Samson v Thor: Pride and Brokenness

Samson is not and ideal hero of the Bible.  Before his birth Samson’s mother makes a vow.  Her son will be a Nazarite: one who lives a life of purity pleasing to God.  Instead he lives a life to break a mother’s heart.  Samson is vain, rash and violent.  He teases the Philistines, terrorizes the Philistines, and when they push back…Samson exacts terrible revenge.  He slaughters thousands, he burns fields with foxes.  He is a bully.  AND he fraternizes with foreign women.

This last one causes the most trouble.  Samson and Delilah is the last story of the Samson cycle and probably the one most of us know best.  Having spent his adult life, generally harassing the Philistine neighbors,  Samson takes up with another Philistine prostitute, Delilah.

The men of the town offer Delilah an obscene amount of money to find Samson’s weakness.  And she sets about her task with something less than subtlety.  She,     just asks      over and over                   and over                                    and over                                  and over                                        and over.

Samson makes a game of it, at first.  He mocks her with ridiculous answers:  undried bow strings,  no new ropes,    no weave my hair on a loom.   Each she tries and each time he laughs it off.  After all, he is Samson slayer of lions, slaugter or men,  she poses no real threat.

Finally though, finally Delilah gets the truth.  She shaves his head, and calls his enemies.  Samson jumps up sure he will triumph and escape,  he always does…but not this time.  He is stripped of his strength.  In a moment, the source of Samson’s pride is gone and it breaks him.

The Philistines take him easily.  They shackle him, blind him, and set him to degrading labor.

In the recent movie, Thor’s arrogance is more subtle, but just as damning.   Thor, favorite son of Asgard, is eager to prove himself.  Against his father’s wishes, he sets out for revenge on an old enemy.  He takes friends, he treats it like a game, but the consequences are dire.

Yeah, it doesn’t end well there.  Thor is stripped of his position and strength.  In a moment his friends, his family, and the source of his pride are all gone.  and it threatens to break him.
Pride is dangerous.  And its not limited to super heros.  I saw it play out just last week at UMArmy.
Rachel is a darling of her youth group.  A queen bee who just graduated top of her class, head of the cheer leaders, ready to take college by storm in the fall.  This was her fourth Army and she had the perfect trip all planned out.   Except for a few hitches she hadn’t counted on.

Me, for one.  The “not-her-youth-director” that made her group share a room with girls from another church, and turned out to be her Work Team Adult when she’d prefer one of the “cool guys” from her group…or the guy they all called “hot Jesus”.  Worse yet, it was her fourth year, and there wasn’t a wheel chair ramp in sight.  Instead she had to scrap, and paint, put in grab rails, replace door knobs, and lay linoleum (which involved moving a toilet).  Not the most glamorous assignments.  To make matters worse, Thursday night, when Rachel thought she’d finagled us onto another team’s site to build a poarch,  We get assigned a new job, painting and fascia boards.  She literally ran away.
When I tracked her down, she was in tears, and no matter how we talked about the new site, all she could say was “It’s not what I want,  It’s not what I want,  It’s not what I want.”
In that moment, she was stripped of all pretense and control.  I could see Rachel struggling to hang on to her pride.  And it was breaking her heart.

Most of us have been there with Samson, or Thor, or Rachel.  We’ve fooled ourselves. We think pride makes us strong.  But it just makes us hard, even brittle.  It leaves hollows inside us.  And when the world crashes in, we crumble.

We try to live out of pride; we insist on control; we end up broken. But the good news is, God doesn’t leave us broken.  God never leaves us broken.
When pride crumbles, God’s light of hope shines through.  For Samson, that light is 16:22: But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.  The hair of his head began to grow again.  That simple phrase says God is not done with Samson yet.

Now I’d be lying if I even replied that Samson was a perfect picture of repentance.  It is not a humble servant who enters the temple of Dagon, but it is a very different Samson.  He still wants revenge, for himself.  But now he is willing to sacrifice; now he comes with clarity of purpose; now, maybe for the first time, he sees from where his strength comes.  In blindness, Samson catches hold of God’s vision…at least impart.

It is to God, he cries out, and God who empowers him to bring down the temple. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were in it. So the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life.

Even if we are uncomfortable with the violence, Samson’s feat is still amazing.  Humiliated and blind, yet God uses Samson to do something greater than ever before.

Thor goes through a similar transformation.  Without ruining the movie, I can tell you Thor is a very different man by the end.  Thor must learn to measure the consequences of his actions, and to see how he affects others.  Through his humiliating exile he becomes a hero to two worlds.  And there is this great moment at then end where he….

Just kidding.  I won’t spoil it, but you should see the movie for yourself.  It has moving stories of redemption, love, and salvation, none of which could happen if Thor clung to the pride that got him cast out of Asgard    (and tasered in New Mexico).  By letting go, he goes on to do something greater than before.

I don’t know what will become of Rachel.  But I know a very different Rachel showed up to the job Friday morning.  The work was small and short, but she spent time with an 80 year old man who hadn’t had company in almost a year.  She connected for the first time with Emilia, a first year girl on our team.  Their backgrounds were completely different, but Rachel stepped in and found a way to mentor her, and included Emilia in her friends games that night.  She even got through the day without killing Alex.   Rachel never got to build that wheel chair ramp,  but when she let that go, God used her to important build relationships.  And maybe that is a greater work.

Pride as a vice can be obvious.  It can lead to addictions or violence.  Sometimes its more subtle.  We can’t delegate tasks, because others won’t do it as well, we hold grudges, when we disagree we walk away instead of working through conflict.  However it manifests, pride leads to broken hearts, broken relationships, broken lives.  Pride breaks us, but God takes our brokenness and re-forms it to greater things;  things we never imagined.
Is there a place of pride in your life right now?  or a place of brokeness?  Is God calling you out of that to something greater?  Take a moment, as the band plays and reflect.  Examine yourself, and when you are ready, come forward.  You can take a swing at the bricks here, and then pick up two pieces.  One you can carry home, the other I invite you to arrange on the table as an offering to God.

Together with God, let us build beauty from brokenness.

Wisdom and Perfection in Tron Legacy

“I did everything you asked.  I created the perfect system.” –Clu

“I know…It’s not your fault.”–Flynn

If you haven’t seen Tron Legacy, I recommend it (and apologize for all following spoilers).  Yes, the movie has numerous faults, and no, its not as thoughtful as the original.  It is trying, nonetheless, to say some interesting things.  While watching it with the CSM youth last week, what struck me was this:  There is a very real difference between perfection and wisdom–between being good, and seeking the good life.

The premise runs thus:  After the fall of the MCP (see Tron), Kevin Flynn, enticed by the possibilities of User power on the Grid, sets out to create a perfect utopian system.  To this end he creates CLU (Codified Likeness Utility), in his own image, to carry out his will when he is not around.  All goes well; until a “miracle” happens–something Flynn neither planned nor created.  Flynn chases this new idea, CLU feels rejected, rebels, traps Flynn in the grid, and seeks to build the perfect system as originally  instructed.  Flynn, meanwhile, spends a lot of very humbling time hiding, pondering his mistakes.

Flynn made perfection (as he saw it) his central goal and source of meaning; he tried to play God.  In the process he convinced Clu that if he  worked hard enough and long enough, if he brought order to the whole system, if he lived up to expectations…then he would be perfect and, because of that, pleasing to his creator.  If Clu can just get every detail right, he will be loved.

I know I have been Clu.  I suspect most of us have at one point or another.  But after watching Tron, I think the bigger danger is being Flynn.  It is wrong to put too much pressure on our children–to ask for perfection in everything, even if we don’t really mean it.  It is risky even to teach them that “perfection” is the goal.  I know that sounds momentarily un-Methodist, but “perfection” for Wesley was not doing everything well.  It wasn’t even being a model Christian.  Perfection is to seek God in all things, to live for the Word of the Lord.  Yes, he felt that life would have some markers, but readily acknowledge that would would all fall short, probably often.  In the real world failure isn’t just an option, it’s frequently the outcome.  We learn more that way.

Flynn learns a great deal in his failures:  respect for CLU, love for Sam, the difference between might and power, the dangers of single-mindedness, the value of patience, the importance of sacrifice.  These he passes on to Quorra with great humility.  At the end of the movie, his greatest gift to Sam  is not the Grid or even Quorra, it is wisdom.

Flynn is opened to the wonders and possibilities of a world that is far to big and too strange for him to craft or control.  Sadly, the CLU he formed in his former image cannot get there.  The ideas of perfection and dominance are too far in grained; the pain of Flynn’s perceived rejection permanently mars their relationship. He cannot grow, he cannot marvel, he cannot forgive.  CLU does everything Flynn asked and in the end, it’s not enough because Flynn taught him the wrong question.

Some of what Flynn learns can only be won through age and experience.  But his mistakes with CLU aren’t necessary ones.  We can offer our children more than the unfulfilling pursuit of empty perfection.  We can teach them to do more than just “be good”.  We should set them searching for God; we should teach them to awe and wonder.  And we must walk beside them on their path, even if it’s not the path we would choose for them.  We can teach them to seek wisdom.

Then Job answered the LORD: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. –Job 42:1-3