And because the movie is coming out tonight I have to ask, are you excited about “Avengers 2”?
Oh yeah. I have my tickets, seeing it tomorrow at noon. I always have a tradition of checking my son out of school early and going to the first showing of the day. So, yes, tomorrow at noon, I cannot wait.
What do you like the most about The Avengers and that particular part of mainstream popular culture, and how does it inspires you in your faith?
I can’t speak too much on the new one, though I know the basic premise. But on the original one I really like the different makeup of the different characters. First of all, the Avengers are always fighting, always bashing egos, and having “my way’s better than yours.” They’re not just all getting along and they don’t get things done when they are fighting. So in many ways they represent the Body of believers. If we can find a common ground, find unity in the Gospel, then all the things that we are arguing about, whether it’s music or buildings or baptism, let’s put those aside and focus on the point, and that’s salvation and the Gospel.
Then the individual makeup of the Avengers, even though they are — the director Joss Whedon, who is an outspoken atheist — I think even the individual characters have some good stories to tell.
Like Thor, who was royalty in the kingdom of Asgard: he had to leave his home in order to save the people of earth, just as Jesus did — leaving His throne in Heaven and coming down to earth to save us.
The Black Widow talks a lot about having “red” in her ledger, things in her past that she’s ashamed of. Even Loki asks her, “Can you really wipe out that much red?” Of course, she can’t. And it’s interesting we get this story line from one of the non-superheros in the Avengers. She’s just a human, so of course she can’t wipe out that much “red” on her own. To put a spiritual spin on it, that’s what Jesus’ sacrifice did. And there are things with Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and even Loki, who, basically, in the first Avengers, is basically a good representation of Satan. Satan is called the prince of this world, and Loki comes down and his goal is to rule the earth, he wants to have a throne on earth and rule the earth.
I think it’s interesting how Loki was also causing discord secretly among the Avengers, which is another analogy of how Satan tries to divide the church against each other. I think my favorite, though it’s hard to say, so far is “Winter Soldier.” It really struck me — really loved the story of Captain America and Bucky, and it reminded me a lot of Christ’s teaching about loving and forgiving your enemy. Did you like “Winter Soldier”?
Do you have a favorite one so far or is that too hard to answer?
It might be “Winter Soldier.” Picking among the Marvel movies is a bit like picking out my favorite chocolate dessert. It’s really hard. There were some with weak areas, though. In my opinion Iron Man 2 was the weak one. The Hulk one was a little weak. The first Iron Man is the best origin story in my opinion. I re-watched the third Iron Man movie recently, and I had forgotten how good that movie was. I’d probably have to go with “Iron Man 3” or “Winter Soldier” as my favorite. I’m excited that the brothers who directed “Winter Soldier,” that they are the ones who are going to be directing the last two Avengers movies.
I really liked those directors. I was hoping they would be brought back. Some people see pop culture as something we should avoid at all costs, but other Christians see it as an evangelism opportunity. How can we find that middle ground where we engage our culture in meaningful ways while keeping our faith and not compromising ourselves?
line is going to look different for everyone. I’m often asked, “Are there lines that you draw, things you avoid and don’t watch?” The quick answer is yes, except I’m not going to tell you what they are. I know that there are plenty of things on my DVR playlist that other people would flinch at and that’s okay. I’m not going to flinch at yours, and I have different reasons for avoiding different things, but I think overall, to get back to the most important question, is lumping all pop culture together — that there’s nothing to redeem from that. We forget that these are fictional stories being told on television as well as the superhero movies. Yes, even though they are meant to entertain and bring in a lot of money, they are also stories with a message, with themes with points. They are modern-day parables. Jesus taught a great deal by way of telling stories, parables.
Now I don’t think that a movie has to have Christian characters taking part in only perfectly moral activities, quoting Scripture in order for it to be impactful in our lives. Jesus’ stories are His parables. They had sex in them, they had greed — a son who wished his dad was dead, and then took off for the biblical version of Vegas. His parables didn’t have worship and prayer in them. And I know that no one would say that there’s nothing from Jesus’ parable to apply to their everyday lives.
So I think if we can view movies and shows with that in mind, then hopefully the messages hidden in them can be more easily found, and, more importantly, that we can share those truths with others because other people are watching. Whether you are watching or not, the world is watching it, and I’m kinda on the bandwagon that they are a mission field. Fifteen million people watched “The Walking Dead” finale. That is a country. That is a small country. You can learn their language, so to speak, and reach them by way of their favorite television show.
Your book really reminded me of a U2 album called “Pop” that came out in 1997. The theme of the album was, in my opinion, “don’t be fooled by the shallow, surface level of pop culture; there’s really a complicated web of humanity and meaning behind all the bright colors.” When you look at the pop culture of America today, what deeper things are you seeing beneath all of it?
I think of the show “Lost,” which I wrote about extensively in the book. That’s just an example of one show, but the themes that it dealt with — redemption, forgiveness, and grace. These characters that can’t forgive themselves for their past need grace given to them. Those things, I think, are carried on in so many other shows. The show I’m watching now, “The Black List,” and James Spader’s character is another one who so badly needs redemption and grace, and he knows that he can’t earn it himself, but still is kinda trying to earn it, but he won’t ever receive it until he gets it from outside of him.
Whether we believe in a God or not, He created us and we are made in His image, and we have, built inside of us, an innate need for dependency on Him for redemption and forgiveness. We have a need for that unconditional love, and I think it’s going to come out in our artistic creations — the things that Hollywood is writing. I see these overall themes — even though I pinpointed “Lost” because I was a “Lost” junkie when it came out — you see those kind of things throughout so many different shows and movies today.
I think one of the biggest points that hit me from your book was how all these things are revealing the cry of our culture’s heart. They are crying out for Jesus, and they don’t even know it.
And the book really stirs your heart to share. I’ve given this advice and I’ve heard people say that after you go see a movie, talk to your non-saved friends about it. But often times it’s hard to know how to do that (especially for introverts like me). Do you have any advice on how to engage your friends? Do you get coffee after the movie and facilitate a movie discussion? What’s been your experience?
Surely, if you’re going to see movies with friends or family members who you know are not believers, I believe that you want to take advantage of that, especially if you’re noticing it while you’re watching it. Sometimes you have to go home and think about it and you don’t realize it until later, then it’s kind of hard to bring it up again. I think if just watching things and looking for these avenues while you’re watching [the movie] and seeing it certainly helps.
But really in today’s world I think the easiest thing is to just use Twitter. Those hashtags — if you use #avengers or #ageofultron — your tweet or your blog article or whatever it’s attached to is going to go out there, and millions of people looking at that hashtag might click and stumble upon it. With articles that I write having to do with Avengers or Gotham or The Returned, I always use those hashtags, and I get countless people contacting me or favoriting me or replying — total strangers, but people who are looking out for those hashtags. That is one way, though not as personal as sharing with a friend, but it’s still something.
It’s actually a very practical tip, so that’s awesome. I recently interviewed someone who was doing something similar, but from a totally different angle. He’s a former Hollywood director. He did the movie “Tortured” with Laurence Fishburne, and then he became a rabbi because he realized that he had a hunger for the Torah. He did this documentary called “Roadmap Genesis.” I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.
No, I have not.
He’s coming from a different belief system — from Judaism — but he’s seeing there’s a similar thing — a cry for the Bible in culture. He did this man-on-the-street thing in the documentary, interviewing strangers, and people’s literacy of the Bible is so low that it was shocking. Is that part of what inspired you to write this book? To raise the Bible literacy in our culture?
Absolutely. You can’t go wrong with pointing people to the Bible. I’m not tough on recent movies like “Noah” and “Exodus,” which were not great Biblical interpretations, but if they got someone to read Genesis or Exodus you can’t call that a bad thing. The world badly needs reintroduction to the Bible. That’s why the “A.D.” show is so neat. I think it’s a well done show, and if it’s drawing people in just because of the political intrigue or so forth it’s pointing people to these Bible stories; but, yeah, I hopefully filled up my book with enough Scriptures. I always want to point people to the Scriptures. This is not what Kevin Harvey thinks. This is not what I believe or think or feel the comparison should be, but I wanted to always draw people to the Bible because I feel more and more people are less familiar with the Bible. That’s why I kind of like the last chapter. It wasn’t even my idea, but was my editor’s idea, dealing with some of the many different phrases and terms that are very popular in pop culture.
Yeah, that was really cool.
People don’t know that they are from the Bible. “Yeah, I know David and Goliath has something to do with the Bible, but I don’t really know what that means” — I wanted to explain what that means. Or there are phrases like “go the extra mile” — everyone uses that term. They talk about the college graduate wanting to go the extra mile in order to get that job. Well, first of all, that’s from the Bible. They may not realize that but also that’s not what the original interpretation is. Hopefully this book and that chapter specifically helps to introduce more of the Bible to the growing generation that is getting further and further a
way from the Bible.
Having that last chapter really is great because every time you use those phrases it can remind you about the Bible and the true meanings behind them. My last question, have you seen the latest “Star Wars” trailer, the newest one? [Which is featured at the top of this article]
Yes. Absolutely. Many, many times. Yes. I’m excited to see it. Hopefully I will see it on the big screen tomorrow before we see the Avengers. I’ve only watched it on my computer a few times.
I was just honestly surprised by how much of an emotional reaction I had to the trailer. I wasn’t expecting to have such a strong reaction. It’s just amazing (and a little frightening) how movies can have so much emotional power over us. I was just curious if you had seen it.
Yeah, I’m excited. I love that last line, “Chewie, we’re home.” I mean, so many of us can relate to that because it is part of our lives. “Star Wars” is in multiple generations now. The original, my generation — I don’t know how old you are — but it was the first movie I saw in the movie theater. I can remember seeing “Return of the Jedi” in the movie theater multiple times. Now those are what I think of when I think of Star Wars, but of course my ten year old son is all about “The Phantom Menace,” and “Revenge of the Sith,” and now he’s in to “Clone Wars.” So for the last two or three generations it seems like we can heavily relate to Star Wars.
I definitely agree. And it was definitely a sense of coming home in that last scene. Awesome.