No Way Home
I've been a fan of Spiderman for a while. This post contains spoilers for Spiderman: No Way Home... and basically all of the live action franchise incarnations. Can you believe the Tobey Maguire one came out almost twenty years ago? Can you believe Tobey Maguire suited up for this multiverse story of redemption? Also Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprising roles of their prime and making it work. Because what a story of redemption.
Alright, so any longtime reader or person who knows me irl knows that I'm a big fan of Brandon Washington. Like top four public living theologians for me: Brandon Washington, Jamar Tisby, Ekemini Uwan, and Tim Mackie. There are two really good examples in recent years that I can use about Brandon's public declaration of his belief in the power of redemption, but Brandon's battles aren't the focus of my post. Instead what is important to know is that Brandon is my pastor, and he spoke words of encouragement to me two weeks ago before sending me back to Germany and that he so strongly believes in the redemption power of Jesus that he lives it out radically, intentionally, and beautifully. Instead of a Sunday sermon from Brandon last week, I was sitting on an airplane watching Spiderman: No Way Home. I knew it was a multiverse crossover, but I did not know it was a story of redemption and hope from the depths of evil and brokenness.
Spoilers for context: In this new movie, villains from the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield movies come battle with the recent Tom Holland version of Peter Parker. Peter doesn't want to kill them; he wants to cure them. In the OG 2002 Spider-Man film, the Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe) takes over the mind of Peter Parker's best friend's dad, and Willem Dafoe's character has back and forth moments of clarity. He enters Tom Holland's world eager to help cure Doc Oc - who distinctly doesn't want to be cured. Significantly, once Doc Oc is cured, he wholeheartedly joins the good guy team. When Tom Holland's character meets Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, he quickly gets them on board with curing over killing - Peter Parker in every universe hopes for the best.
Then someone gets hurt.
The Green Goblin takes over, and Tom Holland gets ready to kill in anger when Tobey Maguire steps in to save the man who killed not only someone close to him but someone close to his new young friend - and then gets literally stabbed in the back by this evil villain. It's enough to jar Tom Holland to switch back to cure and redeem Norman Osborne. This matters because so many super hero stories are about ending the villain and moving on with some burden of grief that the hero couldn't save everyone and maybe also had to do the dirty work of killing someone (if you're lucky in the telling). Redemption is a harder story to write. It's a harder story to live.
I've spent so much of the past two years wrestling with the tension of praying for an avalanche of reconciliation while also sometimes wishing difficult people in my life would just disappear (to be clear - not die, just move away and leave me alone).
I genuinely want reconciliation, but it's really hard sometimes to live the day to day alongside unaddressed hurts when the people who hurt you never acknowledge any wrongdoing. This past year I got an unsolicited apology from someone who hurt me five years ago - and it did wonders for my soul. The thing is, when Tobey Maguire's character stepped between the other Peter Parker and the Green Goblin, he hadn't heard an apology from Norman Osborne. He did it because it was the right thing. And then he got hurt. But it was worth it.
Jesus came to earth, God in human skin, to get close to people and to love them and restore relationship with them. And he got crucified. But he conquered death.
I want to live my life like Jesus (which also happens to be reflected in Peter Parker's choices to seek ways to redeem, reconcile, cure, and hope rather than to condemn and kill). It's not always easy to live that way, but that's why I have the multiverse versions of other people living with Jesus values: I have Brandon Washington in my life who not only is a role model of living like Jesus but who prays for me intentionally and purposefully. I also have my friend Amanda who sat next to me on the plane when I watched this latest Spiderman movie and then handed me a barf bag a couple hours later when I stress vomited because she's just a boss like that - and it was her birthday. I mention that because Amanda went out of her way to change her flight so that I wouldn't have to travel alone, and then I was not the easiest person to travel with. Rather than making her never want to spend time with me again, she laughed it off as a bonding experience that brought us closer and even drove me to church this morning.
People are messy, and I frequently make mistakes, but am so thankful that Jesus goes out of his way to cure me, open my eyes, and give me the courage to join the good guy team. I pray that I'll keep having the courage to go for the cure when the easy option is to kill. And I'll thank God for the awesome people who Tobey Maguire style step in to stop me when I'm about to make a mistake.