NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar – Who Do You Say That I Am? (Renewed Mind Movie Talk)

It’s been quite some time since I’ve published one of these, but my latest Renewed Mind Movie Talk video essay is now available!

In this episode, I take a look at the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar, specifically the live NBC performance aired on Easter Sunday 2018.

Raised in a fairly conservative evangelical household, I was told by several people that the rock opera was sacrilegious or blasphemous, so I had never watched it until NBC’s airing. While I can see my former teachers’ point, I do think there’s something worthwhile in the musical’s refusal to say exactly who Jesus is.

With a tip of the hat to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I explain what Christians can learn from many questions about Jesus raised by Jesus Christ Superstar. Check it out!

Doom Patrol’s Gospel of Strangeness

In my latest for Think Christian, I write about one of my favorite DC Comics teams: the Doom Patrol. The team has been largely defined by Grant Morrison’s ground breaking run in the late 80s/early 90s, but the current series revisits many of Morrison’s themes and puts them in a more positive and surreal perspective. They’re still the world’s strangest heroes, but they’re now celebrating and building community in their oddness.

The Doom Patrol reminds me of what the Christian church should be: a bunch of weirdos supporting and loving other weirdos. As I write in the piece,

Christians often face a similar challenge when forming churches. Whatever the reason we choose a congregation, we’re fundamentally there because we’re sinners who abandon the world’s vision of domination to enact God’s grace. As a matter of necessity, then, churches are filled with misfits who don’t just reject conforming to the world, but are, in fact, called not to.

And yet, we still get upset or threatened by our fellow church-goer’s oddities, and we get the urge to “fix” people whose differences we find especially troublesome. In those cases, we risk acting like [Robotman], trying to make others more acceptable, while ignoring our own quirks and issues.

Check out the whole thing here!

The Insufficient Gods of Mister Miracle

The current Mister Miracle series by Tom King and Mitch Gerads is, to my mind, the best superhero series published by the big two right now. And I’m a little surprised by that, because it kind of sounds like the “grim ‘n gritty” nonsense that usually hate in comics. In this story, DC big bad Darkseid finally gets the fabled Anti-Life Equation and uses it against Mister Miracle, just as our hero has been drafted by his half-brother Orion into final battle against the forces of Apokolops. But all of that high-concept action occurs in the background of the series, which instead focuses on Mister Miracle’s descent into depression.

Again, that sounds like a clumsy “Hey! Adults! Comics are serious!’ story. But instead of cheap Identity Crisis grit, King and Gerads fully humanize their characters, and pair the big ideas of Kirby’s vision with big theological and philosophical ideas.

This combination hits every one of my sweet spots, so I had to write about it for Think Christian. My article takes a page from theologian Paul Tillich’s definition of faith to interpret the series:

Mister Miracle is, in many ways, a story about faith—how belief drives one’s life. Like most superhero characters, Mister Miracle and the New Gods are defined by fighting, as many of their stories involve good guys from the planet New Genesis battling Darkseid, the fascist ruler of the planet Apokolips. These fantastic elements inform the plot of the new Mister Miracle series, but King and Gerads relegate them to the background, devoting as much page time to Mister Miracle and his superhero wife, Big Barda, watching television or hanging out in Los Angeles, where he has assumed the alter ego of an acrobatic escape artist. This mix of ordinary and outrageous does not diminish the latter, but rather sublimates super-heroic combat into the characters’ worldviews. They cannot conceive of themselves outside of struggle with their enemy. Conflict is their faith and their life.

Read the whole thing here, and be sure to read the series as we get excited about the upcoming Ava DuVernay directed New Gods movie!

2017 in Film: Breaking the Rod of the Oppressor

For Living Lutheran, I wrote about what I saw as the prominent trend in 2017 movies: a focus on those who are dejected, powerless, and (financially, politically) weak.

The films that resonated most with critics and audiences were about the monstrosity of systematic racism (Get Out), the poor outside of Disneyland (The Florida Project), the mute and disrespected and exploited (The Shape of Water), or those from “the midwest of California” (Lady Bird). We certainly had the customary power fantasies — Justice League or Kong: Skull Island — but those failed to ignite the public imaginations. And the superhero movies that did catch our attention weren’t really about strong people punching other strong people. They were about the motley Guardians of the Galaxy, the perpetually losing Peter Parker, the dying Wolverine, and Wonder Woman defending the powerless.

Looking primarily at The Last Jedi, Get Out, and The Florida Project, my piece claims that these movies have a cathartic element:

Catharsis, argued philosophers like Aristotle and Nietzsche, has always been part of communal storytelling, but for the Christian viewer, it can also have a prophetic element: Our stories tell us how things can or should be, not just how they are. In the same way that Jeremiah’s poetry insisted that those who trusted in Babylon’s apparent might were “stupid and without knowledge,” and Isaiah’s poetry transformed “swords into plowshares,” movies can remind people that exploitative power is not inevitable, that other ways of life are possible.

Check out the whole thing here!