The Great Marvel Retcon

I saw the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this afternoon.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from Captain Marvel.  The Carol Danvers I knew growing up was the one whose powers had been permanently stolen by Rogue, who would go on to become an X-Man.  I do a pretty decent job staying away from Marvel spoilers (something I actually learned with DC movies), so I had heard some rumors of things but still wasn’t sure how things would fit together.  If anything, the movie would be important because of its role as connective tissue between Infinity War and Endgame.  Beyond that, it would boil down to how well they handled the intergalactic nature of the story along with the de-aged appearances of Fury and Colson.

The movie works really well.  Brie Larson brought some nice gravitas to her character.  The movie isn’t as funny as many recent entries in the MCU, but it still had its moments (mostly thanks to Samuel Jackson as Fury.  The space stuff was handled quite well, with little if any “dumbing down” of things.  I was surprised to see the Skrulls be so prominent, since I thought they wouldn’t fallen under Fantastic Four domain.  The two biggest issues I might possible have with the movie?  (1) The movie is very dark . . . as in “why is light absent from so many scenes?”  Lots of “indoor”shots, I suppose.  But it made large chunks of the movie unnecessarily murky (much like Solo last year).  (2) The movie never quite settles on any one “thing.”   Part of that is because of the twists and turns in the plot.  It was very 90s, and yet not really.  It was very female-empowerment, but it was not where near as telegraphed as it had been in the trailer.  It was connective tissue, and yet it held its own really well.  So it’s not so much a complaint as it is a feeling that the movie had to walk a number of fine lines, which it did relatively well.

The question for long-term fans, of course, is one of what I call “the great Marvel retcon.”  Retcons are nothing new in comic books: years after an event, creators come along to insert a character or significant moment in a past story that wasn’t part of the original.  This happens often when companies or characters get “rebooted.”  Some retcon happens with the Captain Marvel narrative (and your response to that will be determined by how invested you are in the stories of characters named Captain Marvel before Carol Danvers).  Some retcon happens in the greater MCU narrative.  On that level, it’s a pretty flawless retcon.  It almost makes you want to go back and rewatch the first Colson/Fury scenes that lead up to Avengers.  Does it cheapen some of the tension and joy from the earlier movies?  Maybe a little bit.  I will withhold judgment on that point until I see how it all plays out in Endgame.

I suppose one question that can be asked is “where does the character go from here?”  The stakes are quite high in this movie: it’s big sci-fi stuff.  Will they do a more direct sequel that picks up threads from this movie or will they send the character in other directions depending on how her role fits into “phase four” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?  It will be interesting to see where the character stands when the curtain falls on Endgame.

Here’s a quick clip from relatively early in the movie, where Marvel and Fury discuss the question of reliability, particularly when Skrulls can take on whatever form they have seen.

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The Journey of Lent

One last Lent-specific post for the week.  From a recent essay from the folks at Public Discourse:

In important ways, both the story of Jesus’ tempting by Satan and the season of Lent evoke the traditional Christian practice of pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are spiritual journeys in which we leave behind comforts, incur costs, face difficulties, and endure disciplines. Christians undertake pilgrimages to encounter God in a more direct way—traditionally, at a holy place related to the events of the Gospels, or to the life of a saint.

Santiago-Shell-and-PilgrimsWhat follows in the essay is a nice distilling of some aspects of the Christian journey that seasons like Lent can help clarify for us.  Beyond that, props to the writer for bringing in Tolkien and Lewis.  I like the essay’s first point quite a bit:

First, the Christian life is aptly described as pilgrimage, because it is more appropriately understood as a story than as the acceptance of a philosophy. We Christians move through time, journeying toward the holy goal of glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Along the way, we experience trials, discomforts, disciplines, camaraderie, conflicts, highs, and lows.

Yet the analogy extends further: not only is the life of each Christian a story, but so is Christianity itself. Christianity is the story of God coming to earth as a first-century Jew from Nazareth, living among us, dying, rising, and redeeming us. This story of salvation through Christ is part of the larger, cosmic story that runs from creation to new creation: a purposeful story with a beginning, a middle, and an end . . .

This is one of the things that modernist forms of Christian faith—whether liberal or fundamentalist—have gotten most disastrously wrong. Inasmuch as modern Christians have framed faith as cognitive assent to an ethic (whether social or personal) or a science (whether Darwinist or Biblicist), they have made Christianity a thing of conventional knowledge and fidelity to rules rather than personal knowledge and loyalty to God. The Lenten practice of prayer draws us back from such inadequate, intellectualized, legalized understandings to faith as it really is: intimate connection to our Creator and Redeemer.

It’s such an interesting conundrum: this weird relationship between the cognitive  and the personal.  I see it tweaked and twisted in multiple ways, almost like no one can understand a middle way that embraces both ends well.  Perhaps that is something to wrestle with during this season, too, as we journey together.

(image of the Camino de Santiago from backroads.com)

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The Hunger and the Hope

This past Sunday I found myself really wanting to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  While I enjoyed it as a theatrical release, it hasn’t really aged well on the home-player.  Something about the whole Canto Bight subplot is just a real turn-off for me.  But the Luke and Rey stuff: that’s why I enjoyed the movie so much.  Consider this quick conversation:

So many interesting little things to unpack from this scene.

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Last week I was getting a ride with a friend to pick up my car, which had been in the shop that morning.  As is often the case, we spoke a lot about our work and how the Christian faith is felt (or not felt) in the broader school community.  It can be easy to sense that there’s just not much hunger “out there” for spiritual things.  There are many reasons for this, I’m sure.  But I’m also sure that I myself am hungry.  The only problem is that at this point in time, I should be more Luke than Rey.

Which is part of what makes Luke such an interesting figure in The Last Jedi.  He’s jaded, has experienced the worst, has turned off his connection to what made life vibrant.  And at this point, he wants to “save” Rey from such an existence, knowing how bad it could actually get for her . . . and for those she loves.

The conversation has some nice, unexpected humor.  And it gives you a sense of the hunger and the hope that hovers around a world held together, revealed by, the Force.  And how rare, really, that Rey “woke up” in the first place.

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Lent and the Unintentional Hermit

MonksFor some time now I’ve been meaning to post this quote from the  beginning of Leah Libresco’s Building the Benedict Option:

I’ve never felt called to imitate Saint Simeon Stylites.  I’ve never sensed God calling me to build a pillar on top of a tower or a mountain and to live an ascetic life on it, far from other people.  But God doesn’t need to call stylites anymore.  It’s easy to become one accidentally.

Although marriage and monasticism would both require me to seek out someone else– husband or mother superior–  to discern with and to guide me, the atomized nature of modern life makes it possible to become a hermit unintentionally.  This situation is a big departure from the history of hermits.  At the time of the Desert Fathers, a monk who wanted to live alone had to get the permission of his spiritual father, because living alone, just he and God, was not something to undertake lightly.  It was an unusual calling that required exceptional spiritual discipline.  Living one’s faith alone, without preparation, is the religious equivalent of trying to run a marathon without so much as a jogging habit as preparation.

The book is about establishing “thick practices” in Christian community that can help clarify the place of Christian faith in a context more hostile to the faith than many of us understand.  But it also says something significant about the situation of the single Christian striving to live a faithful life . . . . often without the wisdom and guidance of those further down the road.

There’s more to being a single adult Christian than simply lacking a spouse.  Don’t get me wrong: that alone changes the landscape in ways both obvious and subtle.  It’s particularly true in a culture that has all but deified marriage.  The assumption made by many is that the single life is easy and free from constraint.  Neither of those assumptions is true.  But often people either can’t or won’t sit with us long enough to get a real sense of that.

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One of the things that makes the liturgical calendar, and particularly the daily office, appealing to me is that it gives me scriptural structure and intent that is too often unavailable from a local Christian community.   And it’s not just that I get to read widely from the Bible regularly.  There’s also a sense of it having been lived in for a while, that it’s something passed down to me that I don’t have to come up with myself.  Granted, there are some limits to such tradition (which I hope to write about next week).  This is particularly helpful during seasons like Lent or Advent, even though I don’t necessarily take part in any fasting or extra church services.  These things, along with seasonal music, helps me as I find myself an “unintentional hermit.”

(image from mysticmonkcoffee.com)

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Preparing for Lent

Great LentThe season of Lent begins this week.  It’s also one of the craziest weeks of the school year for me, which is a way of saying that there’s a good chance my mind won’t be too much on Lent.  Beyond that, my recent readings in Boersma have me thinking in good ways about my own faith tradition and the broader Christian tradition, but that’s a tale for a later post or two.  Either way, this entry will post on Mardi Gras, which is an interesting concept in every way.  And then tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, when many Christians will attend a service to be reminded of their mortality through the imposition of ashes.  (Already I’ve seen people on Twitter asking people NOT to post #ashtag selfies from the day’s events.)

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At the beginning of this semester, we started a series the picks up in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus “resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem.”  I was first made aware of this “travel narrative” unique to Luke though the works of Eugene Peterson.  And so each week in chapel, a speaker focuses on at least one story from the next successive chapter in the book.  Already we’ve heard about the Good Samaritan, the woes to the Pharisees, the dangers of the yeast of the Pharisees, Jesus’s sorrow for Jerusalem, and the story of the prodigal son.  It’s been a good journey.  And it will end with Jesus in Jerusalem for the week of his passion and the morning of his resurrection.  But we’re not there yet.  It is good to be on the road with Jesus, though.

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In Great Lent, Orthodox priest and teacher Alexander Schmemann calls the season of Lent a journey, a kind of “being on the way” with Jesus on his way to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.   Schmemann asserts that “on Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us.”  Too often, though, we forget the significance of this “happening and happening to us still,” which is part of how Lent enters the picture.  “The liturgical traditions of the church,” Schmemann asserts, “exist first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and turn to it.”  Whatever else it might be, Lent is an opportunity for “rediscovery” and “recovery.”

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I won’t be able to commemorate Ash Wednesday this year.  I’ll be out at camp with students learning about “the Way of the Cross.”  And I’m not sure what the season will look like beyond that.  I do hope to read W. H. Auden’s Age of Anxiety over the next few weeks (if nothing else, this is an attempt to mirror my reading of his For the Time Being during Advent).  If it’s not particularly clear yet, I hope to be more consistent with posting here during this season.  That will definitely be a discipline for me.  Like I mentioned previously, I hope to use this time to articulate some thoughts on tradition and Tradition, particularly with the assistance of Boersma (as mentioned yesterday).  Spring break is coming up in a couple of weeks, too, so I’m hoping to be extra-fruitful with reading and writing.

(image from amazon.com)

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Transfiguration

Transfiguration-RubensWhile it wasn’t acknowledged much in my own church besides the children’s literature for the morning, yesterday was celebrated as “Transfiguration Sunday” in many churches across the world.  It’s a little like the “last breath before the plunge” that is the season of Lent.  The day is a remembrance of Jesus and his friends on a mountain for the appearance of Moses and Elijah and a theophany from heaven.  As we cover it in class, it’s one of the moments that turn Jesus towards Jerusalem for His passion.

I had not realized it until recently that the Transfiguration was at the heart of a number of “truths” in the early church.  In Seeing God, Hans Boersma surveys church history to get a better understanding of the “beatific vision,” the belief that Christians will see Jesus face-to-face and will know as we are known.  Boersma asserts:

In particular, the conviction that the transfiguration revealed God’s glory in Christ and his eschatological kingdom was important for the early church, and so Christology and eschatology played key roles in most theological reflections on the transfiguration.  The transfiguration appeared to render both Christ’s divinity and the eschaton present to the three disciples.  The event served not as a symbol pointing away from itself to the glory of God and to a future kingdom that he would bring about, but it was a sacrament that rendered God himself and his future kingdom really present to the disciples on Mount Tabor.  Thus, although in some respects the future kingdom may remain veiled, many have looked to the transfiguration narrative for an account in which God appeared in such a way as to reveal himself most fully and gloriously in Jesus Christ, and in so doing transformed or deified the disciples, drawing them into his beautifying light and thus into his eternal kingdom.  What is more, the theophanic character of the transfiguration rendered it transformative in character, not only for the three disciples at Mount Tabor but also for later Christians.  As a result, for centuries, the transfiguration was the subject of meditation, reflection, and debate throughout the Eastern and Western traditions.

Which is a fancy way of saying that maybe I’ve been underselling the significance of the Transfiguration for a long time (even though I render it with a capital T).

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I’ve been reading quite a bit of Boersma lately, mostly on a lark thanks to a blurb in Christianity Today.  I stepped away from Seeing God after just under 200 pages so I could read a short, earlier work: Heavenly Participation.  It’s been a good challenge for me that I hope to go into some over the Lenten season.  A lot of it has to do with his approach to a “sacramental ontology,” a sticky point close to the heart of my own faith experience.

It is enough for now, though, to hold in the mind’s eye that odd scene of Jesus shot through with holy light, his closest friends blessedly confused, and the Father affirming the Son as he prepares for all that is next.

(image of The Transfiguration of Christ by Peter Paul Rubens)

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Sunday’s Best: The Wishy Washy Truth

I have to say, Chuck and Patty talking under the tree has become one of my favorite Peanuts tropes.  Today’s classic strip is another example of how the work of Charles Schulz could capture lots of things through something wonderful and simple.

Wishy Washy Truth(image from gocomics.com)

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