As you probably know, Superman is not from around here. He was born on a different planet. He's a native of Krypton -- a planet the size of Jupiter in orbit around a distant red sun. Now, these details are important, because a planet the size of Jupiter is going to have tons of gravity. And a distant red sun means very little solar energy.
Despite the harsh climate, a flourishing culture develops on Krypton's broad surface. The people wear elaborate hats and they build delicate cities. They also build one, tiny spaceship. When catastrophe strikes, the delicate cities all collapse and the elaborate hats are of no help at all. The tiny spaceship is just big enough to deliver one baby from the disaster.
And so, baby Superman is tucked into the little spaceship. His parents chart a course to Earth. They figure the last son of Krypton will thrive here, where the gravity is mild and the vibrant yellow sun bathes us in solar power.
And Superman does thrive. By virtue of his alien birth, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can run faster than a speeding bullet. His flesh can deflect bullets and rocket propelled grenades.
And here's the thing: all of these powers are an accident of birth. The kid from Krypton doesn't have to take special vitamins. He doesn't do pilates or yoga or anything. He doesn't need the help of body armor or laser beams or supercomputers. Just because of where he's born, the kid from Krypton becomes Superman.
Just think what his life would have been like if Superman had grown up on Krypton. Back on Krypton, where the gravity is oppressive and the sunlight is dim, Superman would have been a normal kid. His ability to run and jump would be unremarkable. In fact, for all we know, he might have been a mediocre child.
If Superman spent his childhood on Krypton, the older kids might have knocked him down and taken his lunch money. He might have been the last kid chosen for team games. He might have been a pale kid with nosebleeds and weak ankles. On Krypton, he might have grown up to write comic books.
But on earth, he is the man of steel. He is hero and heartthrob and homecoming king. On earth, he is Superman! Here, he reaps the benefits of his fortuitous birth.
It makes me wonder if there's another planet out there, where you and I would have superpowers. Maybe there's a small planet out there somewhere, where we the relatively weak gravity would allow us to leap tall buildings. Or maybe there's a planet where the people look like us, but their bodies are brittle like glass. They would be astounded by all the punishment we can take without shattering. Maybe there's a planet where people would be left speechless by our ability to submerge ourselves in water for minutes at a time! Uncanny!
On this imaginary planet, all the things we take for granted would be perceived as feats of amazing skill. "She's from Earth, where people can walk at the blistering speed of three miles an hour!" "It's no use Captain Evil! In this well-lit room, his superior vision can see everything!" "What? She escaped from my dungeon? But those walls were made of solid cheese!"
Maybe there's a planet, where all the incidentals of our birth would be perceived as super powers. If you ever found yourself on a planet like that, what would you do? As a superhero, what how would you apply your amazing abilities?
You might take it on yourself to fight crime. You might decide to round up bank-robbers and purse-snatchers. You could dump them on the front steps of the local constabulary. You could strike a heroic pose and declare, "Here you go, sheriff! A little gift from Impervious-to-cheese-man"
But you could do other things. As a superhero, you could accomplish almost anything. If all the people around you are deaf, narcoleptic, and prone to severe muscle spasms, you could have a huge impact on almost any problem. If you walked the earth as Superman, you could protect the environment. You could expose corrupt politicians. You could defend the people that everyone else has chosen to ignore. You could do almost anything.
Or, you could do nothing.
Right? I mean, just because you have superpowers doesn't mean that you would choose to use them. While we don't shatter like glass, we can get broken. Although we can fully submerge ourselves in water for minutes at a time, we can still drown. Even Superman takes a risk.
In the end, even if we found ourselves on a planet where we have all the advantages, we might lead a life like any other. We might decide to play it safe and use all of our superpowers to make ordinary life easier. Instead of fighting crime, we might use our uncanny abilities to fight traffic.
I'd like to think I would use my powers for good.
Because I was born on this planet, my body can withstand temperatures in excess of 85° Fahrenheit. As a native of the earth, I can stay awake for longer than thirty minutes at a time. If I ever found myself on a planet where these abilities boggled the minds of my neighbors, I'd like to think I would use my powers for good.
I'd like to give myself the benefit of the doubt. But here's the thing: I already have a superpower. If I'm honest, I have to admit that I haven't done much with it.
No, I can't fly or turn invisible. I can't walk through walls or lift freight trains over my head. But I was born someplace like Krypton. I was born someplace that gives me amazing power. I was born in Walla Walla, Washington.
Here, in my native world, disposable income is considered normal. Spare change is so common that it rattles around on the floor mats of my car. I've seen spare change accumulate on dressers, like snowdrifts after a blizzard. We have money everywhere.
Because of where we were born, our economic power is uncanny. We don't have to travel across the stars. On this very planet, people would be astounded by our wealth. And I'm not talking about our fancy cars or the elaborate houses we build on the Street of Dreams. I'm talking about the spare change that stays in our winter coats when we put them away for the summer. I'm talking about the wealth that we don't even recognize as wealth.
For $2 per person, Mercy Corps brought clean, fresh water to the Iraqi village of Abdullah. $2 per person! By our standards, the amount of money is infinitesimal. We spend $2 on a single bottle of water. But in this part of Iraq (near the city of Al Kut), people live in homes built of mud. They dry cow dung on their roofs for winter fuel. And for a paltry $2 per person, they now enjoy fresh drinking water.
For ten cents, UNICEF can provide sick children with a drink mix that keeps them from becoming dehydrated. Ten cents can save their lives. Ten cents! Three cents can provide a child with a year's supply of vitamin A. Three cents can prevent blindness. Three cents! For an amount of money that we might step over if we saw it on the sidewalk, a person's life can be changed.
There are other examples. Thirty cents will buy enough antibiotics to treat a case of pneumonia. $17 will send health workers into a remote area and immunize one child against a full complement of diseases.
Doesn't this sound like Superman? Because of where he was born, Superman can lift a Buick as easily as I might lift a chair in my dining room. Because of where he was born, Superman can do what no one else can do.
Because of where we were born, we have the power to end hunger. We can do it three cents at a time. We can do it $2 at a time. Quite literally, we can do it with the change in our pockets. We can do it with the coins that fall down between the cushions of our sofas.
We have the power. The only question is: how we will use it?
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Writing to the church in Philippi, Paul reminds them, "It is God who works in you. Shine like the stars in the universe."