This is a post in the continuing series about what the church (and all of us) can learn from CrossFit.
I’ve been seriously working to strengthen my upper body, particulary my supposedly powerful back muscles, so I can get my first unassisted, strict pull up.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never really been able to do a pull up – not even as a kid who used to hang off the monkey bars for hours on end every day. But I want one now – because who knows when I’ll need to pull myself up from a dead hang (and it’s badass to be able to do one, especially as a woman). I’ve been making steady gains and feel like I can have it with a couple more months work. I’ve been slowly decreasing the angle of my ring rows and working on a few flexed arm hangs combined with negative deficits (those are HARD). It’s taking a while, but I’ll get there.
I’ve built them up over time from doing pull ups and other bar exercises.
I pick at them, sometimes because they peel and I’m eager to rid my body of the rough spots the dead skin has created. Other times I can feel how disproportionately thick they are compared with the rest of my hand and compulsively pick to minimize their size.
Even as much as I pick at them and how ugly they are, I’m grateful my callouses are there.
Trying to do multiple pull ups with baby soft skin gets painful – there’s not enough skin between the bar and my nerve endings to prevent the pain of the friction of the bar against my bare hand. Without my callouses, I can only hold onto the bar for one, two, maybe three pull ups before I have to let go.
Which makes me think about other activities I do that are helped by some thick skin; including any work I’ve ever done, showing off a creative endeavor, trying something new with an audience, and any leadership role.
All of these things involve a bit of risk.
There’s the risk that whatever work I’ve done will be worthless (or at least not worth the time I put in), that it won’t be effective.
Usually whatever photos or a short film I’ve created that I’m particularly proud of are at least in some part an extension of who I am and so there’s always a risk when I show them off people won’t like them which can be translated that they don’t like me.
And there’s always a risk of that dreaded f-word… failure.
Nobody really likes failing.
Sure there are those who have mastered using failure as a learning experience and find it useful – but I’m sure they still don’t like it.
If our “skin” is thin, then our negative experiences rub our emotional nerve endings raw pretty quick. A big failure or being criticized (particularly without it being constructive) is like doing 50 pull ups with fresh, baby-soft hands.
But much like how my hands have naturally built thicker skin the more I’ve done pull ups, the more we fail and get back out there, the thicker our emotional skin will become.
The more resilient we will be.
Failure and criticism will still sting, but they won’t stop us the way they would have at the start.
But like any other good thing, sometimes our skin can be too thick.
Callouses that aren’t smoothed down with a pumice stone on a regular basis, that keep getting thicker and thicker, will eventually rip on the pull up bar. Where you once had thick, tough skin protecting your hands from the grating sensation of the friction of the bar, you now have an open, angry red, blister that might even be oozing blood.
It’s not only one of the least pleasant sensations in the world ranking right up there with pouring alcohol into a paper cut, but the hot shower after your workout is going to hut. A lot.
There’s a happy medium to how thick to let your callouses get.
Just as there’s a happy medium as to how thick you want your skin to get.
You don’t want to have such thick skin that you never feel any emotional pain, that you go through life numb to what’s going on in and around you.
If you do, if you never feel the pain of failure or criticism, then eventually you’ll find there will be something that causes your thick skin to pull off and you’ll be a raw, angry mess.
It will also take a long time for you to heal – you can’t just go back to doing what you do without noticing the constant pain of being.
(This is the second in my ‘What the Church can learn from CrossFit’ series)
A couple weeks ago, I graduated to the big kids weights.
Or at least it felt that way to me.
I was doing the strength portion of a class at my Crossfit box (gym – the awesome CrossFit ReVamped – you should come join me! http://www.crossfitrevamped.com/) and instead of loading my bar up with tens or the occasional 15 pound plate, I proudly placed a 25 pound plate on either side of my bar.
Then I added another ten and a fiver on either side of that.
Right after I power cleaned that 100 pound bar (a new PR for me), I stood back to admire the fat stack of weights on either side.
I’d admired those fat stacks on other people’s bars for months now – jealous of how much weight they moved around. But here I was, no longer so weak I had to worry I might break the plates when dropping a bar because they were so thin and flimsy.
That’s when it hit me – I’m getting better.
Still not as strong as others in the gym, nor as strong as I can be.
But I’m making progress.
And that’s freaking awesome!
And I wish it were that way more often in the church.
It seems to me that few people show up in a church community because they want to get better.
Worse yet, the markers by which we can determine they are getting better seem to be few too.
Most churches count things like attendance in worship and times a person has come to the communion table.
Those markers don’t seem to be able to measure how much a person’s life has been transformed.
Which makes me think that perhaps it’s time we begin to emphasize the fruits of the spirit a bit more.
How many times have you been able to forgive somebody for what they’ve done to you? Or are you repeatedly yelling at the drivers who cut you off in traffic or your dogs for constantly getting under your feet?
How much joy do you have in your life? Is it more today or less?
Are you patient with your kids who constantly ask if they can go down the toy aisle at the grocery store or want to buy all the candy in the store?
Is your life filled with love?
Can you see improvement in your life since joining the church or does it seem to be stuck where you entered the church?
Are you here to get better – to get stronger – more patient and kind and gentle?
Or are you here out of some sort of social order and complain when you don’t like the hymns or the way things are done?
Because let’s face it, God is about transformation and it’s awfully hard to be transformed if we’re not going to put in some work.
An atheist, vegan, and a CrossFitter walk into a bar. I only know because they told me within two minutes.
Allow me to be that CrossFitter for a moment. =)
Last September, I walked into a CrossFit box (gym). I knew a couple people who did CrossFit and really liked it; and I was looking for some cross-training to gain some strength.
What I found in CrossFit is more than just fitness – I learned a few things along the way about what the mainline church, my own congregation included, could be doing a lot better.
First lesson, I was welcomed and included from day one.
Congregations are notorious for believing they are welcoming – but usually they aren’t. Between the fact that most mainliners are all too happy to talk only to those people they know and like combined with the fact that, unless people grew up worshiping in the same style and know their way through the service like they know their house, things are likely to be unfamiliar and awkward for new folks.
CrossFit can be similar to new comers, especially the unfamiliar and awkward portion. Even after my initial four “basics” courses, I was still getting used to new terminology and technique. Even six months later I’m working on my technique (but now I know what snatch, clean and jerk, and thruster mean among others). But where CrossFit is decidedly different is I never felt isolated in being among the newly inducted – never a complete outsider.
Gary, the head coach at my box, has known my name since the moment I walked in the door. I really admire him for that because I don’t easily remember names and have to work to remember someone’s name a day or two after I meet them. He makes it look natural and effortless. But more importantly, I feel known whenever I walk in the door.
But while in a church, the pastor may know who you are the second time you show up, many other folks probably don’t (and don’t spend time introducing themselves). Not so much with CrossFit. The rest of the people who WOD (another term – means workout of the day for those uninitiated) at the box have always been friendly and helpful. They’ve introduced themselves or given helpful tips on lifts when I’ve struggled. Even when I showed up yesterday, a woman I’d never seen before immediately introduced herself to me. Even though I’ve been around and she has too, we’ve never been in the same class together.
We could use more people in congregations who notice when someone is staring at the hymnal, not sure if the 98 in the bulletin refers to a hymn number in the back or a page number in the front (while I don’t know of a better system, it can be terribly confusing for new folks) and then go over to help them.
It would be awesome if more folks took notice of the fact that they don’t know somebody and introduced themselves – even if it means they don’t know each other simply because one has always gone to the early service and the other to the late. There’s no shame in not knowing each other or not being around for a while but have recently come back.
Mainline congregations and the people in them are not terribly good at welcoming and hospitality. Sure, there are a few, mine is better than most but it’s still not a natural posture.
Characteristic of this, I remember a Super Bowl Party in seminary where the hosts had invited some mutual friends of ours that were not known to the rest of the group. When our friends showed up, the only people who engaged them were the three of us who already knew them. I was saddened that a room full of soon-to-be-Lutheran-Pastors didn’t notice there were people in the room they didn’t know and if they did, they didn’t feel it necessary to welcome them.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (Matthew 10:40)
So much of our faith is wrapped up in hospitality, in welcoming new people as we welcome guests into our home.
Those who participate in CrossFit seem to be naturally good at this – I think it’s in the sport’s DNA because I’ve heard of it happening at boxes all around the world. Why wouldn’t we want to do the same for people starting a new faith journey or at least journeying with new people in a new congregation? Or even simply people who have been around but we’ve not met before?
Lesson number one, CrossFit is better on the whole at welcoming people and making them feel welcome than the church is.
This is the first post in a series – look for more lessons here soon.