Although I have never been much of a comic book reader, from an early age I have had an affinity for the Incredible Hulk. I suppose the credit for this would belong to the TV series that aired during my younger years starring Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner and Lou Ferrigno as his rage-fueled alter ego green monster. I can remember the incredibly durable stretch Hulk action figure I carried with me and destroyed for much of my childhood as well. With the most recent incarnations of the Hulk coming from the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last ten years, my love for the big green guy has resurfaced and he is undoubtedly my favorite character of all created within the superhero realm. In 2012, after six solo films introducing the world to several characters, we finally got to see all our heroes unite on one screen as Marvel released the first Avengers film. It is in this film as the Avengers prepare for the final battle Dr. Banner utters not only one of his most famous lines of the entire filmography, but arguably one of the most famous lines of any character throughout the twenty film universe as his transformation to big, mean, green and ugly takes place, “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”
Something about the nature of a man who loses all sense of control and becomes a different creature when angered and provoked has proved rather appealing to me throughout my life and at times I have found myself to have more in common with the normally mild mannered Dr. Banner than I would care to admit. Throughout the television series and film universe, Dr. Banner takes many precautions and makes effort to avoid anger and being provoked. Bill Bixby’s oft quoted line from the late seventies/early eighties series is simply, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” We sense in both depictions of the gnarly green giant as the Big Guy begins to calm and Dr. Banner reappears that he is filled with both shame and remorse for the actions that are seemingly beyond his control.
My life as a churchboy mirrored the life of Dr. Banner. Just as he shared his secret of always being angry with Captain America as they set off into battle, I “shared” my secret with those closest to me. Only my sharing was done behind closed doors with yelling while red-faced and normally with tight-clenched fists and cursing. I was not an easy man to live with but I could never let anyone know that and destroy my churchboy facade. I was always angry. It didn’t have to be anything in particular that made me that way, but 99.9% of the time it was simply because things were happening that I either disapproved of, did not want to be involved, did not think should happen, or things weren’t happening in the way I wanted quick enough. Churchboys are convinced there is a correct way to do everything and everything must be done in the correct way. When things aren’t done in that manner, anger erupts (in private, of course!) and there is collateral damage all around.
The only flaw with Dr. Banner’s secret is the same flaw I had . . . it’s not really a secret, at least not as much as I thought. His reputation for angry, raging transformation pales in comparison to the disapproving, unhappy, frustrated, and controlling person this churchboy was. As much as it pains me to admit and remember, I was a miserable person because I was always unhappy, I was always angry, and it was more obvious than I realized. My life at that time can be described from the opening words of Christ in Matthew 11:28 from The Message: I was tired, worn out, and burned out on religion.
I am so glad that Eugene Peterson did not stop there when he was writing The Message. He went on to expound on the words of Christ as follows in the verses 28-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Churchboys know nothing about living life in an unforced manner freely and lightly. They burden themselves with ill-fitting, heavy lists of do’s and don’ts to ensure they keep their image of holiness and godliness intact and making sure their secrets remain just that. Life without those rules and lists has proven both free and light. In fact, as I shared in What Is A Churchboy?, I’ve learned I’ve become I’m a nicer person and not near as angry without them.
Living life in this manner is a secret I refuse to keep.