Saturday, March 05, 2011

Summarizing Sheen: What We Love- What We Hate- What We Fear

 This will be one of millions of blog posts about the latest exploits of Charlie Sheen and reactions to the recent interviews. Why do we watch? Why do we care?

I do not know Mr. Sheen and I have never seen one episode of "2 1/2 Men", so my comments are general to his persona.

What attracts us to Charlie Sheen is what I call the 'Admirable Qualities of the Existentialist". Charlie's passion for 'winning' and the fearless freedom that he promotes has drawn attention for individuals throughout the history of man. Mark Twain suggested the the 'average man is a coward' and Thoreau articulated that the 'mass of men live lives of quiet desperation'. It is the unique man, who cuts against the grain of culture, that has always sparked interest. The articulation of this can be found in literature, history, and film. Sheen represents a specialized type of rebel that is called 'the Hemingway Hero'- the man who fights and survives without purpose or virtue in sight.

Albert Camus captured this quality in his famous essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, as he imagined the Greek hero rolling that rock up the hill over and over... in defiance of the gods. See the quotes below:

At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. 

I watched the new movie "The Adjustment Bureau" with my oldest daughter last night. Matt Damon's character has the same quality- "I will even take on heaven itself to establish my autonomy". (I will post more on this movie at another time.)

The reality is that these type of men stay in conflict and the froth of controversy generates energy- it is stressful and potentially harmful...but never boring.

Camus expresses this idea in his summary of existentialism: "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

What I have appreciated about the thoughts of Camus and other 'rebels' is honesty and tenacity. The fight of these warriors is noteworthy. We admire the man who struggles against all odds, even if he dies in a blaze of glory.

The Hemingway hero has no hope at all and finds energy in the freedom to keep swinging. The glory is to fight like hell- even when victory is long gone.

I can learn from that. Can I  strive with energy even if it seems that defeat is inevitable? Can I learn to scorn the praise or approval of men and stand firm even if I am all alone in the pursuit? Am I willing to let it all hang out there or do I always play it safe?

But here is the danger- and this is what we hate. The Sheen attitude is ultimately a selfish attitude. I decide and I do- and I really don't care what YOU think. The problem with selfishness is that it creates a wake of brokenness behind it.  Selfish people see the worth of a human only in light of what it offers as a commodity of entertainment, protection, or pleasure.

And it all comes at a price- God is not mocked, whatever a man sows, he will also reap.

And finally, that is what we fear. Are we watching Charlie from a distance like a NASCAR fan expecting the collision at any moment? Will Sheen's end game be any different from James Dean or any host of celebrity collisions- death by addiction? disease? suicide? pick any possible tragedy and we see it connected by less than fractions of circumstances.

What is the ultimate tragedy in this? What makes me sad is how so many human beings have such a poor view of God that they reject the real of experience of how we were really meant to live. Just as Charlie is denigrated for being such a poor role model to youth, the church is equally, at times, a poor role model of the gospel.

It would take too long to develop this thought completely- but my guess is that a guy like Charlie would see my life as 'boring boundary obedience' and 'cowardly conformity'. What is the reality?

God's boundaries are not boring- it is where freedom actually flourishes.
Submission to the Creator is not conformity- it is in direct rebellion to the world's monotonous mold.
And instead of addiction and cynicism- the gospel unleashes love, forgiveness, and hope.
Instead of being ground down in rebellion and regret- living for the true King raises one in honor.
Living under the care of Christ puts our lives on a pace to enjoy all the world has to offer with minimal side effects. It is a pace that allows us to take it all in with gratitude. It allows us to taste without being consumed, and enjoy without being enslaved.

I talked on the phone today to a man who was told by his doctors he has only 6 months to a year to live. The phone call was so uplifting. This man is a fighter, he is a competitor- but he fights for the right things and in the right way. He is not shaking his fist at God- He thanks God everyday for another chance to shine the light and love of Jesus in a dark world. He spoke to me truthfully of anxiousness- but he also demonstrated a peace and power that inspires.

This man is more of the hero and rebel I admire. I would rather stand beside a man who stares down cancer with love and hope than envy  a man who boasts of his prowess with porn stars.

At the same time- it is OK for me to pray for Charlie- the door of grace and mercy is only a humble cry for help away. But it will take a miracle for that to happen to a man who puts his face against the rock, shakes his fist, and proclaims himself a 'winner'.

The TRUTH is that there is only one true winner- the only One who took down Satan and death in one solitary life. He came not to be served but to serve. Let us not be afraid to lose our lives to Him. Let us not be afraid to live our lives for Him. Let the adventure begin today....

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