Please indulge me for just a few moments.
I have a confession to make. I am an off-the-charts, no-holds-barred, next-to-incorrigible, superhero geek. I have loved superheroes since I was a little boy. I had all the action figures, all the comic books, and currently have a growing collection of t-shirts from my children that either do, or will eventually, feature The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, and The Flash. I see another guy with a superhero t-shirt on at the mall, and we silently and knowingly nod at one another – it’s an unspoken understanding that both of us frittered away endless hours of our youth rescuing earth from unfriendly aliens in our minds – maybe one too many times.
And my favorite heroes of all – of course – were the X-Men.
The X Gene: It’s Powers And Pitfalls
The X-Men are special to me, because they always represented – I would realize later in my life – the idea of “giftedness” and how it works within us. In the X-Men comics, the person with the super power usually had an equal amount of insecurity about that same gift. Sure, Wolverine can shoot cool metal blades out of his fists, but getting into fights all the time can trigger both a drinking problem and a difficulty developing intimate relationships that could be the death of you.
For the X-Men, the same gift that makes you excel in one area actually creates an incredible amount of weakness in another. The X-Men have a gift to give to the world, yet that same gift makes them an outcast in an otherwise “normal” society.
Yet, when they come together under Professor X’s leadership they are, as Paul put it in Eph. 2:9, “…No longer strangers and aliens…” (ESV).
Here, our metaphor has begun.
What makes the X-Men so special? It’s called the X-Gene in the Marvel Comic series, and it is the deoxyribonucleic reason for the “superhuman” qualities of this imaginary race of next-level human beings.
Professor X can telekinetically read minds and control the actions of bad guys. He leads the pack, and is often portrayed as a fallible but fatherly Christ-figure. Storm can control the weather. Wolverine has metal blades that come out of his fists. Cyclops can turn into solid metal and throw things – very far. Again, that “something special,” according to the comics and the movies based on them, can make you one of the world’s greatest assets – and one of the world’s greatest outcasts. People don’t “get” you, and that feeling of being misunderstood can eat away at you until you start to look for a cure to your gift – anything that will make you more acceptable.
(Sometimes I think the church of Jesus Christ is looking for a cure – but, following Jesus, we will always be somewhat peculiar people. Sure, we must find a cure for our silliness. But finding a cure for having a unique way of being human? So that others “get” us and affirm our new approach to love in all respects? To find this cure, is to find ourselves courting the empire, courting the age, and courting a diminishing wholeness within.)
I just need to pause to say, “Thank you, Marvel, for bringing such adamantium happiness to the big screen.”
Now, none of us is, most probably, superhuman. Being “superhuman” is a title reserved for the Spidermen and Wonder Women of the world. But being “superhuman” is quite different than being a “mutant.” Many superheroes get their amplified powers when something happens from the outside in – a radioactive spider bite, a chemical spill, an alien lantern, a traumatic experience (enter Batman stage left), or too-long-of-a-snuggle up with some gamma rays.
Being a mutant, however, means that you’ve got something going on from the inside out, something special, that changes you and impacts the world.
Now, what does this metaphor of the X Gene have to do with the average Christian, and why is this contemporary cultural metaphor so apt when it comes to living the Christian life?
Christians Have An X Gene Of Our Own
The Greek word for Christ is the word “Christos,” spelled the following way:
The Chi in Greek is our form of the letter, X, and the “X” of Christ is the X Gene I’m talking about. When Paul is discussing the mystery of the Gospel in Col. 1:25-29, he declares that he has discovered a mystery that sits at the center of the “Good News” Christ came to bring. It’s a mystery that has apparently been kept hidden for ages and generations. Like a good comic book, Paul leads us to it with anticipation.
25 I have become its [ the Gospel’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness — 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
I’m going to suggest that being a Christian is different than simply following the better, or more moral, part of our human nature. Christianity is not about moralism, though it involves morality. It is certainly more than doing what comes naturally. This passage tells us that there is something “other” going on in the inside of a follower of Jesus, that is literally changing our physiological, psychological, and spiritual makeup.
Like the X-Men we can get better at bearing this X Gene, better at wielding our authority, better at knowing how to maturely apply our gift until we develop a second nature in crisis that dominates our first nature reactions (when a second nature habit displaces a first nature reaction it is called a “virtue”).
It is this mystery – Christ is in us, by His Spirit, that is our hope of being made to be like him. It is our hope of becoming fully human.
Let’s take a moment to look at the X Gene, or the Christ Gene, within us, and how, from the inside out, we can become like our Lord Jesus in every way.
The Power To Live With Christ At The Center
In the Spring of 2002, Anita and I had the privilege of traveling with 80 other Vineyard Leaders across the world to Rome Italy. Our hosts, the leaders of the Vineyard movement in Switzerland, had arranged for a private, special tour of the Vatican that would take us to all the hidden places that the public never gets to see.
The Power To Live A Cruciform Life
A cruciform life is the life modeled by Jesus; one that places self-giving above self-fulfillment. When we worship Jesus as our vision of God, we understand that true love gives. In a day when our myriad definitions of love usually point to self-fulfillment.
As Stanley Hauerwas says, “The ethics of love is often but a cover for what is fundamentally an assertion of ethical relativism. It is an attempt to respond to the breakdown of moral consensus by substituting the language of love for the language of good and right as the primary determinate for morality … Love becomes a justification for our own arbitrary desires and likes.”
One of my dear friends has the X Gene at work in him. His name is John Rademaker, and he lives and works in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. He is a businessman who did quite well selling kitchen cabinetry. Today, he spends his years pouring his resources into serving the prostitutes and addicts of Winnipeg. He is a transforming agent in the hands of God.
He’s understood that the Christ has a vision of love that places a claim on the wealth his gifts have enabled him to create. He is a man with the X Gene at work in him, and it teaches him how to handle wealt as a followers. I believe that many in the Franklin and Nashville area could learn much from him about what it means to be a Christian who has resources running through their hands.
Jesus had a very specific vision of love, and it is cruciform. I believe with all of my heart it looks very little like most of the definitions of love that we see being trumped in the world.
Jesus lays a claim on your life and mine, and that claim is the claim of love. That doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to do, because our grandpa in the sky is just happy to see us having fun and making our way in the world. Our redemptive story means that Jesus has something to say about you, me, and the world.
The vision of love is portrayed by Jesus is cruciform, and teaches us to lay down our lives for others. But it is also a new creation love. It holds a vision of wholeness in mind, and conforms itself to that welcomed (and sometimes uncomfortable) transformation.
Like a good parent, love means many things. From a parent’s perspective, love means compassion, grace, acceptance, and forgiveness. But love also means that I guide you, I lead you, I direct you, and I have an ongoing stake in your life. It means that I hold your identity in trust, and help you rediscover it when your heart has grown hard toward it.
Love means sometimes building walls so that someone can run into it – teaching them in a safe relationship so that the next time they see such a wall they should slow down. Love means that everything you do doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. Love not only offers affection and affirmation but it also reveals lines that, when crossed, can create lasting damage and provoke even more pain over time.
Love is not tolerance. Love is acceptance, and guidance, and leading you and I to a better future then we would ever create in our natural self.
I don’t fully know what love means as I speak to you, but I look to Jesus in the Gospels to teach me every day. And I’ve realized that I don’t buy 90% of the definitions of love I’m hearing trumped by media today.
It’s a different way of being human; it’s the X Gene at work within us.
I used to think the Amish had gotten it terribly wrong when they created alternate societies. But I believe that a new version of alternate societies may begin to emerge as the church continues to navigate ts path with current culture.
Our vision of love will quest to be cruciform, and conforming to the love we see Jesus model in the Gospels. That will put us, in many cases, on the outside of the trends.
The X-Gene within is always at work to suppress our incessant hunger for human affirmation, self-fulfillment, crowd-defined identity, unlimited resource, and unmitigated popularity, and then to release the power of selfless giving and Christ-centered identity through us.
Satisfied from within by an intimate friendship with God in Christ, we are content, in spirit and mind, and we give from a soul that doesn’t need to “take” affirmation from those we are serving.
There is a danger in wielding this super power recklessly. We can over-give ourselves, in the name of Jesus, an burn ourselves out in a complete spending of self to serve others.
The power to live a cruciform life means that we can give everything when needed, but do so from the place of peace rather than from a hunger for outside-in identity. We can offer ourselves freely, yet do so intentionally, like Jesus, and still remain firmly rooted in our own identity.
The Power To Live A Resurrection Life
The resurrection life that we celebrate at Easter is not only about Jesus rising from the dead. That is a very specific miracle that forms the basis of our faith.
But Easter is also about what it means for the one who has believed in Christ’s resurrection, and welcomed him to plant his X Gene within us, to be a person who lives in the power of the resurrection life.
Easter is not a metaphor for anything. It is a specific miracle, at a time and place in history, where God spoke into Christ’s dead body and raised it to life.
In Bono’s interview video interview on “Who is Jesus?,” he ends with a profound statement. When asked if he believes that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he says that he has no problem believing in miracles; he is surrounded by them. Then he finishes with, “I am one.”
The power of Christ at work within us brings Springtime everywhere. It is the promise of heart transformation.