Tag Archives: Archetype

The Archetype of the Lone Stranger

 The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?”

They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”

The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
2 Kings 1:7-8 (NIV)

Wendy and I have no cable or satellite television at our place on the lake. We can’t even get a digital broadcast signal. So, when we’re at the lake we tend to watch movies from our collection of DVDs. A while back we watched a young Clint Eastwood in one the spaghetti westerns that made him famous (The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, A Fist full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Hang ‘Em HighHigh Plains Drifter). His character became known to audiences as “the man with no name.” Clint Eastwood became the iconic lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and becomes justice incarnate.

The lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and brings justice on the gang of bad guys is a popular archetype in our stories and film. We see it in our classic heroes like The Lone Ranger and our comic book heroes like The Dark Knight. Clint Eastwood would continue to embody that archetype, updated for the “modern West” in his Dirty Harry movies of the 1970s. Akira Kurosawa used the archetype in an entire genre of Japanese Samurai movies (e.g. Yojimbo) which were sometimes translated into different American settings like the prohibition era story in Last Man Standing.

Writers and filmmakers use “archetype” characters and stories because they resonate deeply within us. We connect with them, and we love them. There seems to be something deeply woven spiritually and psychologically in our creation which connects to The Great Story God is telling in and through history. The psychologist Jung spent much of his career studying it.

This morning on my chapter-a-day journey I waded into the ancient historical book of 2 Kings which, of course, follows 1 Kings. So, we’re picking up a story in the middle of the telling. Kind of like starting the Star Wars saga with The Empire Strikes Back.

What’s fascinating about the story we read in today’s chapter is that from ancient days we have the archetype lone stranger come to life. The nation of Israel had been torn in two. The northern kingdom of Israel and its long string of evil kings and queens (Israel’s Queen Jezebel became the archetype of the evil queen a’ la Snow White) had become a cesspool of corruption, debauchery and idolatry. The nation had abandoned faith in the one God of Abraham and Moses. They had given themselves to all sorts of local gods with their rituals of sex and violence. The king of Israel sends his messengers to one of the priests of one of these local gods to have his fortune told.

Then on the dusty road in the wilderness the king’s messengers meet a lone drifter; A wild-looking man, a man with  no name, who wore a coat make out of camel-hair and big leather belt. Elijah speaks God’s truth and when the corrupt king sends his hoard of bad guys to get the lone Elijah, justice strikes in the form of lightning from heaven.

All good stories are a reflection of The Great Story. Elijah, the original High Plains Drifter.

This morning I’m thinking about the archetype of the lone stranger. I think it resonates within us all for different reasons. There are times on life’s journey that I feel alone and preyed upon by systems and powerful people with no recourse. I long for someone, anyone to show up and make the wrong right. I also think there are times in life when I feel like I’m standing alone against the crowd. I’m desperately trying to do the right thing, but the odds (and seemingly everyone else) are hopelessly stacked against me.

I’m thankful in the quiet this morning for Elijah and the archetype of the lone stranger. It’s the archetype of Jesus, the stranger from heaven; The lone savior who single-handedly took on my sin, and the sin of the world. Jesus, who tells me, even when the bad guys are surrounding me and the odds are stacked against me, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And some days, if my eyes, ears, heart, and spirit are open, I realize that I have the opportunity to be “the lone stranger” for some one else. As Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.”

 

 

Elijah, the Spaghetti Western, and Me

28857-man-with-no-nameThe Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of theLord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

Elijah is such an intriguing character. His personality seemed uniquely created to be the person God needed. He appears on the scene like Clint Eastwood‘s “man with no name” in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. Out of the wild comes this charismatic loner displaying miraculous qualities and a passion for God. He seems invincible. Outnumbered 450 to 1, Elijah gets into a spiritual shoot-out with the prophets of Baal and, thanks to a heaven-sent fiery climax, he finds himself the last man standing. It’s the stuff of a Hollywood action blockbuster.

Then, the story takes an unexpected twist. The invincible hero does a complete 180 degree turn and becomes shockingly human.  Fresh from the miraculous victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah learns that Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head and he withers on the vine. After three years of famine, scratching out an existence in the wilderness, and the big showdown on Carmel, God’s heroic prophet is physically, mentally, and spiritually shot. He shows the all too familiar human qualities of fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and suicide.

Elijah runs away. He gives up. He throws in the towel, lays down to die, and begs God to bring the end quickly. He then goes on a self-pitying pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Upon his arrival, there is a cyclonic wind, a great earthquake, and a raging fire. God was nowhere to be found in the cataclysmic manifestations.

God appears in a whisper, and asks His man a profoundly simple question: “What are you doing here?

I find in this story of Elijah so much of my own frail humanity. I experience amazing, miraculous moments along the journey and then seem to forget them when petty anxieties paralyze me. I have episodes of victorious faith, then run from the next challenge. Given to blind, self-centric drama I fail to see all that God is doing in and through those around me while I project the weight of the world on my  own shoulders, blow my own problems grossly out of proportion, and then slink into a corner to obsess and lick my petty emotional wounds.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And yet, I am strangely encouraged by Elijah’s story. I am no different than this hero of the faith. Human frailties are common to every spiritual hero, because every hero is limited by his or her own humanity. The question is not whether I will experience common human episodes of fear, anxiety, insecurity, despair, depression, self-pity, weakness, and conflict. We all experiences these things. The question is how I will respond when they happen. And, they will happen. Too often I pray for and expect God to send dramatic winds of change, a seismic shift in circumstance, or a explosive miracle to sweep away my humanity. I am beginning to learn that what I need to listen for is God’s still, small voice meeting me right where I am, in the midst of my all too human condition.

Chapter-a-Day John 9

David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre ...
David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre Tchaikowsky for Yorick's skull in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” John 9:39 (NLT)

Wendy and I love Shakespeare, and we love to see Shakespeare staged whether it’s our local Pella Shakespeare Company‘s performance in the park or the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. One of the things that I’ve learned in watching the Bard’s work is that you always want to pay particular attention to the fool. The fool is never quite as foolish as you think he is, and quite often the fool winds up confounding the wise.

That’s why I’ve always loved today’s chapter. It has all the qualities of a great Shakespearean scene. On one side we have the wise, learned, pompous religious leaders with all of their power, wealth and education. Before them stands a lowly, poor, once blind beggar who is not the fool they think he is. Jesus gave physical sight to the blind fool so that the spiritual blindness of those who claim to see could be revealed. That’s great drama.

This morning I’m chewing on the reality that Jesus, while repeatedly reminding his followers that they were not to judge anyone, continually explained that He came to judge. I find that we love Jesus the lover and healer, but no one really wants much to do with Jesus the Righteous Judge. Today’s chapter reminds me that Jesus not only came to give sight to the blind, but to judge those who think they see for their spiritual blindness. Jesus said He came to both save and condemn. One without the other makes for both a boring story and a weak character.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 7

St. Mary Magdalene in the House of Simon the P...
Image via Wikipedia

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume…. Luke 7:36-37 (MSG)

Having lived in a few different towns of different sizes and I’ve discovered that there are community archetypes. Within any community I find the respected local politician, the business leader/power broker, the local pastor or priest who is the community religious leader, the high school star athlete who never quite got beyond his glory days, the person with special needs for whom the entire community looks out, and etc.

Years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the ruins of some of the villages along the northern shore of Galilee where Jesus carried out his ministry. They were small fishing villages not unlike the small farming towns in which I’ve lived. Through today’s chapter I get a sense of similar small town archetypes to the familiar ones I know: the Roman captain who represented the occupational civic authority, the town’s poor widow for whom life has been an on-going tragedy, the proud and pious religious leader, and the town whore.

I can’t think of a more dramatic small town scene. A regional celebrity comes for a visit. The entire town is buzzing with news and gossip. The local coffee shop is churning with stories about this Jesus and what they’d heard about him. Jesus is scheduled to go to the house of Simon for dinner. Of course he is. Simon is the town’s religious V.I.P. He is wealthy, he is powerful, and when it comes to spiritual matters in the town he calls the shots. Simon is the final word; God’s local judge, jury and executioner. Of course Jesus would go to Simon’s house.

Then she walks in. They all know about her. In fact, truth be told, some of the pious men in attendance at this private dinner party know her, in the Biblical sense, if you catch my drift. Publicly despised, privately used, and generally dismissed as dirt, she is known by all the town as a simple whore. Then, in a bold move guaranteed to turn heads, the sullied slut walks right into the religiously scrubbed crib of the local holy man. Imagine the snickers, the glares, the gossip ready to drip off the small town lips of the onlookers.

She carries expensive perfume purchased with lust money (we all knew where she got the money for that), and she falls at Jesus’ feet. Her river of tears pour across her cheeks and drip onto Jesus’ feet. They mix with the perfume she humbly, and gently spreads with her hands across his toes.

For each person in that moment, and for each archetype, Jesus is present. For each there is a lesson. For each there is a blessing. For each there is a crossroads and a transformational opportunity. That’s the way Jesus is. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves on life’s road, Jesus dramatically meets us right where we are, turns us away from where we’ve been, and points us where we need to go.

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Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 26


But then the strength and success went to his head. Arrogant and proud, he fell. One day, contemptuous of God, he walked into The Temple of God like he owned it and took over, burning incense on the Incense Altar. 2 Chronicles 26:16 (MSG)

There is an order to things. God is a God of detail and order. It’s one of the reasons I really like Bach, Handel, and other baroque music. There is a symmetry and order to the music. It reminds me of God’s left brain in the midst of the chaos we make of His creation.

There was an order to things. It’s back to the archetypes I mentioned a few chapters back. Kings and Priests had different functions. They each performed a unique role. Kings aren’t Priests and Priests aren’t Kings. When Uzziah broke rank and tried to take the priestly role by force bad things happened.

I look back over my life and see so much of myself in Uzziah’s actions: Refusing to rest in the order God created; Discontent; Wanting to be what I’m not created to be. Snubbing the role God’s given me on life’s stage because I want someone else’s spotlight.

Today, I’m seeking to rest in that natural order of things. I’m celebrating the role God’s given me in this life and place He’s given me. I’m enjoying God’s left-brain.

(Enjoy a little Bach with me!)

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 7

Muchado1lr It happened that four lepers were sitting just outside the city gate. They said to one another, "What are we doing sitting here at death's door? If we enter the famine-struck city we'll die; if we stay here we'll die. So let's take our chances in the camp of Aram and throw ourselves on their mercy. If they receive us we'll live, if they kill us we'll die. We've got nothing to lose."  2 Kings 7:3-4 (MSG)

My wife and I are theatre people, and we have a love for the works of Shakespeare. We've been in productions of his works and have seen them produced in various settings. One of the things that makes the famous Bard's plays so timeless is the way he grasps the human condition and turns very common themes into both comedic and tragic plots and characters.

One of the themes we have noticed in Shakespeare's works is the way the archetype character of "the fool" ends up being the one who sees things to which the strongest heroes are blind. In Shakespeare's world, the fool often speaks with the greatest wisdom.

I have seen a similar theme throughout God's message. God delights in using the weakest, smallest, least important people to do great things. In today's chapter, it was four lepers who lived in the no man's land between the city wall (which they could not enter because of their disease) and the seiging Aramean army who surrounded the town. The lepers, in their desperation, had wisdom to see their only hope and grasp at it. They were rewarded with provision of the choicest plunder. Had the king or his guards discovered the empty Aramean camp themselves, the poor lepers would have been lucky to get some of the left-over scraps tossed to them from the city wall.

God delights in using the least important, weakest, most unlikely characters to do His will. Perhaps, like the lepers, it is because they have the least to lose in worldly standing.

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