OK, my previous attempt at creating a theological discusssion failed dramatically. Here's another try.
Hollywood is attempting to move away (in its own way) from a white, male dominated narrative; i.e. the white male superhero comes in and kills the bad guy, saves the world and gets the girl.
Now here's the thing, I reckon ("I" being white, middle aged, middle class and male) the latest pro-African movie (Black Panther) and feminist movie (Tomb Raider) seem to challenge that narrative.
I don't think they do. Why? Well, because the hero (T'Challa or Lara) still uses the same methods as the white dude to carry out their mission (Batman, Superman or Spiderman). This constitutes mainly violence and the threat of violence.
OK, my theological problem with both of these films, and most others is this. By the way, this is the theology bit. Christ triumphed over evil, sin and the evil one, not by violence (redemptive violence Hiebert calls it) but by suffering on the cross. This questions Hollywood's actual narrative (actual as contemporary and actual as the real narrative); i.e. violence is a [the] solution to geo-global issues.
John's gospel makes it abundantly, and disturbingly (as His followers) clear that the divine method of redemption follows the course of suffering not triumph. In John's passion narrative, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of (ek) this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from (ek) another place” (John 18 36, NIV). It is clear from what Jesus says that this "other place " (where his kingdom comes from) does not consider violence as a solution to political issues [i.e. who is king?], unlike our movies.
Then later in the narrative this interchange takes place, "When Pilate heard this [this being, that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and therefore king], he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” [cf. John 18:36] he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:8-11), Even with the power to free himself, Jesus did not consider violence as the solution to his, rather critical predicament.Matthew 26:53 clarifies that legions of angel could be drafted in to resolve Jesus' problem but he would not do so and therefore, Peter's use of violence was not needed.
Two issues emerge here. Firstly, where Jesus comes from, the heart of the Father, violence does not solve political issues. Secondly, even when God himself, has the power to free himself via violence, he chooses not to. Suffering is preferable to violence These are both counter-cultural narratives and put into stark relief two films which claim an alternative narrative. They change the colour or gender of the hero but don't change the essential problem.
Some questions to consider. Firstly, is it possible to make a film where "anti-racist" and feminist values are promoted? Secondly, is it possible to have a film that does not simply nod to the massive talent of black actors and to female actors but also promotes their values (I am assuming that both are non-violent and willing to suffer; cf the suffragette movement)? And finally, can the, what I consider to be, the alt-right narrative of Hollywood films be changed and thereby redeemed for the kingdom of God?
My critique is that pro-African and Feminist media have not emgraced a radical enough agenda, or is it simply violence sells?
Comments please. Shoot me down!
The Guardian ran a story this week “We need the darkest Christmas stories. These are dark times”. Basically its message was that the writer was sick of glitz and cloying schmaltz and wanted a bit of of pagan magic with her mince pies. She mentions several darker stories but doesn’t actually get down to telling us why times are so dark. I guess it’s obvious!
Trump threatening nuclear war in the Korean peninsula, the imponderables of Brexit, homelessness on the rise, strains on the NHS, protests against the government in Argentina, Spain and many other countries, the ongoing fight against ISIS, the terrible war in Yemen, sexual harassment of girls, FGM, the list goes on.
So we want to drown our misery in glitz and schmaltz or do we stare into the darkness of our own darkened souls and despair? Or is their alternative?
The real Christmas story offers such an alternative. What could be darker than the Nativity? Suspected adultery, possible divorce, astrology, a despotic king plotting the death of a rival, a Middle Eastern family fleeing oppression, infanticide, and displacement of a vulnerable family to a foreign country: and that’s just Matthew’s gospel! Definitely not for the children. One can hear the outraged headline in the Daily Mail.
“Children traumatised by ‘realistic’ Nativity. Is this what Christmas is about?”
Well, frankly, yes. It is about all these things. It is about danger to the vulnerable, power plays by the despotic, scandal, murder and uncomfortable foreigners. That is exactly what Christmas is about.
But into this darkness comes something else. The baby and child at the centre of this whirlpool of dark forces, brings hope. Not the hope of escape from the darkness, because, as we know, thirty years on, he is the victim of, just as dark political forces jockeying for position in an equally deadly game. Rather, the hope this story brings is hope in that darkness. It is the hope that says, despite all the evil, despite the machinations of the rich, despite your utter impotence to escape, God is there, he is still there.
God doesn’t give us glitz and schmaltz to drown our sorrows. He doesn’t forces us to look into the dark soul of human despair. Jesus Christ shows us a reality far grittier than any Oliver Stone movie but the hope is that God still in control. There is, in C.S. Lewis’ words, “the deeper magic”. This is the deeper magic of resurrection.
A Methodist theologian from Uruguay, Federico Pagura wrote a Tango about this.
Because he entered the world and history;
because he broke the silence and agony;
because he filled the earth with his glory;
because he was light in our cold night.
Because he was born in a dark manger;
because he lived sowing love and life;
because broke hard hearts and
raised the downcast souls.
For this reason we have hope;
For this reason we fight with vigor;
For this reason we look with confidence to the future (in this my land).
Because he attacked ambitious merchants
and denounced wickedness and hypocrisy;
because he exalted children and women
and rejected those that burned with pride.
Because he carried the cross of our griefs
and savored the gall of our wrongs;
because he accepted to suffer our condemnation,
and so die for all mortals.
Because a bright dawn saw his great victory
over death, fear and lies;
now nothing can stop his story,
nor his eternal Kingdom nor his return.
Christmas news from Paul and Wilma
A few years ago (2011), we had the pleasure of hosting C. René Padilla in our home. I had been at the 10 year review of the Micah Declaration. René was there, as were other important majority world mission leaders such as Melba Maggay, C.B. Samuel, and Vinoth Ramachandra. On the Sunday René was to preach in our home church. We had a BBQ on the Sunday afternoon and invited various students to come and chat.As is his wont, René spoke a great deal about the church. One of the students asked, "but René what is the church?" He replied "simple, 'where two or three are gathered in my name'" (Matthew 18:20).
I tell that story because, in my conversations and reading, I am increasingly getting the feeling that we really don't know what the Church is. This simple, almost reductionist answer reveals a great deal.
I spoke last Sunday at that same church on Matthew 1-2; a Nativity play not for the children and one thing I emphasised was from Matthew 1:23, which quotes from Isaiah 7:14, ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).' God with us is the presence of the living God among humanity. At the end of Matthew the Great Commission ends with a promise, "And I will be with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Returning to René's quote of 18:20
These three verses--Matthew 1:23; 18:20 and 28:20-point us to the essence of Church.