The Superhero Conundrum

Kids love superheroes. Whether it’s the more traditional, old-school comic hero like Superman or Batman, or a character from the recently popular X-Men and the Avengers, as children we love to pick our favorites, play dress up, and save the world from the grips of evil. (Side note to all comic aficionados: I realize the latest Marvel comics-made-movies go back to the sixties, but I don’t remember anything but Superman, Batman, and Hulk undies being available when I was a kid. It just seems that superman paraphernalia has historically been more available than Iron Man or Captain America. No slight intended!)

Even as an adult, I love the popularity of the comic book heroes and the all the new movies. Color me excited that The Avengers comes out on DVD next week. If you aren’t familiar with the story line, a group of superheroes are gathered together by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to fight Loki, Thor’s adopted evil alien brother. I wonder how many people out there find themselves identifying with any of the characters–good or evil–as they watch the story unfold. I seem to gravitate towards Captain America and Iron Man, which, if you’ve seen the movie, is ironic to say the least.

I love technology. The gadgets and the Iron Man suit are beyond cool. As long as I’m a teacher, I’ll never have the resources of Tony Stark. And I don’t like free falling. I could never be Iron Man. But that suit is stinking awesome! Stark is a jerk, but he’s hilarious. He’s magnetic. He’s hip. He’s cool. And I would never be friends with him in real life.

Because I’m too much like Captain America.

I understand how arrogant and self-serving that statement may seem. When I was getting smashed into lockers in high school, or getting pantsed during passing period in junior high, I would have given anything to have that same magic juice injected into my body so I could become like Captain America. (I’m sure there’s a lesson about steroids in there somewhere, but that could present the problem of taking the story out of context.) I was Steve Rogers–small, scrawny, not going anywhere important like my Air-Force-Academy-bound older brother.  I was picked on by guys like Tony Stark. So it’s almost laughable that I’m drawn to these two characters and their dysfunctional relationship.

And why wouldn’t Captain America and Iron Man be as compatible as fire and gasoline? Steve Rogers is the stereotypical World War II era American: patriotic, respectful of authority, loyal, moral, etc. Tony Stark, on the other hand, is independent; he rejects authority, struggles with commitment, and cares more about his own well-being than the well-being of his country. The juxtaposition of these two characters provides a stark (sorry for the pun) picture of our American cultural journey over the past 70 years. As a greater culture, we question authority–especially our parents and our educators. We have a hard time committing to relationships because the statistics show that we only have a 50% chance of those relationships lasting over the long haul. We aren’t patriotic about our country because what has our country done for us lately? We’re wounded, and we’re skeptical. And Captain America wants to punch us in the face.

When all is said and done, Captain America and Iron Man get over their differences and work together to save the world. I think that their relationship can be a good example of how generations can bicker within the church. I’ve had the “Captain America” Christians tell me that I live in sin because of my affinity for heavy metal music. I’ve heard both “Captain America” Christians and “Iron Man” Christians complain about church music–it’s either too loud or too old-fashioned.

Yet, at the center of all the noise, God sits quietly, waiting for us to turn to him and worship him. Through the Holy Spirit God prompts us to serve him and to love our neighbors. How effective can we be if we are stuck in our own superhero suit, isolated and alone? Like the Avengers, if we try to make our own voice the loudest and the smartest, we’re nothing but a bunch of misfit freak shows crashing to our own destruction. We won’t be the body. We won’t be the church that Christ has called us to be.

Iron Man has a certain bravado that drives Captain America crazy. But it’s that same bravado that allows Iron Man to risk his life to restart a blown-out engine on their super-sized flying metropolis. It’s Captain America’s loyal desire to see things through that allows him to fight off bad guys while controlling the turbine speed of the engine Iron Man is trying to restart. It’s a riveting scene that shows how successful a team can be when the individuals lay down their own issues–even their lives–for the sake of working together.

As Christians, we don’t have a critical issue forcing us to unite at all costs. Most of us aren’t dodging bullets on our way to church. We don’t disappear when we proudly proclaim our faith in front of our neighbors or on the Internet. We don’t have to worry about our children making it to their fifth birthday because of rampant disease. We are so comfortable that we make stuff up and smack an “Important!” label on it so we can feel like we are battling a cause. We argue about the style of music that best fits our likes and insult everything else. We complain about that one pastor who preaches in jeans, or has a visible tatto. Who’s at the center of all these issues? You and me. Who should be at the center of everything?

Jesus.

That’s easier said than done. But if we could stop manufacturing drama for just a little while, we might see that church isn’t about us. It isn’t what we can get out of it. It’s about how we worship God, how we can hold hands with our Captain America and Iron Man neighbors and raise our voices in one glorious song and praise God for his power, grace, and mercy. And then maybe we can even go the extra mile and give the Hulk a hug. Or maybe a new pair of pants.

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