Not perfect

perfectFor the past three decades, Gold's Gym and its imitators have gained market share at the expense of the YMCA and YWCA (aka the Young Men's Christian Association and Young Women's Association). A whole new culture of fitness for the body's sake was spawned. Even the 1985 film "Perfect" could not avoid the conclusion that gyms became pick-up points. Now devout Christians are forming their own health institutions. None of this history appears in The New York Times' story about the growth of Christian fitness clubs. In fact, reporter Katie Zezima provides little religious or spiritual context or background for her otherwise interesting story. Are the Christians mentioned in the story evangelicals and if so, which type? Why are these Christians so concerned about temptation?

That said, Zezima let her interview subjects talk and present reality from their respective. The lede was strong:

Jason Russell, a fitness buff, had long found it difficult to combine his Christian faith with his job as a gym manager, which required him to be around women in spandex and men concerned only with how macho they are.

"Me being a single guy and trying to walk the Christian line, it was difficult," said Mr. Russell, 30. "I needed not only to protect myself, but as a leader, to help others with their spiritual journey."

Mr. Russell had been planning to open a gym of his own. Then he discovered Lord's Gym, a 10,000-square-foot fitness center here that meshes prayer and push-ups. Its goal, says its owner, Paul Sorchy, a chiropractor, is to provide a modest setting where members can feel comfortable exercising. Mr. Russell is now its manager.

Alas, the remainder of the story is a variation on this theme: Christian health clubs arose in response to their secular counterparts. Zezima quotes from several Christians and a university professor echoing Russell's perspective. For example, Zezima writes

R. Marie Griffith, a professor of religion at Princeton University who has written about Christian diet and fitness programs, said such gyms appealed to people who might not have found other fitness programs effective or appealing.

"These are places where fitness is important, not sex or vanity," Professor Griffith said. "It's supposed to be that we're not going to forget we're Christian here. There's a sense of comfort around people with the same moral values as you have; no one's going to rock your world."

Griffith's quote is prosaic. She's not saying anything that the Christian fitness-goers aren't. Zezima talked with an Ivy-League academic for this?

Zezima's story isn't bad. It's just a disappointment -- a piece that promised to explore a new religious trend and delivered few results.

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