Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights)

On Tuesday, December 9th, the great dream of every fanboy who was blown away by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight came true: the movie was released for purchase on BluRay and DVD across North America. The powerful telling of Bruce Wayne's war on crime, the impact it has on Gotham City and of Harvey Dent's terrible fall from grace can now be viewed again and again.

Strangely, in serendipitous timing, in Chicago the very city where The Dark Knight was filmed, and where President elect Barack Obama celebrated his victory in the 2008 Presidential Election, another fall from grace occured on Tuesday. A big one for the state of Illinois.

Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday by the FBI and was indicted on multiple accounts of criminal activity in a "staggering" 76-page document. The biggest one in my estimation? With Senator Obama leaving for the White House, Gov. Blagojavich was to appoint a successor to fill his vacancy - and was offering it to the highest bidder, around $10-15 million.

I've lived in Chicagoland for eight years now, and the endemic corruption of Chicago politics has become nearly legendary. For instance, our LAST governor is still in prison on corruption charges, his hope of being pardoned by Blagojevich vanishing as we speak - and two more were indicted before him. From police corruption to ballot box stuffing, it's all been done here in the Windy City. Jaded Chicagoans tell each other: "Vote early, vote often."

We are Gotham City come to life.

Obama brought hope and joy to the entire state this November. Now Blagojevich has brought shame.

I've been thinking why this happens, why did the Governor would do something so obviously wrong. I've been looking inside myself and outside at others - what did Blagojevich imagine he WAS doing? What made him so reckless - or so foolish as to imagine he was immune or invulnerable to prosecution, even if he was utterly amoral?

I found the answer in a comment C.S. Lewis made at Oxford, in Ephesians chapter two, and in a video spoof of Batman interrogating the Joker on YouTube.

Since this will be a weird combo of examples, let me just state what I believe to be true.

Our decisions are not based upon what's right and wrong most of the time.

Our decisions are based upon our sense of belonging, of being where we feel we belong, on the person next to us, walking alongside us or opposing us. We call it "situational ethics" today.

That's it - the most powerful force in the human heart: belonging.

We get our security from how many people agree with us, what community we belong to, how much they accept us and affirm our thoughts. We tend to behave as politely, graciously, ethically as the guy right next to us. "When in Rome, do as Romans do." Romans did some cool things. They also did some vile things.

We also want to be in the secret Inner Ring of decision making. The choice group where we are the wisest and "bestest" of all men. A clique. A circle.

C.S. Lewis (full speech here):
An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communist coterie. Poor man -it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants: it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we - we four or five all huddled beside this stove - are the people who know.

Often the desire conceals itself so well that we hardly recognize the pleasures of fruition. Men tell not only their wives but themselves that it is a hardship to stay late at the office or the school on some bit of important extra work which they have been let in for because they and So-and-so and the two others are the only people left in the place who really know how things are run.

But it is not quite true. It is a terrible bore, of course, when old Fatty Smithson draws you aside and whispers "Look here, we've got to get you in on this examination somehow" or "Charles and I saw at once that you've got to be on this committee." A terrible bore... ah, but how much more terrible if you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons: but to have them free because you don't matter, that is much worse.

We simply do not want to be excluded. To be left out in the cold. Uninvited and alienated. You do not have to be bad to be "in" says Lewis, but the desire to be "in" at all costs betrays a hunger to "do whatever it takes."

He continues on how this corrupts the man's soul and ends up destroying him:

It would be polite and charitable, and in view of your age reasonable too, to suppose that none of you [Oxford students] is yet a scoundrel. On the other hand, by the mere law of averages (I am saying nothing against free will) it is almost certain that at least two or three of you before you die will have become something very like scoundrels. There must be in this room the makings of at least that number of unscrupulous, treacherous, ruthless egotists. The choice is still before you: and I hope you will not take my hard words about your possible future characters as a token of disrespect to your present characters. And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear.

Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still -just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naif, or a prig-the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play: something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which "we" -and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure -something "we always do." And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.

It would be so terrible to see the other man's face - that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face - turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

What happened to Gov. Blagojevich? He was in his inner ring of power. He had been present at watching an Illinois Senator become elected President. He was now choosing a successor - who knows? Maybe the NEXT President. Oh, how good it must have felt and then, it must have seemed natural to ask for some recompense for all his work, his friendship. Was not his state the greatest in the nation? Was not his coterie powerful? He allegedly said that the Senate seat “is a ****ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing”.

We had a saying in my pagan days for men who are drinking; there are Five Stages of intoxication: Smart, Good-looking, Rich, Bulletproof, Invisible. Blagojevich thought he was all of the above. He'd been drinking too much Chicago politics.

Now guess what God showed me next? That I am immune to this? Oh no. Just the opposite in fact. That I had been just the same and still was capable of every last thing in my own personal way. That once I was not a part of His Inner Ring - yes, membership is free, paid for by Jesus - but not so long ago, I belonged to the corrupt world and was RESCUED from it while I was D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival).

Ephesians 2:1-5
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved.

We followers of Christ are given no cause to boast that we are God's children. We are told frankly that we were corpses that God made alive. Once we were sick, depraved, bitter, angry, spiritually dead and going along with whatever the guy (or gal) next to us wanted. God rescued us from our "inner rings."

So corrupt is our desire to be "in the know" and in "our group" that we must be graciously rescued from it by the Almighty. We often come kicking and screaming.

Maybe God right now is rescuing Rod Blagojevich's soul. He's done it for many criminals I know. He did it for Chuck Colson, former counsel for Richard Nixon.

But he is no longer part of the inner ring. Its over for him now.

I think God showed me something else: that even if you have legitimate complaints and legitimate reasons and requests, if you are not part of the community, the "inner ring" you will be treated pretty unfairly.

As Batman interrogates the Joker in The Dark Knight, the terrorist replies: "Don't talk like them. You are not one of them - even if you want to be."

He knows what Batman wants and even why he's given such leniency by Gordon and the cops. He knows that laws are broken constantly by men who want to be part of "the inner ring." He knows that Batman is just being permitted for a season, and once he's no longer needed, he'll be discarded as "a freak."

Men aren't into fair. They are into what works for them.

Let's end our blog with the Joker being interrogated utterly unfairly, even though he WANTS to comply:


Before you get too crazy and end up in a place you don't ever want to be in with people you don't ever want to live with, ask God to make you part of His inner ring.

(And hopefully before He has to take extreme measures.)


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