Of Marvel and Faith, part 5
April 30, 2019, 9:00 AM

Black Panther

Black Panther introduces us to the reclusive world of Wakanda. Everyone in the MCU’s Earth believes that Wakanda is a poor agricultural society. What they don’t know, is that for hundreds of years, Wakanda has been hiding its true self. In fact, because of a meteor that crashed into the land of Wakanda that contained an immense amount of vibranium (the super element, metal, thingy of the entire MCU) it has transformed this small country into an incredible powerful and technologically advanced society. Wakandans are decades ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

They however have never shared this wealth and abundance with the world. They have instead elected to remove themselves from the on-goings in the world even when they could’ve helped significantly. They have decided to remove themselves for fear that they would (and others would desire) to use their power for evil and harm.

That’s Wakanda. This film shows how their unwillingness to be a part of the world has created resentment among those in their society who feel they need to help. That resentment even created their greatest foe so far – a direct descendent of their royal line who grew up in California and has harbored a lot of hurt and hate towards his people.

He forcefully assumes the throne by defeating their king and his cousin, T’Challa (who is the Black Panther). T’Challa and his allies then race to keep his cousin – known as Killmonger – from sending Wakandan weapons and technology around the world and into the hands of those who too have this pent-up frustration and anger at the world.

As T’Challa defeats Killmonger, he realizes that his life and Wakanda’s history has been wrong. They were wrong to not share and be a part of the world. They’ve caused more hurt and devastation by not engaging and sharing than they ever thought possible. He vows to change that as the new and rightful king of Wakanda.

There are many faithful followers of Christ who feel that because the world is ‘lost’ in some way or so far removed from the ideal and mission of the Kingdom of God that they feel drawn to remove themselves from the ‘life’ of the world. They don’t participate in the on-going function of the world, limiting their interactions to the bare minimums (if at all). And with this, I think the world (and they) lose something.

Granted, none of those communities of faith are technologically advanced (not that I know of at least, but I’m open to be proven wrong 😉), so they aren’t on that same plane as Wakanda. But, they do share a truth – the truth they know – of who God is and how God is active in the world. Because they refuse to ‘share’ that knowledge, the world might be a little less bright than if they had their voice joining in with the rest.

But, there are many things where the church (in all its multitude of flavors and traditions) has been like Wakanda and refused to speak, take a stand, or voice their opinion on a certain aspect of society. I’ve fallen victim to this as well, where even I as a pastor have been more concerned about my ‘well-being’ or how I’m viewed instead of speaking what I know to be God’s truth and love for the world.

Whether it be views on women’s ordination, climate change, racism, homosexuality, how the church has interacted with other faiths, where we place extreme devotion to objects, power, money, and monuments and not in God’s grace and love, etc… The church has been silent on a lot of these issues in its history.

Because of this silence, there is a lot of resentment towards the church itself. Much of that resentment, frustration, and even anger is probably justified.

What the church has to offer is vital to the life of the world. The message that Jesus proclaims and calls us to share is indeed a truth – the truth – that this wounded world needs to hear. Much like how Wakanda could’ve benefited the world throughout its history – not just with its technology, but with its culture, its ethic, its life. So, much could have been shared, gleaned, and grown if that history had been different.

But, we don’t belabor the fact that Wakanda didn’t share or that the Church has been silent, but we strive forward with a new history, a new story woven together. A new story for Wakanda, and a new story for the Church itself.


Spider-Man: Homecoming

This is a slightly different way of telling the story of Spider-Man. We aren’t given the ‘beginning’ of the story. In fact, this film occurs after the events of Captain America: Civil War. We already know that Spider-Man exists, we don’t need to rehash his origin story for a third time. But, we do get a new story in the world of Spider-Man, and it’s a good one.

The film starts in the weeks after the Battle of New York (the climatic battle scene from The Avengers) and a man name Adrian Toomes has won the contract of cleaning up the city from that aftermath. He and his crew work hard, work well, and make a decent income from their labor.

But, things get turned sideways when an ‘official’ group sponsored by the government and funded by Tony Stark barges in and takes over the operation. Toomes and his crew are not happy.

Though, they do have their secrets. They use a forgotten load of alien technology to create devices and weapons to do their same job, but on the darker side of life. Becoming an illegal operation that sells and distributes technology and weapons made from the alien stuff to the highest bidders on the streets around New York and in more places. Toomes himself is outfitted with a winged flying device and takes on the moniker of “The Vulture.” And it fits, for he flies in and takes the ‘scraps’ of alien tech from bigger dig sites funded by the government.

Into this new world enters Peter Parker. A high school student who just happens to be one of the most powerful superheroes in the world. And he longs to get back to the ‘big action’ of the airport brawl in Munich. But, Tony Stark isn’t calling him back after countless attempts by Peter to reach him.

He finds the operation of Toomes and his crew and begins to do some research on his own. Figuring out that his new suit from Mr. Stark is full to the limits with tech and gizmos. He hacks the suit itself to unlock its full potential. In the process, Stark feels he isn’t ready for the suit and takes it back from him, leaving Peter to use in homemade suit to take on the Vulture’s operation.

In the end, he discovers that the girl he’s infatuated with is the daughter of Toomes, which brings quite a bit of a dilemma to him. Does he ‘forget’ about what Toomes is doing so he can enjoy the presence of this girl, or does he live into his uncle’s mantra of ‘with great power comes great responsibility?’

He does the sacrificial hero thing. A big battle ensues, he defeats Vulture and in the process realizes that the suit isn’t what defines him or gives him his ‘power.’ He is the one with the skills and ability, if he doesn’t understand that – he’s nothing.

Throughout this movie, Peter Park is a little annoying. Not in the same way as Tony Stark, no Peter is ‘annoying’ because he’s constantly trying to please people. Pleasing his friends, his aunt, Mr. Stark, Happy, his hopeful girlfriend, his teachers, strangers, the Avengers, and more. Peter wants to make everyone happy and will do almost anything – even to the detriment of himself – to make them happy.

But, he realizes that that isn’t always a life worth living. It isn’t sustainable. It’s full of frustration and disappointment. Not only for himself, but especially for those whom he wants to please, but can’t.

So, who does he listen to? Does he listen to his ‘gut?’ Does he listen to his ‘elders’ and the ones he believes ‘know’ better than him? It is a delicate balance that he holds on to (and one that we do as well).

Ultimately, Peter has to decide how to confront evil when he feels inferior. As a typical teenager, he feels under-appreciated, like he’s talking to empty space, and that he can’t live up to the expectations that he feels others are placing on him (but, which are probably things that he’s placed solely on himself). Of course, he also as the ability to really help people but, has been told to lay low and let ‘others’ take care of that.

In many ways, we too feel this way as people of faith. We feel we have something to say, have something to offer, have a truth to share. But, we don’t think we measure up as well to that individual over that, that organization on the other side of town, or even the ‘big church’ across the street. We do have something to offer, but what is it compared to what all these others are doing or can do?

We also want to consistently ‘please’ those around us. Please them in the church, please them outside the walls of the building, please them outside the ‘walls’ of the community of faith. Always bending over backwards to accommodate others – and it can be frustrating and draining.

What do we have? Well, we have Christ – we have the promise of the resurrection – we have the life and faith poured into us in our baptisms. We have and can share the story and truth about God who accepts us for who we are, loves us fully and completely, and walks with us each day – no matter what.

Knowing that we have that life, love, and mercy in us we feel called to not only share it, but to live more fully into that life of faith. Striving to not be pulled and swayed by the power of the ‘world’ and the power of sin in the life of the world.


Doctor Strange

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before… A leader in his work and field is pretty arrogant in the approach to his very specific skill, makes a lot of money, and treats the people around him pretty terribly. All the while being a charismatic individual that draws others to him. Doctor Strange is a film that at its core is quite similar to the first Iron Man.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a world-renowned neurologist and surgeon. He takes on the cases that others think are impossible. He finds the solutions to difficult surgeries that other surgeons just can’t imagine doing (or thinking up themselves). He’s really, really good at what he is able to do – and he knows it. In fact, he flaunts his ability pretty heavily.

He loves being a doctor because he gets to save lives. But, he also chooses the cases and surgeries that – though difficult – are not (in his mind) impossible. Those cases that fuel his ego, but won’t damage his ‘record.’ He lives life to the limit because he believes that he’s untouchable.

This of course, is where he falls. As he’s researching cases with a colleague (while driving on a twisty road well, well, well above the speed limit) he falters. The care crashes over the ravine and severely damages his hands. He requires surgery and there is a long road of recovery ahead of him. But, the outlook of him ever being able to do surgery again is almost out of the question.

Strange has an existential crisis in this moment. He doesn’t know who he is if he’s not able to be a surgeon – and the world’s best surgeon at that. He can’t handle it. He has to find a way to ‘fix’ himself (because he’s always about fixing people). It is tearing him a part that he can’t do the ‘fixing’ himself.

This leads him to seek out an individual who had a broken back and loss the use of his legs, who now miraculously is able to walk fully again. In fact, Dr. Strange passed on this exact case because it was ‘hopeless’ and would’ve placed a mar on his otherwise pristine surgical record. This guy tells Strange about a place called Kamar-Taj. A place that aligns your spiritual being through meditation and other things to fix what is broken in the human body.

Naturally, Strange is intrigued and spends all his remaining fortune to get there. When he arrives he is introduced to ‘The Ancient One’ who gives him a taste of what could be in the future for him. A look at different planes of existence, harnessing that power, and using it to manipulate the world they live in. Strange is hesitant, but also fascinated by what the Ancient One is speaking about and desires to know more and to be taught.

She tells him no.

That’s definitely not what he was expecting, but he sits outside the doors of Kamar-Taj for hours pleading to be taught. Finally, The Ancient One relents and begins his tutelage.

Strange at first really struggles with what he’s being taught. He feels he can’t do any of it because his hands are ‘broken.’ Only when he’s shown that ‘hands’ are not what allows people to do the incredible things that are taught here (and put in a potentially life or death situation) does he begin to make progress in his work.

After that he becomes a savant in this magical world. He studies, reads, and practices as often as he can. Even using advanced skills – like using his astral projection to read books while his body is sleeping. Strange begins to become the most promising student that this school has ever produced.

And this is also causing a stir within the community. Strange’s desire to know more and more leads him to more difficult spells and actions. Eventually he reads from a book about the manipulation of time that has a page missing. His ability to know and perform this difficult and powerful spells reminds the leaders at Kamar-Taj of another student who broke bad when he pursued the same things.

That student – Kaecilius – desires to tap into the ‘dark dimension’ where a powerful being called Dormammu promises to give him eternal life. But, in order to do that, he must destroy the three Sanctums that shield earth from the dangers of other dimensions. Kaecilius and Strange fight (though strange doesn’t really know what’s going on) and eventually Strange defeats a zealot of Kaecilius and ends his life.

This puts Strange in another existential crisis. He is a doctor. His whole life has been about saving people’s lives. Bringing them back from the brink of death to full health and wellness. Taking a life is counter to his whole life ethos. He struggles with his new friends’ and teachers’ only solution to the problem they face – killing those who oppose them. He desires another way – even if that way bends the rules that they have placed upon themselves.

There is a big fight in Hong Kong where that Sanctum is destroyed and Strange must use the powers of the Eye of Agamotto to manipulate time to defeat Dormammu. Strange places a time loop on himself that allows Dormammu to kill him over and over. The only problem is, Dormammu can’t get out of the loop. This is his life if he doesn’t accept Strange’s proposal – to take Kaecilius and his goons and to leave Earth alone.

Reluctantly, Dormammu agrees because the time loop is not how he envisioned his powerful life. So, Strange found another way to defeat the evil against him without ending a life.

Strange takes up residence at the New York Sanctum studying and becoming more powerful in the ways of the mystic arts. Though, because of his manipulation of time and the natural order of things, one of his best friends – Mordo – parts ways with him and the order itself. For him, rules are meant for a reason and shouldn’t be bent or broken just to create a more desirable outcome.

On a second viewing, I really, really like this movie. Sure, it is very similar in its overall theme to Tony Stark and Iron Man, but it takes a decidedly different turn. The most obvious glimmer of the gospel I find in this film is the desire for Strange to find another way to get a different outcome to achieve his and his friends’ goals. I also enjoy is willingness to ‘bend the rules’ to get that outcome.

I see that at play in the work and ministry of Jesus and God’s saving action in his victory over sin and death in the empty tomb.

Jesus continually preached about another way. You’ve heard it once said… Jesus turned the world upside down in his ethic and philosophy to God’s Kingdom in the world. His words are still radical to this day. Turning another cheek, giving up your cloak for another, laying down one’s life for their friends.

All of that is (somewhat) evident in this movie. Dr. Strange doesn’t want to kill or harm people. He really doesn’t. He’s wrecked by the death he causes in this film – even if it is to save his own life. That isn’t who he is. That’s not what he’s going to do. He’s going to find another way.

I truly feel Jesus found another way to tell people – to show people – to invite people – into this radical love and welcome that God has for the world.

In the process, God ‘bends the rules’ to tell the world about this. The rule of death is bent and broke in God’s saving action in Jesus. Death isn’t the final word anymore. Death has no more power. God has won and extends that victory to all of creation.

Strange bends the rules by using the manipulation of time to defeat Dormammu. He puts him in a sort of ‘hell’ that continually repeats the same moment. This is no way to live and experience life and he wants out. Strange ‘wins’ by finding another way and bending the natural law.

God wins by finding another way in and through Jesus and bending the natural law.


Thor: Ragnarok

In this third entry into the Thor series, we see a bit of a change. Thor is coming into his own and his attitude is changing. In fact, his whole character has changed because he’s more of a comedian now.

The film begins with him chatting it up with a huge fire demon named Surtur. Like any movie villain, Surtur explains that it is destiny to bring about Ragnarok on Asgard – the destruction of Thor’s homeworld. Of course, in the process of telling him, Surtur mentions that the only way he will destroy Asgard is when his crown is placed in the eternal flame on Asgard itself.

With that information in hand, it is time for Thor to leave, and he does in grand style. As he attacks and flies through the air wielding the mighty hammer Mjolnir, he calls for Heimdell to open the Bifrost (direct portal back to Asgard) for hi to return home. Except, there’s a problem. Heimdell isn’t at the ‘helm’ of the Bifrost. Instead, it is an individual named Skurge who is not paying attention and using his new ‘job duty’ to impress the ladies.

Eventually, Thor returns and discovers that something is amiss in Asgard. Odin is not acting quite like himself and there is an outpouring of love given to Loki. Which seems rather odd being that Loki has been the mischievous villain throughout this series and been a thorn in Loki’s and Odin’s side the whole time.

Thor, quickly discovers that Loki is impersonating Odin and that the real ‘All-Father’ is on Midgard (Earth) at an old retirement home. When they arrive to greet there father, they discover that the retirement facility has been demolished and Odin is no longer there.

They then meet Doctor Strange who wants to know what’s going on and also knows where Odin is. He’s in Norway. Strange teleports them to Odin and the sons and their father have a rather difficult conversation.

Odin is dying and his death will mean the return of their older sister – the Goddess of Death and the true ‘heir’ of Asgard’s throne. Of course, they didn’t know they had an older sister at all (sidenote – I found out about having an older sister when I was younger. Thankfully, it didn’t turn out the same way as it did for Thor.)

Hela is an incredibly powerful Asgardian and she’s rather upset that she’s been locked away by Odin for centuries. Her power continually grows stronger the closer and closer she gets to Asgard. She even has enough power to literally crush Thor’s mighty hammer.

As the three try to get to Asgard through the Bifrost, Hela is able to knock both Loki and Thor out of the portal and they find themselves on a distant planet full of wormholes, trash, exotic life, and more.

Thor is immediately captured by a mysterious and powerful woman introduced as Scrapper-142. This woman subdues Thor and takes him to the leader of the planet, a man named ‘The Grandmaster’ who runs a gladiatorial combat ring. He’s intrigued with Thor ‘Lord of Thunder’ (watch out his hands sparkle)! Especially if he’s a match for the current champion. He wants a good show for the people of Sakaar afterall.

Here Thor discovers that Loki has been on this planet for a little longer and has slid right into the Grandmaster’s good graces (because of course he has). But, even he doesn’t know who the ‘Champion’ is.

Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Hela is causing quite an uproar. She’s singlehandedly defeated most of the Asgardian army with ease as well as most of Thor’s powerful friends. She’s intent on putting Asgard back on the track they originally were when she rode with her father many millennia ago. Her goal is to conquer all the nine realms and more.

She resurrects her greatest warrior – Fenris – a huge wolf and the rest of the great (and dead) Asgard army. But, she can’t leave Asgard because someone (Heimdell) has stolen the Bifrost Sword so there is no where for her to go. She just continues to become more powerful, more frustrated, and more angry that her plans are currently stopped.

Back on Sakaar, Thor finally gets to fight the famed Champion, and it is none other than his ‘work-friend’ Hulk! They battle and Thor loses only because the Grandmaster subdues him because of an implant in his neck.

In their shared room, Thor and Hulk argue about what they need to do. Thor wants to and needs to leave in order to save his people. Hulk wants to stay because this is the only place that has ever ‘loved’ him. With the help of Scrapper-142 (now discovered to be Asgardian herself and one of the famed Valkeryie warries of Asgardian legend), they are able to escape Sakaar and make their way back to Asgard itself.

There a huge battle takes place between Thor and Hela – Thor loses an eye in the process. In a vision, his father tells him that the hammer he wields isn’t what gives him his power, he is the God of Thunder and not the God of Hammers after all. It’s just the talk that he needs to save his people and (briefly) stop Hela.

When all seems lost, a huge spaceship led by Loki and the rest of the gladiators from Sakaar arrives to take the Asgardian people aboard. In this moment is when Thor realizes that perhaps his mission isn’t to stop Ragnarok, but to cause it – because it would destroy Hela in the process.

So, Thor, Loki, Valkeryie, and Hulk work together to put Surtur’s crown in the eternal flame and hold off the undead Asgardian horde long enough for the people of Asgard to board the ship.

Ragnarok occurs as Surtur – bigger than ever – enters the battle. He and Hela fight, but she cannot stop him from destroying Asgard. Yet, though their home is destroyed, Thor tells his people what his dad told him: Asgard is a people, not a place. Asgard lives because they live.

This is a good movie. It’s fun, heartfelt, and has plenty of action. It also teaches us a little bit more of the gospel too.

Some of the same ‘glimmers’ appear in this movie as well. Especially the relationship between Odin, Thor, and Loki being a sort of parallel to the Parable of the Prodigal Father in Luke’s Gospel. There is also the returning story of Bruce Banner contending with the ‘Hulk’ that resides in him. Which has become especially more dire to Bruce since Hulk has gained greater power in being in control. He fears that if he ‘changes’ again, he as Bruce may never come back.

But, the greatest glimmer that I find in this story is the emphasis that the community is more important than the place. That’s what God has setup for us in the kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus talked about quite a bit in his stories and teachings about the temple. That’s what Paul alludes to as this life of faith and God’s love is indeed extended to any and all, not just a select few.

However, we as people of faith really lose sight of that part of our lives. We focus a lot on the ‘places’ and buildings of our lives as they cornerstone – the chief monument – of our faith. Where caring for that which ‘houses’ us becomes more important than caring for the people within that house. I once knew of a church that set up an endowment to keep the lights on and pay a supply pastor each and every Sunday, but the congregation itself was less than 10 people. They’d lost their vibrant community, but they still had their building.

I also know of a church who took the big leap to ‘destroy’ their home so that they can better serve their community and spread the gospel. Their ‘Ragnarok’ might not have been a fire demon sticking a giant flaming sword into the foundations of their building, but in leaving that place they were able to do some amazing ministry in Michigan – and they’re still at it too!

We as a people place a lot of importance on the building. We forget about the people that make up the community. We limit our desire to care for the people outside the walls of the building.

Buildings themselves aren’t bad. People need a place to gather – that’s for sure. And some buildings are magnificent and historic places to gather the people (I’m pretty partial to my congregation’s building – it is a wonderful space). But, the building isn’t the church. The building just happens to be where the church gathers, serves, loves, reaches out, and is sent from to bring the church and community of faith the gospel.


Ant-Man and the Wasp

This film takes place two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War. We see that Scott Lang – our famed Ant-Man – is on house arrest and very, very close to serving out his term. He’s constantly checked up on and the people over his house arrest are very thorough – annoyingly so.

Weirdly, Scott has a dream where he is playing with a young girl in a game of hide-and-seek. He finds out, that it is not him in the dream, but that of a woman. Turns out that it is a message from Janet Van Dyne, the presumed ‘dead’ wife of Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man). She has been lost in the Quantum Realm since the late 80s after she went subatomic to stop a nuclear missile that was fired upon the United States.

Hank and his daughter Hope have been busy trying to find their way back to the quantum realm to get Janet ever since Scott was able to come back from that same place years ago.

They work and deal with shady characters (namely a new villain named Sonny Burch who is a black arms dealer) in order to obtain the devices and parts they need to complete their quantum tunnel device. However, they aren’t the only ones in search of those parts and their device in particular.

Hot on their trails is a mysterious character who is able to phase in and through matter. This individual is skilled in fighting and difficult to take down. Mostly because it is so difficult to land a punch.

Working together Scott and Hope aren’t able to stop this Ghost. Who ends up taking Pym’s research lab (that has been shrunk down to the size of a rolling suitcase). This Ghost is no where to be found.

They decide (much to the chagrin of Hank) to reach out to one of his old lab partners (Bill Foster) to use technology and sensors that would help them find the lab. They are able to find the lab and the mysterious individual – who happens to be a young woman named Ava.

Ava was the daughter of two people involved in the experiments that Pym and Foster conducted as they attempted to perfect the shrinking and enlarging technology in the Ant-Man and Wasp suits. Her parents were killed in an accident and it left Ava in an unstable physical being. She has a difficult time holding her physical form. She wants to be ‘cured’ and Foster has been working for years trying to find a way to make her whole again.

She and Foster believe that Pym’s new project will be the exact thing to cure her. But, the process could potentially destroy Janet who is still trapped inside the Quantum Realm.

So, using the hijinks and hilarity of Scott’s friends – who are now conmen turned security systems entrepreneurs – they work together to give Hank enough time to get Janet out of the Quantum Realm.

As they fight off government agents, Burch’s henchmen, and the fierce abilities of Ghost – all the while the lab is being lugged around the city of San Francisco, Hank is able to save Janet from the Quantum Realm.

But, something is indeed different about her, she has gained some impressive powers and she uses those powers to fix Ava, if only temporarily.

Meanwhile, Scott hurries home to prove to the suspicious government agents that he’s been abiding by his house arrest the entire time. With his term complete, he’s able to leave the house – legally – once again.

The largest glimmer found in this movie is the fact that all is not lost. Hope remains. Janet is presumed dead and lost in the Quantum Realm, but she isn’t gone forever. She can be brought back.

This reminds me a bit of Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb. The community around Martha and Mary are in turmoil because of Lazarus’ death. Yet, Jesus knows that this isn’t the end. He is not lost forever. He will be raised again.

Janet is not lost, she’s not dead. She can and does come back.

I also have to think that God has called us to a life that is fun. We are created to enjoy the life that we have been gifted. I have a colleague, friend, and pastor whom I greatly respect who is knowing for ending his services with, “Go out and serve the world – and have fun doing it. Because if it isn’t fun, it isn’t much worth doing.”

Scott has fun. He makes jokes. He enjoys life. If he can’t have fun – with his friends, his daughter, with those around him – what’s the point?

God has called us to live a life of joy and love. We get to do this. Have fun serving, working with, being in devotion, walking with folks, caring for them, worshipping. Have fun in all of what God has given us.


Check out the Final part with Infinity War and Endgame, HERE!





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