The hero of a short story by one of my top three favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, is a man named Ricardo. Photographers and fashions models have invaded the barrio where he lives, exploiting the contrast their magazine would capture between the beautiful models and the shabby buildings, rusted railings, cracked walls. Ricardo, in a pique of dignity, disrupts every photograph by dropping his pants. Says Ricardo: “We are not a studio. We are people and must be given attention as people.”
Bradbury’s story reminded me of when we lived for 11 years in Lancaster County amongst the Amish. My wife told me this story for she had witnessed it. She was driving along one of our countless back roads. Where we lived, all roads were back roads. Potato field to the right, corn stalks to the left. The car in front of her bore Ohio plates, which explained everything. We who bore Pennsylvania plates would have passed the Amish buggy lickity split. Ohio plates indicated that she was trapped behind yet another miserable tourist enchanted by the Amish buggy, tourists letting themselves putter along the two-lane road as slowly as the picturesque horse plodded in front. Arrghh, silently screamed my Jersey girl wife, white-knuckling the steering wheel. She could see the elderly couple in the car waving at the cute little Amish boy sitting in the back of the buggy, them vainly trying to get his attention. The couple, likely, tittered at the prospect of a cute photograph to take home and show their friends, little Amish boy in his cute straw hat. Little boy finally turned to smile at them. Up swiftly from Grandma’s lap came the camera. Little boy’s timing was perfect: raising his hand backwards and giving them the finger just as shutter snapped.
Do you have a collection of heroes? That little boy ranks among my favorites.
For years I’ve been working on the topic about how more important than church members serving the church is how the church serves the members so they can practice the humanity of their faith in their homes, where they work, play, volunteer, serve. Everyday heroes. Like the hokey pokey, that’s what church is all about.
I streamed a conference over my computer. Midway, the speaker chuckled about how church folk are supposed to be involved in public affairs, wisecracking: “Our faith requires all of us to be whistleblowers.” It takes no faith at all, no courage at all, to remain silent in the face of malice or wrongdoing. Silence gives evil permission. When we confess our sins, we confess we are sorry for the things we have done as well as for the things we should have done but didn’t. Sins of commission, sins of omission. We promise to step up. It also takes no heroism at all to remain silent when you hear nasty jokes, vulgar comments, or mean insults. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me," so goes the childish singsong. Singsong is dead wrong. Bones mend. Hateful speech is a wasp that enters through the ear and burrows into the mind where wasp stings forever.
Former Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher may look pretty in his dress whites. Perhaps at one time he might have been a hero. It’s hard to tell what damages and dishonors a man on the inside, stealing his humanity. World War II front lines cartoonist, Bill Mauldin (whom I’ve quoted before), wrote about the American soldier: “The combat man isn’t the same clean-cut lad because you don’t fight a kraut by Marquis of Queensberry rules. You shoot him in the back, you blow him apart with mines. You kill him the quickest and most effective way you can with the least danger to yourself … But you don’t become a killer. No normal man who has smelled and associated with death ever wants to see any more of it. In fact, the only men who are even going to want to bloody noses in a fist fight after this war will be those who want people to think they were tough combat men, when they weren’t. The surest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry.”
Hey Eddie, I’m sorry for you. It isn’t wearing a uniform that makes you a hero, it is what you do wearing that uniform. It’s easy to kill. Anybody can kill. Anybody can destroy. Harder indeed is to create. Would my Lord condone me celebrating the death of any man?
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.