Friday, November 30, 2012

Grace, Weight Loss, and Dodgeball


There was a time (perhaps we're still in it) when you could basically mad-lib a movie script and get it made: Loveable loser played by (insert comedian to taste, preferably Will Ferrell ) takes up or plays (insert sport) and is initially a failure, only to overcome the evil (insert either successful comedian or dramatic actor looking to have some fun), get the girl and save the (insert beloved gathering place or institution). Semi-Pro, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, Balls of Fury, Kicking and Screaming, Cool Runnings, and Major League all fit that formula in more than one way, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Our subject for today is Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, starring Vince Vaughan and Ben Stiller (it's almost unfathomable that Ferrell doesn't have a cameo in this movie).

Vaughan and Stiller own competing gyms, and take very different approaches to weight loss. Anyone who has tried to lose weight will recognize these two methods (perhaps not in this exaggerated form, but still).  Here's Stiller, opening the movie in a commercial for his outfit, Globogym:


Stiller clearly thinks that self-hatred is the only way to overcome one's natural inertia.  In other words, you're not going to get off the couch and lose that weight unless you hate who you've become. If you can't recognize your hatefulness? He'll be happy to tell you about it. Now Vaughan, at end of the film, for Average Joe's Gym:


You can immediately see the difference.  "You're perfect just the way you are. But if you want to lose a little weight..." And the final shot of Stiller, back to his pre-Globogym self serves as the nail in the coffin of self-hatred's long term success as a diet plan.

Theologians might call these two gyms Law Gym (Globogym) and Grace Gym (Average Joe's). The law says "Be fit!" but doesn't have anything other the the commandment itself to get you there. So it keeps yelling, telling you that you're not good enough, that you're not skinny enough, that you should hate this you and move on to a better one. Grace, on the other hand, says that you are beloved, despite yourself. In Christianity, we understand that this beloved-ness is on account of Jesus Christ (in other words, it's not quite "you're perfect just the way you are"). This relationship between law and grace holds true no matter the law, whether it's "Be fit," or "Be successful," or "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

Surprisingly, belovedness despite perceived fault is the only true motivator. Vince Vaughan is right: when you feel loved and accepted in advance, you can begin to consider what you really want to do. There's no need for a personal trainer! People who live under the weight of the law will, over time, like Ben Stiller, self-destruct. It is only grace that leads to a healthy life, no matter what you weigh.

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