A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.
Deadpool and Jesus: the Christian School Dilemma
Deadpool came out in 2016 as an antihero who seeks vengeance and finds reconciliation only after a bloodbath. It made over $700million and it cost only $58million to make. We can definitely say it was a box-office hit and that millions of happy movie-goers went to see it and told their friends to go. It won’t be long before Deadpool 2 will come out (May 2018) and it will probably have similar success. The antihero is funny, an action hero, straight out of Marvel, and wins his girl in the end. What’s not to like?
But it is a problem for the Christian school. This is not a blog that suggests we should start editing what our children see nor is it an attack on Deadpool. Actually, I sort of enjoyed it myself. The jokes were actually pretty good and there is in me a kind of liking of violence that seems to be endemic in man – remember Cain and Abel? And while there is always the fear that exposure to a particular genre of violence and/or sexuality desensitizes, there is also the well-researched finding that fantasy does not crossover into “real” life in humans who are well balanced.
No, the problem isn’t that the movie industry doesn’t portray Christ-like characters generally speaking and that we should protest Hollywood and not let it into our schools. That’s a different blog. The bigger problem is that we struggle between Deadpool and Jesus in our schools as well. We have to ask the question as to who our hero is in our own schools, how do we identify that person and that group of people, and how do we praise and honor them?
Seth Godin recently wrote: “We like the flawed hero, bad behavior, tragedy and drama in our fictional characters. Batman and Deadpool sell far more tickets than Superman does. If we use social media to attract a crowd, we will, at some level, become a fictional character. Reality shows aren’t about reality–they’re shows. Which means that it’s tempting to become the sort of trainwreck that people like to watch and jeer and root for. Personally, and for our brand as well. Every time DC tries to make Superman more popular, they create drama that isn’t inherent in who he is. Brands fall into this trap all the time. For a long time, people would confirm that they’d rather watch a flawed character, but deep down, they’d like to be Superman. Because his humility, kindness and resilient mental health are a perfect match for his unlimited powers. Unfortunately, as we’ve turned our lives into a reality show, more people seem happier emphasizing their mess. It’s probably a bad idea to vote for, work for or marry a train-wreck. They belong on screen, not in real life. Everyone has some Superman in them. But it takes emotional labor and hard work to reclaim it.”
Seth Godin is a brand expert and if you want to follow one person, I would recommend him. But his words should make us uneasy. What is the Christian school brand? How do we compete with our neighboring schools? How do we attract our families? What brand do we teach our children at all the ages we teach?
While we might feel that we want to be like Jesus, that he is our superhero, that he is the model for our living and teaching, my experience is that we struggle with it as we compete in the “real” world. But what are we struggling about? St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”. We are resurrection schools. We must represent that in the world. So some thoughts:
- We are people of hope. Individual hope and corporate hope. In practical terms, that means we are schools where we believe every student to have resurrection hope as a birthright and God’s blessing as an everyday occurrence. It is not our task to determine who our students are – judgment is God’s job. It is our task to provide hope on a daily basis. With all due respect to our secular colleagues, it is hope that foundationally builds resilience, and https://apa.org/helpcenter/resilience.aspx APA can only offer tactics, useful but limited. As the great hymn says: If hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use, I’ll seek the seas at His behest, and brave another cruise. http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/f/ifeelwin.htm
- Our heros in our schools are in the unlikeliest places. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with pointing to the gentle quarterback who is a lead in the musical. God has greatly gifted that person too. But pointing those people out can, in isolation, suggest that you have to be a worldly winner to have your name in the school newsletter. What about the average student who is a back row singer in the musical, always shows up on time, and is kind to those around him or her? It is a challenge to know how to praise our students in a way that does not give in to Hollywood and the construct of our society. It is too easy to point out “success” and give little thought to what true success might look like from a Christian school point of view. Sure, we should have alumni who are distinguished on the walls of our school. Maybe we should also have alumni who have been married to the same person for 25 years or more as well. Or always provided for their families. Or always paid their bills. I think about my parents who did those things as more and more like heros the longer I live. In another verse of that hymn the writer says: If cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be; Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea. http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/f/ifeelwin.htm
- Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The Lectionary points us to Psalm 23 and John chapter 10: “I am the good shepherd.” Far from applauding Superman, let alone Deadpool, Jesus is most concerned about the sheep that is lost (Luke 15). Yet we struggle in our schools between the straight A student and the PR student that adorns our webpages when we know that, thanking God for those students, we are sent out to seek the isolated student in the corner, the student who is bored, the student who has no interest in athletics, to bring them in and make them part of the flock. As St. John writes: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” It doesn’t take too much of a rhetorical leap to apply that to my Christian school.
We must struggle with our brand. Is it a Superman brand? A Deadpool brand? Are we so concerned with raising money for new facilities to compete with the school down the road that we forget that our business is the lost sheep? Do we entice parents in with Deadpool or Superman and forget that our business is the lost sheep? Do we parade our super students and forget that God loves each student?
Can we have it both ways? St. Matthew sounds a cautionary note: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
The last verse of the hymn I have been quoting (I Feel the Winds of God Today) sings:
If ever I forget Thy love and how that love was shown,
Lift high the blood red flag above; it bears Thy Name alone.
Great Pilot of my onward way, Thou wilt not let me drift;
I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift.
Let us be Good Shepherd schools!