Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Spiderman, J. Jonah Jameson, and Persecution

Our local newspaper, along with others, has been including a classic Spiderman comic book among the thousands of inserts in the Sunday edition. I’ve been getting a kick out of reading them. It takes me back.

I loved comic books when I was a young fellow. The best I can recall, a comic book cost ten cents back in the mid-‘60s. I swallowed hard and went along when they went up to twelve cents but they went beyond my budget limitations when they hit fifteen cents. At that point I had to choose between comic books and baseball cards; by then baseball cards were uppermost in my affections. I bought my comic books at Shelor’s Drug Store on the corner of Main and Elm in downtown Barnesville, Georgia, my hometown. The pharmacist was Dr. Shelor and the sales clerk was Mrs. Shelor. My parents were good and faithful customers so Dr. and Mrs. Shelor knew me well. I would stand at the comic book rack for an hour, carefully reading several until I decided which one I wanted to buy. When the “Gordon Boys,” the cadets from Gordon Military College, would loiter for a few minutes perusing the less savory publications (detective magazines, for example), Mrs. Shelor would run them off. She never shooed me away from the comics, though.

Inflation did not put an end to my comic book reading because I had other sources. My Uncle Shelor, who is related in some way to Dr. Shelor (I think he is his nephew), was also a pharmacist; he operated a drug store in nearby Zebulon. My Uncle Sonny was related to the folks who ran the grocery store in my father’s hometown of Yatesville. At the end of a month at both stores, the title portion of the front cover of the unsold comic books was cut off, I assume to be returned for some kind of credit, but the comic books themselves were left behind. I read a lot of comic books with half of the front cover missing. Their collector value was gone, but the stories were still entertaining.

Among my favorites were Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, Superman, the Green Lantern, Daredevil, the Incredible Hulk, and the Mighty Thor. But my favorite above all favorites was Spiderman. I’m not sure why, but I think it had something to do with the fact that he was a misunderstood teenager who, when he was not in his Spiderman mode, was a bit of a nerd. I could relate, except that I unfortunately didn’t have the super powers thing to fall back on, except in my daydreams.

So reading the classic Spiderman comics over the past few weeks has been a real pleasure. The one from this week, the original publication date of which was March 10, 1964, included an interesting stream of consciousness segment featuring Spiderman’s perpetual thorn in the side, J. Jonah Jameson. Jameson was a powerful newspaper publisher who, from the first appearance of Spiderman, had it in for the web-slinger. Even as Spiderman brought in more and more criminals and did more and more good, Jameson’s hatred for him grew. We wondered why. In a scene on the last page of this issue, we see Jameson alone in his office, talking to himself. This is what he said:

Am I always to be thwarted, embarrassed, frustrated by Spiderman? I hate that costumed freak more than I’ve ever hated anyone before! I’ll never be contented while he’s free. All my life I’ve been interested in only one thing—making money. And yet, Spiderman risks his life day after day, with no thought of reward! If a man like him is good—is a hero—then what am I? I can never respect myself while he lives. Spiderman represents everything that I’m not. He’s brave, powerful, and unselfish. The truth is, I envy him! I, J. Jonah Jameson—millionaire, man of the world, civic leader—I’d give everything I own to be the man that he is! But I can never climb to his level. So all that remains for me is—to try to tear him down—because, heaven help me—I’m jealous of him!

I hope you’re sitting down as I say that in this scenario, Spiderman can function as a metaphor for a faithful Christian while Jameson can function as a metaphor for folks “in the world” who don’t understand faithful Christians. When we Christians are being who we are supposed to be, we too are brave, powerful, and—especially—unselfish. When are being who we are supposed to be, we do all that we can to love all that we can and to help all that we can, regardless of the personal cost to us and with no self-serving agenda. When folks around us who do not have the Spirit of Christ in them see such loving, selfless actions, they may be positively impressed. But, they may just as likely be confused and troubled and even angered. Why? Because, whether they can articulate it or not, they see in such a life the life they would like to live. They may believe that they can never live such a life, which they can’t, of course, anymore than we can, apart from the grace of God. So, they may strike out and try to tear down because they need to believe that we aren’t what we appear to be.

They are right about us when they believe that we are not perfect. They are even right about us when they think that we cannot really be good. What they can’t understand is that it is Christ in us that makes possible whoever and whatever we are.

Sometimes, of course, they are right when they think the worst about us. We can be hypocritical. We are capable of doing the right things for the wrong reasons. We are capable of acting far better in public than we actually are in private. We are capable of being selfish.

Still, though, we can be attacked and persecuted—probably will be and should be—when we are truly being who we really are. So it was with Spiderman. More importantly—much more importantly—so it was with the great heroes of the faith who have gone before us.

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