Tag Archives: Clint Eastwood

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.