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.

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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

The Revenant, church, exit & entry point

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Ok so a disclaimer to begin.

This will be my last post on The Revenant for a while I promise. I can’t help it, this film has got under my skin in a way that not many have in the last few years. The density, the spectacle, the cinematic wonder it really is a special piece of work. Even in January it will take something really special for it not to be my favourite film of 2016.

Through it all though one scene has stayed with me. Above all the moments of brilliance (and there are many) one scene leapt out more than any other and it is when Glass enters the crumbled edifice of the church.

This dilapidated structure has suffered even in these early days of civilisation but its foundation and structures remain. In fact within the fading church there is life as trees have put down roots bringing new life and growth.

It could be argued by some that the church today is in a similar position.

Dilapidated, fading, crumbling.

Recently I read an article about the majority of people in the UK claiming to have no religion . The truth is churches are closing, numbers are decreasing and desire for any notion of God is fading rapidly. People are searching though. People are searching for understanding. Searching for spirituality and searching in spaces other than churches to find it.

I believe there it still life in the church though. I believe that changes are coming. Changes that will remove old structures, old ways of thinking and an adaption to what church can/should in 2015. Dare I suggest church evolution??

That’s where the gap comes in.

While Glass stands in the church ‘grounds’ he stares at the picture of Christ on the wall at his crucifixion momentarily.

Glass has already experienced death and resurrection. The parallels are clear.

However my eye was drawn not to Christ on the cross but the gap in the wall.

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This gap is significant because this gap allows both entry and exit simultaneously. I would guess that its location is not accidental either.

It is not just the gap in the wall but the cross itself that is both entry and exit point.

In terms of the film and the church today the same points can be made.

Those who enter find shelter here.

Those who enter find signs of life they may not expect.

Those who enter can rest from the constant battering of their surroundings.

 

However the same can be said for those on the way out.

 

Those who exit are ready to take on the next stage of the journey.

Those who exit have sheltered, recovered and found life in its fulness.

Those who exit see a bigger picture and possibly a new frontier.

 

Articles can speak of decline.

The Revenant showed me the foundations and the gap that helps those coming in and those ready to go.

 

 

Cinema in 2016: The Overcomers

 

So far in 2016 I have been able to see 3 of the ‘big films’ of the year and I’ve enjoyed all 3 to varying degrees. All three are very different and yet all three have something in common. From arthouse leanings of The Revenant to the popcorn munching multiplex feel good of Creed one thing unites these three.

Overcoming the odds.

From the fringes of death, family circumstances, social classes, insecurities over legacy these protagonists all endure, all survive and in varying degrees thrive.

We root for these characters. We will them on to success. I am not ashamed to say that on seeing Joy I became unexpectedly emotional about mop sales!

These people though are not just the work of cinematic stories alone.  We meet these overcomers daily.

Those who struggle. Those who are weary. Those who refuse to be held back by their circumstance.  Those who wrestle to make it through the week. Those who seem to have a strength we can only hope for. Those who refuse to wilt. Those who overcome things we can only imagine in our darkest moments.

So while enjoying the success of those who overcome on screen.

Perhaps in 2016 it may be more worthwhile to get alongside and root for those who overcome daily around us.

 

Christmas, Home Alone & Church

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It’s the same every year. The boxes are brought down from the attic/roof space, the tree is put together, the branches unfolded and my annual task of untangling the lights begins.

There is one box every year that I can’t wait to get into. The Christmas DVD box. As traditional as the tree itself we have a box full of Christmas DVDs  that are just for this special time of year.

Every year the same rotation, It’s A Wonderful Life, Gremlins, Miracle on 34th Street even Christmas with the Kranks (don’t judge me) are all there to enjoy.

Home Alone however above all others has become a firm family favourite. For starters be honest who hasn’t wished their family would disappear at some point? Kevin being man of the house slapping on some Brut and of course the chaos of Harry and Marv working their way through Kevin’s fun house.

There was one part of the film though that, particularly in my younger days, bored me. The segment in the film where Kevin goes to church.

This year though something changed. Something shifted. This year I watched what Kevin did and listened to what was said.

Kevin goes to church seeking refuge. He is missing his family, is afraid and needs some sanctuary. Unexpectedly he encounters his neighbour Old Man Marley and is shocked to discover the human side of  a man he has previously been terrified of. The realisation comes that Old Man Marley is also in church for refuge. He is in fact very similar to Kevin as he also misses his family. Estranged from his son Marley has to watch the choir practice as this is the only way he can see his grand daughter be close to his family. The refuge he seeks is from his past circumstances whereas Kevin seeks refuge from the present.

During the conversation Marley has the killer line following a misunderstanding with Kevin when he corrects him by saying ‘everyone is welcome at church’.

That’s why Kevin goes to church. That’s why Marley is there. They know deep down even with their problems that church is a place of refuge and a place of welcome to the weary.

I hope that this Christmas you find church (wherever that may be ) to be the same.

Jurassic Park : Could vs. Should

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Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if the should – Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum)

Jurassic World is released in cinemas this weekend and I have to say I’m excited. I remember clearly the experience of being 13/14 sitting with my popcorn and hearing the roar of the T-Rex for the first time and watching the chaos unfold on-screen. I’m looking forward to re-entering that world again and I’m hopeful that I will enjoy this new outing as much as I did first time round.

Watching Jurassic Park with older eyes though you do see a different story. Yes the thrills, the chases, the suspense of the kitchen sequence still exhilarate and entertain but this is only part of the story.

The creation of an attraction for our entertainment without full consideration to the consequences is a cautionary tale. This 90’s block buster warns that the creation of entertainment must walk hand in hand with consideration of the ethics. Moments of awe can not be designed without a duty of care being granted to those lost in wonder. The pre occupation of could without the consideration of should.

The argument for could vs. should is still a valid one, particularly in our social media heavy world, today.

Social media has become a place for Christians to engage in theological discussion without consideration of feeling, context or tone of those they engage with. Vitriol and accusations of heresy flow freely and then we wonder why people lose interest in what churches stand for / should stand for. At times it is vicious, brutal and dare I suggest light years away from what our faith should really represent.

Within the church we COULD spend time debating issues on social media with those we differ. We probably SHOULD be more willing to accept difference of opinion rather than desperately seeking the black and white answers.

We COULD argue online generating opinions from the noise of keyboard keys. We SHOULD get together and engage face to face where we can the persons intended tone.

We COULD continue to argue incessantly. We SHOULD come prepared to listen and discuss.

We COULD continue to exclude others based on our differences. We SHOULD break bread and drink wine in communion with each other despite them.

We COULD not rest until we achieve uniformity. We SHOULD be content to accept those elements of our faith that unite.

Fight Church: Cage Fighting vs. Selective Quoting

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How can the church engage the man/woman in the street in 2015? A question often posed around tables of friends as  we chat, discuss our faith and raise concerns that the church (by which I mean all denominations /faiths) is out of step with the world in 2015.

In the United States this is being somewhat resolved by several churches having ‘MMA based ministries’. Fight Church is a great documentary (available on Netflix) exploring these ministries and their purpose and moreover the rationale of churches using MMA as outreach.

I’m all for the church being seen as relevant. This blog’s main purpose is to champion the faith bsed elements of what we watch however I was troubled by what I saw at times in this film.

Selective bible quotes have always troubled me. Take a verse out of context and it can be very easily manipulated to suit your circumstances. For example’ where 2 or 3 are gathered’ to warm the souls of the 4 people who faithfully came to a prayer meeting. Forgive me for the flippant example but this is nowhere nearly as sinister as some selective quotes used to justify those who step in the ring and endure brutal beatings.

One particularly troubling sequence shows a pastor bemoaning the fact that men are no longer men. Apparently we have become soft and the Bible calls to live the life of a warrior. He then proceeds to make light of those who ‘love their neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ seemingly forgetting the true strength it takes to do this.

I’m not against MMA. I’m not against churches using it as a form of outreach. It is a genuine ministry for some, it works for them and many in the documentary attest to how their church has grown as a result.

What I am not for however are churches selecting parts of scripture for use to make people feel weak, cast out and left feeling that God would deem them undesirable because they don’t match up to someone else.

The church needs to be relevant, it needs to be engaging people differently in 2015. What it doesn’t need to do is make them feel worthless if they don’t match up to h random verse taken out of context on a topic.

The damage an MMA fight can do, in most cases, is reparable.

Sadly however the damage caused by selective biblical quoting sadly may not be fixable at all.