“When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world – ‘No, you move.'” (Captain America)
What is it about us Americans and superhero movies? When I hear quotes like that one from Captain America something inside me stirs. Over the past 20 years 19 of the top grossing movies have been adventure films. Every year they seem to come out with another epic saga that sucks us in. Through the years we’ve journeyed with the Fellowship (Lord of the Rings) and fought alongside Obi-Wan (Star Wars); we’ve endured ship wrecks with the Jack’s (Pirates and Titanic) and raced to a far off planet to save the Na’vi (Avatar). We cried when Andy (Toy Story 3) went away to college, cringed at the charred remains of Maximus’ family (Gladiator), and cheered when Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter 7:2) turned to ash. I don’t think anyone can deny that these movies stir up something inside us. Maybe it’s because they aren’t that far off from reality. Our world is not so different from Gothom, is it? Brokenness, darkness, and corruption have become a part of the everyday experience; so much so that we’ve become accustomed to it, perhaps even desensitized from it. Let’s face it; we like these movies because the good guys win!! Our generation has been tricked into thinking that we do not have what it takes to “take down” the bad guys. We have become complacent creatures unwilling to fight. Dare I say that sometimes we are even the villains? “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” (Harvey Dent)
Could it be that deep down, we want to be like our favorite heroes? Somewhere underneath all the egoism we suspect we are actually capable of greatness! In all honesty this is one thing pop-culture has gotten right. But what good are these movies to us if we are not willing to take to heart the moral of these stories? Are we going to let the message sink in? In Batman Begins Rachel tells Bruce, “It’s not who we are underneath but what you do that defines you.” So what if we spend tons of money every year supporting these great heroes in our local cinema?! We need to be the generation that takes responsibility for the darkness in the world. Let’s all take a lesson in Hero 101. I think we have a lot to learn from the latest box office Blockbusters!
Lesson 1: Defining Moments
“Greatness is to become more fully yourself with each passing day.” (Matthew Kelly)
Brave heroes rarely start out that way. There seems to be a defining moment. They realize there is something more to life. My guess is that many of you have had similar moments. My “defining moment” came when I was about 21. I needed to start taking my life seriously or I was going to be yet another soul lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I wasted so much time trying to make me happy and always turned up empty. I was in real danger of losing myself entirely. I think somewhere deep down we all know that this is one of the great paradoxes of life: in order to make yourself happy you need to give of yourself entirely. The call to serve and to lead was as loud as ever. It was not a glorious moment for me and the timing could not have been more inconvenient but “fate rarely calls on us at a time of our choosing.” (Optimus Prime)
In the movies the hero’s defining moment is typically cued by an awe-inspiring sunset (or sunrise whatever floats your boat) and an epic theme by John Williams, James Horner, or Hans Zimmer (as I write this I am reminded of the E.T. theme). We recall Bruce Wayne throwing his gun into the river at dusk, Jim Kirk sitting on his motorcycle starring into the dawn, and who could forget a restless Luke Skywalker gazing into the twin moons on Tatooine. Unfortunately, for those of us in the real world it seems like the decision to do and be something great is made one second at a time about a million times a day. There is no music that lets the world know what our soul is thinking. There is certainly no make-up artist to mess up our hair and take the shine off our noses. Nope we do not have the luxury of special effects and design teams that inform the world we have just made a life altering decision. Still, we have our defining moments. Undoubtedly, all of us are given the opportunity to make changes in our lives. Each and every day we make thousands of decisions. We need to make these small decisions with the same convictions as the heroes we know and love. It is the day to day that ends up defining who we are and what we are capable of becoming.
Lesson 2: Suffer Well
Part 1: Expect loss
Many of our heroes make those life altering decisions after a tragic event in their lives. What is it with heroes and tragic loss?! Loss always leaves us with only two options: Allow your grief and anger to consume you (“give in to my dark side”) or allow the event to shape your character and make you a “better version of yourself.” Just look at our heroes: Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, Will Turner, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Captain Kirk, Spok, Luke Skywalker and many others are all missing at least one parent, most are missing both and possibly an aunt or uncle. Maximus is even missing his wife and children. Loss helps one see what is important! After the loss of a loved one, suffering becomes a normal part of the everyday experience. We love heroes because they are not afraid to be pissed off about these events and yet the loss does not consume them.
When I was in college I had the opportunity to seek counseling after the death of my father. I wanted to know when I was going to “be over it.” She said to me her job was not to ease my suffering, rather her job was to teach me how to suffer. She said, “I am here to teach you how to wake up every day and decide where this event will be placed in your life.” I no longer fear the day to day sting of this loss; in fact I welcome its ability to remind me of what is truly important in my life. A few years later my favorite philosophy professor said “if you want to find someone wise look for someone who has suffered.” We should not fear suffering or even push it away. Like our heroes we should take it in stride. Suffering is mysterious but I challenge you to find one real hero that has “danced” through life. If greatness is the goal then we should expect and accept suffering.
Part 2: “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.” – Elbert Hubbard (Unsure of his “hero” status…but man it’s a great line)
Okay so maybe this one is the most difficult to see. But when we look at the lives of our heroes we recognize that suffering always gives us an opportunity. Had our heroes not suffered Sauron would have control of middle earth, Luke would not have become a Jedi, Panem would not know freedom, and the Navi’ would have been annihilated.
Suffering never brings these triumphs in and of itself. Only when our heroes surrender their will to the situation at hand and plow forward courageously is victory theirs for the taking. Suffering gives opportunity for success, it does not guarantee it. In a sense suffering is the fertile soil in which the victorious grow.
“Ye Be Warned” (Pirates of the Caribbean)**
Isolation vs. Loneliness
Suffering can tempt the sufferer toward isolation. Bruce does this after Rachel’s death. There seems to be a moment in every movie where the hero has pushed someone important out of their lives because “its just too dangerous.” This is not good. Evil wants us to be isolated. Why is that? Luna Lovegood explains it perfectly to Harry Potter when she says, “because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat.” It is not possible for us to stand on our own. We need to be careful not to isolate ourselves. None of our brave hero’s could have achieved anything great all by themselves. Isolation is a trick of the enemy. Do not fall prey to it.
On the other hand have you ever seen a superhero with an entourage? It seems to be a lonely life. The call to greatness is rarely received. Look at the world around you; status and relationships have become our gods. Society would have us believe that only losers are branded in loneliness. The fact is when you are going against the very framework of a culture you are going to be left feeling lonely. You are not going to be popular; it is not going to be easy. Better to have one or two truly good companions in your life than an entourage of fare weather friends. Kirk has Bones, Luke has Leia, Bruce has Alfred, etc. These characters have very few intimate friendships. We like our lonely heroes because they don’t care how they are viewed. Each draws his confidence from an interior strength and knowledge of a greater good. True greatness is uncommon! So learn the lesson: Suffer well. It will be lonely, but it will be worth it.
Final Lesson: Self sacrifice
We are living in a world that is totally narcissistic (self admiring), egotistic (self-centered), and hedonistic (self-pleasuring). No matter which way you turn the opportunity to do something for you is everywhere. Comfort and convenience have corrupted our will. “I’m not that brave…I could never…First there are things that I….” Blah blah blah, I, I, I….. There will always be excuses not to be great!
This sinful world never ceases to contradict itself. The product of selfishness is loss of self. None of us have chosen to live in the times that we live in. Katniss did not choose the Hunger Games, Harry did not choose to be the “chosen one,” Bruce Wayne did not choose to be a victim, and Clark Kent did not choose Earth. Each one of them had a choice. They chose to risk everything. Sacrifice is not a maybe in the life of a hero it is a guarantee. One must “lose their life in order to find it.” (Jesus; undeniable hero status)
Each of us is given the opportunity to do and be something amazing. It is only when we stop making excuses and feeling sorry for ourselves that we can really have an adventure. I invite you as person to rise! Stare this culture in the face and say “YOU SHALL NOT PASS.” (Gandalf) Not to this generation or the generations to come. My hope is that you will “hold your ground…” take to heart the words of the Christ-figure, Arragon… A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand…”
“Look inside yourself. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place…Remember who you are.” (Mufasa) You are the children of God!! It is time for you to walk as such. The fact is when you are a child of God, “you’re not just anyone. One day, you’re gonna have to make a choice. You’ll have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s gonna change the world.” (Jonathan Kent) It is up to you to decide if that change will be for better or worse. Do you have what it takes? I think so.
Go! Be a hero.
Please feel free to leave questions or comments below.