Let us Seek: Might and Superheroes

Today’s readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are a bit challenging in a modern context. In the NRSV, Psalm 118:14 says that: “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” The reading from Joshua recounts the crossing of the Jordan into a Promised Land. Joshua’s campaign will be a bloody campaign. Mary’s experience in Matthew’s Gospel is far more shocking and frightening than the gospel reading we shared on Sunday from John. Jesus is described as being as having an appearance like lightning. The Mary of Matthew does not confuse Jesus with a keeper of the garden. This telling leads modern folks like me to ask which Gospel tells the truth of Easter morning, even when we’re wise enough to realize that gospels written decades apart would likely vary significantly.

In choosing a selection from these readings to ponder in our daily blog, I am drawn to ask a question. What does it mean that the Lord is our strength and might? Sure, Jesus appears as lightning in Matthew, but Jesus is also the man who willingly went to the cross. Jesus does exemplify strength, but this is not the strength you see very often in our culture.

Consider for a moment the representations of strength shown in modern cinema. In a few short weeks my daughter (who loves superhero films) will likely be asking me to take her to see the newest Thor movie. In that movie, Christopher Hemsworth will show strength in the person of Thor. He will face the Hulk in a battle and it will be powerful, but powerful in a way I doubt we’d connect with Jesus. A few weeks later, it is likely I will be asked to go see Gal Gadot portray Wonder Woman, because she is powerful and my kids are growing up in a house where we can accept the existence of both DC and Marvel comics. She’ll probably enter into a world of war while defending the person played by Chris Pine. James Tiberius Kirk would likely be shocked to know the actor portraying him in modern films will be defended by a woman far tougher than either him or Mr. Spock (it is true, sorry…), but he’s a fictional character without real emotions. Neither Kirk nor Wonder Woman would likely be accused of carrying the strength lived out in the person of Jesus.

Indeed, I’m a red-blooded American male, but even I understand that any of these characters would likely be a better pick in a game of dodgeball than someone like me. They’re strong, they’re tough, and none of them express the same kind of strength as Jesus. The question is whether real life requires Jesus’ strength or the strength of superbeings…

As a Christian reading this selection from the Psalms, I am reminded first and foremost that the Lord is my strength. My reading is affected by my very real and personal understanding that the strength which I rely on is found in the person of Jesus. When I read other words from this selection (vs. 22) around the idea that the rejected stone has become the chief cornerstone of a building founded on God’s work, I am led to ponder the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.

None of the fictional characters of the movies that my daughter might want to see will bear the strength required to become the chief cornerstone. Are they kind of cool? Well, yeah. Do they bear the strength required to bear a Christian forward in an uncertain world? No. In fact, my knowledge of superheroes has taught me that the power and might of superheroes often leads to the loss of the people they love. Jesus makes a promise in John 17 about the people in His care and I believe that this promise holds true even as Gwen Stacy, Carol Ferris, and Colossus are left behind by the heroines and heroes that love them.

Here are three suggestions that might help a child to understand the difference between the strength of superbeings and strength of Jesus:

  1. Invite your children to participate in ministry with people who have real and present needs. Work on a Habitat for Humanity home, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or invite them to go on a trip (with a trusted group like UMCOR) to a mission field in another nation. When they see the need of the world it will help them to understand that most problems that people face require a strength that goes beyond the will and power of a superbeing. They need the loving hands of God as expressed through the body of Christ.
  2. Introduce your children to great literature. This may seem counterintuitive if you are not naturally a lover of books, but there is something about reading through the events of great figures of history and also great moments in fiction that may inspire your child to think about the world around them.

    Why is Star Trek so egalitarian in approach to different life forms? Why do the Jedi see the force in all living beings? Why does Doctor Who care so much about doing the right thing? Why did the Greeks stand so firm against the invading forces of Persia? You can find people dealing with deep issues if you look deeply enough into works of fiction and works of history. Most of those issues require an answer deeper than the average superbeing can provide. If you’re a part of that conversation you can invite your children to look deeper. Also, if your kids love books they can’t afford to get into too much trouble. Books cost too much and libraries have had their funding slashed in most places.

  3. Listen to the news with your kids and do your best to answer their questions. My kids regularly listen to WBNG on NPR One as we drive to do our errands. We do this together since my dad used to listen to WBFO with me in the garage when I was a kid.

    My eldest asks questions about the world and I am sometimes forced to learn new things to answer her with integrity. To be entirely honest, she sometimes asks questions that go far above what I understand about the world. When we discuss things like economic disparity (“Why can’t they just move somewhere other than Syria?”), violence (“Why would someone kill someone on Facebook? Why didn’t God stop them?”), or even school issues (“Why are kids hungry and why wouldn’t people give them the same lunch?”), I am forced to go deeper into the issues myself. When we seek answers together we both grow. This is a good thing and as you both grow, you’ll hopefully both come to understand the nature of true might a bit more clearly.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. As always, experiment and find out what works for both you and your family. Blessings!

Featured Image Comment: You go Lidia Valentin. You’re tougher than me by a long shot! Thanks Wikimedia Commons for sharing an image of such a strong and respectable weightlifter!

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