The true power of Captain America

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

In the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU as it is otherwise known I was never really a Captain America fan. I didn’t dislike the character but I boxed him off into all American boy, patriot, soldier who was no big deal and could just throw a shield at people.

Previously I had been a Spider-Man guy. The wise cracking wall crawler with his quick wit and web swinging abilities was my favourite. ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ was the mantra and the cavalcade of colourful, interesting villains also kept me on the hook even when the films were fairly ordinary fare.

As the MCU grew though something in me began to move towards Steve Rodgers and over time Cap has grown on me. He has got under my skin.

He was different to other heroes. He didn’t have an accident like Peter Parker to gain his powers. He wasn’t a multi billionaire philanthropist with a great eye for design like Tony Stark.

Steve Rogers was chosen. He was picked by the government to be injected with a super soldier serum that gave him his power.

He wasn’t picked because of his size, strength or intelligence.

He was picked because of his heart.

The verse from 1 Samuel  is taken from the story of David being selected as king of Israel. Samuel has walked down a line up of Jesse’s sons. The big, the strong, the potential warrior kings that could lead Israel to dominate their neighbours for years.

As Samuel walks the line and each is rejected by God to the point where there are no sons left. The story tells us they have to go and get David he wasn’t even considered worthy enough for the line up!

When David arrives God informs Samuel that this is the chosen one, the future king. The son who was rejected by his own family for the line up is selected.

Why David? The verse tells us it was because of his heart.

Steve Rogers couldn’t get drafted into the army, slipped in through the back door after countless rejections and ended up Captain America.

At one point in the First Avenger a grenade is thrown into a crowd of soldiers and Steve flings himself on top to protect those around him. While others run he puts other lives ahead of his own.

At this point the officers around him see the potential for a  true hero. In this moment Rogers is chosen. Not because of physical prowess, intelligence or size but because of his character.

He is chosen because of his heart and consequentially becomes the moral compass of the MCU.

In the Winter Soldier when actions are taken in the name of security and patriotism Cap stands against it because it invokes not protection but in his mind fear.

Captain America is not driven by a super serum but rather principle, ethics and the desire to do what is right.

In today’s world perhaps we need to re examine not what makes up popular, powerful or gains us status among peers. Perhaps we should instead check our hearts to see what condition it is in.

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Cry the Beloved Country – the big is in the small

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CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, Richard Harris, James Earl Jones, 1995

 

On Saturday evening I had the privilege of being at Stormont Presbyterian church to introduce Cry the Beloved Country. You can read my introduction in relation to cinema and justice here.

Cry the Beloved Country is set in South Africa church minister Steven Kumalo is summoned from his village to Johannesburg. He finds is son has been jailed in connection with the robbery and consequential death of a white man. The father of the deceased is an apartheid supporter. When they encounter each other they come to the unexpected realisation not only about their sons but their own humanity.

The film had many emotional moments, many scenes that moved me as I watched the various injustices suffered by many of the characters portrayed. There was one moment however that stood out above the others.

When Richard Harris goes to visit the club that his son provided for local ‘native’ boys he is approached by the club manager. Harris portrays a man who supports apartheid and even at his son’s funeral refuses to shake the hand of a black mourner. His son knew no such prejudice. He saw past skin tone, past societal class and saw humanity. He also saw a gap in society, a lack of provision and in founding this club plugged a hole others ignored in order to prevent boys in the area from getting involved in many of the dangers on the Johannesburg streets.

The manager approaches the mourning father and tells him of all the great things he did for them and then he says

“They were small things but what he gave us was himself”

This is often what people refer to as the light bulb moment. I sat at the back of the room went against all film watching senses and wrote the quote in my phone.

Often we feel that acts of justice must be carried out on a large scale. The grand gesture and in today’s world with as much publicity as you can get.

We want people to know the good we do. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook the ‘look at my great life’ mentality that social media instigates and nurtures can detract from what it should really be all about.

The greater act may be something small, something unseen by those around you, without publicity. Where you give away part of yourself in order that someone else gains.

In 2016 this goes against the norm. This is outside the box thinking. This idea of small meaningful heartfelt gesture over grandstanding would never be considered by some

If the meek are to inherit the earth. This way of acting maybe the most subversive method of seeing justice done we could ever encounter.

 

Cinematic Justice & Kevin Costner

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Last night I was invited to introduce Cry the Beloved Country at Stormont Presbyterian church as part of their justice month. I’ll blog a little on Cry the Beloved Country later but first here is last night’s introduction  on how the justice we should strive for looks a lot like Kevin Costner.

What does cinematic justice look like?

Dare I suggest it looks like Kevin Costner but first a little bit of Deuteronomy & James. Deuteronomy is not many people’s go to for biblical quotes and inspirations around just but Deuteronomy 27:19 puts it bluntly for us:

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan and the widow of justice”

The biblical imperative is clear long before Jesus of how we are to act.

Some say that faith alone is enough for the Christian. The belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus is sufficient and will see us safely into the golden streets of heaven.

I’ve never liked that suggestion.

For me it makes Christianity nothing more than a box ticking exercise. Believe these simple steps and have your ticket punched into the grandest club house of them all.

I can’t believe that.

James 2 14-18 is the antidote to this school of thought an speaks of the value of work and says

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”

One if these works I believe, is the pursuit of justice and that brings me to Kevin Costner.

Costner has never played Jesus on screen but in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves he wasn’t that far away.

Have you ever considered how radical a story Robin Hood is?

King Richard has left for the Crusades and left his brother, John, in charge. John has none of his brother’s good intent and England very quickly descends into a land of greed and corruption with a structure that squeezes its people for all they have.

Taxes up and the value of people down and more scandalous all lords, authority and the church come on board.

One man thought rises up against this.

Robin sets himself in opposition to society, gathers a group of disciples and set about their radical mission. They attempt to redress the balance, taking from the rich giving to the poor, sheltering the infirm and protecting women.

Now you may think I’m stretching parallels and its important to say that I’m not suggesting that seeking justice means taking to the woods with mates, bows and arrows in hand and ambushing people in fancy cars. However when Jesus tell us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Robin Hood is no that far away from living this command out.

Ask yourself who is the more Christ like? The outlaw attempting to redress the balance; or the pious priests of the church collecting alms from the poor for the wealthy and refusing to be their advocate?

Robin Hood rises against a society that doesn’t work. Robin Hood takes action against a society that does not protect all of its citizens’ welfare and is no longer fit for purpose.

The question then needs to be asked of us. Are we any further on in 2016?

The Man of Steel, Easter & Destroying Structures

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Tonight I’m off to a Batman v Superman preview screening. I’m a bit excited to be honest. While superhero fatigue is at an all time high for many, this film in particular has excited me. The man vs god angle depicted in the various trailers grabs my attention. Now I’m aware that trailers can lie but I’m intrigued by the premise.

Superman has always had a god like quality. In fact for much of Man of Steel director Zack Snyder does a not so subtle job of reinforcing this. For example in one sequence having a praying Clark Kent in front of a stained glass window where his and the pose of Jesus are practically identical. I liked this aspect of the film of course (that’s my gimmick here) but it could have been a lot more delicately done. Snyder though is not a director known for subtlety.

The films loses its way in the final third and becomes one big CGI brawl that goes on for FAR too long. At one point our hero saves some people from falling debris and they exclaim their gratitude. At the time I laughed as I thought, yes to be saved is great but your city has been destroyed so good look getting a pint of milk when this is all over.

However this perhaps the most Jesus like moment.

Saviour yes but also also the destroyer of structures around us.

Easter is days away. Holy week is at the mid point and as Christians we await Good Friday and the East Sunday celebrations that follow. I’ve wrestled with Easter this year. I’m uncomfortable with it.

I’ve come to the point where if I’m not prepared to fully get behind the Easter story there really is no point. To believe what I do and believe in the person of Christ means that the structures that contain the message need to fall.

One of the first things to go on Good Friday is the temple curtain. This barrier to the holy of holies, the area where God lived only accessible to temple priests  is gone. The reveal of nothing being behind there says a lot. The man made concept of where God abides is gone.

To fully believe in Easter. To fully believe in the person of Christ means not only believing in the one who saves it’s also about believing in the structure breaker.

Spotlight, Outsiders & Church

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Not enough has been written about the role of Liev Schreiber and his role in spotlight. Yes Ruffalo is great, Keaton outstanding and Tucci wonderfully manic in their roles but Liev Schreiber for me was the key role.

Schreiber plays Marty Baron the new boss of the Boston Globe. He is an outsider. His non interest in sports is the first red flag thrown in the film never mind his Jewish faith background in a city dominated by the Catholic church.  This however is the key to Baron he is not like the others and by being an outsider he does not hold the same ideals in relation to the church. While others on the Spotlight team profess to be ‘lapsed’ or ‘non-practicing’ it is the difference that drives him on. He does not hold the church in the same regard and therefore encourages the team to investigate the allegations when the team has reservations.

The outsider holds the key.

So what of the church today? How comfortable are we with the outsider?

How comfortable are we when someone not like us enters ‘our world’ and points out our flaws?

I saw a quote this week that got me thinking

“…we know when we are really preaching and living the way of Jesus because it’s the Christians that are often most offended….”

– David Capener

All too often, when challenged,  offence becomes the go to reaction. Outsiders are not afraid to let us within the church know when we aren’t getting it right. Yet we often take it badly. Offence is so often the go to feeling. Often that is because the truth is uncomfortable. The truth will push us outside our comfort zones.

Personally I’d rather be outside my comfort zone that have my faith stagnate. Without the challenges from outsiders my faith becomes a pointless character accessory that can be reduced to a social media bio point or degraded to a meaningless hashtag.

The outsiders are vital.

We are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner.

Yet when we are called on it we become uncomfortable.

We need the outsiders.

They might understand Jesus better than we claim to.

 

 

 

Review: Spotlight

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Spotlight won’t win the awards it deserves this weekend. Oscar will overlook this film as it looks to The Revenant to wow Hollywood and the world beyond. I’ve written several times about The Revenant already this year and how I have been blown away by it’s achievements but Spotlight may be the better film.

Spotlight does what any film should. It tells a story really well. While Leonardo DiCaprio was eating raw bison liver and using a horse for a sleeping bag this group of fine acting talent were playing the roles of journalists investigating a story that shook the world. Did Leonardo do a great job absolutely, but this group excelled.

The difference in the two films to me is that The Revenant tells a fairly simple revenge tale through the blurred lens of multiplex action and arthouse wonder. Spotlight however tells a multi layered and difficult story in the most simplistic of ways.

Each member of this ensemble (the buzz word of moment among critics)  cast plays their part to perfection from Michael Keaton leading the team in the role of Robby Robinson to Mark Ruffalo’s intrepid Mike Rezendes it is really hard to define who is the lead in the piece. Nobody involved attempts to take centre stage. The real life story of Spotlight was a team effort and the film very much reflects that through its cast.

The Spotlight tale is well documented by now and it is hard to write anything close to a review without getting into ‘spoilers’ on some level. Spotlight is the true story of how the Boston Globe investigative journalist team  uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core is well known to many by now. The uncovering of these horrendous acts spread right across the globe and had an impact far beyond Boston.

While the church is the clearly the culprit the film does not demonise the institution completely. Instead time is taken to acknowledge that all players involved knew the dark truth deep down but looked the other way.

A special mention must be given to Liev Schreiber for his portrayal Marty Baron the outsider who interrupts the Globe’s world with no interest in the Redsox baseball team and due to his Jewish roots no link to the Catholic church. He is the key to the abuse being uncovered as he subtly refuses to let the story go and gently encourages the team to take it on.

This film is also a wonderful nod to a time we have lost memory of in our high spped broadband world. A time piece showing the way journalism used to be just before the internet era exploded and widened all our horizons (for better or worse). These journalists had to work for their story. There were clippings to be read, physical files to lifted from storage units and trollied to recipients, doorsteps to be walked on. True investigative journalism is the hero in this tale. Pre Google and long before the term click bait headline was even conceived this film salutes those who worked harder for their craft than those that walk the same beat today. I as a blogger am proof that anyone can attempt to write but Spotlight shows the value of true journalism.

With the Oscars this weekend to would be lovely to think Spotlight stands a chance.

The Revenant will more than likely prevail but there would be no complaints from me if Spotlight managed to take the limelight for itself.

 

 

Room: Innocence lost to wider horizons

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Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is a stunning piece of work. Revolving around the story of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) & Ma (Brie Larson) this tale is simultaneously harrowing and uplifting and will surely be in most end of year polls for film of the year.

Continuing 2016’s cinematic theme of overcoming the odds (which I have previously blogged about) Room is the story of mother and son escaping imprisonment and returning to ‘normality’ and the embrace of their family.

The key to the film is  Trembelay in the role of Jack. He is the hero of the piece and the reason for Ma’s desire to escape. It is Jack who, having known nothing else but Room his entire life, adapts best to the outside world. Ma struggles with the new reality, her family struggle with their guilt over what happened and yet Jack endures.

Jack is the one who arguably has the most to overcome. Everything he knew is blown away once he escapes Room. Sky, trees, dogs, other people all are new and all are to be explored. He has the most to overcome and yet he shows the courage and heart to change.

There is something within us as humans that can adapt, change, evolve to whatever circumstances we encounter. It is important to acknowledge that this occurs at differing speeds for all of us but we all have the capacity if we are so minded.

Recently I have been challenged in my faith by many different things. Podcasts, books, conversations with friends. As I wrestle with what my faith is about and what my understanding of who or what God is these new elements have been very useful.

It’s far to dramatic to describe what I’m experiencing as a deconstruction of my faith. I haven’t lost anything. I may have changed my thinking on certain issues but to my mind this is not loss but gain.

I’m grateful for the new voices I have encountered. I’m thankful for their influence and their input into who I am becoming.

For too long my faith has been held within a small compact Room-like space. It’s time to go bigger than that and step out into the unknown.

 

Some podcasts I have been listening to recently that I’ve given reference to above:

The RobCast

HomeBrewed Christianity

Freestyle Christianity

Revolution Church