by the power of greyskull: magic, muscle and morality

23 11 2009

magic, muscle and morality

“By the power of greyskull!” Ah, the famous refrain of one of my childhood heroes. He-man. What a guy. I recently re-watched some of the good old innocent fun that, as a child of the 80’s I readily absorbed, and was admittedly a little taken aback by the tight pants, over-muscley torso and lack of an interesting storyline, but I was only 8 at the time…

He-man is a good example of stories we tell each other about power – especially male power. Problems in the world are caused by baddies; problems in the world are solved by the goodies, with right combination of magic, muscle and morality. From He-man to the A-Team (don’t tell me BA Baracus didn’t use magic to make tanks in a cave out of an empty box and some sticky-backed plastic), from James Bond to Spiderman, to we reassure ourselves that magic, muscle and black-and-white morality are enough.

magic, muscle and morality

Last Sunday we celebrated the day called Christ the King. Just before we begin the year again at Advent (it’s not Christmas yet!), we remember that at all times and in all places, whether it seems like it or not, Christ is King. King is a kind of out-dated term, it doesn’t mean much to many of us. But in previous eras it has carried a similar meaning to He-man –  a bit of magic (with God on our side and a quick Mass before battle…), a lot of muscle (yours or your soldiers), and a healthy dose of morality (we are the good guys…) will win us the war/the Empire/some oil.

This connects with a film I watched yesterday – “W” – looking at the life of George W Bush up to 2004. Magic, muscle and morality are still the ways we humans go about demonstrating authority, commanding allegiance, and wielding  power.

So how does Christ the King compare with these understandings of authority, allegiance and power? Reading the account leading up to and including the trial, not well. His authority was stripped by the Jewish leaders at his mock trial; allegiance to him was fading as the disciples confidence was shattered. And his power? He spoke of a kingdom from another place, but it didn’t save him.

The human mind, maybe especially the male human mind, doesn’t sit comfortably with power withheld. Authority should be wielded, allegiance commanded, power demonstrated. That is what society sees as ‘masculine’ (technically it is called hegemonic masculinity. So now you know.).  This image  of the The Arkville Minotaur on Dave’s District Blog (winner of Best Christian Blog) goes a long way to demonstrating this in a direct and uncompromising way.

by the powers of grey stone

There is another way. Jesus was challenged in the desert, before his ministry began, to go ‘in with a bang’ and shake things up with a bit of magic, muscle and dubious morality. Demonstrate authority by turning stones into bread; throw himself off a cliff to force the angels to show their allegiance to him; bow down to the devil in return for unlimited power. Instead he withheld. And in Luke, the first thing that happens when he triumphantly returns to his home town to begin his ministry? He is rejected. Great. Nice one Jesus.

Jesus repeated this throughout his ministry, carefully choosing when to exercise authority, to command allegiance and to use his power. At his trial he could have saved himself; on the cross he was taunted about that very thing. “If you are who you say you, save yourself!” It takes a strong man to resist that challenge. Yet he did. Jesus  showed the flip-side to our usual human (and male-dominated?) understanding of authority, allegiance and power.

  • His authority is not that of master and servant, ruler and slave, priest and lay, but as friend (I no longer call you servants but friends…).
  • Allegiance to him comes not through fear, as Pilate’s did, but love (as the Father loves me, so I love you…).
  • His power is not demonstrated from ‘up there’, but is given to us, ‘in here’, as the Holy Spirit lives in us (you will do even greater things than me…).

That is a challenge to us. Especially us men. Meanwhile, let’s be grateful that Christ is King, and not one of us.




4 responses

24 11 2009

Great stuff. I think too that great leaders have principles and stand FOR something just as Jesus showed that he stood for justice etc. One of the problems today is that political leaders no longer stand for something, they just want power. There is little difference between them because they stand for so little, they just yearn to be given power, and yet why should we trust them if they have no principles. Look what they do when we give them power.

But look what we do to leaders who do as Kevin says and withhold using their power whilst standing for principles that really matter. Look at how the church treats Rowan Williams, who in my view takes this approach. He listens, he weighs up he seeks love not confrontation. And we ridicule him, misquote him because he doesn’t speak in angry sound bites and we blame him for divisions in the Church which our own anger and self absorption have caused.

Perhaps we get the leaders we deserve because when god gives us the leaders we need we destroy them.

25 11 2009

Jesus IS Lord, but never LORDS it over us, he never struts, or brags, their is no peacock about him, yet, over 2,000 years he has facinated MEN and women.
Jesus IS Lord, but he never over-steps our free-will, he never coerces or pleads his case.
Jesus IS Lord, and his humility makes him the most attractive, manly man ever!

25 11 2009

Questions of power and leadership are so fraught with different opinions, methods and understandings. Strong, gentle leadership isn’t always the way (see Jesus the clearing of the Temple!), but is so often the way. And yes, that means we need to give our leaders space and time and understanding to do that; at the same time as holding them to account and lobbying for our own interests!

For me, when thinking about male leadership in particular (because I am one!), I try to remember that the fruits of the spirit are human characteristics, for male and female, not just female. So love, joy, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control (any others?!) should be as much a part of my character as anyone else’s. Not always easy!

25 11 2009
Mr The Edge

I think I agree with c2drl. We tend to get the leaders we deserve. Occasionally though, a true leader emerges to cut through the apathy and control freakery and make a difference. When such a leader does emerge, sometimes enough people recognise that following them is the right thing to do and maybe that’s when the world shifts a little on its axis. Sometimes. Maybe. Hopefully.
All leadership is arguably in the gift of the followers. Maybe you are not a leader until your appointment is ratified in the hearts and minds of those who follow you?
Here’s a dangerous thought. If the quality and merit of Rowan Williams’ leadership will ultimately be determined by the effect upon those who decide to follow his lead, then what are the actions of those who claim to follow Jesus saying about His leadership in these modern times?

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