Letter from the Editor: Overcoming What Ails Us

We love our underdog stories. Give us a inspirational tale of someone defying the odds, holding up under pressure, and overcoming obstacles! We can’t get enough, because in them we gain hope that we might follow down this road to victory in our own lives.

Hope is, of course, a good thing. We need courage to keep on keeping on in this world of troubles. Such tales are popular because every human heart feels the weight of struggle. Messages of overcoming are, therefore, embedded in the stories crafted for our consumption in our books, movies, songs, plays, and games. We can’t get enough. Which means we often swallow the stories whole, without taking the time to chew on the messages first. Overcoming is good, but it’s possible to settle for a version of victory that isn’t aligned with everything Jesus spoke of. Jesus cast a vision of overcoming that is distinctly different from the world’s. It’s not enough to defy the odds or hold up under pressure or overcome obstacles if it delivers us into a state of greater bondage. True overcoming ushers in kingdom life for us and those around us.

Overcoming is good, but it’s possible to settle for a version of victory that isn’t aligned with everything Jesus spoke of.

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the features and curated support articles look at the various ways messages of overcoming are packaged for our consumption. Our first feature from Ashley Hales raises the question, “Is Mrs. Maisel So Marvelous?”:

We want to see ourselves reflected in Midge Maisel’s story of overcoming. But, we must also wonder, is her story of overcoming all that marvelous? Yes, the show exposes the ways in which women were infantilized and yet bought into it (consider Midge’s nightly beauty routine where she waits until Joel is asleep to remove her makeup and put her hair in curlers and then wakes before him to put it all on again). Yes, the show follows Midge taking control of her life, working at comedy in a man’s world, trying to both be a single mother and missing her husband. For these revelations, I want to stand up and cheer.

But is this all there is? Is this only a story of a 1950s housewife with a slim waist, overcoming the odds of the mid-century patriarchy?

[…]

Though we gravitate toward Midge’s beautiful and witty story of overcoming, it is modeled upon an American myth that to be free we must ultimately be unencumbered and successful—that even significant others are or would be holding us back.

Hales is right—we love overcoming if it echoes the individualism and autonomy of our beloved American Dream. But if it means sacrificing our sacred cows? We shy away from such costly sacrifices. We are loathe to give up our ideals, for with their loss we lose the foundation from which we’ve crafted a version of faith that aligns more so with the prosperity gospel than the Good News that Jesus delivered. But overcoming, in its truest sense, includes breaking free of the ways these ideals have trapped us in lifeless ideals, which is exactly what Justin Phillips presents in his feature, “In the Shade of Wakanda: The Resurrection of Broken White Boys”:

Black Panther does not need Everett Ross to exhibit the ingenuity or independence of Wakanda; the visual effects spark the imagination of what an African super-power might look like; the film’s subtext will provide ample material for college courses; the emotional heft of the story will persist far beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther, however, does need Martin Freeman’s performance, precisely as a willing subordinate and even frequent punchline. He is a near-perfect complement to a stellar cast that has one non-villainous, yet nowhere-near-woke, white character.

[…]

Whiteness itself exists as a kind of character, an occasionally named power, but still a subterranean force that seeks to invade and control. Precisely for this reason, Wakanda becomes the site of healing for broken white boys Ross and Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier, or the “White Wolf”). Ross and Barnes are bit-players in Black Panther, beneficiaries of Wakanda’s hospitality, and their inclusion offers us whites (perhaps) an occasion to recognize the extent of our soul’s injuries, many of them self-inflicted, to say nothing of the ones we have caused. Ross and Barnes are warlords of different stripes, but their resurrections are acts of grace by Wakandans. The story is not yet written as to whether or not they have embraced or will reciprocate the true community that Wakanda offered them.

Resurrection is proof of new life, the ultimate overcoming of death, ushering in of new life. Every one of us needs it, for we are each caught in the tendrils of death. For each one of us, death is front and center in ways that cannot be covered over or pushed aside or ignored. We are all in need of grace, when our brokenness is showing for all the world to see. Amanda McClendon’s feature, “The Healing Chaos of Love in Turtles All the Way Down,” reminds us of both the need for overcoming as well as the hope that it will, eventually, come:

Green makes it clear that love cannot cure a mental illness, but it can at least become more bearable when other people help carry its weight. The Christian hope is that not only do we have other people around us who can bear our burdens, but we also believe that ultimately Love is a Person who entered the dark and disorder for our sake. He may not immediately make us well, but He very much understands us. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows in His body on the cross. And one day He will make us whole people who love perfectly.

So much of life is coming to grips with reality: what is actually true, even if not yet evident, versus what appears to be true, based on what’s happening in the world at this moment. Some stories of overcoming make us cheer but are based on faulty self-serving ideals. Some stories of overcoming repel us because we don’t want to face the destructiveness of our ideals. But some stories of overcoming remind us that we are all broken and in need of someone to enter the dark and disorder we call home.

In This Issue

Is Mrs. Maisel So Marvelous?

Though we gravitate toward Midge’s beautiful and witty story of overcoming, it is modeled upon an American myth that to be free we must ultimately be unencumbered and successful.

by Ashley Hales

In the Shade of Wakanda: The Resurrection of Broken White Boys

If we are ever to see difference as a gift, then we need a resurrection of sorts, but we would do well to remember that resurrection requires a death.

by Justin Phillips

The Healing Chaos of Love in Turtles All the Way Down

What if trusting God with our disorders, or the disorders of the people we love, means not trying to figure out the reason for them?

by Amanda McClendon

Me Before You : Should Christians Engage a Film about Physician-Assisted Suicide?

If our desire is to articulate a robust pro-life position that honors all people, then boycotting Me Before You does not serve to bring about the type of purposeful dialogue that engagement would provide.

by Abby Perry

The Walking Dead: Brokenness Will Find You

The Walking Dead speaks about us as it reveals our aches and longings. Our world is broken, and yet our hopes need not be dashed.

by David Dunham

Can Ads Change the World? Thoughts on #likeagirl, #beyourway, and #shinestrong

We should never be tricked into thinking that ads exist to do anything other than sell us things, and we should never start to believe that being better consumers is the key to building a better world.

by Amy Peterson

Telling Stories: Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman’s new book reminds us that stories are made to be loved, cherished, told, and retold.

by Blaine Grimes

Attack on Titan, Overcoming Evil with Mercy

Season 2 of Attack on Titan is filled with actions that are incredibly hard to empathize with or understand.

by Allison Barron