Monday, February 10, 2014

My Heroes

Who are your heroes? I guess that depends on what things you most value in a person. For me, a hero is someone I want to emulate, someone who represents something that I hold to be good and noble and true. My heroes aren't perfect people (well, one of them is) but they are all excellent people in more than one respect. And so, after much deliberation, I present for your edification ten people whose examples  have edified me:

Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin's interpretation)
10. Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien). Sam is the only fictional person on my list though I am an avid reader of fiction and could easily have stuffed my hero file with figments of other writers' imaginations. I made an exception for Sam because he is, for me, a paradigm of selfless, sacrificial service born of love. Sam is in way over his head and he knows it, but he sees the mission through to the end simply because it is the only way he knows to express his love for Frodo and all that is good in the world. I want to learn to love like that.

Harriet Tubman
9. Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman stands in my esteem not only as a hero in her own right but also as a representative of all the men and women over the ages who have put their lives and liberty on the line -- repeatedly -- to help others escape the bonds of whatever slavery they themselves escaped. She was free, but she risked losing that hard-won freedom again and again because she was unwilling to leave anyone behind. People called her "Moses," but I think she went Moses one better in that respect.

Alan Shepherd, 1961

8. Alan Shepherd. America's first astronaut won my heart and my admiration a few years ago. Watch the footage of the early, unmanned Mercury rockets exploding in all sorts of spectacular failures and then ask yourself if you would have climbed aboard one of them.

Bob Tuttle in Capernaum
7. Dr. Robert Tuttle. You probably haven't heard of Bob Tuttle, but that's your loss. He became my hero about halfway down Mount Sinai. Go buy one of his books and read it. Then sign up for a tour that he's hosting and stick as close to him as your stamina will permit. If you can enroll in a class he's teaching, do so. Pay attention to him. Pay close attention. There's a good chance he'll become one of your heroes too.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

6. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What can I say? He had a dream, and little by little that dream is becoming reality. There aren't a lot of people in this country who are brave enough -- or who have enough faith -- to put the harder teachings of Jesus into practice. Dr. King was one of them. He took a stand against evil without resorting to the tactics of evil, and because of him I am able to sit next to my friend Joy on a commercial airline -- or anywhere else -- without either of us being afraid of reprisals.

Alexander Megos

5. Alexander the Great. I don't admire Alexander for his military genius, but for his ability to create culture. He was millennia ahead of his time in embracing multiculturalism.

Connie Matejek
4. Constance Schiavi Matejek (my mother). She'll probably be surprised to see herself on this list, but my mother is an extremely creative and caring individual who inspired a love of learning in me. She's also pretty humble.

Paul of Tarsus
3. The Apostle Paul. It takes a big man to admit he's wrong, especially when he's WRONG. (See Acts 9.) It takes an even bigger man to pick himself up and get over it. (See Acts 13-28 and the rest of the New Testament!)

John the Baptist
2. John the Baptist. John understood the meaning of commitment. While we don't know much about him, what we do know is fairly impressive. John was totally sold out to God, and Jesus said of him, "Among men born of women, there has not arisen one greater than John." Pretty solid character reference, if you ask me.

Yeshua HaMashiah
1. Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. This would seem like a no-brainer, but really the things I most admire about Yeshua as a hero have to do with his humanity, not his divinity. He was courageous precisely because he was not invincible. Having voluntarily set aside his power (see Philippians 2) he faced the same temptations and the same hardships that we all face every day of our lives, and he did so in order that we might be saved. That is not only love, it is courage.

The New Virtue

I am an intolerant person.

At least, I aspire to be intolerant. Far too often, though, I find myself embracing tolerance as an easier route than the one laid out by my God. He told me I need to be loving, but that is so much harder. Love cares enough to confront; love cares enough to correct. Tolerance, on the other hand, denies responsibility and relationship. Tolerance says, "Whatever. Not my problem, Jack."

I'm not sure exactly when our society began to view tolerance as a virtue -- and not just any old virtue, either, but the supreme virtue. Ignoring the ancient wisdom inherent in songs that proclaimed, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love," we began urging one another to be more tolerant. Tolerance was held up as the balm that would cure our nation of all sorts of dysfunction. TOLERANCE headlines motivational posters in our public schools and has become the battle cry of millions of malcontents.

I agree that we need to teach our children that hatred and bigotry are poor choices. But before offering up tolerance as the preferred alternative, shouldn't we ask ourselves what tolerance really means? Is it a synonym for love? Or is it, in fact, the exact opposite of love? Is it loving for a mother to tolerate poor hygiene and bad manners in her children, for example?

Take a moment to look up the dictionary definition of tolerate. Then ask yourself what sorts of things you do (and don't) tolerate. How do you feel about those things? Now ask yourself . . . would you rather be loved, or tolerated?

Happy Valentine's Day!