Some thoughts on Heroes

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Hey everybody,

I had the pleasure when I was a kid to meet my hero twice. The first time was at a Pittsburgh Penguins event for kids, where players and coaches were sprinkled around the arena for us to get autographs from. My dad and I were kind of wandering the halls when we found a line of about 15-20 people. We didn't know who it was for, but we figured we could hop in and find out at the front. As soon as we were in line, a staff person yelled "Everybody for Mario Lemieux right here!" We had accidentally found the line for the greatest hockey player of all time, and we were near the front! I got his autograph that day, and even wished him luck for the game that was coming up the next day. He seemed genuinely shocked/appreciative of that! I still have the autographed puck on my desk at home. I met him a few years later at a restaurant, which was the first time I got to see exactly how outlandishly tall he was. He was literally larger than life in my 13 year old eyes. 

Of course this year, Lemieux had a statue erected outside of Consol Energy Center. In this town, in the hockey loving world, Lemieux is seen as a legend. As a hero. Kids my age would play street hockey and imagine they were him, glorious mullet flowing in the wind and all. He inspired me, and probably countless other people in our area and around the world.

Which is why my heart goes out to Penn State fans this week. I've been thinking about what it looks like to have a hero, and even more what it looks like to have a hero who stumbles. We'll probably never know the whole truth of what went on with Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, but I think we can safely say that not a whole lot of the characters in this story acted as heroes. They faltered. They stumbled. And in the end, they let us down.

Countless of my Penn State fans are still in a state of mourning over the whole situation. I can't blame them. I've been trying to imagine what it would be like if Mario were caught up in something like that. If I had to watch as they tore down the new statue that meant to honor all the good he'd done in this community, I think honestly even now (long removed from my hockey playing days) I would shed a tear or two. It would hurt. I would likely be at a loss for words. I might protest. I might scream. 

None of this is by way of defending Joe Paterno or his actions/inactions in light of Sandusky's wrongs. I'm actually of mind that it was right to remove the statue, if for no other reason than because opponents would surely vandalize and/or destroy the statue on their own anyway. But the whole thing has caused me to ask deep questions of the institution of "hero" in our lives. Should we be vesting so much of our hope, inspiration, meaning, and purpose in ordinary, simple, sinful, flesh and blood human beings? While it's hard to imagine that my personal heroes could let me down, the truth is they're more than capable of it. Ask anyone a year or two ago if Joe Pa would be the center of this much controversy, and I bet no one saw it coming. Human beings are only capable of so much. I don't know that it's fair to put them on such high pedestals. Everyone has flaws. Everyone is damaged. Everyone is broken. 

But let's make this really uncomfortable for a second, shall we? This is a blog about youth ministry for those of us who are in youth ministry, so let me ask this question: Do your students see you as their hero? Is your program set up in such a way that you are designed to be the hero? Do you follow the age old formula "Dude loves Jesus, Kids love dude, therefore Kids love Jesus?" What if you let them down? What if you can't be the hero they imagine? I know how good it feels. I know how much it can inflate an ego and even heal some old wounds. But if we falter or fail, as sinful human beings are often known to do, what have we done to our students? 

Our faith really only allows for one hero, and that's Christ. Our job is not to be the hero, our job is to get as far out of the way and point towards the hero. This is hard. It's hard to not want to be the hero. But human beings simply can't handle that weight in our lives, no matter how heroic you are. 

But God absolutely can!