In IronMan 3, Tony Stark crashes somewhere in the midwest and has to have a young science-y kid help him fix his suit. The two of them have a really funny relationship where both dig at each other. When it’s time for Stark to drive live hell to get to the bad guys, the kid begs him to take him along. “We’re connected!” the kid insists. “You’re guilt tripping me, aren’t you?” Stark replies. The kid knows he caught, so he wraps his coat around him and tries to look cute. “I’m cold,” he says. “I know,” Tony replies. “Wanna know how I know?” He gets an impish grin on his face. “Cause we’re connected.” And then he drives off, leaving the kid behind.
“It was worth a shot.”
Six Degrees of Separation
Most people have heard the phrase “six degrees of separation.” It’s the idea that anyone in the world can be connected to another through around six acquaintances. I believe this is a real thing. Let me explain why.
When my wife and I first got to know each other, we did so on Tumblr. Tumblr has millions of blogs and users online, so it is usually unlikely that you’re going to find a connection to each other beyond following your blogs. As it turns out, we did have a person in common, a fellow blogger. Not only that, but we had both kind of “dated” (or, you could say more accurately, flirted with via text and online) this blogger. Out of everyone just on Tumblr, we found each other and realized we had someone else in common.
Mathemeticians actually try to quantify the idea of six degrees of separation through experiments and mathematical proofs. I’ve never found math very helpful, but it is interesting to me that even one of the less humanistic disciplines has a fascination with decifering how it is that people connect to each other. One might think that the question belongs more to psychology or sociology, but I find a certain poetry in the idea that even math cares.
How To Be Superheroes
I love IronMan, which probably accounts for why I incorporated him into a blog post. But I also find it interesting that the exchange between him and the kid makes the point that even superheroes need help. No matter how big you are, you will eventually need someone else. To me, that is one of the concepts of life that keeps us all connected – the common need for others.
Have you noticed how superheroes never save the world alone? Batman has Robin, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon. Superman has Lois Lane. IronMan has Jarvis and War Machine and Pepper Potts. Don’t even get me started on the Avengers. They all have each other and without every single one of them, the world would be bowing to Loki right now. Besides the obvious nerding out I’m doing right now, one thing is clear: no one does it alone.
Maybe that’s the real point of superheroes, the overlooked aspect of comic books and movies. No one, no matter how strong and powerful, can do it alone. We all need help sometimes. And if it’s okay for a superhero, then it’s okay for us, too. Sometimes asking for help is what makes you a superhero. Sometimes it’s being connected to another person that makes us super.
Growing up in a sacramental church, I was always fascinated with the idea that we are Christians together in communion with the mystical body of Christ. My father who was also my priest had a way of explaining the concept: The church is what is left over when the building burns down. Basically, the church is the people. They or we are the most important parts of it. When we are together, we are the church.
Catholics will get it when I talk about the “mystical body of Christ.” I’m not sure about what other denominations teach on this subject. But as a Christian, you are part of Christ, part of his body, part of the community he started that is also inextricably bound to his person. We are a part of him and his is in us. It is also not a community that is bound by geography or time. We are members of the body with all Christians in all places, in the past, present, and future, and even not in this world.
That is the most important part of the mystical body of Christ – it’s completeness. Without human boundaries (like time or death) it can encompass literally everyone. No one is excluded from this communion. All can be a part of it. That is why when I have been excluded from certain Christian communities, I find it so odd and heartbreaking. Exclusion has nothing to do with Christ or following him. In fact, it is the opposite of what the Christian communion is.
Together Or Not At All
Humanity is fascinated by connectedness. We try to explain it however we can. It is a part of us, no matter who or how we are. It even allows us to be superheroes. More importantly, being a Christian is a perfect reflection of how we are all connected and is meant to be a perfect example of it. Christianity should be the ultimate example of inclusiveness. Should be, I say. Because it isn’t as it is right now.
This is one of the things that I am not inclined to give up on – inclusiveness in Christianity. For me it is a matter of doing it together or not at all. It may be one of my few either/or propositions. I’m not one for ultimatums usually. But this is important enough to me to (almost?) make it to that extreme. I am a Christian by being inclusive of everyone or I am not a Christian at all.
What do you think?