Friday, June 30, 2006

Son of Jor-El

I’m eager to see the new Superman movie, especially after reading and hearing about it. My friend Karen tells me that the actor who takes Christopher Reeve’s place as Superman is absolutely wonderful and just as handsome, to boot. The Superman I grew up with was played by George Reeves—not as handsome, but just as powerful.

I want to share part of an article called “Superman Returns” by Drew Dyck, taken from the Boundless Webzine, an “e-newsletter” published by Focus on the Family ( . Also, you can read everything you ever wanted to know (or didn’t) about Superman on Wikipedia ( .

Like my childhood fantasy, this Superman story came with some Christian ideas thrown in. A lot of them. So many it made me wonder whether I was sitting in a theater or a church.

The film's opening lines sound like a bad translation of the Gospel of John. Superman's father delivers a posthumous message to his son:

"Even though you've been raised as a human being, you're not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all — their capacity for good — I have sent them you, my only son."

Scriptural echoes don't stop there. Superman's relationship to his father remains a focal point. "The son is in the father, and the father is in the son," is a recurrent line. Then there's the suffering servant motif. In one scene Superman suffers at the hands of his enemies in a manner reminiscent of Golgotha, right down to receiving a wound in his side. In another scene, after making a dramatic rescue, Superman "dies," falling from the sky with arms outstretched in the unmistakable shape of the cross. So explicit are the parallels that CNN dubbed the movie "another gospel" for Christian movie fans.

So what are we to make of this?

Well, CNN may be overstating things a bit. This movie is no fifth gospel. In fact it's not even perfect allegory; it's echo and allusion. The Man of Steel is no Man of Sorrows, no matter how much you play up the similarities. With his sculpted body and flashy powers Superman calls to mind the gods of ancient Greece — not the Jesus of the Bible. Still it is intriguing to see a Hollywood movie addressing Messianic themes, however imperfectly.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is what the movie says about us. Superman Returns has a powerful and distinctly Christian message about our need for a savior. For this reason I think the film could serve as an excellent starting point for fruitful discussions between Christians and unbelieving friends.

The strongest commentary on this topic comes in the interactions between Superman and Lois Lane. Lois, the hard-nosed reporter, has won the Pulitzer Prize for writing an article entitled, "Why the world doesn't need Superman." In one especially poignant scene series, she lashes out at Superman, "The world doesn't need a Savior and neither do I!" Superman doesn't respond immediately. Instead he takes her up for a flight into the silence of the stratosphere.

"What do you hear?" he asks her.

"Nothing," she replies.

For a moment we hear through Superman's ears: A chorus of a thousand desperate voices rings in his head.

"I hear everything," he tells her.

Back on the ground he makes his point. "In your article you wrote that people don't need a Savior, yet everyday I hear people crying for one."

This struck me as a powerful exchange. It may sound like a simple idea: that people need a savior. But to see this idea developed in the context of a big budget movie is rather remarkable. Hollywood films tend to preach a gospel of self-sufficiency. In movies the moment of salvation usually comes when the character stops looking for help from others and starts seeking strength from within. That's when triumph is at hand — when the character musters the self-confidence or courage to prevail. . . .

Superman Returns is different. It entertains no such illusions about our abilities. In this way it echoes important biblical teaching. In Scripture, supreme self-confidence isn't lauded as heroic, it's denounced as sin. Righteousness is described as total dependence on God. It's realizing that we're sinful and fallen. Only once we turn to the Savior with humility and gratitude are we saved.

We're not much for saviors these days. We prefer to think that we have all the necessary resources to save ourselves. Relying on a savior makes us feel weak, needy and desperate. But the truth is that we are weak, needy and desperate. And really, that's the first tenet of the gospel: Spiritually, we all need a Savior.

Of course Superman Returns highlights this theme only by way of metaphor. The Superhero saves bodies, not souls. Yet the story seems to argue for the necessity of a savior, which is a refreshing theme to encounter in a secular film.

This week millions of moviegoers will settle into theater seats looking for entertainment. Hopefully, they will find much more. Just maybe they will leave the movie thinking about their own need for a Savior. And we as Christians must be prepared to tell them His name.

And in case you're wondering, it's not Superman.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Divine Distraction

I think large numbers of Christians today are getting very distracted from the main business of seeking God, building a relationship with him, caring for the needy, and sharing his love with others in every way possible.

For example. . .

A few days ago, I read in the newspaper this Associated Press article by Richard N. Ostling; I quote a little of it:

The divine Trinity—“Father, Son and Holy Spirit”—could also be known as “Mother, Child and Womb” or “Rock, Redeemer, Friend” at some Presbyterian Church (USA) services under an action Monday by the church’s national assembly.

Delegates to the meeting voted to “receive” a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. That means church officials can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won’t be required to use them.

. . . One reason is that language limited to the Father and Son “has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women,” the panel said.

Conservatives responded that the church should stick close to the way God is named in the Bible and noted that Jesus’ most famous prayer was addressed to “Our Father.”

Early in Monday’s business session, (they) sang a revised version of a familiar doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” that avoided male nouns and pronouns for God.

Omygoodness. We get so carried away with worry over political correctness that we try not to call God “he” or “Father”? I have trouble imagining that my heart could be fully turned to him in worship if my mind is having to work so hard, watching for offensive pronouns and nouns.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Chasing After the Wind

Off in the other room, the TV was droning on, getting louder as a commercial began. I heard a man’s voice say, “Where you go in life is up to you.”

I’m sure he did not intend the reaction he got from me. I thought about how very true that statement is.

You can accept the incredible love of God through Jesus Christ; live a life of service, joy, peace, and love; then go to be with him when you die.

Or—you can refuse him; live a life as a cynical pessimist, empty and longing all your life; and then go to hell when you die. It’s your choice—God doesn’t send people to hell.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we see perhaps the first existentialist—the first to write down thoughts about his feelings of emptiness. Solomon, son of King David, wrote the book while he was king. He found that happiness and fulfillment did not come to him along with possessions and power. He tried big projects, great wealth, power over slaves, and pleasure with women, in an effort to find meaning and purpose to satisfy his heart.

But he was weighed down by cynicism, depression, heaviness of heart. He realized that no matter what, it all ended in death. Life was meaningless. He said, “I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Solomon saw that happiness is found only in God. Everywhere he could see people running after things without meaning. He said, “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Solomon saw what is true even today. Modern Americans are caught up in this “chasing after the wind”—busier than ever—unhappier than ever—farther from God than ever. We don't have to be like that. It's our choice.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Gift of Letters

I received an amazing treasure a few days ago. I found bundles of letters, probably at least a hundred, written by my father to my mother. Some were written during their courtship and early marriage, in 1937-39. And the others he wrote from the Philippine Islands and the Admiralty Islands where he was stationed with the Navy during 1944-45.

I cried many buckets of tears while reading the love letters. They have shown me a side of my dad that I didn’t know existed. I always knew he adored my mother, but I never knew that he was so articulate about his love, as I see in those first letters. He was always soft-spoken and a little shy—I guess, around everybody but her. He died in 1988.

I wrote an article about the experience and submitted it for a contest connected with a literary nonfiction conference. I really would like to win a prize—but if I don’t, it won’t matter one bit, because I mainly wrote it for my family. My mother has read it several times, and she said she felt romanced all over again by him.

The value of such letters and personal journals is inestimable. When we leave those records of our thoughts, straight from our hearts, we are giving our families—especially our children—a piece of our living selves that they can always keep. What a wonderful gift.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fishers of Men

On Sunday, the pastor of my church said something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

He said that when people go fishing, they use a fishing pole or rod and reel. This is not a little-known fact. But it’s the introduction to his main point. My son, for example, loves to fly-fish, and I like to watch the line whish out in a roll. (Here he is, doing it!) He catches one fish at a time, preferably a large rainbow trout or a brown trout.

When Jesus fished, he used a net. Nets catch whatever happens to be in the way. He cast it out and brought it back in with whatever it caught. He sought everyone--he was known (and criticized) for socializing with "sinners," tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, people with terrible conditions of all kinds. Jesus taught some fishermen to be "fishers of men," and those people were the kind who fished with nets.

What does that mean for us? It means we should not be picky about who we try to share Christ with. We should not be concerned about who looks friendly or who smells good or who would fit in with the crowd in our church. We should cast out his love everywhere—send it abroad as a net. Let it bring in whoever it can.