Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Heroes Fall...Always

This article originally appeared in the Feb 4, 2010 Southwest Spirit church newsletter.

Recent days and weeks have reminded me of something all of us, as a culture, find it so easy to forget. Heroes and heroines never quite live up to our expectations. Inevitably, those who are admired, sometimes even placed on pedestals, come crashing down. Some of this has to do with our heroes and heroines, but mostly our expectations are at fault. There is nothing new about this cycle; after all, scripture gives us dozens of individuals who follow the same pattern.

What seems so odd to me are the extreme reactions to heroes which fall. Those who have a position which bends the public ear seem to take only one of two extreme positions toward a fallen "hero." Either (1) the former hero in question is now the greatest villain the world has ever seen, or (2) the former hero was the victim of circumstance, certainly not at fault and likely taken advantage of. He or she should be restored to his or her formerly heroic status. To these two extreme reactions I say, HUH?!?

Here in St. Louis, Mark McGwire provides the perfect example. In recent days, McGwire has admitted to using steroids (something most of us suspected), explained his thinking back then, and apologized. Some have found his apologizing lacking, but I do not believe this has been at the heart of the reaction to his admission. I'm less concerned with his motivation than ours.

The first extreme reaction has come from many sportswriters and a handful of former players. These seek to paint McGwire as the most extreme of villains, who should be banned from working in baseball, slashed from the record books, and marked with a permanent "S" tattoo on his forehead. Ok, this last one isn't true, but I think they might be for it if they thought they could.

The second reaction is equally as puzzling to me. This reaction seems to come from die-hard fans, with a smattering of voices from former players as well. These voices seek to dismiss McGwire's failings as irrelevant, providing excuse after excuse for why this honorable man did something which really is not all that bad. The voracious cheers seem to me to rise above the tone of "we forgive you" to a fevered pitch of "you're our hero no matter what you've done or will do." I wonder if these same voices would find a way to explain away the actions of one of their heroes who was found to be pushing down old ladies and tripping children on the street in his spare time.

Mark McGwire, and every other person we exalt to hero or heroine status, is simply human. His mistakes do not make him a villain. He is not worthy of the status of hero, either. None of us are. Both history and the witness of scripture demonstrate this fact repeatedly. And this is why the fault lies with us. I fear these two extreme reactions, neither of which is healthy or helpful, only happen when we insist on creating images of grand heroes who will inevitably disappoint.

Grace and peace,

James