Jesus is way cooler than Spider-Man!

“Why is Jesus cooler than Spider-Man?” asked a seventh grader.

His question wasn’t completely out of the blue. He, along with dozens of us spending the week at  Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp in northern Montana, had recently learned a new way to proclaim God’s glory: “Jesus is cooler than Spider-Man, KSHHHH*, Spider-Man, KSHHHH*, Spider-Man!”  *Denotes both the sound and pose of web-slinging.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

The question about Spider-Man came up while I was sitting on a panel for a “Pastors Pondering” session — a small-group gathering in which youth can confidentially write their most burning queries about faith and (hopefully) receive an answer from a pastor. (Though I am neither Lutheran nor a pastor, the camp had graciously invited me to participate anyway.)

Much to my surprise and delight, the seventh grader’s rather cheeky query inspired one of the most profound conversations about Christian theology that I’ve ever been a part of.

So why, exactly, is Jesus cooler than Spider-Man? Here’s what we came up with:

Jesus is there for us all the time, not just during an emergency

Spider-Man swoops into people’s lives to stop the villains when a situation reaches a crisis point; then he swoops right back out again, leaving those he rescued staring off into the distance where he disappeared. But Jesus never leaves us. Our lives don’t have to be threatened for him to care about us, and — though we may experience moments of awe and marvel at his greatness — we never have to stare off into the distance wondering when or if we’ll ever see him again.

Jesus lives in community, while Spider-Man is a loner

Peter Parker must lead a dual-life, hiding his most authentic identity from those to whom he is closest. But the Jesus of the Gospels is surrounded by people who know who he is and what he does … and who truly love him. Jesus does not build credible alibis; he builds deep and mutually-loving relationships. He inspires his community, teaches them, and empowers them to continue his work. I’d much rather be friends with that guy.

Jesus doesn’t need to use violence to defeat the bad guys

The death and destruction Spider-Man leaves in his wake sometimes cause people to wonder if having a neighborhood superhero is even worth it. But Jesus doesn’t have to maim, kill, or destroy to win. Whether he is confounding the Pharisees to rescue a woman about to be stoned to death (John 8:1-11) or mysteriously passing through an angry crowd intent on killing him (Luke 4:28-30), Jesus manages to undermine the evil intentions of villains without ever physically hurting them. And although Jesus’ famous instruction to “turn the other cheek” is sometimes mistaken for passive surrender, it is actually one of many acutely subversive acts of resistance to injustice that he demonstrates in his life. (For more about Jesus’ nonviolent subversion, I highly recommend “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and “Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way” by Walter Wink.)

But the point is: unlike Spider-Man, Jesus fights — and wins! — the good fight without ever harming his enemies or creating collateral damage. To a peace studies major like me, there’s just nothing cooler than that.

Jesus is a savior, not a superhero

Spider-Man always wins the day. He uses his super-human abilities to vanquish villains and receives public adulation in return. He defeats the bad guys and re-establishes proper order. Jesus, on the other hand, loses … badly. He ends up disdained and condemned by his own people, abandoned and betrayed by his best friends. He begs God to spare him, but still succumbs to an agonizing, unglamorous death. Yet somehow, in doing so, he defeats death itself and upends the proper order of things forever. Jesus’ story is not heroic … but it is salvific.

Jesus loves the bad guys just as much as the good guys

I don’t know about you, but I often wonder whether I would be the hero or the villain in many scenes in my life story. My autobiography is tainted by moments of cowardice, hubris, and even outright maliciousness. In short, I’m a sinner. Given the right circumstances, I have no doubt that I would find myself on the wrong side of Spider-Man’s relentless quest for justice. But Jesus’ quest for justice is rooted in radical grace, so that even the rich man who cannot part with his possessions is loved (Mark 10:17-22); and even the fraudulent tax-collector is invited to dinner (Luke 19:1-10); and even the soldiers who nail Jesus to the cross are forgiven (Luke 23:33-34). It may not be a Hollywood ending, but it’s beyond Good News for me.

Basically, it boils down to this: Jesus is cooler than Spider-Man because Jesus is God, and he chose to die for us — all of us — anyway. Spider-Man just can’t come close to that.

. . . Nonetheless, at the end of our Pastors Pondering, we did have to admit one thing: Spider-Man has much cooler clothes than Jesus.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Nicole-Steele-Woodridge-with-daughtersNicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Pacific Northwest, where she lives with her Lutheran pastor husband and their two daughters. She is grateful to Pastor Dan, Pastor Tanner, and her husband for being part of the amazing Pastors Pondering that inspired this post. She also apologizes to any die-hard Spider-Man fans for any character errors; she admits that she actually knows very little about Spider-Man.

 

No worries, no joke, if the world ends, I still love you

“To all my Pharisaical law-worshiper acquaintances: if the “rapture” happens this weekend like you demand it must, let me just say: my house keys are under the back doormat, so help yourself to my guns & Bibles. Please be gentle, though, when you throw the hardcover one at each other.  I won’t be there to forgive you.” 

This was the Facebook status of my friend Jesse K.  yesterday.  Jesse and I worked together at a Lutheran Bible Camp in Iowa in the summers of 1999 and 2000.  He now works as the camp’s program director.  He knows some things about the Bible and Christianity and he’s a really smart guy.  As for his Facebook status regarding this weekend, he’s completely kidding.

Like me, Jesse doesn’t expect to be sucked into heaven on Saturday. I thought his satirical statement was hilarious.  I agree with its point too.  Believers need to remember the dangers of focusing on literal and legalistic interpretations of scripture, instead of the heart of the law of God: love.

You probably have heard that Harold Camping of Family Radio and his followers have been warning all of us that the end of the world is scheduled to happen on Saturday.  This is not the first time that this has happened.  NPR’s story about how Harold Camping compares in history to other doomsday “prophets” has helped me answer questions from my students this week.

I talked to my friend Hillary B.K., a Lutheran pastor, on Wednesday night.  She joked that it might not be necessary for her to write a Sunday sermon this week, but then she figured that God would probably leave some ministers for the people who are left behind.

I laughed and asked her what I need to do to get ready for the rapture.  She told that I needed to catch up on my repenting. I needed to get busy making a sackcloth and smear myself with ashes then wander around the city, fast and say I was sorry for my sins.  I laughed and told her I would go straight to the business district and federal buildings and loudly apologize for the destruction our social sins of greed and militarism have caused.

Really though, I am fascinated by all of the commotion created by the end-of-the-world hype.  I think it’s pretty funny and I wonder if I am unloving to those who take it very seriously.  Certainly, comedians and news-writers have had a lot of fun lately with the apocalyptic material.  I can’t say I blame them.  I am convinced God has a sense of humor and laughs right along with us.  As I laugh, I keep on loving and hoping the best for all people.

Yet, I  know I have had my own concerns about where the world is headed.  I even wrote my own little apocalyptic statement in 2008 after I learned about Peak Oil theory in 2005.  But generally, I am not guided by fear, just consciousness. I tend to typically choose trust in God and love.

Admittedly, I am no Bible nor Eschatology scholar.  Everyone’s guess is as good as mine.  I am only a woman who is trying to live the Gospel in the 21st century.

I know that I have met Christians who talk about the end-times like a cop-out or comfort.  I have actually heard Christians say things like:  “I am just glad that he end times is soon and I am saved.  I hate this world and this life.”  I bit my tongue and said a prayer; escapism instead of struggle for the sake of growth and loving seem unhealthy to me.

In my own family I have experienced the harm of rapture-focused fear-driven types of Christianity. One summer my youngest sister went to a different Bible camp than the rest of us because of a schedule conflict. She was 10 at the time.

During the middle of the night they had a “rapture drill” for the children. They woke everyone up and told them it was the end of the world then brought them to a party for those that were “saved.”

My sister says that camp was a paradise until she was asked if she was saved. Then she heard “Would you like to be? Why not, what’s your deal?  You’re crying? You’re crying because you have not accepted Jesus in your life.”  She cried with confusion. Now, 13 years later she still has a lot doubts and confusion and doesn’t really profess a faith.  She knows she is loved, however, so that’s good news!

Let’s tell the good news! We are all loved!  Jesus is all about love, not fear nor judgement!!  The gospel is about trust and faith and helping people know God through love by sharing, compassion, healing, service, prayer, and work for justice.

As far as the end of the world goes,  I want you to all know that I love you, no matter what.  And, I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to believe what Jesus says about the rapture, more than anyone else:

Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one deceives you.
Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many.
When you hear of wars and reports of wars do not be alarmed; such things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.
Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes from place to place and there will be famines. These are the beginnings of the labor pains.
But the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah! Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.  False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead, if that were possible, the elect.
Be watchful! I have told it all to you beforehand.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.
– Mark 13: 5-11, 21-23, 30-33