Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Is the Modern Christian Caught in a Trap?--What the Jason Collins Story Exposed in Religion

   This past winter I was sitting in an Intro to Psych class when my professor began discussing the evolution of thought on psychological disorders. She mentioned that some years ago, it was believed among psychologists that homosexuality was, indeed, a disorder. Looking around the enormous 200-plus lecture hall, she asked us to raise our hands if we thought the same thing. No one raised their hands. She chided us, “Ooh, you guys are so progressive.” We laughed, and went on with the discussion.
   Our generation really is progressive though—it seems that young people nowadays are more accepting and open than they ever were. With that, though, comes enormous backlash against people who might not feel the same—with Chris Broussard’s comments on NBA center Jason Collins’ coming-out announcement, we definitely saw that.
   The same day that Jason Collins became the first active athlete in a major sport to come out as gay, ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines’ held a reactionary segment featuring NBA analyst/Christian Chris Broussard. The anchor, explaining to Broussard that Collins was a Christian as well, asked him for comment. Highlights of Broussard’s response include that Collins is “walking in open rebellion to God and Jesus Christ”, that “homosexuality . . . is a sin”, and finally saying, “I would not characterize that person as a Christian.”
   Yeeeeeeeeeesh. Could that have gone any worse? Short of damning Jason Collins to hell, probably not. Yikes, Chris—that was embarrassing.
   I can tell you that, sitting there at home and watching the playback of this interview, I was begging Broussard, for just this once in the world of Christians and the media, to not botch it. He botched it badly, and once again we have a situation where believers look like the narrow-minded jerks sitting on the outside pointing fingers while the rest of the world shakes their heads and wonders why we do not understand. It sucks. Ninety-nine percent of Christians are not like that, but I feel like in this progressive society, that one percent has all the attention. Now, these Collins-esque situations feel like traps.
   Broussard was really wrong in his statement that, just because Collins was gay, his faith was invalid. That was ignorant. The other stuff though? Well, according to the Bible, he was right. Christians think homosexuality is a sin—that is true—to Christians marriage is designed to reflex Jesus’ marriage to the church (his bride, as it is explained). That is not to say, though, that Christians think that gays and lesbians are terrible people. Rather, the Bible says that despite this sin, we should love these people anyway—especially so, in fact. No one goes past the sin part though. I feel like we live in a world that likes to think that if you are a sinner, Christians hate you. You go to hell now. End of story.
   That is not the end of the story though. As I said before, ninety-nine percent of Christians do their best to feel compassionate and understanding toward homosexuals, because they realize that, according to their own religion, they sin too in one way or another. No one is faultless, so why should one group of people be condemned just because their sin is different? To them, it is up to God to judge—it is not even their place to say who is right and who is wrong. As a Christian, I promise you that I do not sit across from my gay friends at lunch and just think about how sinful they are. It does not even cross my mind, and that is partly because my faith tells me that the act of judgment in itself is just as condemning. Judging them makes me a hypocrite.
   Our progressive society seems to be making some of the core beliefs of Christianity (marriage, sexuality, drug use, etc.) more and more irrelevant. Twenty or thirty years ago, homosexuality was seen as outlandish and strange—I mean, the gay community used to take the blame for the AIDS virus, for crying out loud—but now things are entirely different. Huge movements to stop negative connotations of even just using the word ‘gay’ have seen a ton of support. Progress for equal rights has never had more momentum than right now. Acceptance is rampant in the United States at this very moment, and Christians, who look to follow the pristine model and example of openness and acceptance himself in Jesus Christ, are suddenly the kids playing by themselves on the playground. We are not allowed to show our faith because that makes us narrow-minded and rigid, and we are not allowed to be accepting because the only people in our group who have the public eye, that “one-percent”, will insult us. Then, we are still in trouble, because we are still a part of those people who will not let anyone support the gays.
   So what is the modern Christian to do? It seems, ironically, like a two-way street with no way out. This might be one of the hardest times for Americans to have faith. It would be easy to say that all Christians have to do is to set positive examples, or for the Chris Broussards to not blow it when they are put in the limelight. Those answers are easy, but impractical. One can suppose, though, that the real answer is in the issue itself. It is a hard time to have faith, but . . . maybe you just have to have faith. It might be lame, but that is about all the modern Christian can do. Who knows? It might be all they need to do.
   The story of Jason Collins has inspired a lot of people in the past week, but the fallout might have done the opposite for some. In the world of Christianity, some of the responses might seem like more nails in the proverbial coffin—there you go, another person ruining it for everyone. Not to fear though, because there is still hope. Remember: Jason Collins, at the root of all of this, is a Christian too. Imagine the trials he faced in his life. Imagine the times when he felt like there was nothing but dead-ends in front of him. Imagine how similarly that man must have felt to the modern Christian, all while being a modern Christian. He had faith—and wow, things really worked out for him after all.
   Modern Christians seem to be looking at a two-way street with dead ends in each direction, but there has to be a way out, and Jason Collins found it. He did not do it through judgment or desperate self-defense or accusations; he did it by simple, quiet trust. He knew his faith, he knew what Chris Broussard called his “rebellion”, but he kept on.
   Last week, Collins was an exceptional example of courage for the gay community, and that is what the record will show. Beyond that, though, he was an example of courage for someone else—incredibly and improbably—he was an example for the faith community too.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Airplanes, PTSD, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Abs—Iron Man 3 Review

   Iron Man 3 does a lot of things really well—it knows exactly what it is supposed to be, and then proceeds to fall into that niche in some places and completely buck it in others. In other words, it does a nice job of taking some unexpected turns while delivering some of the classic Iron Man standbys we have come to know from the franchise. That being said, these tweaks can be a little hit-or-miss, and the result is a really good flick that falls just short of being truly exceptional.
   Tony Stark is back this time around with a whole new set of problems, both internal and external. For starters, he has the terrorist Mandarin (played by the stellar Ben Kingsley) calling out the good old U.S. of A. in the midst of a bombing spree, Pepper Potts not really feeling the whole living-with-a-superhero thing (by the way, Gwyneth Paltrow looks insanely good in this movie—her abs especially . . . but moving on), and a scientist named Aldrich Killian cooking up some evil of his own. On top of all of that, Stark seems to have some sort of PTSD-like symptoms from all the crazy stuff that happened in The Avengers. Yeesh.
   It sounds like a lot, but the film actually balances all of the conflicts really nicely (unlike, say, Spiderman 3, because somehow this article just would not seem complete without some acknowledgement of the massive train wreck/Tyler-Daswick-dream-killer that was, indeed, Spiderman 3). Everything is well-developed and believable, and the central villain is the best out of the three movies thusfar. Iron Man is in danger, and it shows.
   The only qualm I had with any of the conflicts came with Stark’s PTSD. It served the movie well in terms of adding some complexity to Downey Jr.’s usual cocky-playboy-millionaire shtick, and it was good acknowledgement of The Avengers, but I thought it was somewhat random. There was no evidence of any mental trauma in The Avengers at all—they all just sat around eating shawarma at the end—so to have this suddenly thrust upon Stark seemed like more of a plot device than some genuine development in his character.
   At the end of the day, however, this is a superhero movie, and you pay to see superhero-action. In this respect, Iron Man 3 delivers on all fronts. Without too many spoilers, just know this: Iron Patriot (formerly War Machine) is finally given his due, the armor variations that you see in the trailers definitely come into play in the best possible way, and the sequence with the airplane might be the best scene of the film. It is spectacular—people applauded in the theater.
   Then comes the final battle. Without too many spoilers, it both proceeded and concluded with heavy, pivotal moments. The first one worked really well for me—some viewers might see it coming and some might not, but either way it brings significant impact. The closer, however, was quite the opposite. The ending of the final fight—which, mind you, is thusfar the final scene that we needed/expected in the first two movies—felt like a rip-off. Things are incredible up to that point, and then I was a little let-down. By no means is it a deal-breaker, it was just disappointing. One of the best pure one-on-one action sequences I have seen in a superhero flick was softened just a touch.
   Regardless, what you have here is the best Iron Man movie hands-down. It has the best action, the best humor, wonderful balance, and the most interesting Tony Stark to date. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley also combine to be the most threatening opposition our hero has faced yet. A few loopholes and a hiccup with the climax aside, this is what an Iron Man movie should be.
   In the midst of a rise in realist-superhero flicks, Iron Man 3 is the perfect example of incorporating mature themes while maintaining an accessible, popcorn-style approach. Did it do enough to be great? No, but it was definite quality, enough to warrant a well-deserved 8/10.