Archives For Man of Steel

mainDick Cheney could’ve spared himself a lot of historical ignominy had he opted to force prisoners to read Mark Driscoll’s ebook Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood rather than submit them to water-boarding.

The cumulative effect of Driscoll’s self-congratulatory screed has been to remind me of Robert DeNiro’s stepfather character in This Boy’s Life, the memoir/film by Tobias Wolf.

DeNiro’s abusive yet pathetically silly character, like Driscoll himself, haunted the Pacific Northwest.

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Chapter 6 of Driscoll’s ebook, ‘Instruction Followed by Correction,’ pretty much follows this theo-literary formula:

‘A wise and godly father SHOULD______________’ 

‘A wise and godly father MUST________________ ‘

Insert tenuous citation from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. 

I began reading this book to anticipate Father’s Day but Driscoll is such a boorish nag the book is better suited to Mother’s-in-Law Day.

The model of ‘biblical’ parenting prescribed by Driscoll presents a telling contrast to that other sacred text opening in theaters tomorrow, Man of Steel.

People who know me or read me will not be surprised that in the comic pantheon I prefer Batman, well tied with Hell Boy actually. Batman is dark and damaged. Cynicism leads him to vigilantism. The costume reveals his true self rather than masks it.

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Superman, on the other hand, has always been a bit too bright, too optimistic and Americana kitsch for me.

Except, I guess I should qualify that by saying I never really cared for Superman until I had kids.

Until I adopted kids, I should add.

My oldest boy, I should specify.

Most reflections (of a theological bent) on Superman focus on how Kal-El is a graphic, American Dream projection of our need to have a Christ-like Savior figure, one whose character is as pure as his powers are mighty. And sure, you can interpret Superman that way. I mean it’s not exactly subtle; Kal- El is a loose play on the Hebrew for ‘voice of God.’

But to read it only that way is, I think, to miss something else entirely.

Superman’s goodness, his kindness and gentleness, his (often unfounded) insistence on believing in the good inside people- all those attributes that led me to dismiss Superman when I was  a boy are exactly those things that give me hope now that I have boys.

Because those attributes of Clark Kent I found so bland and corny as a kid are attributes Clark acquired from Ma and Pa Kent.

His adoptive parents. article-kent-2

This is clear to anyone who’s read the Superman comics- and it’s what makes Superman Red Son, in which Clark’s spaceship crashes not in the Midwest but in the Soviet Union, so interesting.

Clark is the way he is, unfailingly kind (even to the point of naivete), gentle and good, not because he went to K-5 at the Fortress of Solitude Academy.

No, he is the way he is because that’s the example Ma and Pa Kent gave him as his parents.

Superman’s goodness is their goodness.

While Batman shows the life-long impact of tragedy striking a boy in one’s formative years, Superman, more so than any other comic superhero, demonstrates the power- the possibility- of nurture being just as formative in a child’s life as nature.

In the Church, we call that grace. It’s the good news behind Clark’s goodness. And it’s been the good news in our own family.

We adopted our oldest boy when he was a few days shy of his 5th birthday. His preceding years had given us every reason to expect that the proceeding years would be far from easy. Or happy.

The adoption world uses terms like ‘at risk’ and ‘special needs’ to name the possibility that whatever’s happened before this child crashed into your life likely cannot be undone by whatever love you nurture in him.

And often, sadly, that IS how the story turns out.

But I can give you at least two stories, one drawn in reds and blues and the other being told in flesh and blood, that turn out differently.

 

20130521_TORNADO-slide-HIJ2-hpLargeI know it will come as a surprise to those who’ve been privy to my choice of children’s sermon  subject matter over the years. Still, believe it or not, I try to exercise some discretion when it comes to exposing my boys to the darkness and suffering in the world.

As I’ve noted here before, my boys expend countless hours debating whether or not, say, Gandalf could contend with Jesus in a no-magic-allowed cage match (Jesus).

And so I’m reluctant to puncture their innocence by pointing out that sometimes it seems as though God is less reliable in this world than the Man of Steel.

Case in point, Oklahoma.

I didn’t get to the NPR dial quick enough and the story was unaccompanied by the ‘this could be disturbing to children’ warning.

They heard all about the tornado and the damage and the kids.

And the kids.

And then they asked me questions, each one like they were tabulating God’s cosmic justice on an abacus and seeming surprised at the sum.

I had no idea how to navigate the if/then questions. If God….then…why…?

Related here’s a piece from the NY Times by Bill Franzen about talking to your kids about the darkness in the cosmos.

Avoiding any frank talks with your children about the dangers lurking “out there” in the universe is completely natural. Pointing out a full moon or the Big Dipper is way easier than telling your little Johnny flat-out that a single meteorite the size of his school bus would wipe out everything in the region, including us, and so all his crying now isn’t going to change that.

But as hard as it is to see your youngsters lose their innocence just like that, tiptoeing around the topic of scary stuff in our cosmos will only create worse problems. Better to be candid now, and simply weather little Johnny’s night terrors and his long phases of avoiding all friends and activities, than to hold back on the facts.

Sooner or later your little Susie is going to find out for herself about the inevitability of an asteroid slamming into Earth — probably through a “friend” or on the Internet. So shouldn’t news of our planet’s complete vulnerability come out of your mouth first? Take the initiative early on. That way you can at least reassure her that, as far as killer asteroids go, she’s much more likely to die on an amusement-park ride or at a fireworks display.

Recently I was lying on a blanket in the backyard between my 7-year-old twins, Mark and Missy. We were up way past bedtime, savoring a spectacularly starry night sky. I really got going about supernova explosions of massive stars and about how this results in tremendous gamma-ray bursts that can shoot deadly beams of intense radiation many light years through space, and how, if one ever reached the Earth, it would spell extinction for everyone. I avoided the temptation to sugarcoat things. The twins needed me to tell it like it is.

Well, Mark sobbed away hysterically while Missy asked one simple question: “Are we still gonna get a Christmas tree?”

“Sure we are,” I said, and told the kids they’d probably have Christmas trees for the rest of their lives. I emphasized that it could even take thousands of years for any gamma ray burst to zero in on Earth and so, no worries — we’d be long dead by then anyway. Eventually, maybe, they will take some comfort in that.

It’s hard trying to control your children’s feelings. Yesterday, when I told them about the chances of a huge comet someday crossing Earth’s path, they became very frightened indeed. But, to my credit, I let them know that it was perfectly normal to feel scared — I’m scared, too, I confessed — and gave them probably too many reassuring hugs. Then I microwaved popcorn and we watched “C.S.I.” together, and the twins’ questions turned refreshingly earthbound: What’s rigid mortis? Do kids ever have to get that life insurance? How do vultures know you’re dead and that you’re not just knocked out?And, What does sexy mean? (“Ask your mother next week” — I wimped out on that one.)

Honesty and directness are the best tools for ever so gently shattering your children’s assumption that our planet is a safe and secure place. And if this sometimes makes them feel that their lives on Earth are somehow less meaningful — hey, welcome to the club. But steer clear of the planetarium, unless it’s Laser Rock Night. Then by all means go, even if the homework isn’t done.