Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Could Be Heroes...

Greetings from Rochester, NY, home of the never-ending slate-gray sky and towering banks of dirty snow. Dreary as it sounds, its home, and I'm looking forward to enjoying it more as soon as my final paper is completed and turned in...tomorrow!

In the meantime, I couldn't resist a little break from St. Augustine to comment on a fascinating story from in which reporter Winston Ross goes to Seattle to interview...ready...REAL SUPERHEROES!!! OK, so they're basically just a bunch of average joe's in homemade costumes banded together to wander the streets of the Rainy City in search of alleyway drug deals, corrupt crack houses, and other haunts of hideous hooligans. One caped crusader in particular, "Phoenix Jones," has "faced down skinheads wearing brass knuckles, disarmed people wielding screwdrivers as weapons, chased down a man firing a gun in the air, and stopped one homeless man from stabbing another." Appropriately, they're calling themselves the Rainy City Superhero Movement. Mark Driscoll, your wildest dreams have come true...

The plot thickens: there is actually an international league of individuals engaged in the pursuit of justice called the Real Life Superhero Movement (RLSH), and they are none too pleased with the emergence of the rogue Seattle contingent and their media-courting vigilante showmanship. Yet

Jones is mostly polite with the RLSH members who criticize him, but he makes no apologies for his approach. The real-life superheroes mostly hand out food to homeless people, he reports scornfully. Superheroes are supposed to take down criminals. "They can keep feeding homeless people with sandwiches," Jones says. "Leave the crime to me."

Ross narrates his journey through the dark (and fairly uneventful) streets of Seattle in the Superheroes' dirty Kia, complete with requests for escort by drunken sorority girls and a near-fatal run-in with intoxicated kids who think the reporter is trying to steal his car, one of whom challenges Ross:

"You messing with my van, homie?" one of them says to me, his hand on what he's clearly trying to communicate is a weapon in his waistband.

I assure him I'm not, and realize I'm relieved that Phoenix Jones doesn't run into any real crime on our patrol. There's a reason, I've learned, that most real-life superheroes hand out sandwiches: fighting crime can get you killed.

Its a fascinating and fun read, and it begs the question: if comic book afficiandos and would-be martial artist are willing to so seriously identify their own stories of salvation and redemption with the narratives of the comic books that have indelibly shaped their imaginations, what kind of challenge does their embodiment of their beliefs, issuing forth in their zany yet life-risking pursuit of justice, pose to those of us whose own story claims to transform us into the equivalent of the "real superheroes league," which includes the menial, unmasked, every day work of not only handing out sandwiches, but also becoming ourselves broken bread and poured out wine for the sake of those who groan under the weight of systematic injustice and slavery to the life-defying powers of the world? On the cross, Christ re-wrote the script of what it means to live as a hero - yet, what could we learn from the willingness of Phoenix Jones to place his life on the line for the sake of strangers he may never meet?

Regardless, it certainly gives new meaning to St. Paul's invitation to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ..." In the meantime, we'll keep doing the work the violent neglect: being with, for, and changed by, those to whom sandwiches are given, and from whom salvation is received. We may discover that, far from donning masks ourselves, it is actually Christ who, clothed in the disturbing disguise of the least of these, has come to save the day for us.

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