Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Redemptive Ironman

With a worldwide gross of over $480 million, Ironman is a mega-blockbuster. The irony of that is not lost on its star, Robert Downey, Jr.

In 1992, he turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in Chaplain and it seemed Downey had no where to go but up. He went no where but down. No one doubted his acting ability, in fact, directors and actors alike laud him as one of the best in the business. However, personally he had become, as he puts it, “the poster boy for ­pharmaceutical mismanagement”. He lost roles because the insurance on him was prohibitive, he was fired from Ally McBeal, his comeback vehicle at the time. He was more recognized for appearances on Court TV than in movies.

In 2002, he had to put up his entire salary from the film to be in Gothika. The gamble paid off. He met his current wife, Susan Levin, who refused to marry him unless he gave up drugs. He did.

And then along came Ironman. In an interview in the London Telegraph, Downey said, “My victory has been hard won.” That was especially true for getting the role of Tony Stark. On the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Downey recounts telling the studio making the film that he thought he should be Ironman. “They told me I should go on thinking that,” he says with a grin. He had to screen test for the role - something he hadn’t done since Chaplain. “I’m really good at screen tests,” he smirked to Leno.

Life has come full circle. Downey is back where he was after Chaplain, only this time he’s clean, sober and a self-avowed family man. With this megahit, Downey says, “Finally, I’ve got something bigger than my past.” He recognizes the parallels between his life and that of Tony Stark. “People respond to the story. . . .people know my story,” he says. In a recent interview, he said he can feel the public wanting him to succeed.

Comebacks resonate with us because they are part of the ultimate story – Fall and Redemption. We see this time and again in Scripture and, as a Christian, I see it repeatedly in my life. I screw up and the Lord graciously helps me come back – time and again.

In Ironman, opportunistic weapons manufacturer and party animal Tony Stark transforms into a man with a mission. Robert Downey, Jr. transforms from playboy druggie to family man. And we the public cheer both.

[If you’ve seen the movie but didn’t stay through the credits for the extra scene, go here.]

Thursday, May 01, 2008

White Hats, Black Hats & Grey Hats

I’m an old movie buff. I grew up watching John Wayne and Audie Murphy westerns where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats and the only grey was in the clothing. Only in Hollywood. In the real world, we live in shades of grey. Heroes have flaws and villains sometimes have virtues. My hubby’s sermon last week reinforced that principle and reminded me that shades of grey exists within the Church as well.

Taken from II Kings 10, we heard the story of Jehu who was zealous for the Lord. That alone would make you think he wears a white hat, but Jehu’s hat is grey.

Jehu was zealous for the Lord and destroyed the Baal worshipers, pouring vengeance out on the house of Ahab and Jezebel. However, Jehu continued the “sins of Jeroboam” - golden calf worship. [Jeroboam had reinstituted golden calf worship (I Kings 12) as the true way to worship God. He apparently maintained that Moses and Aaron had gotten it wrong - Golden calf worship wasn’t idolatry or worshipping another god, it was the proper way to worship.] Jehu was zealous for the Lord and yet very wrong on worship.

That’s a good lesson for the rest of us. In conservative theological circles, we sometimes demand our theologians wear snow white hats. They must be “right” on all matters before we can benefit from their teaching, so we think. I think an argument can be made, based on II Kings 10, that this is an extra biblical standard.

Bobby has helped to broaden my perspective on theological matters. I have become much more ecumenical over the course of our marriage. I am a Presbyterian because I believe the Presbyterian form of church government and reformed theology is the closest to the teaching of Scripture. Nevertheless, I still learn from Baptist teachers. I have an appreciation for some Methodist writers. I have learned from Catholic scholars and even Eastern Orthodox scholars. Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright has opened Scripture to me in marvelous ways!

N. T. Wright is a good example of a white hat with gray stripes. There are many issues on which Bishop Wright and I would part ways (economic matters as a prime example), but Wright is a conservative scholar who goes toe to toe with the liberal theologians of the ‘in search of the historical Jesus’ movement. He stands for the truth and has the academic and intellectual wherewithal to do so.

If I had dismissed Wright as a liberal because of his affiliation with the Anglican church or his views on third-world debt, etc., I would have missed out on some of the most wonderful teaching of our age.

Scripture recognizes heroes sometimes have feet of clay. We should recognize that as well.