Monday, October 31, 2016

Supergirl: Powers & Prejudice

Supergirl is quickly becoming my favorite television show. In the first two episodes following her move from CBS to the CW, Supergirl introduced a warm, charming, and inspiring version of the Man of Steel that far outshines his cinematic counterpart. I could easily write a whole essay on why the CW’s Superman is better in every way than Zach Snyder’s interpretation, but this post is about Supergirl not Superman.

The most recent episode of Supergirl, titled Welcome to Earth, touches on some very relevant and relatable themes—specifically, the issue of immigration and personal prejudices. The story centers around the arrival of the President (played by Wonder Woman actress, Linda Carter), who plans to sign an executive order granting America’s extraterrestrial visitors amnesty and even full citizenship. As you might expect, the Alien Amnesty Act is a pretty divisive issue. Kara gets very excited about it, but J’onn J'onzz (The Martian Manhunter) remains pessimistic about the prospect of aliens stepping out the shadows. “People in this world don’t have much tolerance for others who look different,” says J’onn. “I say that as an alien and as someone who wore the face of a black man for 15 years.”

When an alien assassin makes an attempt on the President’s life, Kara’s own prejudices rise to the surface. Her first suspect is an alien named Mon-El (Lar Gand actually, but that’s a long story). When Supergirl discovers that Mon-El hails from the planet Daxam, she explains that Krypton and Daxam used to clash because of their differing ways of life. While Krypton was a democracy, Daxam was a monarchy that “ruled a population of hoodlums.” Thus, she immediately assumes he attacked the president. Only after wrongfully imprisoning Mon-El does Supergirl discover and defeat the actual attacker—a fire-manipulating villain named Scorcher.

This episode serves as a social commentary, highlighting real problems and prejudices in our own culture. Of course, America isn’t the first nation to struggle with racial tension. Prejudice and discrimination, in varying forms and to various degrees, has plagued humanity for thousands of years.

Racism and oppression littered the world of the New Testament. In the mind of a first-century Jew, Gentiles (Africans, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, Asians, etc.) were created to fuel the fires of hell. When a Jew called a Gentile “uncircumcised,” he spit it. It was a name of profound contempt. If a Jewish person married a Gentile, the Jewish parents held a funeral service for their child. In their eyes, their child was dead.

On the flip side, Gentiles regarded Jews to be sub-human. Historically, the Jews have been an oppressed people, living under the thumb of one Gentile nation after another (e.g., Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome). In all of human history, there has never been so much animosity, hatred, and violence between two groups of people as there has been between the Jew and the Gentile.

Yet, here’s what the Bible says about this division: “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us… He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups” (Ephesians 2:14-15 NLT).

In other words, Jesus intended the church to be a community free of discrimination, prejudice and hostility where we are called to “accept each other just as Christ has accepted” us (Romans 15:7 NLT). Again, the Bible says, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NLT).

All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are affronts to the work of Christ on the cross. The church ought to be a place of acceptance for people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. And Christians ought to work to eliminate bigotry and bias in our communities and country.

After defeating Scorcher, Supergirl releases Mon-El from his cell, confessing, “I don’t know you at all and it was a mistake of me to misjudge you just because you’re from Daxam. You didn’t try to kill the President and I apologize for assuming you did.” She then extends her hand in friendship. We all ought to follow in Supergirl’s footsteps, admitting and apologizing for our prejudices then trying our best (with the help of Christ) to overcome them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Green with Evil

I just watched the teaser trailer for the new Power Rangers movie and I can barely contain my excitement. I was twelve years old when the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television series first aired and immediately became a life-long fan. I loved all of the original cast: Jason—the Red Ranger, Kimberly—the Pink Ranger, Billy—the Blue Ranger, Zack—the Black Ranger, and Trini—the Yellow Ranger. My favorite character, however, didn’t join the cast until part way through the first season. In a five-episode story arc title Green with Evil, fans were introduced to Tommy Oliver—the Green Ranger.

At first, Tommy isn’t a Power Ranger. In fact, he’s neither a hero nor a villain. He’s simply an ordinary teenager attending Angel Grove High School. However, thanks to his remarkable martial arts skills, Tommy catches the eye of the evil empress Rita Repulsa, the Power Rangers’ arch villainess. Rita kidnaps Tommy, puts him under her spell, and transforms him into the Evil Green Ranger dedicated to the destruction of the Power Rangers.

After infiltrating and ransacking the team’s Command Center, the Green Ranger bests the other Rangers in battle, sending them in retreat back to their damaged headquarters. Once the Power Rangers discover the Green Ranger’s secret identity, however, they reach out to Tommy as a friend and fellow student, helping him to overcome Rita’s evil influence. Finally coming to his senses, Tommy penitently wonders aloud, “What have I done?”

“What you did, you did under Rita’s influence,” Jason responds. “You own the power now. Fight by our side and we can defeat Rita.”

“After everything that’s happened?” Tommy doubts.

“Tommy we need you. It’s where you belong,” Jason assures his fellow Ranger. Then, extending a friendly hand, Jason invites, “Will you join us, Tommy?” With a nod and a handshake Tommy’s life changed course. Together, the Power Rangers foiled Rita Repulsa’s evil plans and saved the citizens of Angel Grove.

I can’t help but notice some spiritual parallels in Tommy’s tale.

Just as Rita’s evil influence clouded Tommy’s mind and corrupted his morals, sin has a similar effect on us. The Bible describes sin’s influence, saying, “Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT). Sin closes our minds and corrupts our morals. It leads us down a destructive path away from God’s goodness and grace. We all wrestle with sin and sometimes surrender to its seductive influence. Thankfully, however, we are not alone in our battle.

Just as the Power Rangers reached out to Tommy, confronting him and helping him to overcome Rita’s grasp, close Christian friends can do the same for us. The Bible says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20 NIV). It’s our responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ to watch out for each other, to keep one another accountable, and help each other conquer the sins that so easily beset us. Through the encouragement and help of close Christian friends, we can foil Satan’s evil schemes and experience true victory in Jesus!