Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.
Ephesians 2:19 (NIV)
I read a newspaper report recently that said Marvel Studios comic book adaptations have grossed a collective $10 billion (US Dollars) globally since the new wave of superhero powered films began in 2008. This represents the amount that people around the world have paid for cinema tickets. With a lucrative merchandising machine that supports each film and the multiple characters from each instalment, not to mention the rival DC Comics studio that also have their own universe of characters, you don’t need to wander far from the cinema to see some kind of reference to a superhero.
Each superhero has their own unique backstory as to what makes them so special. As the characters are dissected, whether on a superficial action-film level or in a more in-depth TV series prequel, for example, we are told of how they found themselves in their predicament and journey with them as they wrestle with their issues. Of the characters I follow, I’m always intrigued by the issue of identity and why wearing your underpants on the outside for everyone to see can lead to people calling you the ‘Man of Steel’?
In my youthful innocence, this was never a problem for me as a young boy who grew up jumping around on my bed in my blue pyjamas, draped in a red blanket, after school had finished for the day. Letting my imagination run wild, I assumed the identity of another person who had been sent away from his home world which faced destruction, as it was the last hope of his parents who wanted their child to survive. This child would soon learn that he was unlike the other children on his new home world, then determining that as an adult, it would be best to conceal his real identity and the powers he had. Of course, we all know how this story turns out and that soon, the world needed his powers to defeat evil and thus, a superhero was born. However, the changing identities didn’t stop there and thanks to a shirt and tie, a pair of thick rimmed spectacles and a handy network of public telephone boxes (more recent reboots of this franchise will have dispensed with telephone boxes thanks to the advent of mobile phones), our hero maintained his disguise as a bland and weedy newspaper reporter.
Whilst comic scholars will debate my simple and possibly flawed synopsis, my personal parallels with this character unfortunately do not relate to being faster than a speeding bullet or having the ability to shoot lasers from my eyes, but do centre on the issue of identity.
Being of different ethnic origin to my country of birth, I too found out that I was unlike the other children around me. However, moving from childhood into adulthood taught me that most people have challenges around identity. This is a wide subject matter that many psychologists, therapists and clinicians deal with on a daily basis and research shows it is on the rise.
In my adulthood I also discovered the Bible and met Jesus, and in dealing with my issues of identity, I learnt that we are all part of God’s family no matter what appearance, family background, education, economic status or race. My favourite book of the Bible is Ephesians which tells us that Christ has destroyed the barriers people build up for themselves. For a young man who had experienced discrimination, exclusion and confusion about racial identity, the revelation that God made us to be part of one family gave me great hope. Unfortunately humans still take it upon themselves to continue building barriers; but I believe that there is that same hope for us all to see beyond our differences and to use our unique testimonies and life experiences that God has given us to serve his kingdom here on earth.
That’s what I like about the stories of some of our comic superheroes depicted on our screens today. Even in their adversity and challenges that lead them to wrestle with identity, there is still hope. I don’t think God asks us to dawn a cape or wear our underpants on the outside to believe in the hope that is in Jesus, but I’m happy to watch my superheroes do this for entertainment value. If anything, God asks us not to have a disguise but instead to be able to express our faith without any inhibitions.
The final parallel I will draw with one my favourite superheroes is the time when I came closest to having my own ‘telephone box’ moment after reading through Ephesians:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
Just as the writer of Ephesians went through his own transformation from Saul, a persecutor of Christians, to Paul, a preacher for Christ, I too recognised the sin in my life, sought forgiveness from God and asked for the Holy Spirit to help change me. Through this, my identity did change; I believe I became truthful, considerate and kinder to my neighbour, more aware and resilient to evil and temptation from the devil, and thankful for Jesus in my life.
I didn’t come out of the ‘telephone box’ with a red cape to save the world but I did find the one true superhero in my life who I follow now – our Lord Jesus Christ.
Director of Communications