I love the Rocky movies, probably due in no small part to my history as a boxer. (Let me clarify, I love Rocky I-IV. The last two movies, like the final Harry Potter book/movies don’t exist in my dojo. They never happened. Although with that said, I am mildly intrigued by the next Rocky movie titled “Creed”.) They are those rare movies that instantly captivate me when they are on television, no matter what else I’m doing. And what’s not to love? The ultimate underdog overcoming overwhelming odds due to tenacity, hard work, and an even harder head. I think at some level, we can all relate to Rocky, which is why he remains such a powerful and captivating character even in the midst of the pure narrative absurdity (which I adore) in which these films exist after the original.
Like with most things (darn you seminary!) I tend to dig a little deeper than I ought sometimes, trying to mine all meaning from all things (okay fine, I did that before seminary. Seminary just made me really good and or obsessive about it.). And anymore, it’s not Rocky that I relate most to, it’s Clubber Lang. I always found him to be a compelling character. If you are old enough, who can forget the first time you ever saw Mr.T? When he burst onto the scene? You couldn’t take your eyes off of him. He was both captivating and just a little bit scary. But when Rocky III hit? He was pure villain, the bad guy that Rocky had to find a way to overcome. In my ten year old mind, Clubber had to go down and go down hard, especially after he sort of, kind of killed Mickey. There was no empathy for him and I cheered wildly when Rocky finally vanquished his foe in the rematch.
However, I recently re-watched all of the Rocky movies, that is to say Rocky I-IV. When I came to the third, I saw Clubber far differently than perhaps I ever had. Clubber wasn’t a bad guy and I daresay that perhaps, for at least three-quarters of the movie, he wasn’t the bad guy…Rocky was.
Clubber was from the streets and was hungry; much like Rocky had been all the way back in the original Rocky. From his vantage point, he knew what the championship meant; it was the top of the mountain and perhaps a way out. (Not sure Clubber would have ever left the streets) Rocky on the other hand? He had won the belt in Rocky II barely beating Apollo Creed and then he had gone soft; real soft. He started fighting stiffs, he became cultured, living in his fancy house, with his fancy cars, and his awesome robot (that I wanted so badly as a kid). Rocky forgot where he came from and more importantly who he was. And what did he intend to do? He intended to retire comfortably; satisfied with empty victories and comfort. He had become everything that he probably thought that he never would and he had somehow become not only okay with it; but he had convinced himself that it was somehow honorable.
In polite society we expect to have civil conversations, conversations that affirm our now-ness and who-ness. We are told that we must be nice, that we must not upset anyone. We believe that through polite discourse, especially as it pertains to the church, we can be guided where we need to be, doing the things that we need to be doing. (I really wonder what OT prophets would have thought of that approach lol) But what happens when we start believing the hype? What happens when we believe our own lies? What happens when we no longer resemble that which we started out as some 2000 years ago? When we spend more time fighting about pet issues and each other, than we do fighting for souls? With our hands? Our hearts?
More times than not, I take solace in the streets and my little piece of heaven in the shadow of Churchill Downs. We don't have the time or patience for most of these fights and these arguments, we're too busy walking in the dark places and bringing light. I am thankful, immensely so, that we have "figured it out" in as much as one can. I think back to my love of polemics and a good theological scrape, and I am thankful that the thought of those things just make me tired anymore.
The anger? The teeth gnashing? The name calling? All of the garbage in the name of the Church and Christ that pollutes my Facebook feed; it could all be erased if we would just take the time to remember where we came from and who we are called to be. Pet issues disappear in Christ, in focusing on that glorious, invisible present. Unity comes in simply trusting Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do their jobs. Jesus saves. Not me, not you, and especially not us when we are acting a fool.
Sometimes it takes a Clubber Lang to call us out, to force us to remember, to compel us to action. He is raw, intense, and unpolished...but he is effective. He knows where Rocky came from, because it is his reality; it is where he lives. He knows what buttons to push. From his "low" vantage point, he can see the absurdity of what and who Rocky has become. Most days, I feel a bit like Clubber Lang. Hungry, irritated, and more than a little exasperated. (I keep holding out hope that when my team and I walk the places that we walk, that sooner or later, we are going to run into another pastor, another group of disciples. These are the places the Church needs to be and we are seemingly alone.) However, he is also passionate, consumed, and knows not only who he is, but what he is. Grace and Heathen Church have helped me to remember where I came from and they have also helped me to understand who I am when it comes to Kingdom things.
However in that, as much as I have grown to love and relate to that character, I have also realized that there is a better way. When I speak to colleagues, to friends, and on the increasingly rare occasion when I enter into the fray of these ridiculous fights, and I challenge them to join me in the "hood"; my heart screams there is a better way. A more effective way. Clubber reminds and challenges in a very forceful, combative, shaming way to get what he wants. In the midst of our penchant for absurdity I will often invite people to the "hood" simply to shut them up and perhaps, in a way, to put them in there place; I know they will not come. My world scares them. In those instances, I am Clubber; daring and provoking you to remember what you are not. (Minus, you know, the unfortunate words for Adrian lol) I think perhaps tough, Rocky's old adversary Apollo knows a better way...a passionate call to remember what you are. Part IV to come...