Summer Sensationalism

   I haven’t been idle since I last contributed to Meditations & Meanderings; far from it, as a matter of fact.  My time has been occupied by a bevy of house-guests, a major death in our church, several ordination candidates, etc.

I have also thrice-borne witness to the devastation of New York, via The Avengers, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises (a.k.a., Gotham) and The Amazing Spiderman.  And we thought that the humidity here in Philadelphia was brutal! 

I am an old comic book fan from the ‘60s and ‘70s; back then, we couldn’t even have dreamt of such visual extravaganzas as that to which we are now being treated.  I waited forty years for an Avengers film and I can only say that it was well worth the wait!

I am also troubled as well as scintillated.  Two dilemmas arise in correspondence with these films:  The one pertains to cultural inanity; the other encompasses a deeper malaise than anything encountered by the fictitious New Yorkers of the world of comics.

First, I fear that we are being overrun by inanity.  It strikes me that the inanity that one encounters at the movies, especially amidst the film previews, appears to predominate, more even than gratuitous sex and violence.  We are being numbed into a stupor of stupidity, technological-profundity notwithstanding. And the inanity seems to increase in direct proportion to the annual increase in ticket prices! 
Life is serious business.  Fun is a helpful, as is humor; inanity is not, not in any way.  The old comedies poked good-natured fun at life’s challenges.  They never mocked; they always empathized with the human predicament.  Not so today.

We are now served a steady diet of cheap sentiment, disdain for historic American values and character, and cynicism draped in a thick dose of sweetness or nothing more than a tawdry veneer of sexiness.  Originality and substance have nothing to do with anything. 

I may be too much the Proper Bostonian and, having turned fifty, I may be have metamorphosed into the proverbial old fogey, but  I still think that an interesting plot, the development of character and relationship, intelligent dialogue and a moral foundation count for something.  Am I asking for too much?

Second, we have a short supply of heroes, so it is not my intent to find fault with even the extravagantly un-real ones; it is my intent is to remark that real-life heroes require an adequate moral climate in which to be cultivated, let alone to thrive.  Am I wrong?       

Contemporary culture is morally-challenged if not morally-bankrupt.  Can heroes be made in such a world?  Can they even be appreciated if they find their way into the framework of today’s world?  It is a dubious proposition at best.

A culture of entitlement and narcissism, one in which the presence of God is neither wanted nor acknowledged, does not foster heroes who, by their very nature, must sacrifice something, perhaps even everything, for a grander and greater good.

The world of comic-book super-heroes understood this.  Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four was required to sacrifice his little boy in order to save the universe.  Daredevil had to forego the restoration of his sight if he was to maintain his accentuated powers of perception that were integral to his crime-fighting.  Does our real world get this?

It is a tragic reality with traumatic consequence that our young people are being raised in an environment in which God has been removed from the social equation.  He has been written out of the mental fabric of their lives.  The fall-out is chilling.

Some of the most frightful words in all of Scripture, at least in my opinion, were penned by the Apostle Paul.  He reminded the Christians at Ephesus that in their former lives they “were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

We are bearing witness to a similar reality today.  Our neighbors and co-workers, our leaders and the elites of society, our children and their children – indeed, much more of our culture than we would wish to acknowledge – are pervasively separated from God.

Let us not fool or otherwise delude ourselves.  We are living amidst an entrenched and expansive paganism.  And the kind of heroes that can arise and blossom within such a world are not the kind we once enjoyed.  It will be, at best, heroism with a terrible twitch.

The great heroes of pagan mythology were strong and formidable, but they were monstrous and certainly devoid of any sense of morality; yes, there may have been exceptions to the rule, but I don’t think that I would want them as my friends or mentors.

Famed historian Edward Gibbon blamed Christianity, at least in significant part, for the decline of the Roman Empire, but Rome was a brutal reality; just ask the gladiators who were forced into mortal combat before licentious crowds.  I’ll take Francis of Assisi.

We take nothing away from the finer dimensions of Roman civilization, but neither let us take anything of substance away from the fruits of Christian civilization.  The rise and establishment of the Church was in no way a “Dark Age.” 

Compassion and care blossomed alongside of scientific and technological advances because of the leavening influence of the Christian impulse.  Such accomplishments have been rivaled by few and surpassed by none.

And none have come close to wielding the influence of Jesus Christ, truly a titanic hero of spiritual and corporeal proportions.  Western civilization is not exclusively Christian, but without Jesus it would look radically different and profoundly less salutary.

He is, in the first place, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).  Human pride and arrogance has had ample time and opportunity to fulfill its ambitions; none has ever risen to such status or character as Jesus – Check the record!

He came, further, to save rather than to condemn the world, let alone to rescue rather than to conquer it:  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world though Him” (John 3:17).

Idealists who have been given power have proven themselves more than willing to destroy as much as possible in order to give as much opportunity to their self-righteous vision of what this world and its inhabitants could and should be.

Revolutionaries from 18th Century France to 20th Century Russia and China have shed an ocean of blood and killed as many as there are sands on the seashore.  You and your children are deemed expendable in pursuit of another’s utopia.

Jesus died in our stead, in order to give us a new and better life, so as to bring forth salt and light in order for this world to prove a better place.  Our salvation does not pertain solely to the next life, but assuredly and also to this one.

Again, we are told that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13, 14).

We were rescued, not conscripted.  We were redeemed, not thrown away when we ceased to be productive or desirable.  We were forgiven, something modern psychology and psychiatry have, for all their contributions, yet to accentuate.

And He came, not to take life in the interest of an abstraction or some dubious grand cause, but to give His life for the sake of fallen men and women.  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

I first learned my wife’s true worth when my mother lay dying.  Oh, I already knew her worth, and for many years, but I entered into a more profound appreciation one morning when my dear mother had an accident and my beautiful wife literally cleaned her bottom.

Please pardon the image and the bluntness, but poet Carl Sandburg once defined beauty as compassion for ugliness.  Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, got Himself hung on a cross and – Yes! – He would have wiped our bottoms if necessary.  He loves us, you see!

Heroism comes at a cost.  It carries profound ramifications.  And it requires divine grace for the sake of our world.  Hear this, heroes of the faith who would strike a difference.

Bradley E. Lacey
August 19, 2012