Posted by: alliehope | January 17, 2009

Salute to a Hero

Like all of America, I have been spellbound by the story of pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III, and his courage in the face of what could have been a disastrous plunge into the Hudson River this past week. His quick decisions saved many people from certain death, something to be commended, to be sure.

I have begun to think, however, what about the other heroes in our midst? What about all the unsung souls who quietly act the same courage to free people from the bonds of injustice, toil among the poorest of the poor, whether in an inner city slum or in a forgotten village on the other side of the world? What about parents, who raise their children to be men and women of integrity and compassion? Surely these are heroes to be saluted as well.

In reflecting on this, I am going to go on a limb here: I believe we all have the potential to be heroes. If we are alive on this planet, we are called to live heroic lives.

Don’t get me wrong here, dear readers. Not all of us will be called on to act in such extraordinary circumstances as the ones that have gripped the country the last few days. However, I think the last few days have called us (particularly me) to redefine the meaning of the word hero: A hero is someone who consistently acts with courage and grace, regardless of the circumstance.

Working from this, then, in the middle of January 2009, my challenge to you, my readers, is this: How will you become a hero in 2009? What impact will you have on this world? (Remember that no action you take is ever 100% impact-neutral. We all make choices that ripple off of one another–will your ripples make positive change, like those of a hero, or negative change, like those of the anti-hero?)

Notice I didn’t say “villain” there. To narrow this world down to “hero” and “villain” is the reductio ad absurdum o0f the Hollywood fantasy writers, who are trying to make good and evil into categories so obvious a child will get them. I’m talking about something a little more complex. The anti-hero isn’t necessarily a villain in the Hollywood sense. He or she is an individual in hiding for whatever reason, not knowing the extraordinary potential that lies beneath his or her skin, waiting to be drawn on for the good of the world. His or her actions can’t necessarily be construed as evil, since he or she really doesn’t understand, or is in denial about, the life he or she is called to live.

Here let me state unequivocally that there are villains in the world. These are folks who have gone from anti-hero (the folks who you couldn’t pick out in a crowd) to being outrightly evil. They are twisted souls, in thrall to the oppressive power of Satan, hell-bent on destruction. These are the folks who perpetrate terrorist attacks, traffick innocent women and children in the human sex and slavery trades, who kill, who steal, who will stop at nothing to preserve the power they think they have. (I said that to clarify the distinction I’m drawing between the anti-hero, the “average Joe or Jane”, and the truly evil).

Having granted that evil people do exist, and the forces of darkness do exist in this world, I want to return to us, particularly those who call ourselves Christ-followers. He has given us a heroic charge: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19a; 20b, Today’s New International Version).

I am now back at the challenge: for us, as Christ-followers, to rise up as heroes this year. Don’t know where to start? Start on your knees, with heart and hands open to God’s leading. Then check out the following resources:

Compassion International: be a hero by sponsoring a child in poverty.

International Justice Mission: be a hero by advocating for the rights of victims of human trafficking, sexual slavery, and other forms of bondage.

Habitat for Humanity: be a hero by working to help families live in stable, decent, affordable housing.

I gave you those to help you expand your vision beyond your borders a little. Of course, your children, your workplaces and your churches need you as well to stand up and be a hero on their behalf. I can’t promise you a cape or any cool superpowers, but I can promise you the hero’s reward of knowing that you’ve made a difference to a world in desperate need of heroes. (Oh, and for the record, I think what Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger did was really cool).


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