Connecting with Culture
It’s been said that culture is ‘what we make of the world’, but what does that look like as Christians? How can we begin conversations about what’s goin...
The kingdom is like a blonde doll dressed in pink, and a scientist that created a world-ending bomb.
For months the internet has delighted in the simultaneous release of the Barbie and Oppenheimer films. The studios’ counter-programming could have easily degenerated into mudslinging between rival camps of fans, but instead became something as delightful as the portmanteau ‘Barbenheimer’ suggests. Memes flowed, the actors encouraged their audiences to watch both, and a Wikipedia page chronicled it all. The only debate was in which order to watch.
This author donned his pink shirt and trilby hat, and chose Oppenheimer first.
So why is the kingdom like the blonde doll in pink and the scientist with his bomb? First, zoom out. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, he juxtaposes opposites that are as delightful as they are unsettling: of greatness being service; of the first being last; of losing our lives to save them. As Oppenheimer tells his first student, ‘It’s paradoxical – but it works.’
Oppenheimer is speaking of the laws of physics. Jesus is speaking of the laws of the kingdom. But when Jesus offered paradoxes to his audience he did so to not only reveal deeper truths, but to invite us to inhabit them.
Now zoom back in, to the Barbenheimer paradox: a doll and a scientist whose fates are intertwined. In their juxtaposition, we again see deeper truths – though this time about our human (doll) condition. Both film’s heroes must contend with politics, patriarchy, and the perennial thoughts of death that haunt them. Both ask, but leave unanswered, a question: who will save us from ourselves?
Neither Barbie nor Oppenheimer, that’s for sure. But the paradox of their intertwined fates will continue to reveal plenty to anyone looking for examples (albeit flawed ones) of what it looks like to seriously contend with human nature, and to pursue a life shaped by the paradoxes Jesus described.
To inhabit this Barbenheimer paradox might look like dressing up as both characters at the same time. But Jesus’ followers know that inhabiting paradox doesn’t stop at the superficial – we must also wrestle with unsettling questions about our own nature, while day by day practising the kind of greatness, worthiness, and self-sacrifice that marks our kingdom citizenship.
That is a project as delightful as it is daunting. But if inhabiting Barbenheimer helps this Jesus-follower inhabit the kingdom, I’ll put on my pink shirt and trilby hat, and do just that.
Head of Innovation, LICC