To know a culture, look to the stories it loves, the art it produces, the music that moves it. The wealthier the culture, the more difficult this becomes, because wealth brings with it options: culture becomes more variable as we have a greater ability to choose which forces press upon us and shape our lives.
More difficult, I said, but not impossible. As an observer, I’ve been intrigued with our reaction to the current story arc of the various Avengers movies. We are hell-bent (in a very real sense) on being Tony Stark, bad boy. We want the money, we want the power, we want options. We seek to cast off all restraint… and in so doing, have chosen leaders for ourselves who restrain us in ways our forefathers would never have dreamed of, but the inevitable tyranny of excess is a post for another time.
No, the interesting thing I’ve noticed is while we strive – with our dollars, our votes, our time – for less and less restraint, for more of what we want in the very instant that we want it, we still recognize that the heroic moment of the film franchise is the moment when Tony Stark, as Ironman, is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the world. He understands that taking the nuclear warhead into space will likely lead to his death…
but it’s the right thing to do, and he does it.
So many questions! This moment resonates with us. We recognize his maturity. We recognize his character has grown: dare we say we recognize that he is a better man than he was? All of the sudden we find ourselves using moral language, with all its implications. Maybe we don’t really think it through, and we merely treat it as entertainment. So then, what makes it popular? What makes it resonate in the way that it does?
Let me suggest something for your consideration. Though we strive with every fiber of our well-financed American beings to define our own lives, to write our own stories… we can’t.
The Great Story has been written, is being written and will be written, all at the same time, all within the glorious paradox that is the Gospel. I suggest that we know, deep in the core of our hearts, what a good story is. We are in one, with all of its shadows and light.
We recognize sacrifice.
We recognize honor.
We recognize selflessness.
In this late stage in the long defeat of the West, we seem to have given up on deep cultural consideration of virtue and its Source. But we cannot help but recognize it in our stories. We cannot help but to respond.
I’ll be thinking out loud further of how Christians can use this truth, buried as it is within our culture, to the glory of God and the advancement of his Kingdom in some future posts. It is long past the time when Christians should reassert the sovereignty of God over every form of art: cinema, photography, painting, sculpture, poetry, literature. They are His. They have never stopped being His. I would further posit that far from settling for a small sub-set of art we label “Christian” (I’m not sure who, exactly, grants this title, but it seems to happen and be very important to some of us), our goal should be to reclaim all of it.
The chief end of man truly is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I will not suggest for a moment that Tony Stark was seeking to glorify God in the climactic scene of the Avengers film. But I would ask you to consider the idea that Mr. Stark was emulating those qualities which spring forth from the very heart of God, those qualities that we who have been called into His service seek to emulate in our own lives in grateful obedience to His commands. And the culture – our culture – saw this, and called it good.
And that, my friends, is a wonderful place to start.