Logan: God, Faith, and Eden; a Christian’s reflection on the film
Haunting, aching, beautiful, this super(anti)hero film lingered on long after I left the cinema. So profound is its impact that instead of an exegesis of a Bible passage, I decided to exegete the film for a devotional sharing. Allow me to muse aloud awhile. (SPOILERS ABOUND.)
It is clearly deliberate that there are multiple references to God and Christianity. (As a Christian, it’s good to know that Christianity is still alive in a supposedly post-mutant future in 2029).
Early in the film, Logan (Hugh Jackman), in a conversation with Xavier (Patrick Stewart), says,
This conversation is ambiguous. Just before this, Logan said that there were no other mutants left. They were all gone. Why were they gone? At that point we don’t know yet. But the reference to God’s plan is pretty meta. In the Marvel cinematic universe, the mutants have been treated as gods. I mean, Wolverine was practically immortal and Xavier almost omniscient. Magneto himself said so in Days of Future Past. But in Logan, the mutants aren’t gods. It’s not hard to see why.
In the first scene of the film, we see a haggard Logan who now works as a limo chauffeur sleeping in the car, woken up by a bunch of thugs trying to steal his car tyre plates. Logan gets up and fights them, warning beforehand, “you really don’t want to do this”. As the viewer, you think, “yeah, he’s gonna own you”. But Logan doesn’t. He does kill a bunch of them, but not as easily as you would have expected. And gunshots at his body actually weakened him. Then when we first see Xavier in the film, you expect the professorial gravitas but you get a senile nonagenarian who’s got Alzheimer’s or something. So no, these are not gods. These are an endangered species. The so-called gods themselves could not see themselves as gods. They had to believe in something higher than themselves. Even the so-called gods themselves need a God. They certainly needed purpose. When they were trying to get out of a chase by the bad guy cyborgs, the Reavers, Xavier remarked to Logan, “doesn’t this give you purpose?” That is telling.
Presumably after the demise of mutant-kind, humankind transited into a post-gods reality. Where there had once been fear, the humans have since mythologised and commercialised their former gods. Later in the film, we see X-Men comic books. This gets pretty self-referentially meta. The bad guy in the film, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, the Narcos DEA agent), remarked that he grew up reading about Wolverine and had once admired him. We soon realise that the comic books are a loose parallel to religious scriptures, like the Bible. The stories are loosely based on ‘real’ events in the X-Men universe but mostly fiction. We find out that the young female charge Laura (Dafne Keen), who has persistently demanded that Logan brings her to ‘Eden’, got her idea from the comic books. The coordinates given to Logan by Laura’s previous minder Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a kindhearted nurse in the bad guy corporation Transigen, turned out to be numbers from the comic books. So when Logan found out about this, he was really pissed. His plans, his life (which was already a rather wretched one), was foiled by her supposed fantasy of Eden, which we are to assume does not exist. Or does it?
When we are brought to the pivotal point of the story, we find ourselves at the dinner table in a warm rural country home of a black Christian family, the Munsons. Mommy wears a large cross on her neck. The family says grace, with the mutants no less, before eating. They have normal family conversation. Mommy declares that “the Lord will provide”. We see a Cross in the dark behind Logan. Why is this a pivotal point? The film deliberately slows down at this scene. Unhurried grace. The grace of having a ‘normal life’ with a ‘normal family’. Despite the lurking danger, Xavier insisted that they stay the night. Why? He wanted Logan to experience life as it should be. A family. A home. He says to Logan, “it’s not too late”.
This is where I finally understood the character motivations of Logan and Xavier. They have had their run. They are jaded. They have spilled enough blood. And their friends, their family, have all gone. There was no more meaning or purpose in life. But Xavier did not see it that way for Logan. Remember Logan was presumably immortal. Xavier wanted Logan to find meaning and purpose in being family with Laura (and perhaps hopefully the other mutant kids which Transigen had created in test tubes out of mutants’ DNA).
But there is something even more pivotal at this place. The bad guys came and killed the Munsons. Just before Logan came back to the house, Xavier wept and confessed on the bed, a Bible next to him, that he vaguely remembered what happened at Westchester, “something unspeakable”. Earlier in the film, a radio broadcast mentioned this incident which paralyzed many people and killed the X-Men. So we see a Xavier who was far from a saviour. He could not control his mind in his declining frailty and mortality. The guilt must have been lurking somewhere inside of him. When he remembered, he was a man in need of absolution. He cried, “I don’t deserve any of this!” It was a heart wrenching moment. A sinner crying out for grace. He needed redemption.
In a sense, Xavier was redeemed. It is suggested that Xavier had something to do with Laura finding her way to Logan. And because of this series of events, the young mutants survived the humans. This too was Logan’s redemption. Logan brought Laura to where Eden’s coordinates. We do not find heaven, but to our surprise, a temporary haven. A camp built by the other mutant kids who escaped Transigen, they were waiting for Laura before they could make their escape to Canada (yes, America, Canada welcomes refugees). Logan couldn’t have been more wrong about Eden. This Eden wasn’t paradise. But this Eden was all the family that Laura got. This Eden was the hope of, and an ongoing journey to, a place of peace.
At the end, Logan finds his peace. He dies saving Laura and the other kids from the bad guys. Just before he dies, Laura cried and called him daddy. Before this scene, Logan was about to leave the kids to run to Canada on their own, incurring Laura’s resentment. Logan said this wasn’t what he signed up for, and whoever he cared for would inevitably get hurt. Laura’s sharp retort stung, “well then I’ll be fine”. But Logan dies redeemed. He dies as a father.
His last words were, “so this is what it feels like”. It is left ambiguous as to what he meant. He looked satisfied in the end. Was it fatherhood? Was it death? Was it the end of his running? After all, earlier in the film, Logan revealed that he had kept an adamantium bullet with him so that he could kill himself at some point. A depressed suicidal god resigned to fatalism.
Logan dies not so much absolved for his past sins, but in the ultimate analysis, contrite and humbled, his heart filled with love. The outer shell of raw roughness and the impulse of pushing the people he cared about away had finally given way. It has been suggested that he is the Good Samaritan to Laura, reluctant as he was. Perhaps.
The kids bury Logan. They use branches to make a cross at his grave. Laura conducts a quasi-funeral service, because she watched one on a film with Xavier in a hotel room earlier, quoting from the classic Western film Shane:
“There’s no living with… with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her … tell her everything’s all right. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley”.
It suggests that the anti-hero of Logan, like the killer cowboy in Shane, was in a sense never able to escape bloodshed. He had to do what he had to do. And he had to live with the moral ambiguity. But at least for those he left behind, “there aren’t any more guns in the valley”. And so it goes for the kids who then made their way off to a place of peace. Not before Laura lifts the cross and rotates it to form an ‘X’. (In the original comic ‘Old Man Logan’ series, Wolverine was crucified by the Reavers on an ‘X’.)
But that is not the end of this. In the post-show credits, James Mangold plays us Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around, a song about judgment day, two verses of which goes like this:
“There’s a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the man comes around
The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the man comes around”
There was to be no superhero resurrection for Professor X or Wolverine. But we are reminded that in the final analysis, there will be a resurrection of the dead. There will be a reckoning of all our deeds, all our sins, all our faith. The Munsons were unjustly treated in this world. But in the world to come, they won’t be treated the same. They will be “free”.
The film depicts the wickedness of humankind. So wicked that even the gods could be defeated and then moulded into humankind’s image to be controlled and to be used as weapons. This too is our sin. We try to control God and use Him for our purposes. We commercialise and fictionalise God. The arrogance and the hubris. Do we dare deny traces of these in us?
But we must realise that even the gods we make of the created, of our created things, are transient and fragile. We must neither fear them nor hope in them. We must only fear and hope in the ultimate. The ultimate, when the Man comes around.
In the meantime, don’t give up on ‘Eden’. In a sense, ‘Eden’ in the Christian worldview isn’t a place we find. It is a place from which we fell, but the peace/shalom of Eden is the state of affairs we pursue. And this is not some navel-gazing subjective inner peace. It is a state of justice and righteousness in which every relationship is made right, made good, and made true. In fellowship with our brothers and sisters, in harmony with nature tamed, in communion with God. The truth is we will never be able to fully realise the peace of Eden in this world, because the bad guys will keep coming, and we ourselves will keep falling and thus do bad stuff too. We are like Xavier. We wish we can be the saviour. But we can’t. We end up hurting the ones around us. We do the things we don’t want to do, and don’t do the things we want to do. Because we are humans. But that doesn’t mean we give up trying. Instead, we are told to keep running, keep journeying, keep working to enter the Sabbath rest of God in the renewed Eden. As Johnny Cash sung:
“Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around”
Who do you want to be when the Man comes around?
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Advocating for Survivors of ISIS’s Genocide of Christians and Yzidis in Syria and Comforting the Oppressed and Trafficked in the Middle East
This short film tells the stories of many Syrian Christians who watched their loved ones tortured and killed at the hands of men who hated their religion and their God. The martyrs were unfazed at the hands of their tormentors. “I am blessed because I am persecuted for my Yeshua,” cried a lady who was tied to a pole in the middle of the street in Aleppo, spat on and punched day after day. A man was crucified in the city, having the glory to die in the same manner as his own saviour. These were the stories I heard tonight from Jacqueline and Yvette Isaac, a mother-daughter team of Egyptian Christians who started Roads of Success, a humanitarian NGO which provides support and care to the downtrodden and oppressed, and advocates for those whose stories have been suppressed.
Jacqueline is a lawyer who started her career in a top London firm practising international arbitration, working 18 hour days and loving the prestige and benefits of a magic circle London law firm. As she was about to continue into her second year of practice, a 35 year old newly minted female partner told her, “I’ve been observing you; you still have a soul. As for me, this is my life.” That gave Jacqueline pause. After some searching, she realised her calling. But she struggled with God. Large commercial law firm prestige or the deep unknown and unglamorous of a calling to humanitarian work? She surrendered to God in desperation. And in no time, a series of events led her to start her own estate planning law firm which gave her the flexibility to do humanitarian work at her own time. God brought a senior lawyer to her who would hand over his 30-year-old practice to her in one year. And the rest was a blur.
In the short time that she and her mother founded Roads of Success, they have travelled to places ravaged by terror, come into close contact with ISIS, and stood before the United Nations, the US Congress and the U.K. Parliament to tell the stories of those who have been torn by terror. They have a programme which care for and empower 24 girls who have suffered sexual abuse and slavery. They have sent shipping containers of humanitarian aid to various places in grave need.
One particular story sticks out. The story of how they were instrumental to advocating for the UK Parliament to pass a resolution to recognise ISIS’ acts of horror to the Christian and Yzidi minorities in Syria as genocide, which would have significant although unimaginable consequences.
This was what happened. Yvette Isaac was given the resources to go into Syria to interview the Christian and Yzidi minorities. In the meantime, separately, Jacqueline Isaac was just in London doing her work, right after having a hectic travel schedule. Where she was at a cafe in London, she saw some protests and demonstrations outside. But she was too tired and had too much work to do, so she didn’t bother about it. Just at that time, some friend from California dropped her a message saying she was in London too. Turned out that the friend was just a few doors down from where she was. She went over to meet her. Her friend urged her to go out together to take a walk. So they ended up witnessing the demonstration, discovering that it was led by an EU Parliament member. She couldn’t get close though she tried to reach out to the Parliamentarian. In vain, she went up to a man whom she thought was a security guard, and gave her a name card, hoping he would pass it to the EU Parliamentarian.
As it turned out, the “security guard” was actually a U.K. politician connected to the media. That very evening he called her and said tomorrow you will go live on the most watched show in UK. She would go on Jon Snow’s show and she was asked to share about what was going on in Syria. But she had no idea what to share.
In the meantime, Yvette Isaac had just finished shooting 8 hours of material collecting the stories of the many survivors of genocide. She was at the Syria-Lebanon border trying to get out when she realised that the border officers were confiscating and destroying all the electronic equipment they could find. She prayed and pleaded to God. She made a bargain with God. The exclusive rights to the video material belonged only to God, she decided. So she called her sponsor who had given the condition that exclusive rights to the material belonged to him. She told him, too bad, I will return you the money, this belongs solely to God. Right after she put down the phone, someone in the line recognised her Egyptian accent and said hey you should be going to this other line. So she went. At the immigration counter, the man looked at her and said, hey you’re the one on the Arab television channel. I became a Christian because of the show. Thank you for coming here. Please come back. He let her pass without even checking her belongings. Wow.
At that point, Jacqueline called Yvette and said, Mom, come to London instead of the US (where Jacqueline was based at). I’ll explain. So with all the video testimonies, Jacqueline and Yvette went on UK television live to share of the stories of the Christian and Yzidi minorities.
Unbeknownst to them, Lord David Alton in the UK House of Lords was watching the Jon Snow show. He is the politician who has been pushing in vain for the House of Lords to vote and agree on a declaration that the ISIS’ acts were genocide. There were political consequences to this. Including prioritising Syrian refugees and allowing Britain to table a resolution at the UN Security Council regarding ISIS, and possibly resolve to have them tried by the International Criminal Court. But it was not happening. When Lord Alton watched the Isaacs on the show, he knew that this was his prayer answered. He contacted them and asked them if they could come back to the UK Parliament to testify at a special hearing if it happened. They said yes of course. They returned to the US, and 48 hours later, they received the call from Lord Alton.
So they went before the UK Parliament in a closed door hearing and screened the video testimonies as well as got one of the girl survivors whom they support to testify of how ISIS murdered her father and raped a young girl so many times her body just gave way and the girl died before her eyes. With that, the House of Commons voted unanimously in favour of a declaration that ISIS’ acts were genocide.
This is not a story about ISIS. It’s not a story about genocide. It’s a story about God weaving everything together seemingly like patchwork but in reality, like a master craftsman pulling everything together in one stroke. This is a story about God’s sovereignty and glory. It is about how He works through His servants to untie suffering and brokenness from evil and instead bind them to stories of redemption and beauty. The Isaacs are continuing their ministry in working with girl survivors, empowering them to flourish. This is a story of redemption and glory. This is a story about Jesus Christ being the one who holds all things together and who is reconciling all things to Himself. And how He uses different people, big and small, from all across the world for His beautiful purposes. Praise be to God.
For more information on the Isaacs’ ministry check out www.roadsofsuccess.com.
“United in the Great Story!“
The past 9 days 8 nights have forever changed my life, and will probably also change the course of the world. 1,300 participants from 160 nations gathered in Indonesia for the Lausanne Movement’s Young Leaders Gathering 2016.
I had the privilege of being featured in the Guinness x Humans of Singapore, Men of Singapore book recently. And the bros deejays on ONE FM 91.3 interviewed two of us featured in the book, Enoch Teo and myself. The good lads from ONE FM asked what advice I had for young Singaporeans. This was what I said:
“I don’t think I have the standing to give any advice to anyone.
But I guess if I have any advice for myself, it would be this. Be secure in your identity. Be strong in convictions. Be humble in heart and mind. Be giving always. For in laying your life down for others, there you will find your life.”
Today, I will be taking a leap of faith.
Yesterday was the last day of my employment with Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP.
Today, I’ll be joining a new firm Covenant Chambers LLC, as a self-employed lawyer, without fixed income, building my own legal practice, finding and relating to my own clients, serving the rich and the poor the man on the street and the SMEs, doing pro bono and paid work; I seek to pursue justice and peace with as much integrity as I can have, empathy as I can muster, and dedication I can afford.
Why did I do this? Because I sensed this to be my calling this season. I am pursuing a motivation not rooted in money but autonomy, growth and purpose as a lawyer, as an advocate and as a counsellor.
Here’s the view from my new office, and here’s to new horizons.
In this book, which was based on extensive research and interviews, Gobillot declares that existing ways of leadership may become irrelevant in the light of 4 major societal trends. Leaders must shift their emphasis to fostering social engagement by valuing conversations, working on the contribution they make to the community rather than the direction they give to the community, and develop executive maturity to see mass participation as an opportunity to create value rather than a threat to their existence.
In my September 2015 General Election Social Justice Petition Paper, I highlighted the problem of self-employed persons / freelancers being possibly unduly prevented from claiming Government-paid leave. I have since obtained clarification from the Government that such persons will not be prevented from claiming Government-paid maternity leave.