X-men: first class opened in cinemas yesterday. Not content with being a great multi-layered summer blockbuster, X-men (as all the films have been to an extent) is a film bursting with issues and ready made discussions.
Over the next few weeks as I mull the film over, and probably go and see it again, I plan on writing some short thoughts on the film and how you could possibly explore it with your young people.
First up is the worldviews of the men who will become Professor X and Magneto.
What I found fascinating is that neither of these men were painted as good or bad. That is not what the fight is about. It is about love and anger. Charles (Prof X chooses to love humans, Erik (Magneto) chooses to hate them. Erik isn’t an evil man. We understand how he gets to decisions. Just as we understand Charles’.
Our own experiences determine what we will become.
Charles is brought up in a wealthy home and allowed to see the good side of humanity. He has everything he could ever want.
Erik and his family are Jewish. They are captured and sent to camps. Erik’s family are murdered at the hands of the Nazis. They are murdered by people who choose to label and catergorize people.
Charles’ powers are born out of study and love.
Eriks’ powers are born out of hate and anger.
We are all capable of great love and great hate. Charles had the potential to use his powers for ill just as Erik had the potential to use his powers for good. But their experiences determined the paths that they would choose.
I do not believe that people are born good or evil. I believe that the story of Adam and Eve, at the beginning of the Bible, describes how all of us, made in the image of God, have the potential to go either way.
What we listen to, who we surround ourselves with, which worldview we attach ourselves to determines what path we will choose.
I think that’s an important lesson for the young people we work with to grasp. Just last night we were studying 1 John 1 with our older teenage house group where John talks about the reality of walking in darkness and walking in light. I explained to them that my worldview affects my actions. I choose to believe that no one is born evil. We spoke about the kinds of people that they label. The ones who are mean and nasty and do not deserve our attention.
I stressed that those people are products of their environment.
The scottish BBC documentary, ‘the scheme’ has gained all sorts of notoriety because it documents the lives of a group of working class people in an area of Kilmarnock (5 minutes from where I live). It shows warts and all what life is like for some people. But what I learned from the show is that it is extremely hard to break out of the world that we are born into.
For Erik in X-men, because of how his powers were born, because of what he experienced, it was almost impossible for him change the course he was headed on. It paints the character in shades of grey, rather than black and white. And I think that is true of all of us.
What do your young people think? Are there such things as good and bad people?
As a Christian, I choose to believe that people’s paths can be changed. I choose to believe that people can be renewed. I believe that the labels that others put on us and that we put on others do not need to define us. They do not need to last forever.
“Her filthiness clung to her skirts;
she did not consider her future. ” (Lamentations 1:9)
This is brutal language. Israel is describes as a ‘whore’. She is labelled unclean. But then in chapter 2 God says this to her:
“To what can I liken you,
that I may comfort you,
Virgin Daughter Zion? ” (lamentations 2:13)
A new word has been spoken over Israel. “Virgin”. No longer a whore. The labels are no longer.
Do some of our young people need to hear that? Whatever has been said about you, however you have been labelled. God has something new to say to you. We can be renewed.
Erik’s path has been set. He has chosen the path of anger. The wide path that leads to destruction. The destruction of his humanity.
But it could all have been so different.
- Movie Review: X-Men: First Class (blogcritics.org)
- The New Magneto On The Mutant Morality Of X-Men: First Class (bleedingcool.com)
- X-Men: First Class, Witness The Origin (arkhilario.com)
I gave a terrible youth talk on Sunday night. It really was rubbish. There were a number of contributing factors but ultimately it was my fault. What came out of my mouth was a series of random thoughts and questions that had no through line and no clear point.
My heart sank as I watched the young people check their phones, talk to each other and stare blankly into space, whilst I rambled on.
Why share this you may ask. Hell, I’m thinking it as I write this but i’ll keep going and see what happens.
The topic was the 2nd beatitude, “blessed are those who mourn” and the speaker pulled out on Friday because he was having teeth extracted. That’s not an excuse, that’s just the circumstances surrounding the talk.
I tried to share the point that we live in a culture of denial. We ignore the homeless on the street, the bullied kids in our schools, the suffering and oppression that goes on in the world. We choose to deny that it exists cause it will make us feel bad. It may even make us‘mourn’. But that’s what Jesus calls us to do. Those that choose to connect with others, who grieve for others. Who stand up and say, “this isn’t right! This isn’t fair!”. They are blessed.
But I didn’t have those thoughts together in a way that would engage anyone. So it failed.
Yesterday I text the young people to apologise because the talk wasn’t good and I hadn’t done the beatitude justice. was that the right thing to do? I still don’t know.
But I didn’t want to deny it. I didn’t want to brush it under the carpet. Cause those young people deserve better than that. And Jesus words deserve better than that.
I started reading lamentations this morning. Jerusalem is destroyed. People have been exiled to Babylon and other surrounding areas. The temple is in ruins. Rather than deny it, the narrator and the city cry out. They get angry. They grieve. They mourn.
I listened to Eminem’s new Album, “recovery” a few weeks ago. I got a few songs in before my wife asked me to turn it off. I’m surprised it got that far. The first song, ‘cold winds blow’ is the most foul mouthed rant I have ever heard put to music. He’s angry. He wants people to know it. He doesn’t deny it.
the beatitudes, lamentations, my failed talk and enimem.
It’s all linked.
In a culture where we deny and ignore anything that upsets us, God tells us to the opposite. He tells us to embrace it. To mourn, to grieve, to stand with those who need help. To get emotional.
We are called to throw down the stiff upper lip, the pursuit of (our own) happiness and the masks of respectability.
Blessed are those who mourn!