In one of my childhood-favorite Saturday morning cartoons, “Muppet Babies,” young Muppets sang, “When the world looks kinda weird and you wish that you weren’t there, just close your eyes and make-believe, and you could be anywhere.” There’s something magical about our imaginations. Instantly we’re transported to another world, where anything can happen; where the world is what you wish it could be; where heroes save the day; where the world, no matter how damaged, can still be made right; where anyone can overcome the odds to achieve greatness. The journey back to reality can be a bit jarring, however, as the world we actually live in is great need of saving.
I was reminded of this paradox recently with the news of actor Chadwick Boseman’s passing. On screen, he played some of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, including Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball’s first black player, and Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first black justice. His most well-known role was T’Challa, king of Wakanda, also known as the superhero, Black Panther. He played each role with charisma and dignity, as if he was fully conscious of the significance of these characters for shaping the imagination of racially-strained America.
When playing historical figures, Boseman captured both the struggle these men faced as they overcame incessant reviling and malice just for being present in a segregated culture, and the hope they had for what their sacrifices would mean for future generations of black people. Robinson symbolized the hope of racial integration, that blacks would be recognized for their excellence in the face of adversity. Marshall symbolized the hope of justice, that there could be a voice for the voiceless in the highest court of the land. T’Challa, while fictional, symbolized the hope of solidarity, that affluent black communities would invest their resources to help all black communities forward.
Boseman helped remind me of what the Lord is doing in this world, that one greater than a baseball player, judge, and fictitious king is coming.
I don’t know everything about Boseman’s faith, but it seemed that he used his life to give others hope. I do know that he was baptized in the Welfare Baptist Church in Benton, South Carolina. I know that he constantly used his platform to encourage young children who, like him, battled with cancer. I know that he encouraged graduates from his alma mater Howard University to trust in the sovereign God of Jeremiah 29:11.
These stories on and off screen inspire me, yet this world is still full of hate and unrighteousness. Are my dreams of a better world the stuff of make-believe? As a follower of Jesus, I have confident hope that the world as it is pales in comparison to the world to come. We Christians are called to bear witness to Christ’s Kingdom, where there will be unity (Revelation 5:9-10), justice (Isaiah 9:7), and compassion (James 2:5). And this King holds the keys to Death and Hades, and will throw both into the lake of fire in the last day (Revelation 1:18; 20:11-15).
Perhaps this is why each of these movies and the news of Boseman’s passing moved me the way that they did. Boseman helped remind me of what the Lord is doing in this world, that one greater than a baseball player, judge, and fictitious king is coming. The Seed of the Woman will crush Satan under his (and our, Romans 16:20) feet. Shalom is not a fairy tale, but the very mission of the Triune God. Our neighbors and storytellers try to create worlds according to their visions of what a perfect world could be. The Great Storyteller has already written that script, and his true story is the best story.
My children live in a different world than what Robinson and Marshall experienced. They won’t have to navigate segregated sports or courts. While they probably won’t be kings and queens in Africa, they could one day be President of the United States. There is much more work to be done in our land, but we have something much more powerful than a vibranium-filled Panther: we have hope in the Lamb who will make all things new in his eternal Kingdom. In this weird world, with eyes wide open, we believe.