Ethos Education

Black Panther: How should Christians balance self-preservation with engaging with a needy world?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of the concept of calling for a Christian.
  • Awareness of different Christian responses to the world and to suffering.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will reflect upon ways of safeguarding something precious and the tension between safeguarding and sharing.
  • Analyse a film clip to see how the desire for preservation can lead to withdrawal from the wider world.
  • Discuss a community that has chosen separation and what motivates and sustains their lifestyle.
  • Find out about a contemporary monastic community and the reasons that individuals might have for choosing such a lifestyle.
  • Consider the role that separation and retreat had in the life of Jesus.
  • Assess different Christian responses to the rest of the world.

Supporting Values Education:

The value of mutual respect and tolerance recognises that different members of society, and indeed different members of faith communities, may hold divergent views on how best to enact the beliefs and values of that community.  This lesson allows students to consider different Christian approaches to engaging with the wider world.

STARTER:

Ask the students to brainstorm suggestions for the most valuable thing they can imagine. If they need prompting you might suggest things like the Crown Jewels, famous artwork masterpieces, etc. Now put them into pairs or small groups and ask them to decide what measures they would take to ensure that their precious item was kept safe if it was entrusted to their care. Give the groups a few minutes to come up with their security plans and then ask them to feedback to the whole class.

Allow a couple of minutes for the class to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each security plan. If it doesn’t come up naturally, ask the follow-up question of what benefit anybody got from the precious item; in other words, was the security so secure that nobody got to enjoy the thing that was being protected? Were members of the public still able to see the masterpieces, or were they simply kept hidden away where nobody could get to them?

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about different Christian responses to the dangers of the world, and how Christians balance the need to protect something that is precious to them, their faith, with the desire to share it and to ensure that the world benefits from it. In particular, they will be looking at the monastic tradition in Christianity.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Show the clip from Black Panther (Marvel, 2018, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. The clip starts at the very beginning of the film, with a boy asking his father to tell him a story. It ends with the son asking why they are still hiding. The clip explains why the people of the African nation of Wakanda (a fictional nation existing only in the Marvel Universe), possessing a powerful mineral, Vibranium, which has provided them with a wealth of technological knowledge far beyond the reach of any other nation on Earth, have hidden their civilisation away in order to protect themselves. Ask the students to consider, as they watch the clip, what the possible pros and cons of the Wakandan policy towards outsiders might be. Draw out the positives (self-preservation and protection) and the negatives (being unable to offer help to improve the situation of other peoples and other nations). Ask the students whether or not they think that the pros outweigh the cons.

  • Start time:      0.00.00 (beginning of chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.01.42
  • Clip length:     1 minute and 42 seconds

Point out that monastic communities have been a part of Christian faith for centuries, although it has never been the case that all Christians are expected to become members. Many Christians throughout that time have chosen to protest against worldliness by joining a religious order.

Distribute copies of the following passage about a present day monastic community in Scotland, Pluscarden Abbey. Ask the students to draw out from this short passage a summary of the reasons why a Christian might consider joining such a community. This activity can be done either in small groups or individually, then feeding back in a plenary session.

The full article can be found at www.pluscardenabbey.org/being-a-monk

The following questions may be useful for your discussion:

  • What is the main motivating factor for the monks of Pluscarden?
  • What is the attitude of the community to the outside world?
  • What similarities and differences are there between the isolation and withdrawal of the monks of Pluscarden and the nation of Wakanda?

Possible responses:

  • The monks at Pluscarden are driven by love for God and the desire to serve him.
  • The monks at Pluscarden believe that ‘the world could best be served by withdrawing from it and praying for it.’
  • From the point of view of the monks, their prayer for the rest of the world might be said to represent a more positive contribution to the world than the Wakandans’ complete withdrawal.

(As an extra activity, you may also wish to visit the page on Pluscarden Abbey’s website entitled ‘Becoming a monk’ and investigate the role of calling in the decision to become a monk. Monasticism is never suggested as the way of life that all Christians should adopt but rather that of a chosen few.)

Jesus sets a biblical basis for retreat from day-to-day life in the Gospels. Ask the students to look up the following passages and discuss in small groups how Jesus’ words and actions could shape Christian views on monasticism. Why did Jesus separate himself from others on occasions? What were the goals and outcomes of his retreat?

  • Matthew 4:1-11
  • Matthew 14:22-24
  • Matthew 26:36-45
  • Matthew 28:16-20
  • John 17:14-19

Although, as these passages show, there were occasions where Jesus withdrew from others in order to pray, he also returned from those times and engaged with the world around him. For most Christians, following Jesus does not mean taking monastic vows and withdrawing from the world – and even those who do would contend that their way of life is not the right one for all Christians.

Stimulate further discussion by reading the following quote from the Monasticism handout sheet:

When we consider the Desert Fathers, we can rightly be challenged by their faith, their commitment, their self-discipline, their disregard of worldly comfort and success, their stunning prayerfulness. But there remains a basic fallacy in their quest. God calls us to himself, in Christ. He then sends us out, not into the desert, but into the world – a world crammed with lost and hurting people.

We all need those times of stepping aside: in unhurried prayer, or in battling prayer. But Jesus’ times in prayer were not his ultimate destination. They were not the model for the whole of Christian living. They were the prelude – and accompaniment – to costly service in the midst of humanity.

From Searching for Intimacy with the Desert Fathers by Stuart Lange.

Do the students agree with this observation about some of the earliest monastic followers of Christ, on whose lives are based many contemporary monastic communities? Do they think that monasticism is an effective way of facing the world’s issues?

Introduce a second clip from Black Panther. Explain that in the film, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) the King of Wakanda has been challenged for the throne by an exiled Wakandan prince who intends to use Wakanda’s advanced weaponry to fight for the rights of black people throughout the world, and to become the leading nation in the world. In this scene T’Challa’s family, believing him to be dead, seek out the leader of a rogue Wakandan tribe in the hope that he will overthrow the outsider. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the conversation between T’Challa (spoiler alert: he’s not as dead as they thought) and his father about the consequences of Wakanda’s separatism.

  • Start time:       1.27.38 (beginning of chapter 14 of the DVD)
  • End time:         1.34.15
  • Clip length:      6 minutes and 37 seconds

The clip starts with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) asking, ‘Where are we going again?’ It ends with T’Challa asking, ‘Do you have a blanket?’

Ask the students whether or not they agree with T’Challa’s statement that his father and the previous rulers of Wakanda were wrong, that they, ‘let the fear of our discovery stop us from doing what is right’.

Ask the students to read Matthew 25:14-30. Ask them what relevance this parable of Jesus has to the debate in the film about Wakanda. Which of the servants are the Wakandans most like and why? Draw out that the point of the parable is that Christians believe that God expects them to make the most of the gifts that he gives them, and that many Christians would interpret this to mean that they should do what they can to help others around them, whether they share the Christian faith or not. This isn’t to say that those who feel called to the monastic life are disobeying Jesus’ teaching, simply that their interpretation of how to best make use of what they have been entrusted leads them in a different direction. It’s also worth pointing out that many monastic orders dedicate themselves to engaging with the communities around them, providing practical help for those in need and working to counteract social injustice rather than simply withdrawing from the outside world altogether.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to prepare a set of questions (at least five) that they would want to ask someone who had chosen a monastic lifestyle. The questions should explore the reasons behind the decision to live in such a way, and should provide the opportunity for the answerer to express what they feel is positive about such a decision.

If you have a local monastic community (whose members do come out and engage physically with the world to some extent), you may wish to make contact with them and invite someone to come and speak about their way of life. If this is not possible, then set students the task of answering their own questions, from the perspective of a member of a monastic community.

YOU WILL NEED:

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