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.

 

Beyond bombing: Better options for transformation

The president’s speech made me feel awful last night.

Of course, all the news about the terror that ISIS is causing in Iraq and surrounding areas is making me feel very awful too.

Still, my gut told me the solutions proposed were not right. Similarly, no justification for the U.S. military’s current air strikes have made sense to me. Responding to violence with more violence is never an effective solution.

Today my heart has felt heavy and my prayers like déjà vu. Even though we’re years beyond the tragedies of September 11, 2001, has humanity gotten any better?

How many more times must I pray for peace?

In addition to offering prayers and love, how else does the Gospel invite us to respond? What are the nonviolent and loving solutions that we can advocate for?

I couldn’t come up with any better ideas. Frankly, I totally felt stumped.

At a loss, I turned to a mentor and friend, Kathy Kelly, at Voices for Creative Non-Violence, for insight about possible non-violent solutions to the problems surrounding ISIS. As a woman who has been in the region and Afghanistan as a nonviolent advocate for peace countless times and who works tirelessly “to prevent the next war by telling the truth about the current one,” I knew Kathy would have some good input for me.

Kathy Kelly (R) and me at an event in La Crosse, WI; Novemeber, 2013.
Kathy Kelly (R) and me at an event in La Crosse, WI; November, 2013.

Me: What is your sense about how much power ISIS really has?

Kathy Kelly: I don’t know how much staying power they have. Would they really want the headaches of trying to govern Baghdad, for instance? In Afghanistan, the Taliban are controlling perhaps 70 percent of the country, but we wonder if they’d prefer not to be stuck with governing Kabul with so many headaches and refugees and water shortages and unemployment.

Me: What sort of responsibility, if any, does the U.S. presently have in Iraq?

Kathy Kelly: The U.S. could campaign to completely relieve Iraq of paying any more debt incurred by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The U.S. could pay reparations for suffering caused by past bombing and invasions. The U.S. could begin now to withdraw people at their embassy and decide not to send any more military contractors. If lives are at risk, they probably shouldn’t be there any longer. If pacifists wish to risk their lives by being there, that’s another story, but no one who needs weapons and weapon carrying people to protect them should. The U.S. should encourage the government of Iraq to be inclusive but should never meddle in Iraqi elections. The U.S. has no right to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other countries, but extending a helping hand and paying reparations through payments made to the UN and other organizations that have some credibility, e.g., the International Commission of the Red Cross, could be acceptable.

Me: What sort of non-violent solutions exist for the ISIS problem?

Kathy Kelly: I think the time of the U.S. being an empire that can impose solutions is over. I don’t think the U.S. even has the ability to control forces at work in Iraq, Syria, and the wider region. Air strikes will never be enough. People who are targeted have mobility, and they have information and they have weapons. I don’t think the U.S. will find earnest allies to join them in this fight. So it makes all the sense in the world to seek nonviolent solutions. Such as, trying to create conditions in areas bordering on ISIS held areas that would inspire some ISIS fighters to defect, to leave ISIS. Many wouldn’t be able to without endangering their families or others, but some might think there’s a better way, other than fighting. This means helping to fund the UN and other organizations that are helping refugees. For starters, take the money it would cost to buy one Hellfire missile, or one tank, or any of the other billions worth of weapons.  Encourage states in the region to pursue nonviolent solutions. STOP ALL WEAPON TRANSFERS AND WEAPON SALES. Ask the media to help U.S. people better understand how the U.S. is perceived in countries where the U.S. has waged aerial bombing, drone bombing, economic sanctions, and tensions that contributed to civil wars. The U.S. is perceived, by many, as a menace. This is part of the reason why fine and good U.S. journalists are at risk in this part of the world.  Ask people who are concerned to read Jim Loney’s memoir Captivity, written after he was held hostage for 118 days, and, tragically, our friend Tom Fox was killed. Ask everyone, every pastor, teacher, cleric, bishop, teacher, civil rights leader, …everyone who can influence others…to take time today or tomorrow to reread Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Kathy’s wisdom and knowledge reminded me I have much to learn. More importantly, I was reminded that there is much I can do to creatively advocate for peace– the type of peace that Jesus gives. The peace I am advocating for is peace that heals, forgives, and imagines another way. It never harms another; it only heals.

Thanks be to God for prophetic voices like Kathy Kelly who help us remember that even when the situations are horrific, complicated or discouraging, love and non-violence are always available to offer another way, a way for peaceful transformation for all humanity.

Pray with me for peace and let us end this war!