Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

25 November 2018

Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man back in 1962, died last week at the age of 95. Obviously, Spider-Man will live on as a super hero with human frailties and existential angst. That’s what made Lee’s characters so remarkable. They resembled us in our weakness as well as representing our potential best. If we had great power, we could be them. (Lee also did Hulk and Black Panther).

Fortunately, great power also extends to women these days. DC Comics tapped writer, Willow Wilson to continue Wonder Woman in a more contemporary and modern form. Already, Ares, the God of War, is imprisoned and rethinking battles as the road to honor. Ares concludes with an epiphany of some sort, that justice, not war, is really the apotheosis of human endeavors.

Wilson wants to create new stories for our times, and begins by challenging the assumption that war could ever be just. Wonder Woman will now be seeking positive change on a grand level. Let’s face it, the whole world needs a new script. Why not in comic book form?

Stan Lee must also have had cultural revisions in mind, when a space alien contemplates our planet and says: “And yet – in their uncontrollable insanity – in their unforgiveable blindness – they seek to destroy this this shining jewel – this soft spinning gem – this tiny blessed sphere – which men call Earth.”

Even Bill McKibben couldn’t write a more eloquent account of our insane and unrelenting drive towards environmental devastation on our tiny blessed sphere. 

The story of super heroes trying to impose new vision for human consumption has a long history, going back much further than even Stan Lee. The obstinate and flawed human being, determined to excavate all earthly treasure for himself, heedless to the needs and suffering of neighbors, indifferent to human justice and earth justice, continues to exploit others for the myopic view of self-gratification. The challenge of redirecting such madness has always produced the hero who might save us. A hero who could somehow sway the heartless and usher in a new way of doing business with one another.

Christmas is a rehashing of how our “insanity and blindness” wreaks havoc upon this tiny blessed sphere. Super heroes can fly, scale buildings, or walk on water to convince us that life could be otherwise. Born in a stable some 2000 years ago, a child called The Prince of Peace, grows to become a man determined to make justice our priority, not war. He led by example, feeding the poor, ministering to the sick, and speaking of a perfect world within our grasp if only we could love others as much as we love ourselves. 

Seventy years ago, Joseph Campbell gifted us with his extraordinary accounting of super heroes with his book, “A Hero With a Thousand Faces.” He summed up the hero’s journey in one archetypal narrative: “A hero ventures forth from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

The journey is quite clear: Departing the ordinary world, entering a supernatural world, and returning to the ordinary world ripe with insight and wisdom to share. If only we would listen. And Christmas, we are continually reminded, is really about our ability to listen. Although the story has many forms of expression, and countless heroes from many cultures trying to help us transform the world into something better, much is still gained by allowing Christmas to enter our hearts, offering us hope, and helping us love this shining jewel – this soft spinning gem – this tiny blessed sphere – which men call Earth.” TRG