Do you get thoroughly disgusted with the shams and morons that are served up to us daily as celebrities? There is so little to admire in our culture. There are no heroes to imitate. Our celebrities are adulterers and fornicators, drug addicts and drunks, liars and exhibitionists. Infamous criminals act out the aggressions of timid conformists and petulant and spoiled athletes play games vicariously for lazy and couch-potato spectators. People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness capture the headlines.
I am quoting (loosely) from Eugene Peterson's (author of The Message) 1983 book, Run with Horses. If anything has changed in the 25 years that have passed since he wrote that it is that the situation is worse. Nowadays people become celebrities, not for being able to run fast, or throw a ball better, or having a pretty nose, but because they have appeared on reality television. They are famous for being famous. Their behaviour is ever more outrageous and the TV camera laps it up.
These extraordinarily exotic performers are featured because they seem so different from our own humdrum lives. We feel ourselves to be plain and ordinary, a mass of nondescript conformists who just follow the rules. So bo-o-o-ring.
When Peter Jackson was filming Lord of The Rings, the story for thousand of actors, more than there were people in New Zealand. He solved his problem by duplicating his few actors over and over again with CGI. God is not like that. He never, through fatigue or worn out by the rigors of creativity, resorts to mass-produced copies. God's creative genius is endless. Each life is a fresh canvas on which he uses lines and colors, shades and lights, textures and proportions he has never used before.
Yesterday I listened to a discussion on the radio between the poet Bernard O'Donahue, author Salman Rushdie, film maker Mike Leigh and critic Margaret Reynolds in which they agreed that it was difficult to portray goodness in fictional characters. Actors often prefer to play villains because it is easier to make a scoundrel interesting. Good men suffer from blandness.
We should all try to live good lives, but how do we encourage that without inciting pride and arrogance? Many voices to encourage us towards excellence, but they tell us to achieve excellence by gratifying our desires. You need to fulfill yourself, we are told, let go your inhibitions. The opposite is true. We need to lose our self to find our selves. Yet in denying ourselves we need to avoid becoming a doormat.
In contemplating how to achieve greatness through righteousness Peterson recommends a study of the life of Jeremiah, not his prophesies, but the biographical parts of his book.
Once in Jeremiah's life, when worn down by opposition and absorbed in self-pity, he was about to give in, to capitulate to those who urged him to follow the crowd and become just another Jerusalem statistic. At this moment he hers God's reprimand: If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? (Jer 12:5)
Life is difficult. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to be content with three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night? Will you leave the battle because the majority are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk for the glory of God? Is caution or courage your watchword?
It is easier to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to be average. Easier but not better. Easier but not more significant. Easier but not more fulfilling. We are called to a life of purpose and promised the strength to carry it through. If we are worn out by this run-of-the-mill lot of mediocrities, what will we do when the real race starts? Are we going to shuffle along with the crowd or run with the horses?
Do we difine ourselves minimally as featherless bipeds or maximally as "a little lower than God"? Jeremiah's choice was to run with the horses and dare the jungle of the Jordan.