In the Christian tradition we have now entered the season of Advent, the time of waiting with great expectation for the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. 2 Peter 3:8-15a puts it this way: "...in accordance with [God's] promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish..."
The type of "waiting" described by the text above is not passive. Rather, Christians are to "strive" or struggle in their faith as a part of their expectation of God's final redemptive act. We are to experience and witness to the rough and tumble reality by living in this world as a disciple of Jesus, and do that by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Enter Women's Roller Derby (WRD).
Roller Derby is a contact sport that involves two teams skating in groups of five around the track while two other members (one from each team) try to break through the pack to score points. It originally started in the 1930s and has been experiencing resurgence in the past 11 years.
Since joining the Fresh Meat program (see #3 below) of the Charlottesville Derby Dames in October of this year, I've observed at least five characteristics of WRD that could help the Church teach its members how to strive and struggle while we grow in and live out our faith in expectation.
[Disclaimer: WRD is a sport with no link to any religious organizations and opinions in this piece do not reflect any official positions of WRD or the Charlottesville Derby Dames. Also, please note: there are some churches that do the stuff I talk about, so all generalizations do not necessarily apply to specific congregations.]
Drum roll please...
5. Women Are Powerful and Successful, As Women
To be a member of WRD, you have to be strong, athletic and basically hard-core. Additionally, there is within Derby this amazing grace which allows each woman to express herself through "Derby Dress" or "boutfits" and an individual persona. Generally this means 1) sexy clothes -- short skirts/shorts, tights, funky socks, decorated helmets and other flare and 2) cool punny names. Thus generating a bunch of be super-hot and sexy, totally cute and foxy hard-core professional athletes. Your look and persona are not seen as limiting your strength, but rather are considered part of the whole package. Like Roller Derby, the Church should help women understand their inner God-given beauty, and to express it in healthy ways. Check out this video of a pastor who found this through Roller Derby, not the Church.
4. A Competition Focused on Improving Self, Not Bringing Down Others
One strong message I get from WRD is "Compete against yourself!" There is an emphasis on pushing ourselves to improve AND encouraging others to do the same. In this way our improvement is everyone's gain, and not an occasion to feel superior or inferior to those around us. This type of ethos that encourages me to improve myself, so I am better than I was yesterday is a model the Church could learn from as the expectant Church.
3. Shepherding the Fresh Meat
The Fresh Meat program trains all new skaters looking to become members of the team. It is led by Level II skaters and supported by "shepherds," or Level I skaters. All skaters (including skaters with no previous experience) are welcome, and then trained and tested to pass from one level to the next. The Church should refocus on shepherding or discipleship, and WRD has much to teach the Church on this front.
2. Family Friendly
The reality is that many participants in WRD are in their late 20s to middle age; many of us have families, which include children. Therefore it is mandatory that all public bouts and derby events are family friendly. This does not cut down on the sass factor, but it means that if you go to a derby event, you are in for some good, clean, sexy (but not trashy) fun for the whole family. By by taking care to modify certain behaviors & broadcasting to the world that families are welcome, children become spectators of a sport that speaks to them as a part of the team. The Church could benefit from learning how to become BOTH family friendly AND fun, and from how to incorporate children in a way that makes them feel like part of the team of disciples and not just a group whose behavior needs to be managed.
1. Role Models For Girls and Young Women
For the #1 Thing the Church Can Learn from Women's Roller Derby, I share why I decided to join in the first place -- my daughter. My daughter is 3 and beautiful. I've resigned myself to the fact that she will be a cheerleader someday (my husband has not). The first Roller Derby bout we went to as a family, my 3-year-old daughter ran out after the match, found the tallest woman on skates she could find and had Rox Ann Stones sign her program -- in crayon.
At that moment I made my decision.
In a world where girls and young women are bombarded by the media's portrayal of the perfect body -- where eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem characterize young women's lives -- there also exists Women's Roller Derby.
Whether or not my daughter remains my biggest fan, her little brain is being imprinted with the fact that women of all shapes, sizes and body types are beautiful, strong and can kick serious pompis (Spanish word for "rear end"). If only the Church could learn to do the same.
There really is so much more to say (in fact this list began as a Top Ten), and I am grateful that God finds a way to make these things happen somewhere. WRD is a sanctuary where hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of women develop and celebrate their confidence, strength and individuality.
Yet there is always hope for the Church to strive in its expectation, and as shown, WRD offers models from which to learn.
So, my Christian sisters and brothers, let us revive the struggle. Let us humbly learn what we can, so we can "be found by [God] at peace, without spot or blemish." This fabulous sport can be our guide as we strive this Advent season, expectantly awaiting the New Born King.
Follow Kelly Figueroa-Ray on Twitter: www.twitter.com/siemprechipil