Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Running the Race Part 1: Facing the Giants (2006)

     “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

     This passage, 2 Corinthians 9:24-27, is going to be the theme verse for the new series this month. Now that I’m done with school (literally, my last final exam was this morning), summer has begun for me, and summer 2012 means one important thing: the London Olympics. Many classmates of mine are part of a program at our school that lets students studying media and journalism go to the Olympics and work internship opportunities there in different fields, and so I’ve been hearing a lot about that at school as students prepare to go. I’m not a huge sports person, but I’m really looking forward to watching the games on television.

     So in honor of the Olympics this summer, I’ve decided this month of five Wednesdays to talk about five sports movies that really stick out to me. In all five of them, the athletes or coaches in them are striving to be the best athletes and coaches they can be not just in order to win, but also to prove something to themselves and to the world: something beyond themselves—even, in two of these films, something spiritual. And I hope that in the same way that the characters in these movies strive to “run in such a way as to get the prize”, as the Apostle Paul writes, we as followers of Jesus may strive to live our lives in order “to get a crown that will last forever”.

     First up: “Facing the Giants”. Some of you may have seen this movie and not thought very highly of it—I’ll be honest, the production values aren’t as high as I’d like them to be. But I’m still glad that movies like this exist, because I really believe they’re providing more opportunities for people like me to go out into the world and make a difference in the media for Christ. “Facing the Giants” was the second film made by Sherwood Pictures, founded out of Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia, the same church that would later produce “Fireproof” and “Courageous”. This movie was made on a $10,000 budget and went on to make $10 million in the box office. That’s still a small amount, but not compared to their budget. I think this might be the reason why Sherwood Pictures is still making movies.

     Anyway, “Facing the Giants” starts out with Grant Taylor (played by writer/director Alex Kendrick), a football coach at a Christian high school, sitting in the bleachers of the school football field pondering his life. His team, the Shiloh Eagles, is doing poorly this season. The school is considering replacing him as the head coach. And his problems aren’t just at school—at home, his car won’t work, the house needs to be fixed, and worst of all, he and his wife Brooke (Shannen Fields) aren’t able to have children. Everything seems to be going wrong in Grant’s life.

     But one day, after a local townsperson comes by his office at school with a Scripture verse that motivates him, Grant starts to put his trust back in the Lord. There are a few scenes where we see him alone, in a meadow, praying to God in solitude and in need:

GRANT: Lord, I feel that there are giants of fear and failure staring down at me, waiting to crush me. And I don't know how to beat 'em, Lord. I'm tired of being afraid. Lord, if you want me to do something else, show me. If you don't want me to have children, so be it. But You're my God. You're on the throne. You can have my hopes and my dreams. Lord, give me something. Show me something.

     From then on, Grant starts incorporating faith more into the football team. He tells them that their focus has collectively been solely on winning and not giving glory to God. “If we win, we praise Him,” Grant tells them. “And if we lose, we praise Him.” So the team starts practicing, now with the mindset that they need to be glorifying God in everything they do. And because of this, things start improving for them. Their players not only start getting stronger, but some of their hearts start to change. Several players whose faith had been slipping rededicate their lives to Christ, some right there on the football field. One player gets to even reconnect with his dad, with whom he’d been having a lot of disagreements.

     And because of his new commitment to glorify God, Grant starts being blessed himself. He is given a new truck (one that works) by an anonymous giver. He starts becoming a better coach and a better leader at his school. And his team starts winning. And they keep winning, and keep winning, and keep winning. They get to the playoffs in their division, and they only lose one game. That game happens to be the last playoff before the championship, but even after their loss, they go back to their locker room and pray, praising God for what they’ve been able to accomplish.

     And call it divine intervention or contrived writing, but Grant finds out that the team they faced in that playoff game used illegitimate players and has been disqualified, which means that the Shiloh Eagles are going to their football championship. And I don’t know how many of you I surprise when I say: they win! Not only that, but Grant goes home that night to find that his wife has good news: they’re pregnant with a child. And with that, the film ends with a final shot revealing the Taylor family with two young children, two football championship trophies, and a plague that reads: “With God, all things are possible.”

     Now, here’s the one little problem (well, okay, the biggest of a small handful of problems) I have with this movie: this movie, whether it intended to or not, makes it look like surrendering yourself to God and praising Him in what we do means that we will start having success after success after success. That may be the case for some people, but personally, I don’t see that too often. And I feel that many non-Christians who see this movie may find this very misleading. Because a lot of people may start to follow Christ, and it’s very possible that more bad can happen than good. (Speaking of which, a good Christian movie that portrays this situation is “To Save a Life”, which I wrote about last year.) I hate to write this part, but I feel that with a “controversial” movie like this, I might give my say as a current film student. Take it or leave it.

     But aside from that, and a few other times in the movie where some jokes are made that could very well have been taken out of the final cut and not done any harm to it (a characteristic also prevalent in “Fireproof”), this is a great example of a sports movie where the characters aren’t just aiming to win—they’re aiming to represent something bigger than themselves. In “Facing the Giants”, the characters are indeed specifically aiming to glorify God, which is something that all Christians need to do in whatever their talents are. For me, that’s media and music, and I’m thrilled to see a movie that inspires me in that sense. (By the way, at the end of this month, I’ll be talking about another movie that inspires me in that sense too. But just wait for it.)

     Again, I say to you the words of 2 Corinthians 9:24: “Run in such a way to get the prize.”

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