Imagine you’re in church. Now imagine your watching a movie. If that’s not hard for you to do you might want to consider a new church.
Get some coffee. This one ain’t brief. And it may be a bit frenetic. Apologies in advance.
If the Avengers movie is good…well, hold on, let me back up. I have a baseline for good; first nothing gratuitous, whether it be language, violence, or sex. And by that I mean, you can tell me a character is sleeping around without showing me. Showing me is gratuitous. Second, I don’t like God’s name being abused, but other words are just vulgar. If the movie depends on vulgar words I’ll skip it. If the movie makes a joke out of killing people, I’ll skip it. Okay, definition done, let’s get back to…
I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t recommend it, but, in the interest of transparency, I will see it this weekend. God willing. Oh, that puts a little heaviness on it. God willing?
Is God willing for me to see the Avengers movie? I don’t know why He’d stop me now, but what if an opportunity arises, or an accident happens, does that mean God didn’t want me to see the movie? That’s a mind binder. It is just a movie, after all, and in the grand scheme if I miss it no big deal, right? I know people who wouldn’t agree with that; as if movies have somehow become the only doorway to truth. I’m generalizing, of course, but you’ve met those people. They say things like, “Have you seen Avengers yet?” As if you have no choice. Enter…
The Avengers! (we’ll get through this…I promise…maybe)
Since I’m a collector of comic books, was a collector, I’m looking forward to this movie. For the record, Spider-man is my favorite. The Spider-man movie of 2002, and the Superman movie of 1978 rank, in my book, as the best comic to screen adaptations of all time with Superman edging out Spider-man. Where were we?
According to early reports this movie is flat-out great. One reviewer called it a Super hero movie with a soul. Christian reviewers Movie Guide and Plugged In give it a thumbs up, even going so far as to talk about Captain America’s statement of faith.
“There’s only one God and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” -Captain America.
I’m a Christian, I love that, but that’s where the trouble will start.
Avengers Assemble in the assembly of God’s people; the church.
Pastors and youth pastors across the country clamor for ways to bring pop culture into the church and one of the easiest ways is through movies. Never mind that it comes off cheesy and underhanded.
It’s not a question of theology. It’s a question of methodology. How did we get here? Often times the church takes a “by any means necessary” approach to reaching the lost. You might hear the phrase, “We’ll do anything short of sin to reach the lost.” My pastor friend used this statement once and I understand where he’s coming from, but to me that is a very odd statement. Why would you have to say that? Isn’t a given? And if it’s not a given, then why stop there? What if, through sinful actions, you can bring someone to Christ? No, that’s a bad idea.
This is why methodology is important. Let’s use the Avengers as an example and find out how we got here.
May 2, 2008 – Iron Man. I’m familiar with the Tony Stark/Iron Man character, although, he’s never been one of my favorites. I know that originally, back in 1963, he was a Viet Nam vet. During the war he was injured and had to build a machine to sustain his life. A big grey armored suit. He was the son of a billionaire weapons manufacturer, but his drinking and his womanizing didn’t come into play until later. Unfortunately, this is what the new movie chose to highlight and to some extent I understand. Tony Stark’s story is one of redemption. He starts out caring only for himself and using people along the way. Eventually he learns to look beyond himself. In a movie they need the contrast to be as dramatic as possible; the womanizing isn’t just implied it’s magnified. I was watching this movie at home with my wife and kids and when the pole dancing started we turned it off. I was embarrassed and angry.
June 13, 2008 – The Incredible Hulk. For me, the story of the Hulk starts in 1978 with Bill Bixby and the impossibly huge Lou Ferrigno. Both of them have cameos in the 2008 Hulk; Bixby’s via a clip from an old non-Hulk TV show. When I started reading the Hulk comic book I was shocked to learn of the Gamma Bomb and General Ross, let alone the Hulk Busters. The 2008 movie seems to take its cues from the comic book, the TV show, and a little from the 2003 movie. Overall, the story is very much what you would expect; lots of military, lots of destruction, and the ever conflicted David, er, Bruce Banner. God’s name is abused once and there is a “bedroom” scene that starts ends abruptly. The ending of this encounter is pragmatic, but played as a joke. I laughed. I long for characters with a greater sense of morality, but I’ll let that one slide as a “heat of the moment” mistake.
April 26, 2010 – Iron Man 2. Tony continues his path to redemption while giving in to drinking and talking about womanizing. The Avengers initiative isn’t front and center, but it’s just to the side. And again, there’s a couple of gratuitous scenes involving several women. I’m honestly not sure why women put up with this, but that’s another post.
May 6, 2011 - Thor. I always loved mythology stories; Greek, Roman, Norse, they all ignited my imagination. As a movie, Thor has its moments. It’s not the best of the series, but in the end we do have a high sense of right and wrong. Thor is the typical impetuous boy who is too strong and handsome for his own good. In the end, he, like Stark, learns to look beyond himself and sacrifices his own desires for the good of…the Universe, I guess. Because Thor is immortal the story can be out of reach, but even that illustrates a good point; our morality, ethics, standards, should come from a place that is above us, even out of our reach. Too often we try to lower the bar to the level of, “at least I’m not as bad as that guy.” God’s standard is too high for us, one that we can’t reach. That’s why the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus is so important; Jesus offers grace and mercy to do what we can’t; get our sins forgiven and reunite us with God. Out of gratitude we live our lives reaching for that standard we can’t reach.
July 22, 2011 – Captain America. Cap is so iconic even his legend is legendary. A bigger than life soldier. A bigger than life hero. A kid from Queens who wanted nothing more than to defend the honor of his country and fight for the oppressed. And he does. Cap represents the heart of America as it once was; a nation that took pride in knowing God and Country was more than just a slogan, but a way of life. Immigrants came to America because they knew that in America you could start with nothing and become something. That didn’t happen in Europe, or Russia, or any where. It happened here in the United States of America. Unfortunately with freedom comes laziness that too many will not fight against and America has become one of the first nations to complain about “first world” problems. Ever complain about a slow wi-fi connection? Ever complain about not being able to find food for days on end? That’s a startling difference, isn’t it?
May 4, 2012 – The Avengers
So, here we are; A billionaire, a scientist/monster, a mythological god-alien, a spy, a marksman, and a super-soldier. The trail that brings us to the Avengers is a twisted, broken, rocky path that leads to heroism.
That sounds really good. There’s several sermons in that bit. If that’s you’re story you may be thinking this is dead on and what’s the problem? When I tell you the path is twisted, broken and rocky, you know what I mean. I don’t have to detail every bit of every sin.
Also, if the movies were a single character you would see that these movies cleaned themselves up along the way with Captain America being the most wholesome of the bunch. That’s how we get to the Avengers; by appealing to something base and cleaning up the movies as they get popular to expand the audience.
If you were giving your testimony about how God saved you would you include the graphic details of each sin, or would you just say that it happened?
Methodology is important.
Maybe the Avengers movie is “good.” But if it is will that justify the path that got it there? If you wouldn’t include those details in your own testimony why are they okay in the movies? If the church jumps on the Avengers bandwagon will it justify, sanitize, or glory in the movies that led to the Avengers?
No matter what happens I can almost guarantee that the Avengers will be used in a sermon series this summer, especially with Cap’s comment. Who could resist that green light? Maybe we should resist it. It is, after all, just a movie. ‘Nuff said?
I’ll probably see it this weekend.