“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
Christian tradition and thought embodied in art and literature is strongly heroic. Actions of great men and women are celebrated at full volume. These accounts usually possess elements of universal significance—such as courage, faith and wisdom. However, the way they are read and recounted can serve to further separate the written word from the realms of ordinary, everyday living. This can lead Christianity to be viewed as an “other worldly philosophy”—whose constituents seem to have abandoned this world in favor of a “hope” that is detached from the present realities.
Still, we might celebrate a person who performs great feats requiring courage, discipline, skill and compassion. We might celebrate a King David, an Elijah, a Jeremiah or more likely an Apostle Paul. We might even echo the mantra of William Carey, the founder of modern day missions, when he proclaimed: “Attempt Great Things for God—Expect Great Things from God.”
There is no doubt Carey’s contribution has been, and continues to be, vital to the Kingdom of God. The danger occurs when one’s gaze lingers longer on the facets of a heroic life of the past—to the detriment of a faith fast being viewed as obsolete.
The question is what does Foxes Book of Martyrs have to do with a thoroughly Western 22-year-old graduate student? On one hand—nothing, on another—everything.
The love-ethic espoused by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 7) seems more closely related to everyday life than the adulation Paul receives from many pulpits. The account of Jesus with the Widow’s mite is more approximated to the reality of the world most people live in. The challenge extended through the Good Samaritan rings a persistent clarion call through time: Who will you be a neighbor to?
It is the cursory readings of the accounts surrounding the “heroes of the faith” that potentially places them on a heroic pedestal elevating these men and women beyond the realms of ordinary life. A meditation on the lives and actions of heroes would reveal the ethical and spiritual components in operation, and surface the character of the God-who-holds-creation-together. When the lessons of the past are combined with a future hope, Christ-followers are able to live in the “attentive present.”
The last thing Christianity as a tradition needs is more heroes! What Christianity does desperately need is people who will echo Dave Andrews’ re-working of Carey’s maxim: “Do a Whole Lotta Little Things—With a Whole Lotta Love.”
Dear God, I don’t want to be the center of the story, I want you to be. remind me of my responsibility in your plan, to simply love others in thought, word and deed.