I have felt “off my game” for the last week or so, lost in the confusion and cynicism and politics of President Obama and the United States Congress fighting about the debt ceiling. I want to support the President, but I can’t because he doesn’t go far enough. I can’t support the Republicans because they don’t seem to go anywhere at all in the tug-of-war that is our economic /political/morality system right now. If anyone, I support the ideas of Bernie Sanders from Vermont, but they don’t even seem to be taken into account in the regular press.
Spiritually, it’s the same thing – I feel off my game and sort of ”wobbly” for lack of a better word. I did chaplaincy this weekend and for the first time ever in three years there, the adult ward of the hospital didn’t care to go to worship. It just didn’t interest them. Usually they sense something and crave the Spirit. Not Sunday. Yesterday, at a client’s house, a long-haired dachshund tried to bite me. Dogs never bite me. Even if they bark, they attach quickly and we’re fine. Again, usually, they sense something and want to play or sit next to me or whatever. My spiritual “wobbliness” was giving a vibe off or something, I just wasn’t centered, until today, when I slept enough, then went to the movies. I wasn’t exactly looking for inspiration but – as is often the case – I found it anyway.
I have read reviews of the movie “Captain America” and knew that it wasn’t going to be patriotic flag waving, but something bigger and more simply profound than that – Good vs. Evil. I also knew that, in the movie, Hitler and Nazism was going to be replaced with “Hydra” an elite bad-guy squadron. (In the original Captain America of the 1940’s, Cap was fighting the Axis Powers, especially the Nazis. I wondered how they were going to integrate this change into the movie and still keep The Red Skull – the Nazi-type villain. I was looking for mindless fun and action and was curious, sort of, about the movie.
Then it happened – the quote that changed everything: The man who made scrawny Steve Rogers into Captain America Stanley Tucci, as Dr. Erskine, gets this line: “People always forget that the first place Hitler invaded was his own country” . And there it was. Earlier, when asked if he wants to kill Nazis, Steve Rogers says, “I don’t want to kill anybody. I just hate bullies”. Later in the movie, when Captain America confronts The Red Skull, Skull is jealous that Tucci’s character liked him better and asks “So what makes you so special?” Cap thinks for a while then answers, “Nothing. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn” (and he means it).
This is really what it comes down to. Two boys feel different from others. One is jealous and angry. One is humble and caring. Versions of this underlie all wars, all fights, all violence. Tucci’s quote comes to life here – and in Jesus, but we’ll get to that. What I have been feeling in this country for years is anger, fear, self-serving greed, lust that leads to painful actions, and they feel like they impinge on my Spirit all the time. The normal way out of it, analytically, is to figure out which power or principality is to blame and to speak up and rage against that. People are hungry? It’s capitalism. People are greedy? It’s politics. Things are messed up? This government body or that union is to blame. But you know what? All of this analysis and trying to figure out whose side to be on leads to confusion, helplessness, and hopelessness. If Congress and the President can’t manage to agree at all for 6 months, how are we going to get out of it? If our leaders can’t model hope or leadership, is anything fixable?
The answer is not out there. The answer is within us. Hydra is real, in some ways – and so are heroes. There will always be a Hitler, or a Pol Pot, or a Rwandan evil. When one totalitarian regime collapses, another springs up. There will always be a good place in the world and good people to battle back against evil, and they will win not because they hate Group X, but because they don’t like bullies. They will win not because of anger or hate or vengeance or entitlement. They will win because their hearts and minds are in the right place. When we talk about fear and anger as motivators, or power or money, we are wrong. When a client comes to me and wants to change so that they don’t lose their wife and the safety their home provides, it’s totally different than they want to change because they love their wife or children. When they fear losing their job, it’s one thing. When they want to change because they’re not doing their job right or people are being hurt by their actions, it’s a different dynamic.
When Jesus says, “It’s not what goes into a man that makes him impure, it’s what comes out of him that does”, he’s right. Environmental effects on biology notwithstanding, it’s what we do that creates the environment, not the environment that creates us. And what we do comes from what we believe about the world around us. If we believe that people – all people – are of value, then we will act one way. If we believe that they mean us no harm, we’re going to act a certain way. If we all brothers and sisters, we will act like that, as well.
If we treat other as less than us, we will seem like – and be — a threat to them If we see people who are different than us as equals, as Jesus did with the Samaritans, and Paul did with the Gentiles, we will make friends with them. If we see others as a threat that want only to take what’s “rightfully” ours, we will chase shadows and be constantly on edge, lest they ask for something. Then we will end up poor and tired from “protecting” ourselves. If we see others as partners to share with, we will have enough to go around. As the writer of Romans says: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption”. If we think only of ourselves, then we will seem – and be — selfish. Under what plan would we then hope to win a war for the hearts and minds of others? “Be like us. Enjoy our way of life” is a harder sell if we are afraid, thieves, or selfish – and money – hungry. Why would they want to be like us?
This is why I don’t like anyone in Washington’s plan for the debt limit. I don’t hear any of them actually caring about others. I hear many people trying to protect the richest 400 people, but since that’s only 400 votes in a democracy, I have real problems. Boehner doesn’t seem like a caring man. Reid doesn’t seem particularly caring, and Obama seems out to save his own hide politically rather than stand up for the little guy.
It’s an odd paradox that when you want (and think you need) power over others, you lose any power you might have had based in respect or trust. It’s an odd paradox that safety and love require vulnerability and open-ness rather than walls and weapons. What people don’t seem to get – that Jesus did – is that Might does not make right. Right makes might – real strength. We will never win wars that we want to have. We will only win wars when we want peace. We can only convince someone that we care by actually doing the work of caring. If that’s our normal mode, then when we do stand up to someone, we will stand up to bullies, not be one. People will line up to help us.
Hitler took over his own country with fear of the Jews and false pride in his nation, greed and self-interest posing as nationalism. He used words like “perfection” and “power” and “our rights”, while we used words “freedom” and “sharing” and “their rights”. We won over our enemies with things like the Marshall Plan which rebuilt what we never wanted to destroy but seemed to have no choice. We became the greatest country on earth by being the best good people on the earth.
As often as we give in to our own fear of others, pride, greed and self-interest, our nation will be confused and in danger and falling on the world stage. As often as care for others, humble ourselves, share and save others rather than ourselves, our nation will be clear and heroic and faithful – and rising. It doesn’t matter if we’re democrats or republicans, liberals or conservatives, “White Americans” or “something else-Americans”, “Straight” or “Gay” or anything else. None of those things make us great, or more worthy or more powerful or more anything. Movements may get our attention through violence, but they make us want to crush them. Movements – any movement — political, religious, economic, revolutionary – transform the world by loving and caring and respecting others. We transform the world “by the transforming of our minds”, by our acts of kindness which comes from our belief in love. Jesus knew this, and obviously, so did Stanley Tucci. May we be reminded as well.