Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Whatever happened to the heroes?

Social networking has had a bad press of late, especially in the wake of the recent troubles in our cities. We have heard similar complaints in the past. It always amazes when people blame developments in communication for society’s ills. Yet again we have heard the cries that it is modern media that is corrupting our youth. It would appear that we humans are always looking for scapegoats but I don’t think you can really blame our troubles on tools of communication.

I cannot claim to be the most technically savvy of people, I’m well behind most of my contemporaries to be honest. That said I do make good use of some elements. I am a big fan of Facebook. It has enabled me to make many useful connections. One of  my favourite aspects are the daily updates and series of quotes that different friends of mine post on there, they have helped me on many occasions as I have struggled for themes to explore in worship.

The other day a friend posted this quote:

“Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don't tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all His children. Don't preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I'm not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.” ~ Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ

“Deed’s not Creed’s” is a central claim of my chosen Unitarian faith. We assert that religion is more about how a person lives their life rather than what they do or do not believe in.

As I have stated previously I have signed up to the “Charter for Compassion” and am attempting to promote Karen Armstrong’s “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life” in my ministry. Step 2 suggests that we look at our own world to discover where we can act and make a difference. She also proposes that when doing so we seek inspiration from the heroes of the past; people who in their day climbed out of their boxes and observed their reality from an entirely different angle. They made a difference to their time and place and acted in the world. She is saying that we too can become heroes of our time and place; that we too can be truly religious people who can influence our world for the better.

She states:

“As we seek to create a more compassionate world, we too must think outside the box, reconsider the major categories of our time, and find new ways of dealing with today’s challenges. But as we approach this task, we need the guidance of such people as the Buddha or Confucius, because they are the experts.” pg 58-59

What is a hero?

Heroes can be found in every single human tradition. They have existed ever since we began telling stories around the camp fire. Ancient Greek and Roman mythology spoke of Aneaus, Hercules, Odysseus and Theseus. The Hebrew Scriptures describe the heroic deeds of David, Joseph, Moses and Samson. Similar stories can be found in every culture. They describe heroic figures who stood up for righteousness and made a difference in their time and place.

The stories we tell today are also full of heroic characters. We only need look at the recent movie remakes of the comic strip super heroes such as Spiderman, Batman, The X-Men, or Star Wars, Harry Potter, Dr Who, the Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These are modern day heroes, but they are no different in character to the heroes of ancient times. I myself have a love for detective programs like Columbo, Poirot or Monk. I love the slightly quirky and a little bit odd hero. The obvious hero is not really for me.

Joseph Campbell studied the ancient myths and uncovered a pattern that was common to the heroes described within them. He talked of a journey that they all seemed to embark on. It begins with the innocence of childhood and the call to adventure; a call that is initially refused or rejected, but eventually accepted. The hero leaves behind the comforts of family and community. They experience the pain of separation from all that they know and hold dear. They undergo a series of initiation rights and challenges. They do battle with the monsters and demons both within themselves and externally to them until they hit a point of surrender. They hit rock bottom. From this they emerge with a new found humilty. At this point a female character appears, often in the form of the goddess. She leads the hero to a deeper recognition and reconciliation with both his masculine and feminine attributes. The father figure appears and the hero becomes reconciled with his past. The sons power and prowess is finally recognised, the initiation phase comes to an end and the hero becomes fully aware of the newly found gifts within his possession. It is now time for the hero to return with his new found bounty and wisdom. Although he has returned he is not the same person who left and things will never be quite the same again. He can now give all that he has and all that he is to his world.

Karen Armstrong highlights that you can see these heroic characteristics in the great religious sages. They all underwent their own trials before embarking on their missions. The Buddha abandoned his family, shaved his head and donned yellow robes renouncing the ascetic and set off into the world to cure it of suffering. Jesus began his ministry, following his Baptism by John, by stepping out into the wilderness for forty days of temptation. Muhammed, before his revelation, went to Mount Hiren outside of Mecca. Here he fasted and subjected himself to spiritual exercises and gave alms to the poor; here he meditated on the suffering malaise that had overcome his tribesmen and sought out a solution to their problems.

Armstrong suggests that if we wish to live more compassionately and to affect our world for the better that we should follow the example of these ancient sages. That we should search out the heroes of our time and even uncover the heroes within ourselves; to not merely talk about religion, but to live religiously. To live fully engaged and compassionate lives. For her this is essence and purpose of religion and I for one agree with her.

So who are our 21st century heroes?

I recently came across this quote by Christopher Reeve (1952 – 2004). He said:

“When the first Superman movie came out I was frequently asked, "What is a hero?" My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences...

...Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Well this one time superman certainly exhibited great courage in the last few years of his life, following the accident that left him a paraplegic. I recently learnt that later in life that he, like myself, became a Unitarian.

Anyone can be a hero; we all possess those qualities within us. All we need to do is uncover those virtues within each and every one of us. Now we may not all have the opportunity to be the brave courageous hero of the ancient and modern tales. That said I am certain that every single one of us has at one time or another had to overcome many obstacles of varying shapes and sizes, no life is without problems. Further, we can all do little wonderful and caring things that can change our world a little bit at a time.

The key for me to uncovering and developing the hero inside each and every one of us is to make that decision each day to do what we can. To effect change does not require super powers, lots of money, complicated gadgets; we do not need to wear a special outfit and cape. All we need to do is to make a decision and follow it with appropriate action, each and every day.

The question we may well ask ourselves is can we do it? Well I for one believe that we can.

When I personally doubt my effectiveness, my ability to make a difference I simply return to these words by Edward Everett Hale

 “I am only one
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything
But still I can do something
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

We do not have to search for our modern day heroes; they are inside every single one of us. All that we need to do is look at the person staring back at us in the mirror and not refuse to do the something that we can do.

No comments:

Post a Comment