It is that time of year again. Good, harvest food - gourds and root vegetables. Through the falling leaves, and into the first sounding of the trumpets of winter. It's a season when we consider our own gratitude - we give thanks for food, for our lives, for our families.
We give thanks for superheroes.
Thanksgiving of my sophomore year of college, I couldn't afford to fly home, so I just parked myself in my dorm room with supplies, and books. Everything I needed. I got bored out of my mind. I went to the video store. I rented something like six movies. By chance, they all happened to be superhero movies. And thus began one of my favorite holiday traditions. Every Thanksgiving, I rent or buy superhero movies, and pay particular attention to the philosophy, the literary implications, and (especially this year) the theology of superheroes.
Apologies to the uninitiated as it concerns superheroes - I'm about to get very specific in my examples. I invite you to look these cats up on Wikipedia, if you don't know who they are already. Suppose, for just a moment, that you live in the Marvel Universe (copyright the Disney Corporation, 2009). Where is the church? What sorts of sermons do you hear about those with special powers? How does the presence of truly exceptional people affect your understanding of, say, Romans? Is there a religious contingent speaking out against the Nephilim of Genesis? Do the sorts of hatred and fear that characterize the X-Men series spring not from political pressures, as the movies depict, but from the church? How does the church receive Iron Man? What about Spiderman? Colossus? The Beast?
There are, then, two sorts of questions that we can immediately apply, here. One is the question of power - a central issue in the comic book genre, and a concern of our churches everywhere. How do we integrate and accept the powerful into our churches - the wise, the strong, the brave, the influential, the rich? How do we preach the saving and humbling gospel of Jesus Christ to those who think that they have no reason to be humble, and feel that they have no need to be saved? How do we evangelize the Fantastic Four?
Second, and even more worrying to me, is the question of difference. I can see churches not having a problem with (and some churches being very excited about) having Tony Stark (Iron Man) in the pews. Likewise, out of costume, Peter Parker (Spiderman) poses no problems. But Bruce Banner (Hulk) in his more verdant state? Johnny Storm (Human Torch), in need of an asbestos pew? On the other end of the thermometer, is Iceman going to be able to take communion without a) freezing his grape juice or b) causing quite a stir? Can we, as church, truly be open and accepting of everyone - everyone - even if they are visibly different? Can we preach the good news to all, be church for all those baptized, administer our sacraments and truly engage discipline, even to the exceptional among us?
I'm not sure, yet. But Lord, do I hope so.
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