer:

  • The legalistic accountability partner who motivates you by fear and guilt
  • the warm-fuzzy, 'you're not so bad,' coach
  • the highly-inspiring 'cheerleader' coach

"Um...well, I guess whichever one will help me reach my goals the fastest.  I really hate these flabby 'service' muscles in my arms, and this fat 'self-control' abdomen!"

"Oh boy, I sure do understand that!  Well here, let's try one kind of coaching approach, and if you find that that's not helping you reach your goals, we'll try a different one, okay?"

"Sounds good!"

"Now, to get us started, let's step in front of that spiritual mirror.  Let's chart what you see compared to what you hope to see, and then we'll know what goals you'll want to pursue."

"Makes sense.  But I'm a little uncomfortable with all the mirrors in here.  Doesn't that seem...I don't know...egotistical or something?  Aren't Christians supposed to be humble?"

Mirror (Photo credit: Chapendra)

The coach laughs and waves a dismissive hand.  "Oh, don't be silly. The Bible says we're to examine ourselves, right?  And how can you do that without a mirror, or goals, or other Christians to compare yourself to?"

"Well, I guess the Bible does say that.  But ugh, I HATE mirrors!"

"Oh, don't worry, we'll whip you into shape in no time, and pretty soon you'll be so spiritually buff that you'll LOVE mirrors!"

"But...but...what about humility?"

"Oh, don't worry about that, either.  We'll keep reminding you.  Humility is one of those spiritual goals, after all, right?  So you just remember to repeat to yourself every day as you look in the mirror, 'Yes, I've still got a ways to go, but by the grace of God I'll be more spiritually buff tomorrow, and then I'll have more to praise Him for!'  That's the key to humility, you know.  The more spiritually buff you become, the more humble it is to scoff and say, 'Oh, no, God did this for me.'  Your 'humility pecs' will pop for sure!"

"So it's a win-win, I guess.  I get to like what I see in the spiritual mirror, and I get to say things that give Jesus the glory!"

"Exactly!  Now you understand the Christian life!"  The coach gives you a wink and an elbow-nudge.  "Don't those 'Praise Jesus' T-shirts look better and more convincing on a hot bod?"

You laugh, and you have to admit that it's a convincing argument.  But there are still some things that you don't understand, so you keep asking questions.

"Okay, well, pardon my dumb question, but what exactly is 'sin?'"

"Oh, well, sin is forgetting your spiritual goals, and not working on them.  You know, not doing quiet times, not putting money in the Salvation Army bucket, that sort of thing."

"And repentance?"

"That's easy!  Repentance means recommitting yourself to your goals!"

"And what is faith?"

"Why, faith is believing that Jesus will help you reach your goals, of course!"

"What is worship, then?"

"Worship is praising God for helping you reach your goals.  And besides, he likes praise, right?  Who doesn't?  So worship helps motivate him to help you reach your goals!"

"Then who is Jesus in this whole process?"

"Well, think of him as your Invisible Fitness Coach.  When you're looking in the mirror, he's looking, too!  If you're getting more and more buff, he smiles more and more.  If you're being naughty, he starts to frown.  But don't worry."  Another dismissive wave of the hand.  "He's very forgiving.  Just say 'I'm sorry,' and promise to do better next time.  It's all good."

"Okay, I think I see it all now.  Let's get to work!"

"Whoo, I love that spirit!  Let's make you look like you want to look, and be what you want to be.  Let's make you LOVE that spiritual mirror!"

So, you begin what you hope will be a lifetime of buffing up under the eye of Jesus, the Invisible Fitness Coach.  But you dread his gaze, and you hope you can buff up quickly.

You look around yourself at the guys and gals who have bulging muscles everywhere.  It's obvious they've been doing targeted toning, so that they've reached a point of fashionably grotesque physiques. The kind of bodies that actual, productive physical labor never forms.  Their bodies are consciously-sculpted gym bodies.

You have to admit, they impress you, and you know that a "Praise Jesus" T-shirt looks a lot better on them than it does on you.

Come to think of it, they inspire you much more than your Invisible Jesus guy.  He's a mystery, but they're clear.  And you like them least some of them...the ones who think you're worth their time, and who will notice you and encourage you.

After a while, the Invisible Coach makes you even more uncomfortable to think about than he used to. Why? Because not only is he judging your buff-ness, but you also have a sneaking suspicion that, if you could see Him, He wouldn't look anything like the pec-poppers around you.

And that means (HORRORS!) that you suspect He wouldn't look anything like what you're trying to become.  And that makes you vaguely angry.  What does he want from you anyway?  You're not sure, but you know what YOU want from yourself.  You know what YOUR spiritual goals are.  You know which part of you you want to sculpt next.  And you know that it has something to do with reading your Bible every day and doing good works (especially the specific types of good works that are most heavily promoted by your branch of the gym).  So you just keep going, following the coaches you can actually see.

English: Zulfiya Chinshanlo World Champion 200...
Zulfiya Chinshanlo World Champion 2009  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end, you'll love yourself, and either forget the Invisible Coach, or find that the highest praise you can give Him is, "Look at how awesome he made me!"

Or, you'll hate yourself and the coach, because it was all just too hard, and everybody in the gym is a hypocrite anyway.

Welcome to the Christian life.

Or not.

Stay tuned...

Next:  Scenes from the Sheepfold

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