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All for self-preservation …

October 4, 2008

A favorite movie of mine is Lonesome Dove. For those who are not familiar with the film, it’s adapted from the Larry McMurtry novel about three retired Texas rangers who set off on one last adventure from Texas to start a cattle ranch in Montana. Imagine the characters, Gus (Robert Duvall) Woodrow (Tommy Lee Jones) and Jake (Robert Urich), with a whole cast of other rough and tumble cowboys hitting the trail to encounter evil, romance and redemption. It’s one of those films that I can see plenty of God messages.

But let me offer one of the scenes that is weighing heavy on my mind today.

After they start the cattle drive, Jake (who has an addiction to gambling and women) gets angry and leaves the drive. His female traveling mate (the beauty that needs rescuing) gets kidnapped by a renegade while Jake was off gambling. He goes off on his own in a frenzy but then falls in with a small group of “ne’er do-wells” in order to get safely through “Indian territory.” He soon finds out that these new companions are thieves and murderers … and while he is a former Texas Ranger sworn to uphold the law, he’s a coward to stand up to them, and he’s a coward to leave and go off on his own. So, he passively goes along with them, only to become an accomplice to three murders and horse-thieving.

Soon enough, Woodrow, Gus and crew come upon the mayhem that Jake’s new crew has caused along the trail. They start tracking the murdering, horse-thieves, and are informed by their scout, Deets (Danny Glover) that they are tracking their old friend, Jake. Suddenly, they are faced with the idea that if they continue in their pursuit and capture the crew, then they will be faced with dealing with their friend. Their hope is that their friend has been taken captive or something by these evil-doers. That’s what they are hoping is the case.

When they finally find the gang, they are all lying around a campfire, and Jake is not a captive. But he immediately feels relieved that his friends have shown up and rescued him. However, there are no signs to indicate that Jake had not been free to leave this party on his own. He tries to defend himself by saying, “I was just trying to make it through the territory. I didn’t kill nobody. I didn’t mean no harm. I was going to leave first chance I got.”

Gus, the philosopher cowboy, says, “I’m sure that’s true, Jake. But a man that would be party to three murders, is taking his leave a little slow.”

Then Jake was reminded of “the code.” “If you ride as a criminal, then you die as a criminal.” So they hanged the three murderers, and as they were about to finish the hanging of their friend, Jake kicked the horse and ultimately hang himself.

We tend to do a lot of things in the name of self-preservation. We go along with things … that are often against our values and beliefs … all with the intent of self-preservation.

We refuse to deal with evil, because to stand up against it might make us vulnerable to responsibilities that we are not ready or willing to accept; accountability that we are not ready or willing to face; and subject us to discomfort or circumstances that we are not ready or willing to endure.

But, remaining passive in the presence of evil or wrong, or injustice, does not diminish our responsibility, accountability or subjectivity to the issue. Just like with Jake Spoon in this movie, his passivity made him an accomplice to the wrong-doing that had taken place. And as Gus pointed out, to go along with something that is blatantly wrong is “taking your leave a little slow.”

I’m also reminded of a more recent news event that took place in the past year. The media was having a “hay day” with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, (Barrack Obama’s pastor) and portions of some comments that he had made in public, in the pulpit and to the media. I received numerous emails and heard plenty of comments relating to the fact that Barrack Obama should have left that church if he did not agree with what Jeremiah Wright was saying.

I listened to Barrack Obama when he made the statement concerning his pastor. He noted that IF this was all he knew about the man then, that would be the logical conclusion to the situation. But he elaborated that this was not all that he knew about him. He cited incidents of how Wright led him to the Lord; and they had served together on numerous mission projects and that he had known him as a true and good friend. He was right that he had to give his friend and pastor the benefit of the doubt.

For many the issue was cut and dried. If he didn’t “renounce” the man, then he must believe was the preacher was saying. I even asked several the pointed question, “Do you agree with everything your pastor says?” And the retort I got on many occasions was, “Well, my pastor isn’t influencing the nation or the world.”

To which I replied, “Oh really? Why not?”

In any event, Obama finally did renounce his friend and pastor. And quite honestly, I hated to see him have to do that. I really don’t think he was responsible for the diatribe coming from Jeremiah Wright’s mouth, but I can see clearly that to have continued to stand (or sit) in support of him, made Obama, and the rest of the congregation as much accountable for the message as was Wright.

The same measuring stick must be applied to all who passively endure practices, communication and vision that does not testify with the truths and values to which you adhere. It’s that “line in the sand” perspective. If you know something is wrong and yet you accept it as “just the way things are,” then you are a party to that wrong, and you will be responsible, accountable and subjected to whatever circumstances or discomforts arise as a result of it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Raymund Brown permalink
    October 9, 2008 7:35 pm

    I understand where you are coming from. At times we all say things that are way outside the box. Unfortunately, if you are caught at that particular time by a powerful enough influence (such as the media) that instant becomes all people see. In the same token we must evaluate what we hear and see by standards that hold true to see whether they hold up to the light. In the case of Rev. Wright he was selling DVD’s of this particular message in the lobby and someone from the media, or a person seeking monetary compensation got their hands on it. As for churches today, they tend to follow the patterns of society for fear of being unacceptable or reproached by the community, thus the unwillingness to accept discomfort, accountability, or responsibility. For thousands of years parents passed down to their children the values and discipline that they had themselves been taught. Now in this “me first” generation we forgo the discipline and only talk of the good. We also push aside our elders for “antiquated ideals”. The problem with this is it makes a self serving individual with no moral boundary or sense of decency and in the case of the church no reverence for God. God Himself disciplines, reproaches, and corrects His children throughout biblical history. Why? Because we all need to know that we are loved, that we are cared about and that He knows what’s best for us. Just as we should do for our own children. Without it there is no reason to gather together as a society as all would be chaos. We are missing the mark and this generation is pushing aside the previous one to take what they have now, without the sacrifice or effort. We are having our church stolen from us by those who don’t even know it’s true purpose! If they did, they would realize that the church is not in the building but in the hearts and minds of men and women.

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