There’s More To a Hero Than a Sandwich

Hero: a person admired for braverygreat achievements, or good qualities.                                               –Cambridge American Dictionary

He’s a…hero ’cause he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”                                                       –Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump

“It depends on your definition of a…hero.”                                                                                                          -Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson

There’s been a lot of chatter in recent days about whether Senator John McCain is a hero. Based on the definition presented by Cambridge American Dictionary, John McCain definitely qualifies. On all counts McCain meets the criteria of bravery (despite torture and solitary confinement he never shared vital information with his captors), achievements (in addition to being a graduate of the US Naval Academy and decorated veteran, he is a respected US Senator and former Presidential candidate), and good qualities (no one can seriously doubt his honesty, patriotism and love of country).

All this parsing of what constitutes being a hero has led me to think about how easily we use that term as a descriptor.  After all by definition not only is John McCain a hero; so is a type of sandwich.

When we glibly use the term to describe anyone who puts on a uniform and simply does their job, we run the risk of trivializing and diminishing what constitutes being a hero. There is no doubt in my mind that our military personnel, for example, should be respected. After all, the 1% who serve in our armed forces today are doing what the rest of us don’t want to do. The women and men in uniform more resemble a mercenary force hired to do our dirty work than a military drawn from the breadth and depth of our whole society.   Not surprisingly they do not reflect the rich racial or economic diversity of our nation but are drawn largely from the ranks of the poor and ethnic minorities.

The same respect should be provided to our first responders; as has often been cited, when others flee from a crisis they move toward it.

But they simply cannot all be heroes, lest the term become meaningless through its diluting overuse.  Often our political leadership, from the President down to local officials, describe our first responders or military as heroes. But we also know that some military have been guilty of egregious acts (think Abu Ghraib or the selfies of gloating American soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq holding up dismembered enemy remains); and this year seemingly has at least a monthly news story about yet another unarmed Black person shot, killed or humiliated by police. The actions of a few miscreants do not define the whole, but neither do the brave actions, good qualities, and achievements of a few.

There may be times when we act heroically; but that does not make us heroes in essence or at heart. Abusers or sexual predators can sometimes behave kindly, but at core they do not exemplify kindness for us but something different.

In the same way in the world of sports I may show respect for someone’s athletic prowess and achievements as they perform in uniform.   But can someone truly and fully be a hero worthy of our children’s emulation if their athletic skill is not matched by their personal integrity and character, in uniform or out?

I am simply suggesting that we be more circumspect in our naming of heroes. Words actually matter.  In a community where everyone can easily be called a hero, heroes may still exist.   But what is truly laudatory, commendable and worthy seems cheapened by our facile definitions.

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The Meat of the Matter: Musings on the Flag Especially Addressed to My Fellow Southern Family and Friends

I promise I won’t be blogging every day – that would be crazy.  And exhausting.  But just to try this out for fun, here’s something I wrote last week and posted on Facebook.  We’ll see what happens next.

For me, it’s all about the meat.

Today (Thursday, July 9), the South Carolina House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State Capitol. Tomorrow at 10 a.m. EDT, with surviving family members of the slain at Mother Emanuel AME Church present, the flag will be lowered for the final time from the pole where it was lowered earlier by Bree Newsome as an act of civil disobedience.  The colors will be fittingly retired to a museum where they will be laid to rest, even though the controversy around it may linger for awhile.
Today, I am particularly proud to be a Southerner, and I am particularly proud of my fellow Southerners in the South Carolina legislature who are doing the right thing. It is not all that needs to be done. This single act cannot ease the abiding grief, ache, and loss of the left behind beloved of the martyrs killed for their colorful faith who were gathered in that basement Bible study when the killer stole into their midst. But it is an act of compassion, rooted in a desire to be part of a new and better day for the South, and for all Americans. And as a person of faith from south of the Mason-Dixon line whose ancestor accompanied Marse Robert all the way to the end of the road of rebellion, I am grateful for each small step on a different road of reconciliation.

I suspect some friends and family might be appalled or saddened, or even wondering if I have betrayed the best of my history and heritage. But for me, it’s all about the meat.

Like many Southerners, in addition to my history and heritage as someone hailing from this particularly precious part of God’s creation, I also am a person of faith who pledges allegiance first and foremost to the Lord of all creation, whose face I have seen in Jesus of Nazareth. While I will always be a child of the South, I am also first and foremost a beloved child of God and citizen of the Realm of God, what some theologians these days call the Kindom of God. In my baptism into Christ, I accepted the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression, and promised first and foremost to serve Christ as my Lord in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations and races (The United Methodist Book of Worship, 1992). And there’s where the meat comes in.

In the New Testament communities formed by the apostle Paul, at least two wrote to him asking advice about whether it was kosher for Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Even for a Southerner familiar with the beauty and wonder of hyperbole (especially when it comes to jokes, tall tales and fish stories) connecting Corinth and Rome to Charleston might seem a stretch; but stay with me.

The burning questions for those first Christians were 1) if I eat meat that has been sacrificed to a pagan idol, am I being disloyal to Christ, or at the very least serving and honoring two masters? and 2) if I believe these idols are false and non-existent, can I eat the meat conscience-free, despite another believer’s beliefs and misgivings about the practice? When in doubt, those early Christians thought it was wise to seek advice of a wiser soul and so they wrote to Paul, their elder brother in the faith. His counsel can be found in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.

Paul freely confesses that he has no problem eating such meat; like his “more mature” siblings in the faith he knows the idols supposedly honored by the sacrifice that brought the brisket to the table don’t exist at all; they are illusory, and so there’s no harm in benefiting from the food’s nutritional value. In fact, when it comes to eating meat, you’re free to do as you please.

But Paul also knows his perspective is not shared by all, and his view might be a hindering stumbling block to his “weaker” kinfolk in Christ. And so he advises his correspondents to let liberty be trumped by love. All things are permitted, Paul writes; but not all things are helpful. And so he makes a commitment never to do anything that will cause another to stumble.  If that tasty morsel puts another’s faith and discipleship at risk, he won’t do it.  It’s as pure and simple as that.

Whatever we Southern white folks think is the meaning behind the flag, there is no doubt that it is a stumbling block to our black neighbors and kinfolk. Of course technically we are still free to fly it wherever we want on our private property – in our front yard, on the back of our pick-up truck, on our flexing muscles beneath our tattoo. In Christ we are indeed offered freedom.

But that freedom is always bracketed by the higher law of faith: love for our neighbor.  We Southerners can get antsy when someone tries to tell us what to do or we feel like our honor is at risk; but for those of us who have been marked first and foremost by the cross of Christ and not the St. Andrew’s cross on the Stars and Bars, humility and compassion for others are also noble virtues.  They are not to be taken lightly but lived fully as an act of love for our kinfolk and a sign of loyalty to the One who showed us the measure of true and abiding freedom by kneeling and washing his followers’ feet.  After all, the most free person is the one who doesn’t have to have his way but can make way for another to flourish and prosper.

So the meat of the issue for me is this: if that flag is is getting in the way of moving to a new and better day; if it’s a stumbling block to my Southern sisters and brothers for whom it is a symbol of terror, oppression and  even 1960s resistance to the Civil Rights journey toward Dr. King’s beloved community; then it’s time to furl and lower it forever – not simply from a flagpole in South Carolina, but from our hearts and lives so we can move toward a new future for all where we can all meet as sisters and brothers under the banner of love.

 

Hello World

In my first two weeks of retirement, several folks have asked what I plan to do with my free time.  Since preaching has been a way to channel my writing genie, writing a Blog seems a good substitute, so here it is – my very first post as a Blogger!

Why the name, Beloved Bastard?  That’s a tip o’ the hat to Rev. Will Campbell, a curmudgeonly Baptist preacher who, when asked to define Christianity in 25 words or less, said it’s the faith community that believes we’re all a bunch of bastards but God loves us anyway.

While I can never hope to be as much a rascal as Will Campbell, I do hope this will be a venue for me to reflect on the intersection of faith and life in an open, honest, transparent way.  So we’ll see what happens!