On Monday, I started a conversation about the theological and faith-centered issues we can draw out of our modern day super heroes. Today, I want to talk about everyone’s favourite band of genetic misfits: The X-Men.
We’ve all been there. Feeling like we are completely different from those around us. Puberty, with its radical physical and emotional changes, can make even the strongest high school kid feel like a freak. The reality we had known throughout our entire childhood comes to a dramatic shift as we are forced to deal with the awkward growth spurts, voice changes, and hormonal imbalances. Everyone else, on the other hand, seems to have everything together.
The X-Men address these issues with a subtlety rarely matched in literature. It is impossible to fit in if you are blue and furry. Or if you suck the life out of someone by holding hands. Or if you shoot concussive force out of your eyes. The average high school student today might not have the physical abnormalities of the mutants, but it can certainly feel like it. No one else seems to be going through the changes we are, so we must be freaks. The 2000 X-Men movie makes the obvious comparison by claiming that many mutants see the onset of their powers at puberty.
The physical changes are not the only issue that many young people feel. The emergence of our personalities can become very strong in our mid to late teens. Unfortunately, this is a time where divergence from the “norm” is akin to a deadly sin. Liking classical music, or a love of facial piercings can make a youth stand out from his or her peers, often at the cost of ridicule and humiliation. Like the mutants, our youth often try to hide who they are in order to fit in. It’s a shame, for it’s in our diversity that the true beauty of humankind shines forth.
Yet youth are not the only people who feel like they don’t fit in. Those of us on a spiritual journey are often the butt of many jokes in our secular society. What kind of person prays several times a day? Who spends their Sunday morning at church when they could be sleeping in? Who has the time to meditate? Trying to live a spiritual life in a material world can make many spiritual seekers and the religiously faithful feel like outcasts among their own people.
The X-men, however, do not accept their lot in life with passive submission. They learn to fully realize who they were made to be, and turn their “freakishness” into tools to help the rest of humanity. To help with this lesson, I want to look at some of the stories of the X-men and how the characters deal with being different.
Wolverine is perhaps the best-known and most-loved of the X-men. He is the ultimate bad-boy with a disposition towards good. His ability to heal nearly any wound is usually easy to hide from those around him, but his incredibly slow aging and deep seated desire for revenge make it difficult for Logan (his real name) to keep friends. The fact that he is always carrying weapons in his forearms makes his temper even more dangerous. Wolverine is a wanderer, never at rest for very long…until he meets Professor Xavier and the X-men. As part of this group of super heroes, Logan is able to realize that the abilities he has been gifted with can be used for something greater than himself. If he can turn his drive from the dwelling on the past to looking forward to the future, he can be a valuable member of the team and a hero for humanity.
Cyclops, on the other hand, has been with Professor Xavier from the beginning. As soon as his powers manifest, he is taken in by Professor X and taught how to control them. He becomes the by-the-book leader of the X-men, using his powers to stop those who would cause harm to others. While Scott Summers may not be the most fascinating character study, he does give hope that with help, we can all get through difficult transitions in our lives and come out better than before.
I find Nightcrawler to be the most fascinating of the X-men. Born with a very visible mutation, Kurt Wagner is unable to live like a normal human being. His dark fur, glowing eyes, three-fingered hands, two-toed feet, fangs, and tail make him look like the very image of a medieval demon. Ironically, however, he is a devout Catholic with an overt spirituality rarely seen in comic books. He finds solace from his freakishness by devoting himself to a higher power. His love for adventure and excitement often causes conflict with his faith, but who hasn’t undergone a similar experience? Nightcrawler is an excellent example of a spiritual person just trying to fit in on earth while seeking the approval of God.
For each of the mutants, Professor Xavier and his school are the opportunity for something we all yearn for: true community. The school is a beautiful picture of inclusive community, as very few of the mutants share much in common beyond the fact that they are “different.” Their differences mean little to them, because it is this difference from the world that brings them together. So too should we, as people yearning for community, overlook our differences to find the commonality among us. If we can find that one thing to grasp on to and say “We have this together,” then perhaps community will grow around us.
In the end, we, like the mutants, have a choice. Do we dwell in our freakishness, whatever that may be, and hide from everyone? Do we become angry, join Magneto’s Brotherhood, and lash out at those who spurn us? Or do we accept our differences, join together, and aim to leave this world a better place than when we found it?
To close, I have to wonder: who is your Charles Xavier? Who is the one who will accept you, no matter what baggage you bring, but refuses to let you dwell on your garbage? For me, Jesus Christ took me in, is teaching me that my love of art and the church are reconcilable, and pushes me on towards a better tomorrow.
What makes you a freak? And what are you going to do about it?