Inglorious Basterds! Not sure why they spell it that way, but they do.
Remember the war film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino?
I’m pretty sure “Inglorious Basterds” is an apt name for my ego…maybe yours, too.
I have struggled to overcome my ego for decades. If you’re a theologian type, get used to this word “ego” for I use it as a kind of replacement for what Biblical writers have tried to capture with the word “sin.” Sin is not something you’re born with, as in the silly notion of “original sin.” People have looked for ways to explain what goes wrong in humans since humans evolved as conscious beings. And, even Saint Paul, for all his seminal insight into the human experience, did not really know how to explain it either. But he did as good a job as any other, given his limited understanding.
Here’s how ego – the little inglorious bastard in me has bastardized my life for pretty much most of my life.
I’ve been a self-promoter all my life. Some of you knew that already – Hm! You might explore why that is. Anyway, with an ego as broad as the Grand Canyon, I’ve wanted to be known but, not just known, I’ve wanted to be better known than most everyone else. I’ve wanted to be liked too. But not just liked, more liked than you. I’ve wanted to be successful; I’ve wanted to be envied, to make money hand over fist, and…well…you know, by this time, have several million tucked away, and living the high life.
Yes, I’ve been one of those kind. Which explains why I had a strange mixture of friends – those who admired me because they, more self-despising than I, envied me for what they presumed was a self-confident person who knew what he wanted and, by God, was going to get it. Theirs was a different sort of problem caused by an equally dysfunctional and inglorious bastard of their own.
The people who did not like me, and they were many, didn’t realize that the reason they didn’t was because they saw in me – namely, the competitive, self-promoting inglorious bastard type – what they were busily denying was also in them.
It usually works that way, doesn’t it?
You like those people who display qualities you admire and wish you had more of in yourself.
You despise, however, those people who display qualities you have denied or ignored are also in you.
That pretty much sums up the work of the inner inglorious bastard. Your ego.
You can look at almost any unacceptable behavior – what we’d call in religious circles “sins” and trace it to some twisted projection of the dysfunctional ego…envying in others those qualities you think are not in you and despising in others the evil that resides in your heart, too.
Ego. Life’s Most Inglorious Bastard.
Welcome to the real world, my friend.
When my Dad died, something in me died. What died was a big chunk of my inglorious bastard. I did not know it at the time. I grieved as anyone would who had just lost something or someone special. And, my Dad was special. The grief, the sadness, the brokenness in me took several years to sort out. But today, I see in his death my own spiritual resurrection. How could I remain sad? Oh sure, I miss him. But in many-a-strange way, he’s more alive in me than at any other time. And, yes, I talk to him. So, if that makes me nuts, I hope I’m never sane.
Every death, my friend, is followed by a birth. And, both underscore the cycle of Life – Eternal Life itself. Don’t waste any death – any death. I call them “littler” deaths all given to you to help you prepare for the doozy around the corner. And, that corner is getting nearer all the time. This is probably what Leonardo DaVinci meant when he said, “All my life I thought I was learning how to live; now I realize I’ve really been learning how to die.”
In just the last few days, some things have happened in my life that I think have struck a fatal, final blow to the inglorious bastard in me. If not completely, pretty damn close. Ego is so subtle. The little bastard will even attempt to use its own dying as a means of surviving. It began to die in me the day my father died. But, in these last few years, it’s been doing a number on me. It has been secretly hoping that in its own dying and death it would somehow rise up and finally achieve the greatness it has longed for, the promotions it has sought, the achievements its dreamt about at night, as well as the success it has secretly envied in others all these years.
Don’t worry if you do not understand what I’m talking about. If you’ve gotten this far and haven’t quit reading, it is likely because you recognize the damn “dog” in you, too. It was the atheist philosopher Nietzsche who called it “the dog that followed him everywhere.” He had a better understanding of sin than most preachers I know.
For years, I’ve wanted to be free of the bastard, not knowing it was using my desire to be free as a means of achieving its own inglorious ends.
But I’m aware now. Better aware, anyway.
Here’s how you may, too…
1. Stop trying. Once the process of ego-death begins in you – once the process of spiritual enlightenment begins to occur, what we Christians would call salvation followed by sanctification – words that mean virtually nothing to even the most devout in church today – another reason why, it’s past time for some new ways of describing great, old spiritual truths – but, that’s another blog for another day. Just know, once the process of dog death begins in you, the Holy Spirit will bring it to completion. That’s why Saint Paul said to the Philippians, “Be confident of this, he who has begun a good work in you, will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6). Ego death is God’s business. That’s what Jesus was trying to say in all he said but, principally, in the words, “Deny yourself.” So, don’t rush things, my friend. Which means…
2. Wait on God. “Those who wait upon the Lord,” wrote Isaiah, the prophet, “shall renew their strength” (Isa 40:31). It’s the little inglorious bastard in you that zaps your strength. It isn’t the challenges you face in life. You have the resources within to face anything. It’s not your job that wears you out. It’s the dog that hounds you day and night. Do you know what it means to “wait on God.” Stop interfering with what appears in your life. Trust that nothing is showing up but what it’s supposed to show up. Let life unfold for you and release yourself into the arms of God, believing Jesus was right when he said, “Seek first the kingdom, and you’ll discover everything else takes care of itself” (Matt. 6:33). That’s what I’m discovering.
3. Now, give thanks. You, my friend, are free. More free now than at any other time. But you know this because you can feel it, even as I can. When you know this freedom more and more, and you will, for remember, it is your destiny to see the leash removed, you won’t be able to do anything else but cry tears of joy. It’s like a prisoner must feel when he looks and the prison doors are open. How could he not just cry?
Freedom from the inner burden of self-promotion and always feeling like you are not going to make it…freedom from the fear of not having enough recognition, enough respect, enough money…freedom from the worry that there’s too little life for all your efforts or too little money for the life you have left…freedom from the feeling of being a failure…of not reaching the dog’s dreams of grandeur and greatness…when those burdens, my friend, disappear from in you, from inside all self-promoters like me, then nothing much matters anymore…except of course you can’t help but smile, give thanks, cry and bow your head before the sacred. You will say all this with integrity because you will know more deeply than ever before that you are living the Life you were destined to live.
What could be more wonderful than this?
Let the ole dog die. Or, as Muhammad said, “you will die a thousand deaths.”
Death to all the Inglorious Basterds!
Wouldn’t make a good hymn to sing on Sunday. But it sure expresses my heart.