Having grown up Catholic, gruesome, scary and tragic stories have always been part of my experience. I never thought much of them, they were just always there. And I didn’t mind them because they always had a purpose—they pointed to a loving, compassionate, eternal God who didn’t let the scary things win. Now, I was scared to death of things like the Blob and the Mole People—being Catholic didn’t make me immune to frightful things. But, it did make me appreciate them. They bring a certain fascination, but I always look for a lesson or some meaning in it. Just about everything that’s really important to us was gained through some sort of pain, challenge or horror.
Most of the time, when I’m watching a movie or TV show, I can see right through it. I catch the foreshadowing and can predict what’s coming (and sometimes dialogue—which means that it must be pretty poorly written). I have worked in pastoral ministry for almost 20 years. That means that I should be able to see a lie coming from a mile away.
But, last week’s episode of Doctor Who, “The Witch’s Familiar” had my poor brain in a tizzy. I should have seen through Davros’ act—he even gave himself away early in the conversation when he called “compassion” in the Daleks a “defect.” He told The Doctor that compassion “grows strong and fierce in you like a cancer” and that it “will kill you in the end,” to which The Doctor replied, “I wouldn’t die of anything else.” “You may rely on it.” Davros warned. I mean, he completely laid it out there. He said it flat out. Could he have been more obvious?!
But, I got sucked in to his tears. I got sucked into his apparent remorse right along with The Doctor.
Warning: Potential spoilers for folks who don’t get to watch cartoons in a timely fashion (a category in which I would normally be included).
Gravity Falls is one of my favorite cartoons currently on TV. This week’s episode, “The Last Mablecorn,” tackled an important issue—morality. While I’m seriously disappointed in the writer’s choice to have Mabel learn from her experience that “morality is relative,” there was a lot that was very useful in the episode, too. The Pine’s family needed unicorn hair to protect themselves from Bill Cipher, so someone of pure heart had to go retrieve it. Mabel, looking for adventure and known to be of particularly pure heart, went on the quest.
Candy, Brenda and Wendy went with her to collect it and they were willing to use evil means to accomplish their goal (they got involved with an illegal butterfly trade to get ill-gotten faerie dust needed to knock the unicorn out to steal its hair) when met with a disingenuous unicorn. This particular unicorn lied to Mabel, saying that it could see into her heart, and that she was not pure. Mabel was surprised, but accepted it—looking to fix her heart by doing good deeds. Nothing she did was good enough for the unicorn to acknowledge that she was a good person. When push came to shove (and actually, it did eventually come to fisticuffs), Mabel wasn’t willing to let her friends steal the hair.
I had a quick exchange with a friend last night that got me thinking about the different types of superheroes—they boy scout type like Superman and Captain America vs the ones who are teetering on the edge of justice like Batman and Wolverine. I have a sincere appreciation for the good, good guys. I need models of purity of heart—they offer me hope that people can truly offer themselves for the service of others with pure, unselfish motives. I love that; I’m attracted to it and strive to be like that in my daily life.
However…I am half Sicilian and half German—my very genetic make-up alone is high recommendation for supervillainry. Growing up small and ugly didn’t help. It has become my nature, or at least my initial instinct, to be somewhat suspicious of and guarded with people. I can also lash back with extreme effectiveness when attacked. I have had to curb that in myself. I frequently deal with verbal abuse from people, and my inclination is not to be friendly. I’d like to offer them the opportunity to “take a number.” I am required—by my Christianity and my profession—to respond in charity. Now, I don’t fancy myself a hero because I manage to eek out some self-control—I fancy myself still employed and not in jail.
For a year or two now, I’ve been wanting to write about a song that I love, “Waiting for Superman” by Iron and Wine, but I didn’t know what I wanted to say. As it happens, I had some time off a few weeks ago and finally got to see “Man of Steel,” and that song just kept ringing in my ears. If you haven’t heard it, take a listen:
The song (though not the least bit related to the movie) really captures the feel and the kind of heaviness of the movie (a general, and in my opinion, valid criticism that several friends have made about DC hero movies). Most of the movie is a sort of waiting for Superman—Clark is waiting to find himself, the viewer is waiting for him to find himself and the world, while not really knowing it, is waiting for him, too. Everyone needed him to be Superman, including himself. He was burdened by not knowing or living what he was meant to be—as Jor-El says, “…an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Key and Peele isn’t for everyone—I love it (it’s so, so funny!!!), but sometimes it even makes me cringe. But, most of it is hilarious and clever. There was a clip recently that hit on a problem in the Christian community that I thought was worth talking about. The scene shows a Bible Study group praying together when suddenly above them illuminates and the voice of God booms out. At first, everybody is excited—what will God say to them?! They can’t wait to hear the message…until it comes. God says, “Sell everything that you own and give it to the poor.” Countenances drop, shock sets in—then panic—and they pretend to believe that the house is haunted as they peel out of there in a mob.
I wanted to share that clip, but I couldn’t find it. So, I’ll share this one instead. It’s equally awesome, and is a commentary on a nonsensical discrepancy in our society.
Anyhoo, this knock at Christians is well-deserved. Jesus did flat out tell a guy (who represents all of us) to sell his stuff and give it to the poor. The early Christian community lived it like Jesus meant it. They shared what they had and no one was in need as a result of it. 2,000 years later, we’re living like it either doesn’t apply to us personally, or like we never heard it.
This is going to sound really messed up at first, but that scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, when the Imperial Officers are all talking about their plans for the Death Star and Vader says, “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” and then uses the Force to choke Admiral Motti expresses so perfectly what being religious feels like sometimes.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s this part:
It’s not the part when Vader chokes him, because that’s just not right (even if there are times when I sooooooooo wish I could do that), but the conversation about how powerful the Empire thinks they are. In their hubris, they entirely overlook the power of something quiet, but much greater than themselves—something that can, and ultimately will take them down. Admiral Motti actually calls the Death Star the “ultimate power in the universe.” He taunts Vader mocking his, “sad devotion to that ancient religion.” I feel like I’ve heard that exact thing said to me before…or I might have drifted off into a Star Wars daydream…
More and more, religion is looked on with suspicion and, even worse, isn’t thought of at all. Now that I work with kids (I’m the Coordinator of Religious Education for a parish), I’m given an insight into their parents’ mindset. And before that, when I worked with young adults it was the same. Not only do most of them not have even a basic theological vocabulary, but the most basic Christian concepts are perfectly foreign to these young people. They are completely shocked when I tell them that, as people of faith, God should come first in their lives and that they should try to put others before themselves. No one ever told them that.
Our society seems to be moving in a direction that views religion as either the superstition of old people, or some vague authority that exists just to squish our fun. Like Darth Vader, I want people to recognize the power of the Force. Of course, he used it for evil for a long time, but he knew that those who used it for good and to promote justice and freedom for the oppressed—even without using fear tactics, or weapons of mass destruction—could overthrow what appeared to be an insurmountable enemy. It’s true in real life, too. With God, all things are possible. With faith lived in community, impossible things become a reality.
I had a couple of hours alone one evening this past week and boy, did I use it to the fullest! I watched, in perfect peace and in absolute control of the remote, “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.” It was delightful. Not only was it a great superhero story with lots of action and insight into Batman’s inner darkness, but there was an AMAZING scene between J’onn J’onzz and the alternate Earth’s President’s daughter, Rose.
The two felt a connection between them, and after spending some time together, discovered romantic feelings as well. Rose went to kiss J’onn to express her developing feelings, when he stopped her—and something beautiful happened…I looked and looked for a clip of this scene, but this printed dialogue was the best I could do:
J’onn J’onzz: I apologize for reading your mind before. It is considered extremely impolite to do so without permission.
Rose Wilson: I didn’t mind. It seemed, I don’t know, natural.
J’onn J’onzz: We are attuned. Our minds are in sync to a degree that was rare even among my own people. I never imagined I’d meet a human so complimentary to myself.
Rose Wilson: I feel it, attuned.
[Rose leans in to kiss him]
J’onn J’onzz: What are you doing?
Rose Wilson: Trying to kiss you. On Earth, it’s a way of sharing affection.
J’onn J’onzz: This is how we do it on Mars. Know me.
I’m a big fan of the Green Lantern. If I was going to be a superhero, that’s what I’d want to be. Also, the Lanterns remind me of the Catholic Church—they choose people from among the community and assign them to care for the people in that place, they have councils and a hierarchy, they make fabulously horrible mistakes with galactic repercussions and, ultimately, their objective is to bring justice and peace.
I like the Green Lanterns in particular because their thing is Will. The Will is one of the most amazing attributes of humanity. We are each given our own, we’re free to use it as we like, and when we use it the right way, it makes us more divine. Will is the strongest aspect of my faith. I’m not a real “feely” person, so for me, faith isn’t about warm fuzzies. I don’t spend a lot of time with God feeling. I do a lot of being bossy in my prayer time; telling God what I need, what my friends need, and asking Him to help me make good choices. Feelings can be misleading and sometimes misplaced. I prefer what I can see, comprehend and manipulate (not in a bad way). I try to be attentive to other people’s feelings by listening carefully, but my approach has a tendency to be a little clinical. So, my faith is mostly an act of the will.
When I was in middle school, I started to notice that very often there would be a connection with the things I was learning and the things I was living. It seemed uncanny at times how we’d study a particular historical item, or something in religion or science and then that thing would show up in some way in a conversation or, even better, it would be useful to a situation I’d find myself in. And, sometimes it would be on a funky delay and turn into a fun surprise…
A few years ago I got sick. I still don’t know what was wrong, but I was basically couch-ridden for about a month and a half. I missed my son’s and husband’s birthday celebrations and a whole bunch of other events. It sucked. The only bright spots were my cat who kept me company, and the TV. I watched a lot of The Mr. Men Show and Dragon Ball Z. And one night, I was watching the Syfy network when Doctor Who came on. I hadn’t been watching it previously, and might have changed the channel, but I started recognizing some names that stopped me in my tracks. Caecilius, Metella, Quintus…I knew those guys! They were the characters from my Latin primer in high school! Magistra Kirschner brought those folks back from the ashes (as it were) like they were in the class with us. I was riveted (and maybe a little delirious) in the nerdiest way possible. Well, that cinched it for me—I was a Doctor Who fan, and it’s all because The Fires of Pompeii was the first modern episode that I saw. (Well, that and the fact that Puddleglum from the BBC’s The Chronicles of Narnia was played by Tom Baker, and I recognized him as Doctor Who from PBS years before…) And who should be the next Doctor, but Caecilius himself—Peter Capaldi! I loved the new guy before he had a chance to do anything, simply because he was Caecilius.