Losing My Heroes

Part of growing up for me has been a painful process of losing most of my heroes. And I don’t mean they are dying off. I mean one by one they are falling off their pedestals. I’ve always been a cynic (which I’m not proud of) so have never had very many heroes anyway. But this process has been a big drag nevertheless.

I’m convinced from my struggles with being a minister that most people have a need to believe that somebody, somewhere has arrived — that their pastor, Sunday school teacher, or that guy on the radio, are really living a life of faith the way it’s supposed to be lived. I used to believe this myself. Until I became a minister. For me to land a job as a pastor was all it took to blow away my perception that to be a minister is to have really gotten somewhere. One day I was at a record store with a name tag on saying, “Can I help you?” The next day people were calling me “pastor.” During my record store days, my biggest accomplishment was guessing that an unnamed, poorly-described song a person was looking for was by a one-hit wonder called “Jive-bunny and the mixmasters.” Suddenly I’m in the ministry and find that I am venerated. There are people who insist on calling me “pastor” even when I ask them to stop. It’s no longer safe to swear around me. I guess people are afraid I’ll explode. And when people find out I am both a minister AND a licensed counselor, forget about it. That combination is the social equivalent of leprosy. “He knows I’m a sinner. Or maybe he knows I’m crazy.”

The truth is that I don’t know much of anything. Anybody got a problem with that? Anybody else care to admit it? See, I’m a preacher, which means I’m good at talking for long periods of time. This may give some the impression that life is a perfect circle for me — that the edges always meet up, that there are no loose ends. The reality is exactly opposite. Life, from where I stand, looks like a big jungle of loose ends. All I have is confidence that when those ends are someday put together they will spell the name of God.

There are times when my own brokenness and fallenness nearly drives me nuts, and I scream out, “God, you have pretty much set this up so that I can’t win no matter what I do!!” And in those times I can almost hear God retort, “Now you’re starting to get it.” The truth is that even my desire to be godly is in part an ungodly desire, because it’s based in large part on my need to be able to say, with great pride, “You have arrived. Good for you.” I do not fully desire to be holy for God’s sake, I desire it in large part for my own.

This is what drives me crazy about so much of the Christian community. There seems to be this need to act as if we measure up to a standard we can’t even begin to understand much less live out. I’m with Brennan Manning — often my cheese is falling off my cracker. I know it BELONGS on the cracker, and I try hard to keep it there, but often can’t seem to do so. This doesn’t mean I spend my life in a flurry of obvious sin. It just means that I, like most others, spend my life in a flurry of not-so-obvious sin.

I am aware of the judgmental remarks I make — especially the ones I direct so viciously against judgmental people. I don’t hurt people, I just judge them. I am aware when I get to thinking I’m doing well spiritually. I don’t brag, I just get a “big, warm, sweet, interior glowing.” I am aware when I let my temper fly and it hurts the person nearest to me — my wife, one of my girls, my boss. I don’t hit people — I just skewer them.

These flaws are constant companions, and my very awareness of them makes it nearly impossible for me to tolerate veneration. God loves me, and God’s grace extends to every one of my flaws, but no more so than anyone else’s flaws. I do not mind that I have been called to lead, for a leader leads despite moments of self-doubt. I will boldy declare that I have been called to lead the church, and will even ask others to follow me. I do not want these rants to sound as if I disdain my call to leadership. I do not. I disdain whatever it is in people that causes us to need to objectify others. My hero is Billy Graham. I say out loud that I know he’s human, but I’ll bet I’d be disappointed if I knew him personally. How could I not be? He’s a media figure to me, not a man. Heck, Billy deserves accolades simply for being willing to live out his faith so publicly. He doesn’t seem to be tormented the way I often am. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I find him refreshing. Oh the hell on earth of being my wife and having to live with me for even one day.

But she’s the reason I stay in ministry. She sees my flaws — she knows them to a letter — she bears the burdens of them all — yet she still sees something in me that drives her to want to be better. I do not know what that thing is, but I know it’s a quality of leadership. As long as she continues to see that thing, I will take seriously my call to lead. With or without heroes of my own.