Monday, September 6, 2021

What Shang-Chi (kind of) taught me about the Gospel

Shang-Chi was never any of the big names in Marvel Universe that someone would recognize, in fact, some have discussed how he disappeared into obscurity for a while. With this new movie, he is anything but obscure. The movie was imaginative, beautiful, funny, and definitely an adventure into a new world the MCU hasn’t yet seen. New animals. New magic. New worlds. So much fun and so many points that were so silly that made me laugh! I'd hoped for some of that, but I hadn't expected all of it. The thing that I definitely wasn’t expecting was to feel the Spirit once again testify to me of truths I’ve learned time and time again.

I remember watching Kung Fu Panda 3 for the first time, with my kids at home. I remember the ending (no spoiler, that one’s been out a while… and if you haven’t seen it, which you likely haven’t, you’re in for a surprise) being beautiful, colorful, silly, and wonderful. I also remember turning to my wife and saying “I… have a testimony of this movie…” and trying to even understand what that meant for myself, mostly because it didn’t really make sense to me that I could have a testimony of a Jack Black movie teaching true principles..

KFP 3 Recap: Po discovers that his father is alive, and that his people used to know powerful magic. He goes on a journey and meets and entire Panda village! To protect them from a coming threat, he tries to teach kung fu to the entire village, forcing them to learn the same lessons he learned. It goes terribly. Later he realizes that he’s doing everything wrong. Instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole, he changes the hole to be square. He focuses on embracing each of their unique strengths, the skills they already have, and enhancing them. Once he helps them see that they already have a superpower, they all become unstoppable.

He then fights a spirit warrior, who’s surprised at Po’s abilities:

Kai: Who are you?

Po: I’ve been asking myself the same question. Am I the son of a panda? Or the son of a goose? A student or a teacher? Turns out, I’m all of them. … I am the dragon warrior.

Now, this may seem like a simple kid’s lesson, but the Spirit touched me there because I had already learned this lesson. When I put myself into a calling at church, a responsibility, and try to make the calling mine, magic happens. If I try to do the calling like the last person, or like someone else I saw do it, it’s just not the same. When I trust myself to do *my* best, to be my best, standing with God, miracles happen. I’ve seen it.

Am I a son? A father? A man? A mountain biker? A taco enthusiast? I'm actually the person who doesn't like to put labels on myself. If we view any single person as a single label (an addict or someone with anxiety or a billionaire), we ignore all of these other parts about that person. It's easy to do to strangers and celebrities, but we do that to those around us too. And to ourselves. - "I'm just a klutz." "I'm fat." "I'm a failure." For me, the parts of myself make up who I am, and when I've learned to accept the good and bad pieces (the dark and the light), I feel more confident in who I am an can stop hating pieces of myself I wish weren't there. Can I change those? Yes, but that should be from a place of wanting to grow, not to "fix" who I am.

As we learn from Dear Evan Hansen, "I'm me, and that's enough."

Back to the movie.

(minor spoilers, nothing big)

As Shang-Chi is training and being taught various martial arts, his mother teaches him about looking inward to know who he is and accepting the dark and the light. As most people do, he struggles with that concept at points.

(maybe some bigger spoilers, but this is like saying Iron Man is/was a billionaire drunken genius… it’s more so defining who he is..)

Shang-Chi is the son of a leader of the criminal underworld, who trains him to take his place. Ultimately, Shang-Chi doesn’t want to be evil and fights to help people.

I read another article talking about how Shang-Chi eventually became one of the most hated characters in the Marvel Universe. Once he defeats his father and takes over, he tries to do good with his father’s organization. The criminal underworld no longer trusts him, but the good guys don’t trust the organization either. Shang-Chi just has to stand alone, trying to do what’s right, when nobody will really accept him. He’s confident who he is, though. I feel like this reminds me of the world in which we now live, where sneezing seems to offend someone and it feels like we sometimes have to walk on eggshells. I really wish we all had more empathy to learn and understand from each other, and to allow others to make decisions differently than myself. We need more of that.

Was the movie also fun? Yes. There were lots of great moments to laugh. Did you know they actually cast Awkafina before anyone else? And she did a great job of keeping things lively and still explored parts of herself we hadn’t really seen before.

Was it full of action? Oh yeah. Some of it was pretty fast moving, like a Disney Kung-Fu movie, but some of it was also graceful and beautiful and reminiscent of Korra learning to airbend.

Have I ever seen a movie with Michelle Yeoh that I didn’t enjoy? Not yet.

Also, Simu Liu. Despite the recent controversies on Kim’s Convenience and the writing/directing there, that show has been such a fun thing to watch. This guy has been a great character for years on it and I’m excited to see him grow into new and bigger things. He definitely did a great job, and we had one of the most unique origin stories we’ve seen in years.

- Garrett

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