A Prayer for Chuckie

Charlie Sheen does the Sunday Comics
Image by susie.c via Flickr

“With the disappearance of God the Ego moves forward to become the sole divinity.” -Dorothee Sölle

Over the past weeks, I have watched with Jersey Shore fascination the spectacular melt down of actor Charlie “Chuckie” Sheen.  Sheen’s death spiral is a B movie script for Schadenfreude genre junkies and self-mutilation fans.

Chuckie Sheen is hardly the first to stagger down the timeless and well-worn path of narcissistic sabotage.  He is neither unique nor worthy of our attention. He is simply –- sad and pathetic. Yet, for some reason his self-immolation has struck a chord with America.  In his recent week-long campaign blitz which presumably arose out of his desire to tell “ his side of the story”, Sheen conducted a series of bizarre and angry interviews.  Not unlike the slasher movies starring “Chuckie”, the knife-wielding doll, we are getting treated to a horror show of hubris. Within 24 hours of his CNN interview and his joining of Twitter, his real children were taken from him but he gained over 1mm surrogate dependents –which according to Guiness is a social network world record.  It seems the world cannot wait for his next 140 incoherent characters.

Growing up in LA in the 80’s and 90’s, it was impossible not to follow the exploits of the infamous “Brat Pack” of Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Nicholas Cage, Rob Lowe, half brother Emilio Estevez, and Sean Penn. Aside from their routine violent encounters with paparazzi, sex tapes, break-ups, accidental gun shot wounds (Sheen accidentally shot his girlfriend, Kelly Preston) and misdemeanor arrests, Chuckie and his poison pals demonstrated a penchant for sybaritic sideshows that made Caligula look like Cotton Mather.

No one is quite sure why the quiet kid and star pitcher from Santa Monica High permanently went off the rails.  Perhaps his father, Martin, was chained to the rails trying to stop a nuclear waste shipment and there was simply not room enough for the both of them.  In LA, celebrity children grow up quickly and Chuckie was a model student. He quickly discovered the seamier side of LA and started attending Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss’ tupperware parties. His “little black book” was eventually confiscated by the Center for Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the FBI.  Charlie did not know what all the fuss was about.  He was an artist and in his own words, a “ rock star” of partying who could go days without sleep and still rally to portray a twenty-something innocent trapped in circumstances beyond his control.  As is so often the case with Hollywood, art imitates life. Yet, unlike movies where redemption and self-awareness rescue the fallen man from the abyss, the fallen angel on Sunset Boulevard is often in hell and never knows it.

Sheen’s lust for life has turned him into an angry force of nature. His jet stream lifestyle and his low-pressure passions have joined to create a perfect storm of self-interest run riot. It seems wherever Hurricane Chuckie goes, wreckage and misery is not far behind. Over the years, Chuckie’s venal appetites led him into the  company of LA’s lost souls and golden calves – – adult movie stars, call girls and high-priced prostitutes.  Apparently, he had inherited his father’s intensity but seemed to have been on a ciggie break when they doled out the moral compass.

Chuckie refers to his female companions as “the goddesses”. I am not sure the ancient Greeks would appreciate his misappropriation of a term that describes iconic female deities.  However, Chuckie may be on to something.  In today’s tinsel town age of mores looser than Mama Cass’ sundress, hanging out with adult film stars, and showing up to your pal’s dinner party with Snookie are lauded as forms of self confident expression. Everything and everyone is out of the closet.  One cannot really think of any social stigma that is left except perhaps those sad unfortunates still terrified to admit that they voted for President Obama. We have become so tolerant of the highly flawed human condition that we no longer recognize it. And we always love a comeback, especially after spending four very public weeks with Dr Drew in Celebrity Rehab.

Yet, it seems that all this “coming clean” is taking its toll on popular culture.  With the closet now clean and all of our ugliest blemishes in full view on MSNBC, A&E, MTV and TMZ, some are contemplating diving back into that dark space and locking the door.  One feels so dull if they cannot confess to some kind of psychological addiction.  Others scream “just make it all go away” and dive into the now empty closet rocking gently, humming their favorite nursery rhymes. In fact, Charlie Sheen has come out and shared that he really likes his current trajectory and you should too.  He is a “winner” with “tiger’s blood”.  He does not have time to be admired or put on a pedestal. He is quick to remind us that if we are misguided enough to look up to him as a role model, we should  shift our telescopes toward the Milky Way.  It is a more reliable celestial body, predictably in the same place each night and will not disappoint you.

For those of us who have studied the astronomy of self-destruction , Chuckie is simply another fallen star in a galaxy filled with dark matter.  He will probably never make the Hall of Shame – populated with the likes of heavy weights John Edwards, ex-South Carolina governor Mark Stafford, Richard Nixon, and histories liars, cheats, and deceivers. Yet, Chuckie’s stats are impressive – – multiple marriages, five kids from three different women, myriad addictions, lawsuits, an accidental shooting, arrests, hernia and a deviated septum.  If he ends up getting picked up in his underwear fighting imaginary dragons with a trashcan lid, he will officially hit for the cycle.

Chuckie is now wandering across a wasteland of spiritual emptiness.  Despite a net worth of an estimated $ 85mm, Chuckie will be denied the things that matter most – his family, respect, peace of mind and soon, perhaps his sanity.  While his “goddesses” and enablers cling to him like ticks, he will descend into the inferno of self-obsession. His insanity will be fed by an endless negative loop of ego that feeds on its own dark thoughts.  The worse one feels about their circumstances, the more they seek lower companions and other sycophants incapable of helping him divine just how far off course his life has gotten. The self-destructive person perpetually offends their own sense of right and wrong and produces the toxins of guilt, remorse and self loathing – – poisons that can only be medicated by more obsessive behavior or by a spiritual intervention.

Unfortunately, we have seen this “Chuckie” movie before. It is a predictable script starring a dubious roster of castaways who mess up their lines and their lives.  They read and believe their own press releases and succumb to the notion that they are the star of their own movie.  Their needs must be prioritized above all others.  Their dressing room must always be filled with green M&Ms, Badoit water chilled to 10C and pan flute music by Zamfir. Their movies always end the same with the anti-hero getting smashed, burned, broken, beaten, crushed or incarcerated.

Perhaps our fascination with Chuckie Sheen goes deeper for some.  Perhaps there is a little “Chuckie” in all of us.  We sometimes mistake the notion of living in the moment for living as if there is no tomorrow.  We deceive ourselves into thinking we deserve “this” or should be able to have “that”. Our conceit and ego assures us that we know what is best for us.  We grab the steering wheel, seize the rudder, dismiss our co-pilots and forge ahead into a storm in a boat that has been ripped from its moorings.

If we are lucky, we later find out that our own best thinking is flawed and that decisions made in fear, anger or in self-pity are often disastrous.  We understand that fear and faith cannot occupy the same place.  We realize that self-loathing is a self-inflicted condition that can be cured and the most polluted garret can be transformed into the most sacred of temples.

So I say we all say a little prayer for Chuckie.  He told me (and about 290m other Americans ) that he does not need our help. He and his goddesses are doing just fine.  His movie will end just like he has planned it.  He is, after all, its director and star.

In my movie, there are no goddesses and there is one God and I have been told that I can never play that role.  I have tried out for it several times but have been permanently relegated to the role of a servant.  I sometimes critique his work and suggest that I could do things better. Fortunately, no one listens.  It’s steady work and I always seem to get what I need.  Occasionally he laughs when I tell him what I want.

For a guy that understands all about wanting to direct and star in his own film, Sheen’s latest celluloid: “Chuckie X – Winner Not Whiner” is hard for me to watch.  I keep covering my eyes, wanting to the scream, “Chuckie, watch out.  Don’t run with that knife.  Just check in somewhere and talk to a few people who can help you learn how to once again be a supporting actor. ”

With a little help,  Sheen may find that his next sequel is a love story, and not the final act of a horror film.  It may star a humble guy named Charlie, not a self obsessed psychotic slasher named Chuckie.

Now that’s a movie I’d pay to see.

The Son Also Rises

The Son Also Rises

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”. John Newton, 1773

It’s spring and with it comes an avalanche of Easter lilies, bunnies, egg hunts and hidden baskets.  Somewhere off in the distance, floating like buds on a dogwood is the message of redemption.  Buried under a benign avalanche of modern day commercialism, resurrection stirs.  It may be as subtle as a crocus risking its bloom in an early spring chill or the daffodil bravely signaling that we have once again been reborn from the depths of winter.  It is a time of year that activates a latent emotion deep within us, the idea of dying and being born again.

The concepts of redemption and resurrection are essential threads in the fabric of human history and culture.  No matter a person’s ideological or theological orientation  – atheist, agnostic or fanatical acolyte, the idea that one might redeem themselves and “resurrect” to become a better human being, holds deep spiritual appeal.  As children we heard stories that focused on individuals losing and regaining their purpose in life.  For those marched to Sunday school each week, we were taught the religious allegory of The Prodigal Son.  As a parent, the story of unconditional love resonates more today.  In the parable, one of two sons leaves his family, demanding his inheritance early from his father, which the son then summarily goes out and wastes.  When the son returns home broken, the father does not reject him but rejoices while the brother who had remained faithful to the father becomes upset.  The father explains to the faithful son that he is rejoicing that the “lost” son has returned just as a shepherd rejoices when he finds a lost sheep.  Because of a father’s unconditional love, the son rises again.

In life, redeemed sinners have left indelible marks on the world. Bill Wilson was a physician that had lost his reputation, self respect and soul to alcoholism.  Through his efforts to help another alcoholic stay sober, he founded the most successful spiritual movement of the 20th century, Alcoholics Anonymous.  Bill Wilson was hardly perfect.   But through the simple act of sharing his humanity and serving others, he was reborn giving hope to an entire generation of broken souls. Bill W was resurrected.

Literature offers us innumerable examples of the rise, fall and resurrection of mankind.  Charles Dickens created our most beloved Christmas fable, a Christmas Carol, a ghost story of redemption detailing the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge.  In 1965, Alex Haley chronicled the story of Malcolm Little, a small-time crook and angry hoodlum who discovered Islam during his many years of incarceration.  His epiphany led to his reincarnation as Malcolm X, a fire brand minister for the American Nation of Islam that tirelessly labored to advance the moral and social future of the African American community.  Most recently, a popular South African movie, “Totsi” offers us the view of a ghetto tough in the shanties of Johannesburg that finds a baby while carjacking the vehicle from the child’s mother.  His encounter with the child transforms him and redeems him.

Every culture values redemption and resurrection. Buddhists believe one can improve their karma and achieve enlightenment with personal change and better moral conduct.  Hindus believe that Moksha, the release from the cycle of birth and rebirth (reincarnation), can only be achieved through the personal change and improvement – – through meditation, good works, devotion or knowledge. Many Christians worship the teachings of St Paul who prior to his miraculous conversion on the road to Tarsus, was Saul, the “crazed destroyer” of Christians.

As human beings, we are a complicated collision of opposites. We are fascinated by failure and those in our society who fall.  Even though we know at our core that everyone is imperfect, schedenfruede and insecurity compel us to watch the spectacular failings of people.  We are riveted by the gory public revelations of celebrities, politicians and every day people’s private imperfections.  In a bizarre way, we feel better about our own uneven lives.

Yet, within that same psyche that celebrates the fall, we also celebrate redemption. We are irresistibly drawn to tales of emancipation, salvation, and atonement.  The most happy among us seem to be able to re-embrace those that they, at one time, had banished. We find ourselves pulling for any person who overcomes self inflicted hardship. Whether it is a pro athlete who was once addicted to pain killers or a celebrity that succumbs to the artificial reality of stardom, we have short memories and a predisposition to forgive.  We love a comeback.  We have awards for most improved person and the comeback player of the year.  We love redemption.

What reassures me is this human capacity for compassion and forgiveness.  Vengeance and resentment are social and psychological cancers.  Actress Carrie Fischer once remarked that resentment was like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die”. Resentments are warm, familiar mud but they wash away in the fresh water of resurrection. We want to believe in salvation.  We pray for the various forms of resurrection – recovery from disease, release from heartache, redemption from corruption or resurrection from failure.    The one common attribute in anyone’s recovery and resurrection is the love of others – an individual or a community willing to unconditionally help a flawed person recover and find their way.  It is our quest to be part of a society that participates and celebrates in the return of any prodigal “son”.

As my children search for Easter eggs and baskets, I search for something more elusive, a golden egg hidden deep in the tangled undergrowth of my soul.  I am reminded on Easter of the value of resurrection.  In my church, I will faithfully hear the story of the son of God who rose from the dead.  As I ponder the themes of death and resurrection, I try to translate this to my children so they can practically understand that anyone can be reborn. Progress, not perfection is our human quest. The ability for anyone to recover depends on the love of another. Forgiveness and the instinct to celebrate when another lost sheep rejoins the fold, is an essential ingredient of our humanity.

I guess in the end, the “golden egg” I seek is grace – the ability to give it and receive it.