Of Heroism and Popular Culture
The Secular vs The Cross
John Mark Reynolds in a comment to my (first!) post at Evangel offered:
A child would view Favre well . . . but a real man would see him better. He would glory in his manly exploits as an image of excellence and be provoked to go and do likewise in his own chosen profession.
This is in short hoping a hope (or a recognition) that Favre (or pick your favorite athlete) and his exploits might do good in us by inspiring the Greek virtue arete in us. However that leads to the question … can one find support for the type of excellence of the sort Mr Favre would inspire … as being good (or Good) in Scripture (or enlarge that to church tradition for the non-sola-scriptura crowd). I think the answer is … no … but I might like to be convinced otherwise.
First Things contributor R.R. Reno with Brian Hook authored a book that touches on this subject Heroism and the Christian Life: Reclaiming Excellence which touches on this matter. This book looks at the classical hero and then the Christian hero drawing largely from epic/heroic literature, Homer through later Christian heroes in medieval literature contrasting the identity and motivations of the heroic life. From memory (it has been some years since I read this book and I’m miles and miles from my bookshelves tonight so I can’t confirm), the conclusion they draw is that the Christian heroism (and therefore Christian excellence) involves becoming transparent to Christ. The Catholic and Orthodox traditions remember a panoply of fools, ascetics, martyrs, healers, teachers and, well, evangelists who remember and identify as heroic in a Christian sense and use them as inspiration, much in the way Mr Reynolds would entreat us to view (properly) the sporting exploits of Mr Favre. Protestants as well have a smaller (perhaps less varied and certainly not officially recognized) set of heroes … with perhaps some proportion of fools, martyrs, and ascetics in the mix. But … I digress.
St. Augustine, writing just a few years earlier, in his (short) book book Confessions touched on this matter as well. St. Augustine knew his capabilities for understanding and rhetoric. He knew that if he committed to becoming a Christian it would have to be as a Christian leader … which in those days meant the episcopacy and a commitment to celibacy. This choice was hard, Augustine had a weakness for the ladies. Yet ultimately he made commitment, accepted Baptism and crucified his former life on the cross. In the third century a orphaned teen set his sister in a convent, sold all he had and walked into the desert (twice … the second time turned out a lot better) … ultimately returning twenty years later and becoming the founder of Christian monasticism (St. Antony). There is a point to these (and in fact most) of the stories in Christian traditions of our heroes. They are definitely not in the mold of Mr Favre. I’d offer that “take up your cross and follow me” cannot be done without a radical break with the secular world and the secular lifestyles.
One of the things that comes with the heroism and the secular life is noise.
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. [3 Reigns (1 Kings) 19:11-12]
In the noise and bustle of the daily secular life … you will not hear God, for God is not to be heard in the bustle, in the storm, in the fire or earthquake … but in a low whisper.
So I’d offer, consider the Christians you consider heroes … and set them alongside those the popular culture today sees as their heroes. What commonalities and differences do you see? Can you make the argument that a modern sports hero can inspire us as in the Christian life? Or not?
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