Iron Man: "A Case of Mistaken Identity"

The Christian life at its core is one of relationship with Divine Persons and living in communion with Them.

I must confess: I am a Marvel Cinematic Universe fanatic. Some may use the word “nerd”. I proudly accept such a title of honor. Ever since 2008 with the release of the first Iron Man film, I have kept up with all the movies, news, and rumors that came my way. Now, seeing as I was barely a teenager 12 years ago, my interest in Iron Man was based on two things: He did cool things and he looked cool doing it. Obviously, a lot has changed since then. And since hindsight is 20/20, I thought it would be worth taking a closer look at how the movie that kicked off a billion dollar franchise deals with identity and mission.

If any of you belong to the 2% of the world that hasn’t seen the film, here it is in a nutshell: Tony Stark is a billionaire weapons manufacturer who gets wounded in a visit to the Middle East, gets a new machine powered heart, has a change of heart (pun intended) about what he’s doing with his life, and becomes the superhero known as Iron Man. Oh, and also he has an assistant named Pepper Potts.That’s about it. For our purposes, I want to just focus on one particular scene between Tony and Pepper. About midway the film, Pepper comes to confront Tony. Her hope is that she will get him to stop his new “hobby”(superheroing) before it gets him killed. Tony responds angrily, saying that fighting the next fight, accomplishing the next mission is all there is now. He has to do this, he has to be Iron Man. It is Tony’s understanding of himself and being on mission that stands out to me.

The R.I.M Model

In one of my catechism classes, a professor of mine used an acronym to help us understand how we ought to look at our lives as Christians. R.I.M, which stands for Relationship, Identity, and Mission, was the model he told us to use. We are first and foremost in relationship with God the Father through baptism. And this relationship informs our identity as the Father’s sons and daughters. Then, since we know who we are from our relationship, we can go out on mission. This model is the one revealed to us by God in the Person of Jesus Christ, and since we strive to conform our lives to His as His disciples, it seems like a good idea to live with this view in mind. What is beautiful about this model is that we can see that who we are, our value as persons, rests on our identity rooted in the relationship we have as sons and daughters which can never be taken away. Iron Man flips the model on its head and the result is catastrophic.

The M.I.R Model

In the scene that I described earlier, we see that Tony has based his value, his identity, on his mission. His model is M.I.R. His worth and sense of fulfillment are totally predicated on what he is doing or not doing. Unfortunately, this inverted view of life is the dominant lens through which many people, even Christians, live their lives today. Our consumerist culture values what we can do or provide, and then judges us as worthless or valuable on that basis. This ideology seeps into our Christian worldview in the form of hyper-activism. We fall into the trap of thinking that we need to always be doing the best, most pious acts perfectly in order for God to value and love us. We can even do this when we pray. We judge our prayer as good or bad according to how active we were in it, whether by journaling a lot, coming to some profound insight, or not getting distracted at all. It is no longer about being in relationship with the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, but about accomplishing things. It is about us.

Knowing Your Identity

Friends, it is not just about us. The Christian life at its core is one of relationship with Divine Persons, and living in communion with Them. It is about being with God, abiding with Him in love. Yes, our good works and acts are very important in living an authentic life of discipleship, but what happens when we can’t go to mass because of a pandemic? What happens when our service project falls through? What happens when we are tired and distracted in prayer? What happens when we don’t live up to the lie of perfectionism that we have fallen prey to? At the end of the day, our mission can change, and it can change drastically at times. If we hold our worth there and grow too attached to it, when it changes we will be left confused and in despair. Brother and sisters, we are not what we do. We are God’s beloved, His sons and His daughters, and that will never change.

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