The age of illusion (Part V): The superman sundrome
As a child, all I ever wanted to be was Superman. Like many who spent their boyhood years captivated by the “man of steel”, I often fantasized about wowing the world with my superhuman strength, x-ray vision and the remarkable ability to fly. If that big bath towel I had tied around my neck, flapping in the breeze behind me didn’t convince you that I was Superman, then I was more than willing to scale the big tree alongside my family’s one-story house and jump from the rooftop to the grassy lawn below, and relieve any remaining doubts you might have as to my “greatness”. I suppose that being Superman helped me to feel good about myself on those insecure days when explanations and understanding were for adults only. Maybe it gave me just enough courage to handle the challenges and obstacles of everyday life, so that scary things, like the first day of school, the neighborhood bully, a trip to the dentist and the strange disappearance of my elderly grandfather, would all just bounce off of me like rubber bullets from a bad man¹s gun. I was a force to be reckoned with in my younger days, or so I thought. You see, I was in pursuit of “greatness”.
As I approached my teen years, I adopted some new heros to imitate. The Beatles fit the bill quite nicely. They too were supermen in my eyes, taking center stage not only in America but in my life as well. I would sit for hours in front of my parents Hi-Fi, learning each and every song they sang, while imagining my last name was McCartney, singing “Yesterday” in front of a thousand screaming girls on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was one of the first at my school with a Beatle haircut. Now, ME setting the fashion template in my circle of friends was a risky business; especially when you’re as low on the social food chain as I was back then. But, it was a chance I would have to take if I was going to be “great” in the eyes of my peers. Let’s face it, when destiny calls, Clark Kent finds a phone booth. It’s just part the job. They might laugh at your cape and the big red S when you first step out from those folding metal doors, but they’ll cheer and applaud you in all of your “greatness”, when they see you flying high overhead. In keeping with the counter-culture of the day, my harmless little “mop-top” eventually grew into what was thought of back then as really long hair. I couldn¹t afford a Beatle suit to wear over my Clark Kent-ish plain-clothes, which covered up my imaginary Superman costume and my folks weren’t about to spend their hard-earned money to buy me pointy-toed Beatle boots to click around the tile floors at school. Thirty years would come and go before I would again get what my father and his father considered to be a real haircut. Tens of thousands of working musicians to this day point to the Beatles as the very reason they chose a career in music. I was no different. Just like Superman, the “Fab Four” became stepping stones along my path to “greatness”.
After the Beatles faded into music history, “Then Came Bronson” rolled onto the small screen; a television show about a man and a motorcycle that provided yet another hero for me to emulate. Debuting as a feature length film starring Michael Parks, it developed a rather large cult following in the early 70’s. Bronson was a quiet and complex fellow who gave up his miserable suit and tie job in the big city to ride across America, singing songs, meeting people, romancing women and generally enjoying his new-found freedom, while searching for himself and the meaning of life from atop the world’s most incredible motorcycle. My favorite part of the show was the opening scene of every episode; Bronson straddling that beautiful bike at a busy red light on his way out of town, next to a daydreaming businessman in a car on his way to work. With envy in his eyes, the stranger would lean out the window and ask him, “Where ya headed?” Bronson’s answer was always the same: “Wherever I end up, I guess.” Then, as the light turned green, the businessman would smile, shake his head and say: “Man, I wish I was you.” And so did I. Each and every week, this wandering wonder pursued his own kind of “greatness” along life’s highway before the watchful and admiring eyes of a restless juvenile with failing grades, a bad attitude, and a Marlboro hanging off his lip at all times, wanting nothing more out of life than to escape the torment and incarceration of high school. After all, I had places to go, things to do and people to see on the road to “greatness.”
Then, after a few hard years of beers and tears, at the ripe old age of 21, I met a new hero. I didn’t see him on television. He didn¹t wear a cape. He wasn¹t a singer and he didn¹t ride a motorcycle. Although he did travel quite a bit, he never journeyed very far from home. And, strangely enough, he pretty much walked everywhere he went. Even though he could do some amazing things, I suppose his most endearing quality, besides of course his love for people, was that he never tried to be great…….just good. As a matter of fact, he was so good at being good that people began following him everywhere he went. He accomplished many miraculous things during his short time on Earth, but usually discouraged folks from talking about it, because you see, he wasn’t pursuing “greatness”…..just goodness. Ironically though, his goodness was making him so popular that some of society’s “greats” decided they¹d better have him killed before his followers get out of hand. But even then, as he hung from the hideous cross to which he had willingly surrendered, with all of its shame, horror, agony and despair; after being beaten beyond recognition, spat upon, laughed at, ridiculed and reviled, his goodness never wavered. He just looked down at the angry crowd below with loving eyes and said: “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” A soldier not far away was heard to say:”Truly this was the Son of God.”
In the Age of Illusion, where absolutes have become inverted or discarded altogether, we are taught early on in our culture not to be good, but to be great. With icons like Mohammed Ali, Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman, John McEnroe, O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Donald Trump, Ted Turner, Garth Brooks, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy, Carl Sagan, Howard Stern and many more as our guides to “greatness”, we grow up learning that unless we too become “great”, we will never amount to anything. We convince ourselves and others that failure is the acute inability to achieve awards, acclaim, wealth and status. Jesus, however, taught just the opposite. He didn¹t tie a towel around his neck and proclaim himself to be Superman. He simply took a towel from around his waist and washed his disciples feet saying: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.”
I’ll never forget what my well-intentioned pastor said to me one day, early in my christian experience. Being one that he personally discipled, I knew he wanted me to go into the ministry because he always made a point to greet me rather playfully as: “The Reverend Paul Proctor”…..He was a proud, well-educated yet dissatisfied man, stuck in a small, ungrateful and out-of-the-way church with a type-A personality and a masters in divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth , Texas….and everything that I wasn’t. I don¹t know if he was being serious and prideful or just shrewdly appealing to my ego, but he looked me straight in the eye one day and proclaimed: “You know Paul, God chooses only the very best.” Well, that told me right then and there that I certainly wasn’t suitable for seminary, much less the rigors of a full-time ministry. After all, I had only graduated gratuitously from high school three years previous with a couple of C minuses and a D plus and even those were given as extreme acts of generosity from my overworked and underpaid teachers. It would be decades before I would stumble onto a few verses of scripture that not only contradicted my ex pastor, but completely changed my view of God and how He works among men…..best of all…..they made perfect sense!
In 1st Corinthians 1:26-29, the Apostle Paul says this: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
You see, God hates pride, I believe, more than anything else….whether it comes from the enemy or one of His own. To Him it is an abomination. Pride is the original sin…..the ultimate failure, the weakness of greatness, the demise of the Archangel Lucifer and the fall of man.
These profound words from the Apostle Paul should come as exciting news to many of you misfits, flunkies and underachievers; those of us who have always been, shall we say, turkeys among the eagles; who have always felt compelled to BS our way through life just to keep from getting beat-up, by-passed and belittled by the finest the world has to offer. I suppose that’s why these verses have since become my favorite of all scriptures. I am reminded of that old country song: “I’m just an old chunk of coal….but I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” If today’s grievers are tomorrow’s glorified, then it only stands to reason that today’s glorified will most likely be tomorrow’s grievers. So, to the elite and the educated, the well-bred and the well-fed, the proud and the powerful, the wealthy and the wise, the bold and the beautiful, I say: “HEADS UP, YE MIGHTY BIRDS OF PREY……THIS TURKEY IS GONNA FLY!!!”
In the age old war between good and evil, it’s as if God gave Satan the first choice of weapons. As one might expect, the devil naturally chose the world¹s richest and most powerful, most brilliant and beautiful, most gifted and charming, most famous and influential, the best trained, the best armed and all the state-of-the-art technology that money could buy…..in other words, the “greatest” of everything, to carry-out his battle plan and do his bidding. Still, he gets soundly beaten as did Goliath, by that little rutty-faced shepherd boy named David who was armed with nothing more than a sling shot, a handful of rocks and a little faith in the God that loved him. To this day, Heaven and Earth maintain opposing standards, values, heros and weaponry from which we are free to choose. One is real, the other…..an illusion. In a few short years….. two or three generations maybe; today’s “greats” and all their glory will be forgotten and replaced….just like George Reeves. Who’s George Reeves, you ask? He was Superman on that television show only 40 years ago, before Christopher Reeve came along and replaced him, just as another eventually came along to replace Christopher. Once George Reeves’s “great” career as the hero of every boy in America had peaked and dwindled, his life began a downhill slide until he finally committed suicide. The man of steel…? It was all just an illusion….an illusion of “greatness.”
In the Age of Illusion, only the wisdom of God would choose the least among us for His work. While men of the world continue to carry out their quest for “greatness”, the man of God simply imparts the goodness he was shown….a goodness found only at the cross of Christ, who sacrificed His “greatness” that we might know His goodness.