Christianity is “The chance to give a shit.” A theological reaction to Guardians of the Galaxy

2014.08.01 Christianity is the chance to give a shit

I have never (to my recollection) used swear words on this blog, and if you don’t want to read “shit” a few times, you can skip this one but I hope you’ll bear with me. If you don’t want to read one or two (relatively) minor spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy that already partially appear in the trailers, you can skip this one, too, and I hope you’ll come back later. And if you stumbled into this article and it takes a religious turn you really weren’t expecting, well, I still hope you’ll stick around.

This morning, my wife and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest film from the Marvel Comics universe, and I loved it. I loved it for many reasons (the scope of the story and the scale of the universe, the humor, the character relationships, the music, the make-up, its place in the overall story arc of the Marvel film universe, etc.). But there’s one scene that really struck me and that’s what this post is about.

2014.08.01 Gaurdians of the Galaxy

Now THAT’S how you walk down a hallway.

There’s a major turning point in Guardians of the Galaxy in which the ragtag group of scoundrels have to decide whether they will come together to indeed, literally guard the galaxy, or go their separate ways and for their separate, selfish ambitions. Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, a human out amongst aliens, gives this motley crew a pep talk that is as glib as it gets. Here’s the exchange (if a keen-eared reader has a friendly correction, please let me know in the comments):

Peter Quill: I look around and you know what I see? Losers. As in, people who have lost things. Homes. Families. Sometimes, life takes more than it gives. But not today. Today, life’s giving us a chance.

Drax the Destroyer: To do what?

Peter Quill: To give a shit.

Peter Quill, a selfish man-child, is addressing four other adult-children. Up to this point, they’ve focused most of their lives’ energy pursuing money, power, sex, fame, revenge, and a good time. Anyone can argue the merits of any of those pursuits, though anyone who does will likely lose me if he or she says it should be the #1 priority pursuit in life, as it was for these characters. And somehow, Quill’s journey in the first half of the film is his journey to realizing life is about a little bit something more than all of that, no matter how shiny those aforementioned pursuit objects might be. As for Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot, they each reach a point in which nothing they’ve pursued as their main pursuit seems to matter that much anymore. And, sitting there together, they realize these potential foes are really true friends. They realize this because of Peter Quill’s pep talk.

He knows the truth: they are better together.

2014.08.01 Gaurdians of the Galaxy 02

Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord, not to be confused with “Our Lord.”

And not just as a group of five, but as a galaxy, as a collection of many people all tied together. Evil very much exists in this galaxy, as does pain and suffering, danger that risks life and limb, and so on. The galaxy is not a safe and friendly place. And it’s still what we have. It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth making a better place. It’s worth guarding.

It’s worth giving a shit.

And, at the risk of coming off as crass but attempting to be genuine to the emotions I felt watching the entire film and in particular this scene, this is the message of Jesus.

The message of Jesus is that it’s worth giving a shit.

Over and over, the message of Jesus throughout the Gospels is you are worthy of God’s love and your neighbor is worthy of yours. God already cares and you should, too. Jesus compels people to respond to God’s love and heal this broken world. Offer friendship to the friendless (Mark 2:13-17). Seek forgiveness over revenge (Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 15:11-32). If you do good so others will notice, you’re not doing good for others (Luke 18:9-14). If you’re doing good so others will pay you back, you’re not doing good for others (Luke 14:12-14). Prioritize ending someone’s poverty over your pursuit of buying more stuff (Matthew 19:16-30). Feed and clothe the hungry and the naked (Matthew 25:31-46, John 21:15-19). Look to Jesus for an example of how to treat people and go and do likewise (Matthew 11:28-30). Instead of dismissing others’ with your cynicism, or caring more about your image and your own life pursuits instead of helping someone in desperate need, maybe you should just plain give a shit – perhaps even if that person doesn’t give a shit about you (Luke 10:25-37).

2014.08.01 Gaurdians of the Galaxy 03

If you call Drax the Destroyer a “loser,” you’d better be able to back that up.

The Guardians of the Galaxy choose community over individuality, choose to get hopeful instead of cynical, choose to act instead of gripe, choose to respond to the call for justice. In my life, I interpret that call as coming from God, modeled by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are offered loving, responsible grace and one by one, we respond to it until there is more community than solitude, more hope than cynicism, more action than griping. Some days, the Christian church and individual Christians, myself included, forget this. Let’s not try and pretend like that isn’t true. But some days, on our best days, on days that are more numerous than some people would care to admit and/or than some people are aware of in the first place, the Christian church and individual Christians get it right in this department. That’s a big part of why I’m in the Christian church, of why I’m a Christian, of why I’m a pastor, after stomping away for a while in my twenties. We could get into why this specifically feels very United Methodist / Wesleyan to me, too, but that is also a post for another day.

No, the GotG never say, “Okay, before we get out there and fight these guys who want to destroy the galaxy, let’s have a quick word of prayer.” (Although I’d love to hear Rocket Raccoon’s attempt at prayer!) No, Peter Quill never says he trusts in God (even if he ends up in the floating dead head of a god in the movie…). And no, not a single character says saving the galaxy is building the kingdom (which not every Christian dares to say today, anyway). But the GotG also never reduce their goal to simply doing what’s right because that’s the right thing to do. Peter Quill never says he has to save others to prove he’s a good person. And no, not a single character says saving the galaxy is going to make them heroes. They do what they do for higher reasons, thank God.

#wearegroot

#wearegroot

The movie isn’t a “Christian movie” made by a “Christian studio” for a (certain kind of) “Christian audience” with cliché and/or didactic dialogue in which a character says something like, “I guess because Jesus is my friend, I don’t want to disappoint him.” This is a movie that uses real, everyday language – including a naughty word – to sum up why its characters are motivated to transcend what they were and do what they do next. And through this language, including the naughty word, God can speak. Guardians of the Galaxy is a piece of art and we get to take from art what we take from it. Our take-aways may or may not match the artists’ intentions for us, but that’s for another day. Although in this case – my personal context of religious perspective aside – consider these comments from GotG director, James Gunn:

“For me this movie is about family,” he continued. “It’s about a bunch of people that don’t have a family and they learn to love each other. And I think it’s about giving a shit. I think we live in a world where we’re taught that not giving a shit is the coolest thing, and this is a movie that says it’s really OK to give a shit.”

My take-away from my first viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy is this: Christianity is the chance to give a shit.

That’s a chance worth taking, every single day.

-nm

P.S. Let’s make #wearegroot a movement. But not just in slacktivist-style posts, but in real, life-changing action in response to God’s call to give a shit.

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