Thursday, May 15, 2014

A World Without Heroes

There has been a recent resurrection of the male role model in 7 Men by Eric Metaxas. The book gives short biographies of seven men who have significantly left a mark in history by what they did with their lives. Some of the men include George Washington, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson and Charles Colson. I was inspired after getting to know more about their lives. 

But as I thought about the world I am living and raising my son in, there seems to be a real void of the type of men that have the characteristics of the role models I read about. There are probably some exceptions, but overall I have a sense that the world we live in is a world without heroes.

Metaxas describes this problem in the introduction to his book:

“Young men who spend their time watching violent movies and playing video games aren’t very easily going to become the men they were meant to become. They will drift. They will lose out on the very reason they were brought into this world: to be great, to be heroes themselves.”

I would add that we have moved from a culture of heroes to a culture of celebrity. Celebrities are centered around popularity. Heroes never live to be popular but to do the right thing. Celebrities are self-focused. Heroes are self-sacrificing. There is a world of difference between the two.

So are we without hope? Will male role models eventually be extinct in the culture? Metaxas wrote the book (and I read it) to create an awareness of the problem and hopefully return to where men take responsibility, live courageously and sacrifice when called. 

There was one common thread among all the men that needs mentioned. They all surrendered to something bigger than themselves. Metaxas describes why he chose the individuals for the book, 

“I was looking for seven men who had evidence of one particular quality: that of surrendering themselves to a higher purpose, of giving something away that they might have kept. All of them did this in one way or another. Doing this is noble and admirable, and takes courage and it usually takes faith.” 

After reading that, I can’t help but reflect on the Lord Jesus Christ, 
“the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2 ESV). 

So I don’t believe that we have to cave into a world without heroes, since many ordinary men by faith can look to the One who modeled a mixture of selfless sacrifice with courage and triumphant joy. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Pastoral Suicide

This year so far two pastors in Iowa have died by suicide. The job fatality rate is higher than the police department my dad works for, which is located in a high crime area in Pittsburgh. My heart is heavy when I hear that a shepherd is slain by falling on his own sword. 

I’m not writing to analyze what goes on in the heart of a man who chooses this end. Nor am I going to offer a list of suggestions on how to prevent pastoral suicide. There are others more qualified to do that. 

But I do want to note that pastors often struggle with loneliness in a more intense way than most people realize. In her novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson describes this reality in the fictional minister, John Ames. In his own words, “My own dark time, as I call it, the time of my loneliness, was most of my life, as I have said, and I can’t make any real account of myself without speaking of it.” (p. 44). Loneliness can be part of the DNA of the minister's life. 

I have often wondered if a pastor is called to this in some unique way in order to identify with Christ, who was “lonely and afflicted” (Ps 25:16). Or maybe it is just the plain fact that a pastor spends most of his week alone in a study preparing messages. Either way,  if loneliness leads to death it is beyond disturbing.

One small suggestion, whether you are a church member or fellow pastor: make a list of the pastors you know--including both the young and old, talented and ordinary, gregarious and quirky, small church and large church--and pray for them. Pray that they may take their loneliness and afflictions to Christ. Pray that despair does not lead to death. Pray this Psalm of promise for them, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Ps 50:15 NASB). 

Clergy have a much less dangerous job than inner-city street cops do, yet it often proves just as deadly.