Myth of You 4: Not So Super Hero - thrive UMC Official Blog

Myth of You 4: Not So Super Hero

Photo Credit: Marvel Comics

Photo Credit: Marvel Comics


So far through the month of September, we’ve been talking about stories, with the hopes that you’ll start to become a little bit more intentional regarding the purpose and trajectory of your own life.  More specifically, we want take this time to encourage you to use the power of myth-making, to help give your life a sense of meaning and significance.  Because, again, myths are simply stories that convey a sense of meaning and direction for communities.  And I want to highlight here a very important distinction: there’s a difference between myth-making and simple event recounting, isn’t there?  I was reminded of this fact when, probably a week or so ago, I was listening to one of the top 40 stations on the radio, and the host was encouraging the listeners to call in and recount their weirdest pet stories.  So for about 10 minutes, people were calling in to share tales about how they let their cat on the table to lick their plates after dinner, or how they let their dog lap the water off of their calves after they get out of the shower, or how they once were laughing with their pet on their lap, and it turned around suddenly French-kissed the inside of their mouth.  Which made me wonder: what kind of a world do we live in where people are using paid air-time to tell the secret journeys of animal tongues, for an audience of thousands?

‘But don’t change the channel, folks, because up next: we want to hear about the most useless gift you’ve ever received!’ 

I mean, I wish I could describe to all of you how disorienting it felt to be sitting in a wonderfully sophisticated steel machine that’s powered by lighting 300 million year old sea-creature-oil on fire, while also considering the mind-bendingly complex electronic hardware that’s required to receive and amplify digital frequencies from vast distances into recognizable human sounds –all so that I could sit and listen to people repeat different versions of: ‘animals lick stuff, and it’s weird. And then someone gave me something, but I didn’t need it.’

Whew!  Totally worth it, right?

Story of our lives, huh?   Some stuff happened, and then we felt things.  There was a football game, and some team won, and I liked it.  Or they lost, and I cried a little.  Or I went somewhere, and saw something.  And it was fun, or it was boring.  And this is one level of story-telling.  It’s the kind of story-telling that just reports facts.  And these are stories that–and let’s be honest here- don’t really mean much at all.  They are tales of isolated incidents, with no further reach beyond the moment.  Our pets could have these stories, if only they could talk.  But the deeper stories –the ones ripe with meaning- the fully human stories we share and exchange should offer much more.  Stories on the mythic level speak to our hearts, and to our future.  Mythic stories can speak across the lines of personal experience, and they even possess the power to transcend culture.  They literally inspire us –which, did you know is a religious word?  To be inspired is to be filled with spirit.  Inspiring stories fill us with new possibility for our own lives.  They open up new worlds of potentiality, and insight, and power.  They allow us to do things we didn’t imagine was possible before we heard them.  They break open the world of our experience and create new ones in our imaginations!  And in the process, they turn us into new people. In short, they help us grow and mature into become better versions of ourselves.  And as Jen and Paige shared last week, they help us to become more authentically ourselves –to become the people we were born to be.

And these are the kinds of stories that I want for all of you. Not only do I want all of you to be aware of some of the most powerful myths out there, but I want your life to become a living myth.  That’s why we’re here.  My hope –and I’ll admit it’s a bold one- my hope is that our time together, with the stories we share and the relationships we build, will inspire you to become a walking and breathing inspiration to those around you.  Because, according to the myth that I have, there is a hero in absolutely every single one of you –and I hope we can work together to let that hero out.

Now, before we really get going, I want to make an important distinction between ‘heroes’ and ‘super-heroes’ for all of you. Because if you sit there, listening to all of this, hoping that we’re going to release some radio-active spiders, or teach you how to build your own stealth bat-suit, then you’ll be sadly disappointed.  Because, surprise, surprise –we can’t offer any of that.  Here at thrive, we are not in the super-hero business.  And this seems like sad news at first, because our culture right now loves super-heroes, doesn’t it?

Not only have four huge-budget super-hero moves, featuring the likes of the X-Men and Superman, been released in theaters over the last six months, but our fixation on super-heroes spills well over the bounds of the comic-book universe.  For instance, Harry Potter, and Jason Borne, and the Jedi in Star Wars are all also examples of super-heroes.  Anyone who has some kind of power or ability that exceeds ordinary human limits can, for the sake of our discussion today, be considered a super-hero.  And this human fixation with super-human feats and extraordinary power is absolutely nothing new.  In fact, I would imagine that most of us could name half-a-dozen ancient super-heroes too.  If you’ve ever heard of Hercules, Achilles, Gilgamesh, Rama, John Henry, Joan of Arc, Ramses, or any other number mythical heroes from across history and the world, you’ll see striking parallels between those stories and our modern super-hero myths.  And there’s certainly no denying the intrigue and power of those stories.  But the very important detail about super-hero stories that I wanted to point out today is that, aside from a few notable exceptions, they are the exact opposite of inspiring.  The effect of super-hero stories is that they actually disempower their audience.

Think about this for a second: super-hero stories do two very important things for us. 1.) they show us what it would take to dramatically change the world in a very short period of time.  2.) they simultaneously show us that we, as the audience, don’t have any of those things.  Right?  What does it take to save our country or the world?  Extra-ordinary super-powers!  You need to have super-strength and reflexes, like Hercules or Superman.  You need to have a magic shield, like Perseus or Captain America.  Or you need a kind of divine protection, like Achilles or Iron Man.  Or you need to have god-like cunning, like Odysseus or Batman.  And if you had those things or abilities, then you could stop all the bad stuff!  You would be a serious match for all the evil you’re facing in your life!

But guess what?  You don’t!  And guess what: you never will have any of those things, (because, in most cases, they’re not real!) so you must be screwed.  After all, you’re just an ordinary, weak person, just like everyone else; therefore you’d better stay home and not make trouble.  You’d better just follow the leader and stay in line.  Because the people in power are the ones with all of the magic stuff! They are the ones who have the special trinkets, and they have been chosen by the powers-that-be to call the shots.  And there’s nothing you can do to change any of that –because you just don’t have the stuff.  You, unlike them, haven’t been specially chosen. So can you all see how this is the opposite of inspiring?  These stories tell you that if you’re not somehow super-whatever… if you don’t possess some kind of extra-human powers, then you’re no hero at all!  Instead, you’re powerless.  You’re a victim to fate –a cog in the greater machine of Empire.

Now we won’t go into it in great depth into this now, but history has already shown us how these super-hero stories have been used, over and over again, to maintain the status quo.  And I’ll simply note in passing that our voluntary consumption of all of these super-hero stories has tons and tons of implications about where, and who, we are in the world today.  But for now, I simply want to contrast the super-hero stories of ancient cults and our pop-culture today, with the hero stories that are depicted in the Bible.  And to do that, we’re going to start with our reading from Exodus, and introduce a few more human heroes from this story.  And in particular, we’re going to meet a hero named Moses.

As a brief recap from last week, this story takes place in the ancient Egyptian empire, and the  Egyptian king –who was understood to be divinely ordained (meaning a king of super-hero) is worried about a rebellion, so he’s ordered all of the male Hebrew slaves babies killed.

Now a man from Levi’s household married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that the baby was healthy and beautiful, so she hid him for three months. When she couldn’t hide him any longer, she took a reed basket and sealed it up with black tar. She put the child in the basket and set the basket among the reeds at the riverbank. The baby’s older sister stood watch nearby to see what would happen to him.

Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, while her women servants walked along beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds, and she sent one of her servants to bring it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”

Then the baby’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Would you like me to go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”

Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, “Yes, do that.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I’ll pay you for your work.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 After the child had grown up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out[a] of the water.”

11 One day after Moses had become an adult, he went out among his people and he saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 He looked around to make sure no one else was there. Then he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

13 When Moses went out the next day, he saw two Hebrew men fighting with each other. Moses said to the one who had started the fight, “Why are you abusing your fellow Hebrew?”

14 He replied, “Who made you a boss or judge over us? Are you planning to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?”

Then Moses was afraid when he realized: They obviously know what I did.15 When Pharaoh heard about it, he tried to kill Moses.

But Moses ran away from Pharaoh and settled down in the land of Midian.

Last week, we already met two heroes of the Exodus named Shiphrah and Puah.  They were midwives who betrayed the super-hero king by not killing the Hebrew babies as they were ordered to do.  And then they lied to the king to cover it up.  And God –the god of Jacob’s household- rewarded them.  And today we heard about at least four more heroes –all of whom are women.  Mose’s mother and sister, and then Pharaoh’s own daughter and her hand-maid –they all conspired against the king to allow this one little Hebrew boy live.  And they are absolutely heroes for this story because their compassion for another human being was stronger than their fear of the ruling authorities –and none of that was diminished by their sex or ethnic identity.  In fact, the Hebrews were probably tempted to call all Egyptians the ‘bad guys’ –given that the experience of being slaves under the Egyptians was pretty awful.  But their own hero myth precludes that possibility, because Pharaoh’s own daughter played a critical role in their own freedom story.

In any case, that little boy who lived because of the powerful compassion of those six hero-women was named Moses.

Then, pretty soon little Moses grows up –but he’s confused.  On paper, and in public, he was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter –which made him the king’s grandson.  But he was nursed by his own biological mother: a slave who, we can assume, told Moses of his Hebrew identity.  So Moses grew up, a man of two peoples –he was, simultaneously both a Hebrew and an Egyptian.  And this caused an internal conflict for him: he was a witness to the enslavement and abuse of his mother’s people, by his Grandfather, and his grandfather’s people.  So when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he snaps.  He murders the Egyptian and buries the body in the sand.  And we typically just read this story just as an event that happened, but this murder represents a choice for Moses too: he was trying to destroy his dual citizenship in order to fully assume his Hebrew identity.  This outward, violent action was the expression of an inward movement: he was trying to disinherit his Egyptian identity, and bury it in the sand, just like the dead abuser.

Now, we, as the audience of this story, should be taking note here too.  Because you and I, if we take the Bible seriously, are dual-citizens as well.  In accordance with the Creation story, we are creatures, who also have something of the Creator in us.  There are parts of us that are brutal and domineering –there are parts of us that desire to be in control –to be slave masters who get other people to do our own personal bidding.  And then there’s another part of us that’s humble and compassionate.  There’s that part of us that’s able to see the suffering of others and to want to do something about it to help.  And at times, even though we also have power, we feel victimized and oppressed at the same time.

So, just like Moses, we have to find a way to deal with the tension of this dual citizenship.  Are we going to be slaves, or will we be slave-masters?  And just like him, we thought we could do it by just making a choice and acting on it, right?  We can play the hero by swooping in and getting that bad guy –to prove how good we are. We, like him, can tell ourselves: ‘oh, well I don’t want to be controlling and brutal, so I’ll just kill that part of me and cover it up!’  We’ll try to fully assume the identity of the slave, so we can be freed from the guilt of being an abuser.  Or, if we don’t want to be weak, we’ll do everything we can to try to be in control –of ourselves and those around us.  And we think we can just make the choice: to kill that part of us that we like the least, and immediately become the kind of person we imagine we want to be.

But, as Moses shows us, that doesn’t work.  When he later sees one Hebrew abusing another (just as the Egyptian was abusing the Hebrew) –he goes: ‘hey, look man, why are you doing this to your fellow Hebrew?  You’re like, bros –so act like bros.’  And he expects them to listen to him, because inwardly, he identifies himself with them.  And he thinks they should see him as one of them too.

But do they turn and go, ‘you’re right Moses, we’re all on the same team here!  So let’s all just be pals!’  Do they say that?

No!  They go: ‘What buddy? You think you’re one of us?  You’re not one of us!  You’re not a Hebrew!  You’re a murderer!  For crying out loud, you live in a palace!  So don’t try to kid us: you’re an Egyptian just like the one you killed!  Not only that, you’re the worst kind of Egyptian, because you didn’t just beat him up and push him around a little bit –you went all the way and stole his life!  You killed your own brother, so don’t give me a hard time about the petty squabble I have with this guy!’ 

And in that moment, Moses was forced to see himself –not as he wanted to be seen by them- but as he was.

It was in that moment that Moses was shown his true identity.  When he tried to choose sides in terms of culture and power and identity, he ended up alienated himself from his deeper humanity.  And from there it lost him everything.  He lost his home and both families.  So that his murderous nature was discovered, and he had to run away and hide.

Of course at this point, it may not seem obvious to us, but Moses is one of the main heroes of this story.  And what a hero, huh?  His only action so far has been to kill someone and then run away with his tail between his legs. And by the way, that is a common genre of hero-story, isn’t it?  There’s a bad guy, and the good guy comes along and gets the bad guy.  And everyone is so grateful to the good guy, and the thankful citizens all turn around and praise the hero.

But has anyone ever seen that play out that way in real life?  Has anyone ever seen the ‘good’ guy kill the ‘bad’ guy, and it actually solves everything?  No, in our actual experiences of violence –even when it might seem justified on some level- just damages our common sense of humanity.  So the heroes of the story are not the ones who use their power to triumph and take life; but the real heroes are the ones who make a place for life to flourish.  The heroes of the Exodus story are not the people of great power, but they’re the people of a powerful compassion.  They’re the ones who made a way for another life, and that life that they birthed and protected, and tenderly cared for eventually learns to follow their inspirational example.  They created a way for this child to become himself.

And that’s the kind of heroes I hope that we can start to be for one another.  Not the kind of heroes in brightly colored garb who compete for attention, or who try to prove themselves by power, or coercion, or competition.  But I hope we become the kind of heroes who share in the value of humanity together.  So as you think about your own lives, and  how you might start to tell your own hero stories, I hope you’re becoming more intentional in how you use your own power in your own life.  I hope you’re thinking about to share that and live that, because you are a hero who has the power to save lives and make a difference.  And you have a choice concerning how you’d use that power: you can use it to serve yourself and promote your own image before others, or you can use it to humble yourself for the benefit of those around you.

It’s my hope for you that you might chose the later option.  I hope you chose compassion.  I hope you choose to listen to those around you, and to offer your power to be an inspiration for them. I hope your life and your choices show them that they too can be a hero: someone who makes the world better in very ordinary, but essential ways.