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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Christ

Heroism of Superman

Today we finish our first series of posts exploring the connection between comic book super heroes and spirituality. For anyone who hasn’t been following along, parts one through three of our discussion can be found here, here, and here.

The past two weeks have been very exciting for me to write. As my career in arts ministry moves forward, it is my hope that I will be able to find connections between my “secular” interests and my love for God and His Church. If we can find God in the places few people bother to look, I think we will open doors for amazing conversations regarding bigger issues than fictional characters in capes. We don’t need to be only involved in “church” or “religious” activities if we can find God in all areas of life. Today’s topic, is an excellent example: Superman, Christ or Messiah?

Seventy-five years ago, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold their hero to Detective Comics, forging the beginning of the super hero genre. The Man of Steel would go on to become perhaps the best known super hero, and an important cultural icon for the West. He has always stood for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and is loved by many around the world. Yet, his story is not unique.

I am not the first to point out the Christ-like nature of Superman. A powerful being is sent to Earth from far away by his father. He is raised by his adopted parents, who are simple, rural folk. He is a paragon of virtue, and aims to help humanity to realize its capacity for good. He is both a mild-mannered regular joe with a job, and a super human entity fighting for Good. And, he defies death.

The 2013 film Man of Steel makes further connections between Superman and Christ. After coming forward to the authorities, he claims to have been on Earth peacefully for 33 years, the approximate age of Jesus in the Gospels. When told by his father that he can “Save them all (humanity),” Superman floats in a very cross-like fashion before flying to save the day. It seems hard to deny the Christlikeness of Kal-El.

Yet I have to wonder, does Superman fit closer to the Christian idea of Jesus Christ, or the 1st century Jewish concept of Messiah? Some may not think there is much of a difference, but Jesus was different enough from the common understanding of the Messiah to warrant his rejection by much of the Jewish population in his day. They envisioned a conquering hero sent by God to save Israel and bring about God’s physical Kingdom. They wanted someone who would defeat the Romans. They did not want a Galilean carpenter and teacher.

So, which does Superman more closely fit into? For the Christian side, Superman is not a normal human. While Christ was fully man, he was also fully God.  The Jews were expecting someone anointed by God, but they were expecting a regular person. Superman does not fit that bill.

Superman also came to save everyone. There is no particular group that he is supposed to favour. Like Jesus, he came to teach all humanity. However, he is tied to the American Way, and tries desperately to be part of the American lifestyle. This could go either way.

Kal-El was sent by his father from far away. The relationship between father and son is more pronounced in the Christian faith, but it is visible in the Jewish Scriptures as well.  The kings of Israel (other “anointed ones”) were considered Sons of God, as was the nation of Israel itself. This may lean towards Christ, but the Jewish side is not far behind.

Superman, with all of his powers, connects with the miraculous nature of Jesus Christ. However, Superman uses his powers to physically battle those who threaten the innocent. Jesus was not known for getting into brawls with local Roman soldiers. The martial prowess of Superman falls firmly into the Messianic camp.

His name, Kal-El, is fictitious, but is similar to the Hebrew words for “voice of God.” As Christ is known as the Word, Kal-El seems to be a more Christian reference than Jewish, but that may just be my bias.

In the end, I think Superman is a brilliant combination of Christ and Messiah that was never meant to be either. Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster were Jewish, but they never meant for Superman to be an analogy for Moses, or the Messiah, or Jesus. I think there is something deeply rooted within each of us that yearns for a savior, and Superman is just that. A savior. A hero. Someone to be admired and looked up to and emulated. Someone to chase after, to run with in the sun.

These are my musings on Superman, but what do you think? More importantly, who is your hero? Who do you look up to, chase after, and run with? We all need heroes and role models, so who is yours?

Blessings

Why Artists Need the Church

My post on Monday made an argument for why the church needs art and the benefits of supporting the artists in our midst.  Today, I want to look at the issue from the other side and discuss why artists need to be involved in a community of faith. I know this will ruffle the feathers of those artists who disdain the restrictions and limitations that can come with associating with one particular church. Yet, as beings made in the image of our Creator God, we need to be part of His people for three reasons: to be functioning members of the body of Christ as spoken of in the New Testament, to be nurtured and guided on our spiritual journey, and to find a place where our art can be practiced, challenged, and grown.

One of Paul’s most-used metaphors for the Church is the body of Christ (See Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 3; Col. 1), and as Christian artists, we must accept that we are part of this body.  Just because we do not like how the body is being run, does not give us the right to leave altogether. Christian unity is vital for the Church, and we must join with our brothers and sisters if we want to show the world what it means to be Christian.  If we are living in community, showing love to those inside and outside the church, then anyone who comes looking to the church for answers to spiritual questions will be met by a richer example of the full life that Christ offers.

This is not going to be easy. Churches have their drama, just like any other group of people; we are still living in a fallen world, after all.  But if we can work at our relationships, talk through our differences, and let our needs be of less importance than the needs of others, then the body can function with amazing love and purpose.

This talk of community may sound exciting to some, but to many, the world of an artist is an often-solitary realm.  Painters can spend hours alone, unwilling to show a piece to anyone until it is finished. Songwriters need the space to explore the music they create before it is first performed.  Writers are rarely great conversationalists while they are enthralled in their work.  As I write this blog, I sit alone in my house, drinking decaf coffee with my back to the world outside.  We need time by ourselves to sift through our imaginations before we can bring the gold to the outside world.

But this aloneness can become loneliness very quickly.  The church, however, is a community that meets regularly, giving a reclusive artist an excellent excuse to meet with others on a regular basis.  Weekend services, Bible studies, women’s retreats, and men’s ministries allow us to connect with other human beings and realize that we are part of a greater whole. Joining with others as they celebrate, mourn, question, doubt, live, and worship, is a great part of what it is to be human.  By seeing the world through the eyes of others, we can gain a better view of the bigger picture, for our own sight is limited by the experience of only one life.

It is this shared experience that gives us the final reason to join with others in worshipping God: we are given a place to grow as artists. Gaining perspective on the lives of others will enrich the work of an artist before he or she even begins their next project, for it is in communicating the universal truths of our existence that art becomes memorable. A church can support an artist while the physical and emotional roller coaster of artistic creation takes its toll. It will be there to celebrate the victories, and to help clean up the failures. The church is also a ready-made audience for an artist, and better yet, an audience that wants its artist to succeed. This kind of crowd is far more rare in the secular world.

It is also in this congregational setting that our art can undergo the hard work of growth.  Criticism is the constant companion of an artist, and this truth will not go away in the church. Yet listening to the opinions of our critics can push us to greater and greater works of art. We may also find mentors who can help us train well, and ensure that we stay within the light as we explore the truth of a fallen world. If we push ourselves to create better art, to both glorify God and to uplift our brothers and sisters, then we will find that the results will gradually become more and more stunning. The church can give us this opportunity to push.

Too many artists have left the church because the church has not recognized the value of the artist, or because the artist has not recognized the value of the church. In reality, both artist and the church need to realize that they need each other. The life, beauty, and power that an artist can bring to the body cannot be found anywhere else.  The opportunities for spiritual and artistic growth that a church can provide to an artist should not be discarded or forgotten. For when these two groups, often at odds, come together to worship and glorify the God of all Creation, real beauty is found.

 

Blessings

 

 

 

The Beginning of a Journey

Welcome to Epic Theology.

This blog is a place to explore the relationship between God and the arts. As an Arts Pastor-in-training, I have spent much of the past two years contemplating the relationship between God and artists, between artists and art, and between art and God. As a student, however, there are only so many papers that professors will accept on these subjects, and I have more that I want to say. I also know that my experience is limited and woefully inadequate for such an imposing conversation. That is what this blog is for: to start a conversation with other passionate people about two of my favourite things: God and art.

I admit my bias and viewpoint up front: I am a Christian above all. I was raised Catholic and am now a practicing Evangelical; Christ is the centre of my life. However, I want this blog to be a place for exciting and varied conversation. If you disagree with my thoughts on God, by all means, chime in. If you disagree with my thoughts on art, I relish the chance to chat.  It is a rare occurrence that we are challenged by those who agree with us,  and I have found the greatest opportunities for growth come through seeing the world from a different vantage point.

I believe we are all part of an over-arching narrative. A story of good and evil. A story of the brokenness of humanity and the miraculous power of forgiveness. A story of hope.  I get to see this grand story played out in miniature all the time, from the Christological imagery of Superman to the recurring cycle of life and death that plays out in a garden. I may be just a bit player in the meta-narrative of humankind, but I long to see the bigger picture of God’s work. If enough people get together to recount their experiences, I believe a clearer picture will come through. When we start to look for it, the spiritual story of the world is everywhere. I think that’s neat.

Many will read this first post and be done, having found what I have to say uninteresting, ignorant, or blasphemous. My hope is that some will continue on this journey with me, to agree or disagree with me as they are led. If this is you, I say welcome. The world is on a path through the most exciting adventure we could ever know and we can get involved if we want.  That, dear friends, is Epic Theology.

Blessings

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