Pop Xulture Newsletter # 3 – Focusing on Loki. 5/10/22
Hola amigos and welcome to the long-running Chris Fogle Newsletter.
Recently I had “The Adam Project: Can Sarcasm Enhance? Yeah, Right” published on Christ and Pop Culture (CAPC) and the first of a series called “Creativity, Part 1” here on Substack. I’m currently working on an article for CAPC comparing Ted Lasso’s Season 1 panic attack with the anxiety I’ve struggled with recently.
I don’t usually like to tell you something is happening until it’s a 99% sure thing, but it looks like I’m starting my first podcast! My friend and I have wrestled with some deep subjects (theology, death, miracles, pop culture, beard care, etc.) over the last year. So we decided to share those conversations with the world. We’re doing a trial run this Friday (5/13) and I’ll keep you posted on what happens.
In July of last year, I wrote an article on the finale of the show Loki titled “Less Is More in Loki Ep 6.” I’ll never forget walking and writing the first draft in the church parking lot across the street from our old house. As I was struggling with a unifying theme, I got a call from my friend Kevin and learned his grandpa was dying. There was sadness but also hope. And that’s when the theme came together. Well, at least for the first draft.
When I submitted the draft to my Love Thy Nerd editor he wasn’t sure if we should use the story about my buddy’s grandpa. The editor appreciated the situation and vulnerability, but he thought it would be too confusing for the reader. Additionally, we had a limited wordcount and impending deadline, so we decided to remove it. But now that I can publish whatever I want on Substack, because I want to honor my friend Kevin and his amazing grandfather, and as a cherry (blossom) on top, it relates to May being AAPI month, I’m excited to share. You may want to read the published article here first to get the most out of what changed below. Enjoy!
Draft of “Humility in Loki Ep 6”
My best friend’s 95-year-old grandfather only has a few days to live. And what a life. Overcoming imprisonment in Manzanar, California’s Japanese internment camp during World War II, he went on to become a doctor healing thousands of people. Although still faced with Asian hate in 2021, he took refuge in a relationship with Jesus. But a week ago he incoherently begged for someone to kill him because of the pain.
The Ends (of Time) Justify the Ways and Means
In the season finale of Loki, He Who Remains acknowledges he’s been the cause of pain and pruning for multitudes but defends himself saying the ends justify the means. He explains he’s directed Loki and Sylvie to him in order for them to make the choice: rule the TVA or kill him and unleash multiversal war. Loki disbelievingly asks why He Who Remains would give up control. To understand the gravity of Loki asking this question we need to go back. Gotta rewind the timeline.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Loki’s most prominent character trait. It isn’t his mischievousness or betrayal, it’s his arrogance. Since the beginning of the year I’ve read three books on humility (not bragging!), chiefly because I’m writing a book on the subject. But in all my research and writing I never consider how an egotist would react to finding out there are more of themselves. I thought the Loki’s would band together to achieve world domination, but arrogance is hesitant to share glory. And He Who Remains confirmed this.
Our pride would hate the competition. A variant that could displace us from our throne, steal the spotlight, usurp the center of attention, be more loved, adored and recognized for brilliance. And for all the bravado of American slogans like “be all you can be” or “land of opportunity,” it is with the unspoken caveat, “as long as you don’t get in my way.”
Our culture, and the Church’s, biggest problem is that we rarely, if ever, even think about pride, let alone take real steps toward humility. But why is arrogance bad? Several reasons, it’s the root of all the bad stuff (sin), it’s thinking higher of ourselves than we should, and it damages people as the cause of the top ten global crises. In Loki’s case, well, Mobius said it, he was born to lose. But what if, in humility we find the best that we can be? I’d argue that for as pivotal as Episode 6 is for the future of the MCU, Episode 5’s interaction with Classic Loki was the defining moment for our Loki.
Classic Loki’s Humility Fast Track
Classic Loki was strong enough to trick Thanos and seclude himself in solitude. He was finally the master of his own destiny and domain and yet he was lonely. In real life, practicing solitude correctly, is the opposite of loneliness or isolation. Pastor John Mark Comer says, “Solitude is engagement; isolation is escape. Solitude is safety; isolation is danger.” Solitude is where we get in touch with God because we’ve eliminated all of the distractions that keep us from hearing His voice.
This solitude drove Classic Loki to help others at the risk of his own life. He gave up being a hermit, got pruned, and guided others through the Void (by extension, He Who Remains must have directed him there). Our Loki had the blessing we don’t have of finding out firsthand how he would have handled certain situations. For Loki those would be killing Thor, defeating Thanos, and his glorious purpose of ruling Midgard. For us, it’s the unknowns of who to settle into a relationship with, what job to take, what church to attend or ministry to join, how to plan for retirement, the list goes on and on.
A Humble Mindset: “I Can Wait Out Here”
Every step of the way through the finale of Loki (Season 2 confirmed!), our Loki puts others first. From Loki’s unselfish support of Sylvie on the Citadel’s doorstep, to rejecting the TVA throne, Loki has truly learned humility. Clearly a different Asgardian god of mischief than was even in episodes 1-5. Our key to living a fulfilled life, a life where we are stronger than wrongful imprisonment and racism and any other evils forced on us, lies in a focus on one thing: our arrogance. That’s why God hates pride. Not only do we use it to harm, back-stab and cheat others, but we really mess ourselves up too.
So how does our war on pride relate to our decision of where we go when we die…heaven or hell…for all time. Always? He Who Remains presents the ancient debate around Predestination and Freewill. So it was striking when my friend told me about his grandpa asking for the ancient tradition of suicide (seppuku, hara-kiri). In his mourning, my friend’s thoughts turned toward the doctrine of predestination. If his grandfather’s mind had deteriorated, wouldn’t God be faithful to mentally meet grandpa through the haze and usher him into eternity?
The questions of Predestination and Freewill should be wrestled with, but at a point many of us realize we can’t know or understand every aspect of these doctrines, which leaves us grasping for something tangible. More on that in a minute, for now we’re drawn back to the practically of humility.
I Don’t Want a Throne
As Loki and Sylvie face off against their nemesis for the last time, He Who Remains gives the gambit: take over the TVA or unleash a multiversal war. Sylvie immediately tries to kill him while Loki, with his words and his sword, tries to hit pause and think through their actions. Naturally Sylvie thinks he wants the throne but, in the character’s biggest breakthrough, Loki says, “I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want a throne. I just want you to be okay.” He receives a slightly eye-rollable kiss and a shove through a portal back to the TVA. Sylvie stabs He Who Remains, who, with his last breath, gives a Terminator-esque promise that he’ll be back. Spoiler: his name is Kang and yep, he will be back.
But more important than controlling the timeline or giving people freewill, is the character building of Loki’s building of character. Because we see tangible proof of what humility can do. Unlike us, Loki had a variant of himself to outwit his enemies and live in solitude on a distant planet, which gave him wisdom and empathy but most of all humility. Loki saw what continuing on his futile path would look like, taught by the only person he could trust: himself.
We don’t need a “Classic Us” to live a lifetime in order to teach us what we really need. But from personal experience, developing the discipline of solitude, five or ten minutes a day sitting in silence, listening for the voice of God, is well worth it. We have so many distractions and plans that we’re physically, emotionally, and spiritually unable to hear the voice of Jesus. But that discipline coupled with the realization that we cannot work toward or achieve humility, that it can only come from Jesus working through us, has changed my life radically.
Doubt & Pain Are Opportunities for Faith & Humility
When I talked to my friend last, he said his grandfather made a short-lived recovery. Fully cognizant, he begged my friend to forgive him for wanting to commit suicide. The Grandfather said he feels the peace of Jesus and will wait on His timing for death. As my friend stood silent, I filled the void with a thought: what if his grandpa’s cognizant, humble realization is a picture of freewill? And in that moment, it all came together.
There is God’s sovereignty in taking care of us when we are unable to function and yet we have opportunities to exercise our freewill and chose Him. But what happens during the quest that Kang talked about, the journey of our lives? What happens in the practical everyday living of this life? By developing a routine of solitude where we learn it’s not about us, it’s about putting others first.
Have a Little Humility
Kang is a pretty benevolent god but from the TVA statue in the closing scene and in a meta sort-of-way knowing he’s the confirmed villain for Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, just because he looks the same doesn’t mean he’s good. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about a God who changes from good to evil or has powerful variants. God is good for all time. Always.
Like Loki, understanding God is good and knows everything and provides salvation helps me use my free will to choose His path. But that choice is only the beginning. Bonnie Tyler needed a hero, but we don’t. He’s already here. And His name is Jesus.
Jesus already lived the humble life. And, without getting too theological, humility doesn’t just happen when we decide to become a follower of Jesus and it doesn’t come from reading the Bible. Humility is the hardest discipline because you can’t work at it, you have to be willing to let Jesus work it into you.
In the same way, Loki fought his whole life against his dreams being crushed and distained empathy and believed he was the center of the multiverse. In the end, he submitted and became the hero. Not necessarily a hero of the MCU, but the hero of his own story. And he did it by helping others become the heroes. It would seem Thor’s words were prophetic when he said, “You'll always be the god of mischief. But you could be more.”
Just like Jesus talked about the first becoming last. With humility you and I can be more. Well, by being less we’ll be more.
[END EXCLUSIVE ARTICLE CONTENT]
There’s actually a backstory to the Conclusion subtitle that has nerdy layers upon nerdy layers, but I’m keeping that secret for now!
I hope you enjoyed this Newsletter and the exclusive content selection. If you want me to write a specific article (here on Substack or on CAPC), leave a comment below! And if you want a behind-the-scenes draft in a future Newsletter, same thing, leave that comment. As they say en espanol, mucho love.
Thanks, in Him,
-Chris (the Bearded Wonder) Fogle