Monday, September 15, 2014

Heroes and Villains

True confessions time: this year, Michael and I got into a TV show that's not exactly hipster and cool to mention in posh conversations. Fairly-tale themes mixed with really bad graphics and embarrassing historical reenactments = not exactly the kind of TV show you feel cool recommending. But, for some reason (seminary burnout can lead people to do crazy things) we kept watching through the first season and then, we were hooked.

It's a show that follows the lives of various storybook characters, especially Snow White and her archenemy, the Evil Queen. And for a while I felt a bit annoyed that the characters were so stereotypical, so wooden (sorry Pinocchio! And yes, he's in the show too). But you know, of course Snow White is going to do the right thing and of course the Evil Queen will always try to get revenge, etc. etc. But as the seasons went on, I realized the writers were subtly undermining and challenging those strongly held assumptions about what each character would do in a given situation.

They write the story in such a way that you realize, these people are more complex than they look on the outside. The Evil Queen, for example, has got a history that actually makes you sympathize with her; and Snow White, well, she kinda gets on your nerves sometimes. There are some twists that make you decide the old categories for "hero" and villain" no longer really-- or at least completely-- apply. 

And I really appreciate that, because I think it's easy for us to fall into the same trap-- of categorizing other people, or even ourselves, into flat types-- "hero" or "villain." We want to divide the world into neat and tidy groups of "good people" and "bad people" when in reality, all of us are more complex than that. All of us-- even those of us who come across as "goody two-shoes"-- have  complicated inner lives filled with mixed motives, selfishness, and fear. And all of us-- even those of us whose histories are sordid, filled with broken or cruel responses to the cruelty of the world around us-- are able to be redeemed, can learn to love, are meant for something more. 

At times, I have felt like a villain. I learned certain patterns of relating and coping fairly young, and wondered at one point, "Will I always be this way? Am I stuck in this narrative forever? I don't know anything different, and even if I want out, I don't know if there's hope for me." And at other times, I've felt pressure to be the hero. Especially being a "Christian minister," a person hired to do good on a full-time basis, I've thought, "I'm supposed to always do the right thing here. If I don't make everything better for X person, who will? It's up to me to save the day."  

But the reality is that the Christian story has another character: Jesus. It is He who pursues all humankind as the object of His love and hope, no matter what they've done or for how long they've been hard and hateful; He always offers new life. And it is He who always does the right thing, who "saves the day," who exposes the heroes of storybooks for what they are-- mere signposts for Him. 

In your day to day life-- in the narrative you construct around your world-- which category do you tend to use for yourself? Perhaps you need to be comforted and know that no matter how far you veer from "the right path," you're never too far gone for His rescue. In His eyes, you are never "villain," only "Beloved." His word to you is not "get out" but "Receive my love and be healed." Or maybe, you need to be challenged and remember that no matter how "good" you think you are (or are supposed to be), at the end of the day, you are not the hero. It is He. His word to you is not "thank goodness for you!" or "you better keep it up!" but "Receive my love and be healed."

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