Today I met one of our church members for lunch. Outside of his retirement community, the staff and residents were honoring public servants with BBQ and the appropriate side dishes. As I walked through the tables and smelled the smoke from the grill, I remembered that today is September 11. I’m confident that the meal was simultaneously an act of gratitude as well as an act of remembrance.
I hadn’t devoted any time to social media this morning. But this afternoon I flipped through today’s posts on Facebook and Twitter. I saw several who had chosen that medium to honor the true heroes of our nation: those who place their lives on the line for the safety and security of others.
When I was a kid, like most I suppose, my heroes were movie stars, rock and roll bands, and professional athletes. Those athletes, actors and musicians seemed larger than life and were shrouded in mystery. All I or anybody for that matter knew about their lives is what they chose to let us know. My friends and I were filled with wonder at any brief glimpse we could get. But in today’s world, social media and the internet have pulled back the curtain on reality. The great and powerful “Oz” has been unmasked and fully disclosed. And reality can sometimes be a tough thing to see.
Our culture likes to elevate and emulate those whose lives we think we’d like to have. And certainly there are people who deserve to be honored, like those whose actions are inspirational and motivational. How do we know the difference? How do we evaluate those who are in the public eye? Should we even have heroes, given our natural propensity for idolatry?
I’m not going to suggest you cease looking for role models to emulate or as sources of inspiration. But here are a couple of quick suggestions that may serve as filters for your lens as you evaluate your choices. First, I think its important to be reasonable about who you select as a role model. Look for those who do great things in small places, largely in anonymity. Teachers, coaches and public servants, for example, routinely do hard things in hard places for little pay on a routine basis. Their work isn’t always notable, but its usually noteworthy. These are the people who make sacrifices on a daily basis for nothing more than the satisfaction that they have done something to help someone for that day.
Second, be realistic about the human condition. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s God’s way of saying, “nobody’s perfect.” I’m always amazed at the shock people display when an athlete or entertainer is arrested for a drug possession or a DUI or domestic violence or some other illegal activity. Its as if Americans have become so caught up in the image and persona that is marketed that we forget that everyone’s halo is a bit skewed. We enforce an expectation on our American idols that is unrealistic and unreasonable. Of course they’re not perfect. Why are we so disappointed at their behavior, or worse, prone to deny its existence, as if we “know” them?
As part of my daily Bible reading this morning I read Psalm 16. Verse 3 says it better than I ever could: “The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!” Role models, mentors and yes “heroes” can serve as wonderful guides and examples for living. They can challenge us and inspire us to reach our personal potential. Just be discerning about who you look to.