Is the Golden Rule still the Golden Standard?

Golden_Rule_by_Norman_RockwellThe term ‘gold standard’ was the system they used for rating the rate of currency to the gold for which it could be exchanged. The gold standard was mostly abandoned during the Great Depression of the 1930s; but the phrase stuck around to represent that that something is the best and should be used to gauge how good other items in that category are. Another ‘golden’ phrase that has been around for thousands of years is now commonly known as the Golden Rule. The term “Golden Rule” was coined as early as 17th century Britain by Anglican theologians/preacher Thomas Jackson and British novelist Charles Gibbon. Anglican preacher Thomas Jackson used the term “Golden Rule” to represent a specific ‘rule’ given by Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is quoted as saying for us to “do to others what you want them to do to you” is a perfect summary of the Torah. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus finishes by saying that, “(t)his is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.” Historians have pointed out that this idea of ‘treating others as we would want them to be treated’ is not unique to Jesus nor was he historically the first person to instruct or suggest his people to do this; but while there is a similarity, there are still differences to the ‘Golden Rule’ that is found elsewhere.346px-The_Sermon_on_the_Mount_-_William_Brassey_Hole

The versions of the ‘Golden Rule’ have been found in countless written works; and has been used in many religions and belief systems:

African Traditional Religions: One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. (Yoruba Proverb – Nigeria)

Aristotle: We should behave to our friends as we wish our friends to behave to us.

Baha’i Faith: He should not wish for others that which he doth not wish for himself.

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Udanavarga 5:18)

Christianity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and love thy neighbor as thyself.

Confucius: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23)

Hinduism: Do nothing to they neighbor which thou wouldst not have them do to thee. “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517)

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.

Jainism: A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.

Judaism: What you hate, do not do to anyone.

Sikh: As thou deemst thyself, so deem others.

Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.

Zoroastrianism: Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.

The Golden Rule is now known by social psychologists as the Law of Reciprocity, which they surmise that when ‘someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. As a matter of fact, you may even reciprocate with a gesture far more generous than their original good deed.’ In regards to Biblical teaching, you could call the Law of Reciprocity, the ‘Law of Sowing and Reaping’. Though the ‘Golden Rule’, through its many variations, has major differences; but it is the Golden Rule as presented by Jesus that we see a positive command to show love proactively. The inverted nature of the non-Christian ‘Golden Rule’ will rely on passivity and are stated negatively.

Even though the ‘golden rule’ is closely associated with the Christian religion, the ethics of this concept are universal. The message was clear from everyone from African tribes to John the Baptist to Buddha…’treat others the way we want to be treated’. Sadly we have prematurely forgotten about this or that despite its many variations….it must have gotten lost in translation.

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Images:

An Illustration of the Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell used as the cover of the April 1, 1961 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, obtained from http://www.flavinscorner.com/goldrock.JPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47391481

The Sermon on the Mount by William Hole, http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/artist49352/William-Brassey-Hole/page-1, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34083673

La Justice by Bernard d’Agesci, painter (Jeffdelonge pict) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8713098

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Water Flowing Through My Place in this World

IMG_0637 2My mom has always said, in times of trials and tribulations, that ‘this place is not my home’. She was of course referencing Bible verses found in the book of John that tell us that we are “not of the world” and that God’s “Kingdom is not of this world.” John 17:16 that says, “(T)hey are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” and this is a verse that a lot of Christians lean towards in our modern times. They lean on the the hope of what is to come; just as much as the Jews and Christians that would have read these words 2000 years ago. My current place in this world isn’t that bad. Saying that “I am blessed” may be a cliche thing for Christians and non-Christians alike to say; but in comparison to so so many, I am. When I think about someone being grateful for their current situation; I think about Huck Finn. Huck Finn was along on that rift with Jim. Jim was free of the bonds of slavery while Huck was being carried away from not only his abusive father but from the civilizing life in St. Petersburg. Huck says that, “you feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” Huck was beginning to realize the freedom that water possesses. The solitude of that raft allowed them to stay away from the crazy reality that lie beyond the shore.

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The water is a representation of finding freedom from society’s corrupt fingers and symbolizes how life continues to flow. The reality that Huck and Jim ran from consisted of a set of dishonorable rules and jaded authority figures. While on that raft, they are like the water. They have no one to answer to and no rules to abide by. Water, even when dammed, still has life unless it is allowed to become stagnant. When Huck and Jim stop on land, then they find chaos and death. Then that life within it dies. When I stand on the shore of the creek behind my house or find myself drifting on the river like Huck and Jim with only the thin aluminum of the boat between myself and the water; I am like them. I am caught betwixt the society which I find to be mostly dishonorable and jaded, and the freedom that I see in the flowing water. When I find myself leaving my earthly home…I shall then find complete freedom since I truly am not of this world.

The Sin Eater: History’s Worst Profession

ghost rider 80

In the Ghost Rider comic issue #74, Marvel Comics introduces us to Centurious, who in a Faust-esque manner, sold his soul to Mephisto to fight the demon Zarathos and save the woman he loved. Unknowing to him, the punishment for losing his soul was that he would roam the world and became a soulless immortal. While studying the mystic arts many centuries ago, he acquired the Crystal of Souls. In issues #80 and 81 of the same series, Centurious uses a sin obsessed pastor, Ethan Domblue, who longed for his congregation to be sinless. After being approached by the devilish Centurious, Domblue was given the power to ‘eat’ his congregation’s sins; which left them in a ‘sinless’ but passive state. The parishioners of the town of Holly were trapped inside the Crystal of Souls. The zombie-like slaves were then loyal to Centurious. The Ghost Rider showed up and defeated Centurious and freed the townspeople from the Crystal. As a last act to redeem his own soul, Pastor Domblue helped removed Zarathos from Johnny Blaze and placed the demon inside the Crystal of Souls, which therefore freed Johnny from the curse of the Ghost Rider. This may have been one of the first times that a sin eater had been introduced in comic book culture; but the real life occupation had been around for a long (and I do mean long) time.

The sin-eater is someone who eats a ritual meal in order to take on the sins of that person or persons. The food is believed to have been the vessel to carry the sins of the deceased person and therefore the sin-eater ‘eating’ the sins of this deceased person would absolve them of their sins. Allowing that person’s soul to be clean in the afterlife and based on the religious beliefs of the believer, would be allowed into Heaven/afterlife/wherever. In most mythologies, the sin-eater lives a slightly morbid life, isolated from the rest of the community because of his ‘unclean’ life. The sin-eater in the Ghost Rider comic, is not the only mention of the occupation in popular culture as it has appeared in movies, books, and other comic books. Despite its mention in certain venues; it is a relatively unknown thing.

I had never heard of the sin-eaters until my mom insisted that I watch this 2007 movie entitled The Last of the Sin Eater. The Last of the Sin Eater takes place in 1850s Appalachia and centers around a young girl who while grieves for the loss of her beloved grandmother, who is the only person in her family that loves her because the rest of her family thinks that she is responsible for the death of her sister. During her grandmother’s funeral, the young girl looks onto the face of the village’s sin-eater (because according to lore, the sin-eater became a worse and worse with every ceremony he attended). The girl, who is distraught by the litany of deaths and pain that she feels finds comforts in the teachings and Bible of the preacher that is camping on the outskirts of the village. Since I thought that this was just a Christian tale, my mother insisted that it was a real thing. So of course I had to investigate.

360px-British_Museum_Huaxtec_1-2The sin-eaters and the interactions of the sin-eater to the people of the villages has remained a relatively unstudied part of our human history and remains as folklore for the most part. In mythology, the Aztec goddess of earth, motherhood and fertility, Tlazolteotl, had a role in the Huastec religion of the pre-Columbian Meso-American civilization. In Aztec culture, the individual who was close to death, would confess his/her sins (specifically sexual misdeeds) to the deity, and she would cleanse his/her soul by ‘eating their filth’.

We find sin-eaters in not only the Aztec culture but the occupation has been found in many other regions of the world. A letter by renowned English antiquarian, writer, and collector John Bagford (circa 1650-1716) where he wrote about the sin-eating ritual:

Notice was given to an old sire before the door of the house, when some of the family came out and furnished him with a cricket (a low stool), on which he sat down facing the door; then they gave him a groat which he put in his pocket, a crust of bread which he ate, and a bowl of ale which he drank off at a draught. After this he got up from the cricket and pronounced the case and the rest of the soul departed, for which he would pawn his own soul.

The practice was prevalent in the Marches (which is the land around the England-Wales border) and in northern Wales but mostly died out by the early 19th century. The last known sin-eater in England was Richard Munslow, who died in Ratlinghope in 1906. The English tradition finds that most sin-eaters were generally poor people and earned a small wage (normally a half-shilling) from ‘eating the sins’. This practice was frowned upon by the Christian church despite having origins based in early Christian customs where the early Israelites’ transferred their sins to a ‘scapegoat’ (found in Leviticus 16). This custom was never widely practiced but starting dying out completely in the 19th century. The gravestone of Richard Munslow is found in the small Shropshire churchyard of the St Margarets’s Church in the Ratlinghope village (of only about 100 residents) in England. The inscription is minimal but while most sin-eaters were poor, Munslow was a prominent farmer in the area. His time as the village’s sin-eater would find him ceremoniously partaking in the meal and recanting the phrase:

“I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.”

The now-defunct practice which supposedly died out with men like Richard Munslow did move to America with the influx of Irish, Welch, and British immigrants to the Appalachian mountains during the 18th and 19th centuries. The author of “The Last Sin Eater” book and subsequently the movie; was intrigued by the idea of sin-eaters because of the movie The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel starring Lindsay Wagner and James Woods which also centered around a sin-eater. Her message for all of her novels is that, “God is there waiting when you ask forgiveness;” much like the way the Aztecs worshipped the Goddess Tlazolteotl. Am I thankful that I can just go to God and ask forgiveness instead of finding someone to eat crusty bread from the chest of a dead person before drinking cheap wine just to absolve someone who they hardly know of their sins? Most definitely because I think that I’d rather starve to death than to do that job. I’d go back to digging ditches….which I actually only did for a day and a half.

 


Images:

Cover Image:  Scanned Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (December 1938, vol. 32, no. 6) featuring The Sin-Eater by G.G. Pendarves. Cover art by Ray Quigley. Accredited to Weird Tales, Inc. – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8376605

Ghost Rider (1st Series) cover photo, Issue #80, May 1983 accredited to Marvel Comics.

British Museum Huaxtec 1 accredited to Gryffindorderivative: Ophelia.summers (talk) – British_Museum_Huaxtec_1.jpg, fair use, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15254577

Richard Munslow Gravestone images courtesy of https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/58880934/richard-munslow

Are we a Jonah?

There aren’t many people that like to be on the receiving end of a lecture. I know my students at school don’t; and Daniel definitely doesn’t like when his mother or myself have to lecture him about one thing or another. There are times that I don’t mind lecturing and other times the blank eyes staring back at me, is quite off-putting. After being asked to speak at my old church one night, I remembered a powerful image that I couldn’t help but see while reading Bible stories with Daniel one night. I knew something that I wouldn’t mind lecturing someone about. Daniel and myself had came across the story of the Jonah and the Whale. The story of Jonah, which is usually cartoonized as a quick Sunday School lesson, is far too deep to be left as just a children’s story. I didn’t realize that the Lord would allow me the opportunity to tell anyone about the thoughts that I had during that nightly reading, but I knew that I should talk about it then and I feel that I should share my thoughts now. With that being said, there are lots of life lessons in the Book of Jonah for children; but the theme is applicable to adults as well. Jonah’s story teaches us about obedience, willingness of spirit, gratitude, compassion and God’s patience and mercy. Some of those attributes go beyond the Christian relationship and should be applied to all walks of life.

Jonah 1

1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,   

2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

The now infamous Jonah was a prophet from Galilee and his story takes place somewhere between 780 B.C and 760 B.C. During this period of history, Assyria was a powerful, evil nation and Israel’s most dreaded enemy. The Lord spoke to Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and preach to the Ninevites. (Jonah 1:2) Jonah was supposed to warn the Ninevites to repent or suffer the consequences of their wickedness.

 3But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

As you can see, Jonah had other ideas.  Instead of heading for Nineveh, he took off for Tarshish, which is in modern day Spain. His motives could have been fear or revenge or quite possibly both. The Assyrians had committed terrible atrocities against the people of Israel: traveling into their midst would have been truly frightening. Jonah also despised the Assyrians and probably would have liked to see God punish them. Yet, Jonah knew God’s nature. He knew that if he preached repentance to the Ninevites, they would repent and God would spare them.

4But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

5Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.

6So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, what meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.

7And they said everyone to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

What is casting lots?  The practice of casting lots is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament. In spite of the many references to casting lots in the Old Testament, nothing is known about the actual lots themselves. Archeologists have uncovered evidence which could unravel the secret of what they could have been. Archeologists say that they could have been sticks of various lengths, flat stones (or coins), or some kind of dice; but their exact nature is just meant to be a selection method similar to our modern practice of flipping a coin or rock-paper-scissors.

In verses 8-15 Jonah explains to them that he is the one that is causing all of this because he is running from the will of God.  He tells them to throw him overboard if they want to be saved. The crew just isn’t willing to just chunk him overboard so they continue to row towards land.  BUT nothing that they can do is getting them closer to the land.  They finally decide that they have to do the inevitable and throw him in the water, and as soon as they do the water ceases its thrashing.  When the water ceased, verses 16 and 17 say that the men on the boat all prayed to the God of Jonah. They made vows while they prayed and made an offering to the Lord. So God used Jonah’s stubbornness to save the men: both their souls and their lives.    

Now comes the part that we all remember: the big fish. The original Hebrew words describing the creature are dag gadol which translates into modern English as ‘Great Fish’. Now we can argue all day what swallowed Jonah after he was thrown into the Image:Blue Whale and Hector Dolphine.pngocean. Did God create a giant fish for this exact moment? Was he was swallowed by the Balaenoptera musculus (aka the blue whale) which is the largest animal known to have ever existed and whose weight has been recorded at an excess of 173 tonnes (190 short tons) and was a lengthy 98 feet long? Was it all a lucid dream that took place as he almost died from drowning? What is important is that Jonah has a revelation while in the literal belly of the beast. The literal ‘low part’ of his life.

137.Jonah_Is_Spewed_Forth_by_the_Whale.jpgHere we see God’s great mercy. He could have let Jonah suffer the consequences of his actions and drown. Yet, God intervenes and spares Jonah’s life. Just like us, we live and we sin.  Romans 3:23 says: ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’.  Every single day we sin and God chooses to spare us.  God spares us but we complain to God about the consequences of our sins but do we ever wonder how often He has spared us from consequences?

Jonah sat in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights. But during that time Jonah prays a beautiful prayer and offers Thanksgiving and realizes that truly being saved means to be in the will of the Lord. When Jonah gets to that point, the great fish swims towards the land and spits up on the land.  In Jonah chapter 3, he gets a second chance.  God again gives him the word to go to the city of Ninevah and preach.  I can only imagine what he looked like.  What he smelled like.  His skin bleached from being inside the fish, his clothes stunk from being in the belly of the fish, but he traveled on to preach repentance to the evil city.  But you can imagine that Jonah was scared.  He was walking 138.Jonah_Preaches_to_the_Ninevites.jpginto a city of his enemies and was preaching a message that is going to be really unpopular.  But Jonah does as God instructed him and amazingly the people upon hearing his words, repented.  Even the mighty King ordered all the people in Ninevah to fast, put on sackcloth and beg for forgiveness (Jonah 2:1-10).  Now to let you know a sackcloth is not something nice.  The people of Ninevah truly repented.  In those days, in some religious traditions, a sackcloth or cilice as it is called (which was made of coarse cloth or animal hair) and it induced some degree of discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement.  They felt emotionally and physically hurt.  They felt fearful of God and turned away from their evil ways, and asked God to forgive them of what they had done.  God saw the change in them and spared them.

Many Christians are afraid to talk about their faith. Despite my saying that I am a Christian in this blog on many occasions, I had a moment where I didn’t know if I wanted to write this blog. To share such an intimate part of my Christian faith caused me to have a moment of the fear of the potential judgement of my peers. I am embarrassed by this but instead of just knowing that I need to proceed in sharing something that God had given me; I am moving forward with this info. So is it just fear that would drive someone like me to not want to talk about their relationship with God in certain audiences? Most of the time it is that we don’t want to look foolish or be unpopular. Sometimes going against the grain can give you splinters. Some of us are afraid of standing out and being different. I am embarrassed that I had a moment where I felt that way but I know that there are some people that don’t share the Good news because they are close minded and don’t want certain people to be saved. Some of us don’t want to tell people about their church because they don’t want that type of person coming there. So many people in this world are not saved or have never been told the Good News, simply because we Christians have been too fearful to tell it or because you might not like that particular type of person.  We have no way of knowing what someone will decide about Christ; we only have the obligation to tell be a witness for him. Miracles can happen in people’s lives when we share the Word of God with them. By withholding the Word, we are failing in our responsibility. Sorry…getting back to Jonah, there was no city in that time less likely to repent than Nineveh, but when Jonah was finally willing to do as he was shocked to find out that they repented! Nineveh was so huge that it took three days to cross it. Imagine all the lives spared by one willing voice. Think of all the people that would have perished if that one voice had not been there.  Jonah should have been ecstatic but you know….Jonah was mad.  

 2And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

3Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

What Jonah is really angry about is that God has given the gift of salvation to a nation that Jonah finds undeserving. Jonah felt that it was wrong for Jews to be sharing their God with people they considered heathens. It may seem foolish to us that Jonah got mad at God for saving the Ninevites; but think about this: are there people that you resent and would like to see fail? Are there those that have wronged you and you’d like to get revenge on them? This is just what Jonah wanted. He didn’t want the Ninevites getting God’s mercy; he wanted them to suffer.  But God’s mercy and salvation is for everyone, not just those we think deserve Him. If only those that deserved His love got it, we’d all be in big trouble. Jonah never does grasp this. He continues to whine about his own condition but feels no pity or mercy for the Ninevites.

God even asks him what good it is doing to be so angry? 

5So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

6And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

But that happiness was short lived because God had prepared a worm to come and kill the gourd.  

8And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

9And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

10Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

11And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score (which equals 120 and some people say that the population could have been as high as 600,000) thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

Thankfully God does feel sorry for us and spares us in spite of ourselves. But what can we learn from this story of man chosen to do God’s will but cannot get over his own hatred to see the beauty in the situation?  Well we can look at ourselves.  We can compare ourselves to the Ninevites.  We are sinners, undeserving of God’s forgiveness…but he saves us anyway.  We, as humans, are suspiciously a comparison to Jonah.

Rev. 3:15 says: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot, I would thou wert cold or hot.  16; So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

The Lord does not like lukewarm Christians.  Our ‘church’ as a worldwide entity is full of lukewarm Christians.  I regretfully have found myself yo-yoing with the complacency of being lukewarm because its comfortable. A lot of Christians, are just going through the motions.  They sit in a service and wait for final prayer so they can go home or go eat or watch their favorite TV show.  We become comfortable Christians.  Jesus calls us to not be lukewarm but be zealous about God.  We don’t need to be judgmental and have anger towards a specific person or type of people.  We need to yearn for the people of this world to know the forgiveness and love of our Lord and Savior.  We can’t be Jonahs.  We need to be Ninevites and despite our past or our sin, we must put on our sackcloth of mourning and ask God to forgive us of us of our sins.         


Images:

Largest and Smallest Whale image by T. Bjornstad (TBjornstad) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1992293

Featured Image – Jonah is Spewed Forth by the Whale by and attributed to Gustave Doré – from Doré’s English Bible, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10703585

Jonah Preches to the Ninevites by and attributed to Gustave Doré – Doré’s English Bible, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10703612

 

Structures of Fengshui

Golden Dragon

Most Americans and the select inhabitants of larger cities from around the world have seen the quintessential ‘Chinese takeout/buffet’. Most of us have one or two in our towns or in our neighborhoods. If you live in a larger city, you probably can smell the soy sauce laced smoke bellowing from exhaust pipes because it is more than likely within walking distance of your apartment. We walk in and order the chicken wings or that shrimp fried rice that you’ve been craving. You grab the soy sauce packets that end up littering your counter at your house and relish at the sound of the crack as you pull your chop sticks apart. But what about the facade? What about the mass-produced mock-Asian architecture that adorns the walls of our local Chinese restaurant? Do we notice the 6 foot high foo dog statue that wards off evil spirits from the Imperial Chinese Buffet? What about the elegant golden dragon that slinks his way up the colossal columns that adorn the entrance way?

Is our stomach so harmonized to the MSG laced food that an an invisible fengshui-esque force metaphorically draws us auspiciously to the food sitting in the pans that sit just above the water boiling beneath the buffet; or is it the seasoned wok being tolled back and forth over the flowering flame that is stir frying seasoned meats and vegetables that draws us in? Are we so caught up with our lives that even the architectural structure that was meticulously nominated by many a worried owner is now inconsequential to busy bystanders? Sadly it’s not just the adorned Chinese buffets that we miss. We truly are a generation that has forgotten to stop and smell the roses; or elevate our eyes to find the most minute bit of beauty in the Asian architecture outside of the local Chinese buffet.

Christians in Pop Culture: Comic Books

2013_-_An_Old_Rugged_Cross,_San_Antonio_de_Padua_Catholic_Church,_Pecos,_NM_-_panoramio

Over the years, being a Christian has became less and less of an okay thing. This is a total truth in Pop Culture. Whether this is due to society only seeing the negative aspects of hypocritical Christians or whether the world at large would rather not involve a benevolent God into their lives; having to traverse this life, when in certain walks of life you are laughed at for your beliefs, makes it extremely cumbersome. As a Christian, I try to bite my tongue when my friends do not share my personal religious beliefs but I have had some ask me how I can watch Doctor Who which in no way supportive of organized religion or even The Big Bang Theory TV show whose lead character, Sheldon, pokes fun at his religious mother. So am I a hypocrite for watching Doctor Who on Saturday night and getting up on Sunday morning to attend church? What about my love for astrology and interest in science? What about my favorite novel; or better yet what do my comic books say about religion? Can my Christian faith exist in a comic book world? 

In the 2012 movie The Avengers, Captain America is advised to ‘sit the fight out’ because, since Black Widow considers Thor and Loki to ‘practically be Gods’. Captain America’s response of “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,” caused a smile to creep upon my face. Now the atheist movie viewer may have heard this and blew it off as Cap’ averting the confidence in his own abilities but the Christian in me heard something completely different. Cap stood in the face of the Asgardian ‘Gods’ and realized that they were fallible and not anything like the God in which he believed. He knows what Thor himself admitted that the Asgardians aren’t gods. In a pre-Korvac storyline, the Avengers venture into a church and Thor himself feels uneasy because he admits that Christians don’t think much of Thor. It is pointed out by his conversation with Wanda (aka The Scarlet Witch) that even Odin does not consider himself to be a the ‘Supreme Divinity’. Thor again admits to his not being a supreme being in a current issue of the Thor comic, where he is confronted by a small child who calls him a liar. The little child calls him a liar because he is claiming to be a God and that he was taught that there was only one God. Thor tells the child that he is a higher being, but there is a higher being than he and his kind. Thor and the Asgardians are an extremely advanced alien race whose technology made them appear to be all powerful creatures to the humans that they visited long ago. They whether fact or fiction, did have a hand in shaping our culture. So, I think that when Marvel or the Marvel Cinematic Universe refers to these Asgardians or any other celestial creatures as ‘god’ they are simply referring to the fact that they are ‘the thing of legend’ like the beautiful Black Widow says in the 2012 Avengers movie. In contrast with the ecclesiastical Judeo-Christian God whom we refer to as “God”, these other ‘gods’ do not hold absolute power nor are they all knowing. Am I saying that Thor worships Jesus…not by any means. What I am saying is that Thor, much like Captain America acknowledges that THE God exists. 

I started to talk about Captain America but switched to a ‘god’. So am I trying to insinuate that Captain America is a Christian? Maybe he is…maybe he is Chris_Evans_-_Captain_America_2_press_conference.jpgnot. I think that we need to remember that while Cap’ was frozen in time, using bad language sadly became a norm. But I don’t know is what is inside the once frozen heart of America’s greatest Soldier. I do however know what lies within the heart of the mutant whose blue appearance, cloven feet, prehensile tail, pointed ears and an overall demonic appearance: Kurt Wagner. Kurt Wagner, commonly known as the Nightcrawler, came to us in all his blue glory in the 1975 Giant-Size X-Men #1 and hasn’t stopped transporting himself into the Marvel Universe’s story lines since. In my early years as a comic reader and cartoon watcher, I was enthralled by the X-Men. In the early 1990s, the X-Men: The Animated Series was quite simply amazing but an episode in 1995 (Episode 44 titled “Nightcrawler” to be exact) brought the little Christian in me to tears. I, being raised in the church, was not used to seeing any Christians on main stream television. (Other than one of my other favorite shows that I grew up watching: ‘Walker Texas Ranger’. Gotta love Chuck Norris.) On this specific episode of X-Men; Rogue, Wolverine and Gambit go on a vacation and as always, find something eery going on when they get there. They hear tell of a demon haunting the local church, whom we find out to be the friendly yet demonic looking Nightcrawler. Wolverine wants to rip the townspeople apart for their wanting to hurt Nightcrawler based on his appearance but Nightcrawler demonstrates his strong faith in God by forgiving the people that judged him and even helped Wolverine deal with some of his internal demons. Nightcrawler’s confession of faith in this episode as well as episode 68 where Nightcrawler is revealed to be Mystique’s abandoned son. In the event that people want to scrutinize Nightcrawler and say that after becoming a Catholic priest he had many human like struggles with his faith, we cannot deny that just this inclusion of God is impressive to a Christian and a powerful testimony to God. 

In Pop Culture and in the comic universe, there are countless instances where Christians are viewed as back-woodsy and less intelligent humans who distort the word of God for their own motives. So the few times in which a Christian or just a person having faith is shown in a positive light will always be a good thing in my eyes despite many comic characters (such as Ghost Rider, Spawn, The Redeemer, the Anti-Spawn, etc) showing Christianity and the battle between Good and Evil in other lights. Whether the characters who were given power by God, the Devil or have had interaction with God; the mention of religion in comic book universes is not foreign. The historical figure out Jesus actually appeared in comic books many times and Marvel even produced many Biblical stories.

So can a Christian be a fan of the different aspects of Pop Culture and even find a paragon within the comic book universe? The answer is unequivocally yes. While Philippians 4:13 is synonymously linked with finding strength, Superman also is quoted as saying that “(y)ou’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” So some of the most powerful writing on the planet can be found in your Holy Bible but could be also be found within has been found within the 20+ folded pages of drawings and words. 

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Jesus of Nazareth Comic cover accredited to Marvel Comics, marvel.wikia.com/wiki/jesus_of_Nazaerth_(Earth-616)

An Old Rugged Cross by and accredited to Chris English, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56580686

Chris Evans – Captain America 2 Press Conference photo by and accredited to Elen Nivrae – http://www.flickr.com/photos/nivrae/13222040093/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31731283

 

Nacho Libre and the real Priestly Luchador

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In the summer of 2006, the world was introduced to a half-Mexican priest who secretly wrestled as a masked luchador to raise money for the orphans at his monastery. The sports comedy starred the always funny Jack Black in a movie written by Mike White, Jerusha Hess and Jared Hess (yeah…Napoleon Dynamite). My family and I fell in love with the simple, family friendly comedy; but recently I unexpectedly found out that the movie is loosely based on a true story.

320px-Jack_Black_(25747103295)Nacho Libre, though loosely based on the life of real-life Catholic priest in Hildago, Mexico, centers around a priest who works as the monastery’s cook but dreams of being a luchador. The priest, Ignacio, loves the orphans that he works with but the orphanage does not respect him nor do they give him money for the quality ingredients needed for good food. This causes his food to become more and more inedible (much to the literal and metaphorical distaste of the head priest). One night while collecting the free leftover chips from a restaurant in town, he was jumped by a street vagrant named Steven. He and Steven eventually joined forces once Nacho had reached his breaking point the next day when the already terrible meal was without the only redeeming factor…the chips. Even though he is losing almost every match, Ignacio is enjoying the fruits of being a semi-pro 640px-Jackblackandtomhowardluchador. To keep his identity secret (because the monastery thinks that wrestling is a sin), Ignacio adopts the name “Nacho” and Steven becomes “Esqueleto” (Skeleton in Spanish). The reason that wrestling is a sin? Because they are wrestling for vanity. When Nacho finally realizes that the Lord will bless him if he wrestles for the children…he becomes a professional luchador and even beats the greatest wrestler to ever live.

The man who inspired Nacho Libre, Sergio Gutierrez Benitez, got his inspiration after watching two Mexican wrestling movies in which the protagonists of the stories are poor priests who support the children of their orphanages by becoming lucha libre wrestlers. Sergio went to Rome and Spain to train as a priest and even taught in many Roman Catholic universities when he got back to Mexico. After a time, he became a priest in the Diocese of Texcoco and founded an Orphanage; just like the movies that had influenced him to become not only a priest but a luchador wrestlers. He founded “La Casa de los Cachorros de Fray Tormenta” and he became the masked luchador Fray Tormenta. He hid his face, much like Nacho Libre, because he was afraid that no one would take him serious in the wrestling ring if they knew he was a priest (and vice versa).

180_FrayTormenta-01Fray Tormenta retired from the wrestling business in 2011 after a 23 year professional wrestling career. He still works passionately with the orphans as a priest. The soft spoken Fray Tormenta has lived an epic life but humbly still preaches in a simple old church in Mexico. The larger than life character has influenced movie writers to create amazing characters; as well as comic book, cartoon and video game creators. The Mexican padre might not be exactly as Nacho Libre portrayed him to be but this loyal luchador did what he had to to provide for the orphans. Which just happened to allow him to intertwine the two things that he was truly passionate about: wrestling and his orphanage. He managed to bring his beloved religion into the sport that he loved and even managed to bring some of his sport into the church. Fray Tormenta still dons his lucha libre mask while carrying out his priestly duties. Seriously, did you think I meant that he would throw an unrelenting church member into his the figure four leglock called “the Confessional” if they weren’t listening to his sermon? I do know that I would never fall asleep in his church. 🙂

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Featured Image: Luchador masks image by and accredited to StellarD – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56891280
Nacho Libre movie poster by and accredited to Paramount Pictures, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3953967
Jack Black red carpet photo by and accredited to Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia – Jack Black, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47516745
Jack Black and Tom Howard training for Nacho Libre image by and accredited to Tom Howard, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8302967
Fray Tormenta black and white image by and accredited to alchetron.com, Fair use, http://www.traditioninaction.org/revolutionphotos/Images%20(101-200)/180_FrayTormenta-01.jpg
Fray Tormenta Priest and Luchador by and accredited to Vice Sports, sports-images.vice.com/images/2015/01/08/addict-priest-luchador-the-incredible-semi-true-life-of-fray-tormenta-body-image-1420677603.jpg