Assemble! Life and faith lessons from superhero movies

capYes, I’ll admit it up front.  I’m a superhero geek and I absolutely love those kinds of movies.  If it involves superheroes, I’ll, at least, give it a try.

So, as I’m writing this, I can’t even begin to rattle off the names of the superhero movies I’ve watched and the number of times I’ve watched them.  I do have hopes for Batman and Justice League, but, at the moment, I’m opting for Marvel’s world as my favorite.

In watching these movies, I think that are some clear patterns that speak to us about our lives, our faith and church.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts that hit me:

Story matters.  Some of the worst superhero movies are the ones that assume everyone knows the story already.  They leave out huge details and important character moments.  However the latest Marvel efforts have done an incredible job of telling the story.  I, for one, was never a particular fan of the first of the Thor movies.  Entering into this movie, I had little expectation for the movie because I was not as familiar with the story arcs.

However, the movie told me a story of someone dealing with his own arrogance, running away from something he didn’t really want to be and struggling to find his place.  At the end of it, we all share a common story.

Is there a lesson for us, for our lives, for the church?  Everyone is a part of the story and a way that we become a part of a community is to start to share those stories together.

Bumps and All.  Maybe, in our fear, we sometimes want to present ourselves as having it together better than others (or, at least, appear to have it together when others see us).  Maybe, that’s why I’ve been most impressed with the Marvel efforts.  Even superheros struggle.

  • Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is arrogant, a loner, who is living in the shadow of his father and dealing with his own legacy as a weapons maker.
  • Thor is arrogant and thinks more of himself than maybe he should.  Yet, in one of his most vulnerable moments he learns compassion and empathy and is prepared to sacrifice himself.
  • Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, begins as a weak person who doesn’t have a desire to hurt others.  He simply doesn’t want to see bullies win.

The greatness of their stories is captured in their ability to overcome their “weaknesses.”  Every superhero has a weakness — even Superman (Kryptonite!).

In scripture, Paul wrote many times about his weaknesses and how God helped him to overcome them.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  

Because he has come to grips with his own strengths and weakness, Paul gives us a glimpse of a better story.  It’s “boasting” in weakness because it points to God at work.

Our own life stories are about our growth and abilities to deal with our weaknesses and our past pains, hurts, etc.  In the journey of life, we experience ups and downs, light and darkness, strengths and weaknesses.

We come to grips with our own strengths, our own weaknesses and our own struggles on the path to growing more and more in the image of Christ.

There is a bigger picture.  One of the fun things about Marvel’s movies comes at the end.  You sit through the thousands of names of people who worked on the movie and through the additional songs added to the soundtrack to get you there, but you do it for a reward — the big payoff.

The reward is a brief snippet, a 90 second clip, that takes the story you’ve just watched and ties it to the bigger picture.  In the case of Marvel movies, it is to advance the story by tying it to the bigger picture of the Avengers.   Marvel uses these post-credit scenes to introduce new characters that will be part of the next phase.

Whether it is at the end of Hulk, Iron Man or Thor movies, these clips are small snippets that point us to a bigger story.

That also can help us to understand our own journeys and our faith experiences. When we are willing to see it, we can see the “snippets” of what God is up to in our lives and the lives around us.  Those small snippets point us to bigger picture of what God is doing in the world.  God works in the lives of all kinds of people and and God speaks through all kinds of stories.

The reward for us working our way through the credits, in reading through the bigger picture of Scripture, is that we find they are connected to what God is ultimately doing in the world.

Strength in unity.  The endgame of Marvel’s efforts with its current string of movies is the Avengers brand.  Maybe you remember the clip where Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) asks Tony Stark/Iron Man if he thinks he is the only hero in the world.

It’s an invitation to see the world as bigger than your own efforts. In fact, it’s an invitation to be a part of something much larger than we can imagine.  In this case, Marvel is pointing to the idea of superheros being more than the sum of their parts when they work together.   The goal for the Avengers is to “assemble.”

Superheroes, though, can struggle to team up with one another.  We can struggle in our own ways to “team up” with others in our family, workplace, school or church.  Our efforts can be dashed by pride, jealousy,  greed or the insistence on doing it our own way.

We could build incredible, life-changing, world-altering teams if we could see that we are stronger working together than we are on our own.  What if the endgame really was to build the Kingdom of God and not simply restock the castle of the church?

Jesus’ prayer for his disciples and, ultimately, for us is that we would be one as he and God are one.  That’s a prayer for a powerful team-up.

Leaders lead. Part of the fun of the superhero movie is seeing a character make that transition from running from their gifts to using them to help others.  There’s an awesome scene in the movie, “UnBreakable,” where Bruce Willis’ character is pulled out of the water (his kryptonite) and as he pulls himself to the side of the pool and stands up straight, we know that his life is never going to be the same again.  At some point, all heroes take on the mantle of leadership.

Not every decision works.  But leaders take responsibility and they take on the risks of leadership.  Heroes lead in incredible ways and make some brilliant decisions in the world of the comics.  Yet, they also can have epic failures.  (It’s part of the nature of comic stories that the hero is going to fail to stop the villain at least once.  Ultimately, the hero wins but must accept and learn from the failure.)

God is the ultimate leader when it comes to our faith.  God never fails. Yet, sometimes we do.  With God’s help, we are not defined by our failures.  Instead, God gives us the ability to reset, restore and redeem our life stories.  Ultimately, with God’s assistance, we do the defeat the “enemy.”

It doesn’t take a hero to lead.  It just takes someone who is willing to take on the risks required to make it happen and to lean on God.

Maybe, those superhero stories speak to you as well.  Maybe, you’ll be challenged to become the “hero” in our own life story.  Great “heroes” need a connection to the God who is always greater.


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