Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Captain America - Patriotism, heroics and evil

This week my oldest daughter is visiting with us from South Carolina. We decided the night before last that we should watch a movie together rather than letting me watch my usual Monday night fare (sports and/or wrestling). So... we sat in the family room and watched the recent release of Captain America: The First Avenger. This is one of five Marvel super hero films that were prequels to this summer's blockbuster film The Avengers, and it was in my opinion the best of the bunch. Captain America is something of a period piece in that it is set during World War II, with the primary villain being a Nazi version of the super soldier named Red Skull. Red Skull's plan includes harnessing the energy of the tesseract, a mystical power source first introduced to us in the Thor movie, and using it to conquer the entire world including overthrowing Hitler. Our hero Captain America is a former scrawny weakling transformed by the super soldier serum. While his powers are not super, so to speak, he does have the ability to use the full potential of a perfectly physically fit human.

Ultimately, this film is an old-time good guy/bad guy story. Cap is the consummate "white hat" hero.
He's the very traditional "never thinks a bad thought" good guy, and I kind of like that. Of course, as good as Captain America is, the Red Skull is equally as evil. This sets up that very traditional good vs. evil conflict that hearkens back to the early days of Hollywood, but it is done with a modern style that makes it refreshing and quite a bit of fun. All in all, especially if you're a comic book fan like me, I highly recommend this film. It's a good origin story and it sets up the Avengers movie really well. But as always, I watch movies looking for the spiritual angle, and that is where this film shies the brightest.

Steve Rogers is an everyman. He even identifies himself later in the film as "just a kid from Brooklyn." But he is chosen as the experiment for the super soldier serum for a reason. Check out the following two pieces of dialogue from the film:

Abraham Erskine: Do you want to kill Nazis?
Steve Rogers: Is this a test?
Abraham Erskine: Yes.
Steve Rogers: I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies; I don't care where they're from.
And then later, just before he undergoes the transformation:
Steve Rogers: Can I ask a question?
Abraham Erskine: Just one?
Steve Rogers: Why me?
Abraham Erskine: I suppose that's the only question that matters.
Abraham Erskine: [Displaying a wine bottle] This is from Augsburg, my city. So many people forget that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own. You know, after the last war, they... My people struggled. They... they felt weak... they felt small. Then Hitler comes along with the marching, and the big show, and the flags, and the, and the... and he... he hears of me, and my work, and he finds me, and he says "You." He says "You will make us strong." Well, I am not interested. So he sends the head of Hydra, his research division, a brilliant scientist by the name of Johann Schmidt. Now Schmidt is a member of the inner circle and he is ambitious. He and Hitler share a passion for occult power and Teutonic myth. Hitler uses his fantasies to inspire his followers, but for Schmidt, it is not fantasy. For him, it is real. He has become convinced that there is a great power hidden in the earth, left here by the gods, waiting to be seized by a superior man. So when he hears about my formula and what it can do, he cannot resist. Schmidt must become that superior man.
Steve Rogers: Did it make him stronger?
Abraham Erskine: Yeah, but... there were other... effects. The serum was not ready. But more important, the man. The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great; bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because the strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows... compassion.
Steve Rogers: Thanks. I think.
Abraham Erskine: [Gesturing toward the wine] Get it, get it. Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man.

Each and every one of us is called to be a super soldier of sorts. We are all called to our fullest potential in Christ. Christ can amplify what is best in us, and our own sinful nature can amplify what is worst in us. But we are all called, not to perfection, but to a greater good. In that, Captain America is one of the better examples of our true calling in Christ than most of the super heroes out there. Is he perfect? Absolutely not. But is he good? Most often, yes. And that is a good ideal to strive for in this life.

By the way, I'm still preaching that series on super heroes that I've titled "Holy Heroes, Batman!" This week we're looking at the Invincible Iron Man and trying to understand how his story informs us about being good stewards of our God-given gifts. 8AM on Jenkinson's Beach south or 10AM in the sanctuary.

Grace and Peace!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

JUNE Project Mission Trip report

Well I said I was going to try to post every week and, except for last week's mission trip, I've kept that going... so far. Anyway, this week I'd like to bore you to tears with a little report about the mission trip that I participated in last week with several of the youth from Central UMC in Point Pleasant Beach. Above you'll see a picture of most of the people that participated in this year's JUNE Project, a mission experience for youth that takes place in central Pennsylvania. JUNE Project, which stands for Jesus Unites Neighbors Everywhere, has been going on for over twenty years now and has been ministering to the communities of Reading, Pottsville, Hamburg and Hazelton. This year the church that I am serving sent three youth and two adults to be part of the team of over one hundred twenty servants. Each day begins with a hearty carbohydrate loaded breakfast before we split up into teams and head out to our work sites. The Central group worked with youth and adults from Erma Tabernacle UMC, Edison New Dover UMC, and Millville First UMC cleaning up and beautifying an area of Pottsville called Overlook Park. Here's what it looked like when we arrived:
A wonderful plant called Japanese knotweed had taken over the park in the last year since a crew had cleaned it up. In fact, this was the fifth year in a row that a crew from June Project had been working on this park. Take a look at what it was looking like by Friday afternoon:
Our work included massive amounts of weeding, laying in mulch and gravel, reconstructing stone path borders and ongoing construction of a pergola. While the work was not completely finished when we left on Friday, our hope is that some members of the community will feel empowered by the progress that has taken place and continue the upkeep of the park. As you may have noticed from the pictures, there's not a whole lot of shade in this park and it can get fairly hot in July and August, so kudos to everyone who participated in that no one was overcome by the heat or the labor. Also, there was a lot of fellowship and worship that took place on this trip, something that the youth especially appreciated. This was my ninth mission trip overall and I'm already planning for numbers ten and eleven. I find that there is little in this world so satisfying as knowing that I'm serving God's people in the way that God would serve, and in doing so with brothers and sisters in Christ. I challenge all Christians to live out their faith in tangible ways by serving whenever and wherever you can.

By the way, if you'd like to see a video report of the trip featuring the youth that participated and some of the fun events that we shared together, check out the Central UMC of Point Pleasant Beach Facebook page.

Also, we're still looking at comic book super heroes and how their stories inform our faith each Sunday morning. This week will be all about anger, its risks and its benefits, as we try to understand Marvel's the Incredible Hulk.

Grace and Peace!