Planet Fitness, The Depravity of Humanity and Why Most Rules Are Good

I work out at Planet Fitness. I don't work out particularly often or exceptionally rigorously, but I do work out on occasion when the cold isn't so cold and the tasks don't tie me to the desk. 

Today was one of those days when I drove to Planet Fitness, got out of the car, and walked directly to the one thing I always do at Planet Fitness. If you've never been to this particular brand of gym you won't know that every location includes a section devoted exclusively to "The PF 30-Minute Express Circuit." It's a set of weight machines and cardio exercises you alternate between for a period of thirty minutes. On the wall you'll find a long list of instructions on how to do this properly. There's a red and green light system to help you know how long to do each activity. Machines and boxes for step exercises are numbered for orderly execution of the circuit. 

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Every time I do this circuit, I follow the rules precisely. 

And every time I'm there, following the rules precisely, someone else comes in and messes everything up.

Some people decide they just want to use one machine for twenty minutes (which means I don't get to use that machine when it's my turn). Other people decide they'll go in whatever order they choose (which means I may miss three or four machines). Some people stand super close to the machines and use free weights (putting those machines out of commission). 

The circuit only works if everyone using it follows the rules.

Since no one ever does, every time I go to the gym I'm viscerally reminded of the depravity of humanity. 

Follow the rules, people!! There's a reason for the rules!

If you know me, you may find this posture amusing. Because I am not exactly a rules person. Just this week I engaged in three or four public rants on the stupidity of city residential housing restrictions. I'm a libertarian who won't register as a libertarian because I don't like boxes. I wear white jeans whenever in the course of the year I decide I want to, and I wear black with navy. I don't like unnecessary rules. But I do like the kinds of rules that, when followed, create peace and dispel chaos. 

Like circuit training rules. Or God's rules. 

I'm reading in Exodus right now about how to make restitution when your bull boars you neighbor's bull, how not to cook goat, and how to make amends when you mistreat your slave. Sometimes when I read these sections of scripture my eyes glaze over. Today though I was thinking of how helpful these rules must have been to the early Israelites and how hard it is to maintain peace with your brother without rules. 

King David will say of the law of Moses, this law about bulls and slave treatment and bride prices, "I run in the path of Your commands." He's able to run, because law simplifies life.* When we follow the rules, we avoid chaos and disruption.

I have this friend who recently got in trouble with the law. She's been making good choices since then, but every few weeks that past mistake births some new set of disastrous consequences. Every other day she's tripping over her prior disobedience, her schedule, plans and desires spilling on the ground like marbles, rolling out of reach.

That's how it goes, isn't it? Disobedience sows disorder. 

Sometimes disorder isn't the worst thing. Some rule-breaking honors what's true and good. Some disorder upturns systems or power structures that require upturning. 

But some rule-breaking, most, messes everything up. And not just for us. When we break the rules we mess things up for everybody. 

This happens in marriage when one spouse commits to submission and the other won't. When one spouse is faithful and the other isn't. When one spouse is vulnerable and the other refuses. Both are punished.

This happens in a family when a child disobeys his parents and gets expelled from school or arrested and now the parents are paying court fees and reconfiguring work schedules and trying to explain to their friends what's happening. 

This happens in church life when two hundred people offer grace and three loud people extend hate and those three voices are the only ones anyone hears. 

This happens on Facebook when people are discussing something civilly and someone jumps in to be a jerk and suddenly everyone is brought down. 

Everyone is affected by anyone's disobedience.

Rules exist for the purpose of harmony. 

I needed to hear that today. I needed the reminder that God doesn't arbitrarily assign things to right and wrong columns to test our loyalty or self discipline. God has reasons for rules, one of the prime ones being peace among His people.



*Maybe you're thinking, Law simplifies life for David--the male who's not a slave or a bride being purchased. And you're not entirely wrong. Still, the law does uplift people at the bottom of power structures. And when the law is followed women and slaves in this time period receive much better treatment than outside the law

When God Surprises You: On Our Daughter's Unexpected Re-Birth

I'm sitting in church listening to my husband's sermon about baptism; I’m also praying for a friend who's getting baptized in a few minutes.  My youngest daughter sits beside me taking notes in my notebook, her loopy letters in black pen on cream pages, Sin is your forst enemy. If you have bin babtized you are apart of Jesuses death...

Then she looks up, Mom, she says, I want to be baptized. 

I look from her face to her notes. She's written it there: I want to get babtized.

She says this as my husband is talking about dying to sin, about surrender and giving up your life. She says it with a kind of self assurance I see in her often. She is ever decisive. 

We've talked about baptism before. Lots. She asks so many questions. She read The Case for Christ for kids with her dad. She reads her Bible after school each day. Job is her favorite book. 

This is not out of the blue. It's a baptism sermon. I should have seen it coming.

But I did not. And in this moment I do not want my daughter to be baptized. I tell her, Why don't we wait and talk about it at home?

Today my friend Dina will be baptized. I'm wearing a t-shirt I made to celebrate the day. So it's Dina's day, you know? And too, it's Sunday. I'm working. My job is partly to photograph baptisms. Who knows how many we'll have today (later I'll know it's five)? My head is on work and making other people feel comfortable and making sure the right sized t-shirts are in the baptistery rooms. Justin's working too. He's up there preaching right now. We don't have time to discuss this. We'll wait. Maybe later this week...

But Eve says to me, Mom I want to be baptized now. I'm ready to be baptized now. 

I say, Okay, baby. You can get baptized. That's wonderful. But I add, Let's wait until your grandparents get into town tomorrow. Maybe do it on Thanksgiving when your aunt's here, too. We can go to the creek. It'll be beautiful. 

I imagine my daughter in a white dress at the creek, surrounded by friends and family, sunshine on her cheeks. I've written a blessing. Justin reads a scripture. We hire a photographer to record the moment. This is the right way, I'm sure. 

Eve knods. Okay. 

My pulse dips back to normal.

But then her dad tells the story of the men and women at Pentecost, and she says, Mom I don't want to wait. I want to be baptized right now. 

What do you say to your daughter who loves God and wants to be baptized and knows more about God and the Bible than all the adults who'll be baptized today? What do you say to this girl who knows her mind, who does feel the sting of death and sin, who wants to live forever with God? 

I say, Okay.

She says, Do I go up to the front when they sing the song? I say, If that's what you want to do.

And though I thought maybe she would chicken out or change her mind, she did exactly what she wanted to do. She walked straight up to her dad and told him she wanted to be baptized. Justin didn't understand. And when he figured it out, he too wished she would have waited until her parents were off work. 

But then, after watching three of our friends put on Christ in that water beneath the giant cross hung on white drywall in our church's baptistery, after dressing her in borrowed basketball shorts and a too-big tee with the words "I was born in this shirt" plastered across the chest, Justin and I and Eve waded into the water. We looked out at our church, at our brothers and sisters who we love, and Justin took Eve's confession of faith. She asked if I would be the one to baptize her, and so I did. I held my daughter's hands, clasped at her chest, put my other hand in the small of her back and plunged her into the Spirit-charged water to wash away her sins. On the way down I kissed her forehead and whispered, Here we go...


On the day Eve was born I woke up in pain, too much pain to go back to sleep. I woke Justin and asked him to go to the store and get medicine for constipation. I remember sitting on the toilet at four am groaning, thinking I must have colon cancer. 

On March 20th of 2009 I was already three days past my due date. I’d had a baby before, so I don’t know why I didn’t realize I was in labor. But I didn’t. Convinced I was dying of constipation, I eventually agreed to go to the hospital. Not for the baby, of course—for the unceasing pain in my abdomen. Somewhere on the road between Henderson, TN and the hospital 30 minutes north, Justin convinced me the baby was coming. I sat backwards in the front seat. My mom (sitting in the backseat) tried to rub my head, and I spat, Don’t touch me!

When we arrived, nurses took their time getting me a room and a gown. They said, We’ll be in to check in a little while. Meanwhile I went to the bathroom again and pushed. When I came back, I told Justin I wanted an epidural. Dutiful, loving husband that he is, he flagged down a nurse. She said, There’ll be time for that later. He said, Will you please just check

So she did, and in seconds carts were crashing, nurses flooded the room and someone yelled, Get the doctor!

Eve Adeline Gerhardt came twenty minutes after we checked in at the front desk of Jackson General. She arrived suddenly and decisively, entirely differently than we’d planned. We had music to play, card games for the waiting. I had a pretty robe to wear and makeup to put on before those first pictures. My midwife was supposed to deliver Eve, but someone else did. I don’t know who. I suspect the first doctor they found in the hall. 

In the pictures I look like I’ve just run a marathon. And I look happy.


Today, after the excitement of a handful of baptisms, immersing my own kid, taking small group pictures with our three newly baptized members, I found Justin and he hugged me and I broke down in tears. This wasn’t how I’d planned it, but here we were with an all-new daughter, our whole family now committed to Christ from this day forward. After church we went to a mediocre Mexican restaurant with our friends. We ordered sopapilla cheesecake to celebrate, and Eve thought it was gross. 

Sometimes you plan how something should be. You see it in your head and it just feels right. And then the way it actually happens isn’t anything like the way it was in your head. That’s how today was. I wanted Eve’s baptism to be special. I wanted to be present, to say something meaningful, to make the moment unforgettable. 

But I realized today that Eve was baptized in just the way Eve ought to have been. My spontaneous, decisive girl who loves ALL THE PEOPLE wanted to be baptized at church with everyone watching. She wanted to be baptized alongside Miss Dina and Mr. Sloan. She loves that they share the same re-birthday. She wanted to be in the baptistery at the building she plays at after school. She wanted to wear the same t-shirt everyone else was wearing. 

Eve was reborn the same way Eve was born, in just her own way at just the right time. 

Tonight I asked Eve if she remembered what I said to her right before she went underwater. I laughed a little as I asked, somewhat embarrassed at those unplanned words, and she said, I do. You said, “Let’s go,” something like that, right? 

Maybe “Here we go,” I said.

Yeah, that, she said. I liked it.