Bamf: The gospel according to Nightcrawler

nightcrawler-166754By Steve Beard

There was more than a ripple of thrill coursing through the veins of comic book fans when the cast was announced last year for X-Men: Apocalypse. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Olivia Munn, and James McAvoy were some of the stars named to the film. For many fans, however, a pivotal announcement from director Bryan Singer was the reemergence of Nightcrawler, the teleporting mutant also known as Kurt Wagner.

On the first official day of production in April 2015, Singer posted an image that briefly showed Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler to his more than 100,000 followers on Instagram. As quickly as it appeared, it was removed. Bamf!

When moviegoers were first introduced to Wagner in the 2003 blockbuster film X2: X-Men United, he was darting through a legion of hapless Secret Service officers at the White House. Mysteriously, the character has been absent from the last five films in the series.

For comic book fans, Nightcrawler’s appearance in X2 (played by Alan Cumming) was welcomed with delight. At first glance, he appeared as a fierce demon-looking character that was able to disappear into thin air and reappear across the room. As a “teleporter,” the German-accented mutant is able to morph into a puff of blue smoke and transport himself with the speed of sound. With acrobatic grace, he cuts quite an image with his dark blue skin, tail, pointy ears, three-fingered-hands, and funny teeth.

Nightcrawler has been one of Marvel Comics’ most unique and complex superheroes since 1975. For those outside the X-Men cult of fans, the series revolves around a cast of characters that have some form of genetic mutation that manifests itself through extraordinary abilities. They have names such as Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto, and Rogue. The mutants can control the weather (Storm), blow freezing cold wind (Iceman), or walk through walls (Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat). As you would expect, they are treated as freaks and ostracized from society. The storyline revolves around the struggle between the humans and mutants and the need to fight prejudice, suspicion, and bigotry when dealing with people who may have different looks or talents.

nightcrawler-x2Perhaps the most intriguing characteristic about Nightcrawler is that he is a mutant of faith — a devout Christian. Out of all the myriad of cartoon superheroes created in the last fifty years, very few have articulated or been identified with a specific religious faith.

There have, however, been exceptions to the rule. In 2002, it was revealed in the comics that Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) of The Fantastic Four was Jewish. In the movie Daredevil, crucifixes and other religious iconography flood the screen (as well as visits to the confessional) in order to convey Matt Murdock’s struggle between vigilantism and his boyhood Catholic faith.

To their credit, the screenwriters, director, and producers of X2 allowed Nightcrawler to retain his purity of faith and hope. They skipped the subtle, read-between-the-lines type of allusions to his Christianity and let him express full-metal devotion. Nightcrawler takes refuge in an abandoned cathedral in Boston, festooned with statues of Jesus. When he is nervous, he holds a crucifix and says the rosary in German. When he needs to summon inner strength, he recites the Lord’s Prayer. When the group is confronted with tragedy, he pastorally quotes Psalm 23.

Quite simply, Nightcrawler is one of the most devout and unconventional Christian characters that has ever been portrayed on the big screen. Furthermore, his distinct characteristics span his portrayal in comic books, graphic novels, and an animated film. He talks righteously about sin and the power of faith, without the slightest hint of holier-than-thouism. Although he has every right to be angry at humans for their bigotry, he chooses to help them. He has fears, but he acts with courage through the power of prayer. He quotes the Scripture to find strength that his genetically mutated special powers cannot give him.

In the movie version, Nightcrawler’s faith is further highlighted in that his body is covered in tattoos, one for each of his sins. He calls them his “angel marks.” In a form of penance, they are self-inflicted ancient Enochian symbols considered to be an angelic alphabet.


Good-natured swashbuckler

When Nightcrawler first began with the X-Men, he was not conceived as a religious superhero. He was a swashbuckling adventurer with a good sense of humor and a special charisma with the ladies. He even became the leader of the British superhero group Excalibur.

His unique look always made him appear to be something that he was not — namely a demon. The creators used his image to further press their point that prejudice and bigotry brutally cloud our judgment in being able to truly judge a person. This was only heightened when Nightcrawler began quoting Scripture, praying, and hanging out in abandoned cathedrals. He began to be mentored by a priest at Church of Michael the Archangel in Brooklyn and studying for the priesthood.

For a period of time in the X-Men comics, Nightcrawler was shown wearing a clerical collar and even presiding over the funeral of a friend. In the midst of his theological studies, he also struggles with his faith, the tremendous injustice that he sees all around him, and what it would mean to become a priest.

In the graphic novel Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1: Hope (2003, written by Chuck Austen), Nightcrawler is staring at a life-size crucifix in St. Patrick’s Cathedral when he says, “Your death was intended to show us a shining example of how we should live in loving union with you and those around us. Yet even those of us who hold you deepest in our hearts — fail — in keeping true to your divine word.”

In continuing his confession, he says: “Clergy, parishioners, priests — me. I have such thoughts — feelings I cannot escape — the desires for the touch of a woman.” While the temptations of the flesh weigh heavy on his conscience, Nightcrawler’s vastly more threatening challenge is against the racist and religious humans of the Church of Humanity, a Ku-Klux-Klan type of anti-mutant organization.

With the gritty and heart-torn anxiety of the Psalmist, his poignant monologue continues by unleashing his frustration on a seemingly standoffish God. “And now another Holy War is brewing — more fools take up weapons of murder in Your name. And You allow it. Perhaps even encourage it. If we take You into our hearts, does that mean fighting and killing in Your name — or not fighting and being killed in your name? Which is the right answer? And what purpose does it serve to torment your most faithful when the goal is maybe one day sitting beside you — alone — possibly forever apart from the ones we love and desire — who chose wrongly or failed your uncertain tests?”

The scene concludes with Nightcrawler looking at his crucified Jesus and saying, “When next we meet, I expect answers.”


Did God give up on the mutants?

With the heightened popularity of the X-Men movies, a DVD collection of animated TV episodes from the early 1990s was released entitled X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine (Buena Vista, written by Eric Lewald, Mark Edward Edens, and Sidney Iwanter). It includes an entire episode devoted to the origin and theological disposition of Nightcrawler.

The story takes place within a monastery in a small Bavarian village in Germany. Three of the X-Men (Wolverine, Gambit, and Rogue) find themselves being aided by monks in the aftermath of an avalanche. Having been mistaken for a demon by the townspeople because of his looks, Nightcrawler explains to Wolverine and his friends that his genetic mutations were evident from birth and that the villagers chased he and his mother of out of town.

His mom (Mystique) also abandoned him as a child (in the comics, she throws him over a waterfall) and a family of travelling performers took him in. When he was young he was able to work in the circus, but he was still treated as an outcast, “shunned and hated.” In talking with Wolverine, Nightcrawler says, “Though all people are flawed and struggle with the capacity for sin, none likes to be reminded of our shared human weakness. My appearance does not make it easy.”

“Don’t it make you crazy?” Wolverine asks with incredulity.

“It did once, but then I found peace by devoting my life to God,” said Nightcrawler. “He directed me to this place [the monastery] where they value the character of my heart, not my appearance.”

This only sends Wolverine further into a rage. “What are you talking about? God gave up on us long ago!” Nightcrawler counters, “No, my friend, God does not give up on his children — human or mutant. He is there for us in our times of joy and to help us when we are in pain — if we let Him.”

Later, Nightcrawler tells Wolverine, “We are alike, you and I — angry at the world. My pain drives me to seek God, yours drove you away.” Wolverine is further infuriated when he asks why God would have allowed him to be treated so badly. “Our ability to understand God’s purposes are limited,” says Nightcrawler, “but take comfort in the fact that his love is limitless.”

The episode concludes with Wolverine kneeling in a French cathedral reading the Bible and saying, “I will give thanks to you O Lord. Though you are angry with me, your anger is turned away and you have comforted me. I will trust you. I will not be afraid.”

Not a bad message — especially coming from an unconventional superhero.


Steve Beard is a roller derby photographer, editor, and the curator of

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Rolling Stone review of Chance the Rapper’s latest

1035x1035-chanceKanye West called The Life of Pablo a gospel album. But the new mixtape-LP from fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper (who had a major appearance on TLOP’s “Ultralight Beam”) truly lives up to that promise. Coloring Book is the richest hip hop album of 2016 so far. Gospel choirs are the backbone of the LP, rocketing skyward in the background the same way soul samples did on Kanye records, James Brown breaks did on Public Enemy records or disco interpolations did in the Sugar Hill catalog. Reaching back to the very beginning of black music in America, Chance recontextualizes one of the most enduring African-American art forms for 2016’s most urgent one.

Coloring Book comes at a time when the biggest rap and R&B stars are looking deep into their musical and cultural heritage, a trend that’s perhaps unsurprising in a country where policemen regularly get away with murder, a presidential candidate refuses to disown the KKK and the water in many American cities is poison. Most everything on Coloring Book seems to take on a spiritual hue: Even though “No Problem” is full of industry-bucking threats (“If one more label try to stop me/It’s gon’ be some dreadhead niggas in your lobby”), Chance is too busy milly-rocking over his blessings. He can paint a vivid picture of growing up in his beleaguered Chicago (“Bunch of tank-top, nappy-headed, bike-stealing Chatham boys/None of my niggas ain’t had no dad/None of my niggas ain’t have no choice”), but when New York alt-soul songwriter Francis and the Lights testifies through a vocoder and a prayer is given during the bridge, a bluesy dirge takes on an aura of warmth and hopefulness. D.R.A.M., the man behind the giddy viral hit “Cha Cha,” comes by for a beautiful interlude somewhere between Sly Stone and Animal Collective with the chorus “Everyone is special.”

While gospel icon Kirk Franklin plays hypeman, a choir sings one of the most important lines on the album: “Take me to your mountain/So someday Chicago will be free.” Chance reports live from Chicago, a city with nearly 500 homicides last year and the real and terrifying possibility that local government tried to cover up the police shooting of black teenager Laquan MacDonald. As Chance says in the opening track, “This for the kids of the king of all kings.”

And, as a rapper, Chance is everything we love about hip-hop in 2016. The convoluted and conscious-minded bars of Kendrick Lamar, the melodic gymnastics of Young Thug, the Oculus Rift ambitions of Kanye West. Mixing American music at its most vintage, today’s most cutting-edge rhyming and the emotional vocoder music that symbolizes our future, this lush, powerful album attempts to move hip-hop past Planet Rock and into the Heavens.

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Paul Simon’s Spiritual Fascination

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 11.10.24 AMBy Cathleen Falsani

While he waits for the Brazilian faith healer to arrive, Paul Simon is supposed be meditating quietly with his eyes closed.

Instead, he’s peeking.

“I want to see what’s going on,” Simon said, recalling his visit to the Casa de Dom Inácio de Loyola in Abadiânia, Brazil, where, in the summer of 2014, he underwent a “spiritual operation” performed by João Teixeira de Faria — a medium and psychic healer known as João de Deus (or “John of God”).

Eventually, John of God enters the room where Simon and about a dozen other pilgrims, a few lying on gurneys, await with varying degrees of patience, anxiety, and faith.

“He speaks in Portuguese — I assume a prayer — and he leaves,” Simon said. “And then everyone gets up and leaves the room. And I say to my guide, ‘Well, when is the operation?’ And she says, ‘No, that was it. You had it.’ … I felt nothing.”

While in Brazil — a 10-day trip he took at the urging of his wife, the musician Edie Brickell, who had traveled to Abadiânia for her own “spiritual surgery” several months earlier — Simon began writing the song “Proof of Love,” a six-minute epic that is, arguably, the centerpiece of his masterful new album.

To read entire article on Sojourners, click HERE

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Bob Dylan: “I couldn’t be that hellfire rock ’n’ roller. But I could write hellfire lyrics.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 2.37.48 PM

Bob Dylan: When I was growing up, Billy Graham was very popular. He was the greatest preacher and evangelist of my time — that guy could save souls and did. I went to two or three of his rallies in the ’50s or ’60s. This guy was like rock ’n’ roll personified — volatile, explosive. He had the hair, the tone, the elocution — when he spoke, he brought the storm down. Clouds parted. Souls got saved, sometimes 30- or 40,000 of them. If you ever went to a Billy Graham rally back then, you were changed forever. There’s never been a preacher like him. He could fill football stadiums before anybody. He could fill Giants Stadium more than even the Giants football team. Seems like a long time ago. Long before Mick Jagger sang his first note or Brucestrapped on his first guitar — that’s some of the part of rock ’n’ roll that I retained. I had to. I saw Billy Graham in the flesh and heard him loud and clear.

21george-articleLargeTo read the entire AARP interview with Bob Dylan, click HERE.

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Prince’s Holy Lust

By Touré (New York Times)

LET me tell you why “Adore” is the central song in the Prince canon. Because in “Adore” you get the commingling of two keys to understanding the man and his music: his sexuality and his spirituality.

In the second verse he paints the picture: “When we be making love / I only hear the sounds / Heavenly angels crying up above / Tears of joy pouring down on us / They know we need each other.” They’re having sex under a sprinkling of angel tears, which are flowing because of the angels’ admiration of their love.

This is the erotic intertwined with the divine. The Judeo-Christian ethic seems to demand that sexuality and spirituality be walled off from each other, but in Prince’s personal cosmology, they were one. Sex to him was part of a spiritual life. The God he worshiped wants us to have passionate and meaningful sex.

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Where music meets religion: Spending a night with Prince

Prince-purple-RainPrince, who has died at 57, joined Times pop music critic Ann Powers for a rare in-person interview in 2009 to talk about music, technology, religion and more. This story originally ran in The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 11, 2009.

Rockin’ the limo, boudoir ballads, Prop. 8, Barry White, sex, faith, Pro Tools. Was it a dream?

It was 11 p.m. on the night before New Year’s Eve, and I was doing something I hadn’t expected would crown my 2008: sitting in Prince’s limousine as the legend lounged beside me, playing unreleased tracks on the stereo. “This is my car for Minneapolis,” he said before excusing himself to let me judge a few songs in private. “It’s great for listening to music.” He laughed. “I don’t do drugs or I’d give you a joint. That’s what this record is.”

To read Ann Powers’ entire Los Angeles Times article, click HERE.

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Prince Covers Christian Singer-Songwriter for New Song ‘What If’

prince-3rdeyegirl-press-2014-billboard-650Always a man with a surprise up his sleeve (was anyone anticipating his first acting credit in years to be on New Girl?), Prince‘s new song is probably not what you’d expect from the Purple One.

Prince and 3rdEyeGirl released an electric guitar-heavy cover of Christian singer-songwriter Nichole Nordeman’s “What If,” a song that embraces the closely-knit relationship between doubt and faith.

Nordeman is a regular on the Christian music scene: Not only did she contribute a track to the Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narinia album, but she wrote a song for VeggieTales called “Sweetpea Beauty.” In case you’re unfamiliar, VeggieTales is a children’s cartoon about anthropomorphic produce who sing and relay morality tales.

To read entire Billboard story, click HERE.

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Prince, RIP

prince copy

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Purple Faith: Prince’s Life as a Jehovah’s Witness

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 1.27.28 PMPrince was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist in Minneapolis frequently attending services with his grandmother at Glendale Church, a historically African-American congregation in the city. “Both of his parents believed in the strict faith as did Bernadette Anderson, who took him in after he left home,” Touré writes in his book about Prince, I Would Die 4 U. Religion informed every part of his life: He told PBS that he informed his mother an angel told him he would no longer suffer from the epileptic seizures that plagued his early childhood.

To read entire article in People, click HERE.

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Alice Cooper Interviews Anne Rice on Religion, Vampires, Tom Cruise & Pot

alice-cooper-bloodstock-2012-billboard-650Alice Cooper is a longtime fan of novelist and fellow Christian Anne Rice, whose Christ of Lord: Out of Egypt has been turned into The Young Messiah, a movie that opened this week. When the filmmakers arranged for a screening of the film for Cooper and wife Sheryl, they decided it would be fun to let the rocker interview the writer.

Read Cooper’s full interview with the Vampire author HERE. Provided below is the first and last question and answer of the interview.

Alice Cooper: Was Memnoch the Devil written before or after your conversion to Catholicism? Am I correct in assuming what I read about your conversion?
Anne Riche:
 Memnoch was written before I returned to the Roman Catholic Church. I think the novel reflects a Catholic upbringing, a Catholic obsession with questions of meaning, a need to explore theologies and question them stridently. I remember including every major question I had, and when Lestat rejected the entire Christian system, as it was presented to him, his decision reflected my attitude. I don’t know what you read about my conversion. I can tell you that I returned to the church of my childhood in December of 1998. I gave up pondering theological absurdities and doctrines, and decided to leave it all to a higher power. I sought to go back to the fold, to the church I knew best, to the Eucharist, and I truly believed that doctrine and theology simply did not matter. What mattered was faith in God and loving God. Twelve years later I came to believe I was mistaken. Or that my approach did not work any longer for me. I left all organized religion in 2010.


nm_anne_rice_100729_mnEveryone puts their faith in something or someone. Where would you say your faith lives?
My faith lives in my novels, of course. It lives in every word I write. It lives in my novels about Jesus. Though I’ve moved away from institutional Christianity and organized religion — and all its theological strife — my devotion to Jesus remains fierce. My faith blazes in my vampire novels, and in the Witching Hour series, and even in the erotica I’ve written. I believe that people are basically good as Anne Frank put it; I believe the creation is basically good and beautiful; I believe that sex is beautiful and good. I believe our capacity to love, to know pleasure, to want to live lives of meaning — all this reflects the existence of a loving and personal Creator. I dream of all things human being reconciled in our ethical institutions and moral institutions; I dream of all of us being redeemed in every way. This is why the story of the Incarnation is so important to me, the story of Jesus being born amongst us, growing up amongst us, working and sweating and struggling as we do, and dying amongst us before he rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. I write about outsiders seeking redemption in one form or another and always will.

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