Monday, September 28, 2015

Avengers Annual 10: Ms. Marvel's Roguish Treatment, Pt. 2

The Cover the Avengers Deserved!
[So to speak.]
Ugly Cover, Great Story
O.K. kids. fanboys and slightly-peeved feminists, if you read my last blog and are still reading to find out why I think Rogue of the X-Men raped Ms. Marvel, and not Marcus, son of Immortus as was featured in Avengers 200, I'll do my best to make my case without too much chauvinistic self-defensive garbage.

But first, let us talk about how incredible this annual was as an effort. Even though I disagree with parts, I tip my hat to Chris Claremont for going in and firing away at our hero's flaws. I raise my glass to the awesome and jaw-dropping artwork of Michael Golden, who honestly should have been paid double and forced to never leave comics.

Be Careful What You Wish For
Chris Claremont's anger at Ms. Marvel's fate in Avengers 200 caused him to write this story. He however does something to her character that is even worse. I mean, on a scale of 1 to 100, this is a 99. He has her powers, her memories and mind are utterly removed from her before she is tossed off of the San Francisco bridge to her [almost] death. I mean, someone takes everything you are but leaves you alive, what is that?

Who did this to Ms. Marvel? The mutant Rogue, who later joins the X-Men, in her very first appearance.

She's older here, not the cute Southern waif we see later. Maybe sucking up someone's life rejuvenated her, don't know.

But she's a woman and Chris Claremont likes her, 'nuff said.

"By Friends -- Betrayed!"
The story starts like this: Spider-Woman swoops down and saves a woman tossed off the San Francisco bridge mere inches from hitting the water, and after swimming for hours, gets the unconscious "Jane Doe" to a hospital where a woman doctor talks to a woman police detective who tells her that the woman whom she just saved is fine physically but mentally is a goner. The police detective then pulls out a dossier on this woman and goes through a list of awesome resume' points that shows this "victim" is indeed the amazing, unmatchable, unbelievable, incredible, successful, talented Ms. Carol Danvers. 

If you have any problem with figuring out that this is going to be a fair and even minded representation of men in the next 32 pages you are out of your mind. Maybe Claremont is trying to balance the scales. Maybe I just don't like the thumb he's using to hold down the female side of the scales.

...and she had a baby too!
Well, that didn't really work out...

First, no men are allowed in this scene, this moment of pain and sensitivity: Carol was saved by a woman, diagnosed by a woman, and her identity is discovered by, you guessed it, a woman.

Let me tell you this is sort of cool in a egalitarian way - and highly biased.

Let us say 20-25% of the superheroes at this time were women. Let us say 30% of the doctors were women. Pretty good percentages, considering. Now how many homicide detectives are women? Less than 10%. I'm not saying this is impossible, but the odds of an all-woman crew solving the mystery of Ms. Danvers in a public hospital is going to be something under 1%.

I like awesome women, truly. I know some personally. But take one look at these panels and tell me if there is any possible doubt that this is going to be a book where women straighten everything out.

Only a Southern Belle could've hurt Cap like this!
[Not like I speak from experience, ya understan']

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned
Launching into his "Make the Loutish Avengers Pay" theme, Chris Claremont has the first Avenger, Captain America, getting his butt kicked - badly - by Rogue.


I guess Carol Danvers mind inside Rogue is doing some payback. I mean, Rogue absorbed so much of Carol's id, that she's probably beating Cap up by proxy.

Still cannot figure this one out. This guy has taken on the Hulk, armies and demi-gods. My only guess is she sucker-punched him.

Over the next 20 pages Chris Claremont has the X-Men's foes, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, escape prison to fight the Avengers. Strange, but I thought this was an Avengers annual. Why are we starting with X-Men, have X-Men foes and end with Wanda, a mutant and former member of BoEM, crying?

But all that really matters in the end is that the Avengers do find out Carol Danvers is alive and well at the X-Mansion under the matchless care of the telepathic and mind-controling mutant leader, Prof. Charles Xavier.

Charles Xavier has been able to restore much of Carol's mind and while he watches paternally with Spider-Woman from inside the luxurious mansion, we get the ugly showdown at poolside with her teammates.

They thought she had left of her own free will to go with Marcus. They were wrong, and it is a painful scene to read and see.

Wonder Man, you have no idea. When she's done, you'll want
to crawl inside the Quinjet's jet intake.

Now here's the come-uppence part everyone overlooks:

Marcus dies in days after his return to Limbo.

His gambit to escape and his unethical use of Ms. Marvel ended in a rather harsh act of justice. I imagine Chris Claremont did this to him out of love for the character of Ms. Marvel.

Once he was gone, Carol says she got her will back. She says she was freed of his "mind control." Now - I don't think that's quite accurate. Not the way it is presented here, no.

I submit that there is no way in Hades that Marcus ever used full blown "Mind Control" on Carol Danvers, who fought Modok, for Pete's sake, and is well-acquainted with fighting for her mind.

I submit that he used Emotion Control on her. This is her weakest area.

Before you go "Wha...?" let me explain why this matters. There is a big difference between controlling another's mind and controlling another's emotions. Mind Control is taxing and the one doing it usually can do aught else. In role-playing games and in comics, we see a huge cost in Mind Control as a power. You get full control of the target but man, they are fighting you, and it is clear to close friends they are not quite themselves.

But Emotion Control? Letting people say what they want, think what they want, just so long as they like you immensely? Oh that's charisma. That's politics. That's seduction. I mean some potent olfactory scents can do that.

Carol kept her mind with Marcus, I think. He instead subjugated her emotions. He made her "love" him. As soon as he was dead, she had no love for him. Thus, she speaks accurately in that: "I didn't love Marcus! I NEVER loved Marcus!"

But then we catch something nasty in Carol's pain: her shame and anger has turned to hatred of her friends. She got back safely home and refused to contact them.

"Wanda, I didn't want to have anything to do with you. I hated you."

This makes perfect sense; Claremont writes better than he means to.

Carol, in her anger, became a victim. Carol, in her rage, lost her powers.

You see, it is in this state of hate that she is attacked by Rogue. This fight gets so vicious - Rogue admits later it was brutal, life and death stuff - that Rogue forgot her training and began holding on tighter more and longer than she should.

In the violence of a betrayed woman being set upon by a power vampire, the real rape of Ms. Marvel occurred.

Ms. Marvel had been seduced by Marcus.

She felt betrayed by the Avengers [who, to their credit, may have also been emotionally controlled by Marcus], but her dignity, her mind, her powers, her life's cherished memories were all taken forcibly by Rogue. That was rape, no two ways about it.

It is a horrible thing to even talk about. Between my two posts on this subject, I have been watching Downton Abbey. And it just happened that these are the ones that show the rape of Anna Bates as well as the seduction of Tom Branson. They are utterly different in styles and outcomes. We all want the rapist of Anna Bates dead, dead, dead - and thankfully, the writer complies. The seductress of Tom Branson? Well, as long as she hits the road, we are O.K. with it.

The reverse happened here: the one who truly took everything that made her Ms. Marvel was allowed to live.

The foolish and isolated boy-man who seduced Ms. Marvel because of his desire for her was disintegrated.

I call that sexism in the highest degree - against men.

There are a few questions, however, and maybe some fanboy will answer them. Maybe a search on the internet will turn it up.
1) How did Rogue know where she was? Probably Mystique with her government contacts. But Avengers records would have had her as "In Limbo" - literally.

2) If Carol had not been so isolated as well as angry, would that lone assault have even  occurred? I mean what is your "situational awareness" when you are alone at night in a big city and pissed off at Earth's Mightiest Heroes? I bet it is nil.

3) Since Rogue's powers only work with skin-to-skin contact, she kisses Capt. America to get his, for instance, how did she get Carol Danvers' powers? As Ms. Marvel, she is covered head to toe except for small areas and face. In her civilian clothes, she's covered much the same as she is a professional woman. I mean, how did Rogue get so physically close... to Carol... in San Francisco... uh....

...guys, does anyone know if Carol Danvers has ever had a boyfriend?

She kissed Wonder Man? O.K. - move on...

4) What precisely did Immortus think about his only child mating and dying within a week? I mean, didn't his machines record what happened or have some failsafe when the boy was no more?

5) When Carol says "I figured out enough of Immortus's secrets to return home..." is she still a reliable narrator? Or did Immortus return and send her packing, using his machines, letting her 'remember' that his son had 'died' and how the Avengers had 'betrayed her'? He does want them to be stopped from effectiveness, you know.

Seriously. Once you open this can of worms, it gets ugly.

We Only Hurt the Ones We Love
What is notable about the failure of the Avengers to stop Carol Danvers from leaving with her seducer and her subsequent restoration as a superheroine, is that while they failed to resist and/or perceive the emotional control Marcus had over her, they loved her and wanted to do good for her.

The Avengers were not the "insensitive louts" Chris Claremont called them. They simply could not process what was going on and intervene to protect a self-described Kree warrior from seduction.

Perhaps that is the lesson we can learn from: not finding who is to blame, but how we can be hurt most by those who profess to love us. People who themselves may have no understanding of how to love or what it means sacrificially.

In this final scene, my heart did go out for Carol. How could it not? Golden's artwork with her clutching her robe as she screams at them just blows you away.

Carol, however, is not perfectly just in blaming the Avengers, but she has been the victim of two assaults and now, after years of status and power, is utterly vulnerable, powerless and humiliated.

Here is where her true heroism begins: in forgiving her friends, in accepting new adventures and rebuilding her life.

Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Avengers 200 & Ms. Marvel's Roguish Treatment, Pt. 1

Ms. Marvel? Could you look
a little more confident, please?
We have a surprise for you.
Great Cover, Not-So-Great Story
It was the Avengers' 200th issue and we were all excited about what kind of world-bending, mouth-dropping, senses-shattering experience these heroes would give us.

It would end up becoming one of the most controversial stories ever written at Marvel. So bad in fact, one year later, in their own annual, the Avengers were shown to be schmucks who had screwed up royally, betraying the trust of one of their very own; their lack of foresight and/or perception got a good woman abused and nearly killed.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
The Powers-that-Be at Marvel decided Ms. Marvel needed to leave and "go off into the sunset." Her book wasn't selling well. Many women-centric books from Wonder Woman to Dazzler were having a hard time in the 70's, mostly because boys did not buy them and the characterizations were barely keeping up with the changing role of women in America: no girl wanted "True Romance" and no boy wanted to see women heroes beat men. Part of the problem was compounded with the fact that having a woman superhero running around in thigh-high boots and opera gloves was indeed sexy even "hawt" but outside of that appeal... what exactly was her story?

She's one Carol Danvers, Air Force Officer chosen by the star-spanning Kree to have the powers of Captain Mar-vel; therefore she became Ms. Marvel.

I honestly remember nothing else. She referred to herself as a "Kree Warrior" and was superstrong, invulnerable and could fly - the exact same powers as Thor, Iron Man and Wonder Man [with a device or two]. She was intelligent and feisty, but beyond that...

Well, no one knew much. So you ended up with a character with no real cas de guerre, who spends a lot of time telling other heroes she needs no help. This results in the reader not being too fascinated.

Don't imagine I am being cruel: same thing happened to Nova and Dazzler and a host of other bright and shiny characters with little backstory or compelling motive. All characters go through this "Powers, check, Environment, check, Personality?... leave that box blank" stage in their development. There is a low point in development before a high.

For example, it was Frank Miller who truly brought Daredevil to life after it languished as a bi-monthly. It was Bob Layton and David Michelinie who made Invincible Iron Man a interesting mag with his bout with alcoholism and deeper relationships. Takes time to develop a character, it does.

In fact, the removal of Ms. Marvel for a season and the subsequent storyline made her character come to life with great pathos. I mean it - without this tragedy of irresponsibility from the Avengers, Ms. Marvel or rather, Carol Danvers, may never have been made into a fully fleshed-out dramatis personae.

So what happened to her?

Ms. Marvel - Carol Danvers - got abducted in a split-second of time and was then used by Marcus, the son of Immortus to be his surrogate mother so he could be born in our timeline. This event is often referred to as "The Rape of Ms. Marvel", it has become a rallying cry for women who feel comics glorify abuse to women.

However, I will not call this action her rape. I will not go into all the nuances of what constitutes rape. Rather I will agree Carol Danvers was raped - but after her abduction and her seduction, not from it.

And the culprit was not a man. It was a woman. A woman named Rogue.

Let me repeat that: Ms. Marvel was raped by Rogue of the X-Men.

In her first appearance.

But we love Rogue don't we? Can't call her a "reformed rapist", can we? Let's lay all the fault at the men of the Avengers, shall we? Those nasty men. They love rape and love abusing women and [insert 400 words of verbal abuse here].

*sigh*

If I'm going to be this chauvinist, I'll have to start at the beginning, won't I?

Avengers 200
You can read a synopsis here. The main points are:

Not the Wasp's finest moment, maybe,
but then what's she's supposed to say?
"Carol, do you want a late-term
abortion? Oh, fiddlesticks - too late!"?
1) The Avengers are getting strange calls about all sorts of weird happenings: pirates and dinosaurs and knights and biplanes are all appearing out of nowhere and disrupting life. We find out this is a temporal rift of some kind.

2) Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, who had kept her identity completely secret from the team, has shown up pregnant. It is the world's fastest pregnancy as she will give birth in hours, not months. Dr. Blake and the Avengers try to accept and put a bright face on it, but Carol says it is not her child, she has no idea where it came from and does not want anything to do with it.

3) As temporal anomalies increase, causing the Avengers to battle them - we are now at "seriously dangerous stuff level", the miraculously-born mystery child begins to mature rapidly, aging years in hours.

4) He begins building a machine of unknown power. Just as he completes it, Hawkeye decides it has to go and utterly destroys it, causing the now-adult young man scream at Hawkeye, saying "Kill me or I'll kill you!"

Man who'd been betrayed & killed tries to be sensitive
and protective. Woman checks herself in mirror
before calling her offspring a "thing."
5) The showdown gets stopped however by Iron Man and Thor who then demand the whole story. The miracle baby is Marcus, son of Immortus one of their ancient enemies - hence the secrecy. He is from Limbo, a timeless place, where his dad had fallen in love with and married an Earth woman who later vanished back into her time. Thus, Marcus was born but unable to leave. Dad also disappeared one day, so he thought if he could be born outside of Limbo, he could escape. So, like his father before him, he picked Ms. Marvel, wooed her for weeks with poetry and music from composers of all centuries, including Shakespeare and then "with a subtle boost from my father's machines - we became one." He had sex with her after weeks of effort and the use of a machine.

6) He put her back into the timestream, at the very moment she left, memories wiped. She then gave birth to his essence - but his very presence in our timestream upset all the various eras and they began dumping into New York City - thus the dinosaurs, biplanes, etc.

7) Story explained and all reasoned out, Carol announces she has powerful feelings for Marcus, who has to leave immediately or his continued presence will destroy our timestream - thanks to Hawkeye's overzealous intervention and blasting to bits the device he'd constructed.

8) Ms. Marvel decides to save Marcus from his loneliness by going with him, even as Iron Man asks if she really wants to do this. She says it will help her find her heart or something. As she fades away, Hawkeye confesses he feels bad about busting up the machine and Iron Man just hopes it will all work out.

9) So Avengers 200 ends up with the Avengers defeating the greatest foe in the world: reason and accountability.

That's sarcasm, if you didn't catch it.

But here's the problem: I still don't think they are the most culpable party.

"Honey -we need to talk about
[BOOM] our.. [KA-BLAM] our
commu -[THOOM] communication!"
They had no other choice but let her go.

They were silenced by service to Ms. Marvel's wishes. They were not in command, but reaction mode.

They believed Marcus because he was only a day old and had just been a little baby.

They believed Ms. Marvel was in no real danger because she was tough, smart, an Air Force officer and a Kree warrior, blast it.

In other words, they trusted her personal competence.

On top of that, it was a crazy environment. Think of running into raptors in a nightclub and pirates in the bathroom while you are calling 911 for help.

To possibly imagine, after a testosterone-filled street-destroying, block crunching brownstone battle that our heroes are going to be able to say "Hey, Carol, sweetie, I think you need to slow down a bit..." is a bit of stretch. The Avengers barely had time to breathe much less think about what was best for Miss-I-don't-know-my-own-feelings-Danvers.

And why?

Because Carol Danvers does her own thinking, thank you. She marches to her own drum and she does it with thigh-high boots and opera gloves. As I said, one sexy lady.

Nothing bad about that. Honestly - very attractive stuff.

But cautious? Wary? Given to self-introspection?

Oh Hail No.

So as awful as what happens to Carol is - and mark me, kiddos, it is bad - Carol Danvers was not in the "I like to have a Group consensus of how I should act" camp. What happened to her was wrong, but it was...

... crud, it was next-to-inevitable. Men know how to protect women who say help.

How do you watch out for a woman who says "I don't need your help." How do we gauge when to step in?

You see, men spend years learning which fights to pick and which ones we cannot win with other men. We fight. We compete. We fight in arenas to the cheer of the crowd. We don't do dress up to show how pretty we are - well, unless we are Bruce Jenner, of course.

But we live martially. Any woman who willingly joins this type of life is crazy. She can have no testosterone rush to make it better and, while I respect every woman who can fight, [thinking of Ronda Rousey], we men are the Natural Brutes who enjoy curb-stomping your face in while peeing on the gasoline we have laid on your dying body to slow down the burn so it lasts longer.

Cruel and vicious? Oh, yes. Hey, let me tell you: men are scared of men.

Carol, you ever hear the story of Oedipus?
We are not scared of women. Not physically, anyway.

We don't go "Hey, honey, will you walk me to my car? I just don't feel safe with all those women out there."

So when a woman declares herself a warrior and is superstrong and invulnerable - just like some of my characters are - they are prepped to kick male tail. They are prepped to kick female tail.

They are not prepped for male seduction.

A handsome man with kind words telling you how marvelous you are, that he needs you? You are his very life? [In Marcus's case, literally.]

Crud. That is catnip for any woman I know. In my experience, men want respect and women want adoration.

As for the Avenger's mindset?

The Avengers could not imagine she could be seduced. Not Ms. Marvel!

Finally, Carol Danvers shows some tenderness and love.
Iron Man is instantly confused and suspicious.
So when she said "I'll go with him" they utterly had no choice but to say as Iron Man did "Are you sure about this?"

Like every man with a daughter who wants to go out with the punk boy who's trying to get into her pants. Like every mother who is arguing with her baby girl who wants to travel Europe unsupervised.

How could they have stopped her?

Introspection, reflection, concern for Ms.Marvel's well-being
even while powerless to affect it. Insensitive louts!
The reason I ask this question is going to be clear later. You see, Chris Claremont rakes the Avengers over for their error in judgment and uses Carol Danvers to blast them. All-in-all I think something great came out of an ugly event. I credit Chris Claremont for making Carol Danvers a far more exciting character by bringing her back...

...after taking her powers, her memories and nearly her life.

Blame the Writers?
So if we "blame" the writers for abusing women in comics, keep in mind that as long as the abusers get their just deserts and the women are made stronger by what they have endured, you must also give credit to them for caring enough to work with the character for good and ill. That's drama, folks.

In the end, the "Fairy Tale" ending of Avengers 200 was the end of a character that was hard for us to empathize with.

Let's talk about my feelings,
shall we?
Avengers Annual 10 gave us the Carol Danvers any man or woman would be proud to know: a survivor.

She had Superman's origin - or Wonder Woman's, if you prefer - mighty alien from another culture trying to help us in ours - while looking stylish, of course.

Then she became Batman, de-powered and learning from ground zero. She became Binary, then Ms. Marvel again. Ultimately she even got a uniform that says "I am not here to party. I'm here to get the job done."

I wouldn't mess with that woman for all the tea in China.

That's my Ms. Marvel.

Amen.

p.s. In reading Carol Strickland's "The Rape of Ms. Marvel" she does what all whistle blowers do: she calls foul on the mis-characterization of women in a male-dominated arena.

But I doubt she is fair and just to the male characters who did show care, concern, worry for a woman who could pick up tanks, and who could have killed Marcus her abducter with one punch. Her concern is for the de-valuing of Ms. Marvel and though I disagree with her in specifics, in actual intent of the male characters, she got an advocate in Chris Claremont's writing of Avengers Annual 10. Her voice has been heard.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Powerless Ms. Marvel Slaps Thor

I feel ya, Thor. I feel ya. 
Too tough to write. Sorry, guys. I've had so many emotional rotten eggs thrown at me today by "Wounded Long Ago" women, I cannot share any insights.

Tomorrow, I lay into the controversial two-part story of Avengers 200 and  Avengers Annual #10 or "The Rape of Carol Danvers."

Save me, Jesus.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hand of God & Light Speed

"He's got the whole...uh...universe in his hands!
He's got the whole, wide universe in His hands..."


From Space.com,
"The Hand of God" [see pic] - but to me it seems more of the hand of Jesus, holding out his wounded hand, his crown of stars/thorns behind it.

Amazing phenomenon, isn't it?

The first ten words of the Bible are instructive and timeless:

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth."

We are told later: "The heavens declare the glory of God."

 I find many people have no idea how profound and centered on reality those words are.

Let me just smack one silly repeated phrase: "God made the Earth in six days."

That seems orthodox, doesn't it? And by clinging to it, many Creationists are made to look foolish by geologists and astronomers. We who believe are considered intellectually lost.

Pooh on them. We don't believe that. The Bible doesn't say that.

It says God created a UNIVERSE in six days.

Go chew on that while you re-consider that a Jewish troublemaker turned mystic turn revolutionary wrote this 3400 years ago:
Genesis 1:31
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
So when you want to think about the level of power and maybe that Einstein's theory of special relativity may have been hinted at in Genesis, you be sure to be a little kinder to believers.

I see I need to explain myself. Here's my logic:
  1. Einstein showed us that it is light, not space and time that is constant.
  2. So when you go near the speed of light, space and time alter, not light.
  3. Thus, you get the weird effect of accelerating and then decelerating from light speed causing time to pass very slowly for the Traveler, but many years or even millennia could pass for the static Observer on a planet.
We get six days of creation because God is showing him what He did. It is a special revelation, you know.

But inside the universe? That time frame could be long. Billions of years, even.

The first thing created was Light.

The boundary. The speed limit. The first constant.

Then everything fell into place like dominoes by the hand of God.

You think about that, before scoffing at the Bible, boyo.

Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cards Against Humanity & Gotham - Choosing Honesty Over Happiness

You can always argue with a Dick, it seems.
I went on a three day jaunt with my gamer buds to Carbondale, IL this weekend and had a good time. Sleeping late, gaming, eating, soaking in a hot tub and eating M&Ms at whim has a way of de-stressing you. Such a fine time, I dared to play the wickedly anti-PC, socially insensitive, howlingly shameless Adult-level game of Cards Against Humanity.

While I did not win the most rounds, I placed very highly. O.K. - I was second. I suspect a modicum of ruthlessness on my part would have had me win in being the most debased human being at the table, and with our crew, that is saying something.

Like drinking heavily in church or running with scissors in a nudist colony, this exists to show just how tragic our choices can be as humans.

In the game, I was given ten cards to play; I would use them to fill in the blank on the Black Card that was a question or statement.

My white cards would say "African children" or "Women's Rights" or "Detroit, Michigan."

The black card would say "Because of [blank], the whole of Western Civilization has gone to pot in the 20th century."

Now, you put one of those cards down as the answer, and in moments, you either get laughter, outrage, or outrageous laughter. The point is, there may be a general consensus amongst wounded and not-so-sober people at two a.m.

That is the genius of this game. You are either acquitted by your words or horrify your listeners - while they are trying to not spit their drink on the table. You become a comedian competing with all the other comedians at the table. So as their answers are read, you get all the jokes fresh [minus yours, of course] as the "Card Czar" [i.e. Dealer] intones each inappropriate, job-firing, NSFW answer and chooses the best.

Since you are among friends, all is good. You might cut loose and let some  bullets fly, knowing all the casings go back into the box at the end.

One card was played similar to this: "I'm so devout, I gave up [blank] for Lent."

I laughed and played a card that said "God."

My crew was shocked. I snickered. "Well, my personal joke as a Bible teacher is 'I gave up Catholicism for Lent.' This'll do."

I think it won. I was pleased.

God Plays His Version of Cards Against Humanity
God must've thought it funny too.

The next day, with the kind and generous Joyce Wagner in tow, she and I visited a church in downtown Carbondale, letting the young men sleep in.

It looked good. It said "Disciples of Christ, a Christian Church" on the sign. I thought we'd scored. Oh, was I wrong.

Their "Sunday school" time consisted of watching a video about how humans need to get control of our genes so we can survive as a species and colonize other worlds after we have used this one up.

It was like listening to spiders quietly discussing where they could find more flies to suck the life out of.

It was encouraging these watchers to accept trans-humanism. A science-based social movement that wants to use science and tech to modify our condition and elevate humanity's abilities so they have no need of faith in God. To accomplish this lofty goal of spreading humanity across the cosmos, we must all "learn to use less and work together more" - not bad ideas in and of themselves - but it refused to accept the problem with humanity is not our flesh but our soul.

According to the Bible, we are separated from God. We must die to live again in a new universe with Christ. Most of all, we need God's Spirit to transform us.

I tried to communicate these things as winsomely as I could, not wanting to be an utterly anti-social visitor to this obviously "friendly" church.

"There's an old saying: God made Man in His image and Man's been trying to return the favor ever since," I said.

Many laughed. "I've never heard that before!"

One older gentleman to my immediate left spoke of us needing to be loving, kinder and having more self-control. He was certainly quoting from Paul's letter:
Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Upon hearing this reference, I said "But those are fruits of the Spirit. You need the Spirit of God to change you." I hoped he or another might affirm this.

Oh no.

"I don't think that," said he.

"Well, don't you believe in God?" I had to ask. I was smelling this for long minutes now, so I went direct.

"No, I don't," he affirmed. "I'm an ex-pastor. There is no God."

With a fierce smile, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Well, I'm an ex-atheist [practically] and now I'm a pastor."

Oh, he did not like that.

He tried to tell me to think more, and to admit I was afraid of being wrong. He began talking about epistemology and presuppositions - and I said I knew what he was saying: I grew up reading atheists in sci-fi, and how there is plenty of evidence and reason to accept God.

"In fact, you say 'There is no God.' You cannot know that. You might not believe in Him, but you are a creature in a finite universe. You cannot make that assertion..."

He cut me off with a waved hand and the classic. "Well, that's good for you!" [subtext = shut up] He saw I was perfectly ready to challenge every false assumption he made.

He soon left happily with his smiling, still pretty yet mature wife. He was a man of scholarship, of intelligence, of social standing

- and an apostate.

Seeing that the entire class was on his side, and that this was no place for God's Word, I told my friend: "We. Are. Leaving."

In the car, she sympathized. I kept laughing and shaking my head.

He was happy. I was unhappy. He was certain of man. I was certain of God.

When we got back we told the crew. "Heh. Sounds like what you played last night in Cards Against Humanity, Justice."

"I know!"

Shaking my head, I realized something: God showed me that me being satisfied and happy in this world like that man was would make me want to preserve it beyond His expiration date, which He said would happen in the Bible. Being happy is good, but you can make it outweigh revelation and truth.

You can make being happy your god.

Wonder if he feels "called"? Nahhh--that's batty.
Affirmed by Batman, Of All Things
Tonight, while watching Gotham, I heard a strangely profound maxim from Bruce Wayne's father in a letter to his son. He'd had a hint of his impending death and so wrote a letter to be found by Bruce if he did not return.

After confessing his desire to be a better man, he ends with:
"[My only advice is this:] you can’t have both happiness and the truth. You have to choose. I beg of you, my son, please choose happiness. 
"Unless…unless you feel a calling. A true calling."
Sort of a strange dichotomy, ain't it? Not happiness vs. sadness. More like "fitting in" versus "fighting it."

Men who have callings don't feel happy. They feel possessed. They feel empowered and aimed. They feel fated and so sometimes curse the day they were born.

I have no idea why I was willing to be so vulgar and play this game. I have a suspicion I just wanted to have fun and be happy--and we did that, truly. I relaxed and let my hair down with friends.

Yet the next day, my happiness was thrown under a bus by a church that was not a church. If you are unwilling to hear anything about faith, you can accept they were traitors to the very Founder of their tax-exempt status.

They were meat-eating vegans. They were cigar-selling physicians.

They were happy, though. Lots of smiles.

But it reminded me that there is a war going on. Jesus was being honest when He said "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

He was pointing to the fact that liars and those who merely look good do just fine in this world. Truth tellers? Whistle-blowers? Prophets?

Not so much. Not by a long shot.

When I got home last night, I relayed all this to my landlady Nancy. She had a strange answer. Sort of took me aback. She replied, "'The Lord laughs.'"

It is from Psalm 2:1-4:
1 Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
     against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
     and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
We live in a house of cards in our temporary universe. Scientists know this.

It would do us well to see the real "Card Czar" and make peace with Him before it becomes a game of 52 Card Pick-Up.

'Cause He laughs too.

"He who laughs last, laughs best."

Amen.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Micronauts & Leaving It All Behind

"Commander!" "Yes, Prince Acroyear?"
"If this is OUR comic, why is Baron
Karza in the upper left box?"
When Micronauts number one came out, I had no idea what to expect. Already disappointed with the cheap Cooper costumes sold at K-Mart, and loving the Micronauts eponymous toy line did not guarantee nor even suggest a great comic. Even at this young age I knew when I was being cheaply pandered to.

Someone did not tell Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden, however. After the blockbuster success of Star Wars, I suspect they decided to go for broke in telling an epic sci-fi tale, being inspired by everything from Gulliver's Travels to Led Zeppelin.

The Micronauts first twelve issues were so epic, so stunning, the entire series pales in comparison. Golden made every page flow with a film-like quality. You seriously could've used every panel as a shot plan for a cinematographer, it was that good.

The story is simple: Commander Arcturus Rann, having left Homeworld to explore the universe aboard the H.M.S. Endeavor in suspended animation, has returned after his thousand-year journey to find his former mentor has not only killed his parents but taken over Homeworld. Baron Karza offers its denizens a form of immortality with his "Body Banks" and to cap things off, he's used the recently discovered warp drive to go out and conquer every single world Rann had just befriended.

Talk about giving it all up for nothing and feeling less than useless.

But Rann's return sparks hope in the rebellion. Even as he is imprisoned in gladiator pits he makes staunch friends: Prince Acroyear and Master Thief "Bug", Princess Mari and her little Microtron. Together with his faithful roboid Biotron they begin fighting back as the Micronauts.

Everything from Firefly to Guardians of the Galaxy is in this comic from 1977, and thus, it rocks; it rocks very hard. Just because I'm a nice guy, let me show you page one by the inimitable Michael Golden:

Now three things blew me away: one, how amazingly the horses and figures are drawn. Two, that the little aerial figures up in the chapter title are recognizable to me as acroyears in flight [btw - they aren't acro-years, they are a-KROY-eers].

Thirdly, that they took the time and effort to layout "CHAPTER ONE" and "HOMEWORLD" in a futuristic font face. This showed me they were serious. I know that sounds weird, but how type is handled is usually an afterthought. It is not done so here. It is part of the art, the story, the visual marker that this, child, is a new SF series and needs your attention.

It was $.35, too. Dude - seriously - when are you EVER going to get goodness like that in your hands for $.35?

Clearly, Micronauts was going for broke. They were putting it all down on the page and you were captured. No one - no one sane - bought just issue one.

What my comparison is today for all you loveable Micro-fanatics out there is this: Rann left it all behind for something greater.

It looked bad when he came home. It looked really bad. All his work for naught, you know? He could have crawled up and died but he didn't - and then slowly, we see him find love again, he rescues a boy and his dad who are also science "explorers" [NASA on our Earth]. He even finds that his suspended animation had a bonus he did realize; he's created the very hero necessary to fight Karza.

Jesus said if we leave it all behind and follow him we too will have great glory.

Abram went out, "not knowing wither he went" and ended up fathering Israel and all believers.

The virgin Mary gave up her social standing but got fame instead of shame.

The apostle Paul said it succinctly like this, echoing this theme of sacrifice that looks dumb at first, but ends with joy and happiness:
Philippians 3:8-11
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Let me confess something to you: radical faith does not mean you become a great big sign-wielding jackass or fly into buildings to blow up infidels.

It means you give up things. You give up stuff you like for the god you love.

You will do this anyway, since we all feel the call to worship something, but if we humans are good at anything we tend to give up everything for the wrong god.

Money and power are easy to see as bad gods. We hate fascism, dictatorial rulers, greedy bastards and lying corporate heads.

But I am not talking about bad gods. I am talking about acceptable gods: being well-liked, having a family, friends, your own space, your homeland.

When we see those things sacrificed, we stop. We go "Whoa - that's radical!"

Yeah - and it is highly commended in fiction. When Luke loses everything and decides to "become a Jedi like my father" in Star Wars we are impressed, but really, what other choices did he have? His aunt and uncle were a smoldering husk and his home destroyed.

No, it is when someone has The Good Stuff and sacrifices it, we get awed.

Commander Rann left a loving mother and father to reach out to other worlds and offer them peace. He sacrificed all he knew and loved for others. No wonder he becomes the vessel for redemption. This type of story is so intuitive, so ingrained in the Christian psyche of our civilization we may take it for granted.

Loss may turn into gain, but a sacrifice? That turns into glory.

So I just want to leave you with that: remember that no sacrifice is in vain. If it is for the right God - and I mean that enigmatic force that grabbed you and had you read this entire blog.

He loves you. Sacrifice for Him and get glory.

A thousand thousand years from now, you'll be grateful and glad you did.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

From Highlander to Age of Adaline - Who Wants to Live Forever?

"My name is Connor Macleod of the clan
Macleod - and I have no need of life insurance."
In 1986, when the film Highlander came out, about the immortal Connor MacLeod [Christopher Lambert] and his mentor Juan Sánchez Villalobos Ramírez [Sean Connery] rock band Queen did the music for the soundtrack starring the incredible vocals of Freddy Mercury.

Unlike their previous work on Flash Gordon, it had a sweet melancholy along with the pounding rock themes. It was the first time, in a major film, that showed being immortal had a terrific price: it cost you your heart.

In this story, the problem becomes far more than personal survival & fighting against evil - the "Immortals" outlive everyone they care about. Coupled with the sad fact they also can not sire children, it guarantees a permanently lonely existence. Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever [When Love Must Die?]" was especially poignant:




Oh, one more caveat: they have to behead other immortals they encounter to get "The Quickening" that empowered them. They had a motto: "In the end, there can be only One." Yeah. That means you had to kill friends you had for centuries, sooner or later, should you choose to ignore that part of their code.

So Being Immortal = No Relationships. You get filthy rich, you can go anywhere in the world, but talk about a "cutthroat business" - sooner or later, it is kill or be killed.

"Do you think this dress
makes me look old?"
"No, dear. The date does."
Age of Adaline
The recent film Age of Adaline, starring the steadfastly sweet Blake Lively, had a slightly different take on immortality: after having a daughter, a freak accident causes her to stop aging. Set in the 20th century, we see how long it takes before others catch on and before the U.S. government wants to abduct her for "questioning" [i.e. experimentation].

She bravely escapes the snares, but has to be oh-so-careful lest anyone guess that she is far closer to 90 than to 30. One redeeming point: her daughter loves her and meets her every year on New Years Day to play catch-up. They explain to all inquirers that the older daughter is Adaline's mother, and she is the daughter. So Adaline preserves a singular relationship but has to lie and keep moving every so often thanks to her "blessing" which many would kill for.

Funny thing is, in both of these films, the years of unaging physical power or beauty are written to have the same resolution: they cease being immortals, begin to age and recoup the ability to have children.

That's their victory: becoming normal again.

I don't know if I count that as a total victory. Normal, yes certainly. But as Woody Allen once responded to the suggestion he would achieve immortality through his work:
“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”
We want to live, don't we? But even moreso, we hate to begin aging past our youth. And then to begin dying.

"I am not so much afraid of death, as ashamed thereof," wrote Sir Thomas Brown in Religio Medici. I think we make films like Highlander and Age of Adeline to remind us that there are worse things than exiting this life gracefully.

It is being the last one alive with no one to love or to be loved by.

As I teach monthly at a retirement community, I speak to those who have outlived many of their friends. There is one friend they cannot outlive though.

This person is an immortal who promises that there is life - physical and real life -  to be had in the centuries to come.

He said this about his gift of life in John 10:27:
27 "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
28 "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand."
I love that. I love it, love it, love it.

You see, Jesus is speaking of our immortal souls being redeemed by his payment. He is speaking also of the new universe and how death will not be the power it is here. He is speaking very boldly and frankly that He Has The Power to Make Us Immortals.

The immortality he offers differs from our two films, however. Did you notice he used plural forms? "My sheep hear my voice... they follow me"? He says 'they' and that implies you will not be an immortal in a relational vacuum, able to live forever but never able to get close to anyone.

You see, as Freddy Mercury so wonderfully sang "Who wants to live forever/When love must die?" he is singing of here and now, where being immortal is unnatural.

Jesus is talking about heaven and having an eternity before you where death is unnatural. In fact, it no longer exists for anyone.

So when you think about eternity or possibly living forever, consider the environment. Living on Earth forever would be too painful to describe if you are the only immortal. Living in a new heavens and earth in a new body that never ages would be a boon. It would be awesome because all those people would be lovers of God and Christ who's trusted him.

Jesus grants eternal life to his sheep.

Tell him you want to be his sheep. Say "Baaaahhhh!"

Because in the end, there can be only One...shepherd.

Amen.

[Cue "Immortals" from Big Hero 6]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation & Serving Two Masters

"O.K.! I wanna come back inside now, Nancy!"
"Jimmy Johns? Can you deliver some
humble pie right away? Front door, please."
I had one of those emotionally taut days that belied the gorgeous September weather we've been having. In truth, maybe the weather caused me to be somewhat wired. I could not do what I wanted to do and began to suspect that God had a hand in holding me back. After five utter failures to inflate my bike to go for a ride and get away from "those crazy people" [friends will know who I mean], I surrendered and addressed the Almighty through gritted teeth: "This is flatly ridiculous. Neither of these pumps will work? O.K.! If You will let me inflate this tube this one time, I will go back inside like they want and eat lunch!" I felt I had been betrayed once again on a matter of information and was so angry, I was about to run away. I was planning how I could move out and where I could live.

The tube inflated. I was deflated. I went inside and ate my sandwich like a pouty child.

I know - so spiritually mature and wise, huh? Well, kids you get weird attacks when you serve and preach a lot, so don't be surprised. But in the middle of my emotional dissonance, I knew I had to obey God. Emotions are merely gauges to tell us when something is not right. They are not our command center. I have an old rule, a personal one: "All decisions made when angry are wrong."

I was wrong, and God kindly restrained me. Later, all was good. No, you don't get to hear all the juicy details or get to rummage in my soul to fix me. Go fix yourself. I want to say what saved me from picking up my bags, my stuff and moving out was simple: I am poor.

I have no money. I have been serving in faith and under the God's leading for over a decade and a half. I have not been building my resume'. It has been amazing to see His provision as I do it. The level of material blessings ranks at Ridiculous. There is "How About That?. I Can't Believe How Lucky I Am!, Wow, Really?, Ridiculous, Praise God, and That Never Happened [But It Did].

So it's pretty high up on the scale.

Do you think I'll meet Miss Right on Christian Mingle?
"So honey - how was my sermon? Honey? Honey?"
Doing Missions that Seem Impossible Make Me Smile
That's why I love Tom Cruise movies though he be into scientology. He always goes for the That Never Happened type stuff. From Risky Business to Top Gun to Magnolia to Edge of Tomorrow, he likes going for the miraculous, the "unheard of" result.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is another smart, twisty, hi-tech entry into the M:I franchise, and I must recommend it, if for no other reason the "unbeatable" villain is foiled in the very end with a good classic Mission: Impossible trap. It was very satisfying, and I refuse to spoil it for you.

What leads the villain into the trap is his greed. Cruise's character, Ethan Hunt sees this as the tether to dialogue and taunt the villain. Though he will kill Hunt, his men and hundreds of innocent civilians - while the clock is ticking - Hunt rationally speaks to him. Paraphrased it goes like this:

"I seriously doubt you can possibly care about any human being. Maybe you used to, but not anymore. But you do care about money. Without it, you are useless. You can do nothing of your grand plans. You want it, you have to let us go."

That is a simple classic trope, but in this case, Hunt bets everything on it. I mean it is nail-biting.

He's not out of the woods, but it is great moment of heroism: facing death to defeat terror and evil.

He's perfectly right, too. The villain has no great ideology except to build his own "rogue nation" using funds taking from all the existing ones. Without money, he funds nothing. He has nothing.

I wanted to leave my duties as a pastor/caregiver but I had no funds. I had no personal power. Like Hunt, though, I have supplies. Not for myself, but to serve others. It is still very strange to me, to live this life of faith. I am sure other Christians are witnesses in their professions, but for an unmarried, single guy like me, I either serve Christ with honor or I am a bum. I simply cannot do anything else.

When you see super agent films, the highly trained operatives doing great deeds, it is not on their dime. They are trained to do what no one else can do or frankly, wants to do. It is very heroic and sexy and all that. I love 'em. My service is not so glamorous, but I see it for what it is. I went through my own boot camp, I left the most desirable woman I had ever known, and asked God to use me.

Now I empty cat litter. Who'd have thought, huh?

But I smile, I do understand Jesus so much better. That is a perk of discipleship. You go crazy for Jesus and you end up  - well, you end up understanding Jesus.

He said something I once found hard to grok. He said:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Matthew, a former tax collector [re: corrupt greedy official] recorded this for us. He himself had been hit between the eyes in his desire to have enough money to have power and control.

He gave it up for Jesus. I suspect he'd gotten what he wanted and found it far more unappealing than he imagined.

As a Protestant American, I always thought this was a bit of a false tautology by Jesus - like he was saying "You can't have a job and love God." or "If you spend money, you don't love God. You should be poor as dirt."

No. Jesus doesn't care how much money you need. Jesus is concerned with how much money you want. Like you treat money as God or oxygen, and if you don't have enough, you will die.

People worry about money all the time. I think it is because they do not "worry" about God.

God said those who trust Him will have all they need and more. You give Him a little by giving it to His people and He says "You cannot outgive Me. I love you, too, you know."

Now, mark that. It is not a goddamned magic spell. [Yes. I spoke accurately there. Learn to read.]

He is an Adult Daddy and you are Kid. Serve Him and you find out He's taking care of you.

But if you want your own "rogue nation" - you are going to need money because that's what the world runs on. If you want to rule, not serve, you end up serving money to get the power you want.

That's it. You end up serving God - and you can be a banker or big CEO doing so - or you can serve money and end up constantly worried about how much everything costs, etc.

Frankly, we American Christians in a capitalist system are easily drawn into doing far too many things we should not "for the money."

Let me end by saying Ethan Hunt was right about the villain and it became his downfall.

By serving money, without a single concern for others, he was defeated.

Don't be like that. Don't worry so much. Ask God to take care of you, and, like me, watch Him do it.

I can't go anywhere on my own due to my personal lack of money.

But I have gone to Russia, Kazakhstan and India due to serving God, funded by people who love God.

I think that's pretty awesome. I used to think it'd be impossible for me to go on mission trips or serve year after year without a steady paycheck.

I guess I was wrong. Nothing is impossible with God.

It's your mission should you choose to accept it... [cue Mission: Impossible theme]



Amen.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Official Handbook of the [Marvel] Universe

Fundy Legalist Preacher:
"It began with an Abomination,
brethern! An Abomination!!"
Me: "Like yo' mama, right?"
It was a geek's dream in 1982. It was a thing of beauty and order. Outside of a live action film, this was the best thing any Marvelite had ever hoped for. We poured for hours and hours over every single issue.

It was sacred text to us. It was The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

The brainchild of "Big Jim" Shooter, it was chock full of dense text, engineering specs and layouts [the Avenger's Quinjet, Avengers Mansion and Iron Man's armor were my personal favorites], origins and bios, legal status and know relatives. It settled many long-standing arguments between Marvel's "True Believers" about who was stronger or how powers worked.

O.K. - honestly, it caused some too, but I digress. ;)

This series may - just may - have been the seed that allowed the many superhers role-playing games and movies to be made. I know, strange idea, but this series sealed in our minds the idea that Marvel operated in a cohesive, "real" universe.

In our role-playing games we used these as our reference to check abilities and how to properly model characters. This added more and more product and documentation for geeks and so... over time... when someone just thought about a film or what should character "X" be able to do, the answer was already given.

Now I am going to go out on a real stretch here. Ready?

We, in the Real World, also have an Official Handbook to Our Universe.

It is full of bios, detailed layout via description, powers, abilities and known relatives. It has over 40 authors, was written and compiled over a thousand years, covers history on three continents in three languages and deals with superhuman men, a demi-god and God Himself.

It is the Holy Bible, of course.

You weren't that surprised, were you?

What may surprise you is how many times men have tried to wipe it out. How many prideicted the end of it as a foolish collection of fairy tales.

Yet every single year, it is the best-selling "book" in the world - though more accurately is a volume of 66 books.

Jesus said something peculiar, something rather bold. Like a guarantee for our universe.

He said it in Matthew 24:35 and it's also recorded in Luke 21:33. He said:

"Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will never pass away."

After twenty centuries, it is still holding true, so his track record is spotless. How could he know this?

Well, you see Jesus was not just an entry in our universe.

He's the author and editor and publisher.

And with those three titles, he knew when it was coming out, what it would say and how long it would be in print.

That verse alone, coupled with the fact it was written nearly twenty centuries ago, causes my credence in the Bible as the Word of God to go up several notches.

I hope you think so too, and ask Him to make you an entry in his book.

Amen.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Superman vs. Spider-Man

"Hey Spidey - what's red and blue and faster than
a speeding bullet?" "Let me guess - YOU?!"
"Nope. Your face at the end of my fist - Parker."
It was Marvel Comics second decade and DC comics fourth. The suits at DC were aiming to bring Superman to the big screen and the crew at Marvel was setting up Spidey on the small screen. Though a joint movie was suggested earlier, it seemed better to have a company crossover in print. Big print in fact, as large as the original artwork.

The book was Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. Published in 1976, it was something to see sitting on the magazine rack - not the spinner rack - with all the serious magazines. It cost $2.00, but we had to have it, so we bought it anyway. [Equivalent to nearly $8.50 today. ]

Oh did it rock. It was amazing to see how Gerry Conway and Ross Andru who had worked on both books came together to make a seamless world for both heroes, keeping all their personality quirks and character flaws intact.

The whole reason the heroes end up fighting is that Luthor masquerading as Superman, and with his super-tech, flies in and "disintegrates" Lois Lane and Mary Jane Watson with "heat vision" [in actuality, he teleported them away to a secret location.]

Well, since Clark Kent was right there, he knows it's a fraud and changes into Superman to find out what in Krypton's name is going on. Parker on the other hand has no clue, so he changes into Spidey and upon seeing Superman goes at him.

Lex Luthor with Doc Ock are watching gleefully as the two heroes begin their confrontation. Unbeknownst to him, Spidey is then zapped by Lex with Red Sun radiation to make him sort of a temporary Kryptonian. So Peter starts the fight with a higher ground of certitude and with Luthor's little equalizer, starts pounding the holy crud out of Superman.

I mean, it is one epic beating - for about 30 seconds. It surprises even Peter. "Wow in all my years of web-slinging, I've never done that!" and "I cannot get over how overrated this guy is!"

Then Superman comes back and is about to punch Spidey.

In the face.

At full power.

This is seriously the closest Spider-Man gets to be killed. By Superman, of all people.

Thankfully, Superman realizes the danger at the last possible second. To his credit, he stops his punch.

But he cannot stop the shockwave.

Poor Spidey.

He is shot off the rooftop like a tennis ball, and ends up flying through a few buildings.

He's all ready to come back and dish it out on Supes, when the Red Sun radiation wears off.

And "at precisely that moment" he finds out how truly formidable Superman is.

His moment of power is gone and thankfully, Superman sees this sudden de-powerment as very telling: Spidey is no real threat, just a diversion - and that means he was set-up. He looks down paternally as Spidey pounds away futilely, hurting only himself.

So with a little added chagrin on Spidey's part, and some kind words from Superman, they agree to team up and find who just duped them and rescue their ladies. Classic, baby. Classic.


I don't think most people - most kids at that time - understood how perfect this was. This was a pretty high point in comics, with everyone trying to get out the best product, but had far less eyes and ears and accountants pushing at the creative process. Like many rock bands of the 70s, the art was first, and in capable hands. Sure they wanted to make money - but they did that by getting out a good product, not by hyping the crap out of it until you wished it would go away.

Everyone knew who Superman was. Everyone knew who Spider-Man was. The only reach was making them fight each other before working together. Gerry Conway pulled it off. My hat's off to him.

Now what spiritual or Christian lesson did we learn from this?

God forgives stupid. God does not forgive unrepentant evil.

Look, you and I fight God all the time if we do not know Him and listen to Him. We may even think we are getting ahead or "kicking ass and taking names" as the saying goes. You got a good job and are a rising star. You just sold a million albums or won a championship.

Yet the next day or the next year you seem to crash. You seem to have run up against a brick wall. Why?

I'm going to suggest because you were emboldened by your own power and abilities but forgot the Giver. He wants you to listen to Him and stop fighting, but you know what?

You already called Him weak. You already called Him useless. You already know He's bad.

The following verse has worried many Christians because it says there is an unforgivable sin. Murder, rape, child molestation, theft, adultery are all forgivable before God. This sin is not.

Let me repeat: this sin is not forgivable. Why?

It is when you call evil good. It is when you make God into an ogre and reject any light or love from Him.
Matthew 12:31,32 
31"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.
32 "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
The easiest way to understand this is that we Christians believe and accept we have been changed and are being changed by God's Spirit. Even friends and family see this: we behave better and are more willing to love and be forgiving. The Spirit empowers us. The Spirit works gently and kindly to reconcile us to God - to show us Jesus as our savior and let us experience God directly in a mysterious way.

It is very cool. It is like you get Heightened Senses or something.

But spitting upon the Spirit of God? It'd be better to spit in your mother's face. It be better to curb stomp Aunt May or hang Snoopy. It'd be better to drown puppies.

So when we see Spidey punching Superman we can smile. But if Superman decided to punch back?

There wouldn't have even been a face left. Superman had compassion and was forgiving.

God is just as kind to us. He is patient with our false accusations and dumb associations. He doesn't mind us being stupid. He knows we think He's wrong and we're right.  It is typical.

But once you realize that He's been patient with your anger and self-empowerment - once he puts an end to your plans, you should stop swinging. You're just going to hurt yourself.

It would be far better for you to stop, to talk to Him and become friends.

You'll be a better hero for it.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Downton Abbey Taught Me About Forgiveness

"We're all ready, m'lord!"
"Right! Nobody fart, and we'll
get through this with no problem..."
Downton Abbey is PBS's worldwide phenomena, winning awards all over the place for writing and acting and  - oh I don't know what. It is a glorious British melodrama set at the end of the Edwardian period. It was a golden age, the peak of the British Empire, when the sun never set on the British flag.

It concerns the Lord and Lady Grantham, and their immediate family who are the fading monarchy of England, watching the vast changes in thought and politics and society Britain experienced from the sinking of the Titanic to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. We get an imaginary peak at what the hustle and bustle of running and supporting a huge estate looked like. Much care has been given to accuracy in many details, but softened wisely to give us an exciting drama, not a dour documentary. It reminds me of our current times, frankly, and I am certain that is its appeal to all of us watching our world change so quickly in medicine, technology and religious boundaries.

We see the human failings of each character at Downton - and we find that even the sneakiest of the snakes has some heart, while the best of the best have shameful actions, too. What I found well-written from a spiritual P.O.V. is that every action has a consequence. Good people and foolish people all get hit. It is how they handle their folly and poor judgment that reveals their character.

Here's what got me: I think Downton Abbey has taught me to forgive. Jesus commanded it, of course, but watching certain characters in the class struggle drama has shown me what it looks like. Guess what?

Forgiveness looks like love.

It does not look like sympathy nor tolerance.

It looks like love.

Fifteen years ago, I came to Wheaton to work for an evangelical organization that helped people worldwide as their new head web designer. I thought I was done with "practical ministry" work I did in the Binghampton area of Memphis. There, I was a "Mr. Mom." Here, I was going to serve as manager of this corp's web presence and hopefully transition to being a personal assistant to their president, a prominent evangelical leader.

It did not happen. Everything went bye-bye as I served under a person who was not only incompetent, but frighteningly controlling and shame-based - in a Christian organization. I simply did not "know my place" as they'd say in Downton Abbey. I was Tom Branson, a brash Irishman with grand ideas.

In fifty working days, I was gone. This satisfied my manager. She then did some damage control by taking info I gave her to show her competency and portrayed me as a mere insubordinate, unsuitable to serve at headquarters.

It was bad. Oh, baby, it was bad.

Over the following months, I had to take a physically demanding, soul-crushing job as a courier to live. It was like being a waiter for a party of 100, and the dinner was five hours long every night. At the same time, I preached in the county jail three times a week and led a Bible Study every Tuesday night. But also at the same time, a well-to-do Christian generously paid off one of my credit cards, seeing my dedication to the Lord.

That helped me a lot financially and spiritually. My landlady was also very kind to me and gave me scriptures daily in my lunch she packed.

I was strengthened by her faith in me and my faith in God, I began to see His hand, using circumstances to crush me for better use.

I began to see Joseph in the Old Testament as my hero.

I was stunned by the amount of good things here in Wheaton and how many loved Christ sacrificially, were artists who loved Christ and that kept me going.

But it has taken watching Downton Abbey to bury the coffin. It took watching John Bates and his love for Anna.

I forgave my mistreatment and mistreators last week.

I've been praying for this. I've been moving forward as best as I can, and I know I should forgive and let things go, but it has been so unnatural, so difficult. The best I have done is that I called on God to bless me with His love and not pay anyone back.

A week ago on Facebook, I mentioned something snidely about my ex-wife, and others pointed it out. I danced off saying I also had good memories but yeah, that bad thing she did and was unrepentant of [I'd recently found she'd not changed one iota and spewed hatred at me], I still held as my victory of righteousness.

Look, that kind of language is soul-murderous, so understand I use it only to be honest. The biggest danger for a Christian's soul happens when we are RIGHT.

It makes us smug. It makes us hard.

Finally, I said "Please. I hate even hating." Just ran out of room in my heart, I guess. I found myself no longer having a home for it.

How I Crossed the Rubicon, Old Chap
Here's how I know I received this gift: a loud and obnoxious verbal exhange happened in this house between my landlady and a family member. I was ready to righteously and justly berate the perpetrator. You would have agreed.

But I knew it would do no lasting good, so I stopped myself. I realized Satan was using this verbally cruel person to entice me, to "piss me off".

If I had intervened, that person would've merely ignored me. It would also have granted them the smug privilege of call me a hypocrite, while calling the police and saying they'd been attacked. [This tactic has been used before.]

You see, their selfishness was and is too deep for me to eradicate. They have to ask for the God of Love to change them. How will they do that if I pound them?

Winning any given battle is easy, really. One surprise attack and most foes are done for. Winning a war is hard. You have to take the longer view and win all the primary battles.

I have fought unwisely and lost before. I intend, from this day forward, to fight wisely and win.

I was 35 years old then. I am 50 now. Times change. People change.

And since, every year Jesus Christ looks wiser to me, my tactics must change:
Matthew 5: 44, 45
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous..."
God's tactic is to bless both and allow the grateful eternal life.

The ungrateful? Well, not so good. But at least they cannot say God was never good to them.

So my advice in waging war against evil is - be a son. Shine -  and don't let them eclipse your kindness and love.

John Bates taught me that.

Silly, I know, but true.

He really did.

Amen.