(I’m considering on devoting some of my summer time to completing a manuscript, with chapters and such, out of the theme of this post. This would be the incomplete rough draft of Chapter 1)
When I come home from work everyday, I’m ushered into an epic battle royale. Spiderman and his sidekick, the yellow power ranger, have put me in their sights. It may happen right when the door is opened, after dinner, or after bath time. But the beatdown is inevitably coming, like a Mark Wahlberg face off with the Mickey Mouse Club. Their barrage of face racks, shin kicks, chest hair grabs and ear piercing squeals cripple me on the ground.
Their request is unrelenting, “You be the bad guy, you be the bad guy!”
Once on the floor I’m open game. From my mock fetal position the two year old Ranger slaps the back of head, the four year old Spiderman canonballs from the couch into my side. We all collapse into a heap of justice and giggles.
Once upon a time it was Cowboys and Indians, now it’s Transformers and Decepticons. The principles are the same. Little boys are hardwired to admire heroes and abhor villains. They know inherently both are required in any storyline worth playing out. Both are a reality.
Children see it clearly with every nursery rhyme, cartoon, bedtime story and newsreel their parents watch. For them, it’s painted in disarming black and white. It’s expressed in unpretentious terms.
We need a hero.
We have a villain.
When I was a child it was the Allies v Nazis. As the Cold War came to a crumbling end in the walls of Berlin, our youthful ire would also at times be directed to the “Commies.” Either way, we’d find the closest empty dirt lot in the neighborhood and quarter off our teams on opposite dirt hills. Armed with foot long PVC pipes we’d strategize our attack on how we’d take each enemy hill.
If you’ve never fought a dirt war you’re missing out. Stick the PVC pipe three inches in fill dirt and fling it towards your target like you’re throwing a football. The dirt will spread like buckshot and can be accurate up to 35 feet. If you’re a decent shot you can temporarily cripple your opponent with an eye blast for a good thirty seconds. Once you’ve taken the final Nazi hill a Dresden like bombardment on the cornered enemy will surely lead to total surrender.
Of course, instead of conducting war tribunals we’d go back to our buddy’s house and drink Capri Sun while playing NBA Jam (no way John Stockton could jump that high).
The bad guys always intrigued me. Whether it was Shredder, Darth Vader, The Joker or Wile E Coyote. Their dark motives fascinated me as a child. Other than that gut level attraction I didn’t have anything else in common with them. I was a suburban kid from a good family whose greatest crime against humanity was hiding his mom’s Victoria Secret under his bed. A diabolical scheme to rule the world didn’t quite resonate with me, but yet their twisted masterminding did in a way captivate me. The bad guys had layers of complex psychotic struggle that was supplemented by a brilliant maniacal laugh. The good guys were usually monolithic do gooders with a boring personality and cheesy smile.
As much as I love Captain America’s patriotism, his vanilla projection looks more comfortable playing in a ‘50s sitcom than battling the Third Reich. His pure All American motives and neatly parted hair made him a dull boy to me. In American cultural conscience, this is probably why a tormented protagonist like Batman exceeds Mr. Red, White and Blue in phenomenon.
How we view bad guys on the silver screen is one thing.
How we view bad guys in actual life is another.
When we hear the names Adam Lanza, James Holmes, or Dylan Klebold a romantic understanding of the word “villain” quickly wanes. But our collective fascination remains. When a heart rending tragedy like Newtown, Connecticut happens, our whole nation becomes transfixed not on victim, but perpetrator. Psychoanalyzing abounds, political posturing picks up steam, and prophetic voices lament a culture of violence in video games. Bystanders blame media, media blames the NRA, and the NRA blames Call of Duty. And the cycle descends into an incomprehensible shout match on network news between talking heads on opposing teams.
Surely, it’s okay to debate the state of our mental illness industry or gun control policies. But these are symptoms of a much greater disease. A disease that spreads and permeates into the recesses of our hidden dreams and nightmares.
Another word becomes apparent in all the intricate philosophizing of the tragic account. A word so blatantly clear we only mutter under our breath for fear of sounding like an ignorant child gripping dark age fairy tales dismissed long ago:
On public airwaves, this word is on the no fly list.
Not just evil in an abstract sense, “out there.” But evil in a tangible personal sense, “in here.” Not evil in the actions of sociopathic men, but evil in the heart of socially conscious me. This childhood intuition that intimates there are real heros and real villains is closer to truth than the educated meanderings of PhDs and lawmakers
And it’s not just something to curse out there.
It’s in me.
It’s in you.
There’s a Bane in us all. It can’t be excised by a surgeon’s scalpel or exorcised by a psychologist. This is always the world’s way. Manipulate and rearrange the outside and you have fixed and healed the inside. Like a zombie with an extreme makeover. For a time, behavior modification may work.
But the way to reach and conquer evil in hearts of men like me is not outside in.
It’s a track altogether impossible.
It’s from inside out.
Thankfully, there is one who majors in the impossible realm. He flows (super)naturally and effortlessly through the hidden recesses of the dark heart.
Jesus is the only lasting answer for terrorism and terrorists, wars and rumors of wars, fanatics and bigots.
Jesus takes the impossibly hardened heart and melts it like wax with his blood covered grace.
It’s before him that all superheros and villains and everyone in between must bow in awe.
Where perfect justice and hope for a better world is not just a comic plotline, but eternal reality.