The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

HEROES AND ZEROS

It was Sunday in the late fall and my parents waited for their ten year old to finish Sunday school so that we could go home for a nice lunch.  Because Mom and Dad paid close attention to me, they knew when I wasn’t feeling my usual perky self.  And that Sunday was one of those days.

We had been given the assignment of learning the Ten Commandments for that Sunday’s class and I had done my assignment well, although I wasn’t quite sure what that adultery one was all about.  But during our recitation of them, I was really struck by the first one – and that was what had caused my bad attitude – “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

Suddenly during class it struck me.  I wanted to be God but I couldn’t be – and I thought that was annoyingly unfair.  I didn’t realize it at the time but this was my introduction to hubris – although I wasn’t familiar with the word and certainly had no idea what it meant.

I remember that over the next several weeks as I recited my childhood prayers, rather than beginning with Heavenly Father, I might have better addressed them To Whom It May Concern.  After all, by praying to God I was merely admitting to my subordinate status and empowering a Deity who was, by definition, already empowered.  I was caught in the Charlie Brown and the football syndrome.

Fortunately, I got help with my conundrum.  After several days of allowing me to stew on my own, one night after dinner my parents sat me down to ask what was bothering me.  What they said isn’t important.  It was the very act of taking the time and showing their concern and love that got me started back on the right path.

Well, I grew up and got over my God-envy.  As I thought about it, I really didn’t feel that I was qualified for the job, nor did I want the responsibility.  There were just far too many sparrows to look after – and they seemed easier to deal with than most of the humans I encountered along the way.

It’s a difficult and narrow path between wanting to be important and believing that everything you touch, do or say is an achievement by virtue of the fact that you touched, did or said it.  Perhaps that is a lesson that has never been learned by those who believe that their only hope of attaining fame is by breaking the rules that God and society have laid down for us to follow.  Maybe that is the ultimate consequence of the kind of hubris that I experienced as a child.

We live in a society where those who come from traditional families and hold to traditional values are soon going to be moved to the “endangered species list.”  Those who celebrate the change to the “do it if it feels good” syndrome rejoice in their newly found freedom.  We find them in sports, politics and Hollywood.  These are our new gods and the role models we have offered our children.

Should we be surprised when we read stories about professional athletes on trial for murder; those in office who betray the public trust by committing  financial fraud; or television stars overdosing on heroin?  Should we be surprised that we are raising children who take out their anger by killing their teachers or shooting their classmates?

There are heroes in our society, people who conduct themselves with quiet dignity and respect for their fellow men.  Most of those go unsung and unnoticed.  They are people who never hesitate to give and are a little embarassed to receive.  They are people whom we would love to have as friends and neighbors.

And there are those who have never grown out of their God-envy complexes, who flash their way across our news stories for a moment and then are as quickly forgotten.  They are people who never give of themselves but expect the adulation, praise and gifts of others – and whatever they receive is never enough.  They are people whom we would avoid as acquaintances.  They are zeros.

And we all know that if at the end of the day the scoreboard has a tally of zero by your name, you need to work on improving your game.

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