A couple of summers ago I was watching one of the X-Men movies with a friend who was preparing for ordination.
For those of you who never had the pleasure of reading Marvel comic books or who would never publicly admit that you watch the X-Men, it’s a story about mutants living alongside us human beings. You can’t always tell the mutants by looking at them unless a fight breaks out and Wolverine jumps into the fray with steel talons extending from his fists or Magneto manipulates the metal around him.
Unless the circumstances called for action, you were rarely aware that the world was populated by mutants with special powers. That brings me back to my friend.
“That’s it, that’s it!” she cried. “We’re mutants. We’re mutant priests!”
She didn’t mean that as mutants we had any special powers, unless it was the power to dampen cocktail parties with the words, “Hi, I’m a priest.” But we were mutants, which is something I’ve known about myself for some time.
I first became aware that I was a mutant in the seventh grade, when I discovered a body/mind disconnect. My mind would tell my arms and legs to behave in some reasonably coordinated fashion, but that message didn’t translate well to my body. Walking down the school hallways made me feel like a staff member of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. I knew I wasn’t like other people who could glide down the halls and onto the playing fields with ease. I was a mutant. I just looked like a human on the outside.
Maybe you were a mutant, too. Your secret power was the ability to develop a zit on the tip of your nose the night of a big date. Or maybe it was ability to sound as though English were your second language when you tried to talk to someone you really, really liked. Or maybe you were the only one in the class who knew the periodic table or thought history was fun.
I’m a mutant in one other way, and it’s a mutation I share with many. I’m a Christian, and believe me, Christians are the real mutants these days. We might look like everybody else but we’re not. We’re different, weird. We’re mutants.
In the South, we are still somewhat protected from the view most of the world has about Christians, that we are mutants; naive at best, hypocritical at worst, for believing in Jesus Christ and trying to be followers of the Messiah. In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus praying to His Father about His disciples: “The world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” The world always hates what it does not understand, substituting fear for knowledge.
Despite the great threats that Jesus foresees against Christianity, He doesn’t ask them to be taken out of the world, just protected from the Evil One who can kill the soul and not just the body.
What kind of threat do we pose to the world that after 2,000 years we are still the object of ridicule and scorn? After all, we are just mutants – imperfect followers of the perfect Christ. The threat we pose is the threat that comes from being vulnerable to the world and all its pains. The threat we pose is standing with the world in that pain and showing the love of Christ. That kind of mutant power doesn’t sound like much until you see it in action.
In the Second World War, Bulgaria was allied with Nazi Germany. Bulgarian Jews were being rounded up to be sent to concentration camps.
One writer tells the story this way: “The Nazis rounded up hundreds of Jews and had them imprisoned behind barbed wire enclosures. Soon a train would arrive and the Jews would be squeezed into boxcars and shipped off to Auschwitz and almost certain death. And then a strange image appeared. It was the leader of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria, Metropolitan Kyril. As he approached the entrance of the barbed wire enclosure, the SS guards raised their machine guns and told him, ‘Father, you can’t go in there!’ but he laughed at them and went into the midst of the Jewish prisoners. The doomed Jews gathered around him, wondering what a leader of the Christian community would have to say to them at this desperate time. He raised his arms and quoted one verse from the Hebrew bible, from the Old Testament’s Book of Ruth: ‘Whithersoever you go, I will go! Your people will be my people! Your God will be my God.’
“With these words, the Jews began to cheer and the Christians outside the camp who had followed Kyril began cheering. It attracted the attention of others who joined the crowd. The SS troops … decided that discretion was the better part of valor and left the town without their captives.”
That’s mutant power in action. Mutant power at its best. We don’t always get it right. Every morning we put on Christ and by evening’s end we have to acknowledge how we have put off Christ during the day. Sometimes we have to acknowledge how we put off other people from Christ by our behavior.
Some of us wear visible signs that we follow the Crucified One, a cross around our neck or on our lapel. If we’re honest, the sign is as much for us as it is for others; a reminder of who we are and whose we are. We’re mutants. We’re Christians. We might look like everyone else, but we’re different. We’re supposed to be. Because we’ve got the power of Christ, which is the power of crucified love. A power to stand up against the evils of this world and a power that is vulnerable enough to draw alongside the kid with the zit or the kid who will never make first string. We are the mutants. We are Christians.
THE REV. CYNTHIA TAYLOR IS THE PASTOR OF THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.