What do Al Pacino, playing Danny Collins in the movie of the same name, Meryl Streep, playing 'Ricki' in 'Ricki and the Flash' and T Rex in ‘Jurassic World’, all have in common?
They are all unexpected heroes. They all have checkered pasts, troubled histories and yet they become the heroes of the piece.
It seems we like our heroes are flawed. In a world full of options – you can have your coffee just about any way you want – but we like our heroes only one way – broken.
Why is this? Why is it that every hero from Ironman to Princess Elsa have an internal vulnerability, a fault line running from top to bottom?
Many have sought to answer this age-old question, not least among them Joseph Campbell in his 20th century classic 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces". The solution he and others have offered seems very straightforward; we like our heroes broken because we want them to be like us.
We may find it difficult to admit it in public, but in our hearts we all know we are imperfect, and we fear that these internal inadequacies disqualify us from achieving greatness. We want to see heroic lives lived out by people who overcome their internal struggles, giving us hope that we too might do something great.
The problem is that all of us struggle with the challenges of life. However capable, we wrestle with internal issues that cause us to harbor niggling fears that we’re not quite up to the mark. And so we choose heroes who reveal that it's possible to do great things, even with failings. In fact, it might be fair to say that we don’t just ‘want’ our heroes this way we ‘need’ them this way. As we identify with our broken heroes we grasp answers to deep questions that without these flawed examples, would remain unanswered.
You and I live in an ‘affirmation culture’ increasingly defined by achievement. In our culture inadequacy so often leads to the removal of affirmation. The removal of affirmation by those around us has a much older moniker in human history; it's called shame.
Shame besets the lives of so many of us; we feel shame about our family, shame about our education, shame about our past, shame about our weight, shame about our income, shame about the things we've done and things we've found it impossible to do, we feel shame very deeply and we want someone to lift it away. That’s why the heroes we choose are so important. The broken hero overcomes his or her greatest challenge by winning through the internal struggles that so often lead to rejection by others. Victory is found on the other side of shame.
Danny, Ricki, St. Peter, St. Paul, even good old T Rex all overcame the shadow of shame as they grasped the torch of victory. That's the key, that's what we need in our heroes and that's what others need to see in us.
A dear friend of mine, the senior pastor of one of America's most dynamic and fastest growing mega-churches told me that he makes sure that he takes every opportunity to reveal how ordinary, inadequate and goofy he is. He said that if he did not do that his congregation would begin to put him in different 'category' of human being – the kind of human being they could never become - perfect. He makes it very clear that he's just the same as them, he has different gifts and a different calling but he has just the same failings. A church leader acting this way drives a coach and horses through most people’s view of religion. No wonder his church is so big, everyone wants to escape religion!
Of course religion is all about ‘being good’ and because none of us are really, really good we hide our imperfections for fear of shame, shame of exposure by religious types.
The marvel of the gospel we embrace and proclaim is that you and I are not under the curse of shame; we are under a grace that replaces every shame with a blessing!
Jesus is our all in all. He not only paid the penalty of our failures and sins, he buried the shame that was attached to them. We don’t have to hide our failures anymore because they are not attached to shame; they are simply examples of what God can do with failures like us.
We often say in the movement of Missional Discipleship that people "Don't need a perfect example they just need a living example." What that actually means is that "We don't need perfect examples, we need broken examples” - examples that reveal that the shame of inadequacy can be overcome by the blessings of grace.
That’s why it's so important for you and I to recognize two things; first, that we are inadequate to the heroic task of making disciples and second, we need not carry any shame because of it.
We are inadequate because everyone is, and no one in and of himself or herself has the capacity or the ability to make a single disciple. Only by God's all-encompassing grace are we able to fulfill such a high and heroic calling. And if we don’t think we are doing a very good job of discipling others today, don’t give up there’s no shame in it.
Others need someone just like you and I – they need broken heroes.
Heroes of the Bible Daily Devotionals available here