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Vain Idols and Bad Heroes

I read Psalm 31 this morning. It's given me a lot to consider.

There are people I admire; people whose character and accomplishments are miles above mine. Those are the people I would like to emulate but often can't get out of my own way or step over my own foibles to come anywhere close. I am not good at being good.

There are people who completely confound me. I can't work out what makes them tick. I'd like to poke and prod them a bit until I understand why they do what they do. Curiosity not animosity you understand. We all have our heroes and obsessions. I have always considered social history, crazes and trends a particular fascination. Pet rocks and Oobies were among my favorite phenomenons to ponder back in the 60s and early 70s, especially when juxtaposed with world events. It was apparent to me even then that we have some bizarre herd behaviors.

Are you like me in that you enjoy the old musicals? When most kids were watching animated cartoons on Saturday morning you could find me watching old black and white movies. I'd get up very early to start with some Abbott and Costello add some Bowery Boys then finish with Shirley Temple. If my parents stayed in bed long enough or if I had been left on my own, I would get to watch a musical. I loved musicals. Each time I went out in public I hoped I'd get to see a bunch of people jump up , start dancing and singing their hearts out. I even hope to witness a flash mob of singers and dancers now. They remind me of when things were simpler and our heroes were good guys.

I remember when I realized that we Americans had lost all sensibilities when it came to our heroes. It was when Magic Johnson was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 90s. I wasn't ignorant of AIDS like most people. I had already lost some people I loved to the disease. I worked in public safety and in the area I lived there was a great number of homosexuals who were dying of the "gay cancer." That's what they called it before HIV had been discovered. In one of the rare rescue calls I actually went out on instead of dispatching like I normally did, I got stuck with a needle that had been used in a failed attempt to start an IV on a dying man. I was afraid I would get sick but it was nothing like the terror I felt once they had identified the HIV virus and how it was transmitted. Not long after my needle stick I would be dispatching a volunteer fire rescue team to an orphanage of sorts that cared for HIV infected babies. The fire chief refused to respond. "No one has taught us how to deal with the infection and it's a death sentence. Until someone is willing to train us... " I had such mixed feelings about that call, we still didn't know much about the disease and its transmission but should that matter when a baby needs help? These were babies born to addicts who were infected, not people who wantonly continued in risky behavior.

When Magic Johnson's diagnosis made the news I was a bit flabbergasted at how the media and folks responded. All the hubbub and speculation and lamenting such a wonderful athletic talent being wasted.... and nothing much said about his infidelity to his wife, which is where he contracted the disease, and nothing said about the other women he may have infected. Women who were likely not millionaires and couldn't buy the health care he could. That's when I knew that we were a crazed nation and could no longer tell right from wrong. I was aware of it before but always seemed to muster hope we could snap out of it. Sadly, we have not.

In the last week each time I turn on the television I am treated to recycled information about Whitney Houston's death. She hasn't quite eclipsed Michael Jackson's posthumous airtime but she's coming close. I am almost as tired of hearing her songs now as I was in the 80s. The woman could sing, make no mistake, and if I looked like her and you had a feather in your nose we'd both be tickled. Her death is a loss and sad beyond words for those who loved her. I mean really love her; not just appreciate her music. Let's be honest about this- she was not and should not be seen as a hero. I don't understand why she should receive all this posthumous acclaim and adoration. Her life is not a good way to measure fame. Her gospel beginnings are not evidenced in the way her life ended. Her faith seems it overshadowed.

Hebrews 11 is known as the "Hall of Fame" for Christians. In it we don't see a list of perfect people, we see people whose faith surpassed their imperfections. We see them obey God despite their circumstances. Faith solidly placed (in Christ) is formidable, it makes heroes of prostitutes and conquerors of slaves. I don't find my heroes in sports arenas or silver screens. I find mine in the day to day workings of life when hard things happen and small people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, do great things. Things like trusting God when people take a whack at you for standing up for what is right or hoping in Him when your life seems to be in shambles and horrible things are happening.

Please, Lord, keep me safe from the desire to worship vain idols and bad heroes.


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