Saturday, 24 September 2016

Heroes and Villains

In 1966 the Beach Boys released the groundbreaking album “Smile”, including two classic hit songs Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains. The multi-part harmonies were a technological wonder, being recorded at different times and different studios then cut together afterwards.
As so often happens, the music is so powerful it overwhelms the lyrics, which seem almost redundant. So it was a discovery for me to read them for the first time today. According to Vandyke Parks who co-wrote the song with Brian Wilson, it was about “the Indian thing - we were trying to exculpate our guilt, to atone for what we had done to the aborigines of our own place. There’s a lot of things about belief in Smile, and its very question of belief is what was plaguing Brian at that time”.
Here's a sample of the words:
Fell in love years ago
With an innocent girl
From the Spanish and Indian home
Home of the heroes and villains
Once at night Catillian squared the fight
And she was right in the rain of the bullets that eventually brought her down
But she's still dancing in the night
Unafraid of what a dude'll do in a town full of heroes and villains
But the US makes movies like Dances With Wolves, feels guilty, and carries on regardless. As I write this, the Sioux nation are blockading access to lands guaranteed to them under treaty, in an attempt to stop an oil pipeline from being driven through. As the old hymn goes “And the choice goes by forever, 'twixt that darkness and that light”. Each age throws up a new set of villains and a new breed of heroes to oppose them.
Protesters, including members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, march to a construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on Sept. 3 Robyn Beck/Getty Images

It sometimes seems as if it is coming to a showdown. The world is facing critical challenges, climate change, record numbers of mouths to feed, war and mass displacement of people, an increasing divide between rich and poor, all these need urgent attention. On all these fronts the heroes are in action, developing renewable resources, feeding the hungry, tending the wounded and distributing aid. And yet governments around the world seem gripped by some insanity, determined to do everything in their power to make matters worse.
The recent bombing of Aleppo in which eleven Red Cross workers were killed is a perfect example. Those responsible – the U. S. and Russia – have no regard for death and destruction so long as it is not on their own soil. They have little regard even for their own citizens. In Britain our government has made war against the poor and the sick, withdrawing funds from organisations trying to help. The villains are getting cocky.
In The Lord Of The Rings, the ring of power bore this inscription:
“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”.
In our own lives we are seeing Tolkein's words fulfilled.
Faced with the immense power of darkness in the world, the heroes are facing a dilemma: whether to give up the struggle and admit defeat, whether to fight violence with violence, or whether to embody a better way to be, and hold out against all the odds.
This is the same choice that faced Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. The Emperor taunts him:
“Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenceless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete! “
What a temptation that is! But giving way to that anger would mean becoming a part of the cycle of violence, joining the villains. We can't let that happen. Luke does not give up. He replies:
“Never. I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me. “
We are the heroes, we are the lightbearers. Though we may be few we are powerful. As the writer of John's gospel says: “The light shines on in the darkness. The darkness has not enveloped it.”
The light will come.

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