“I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it,
I see everything else.” – C.S. Lewis
A colleague of mine once stated that, “best practice is whatever works that day in the classroom.” If that statement can be proven true pedagogically, then my latest attempt to have adolescent male students understand the attributes of God using the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), specifically the infinity stones from Avengers Infinity War (2018) could be a noteworthy example.
According to the Joy of Adolescent Catechesis (JAC), “the outcomes of adolescent catechesis have not changed. The context in which they occur has changed. In light of this change of context, it is more important than ever before to get to know them…their lives, their hopes, their doubts, and their dreams” (12). Thus, it is my duty as the educational leader in the classroom to meet students where they are in their journey of faith. As a theology teacher in a Xaverian Brothers Sponsored School, walking with my students in this journey includes the charism of the Xaverian Brothers to build enduring relationships. In my experience, these relationships have been built upon common interest in comic books and comic book movies. Discussing the development of the character Captain America, identifying relevant themes from the film Black Panther (2018), evaluating the plot from the previous Avengers films (2012, 2015), and predicting outcomes while stating theories based on information they have analyzed in these movies are common conversations in my classroom during down time. Students are, in fact, demonstrating higher level thinking skills on a regular basis in these aforementioned examples and it’s my job as educational leader to build a bridge between their passion and interest in contemporary film from Marvel Studios and the theological concepts from the USCCB curriculum framework in light of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
“Media literacy is the ability to encode and decode the symbols transmitted via media and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages” (National Association of Media Literacy Education, 2017). Using contemporary film as an allegory is not a new pedagogical strategy to engage young men in the classroom. However, Avengers Infinity War provides a new opportunity to teach the mysteries of God through the example of Thanos and his goal to acquire the infinity stones. Through class discussions, students have a better understanding of God’s omnipresence when comparing this to the space and time stone from the MCU. With this example, students can understand God as the Creator as they analyze what it means to not be limited to space nor time. The mind stone, which is creatively carried by a character named Vision, is comparable to the omniscience of God. Likewise, the power stone obviously reflects God as omnipotent. In addition to the attributes of God being present, Avengers Infinity War can be used to discuss the following themes that can be used in a theology classroom: importance of teamwork (Body of Christ), recognizing the giftedness in the other (humility), the willingness to sacrifice for the common good (solidarity), and the value of one life (human dignity) in light of the epic battle of good versus evil.
“In order to attract young people who are only marginally engaged in the life of the Church or not engaged at all, it is necessary that those who catechize adopt a missionary attitude. This implies a willingness to go out to where young people can be found” (JAC, 12). Unfortunately, the reality is that many high school students are ignorant in regards to Church traditions and doctrines, or they are unchurched, or claim atheism. Therefore, the role of the catechist in the classroom is more challenging in exploring Church teaching for these students. If their knowledge of God is as equally limited as their experience of God; it is no surprise that these students question their faith. Our objective as theology educators is to find ways to engage young people in the faith. “To become a successful student, responsible citizen, productive worker, or competent and conscientious consumer, individuals need to develop expertise with the increasingly sophisticated information and entertainment media that address us on a multi-sensory level, affecting the way we think, feel, and behave” (National Association of Media Literacy Education, 2017). To that end, if adolescents can apply the themes from contemporary film to their lives in light of Church teaching, then perhaps they can see Christ in all things and through all things with the goal of seeing the world through the lens of the Christian faith.
Doctrinal elements of a curriculum framework for the development of catechetical materials for young people of high school age. (2008). Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Joy of Adolescent Catechesis (2017). Arlington, VA.: The National Initiative on Adolescent Catechesis.
“Media literacy defined.” (2017). National Association of Media Literacy Education. Retrieved from https://namle.net/publications/media-literacy-definitions/.
Jesus Christ: God’s Revelation to the World 2nd ed. (2016). Notre Dame, IN.: Ave Maria Press.
About the Author
Adam P. Zoeller is the theology department chair of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, KY. He earned his B.A. in religious studies and B.A. in clinical psychology from Spalding University (Louisville, KY) and his M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH). He holds a Master’s Catechist Certification from the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Adam will be co-presenting a webinar for the National Catholic Educational Association on Framing Brain-Based Learning in High School Theology on January 10, 2019. Online registration is available.
Adam has presented the following workshops for the National Catholic Educational Association:
- Practice & the Game: Using Sports Language to Teach the USCCB Curriculum Framework, (NCEA Webinar 2017)
- Media Literacy & Scriptural Exegesis: Essential Skills for 21st Century Religious Educators, (NCEA Convention and Expo 2017)
- From heart to missionary zeal: Using language and lessons from athletics to aid adolescent catechesis in the New Evangelization, (NCEA Convention and Expo 2018)
Adam has written the following reflections for NCEATalk:
- Paschal Mystery: Storytelling and Media Literacy (September 2016)
- Personal Litany of the Saints (April 2017)
- Motion Offense in Basketball (November 2017)
- Bully, Victim, and Bystander in Light of the Woman Caught in Adultery (July 2018)
Adam can be reached at email@example.com.