--"Superman", the Crash Test Dummies band, 1991
Superheroes never really die. Right?
There must be something written in the “Superhero Instruction Manual”, a clause that says no matter what disaster strikes a superhero--in the last cartoon panel, on the final page of the comic, in the waning seconds of a blockbuster movie--he or she always survives somehow. Always. I’m sure of it. She beats the bad guys again. He carries on again, fighting for justice, peace and a better world because, hey---he’s a superhero. She’s a super heroine. The rules of the universe don’t apply to them.
But then I heard last week that former President Jimmy Carter, a real life superhero, one of my personal superheroes: he is very, very sick with brain cancer, and that made me very, very sad for me and for our world. No…Carter can’t fly at supersonic speeds, toss a tank aside like it’s a toy, or morph into invisibility. Yet his super powerful work for love and peace, the tireless ways he has stood with and on behalf of the world’s poor and oppressed since leaving office in 1981…for me, that’s what makes him a real superhero. He is mere flesh and blood, yet heroic in the deepest human sense.
You want super heroic deeds? Carter’s lent his name, power and sweat to the cause of building housing for all God’s people in need, through Habitat for Humanity (HFH). In the thirty nine years that Carter has helped expand HFH, it’s grown from a small grassroots organization to the largest non-profit builder of affordable housing in the world. Five million people in 70 nations now live in one million Habitat houses.
In 1982, Carter founded the Carter Center, at Emory University in Atlanta, to work for a more peaceful and healthy world. Today the Center’s 175 employees are deployed in 91 countries: monitoring elections for fairness, brokering peace deals among warring factions, helping to eradicate chronic diseases like trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. From Albania to Zimbabwe, the Carter Center’s commitment to a better life for all God’s children has made Creation freer and healthier.
Not every one thinks Carter is a hero. Maybe that’s good. Heroes aren’t supposed to make all of us happy. A man of authentic embodied Christian faith, Carter left the Southern Baptist Church (America’s largest Protestant denomination) in part for that church’s stands against the full inclusion of women, and gays and lesbians. That cost him friends and goodwill. His stand against the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel has made him an enemy of many in the United States and abroad. He is far from perfect, sometimes speaks too soon or too sharply and later has to explain, but he always takes an honest position on issues that matter. He uses the power of his ex-Presidency to work on behalf of the powerless.
He deserves thanks, too, for what he has not done, since departing the White House. No worldwide tours and speaking gigs for millions in fees, speechifying to well heeled groups and power brokers. No jumping on board some cable TV show as a commentator, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars for empty pontificating. No lobbying or backroom deals. He’s always stayed “Jimmy”. Teaching Sunday School at his home church in Plains, Georgia. Finding joy in writing books and woodworking and loving Rosalyn, his partner in life for 69 years. He’s remained a true public servant. A public servant.
I know I’m bias about my superhero. I actually got to meet and work with him at a Habitat “Blitz Build” on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, in 1994, when Carter led 3,000 volunteers in building 34 homes in seven days. Standing together in a long line for lunch one day, we exchanged greetings and shook hands. He was gracious, kind and humble, anxious to get back to work. Always the work. I’ll never forget that.
Superheroes aren’t supposed to die. But in the real world? My oh my: how well some heroes live in service to their fellow human beings.
So God bless you Jimmy. And thank you Jimmy. We’re praying for you.