When all our heroes are gone
We love heroes. We love the idea of our greatest ideals and aspirations being embodied in an individual. And despite having seen so many so-called heroes fall, despite the cynicism their fall has planted in our consciences, we’re still looking for the true hero to stand up, still drawn to the hope that such heroes exist somewhere.
In the church, we’ve known a few heroes who’s lives have lived up to that standard. We allow for imperfections but we can’t tolerate a scandal. These few heroes have passed their trials and returned untainted. One thinks of people such as Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Brother Andrew, and Corrie ten Boom.
But it seems as though so many of our heroes belong to generations that have almost entirely passed away from the earth, leaving us with one of the most troubling questions of our day: what do we do when all our heroes are gone? What do we do when there are no voices left that embody our ideals and aspirations, who inspire us toward greater action and truer living?
Some self-aggrandizing, opportunistic individuals will try to lay claim to those roles, by their money, power or connection to the heroes of yesterday. Yes, even in the church. Heaven help us if they also happen to be good-looking and articulate! The undiscerning crowd will follow them for a while, until their integrity and scruples buckle under the weight of the mantle to which they foolishly and wrongly laid claim.
I don’t know if any of our true heroes ever aimed for hero-dom. The thing that seems to make them heroes is their unshakeable conviction of what is wrong in their world, their resolution in determining to do something about it and their principles to which they hold fast as they set about doing something that seems to be so much bigger than themselves. And when they’ve done those things, whether consistently across the span of their long years or unto a great moment of sacrifice by which their years are cut short, in our hearts we crown them our heroes.
Heroes aren’t born. They aren’t even made. The title of hero cannot be inherited or bequeathed. Heroes make themselves by choosing to live courageously into their own ideals and aspirations, despite the obstacles or risk to their own lives. They do it because they know, if they don’t, who else will? They don’t lay claim to titles, many of them choose not even to receive them. They choose the life they live, they take responsibility into their own hands.
It seems as though so many of our heroes belong to generations that have almost entirely passed away from the earth, leaving us with the important question: when all our heroes are gone, what do we do? Well, I think we have to rise to the task as they did. We have to live into our ideals and aspirations, to see the world not as some place to inhabit but as something which calls us to responsibility and action. When all our heroes are gone, it means that you and I have work to do in our generation.
God, as our nation pauses to remember the sacrifice of those heroes who have gone before us, help us to live courageously into our ideals and aspirations, into the values and the way of your Kingdom, so as to bring you honor and to serve, not ourselves, but humanity for which you yourself paid the ultimate sacrifice.