Were I a cartoonist, I might have attempted an action-hero comic strip this week. Alas, we must await another day (or decade) for my rendition of ‘St Paul vs the Abdomeniser.’
Once a pejorative term, ‘navel gazing’ is now a vocation, and one that’s practised on numerous levels. Philippians 3:18-19 speaks of many “whose god is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame…”. Other sources translate ‘belly’ as ‘stomach’ but the word may also represent certain organs several centimetres south of that.
Biblical exegetes interpret this passage to mean indulging (and revelling) in one’s physical appetites and lusts, whether these be gluttonous, inebriating or sexual in nature.
Though we may serve our bellies, most of us hate them. North Americans employ various epithets for that midsection flab (doubtless Aussies could add a few colourful ones): pooch, chub, spare tyre, jelly rolls, love handles, muffin top, beer belly, baby belly, Buddha gut – to name just a few.
I know few terms for toned abdominal muscles—‘washboard stomach’ and ‘six pack’ come to mind—but most of us want them. The bodybuilding, weight loss and fitness industries demonstrate that the desire to eliminate one’s belly can also become a false god. If only I had a dollar (or lost a centimetre off my waist) for every time I’ve seen this ad teaser pop up online: “Reduce belly fat with this one weird old tip”.
I confess I’ve clicked more than once: the weird old tip invariably involves buying a weight loss program; it may require eating products I can’t pronounce; sometimes I don’t know what it involves other than a droning pseudo-doctor narrating an interminable video that I don’t have time to watch.
The first three definitions of “weird” are (in order): “odd”, “supernatural”, “of fate”. Many weight loss strategies surely fall into the “odd” category. Few are really fateful, in that no-one’s life is changed forever (though tragically, some people suffer permanent physical damage or even death because of zany diet-related drugs and stunts).
Ideally, fitness should contain a supernatural element, because most of us can’t achieve it (or anything, really) without God’s help. It’s that whole John 15:5 thing.
But man will never stop trusting in his own devices, and some of them are hilarious indeed. Just Google “Ab Machines” and prepare yourself for a belly laugh. My teen daughters and I sometimes watch late-night infomercials, and have seen these things in action (Lord help us, we are easily amused and don’t get out much):
“This machine helped me meet my wife!” (He doesn’t get out much either.)
“Stores under your bed!” (And that’s where it will stay, gathering dust, till the next garage sale.)
“The belt creates heat and sweats off the inches! That’s why people in tropical countries are so slim!” (No, many people in tropical countries are ‘slim’ because they are hungry, the tragi-irony of which is lost on hucksters and gluttons alike.)
Even the names are silly: ‘Abdomeniser’ (sounds as though it might have been invented by Vlad the Impaler), ‘Ab Crunch Bench’ (makes me crave sugary cereal), ‘Ab Rocket Trainer’, ‘Ab Circle Pro’ (funny to watch, once you get beyond the initial horror), AB Doer Twist (makes me crave big, soft pretzels), “Total Core 2” Ab Machine (version 1 must have been only Partial Core, hence the design upgrade), Ab Wheel (which need never be re-invented, for obvious reasons), Hula Chair (or as I like to call it: Malfunctioning Office Chair Possessed by Satan), Ab Flyer, Ab Glider, Ab Roller, Ab Coaster (heaven help us if those last two companies merge) , Yogima Massage Abdominal Exerciser, which is (wait for it) a hula hoop—with special sports-grade knobs on it, Only $70, Ab Flex Belt (“stimulates” your muscles with electrical impulses). This could also be called the Unicorn Fairy Pixie-dust Ab Belt, because it operates on the same principle.
You cannot get fit with batteries, Velcro, and wishful thinking. I even discovered an “Aussie Abs” exercise machine, which begs the question: how are Aussie abs different from Canadian abs?
Are the muscle groups in reverse order, due to their relative position to the equator?
The Aussie Abs ad reads: “This exercise equipment works very much like a pogo stick, except you are sitting down when using it.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine that. Not even after three cups of coffee.
You want a weird old tip? Try this on for size: regular prayer, proper nutrition, self-restraint, an active lifestyle, charity toward the needy, and not obsessing about your belly.
Old, yes; weird, not so much, except that so few people try it these days.
St Paul ostensibly approved of athletics, since he uses them as a positive metaphor for the spiritual life. Being healthy and strong is an objective good.
It only becomes disordered when we remove an “o”, so to speak, and turn a “good” into a “god”.
So crunch away (on your abs and your celery), but remember your life’s true goal and Whom it is you serve.