In pm's words
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April 23, 2019, 12:00 PM

Of Marvel and Faith, part 2


Iron Man 2

In this sequel to Iron Man, Tony Stark is known throughout the world as this mighty armored superhero. He helps out, he advances his own technology, he is an insufferable jerk throughout it all.

That attitude catches up to him as he is confronted by a man (somewhat) from his father’s past and his own present. The man from the past is Ivan Vanko whose father helped Howard Stark (Tony’s dad) develop the Arc Reactor that powers Tony’s Iron Man suit. Vanko becomes the villain Whiplash. He ends up teaming with the Justin Hammer of Hammer Industries who is constantly in Tony’s shadow. He’s a decent visionary, but he isn’t Stark and, in his attempt to match him, he usually falls rather short of that sort of ‘glory.’

Tony throughout this movie is a jerk. He thinks he’s the ‘best of’ of everything. Of all the things he learned and repented from in the first movie, his attitude is definitely not one of them (of course it is also Stark’s defining characteristic as well). He keeps people at an arm’s length away – even the ones closest to him, because he feels no one really likes him.

However, his attitude changes (ever so slightly) when he discovers that there are those who love him and care for him. Mostly his assistant/love interest/girlfriend Pepper Potts and he discovers that his father really did love him too.

Tony constantly has people tell him that they care for him and are worried about him – his best friend Rhodes, his AI butler JARVIS, his girlfriend, and more. Yet, he doesn’t (or can’t) hear them until he sort of hears it from his father in a film recording he made decades ago. That knowledge and realization that he is loved helps him better hear what others have been trying to tell him.

Love can change our world. God’s love has changed our world. Love can change who we are and how we respond to situations around us. God truly, fully, and completely loves us. That love is shown throughout scripture. That is made more fully known in Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

That love leads us to live a life that is with and for others. We realize we don’t have to go at it alone. Tony discovers this in the movie. We are shown this throughout God’s call to us through scripture and the faith community. We are not alone. We are loved. We can (and do) rely on the community to help us.

 

The Incredible Hulk

This is the first ‘different’ Marvel movie because it doesn’t follow the same template as the others (up to this point). There is no beginning story beat of how Dr. Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk. Instead, there is a montage during the opening credits that tells that story rather quickly. We then meet up with Banner as he is on the run – away from all the things he knows and loves – as he tries to find a cure for his Hulk ‘condition.’

Of course, as he’s on the run, the bad guys are looking for him because they want to weaponize what he’s become. General Ross and Emil Blonsky search for him relentlessly. They only find him when he shows up back stateside seeking out the advice of a ‘Mr. Blue’ who has been helping Banner try to cure his gamma radiation.

When Blonsky is first confronted with Hulk he knows he needs to be something more and Ross is more than eager to put a redeveloped version of the super soldier serum into him.

It makes him stronger, faster, and agile, but it also begins to make him something else. Hungry for more of what he feels he’s only been given a taste of. It turns him into a sort of Abomination of greed, power, and fear.

Banner as Hulk eventually saves the day and is able to ‘find himself’ inside the monster he feels he is. Yet, still unsure of how he can keep those safe around him (and also not wanting to be Ross’ test subject) he departs again into hiding.

As much as this is one of the poorer movies in the MCU, it still can show us quite a bit. As I watch this, I cannot help but see that this is a movie about emotions. How not to let your emotions get the best of you, but still understanding that emotions are good.

As a pastor, I find myself saying that over and over again in so many situations. Where people feel guilty or ashamed for being sad or angry or even happy within certain moments of our lives. We live in a world that really tries to downplay emotions altogether. That if you show any that you’re considered weak. Especially if those emotions differ from the stereotypical ‘type’ associated with your gender (ie… men can’t be sensitive and women shouldn’t be angry).

Yet, throughout scripture emotions play a pivotal role. Yes, people are excited and elated about certain things (which is typically seen by the world as the ‘correct’ emotion to have), but there are moments of sadness, despair, and anger. For the most part, all of those emotions are affirmed and lifted up. Just read through any of the Psalms and you’ll see the whole gamut of emotions. Even our Lord Jesus showed a range of emotion through his ministry, he showed empathy, sadness, frustration, and even anger towards those around him. Dare I say he exhibited an extreme (and appropriate) case of anxiety and fear as he prayed in the Garden before he was handed over to the religious authorities.

Emotions are good. What becomes an issue is when we let our emotions take control. Where we become only that emotion. Where that anger is the only thing that drives us and we cannot control who we are in the midst of that rage or sadness or even elation.

Yet, what Banner realizes – and what we realize as well – is that no matter how ‘angry’ he becomes, he still resides within that monster he fears. He still reasons. He still listens. He still seeks that calm still voice to guide him. Much like in our emotional energy we still seek the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us. Perhaps the voice of the Spirit isn’t much different than the breathy and sometimes ethereal sounding voice of Liv Tyler?

The final ‘glimmer’ I see is kind of a warning to us as well. Of what we become when we dive into our lust for power our greed for control. Both Ross and Blonsky become something different. Ross is able to (a bit) turn back from that greed and see what others see. Blonsky becomes something of an Abomination.

Jesus and scripture warn us at times of falling into the power grab that the world shouts at us. That there is another way that doesn’t involve pressing yourself over and on another. It isn’t about ‘ruling,’ ‘dominating,’ or anything like that. Jesus would tell us that it is about welcome, radical hospitality, and living in the love that God has already gifted us.

Thor

Thor literally tells the story of a ‘god.’ The god of thunder and lightning to be exact. Thor is the son of Odin of Asgard. A civilization and people who protect the nine realms in numerous direct and indirect ways. The Asgardians sit in the center making sure things are balanced. Yet, they are also in a time of transition as the throne of Asgard is about to be handed over from Odin to Thor.

Except there is one problem. Thor’s brother kind of objects. Loki – god of mischief and deceit – stirs the pot trying to play to Thor’s biggest vices to get him to be seen as ‘less than’ by their father Odin.

It works.

Thor is stripped of his power (mostly to wield his hammer Mjolnir) and exiled to Midgar (Earth). There his pompous attitude is still on display as he meets a team of scientists trying to figure out these weird anomalies in the world.

As Thor wrestles with who he is on earth, Loki is stirring trouble against Asgard as he attempts to take the throne by duplicitous means. He despises his brother’s arrogance and is envious of his father’s love for him. A love that he doesn’t feel is shown to him.

As Thor relearns what it means to be mighty, Loki’s plot for vengeance against Thor and the affection of his father’s love goes into overdrive. He wants to rule, to defeat one of Asgard’s oldest foes, and remove Thor from the picture entirely.

It doesn’t work, for he too has compassion and love – in the midst of his anger – for his brother. He eventually ‘succumbs’ to his own feelings of lonesomeness and distraught and falls into the depths of space as Asgard’s link to the nine realms – the Bifrost bridge – is destroyed.

Much like Stark, Thor is arrogant. Unlike Stark Thor definitely turns back from his arrogant ways. He loses his power, but is able to find it again when he starts thinking about others apart from just about himself.

But, as I watch this movie and see this story play out, I cannot help but think of the Parable of the Prodigal. There are definitely overlaps between that story and the story of Thor, Loki, and Odin.

Obviously, this movie does not play out the same as Jesus’ parables. But, there are many similarities. Odin is definitely a parallel to the Prodigal Father. Thor matches up well with the younger son and Loki is the envious elder brother.

Odin loves his boys, but how his love is shown towards one makes the other jealous and feel unloved and unwanted.

Thor ‘lives the good life’ and takes advantage of his father’s love and influence (and the power bestowed to him by his father).

Loki fails to see his father’s love for him even though he spends a considerable amount of time in his presence and learning from him.

The ‘prodigalness’ that is lived and shown in this movie can be seen as just ‘love.’ Odin’s love for his sons, Thor’s love for his father and brother, Loki’s love for… power, attention, and prestige?

The parable reminds us about God’s love from us that never lessens and never darkens. That love that lives into the ‘undignified’ as the father runs to the one who wished him dead and celebrates his return. That same love that is extended to the envious and angered elder son. That love given to both to rebuild and reconcile not only their relationship with one another, but their relationship with the father.

 

Marvel's The Avengers

Here it is, the end of ‘phase one’ of the MCU. All the main heroes come together to take on an other-worldly foe. Thor’s mischievous and evil brother is at it at it again. Loki is using his staff to manipulate and control the people around him as he strives to obtain the Tesseract in order to open a portal to the far reaches of the galaxy. This portal of course will allow an alien race to come and bring havoc and destruction to Earth.

Knowing the scale that this threat involves, Nick Fury and the rest of SHIELD seek out the most powerful people they know to be the force that stops this invasion. And, they do. They come together – in spite of their differences – to save the world.

As I watch this film, I’m confronted by the fact that community is hard to create and maintain. There are struggles when you bring people from different backgrounds, different ideologies, and more into a group. People are different. Many of Paul’s letters center around how to ‘be community’ in this life of faith. A community that transcends the typical social structures that the world has always upheld.

The Avengers at first are very selfish about how to go about stopping this other-worldly force and invasion. They all have their specific ways of approaching the problem at hand. Yet, it isn’t until they start working together that they are able to defeat their foes and the enemies of Earth.

Where by working together as a community relies on trusting one another and listening to each other. That is where their strength comes from. Acknowledging that each person plays an important and vital role in their success. That same is true as we from our communities of faith and live into those lives of faith. Sometimes others are more adept in certain areas, instead of struggling through what we need help in alone, we reach out and invite others to help.

We are stronger together.

 

Check out Part 3 HERE!

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