Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Losers!

A few days ago, my son and I got to see an extended preview of Guardians of the Galaxy. We had a lot of fun watching the prison break scene (my son is quoting lines like some kids sing "Let it Go" from Frozen).

I was struck, too, by a slightly longer version of a scene visible in the public trailers:

Peter Quill stands among the other future Guardians of the Galaxy and says: "I look around and you know what I see? Losers!... But right now, life's giving us a chance."

In the preview, we got a longer explanation -- that they've all lost something: homes, families, freedom. They've all lost -- maybe by chance, maybe by choice -- but they've all lost something.

Life's giving them a chance to do something good.  (Through the magic of editing, in the trailers, he adds that they can do "something good, something bad... a little of both".)

Yes, they've come from bad pasts -- from loss and, in some cases, from wicked choices in response. But we're not defined by our choices. We're, instead, free to choose the good today. (Even if that "good" is a little "bad" too -- in the rogueish, Peter Quill sense.)

The assassin need not kill any longer, unless to preserve life. The thief need not steal, unless to fulfill the requirements of justice. The "maniac" with a vendetta may even achieve the same good end -- defeating evil -- without the evil means of wrath. It's a matter of choice. It's a matter of why not just how. And it's a matter of recognizing that losers needn't be defined by loss.

I'm a mess. If you're reading this and benefiting from it, it's not because of me. What can little ole me do? I can let the world see what god can do with a loser like me. I'm not defined by losses and failures. I'm not defined by wasted years. I'm doing what good I can now, and I am held up by God's grace, not my own greatness. Loss has a way of stripping away that delusion.

It may be in our loss that we find our greatest strength, bolstered by the Holy Spirit. For some of us, it takes the helplessness of loss to make enough space for the Spirit to come in. Only when all the toys have stopped beeping and buzzing can we hear the still, small voice. For some, loss--especially the greater loss of people rather than things --is a poignant reminder of our reliance on God. Every breath is His gift, and we have no claim on drawing it.  For some, loss is the lens through which we can focus others on what really drives our life.

This last way of using loss explains how we remember St. Maximilian Kolbe, for example. Yes, he created the Militia Immaculata. He established Cities of the Immaculate and a great (and still going) publication apostolate. He gave many conferences and wrote much that can help Christians in their journey. But the icons of St. Kolbe aren't usually of a healthy(ish), teaching, writing Kolbe. The stories aren't often from his Polish City of the Immaculate. Rather, the images are of an emaciated captive. The greatest stories come from the hell of Auschwitz, where God let Maximilian descend to preach to the souls there.

Stripped of his brothers, his printing presses, and his freedoms, he shone, like a gem stone stripped of the outer coating. There, laying in a bed, barely alive after being beaten, he was able to refuse a cup of tea, saying "(the other patients) don't have anything, give it to them. Don't worry... the Immaculata is helping me still." (Marytown newsletter, June 2014)

A loser should not be scandalized by his loss--by the cross. He should not be ashamed of loss. Rather, he must shine forth all the more the radiance of Christ. For it is in loss--in weakness--that we can show most effectively that "yet I live, not longer I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2:20)

And here's the crazy thing--somehow, through God's mysterious ways, it is in letting go that we often achieve our greatest. Peter Quill cannot become Star Lord, no matter how many times he uses the name himself. By doing the task at hand, even imperfectly (and, trust me, these Guardians will stumble through imperfectly!), he becomes the real Star Lord. Through loss and dedication to this "something good", the losers really become the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The tagline from one of the trailers, "When things get bad, they'll do their worst", reminds me of a line from G. K. Chesterton: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." That is our hope and our joy, that our imperfect efforts now can be lifted up beyond any loss or failure in the past.

Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kolbe-szombathely.jpg

Monday, July 7, 2014

Saint Walker

Green Lantern: The Animated Series only lasted one season and two story archs, but there's a lot packed into those 26 episodes. For one, we have the character of Saint Walker.  What are we to make of him (or, at least, of his cartoon incarnation)?


He has a bit of an Asian martial arts/anime feel; I was reminded of The Last Airbender when watching him fight.  But what about his character development?

In episode 12, "Invasion", he goes up a mountain to ask for help. There he hears a mysterious voice (Mogo in this case, rather than God).

Saint Walker: "Are you sure the galaxy's saviour isn't you, wise one? I would willingly serve you."
Mogo: "I am not."
SW: "...I quite like how mysterious you can be. But now I ask a direct question. Who is the savior? And where do I find him or her?"
M: "Climb."

And so he climbs, in faith. He climbs and waits.

Finally fearing that the message is that "there is no hope", he shouts back, "I cannot give up. My spirit will not be broken. I believe!... All will be well."  His statement is reminiscent of what the mystic Julian of Norwich claimed to hear from God Himself: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manners of things shall be well." (And Walker, like Julian, is called "Saint" even though not formally canonized.)

On the mountain he asked for help and was instead sent himself. (In Latin, "missa" - the word from which we get "Mass" - means "sent".)  He is called and sent, like Moses, to be an agent of salvation himself.

In the GL universe, he becomes a living embodiment of Hope. Only by holding on to hope can he use his blue power ring and, therefore, his powers. His power is a free gift (grace) and works only while he holds on to that particular theological virtue. No hope, no power.

It is this hope that saves. He brings hope when the corps is losing to the red lanterns. It is this hope (specifically hope in life beyond death) that saves Razor in the series finale -- but that is a post for another time.