In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a few news stories about real life superheroes. There is even a website. One particular costume-clad, caped crusader has been visible in the national media. His name, Phoenix Jones. Our hero has evoked strong opinions about his role in being a crime fighter. Law enforcement agencies worry that he could cause volatile situations to get worse. Imagine a group of buddies that have had too much to drink, and this guy shows up to keep them from driving until police arrive. The hosts of morning talk shows have interviewed and laughed at the prospect of heroes like Phoenix, Green Reaper, Buster Doe or Thunder 88 trying to stop crime in their fair city.
The other reaction is to understand from where these Do Gooders come. Why are they placing themselves in harm’s way. Unlike Marvel Comic’s heroes, these are ordinary people who cannot leap a tall building or stop a runaway locomotive. A well placed bullet or repeated blows to the head can kill them, just as it would you or me. So why? The Real Life Superheroes website says this:
“The Real Life Superheroes work to make the world a better place by doing civic activities, charity work, public safety patrols, hospital visits, school talks, distributing wanted and missing person fliers, helping the homeless, community clean-ups, and more. From crime fighting to charity work real life superheroes seek to help make a positive difference in their communities.”
These are noble ambitions and ones that I think most of us can appreciate. So how do we respond when one of these masked men becomes the victim. Earlier in January, that very thing happened to Phoenix, who in real life, kisses his children as he puts them in bed and then heads out for patrol. Two men assaulted Jones at gunpoint. One trained the gun on him, while the other broke his nose.
As I watched the story unfold and reader responses to it, there were many who laughed at Seattle’s guardian, while others applauded his heroism. Another hero came to mind though, this one much less likely, but one who’s name is often evoked.
The Good Samaritan crossed cultural stigmas of classism and religious legalism to rescue a stranger he found left for dead in a ditch. The Gospel writer Luke tells the parable in Chapter 10. After being beaten and robbed, a man was left in a ditch. Two different religious leaders left the man there, even crossing to the other side of the road to avoid him. Their reasons were solely those of religious doctrine. The third man, a Samaritan, stepped in to save the day. This hero is unlikely because the people reading this parable would consider the Samaritan the least worthy of such honor in a story. Samaritans were viewed as ethnically and religiously inferior to the ruling class Jews. Not only did he bandage the man, but he also paid for his care at a local inn.
At the end of telling the story, Jesus tells his audience to go and be as merciful as the Samaritan had been. So what do a Samaritan and Real Life Superheroes have in common? Read the quote from the RLS website again. Perhaps too much has been made of one vigilante’s noble (or insane) quest to protect the city. The real heroic action has been in the community service of the heroes: visiting hospitals, community clean-ups, missing person flier distribution, work with the homeless.
That work defines the real superhero to me. People who give their time and energy to their passions without hope for recognition, quietly preparing meals at a homeless shelter, visiting at hospital bedsides, making a playground safe for children, etc. People who lead their organizations to provide from the richness of their resources to improve the lives of those without basic needs being met. Community organizers who work tirelessly to know the needs around them and call upon the assets of the community to meet them. There are millions of real life superheroes out there. You can identify some from your own life story.
So what is our call to action? To go and do likewise!