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February 1, 2012


I took a spin class at the gym Monday night with the instructor I affectionately call, “The Screamer.” She is solid muscle from head to toe with a serious look on her face from the moment she walks in the door. She leads an intense workout of intervals on the bike and enjoys motivating the class by screaming out encouragement like “Maintain!” “Push! Push!” and “Stop playing!”

If you follow her instructions, it truly is a grueling and excellent workout. I am often completely dripping with sweat within the first 10 minutes. But I have to wonder what it is that motivates the packed class to show up and practically get verbally abused for an hour. And yes, you have to stay the full hour. If anyone even thinks of getting off their bike, even to refill their water bottle, The Screamer calls out “Where do you think you’re going? You do NOT leave this class! We are not finished!” And yet, I join with the dozens of others who show up and follow her commands.

Honestly, I just have to laugh, because I know that I can keep up with the intensity and the yelling really does give that little extra push of motivation. But it wasn’t always this way. About a year ago, before I started riding regularly, I remember being out in the main part of the gym, lifting weights or heading for the elliptical machines, and whether or not the door to the spin room was open, I could hear her screaming at her class. From the outside looking in, it was intimidating, maybe even a little frightening. I thought to myself, “I’m not going in there!” I didn’t feel worthy to set foot in that class, much less hop on a bike and try to keep up. She didn’t strike me as the person who would be willing to teach you about adjusting the height of your bike correctly or giving any grace if you were having an “off” day. I felt like I needed to be an expert rider, or at least have a solid base level of fitness before setting foot in that class.

Then I started to wonder…is this how the church appears? You see preachers on TV all the time, or people on the side of the road wearing sandwich board signs, yelling that the end of the world is near, turn or burn! In other words…”Stop playing!” If this is the image that people see most of the church, it must seem intimidating from the outside looking in.

Do people feel like they have to already be spiritually fit before they step in the church doors? Do they get the impression that unless they participate in the full Christian “workout”…worship, Sunday School, Bible study, tithing, service, etc…that they’ll get yelled at for not “finishing”? I fear that people drive past the church every day and think, “I’m not going in there!”


But it is my hope, and my prayer, that people catch a glimpse of the good, of the care, of the love that is offered in church. Jesus often preached a message of love more than anything else. You rarely hear of him yelling or losing his temper. I did say rarely. He knew his flock well, and called them by name. He invited the disciples to join him before they knew the skills of preaching or healing, and he taught them step-by-step and side-by-side. Even when they messed up, time and again, or continued to question him or struggled to believe, Jesus had patience and love for each of them. This is how I think Jesus would like the church to be seen, as a place of acceptance, of grace, of love.

And yet, even Jesus occasionally had to speak the truth in love. He said things that others didn’t always want to hear, because he knew his words would ultimately make them stronger in their faith and in their relationships. He didn’t want followers who were excited one minute and fleeting the next. He wanted followers who would “maintain,” who would grow in their relationship, and who would gain strength and endurance of faith. He pushed, because he cared.

Toward the end of the workout, The Screamer started preaching about our need for faithful attendance in spin class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 5:30.  “You need to stop playing around and get right with your fitness life! You need to make a commitment right now. Too many funerals have happened already because of people who don’t take their health seriously. So get in here regularly and get right with your fitness life!” I half expected her to have an altar call right there. But it clearly showed that she cared and she wanted the best for her followers.

Her humanity even showed when she called out to the woman on the bike next to mine. The Screamer had noticed several absences from the regular class attendee, and the woman shared she had suffered a car accident, and was just working her way back after the injury. The Screamer noticed that a member of her flock had been missing, and checked on her frequently during the class, “Are you ok? You’re not hurting yourself?” From the inside, you could see that her tenderness showed through.

Perhaps, like all things in life, we need the delicate balance of inspiration through tough love and graceful forgiveness and patience. There are some days or some people that may require a little more push, a little more motivation to maintain our spiritual lives, instead of slowing down or giving up the moment it starts to hurt. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jim Schendel permalink
    February 1, 2012 7:47 pm

    Julie…thanks…I am now also officially’re the best. Much love, (Your favorite)
    Uncle Jim

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