Archive for October, 2006

Heroes

October 27, 2006

I think we need heroes.

Total depravity of man notwithstanding, I’m beginning to believe that there is a need for highlighting the times we get it right. Watching my children grow up, and watching the kids that I teach struggle with which way is up, I’m starting to see the absolute necessity of role models.

When I was a kid, I first wanted to be Superman. I wanted to deflect bullets, see through walls, fly, and melt things with my eyes. I mean, who wouldn’t? I even remember eating Cheerios at breakfast for months because I saw Superman eating Cheerios on a commercial once. I don’t even like Cheerios! But if he ate them, then dadgummit, I’m eating Cheerios!

Next I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I made a whip and tried my darnedest to find a fedora. I still wear a leather jacket from time to time, and wouldn’t you know it, I even seriously considered becoming an archaeologist at one point in my life. Only now it’s biblical archaeology. As a child, I didn’t quite understand what his occupation was, but whatever it was, I wanted in on it.

My last great childhood fantasy was to become Luke Skywalker. I wanted to be deeper than anyone else and move things just by thinking (obviously I came in on Star Wars during Luke’s later days–in his earlier days he was quite the whiny dweeb). I wanted to wear the cool outfit and weild a sword that glows and makes that cool “fshfshwoowoop!” sound. I wasn’t old enough to dig Leia in that outfit in Return of the Jedi yet, but I wanted to be the guy that understood things going on around him better than anyone else; and to me, that was the coolest thing of all about the Jedi. I wanted to be one.

The kids that I teach have heroes, too. Only they’re all criminals, like Tupac Shakur. They want to dress like thugs, wear grills like thugs, and sag their pants and curse out every authority figure just like their heroes do. They’re doing a pretty good imitation of the gangsta. And I don’t just mean the black kids, either. I mean the white ones, too. They all seem to be imitating guys with rap sheets a mile long. Their heroes end up in jail, and eventually get shot by their rivals. And these are the guys that so many of my students want to emulate. They’ll defend them at the drop of a hat, too.

Where did Michael Jordan go? What happened to the days when these kids wanted to be like somebody that had his head on straight? When did they stop aspiring to be doctors, lawyers, presidents, and professional athletes? Those heroes all had something honorable and praiseworthy about them. The perpetual adolescents that have replaced them seem hellbent on doing just the opposite of everything that the generation before them tried to grasp.

Somewhere along the way I think the world became too cynical to really admire heroes. Too many leaders have screwed up and left us wondering whether or not people should even try to become something better. Today’s Superman (played by Brandon Routh) is younger, less sure of himself, and has gotten Lois Lane knocked up (pardon the expression). Even our modern reproductions of fairy tales have to insert characters hounded by their own flaws and shortcomings. We say it makes us feel better because we don’t feel as far behind. And the truth is, I’m all for a realistic picture of human beings the way we are.

But we need our heroes. Without them we don’t even know what we’re shooting for. Human beings learn by imitation. We need to see lived out in front of us what it’s supposed to look like to be a person. During those moments when the right stuff shows itself, we need to draw attention to that so that we know what we’re going for.

I think a church like mine is sometimes hindered by the same problem. We have been so disillusioned by the phony-ness of most traditional Christianity that we run the opposite direction. In our quest for authenticity, we convince ourselves that we should never expect the righteousness of God to show up in ourselves. The folks I meet with maintain a really strong view of the fall of man, and they have been personally encouraged by the realization that “the Christian Life” as we know it is an impossible task. The truth is, I wish more folks could get that idea registered deep into their own minds. So much of what most Christians chase would become useless to them and they just might start pursuing things that really matter. We could all use a good lesson about the impotence of the human flesh when it comes to living like God.

But the other side to that coin is that the Spirit that was put into us by God’s grace is capable of doing so much more than we think. I have a notion that He is even capable of causing us to rise above our deeply-engrained selfishness to love one another even as He loves. I know this because a.) He said that He would do that, and b.) I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it happen from time to time. But now even when it does happen, I seem to have taught myself to see only the hidden selfish motives underneath every good deed. Now that I am capable of doing this without even consciously trying, I’m starting to wonder if this habit is doing more harm than good.

Paul often spoke of following his example. He also spoke of making note of certain kinds of people. When someone adopted a lifestyle contrary to the gospel, Paul encouraged the saints to mark that in their minds. On the other hand, when someone gave his life over to the Lord and the Church, exemplifying the character of Christ, he noted that, too. He asked them to give honor to those whose lives inspired it. He did this because he knows that human beings learn by imitation. We have to see it done before our own eyes. And we need someone to point it out when a lifestyle worth imitating comes around.

The catholics have their saints for a reason. The world has superheroes for the same reason. I think that we could benefit from a few heroes of our own.

Gimme a Break

October 6, 2006

It’s no wonder folks today have a hard time listening to religious people. Half the time we seem way too confident about what we think, while at other times we seem to arbitrarily change what we think.

Confidence is not in vogue these days, and some folks have a triple dose of it. Consider for example the groups that make the veins in their necks bulge when they tirade against Harry Potter, only to turn around and speculate about connections between the number 666 and European politics. While I invest years of my life trying to provide my children an intelligible worldview that doesn’t divorce faith from curiosity and learning, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are popping up in a documentary that exposes a sensationalist, propagandizing religion that capitalizes on the malleability of the young. Like the new film Jesus Camp:

www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/jesuscamp/trailer/

While surfing the web this morning I went from that news item to the next one about how the Catholic Church is debating whether or not they should lay to rest the concept of Limbo/Purgatory. Apparently popular Catholic practice has all but elimated this cumbersome halfway house for the dead anyway, and those who are trying to proselytize Africa and Arabia are finding that Islam seems nicer than Christianity when it comes to the eternal fate of unbaptized infants.

Now I’m not advocating for them to keep this strange medieval invention, but I wonder at the inconsistency in their logic for dropping it. If we ask why they want to lose this long-standing tradition they must either reply that, “Well, it wasn’t really biblical anyway”(which I highly doubt they’ll say) or else they must admit that public opinion has rendered this belief very unpopular. So like the evangelical churches of America, they are considering adopting the same market mentality which follows each new trend for all it’s worth. Give the consuming public what it wants.

The world is in desperate need of communities of believers that follow Jesus in simplicity and authenticity, and for crying out loud that use a little common sense! I’m holding out hope that even in this crazy place God will grow some folks who can sense their spirits and follow Him without losing touch with their minds. Reason and Faith need not be mutually exclusive commodities, IMHO.

But then, what do I know? I’m just another guy with a keyboard who thinks he’s got something worth saying.

Incidentally, here’s where I read the article about the impending death of purgatory:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/5406552.stm

I gotta stop reading the news.