Have you read Hebrews 11 lately? You know, that chapter often called the ‘Hall of Faith’ which documents a litany of men and women from the Old Testament who courageously clung to God in their day against all odds? Every chapter in the Bible is valuable to our spiritual growth, but some chapters rise above the rest inspiring us to take the holy bull of life by the horns and do great things for God. Hebrews 11 is one such chapter as it parades before us snapshots of truly great God-lovers whose lives left the crowd of mediocrity behind in the dust.
Other texts in the Bible equally hang heroic pictures on the walls of our hearts through vignettes of truly great lives. I think of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 3:7-11 to consider everything rubbish compared to knowing Christ and press on to greater faith and more courageous deeds of righteousness. Why does Paul’s example stir us so deeply? Isn’t it because his walk with Christ outstrips ours? Truly great people inspire us! We find the same thing in the Davidic saga in I Chronicles. Not only do we love to hear the great deeds of the shepherd-boy turned king who, with God’s help, could “bend a bow of bronze” and “leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29 & 34), we are exhilarated by the ‘mighty men’ surrounding him. I Chronicles 11-12 tell the story of nearly fifty of the greatest men in Israel who accomplished deeds of valor in their day to protect their king and save their nation from the Philistines. Why do we love these stories? Because truly great people inspire us. God designed it that way for our good.
Sadly, much of the goodness of inspiration from the recognition of truly great people in our world has been devalued and downplayed in recent decades, thinking the effect of greatness on the non-great (most of us) would produce catastrophic psychological trauma leaving us with low self-esteem. Parents today are scared of many things for their children: bad friends, drugs, pornography, poor education—on the list goes. But no fear seems greater than the prospect of their child waking up one day with low self-esteem.
As a result our society has employed various means to put everyone on a level playing field so the lazy and untalented can feel good about themselves even if they lack the mastery others have sweated to gain. A recent radio commentary about the new game console by Nintendo called the Wii (pronounced ‘we’) brings this to light. In it Kelly McBride, a mother of two, tells of her childrens’ sports ‘accomplishments’ through the Wii’s virtual reality. Her young son recently dragged her into the living room to show her his perfected power serve in virtual tennis. McBride comments, “In real tennis beginning players rarely hit the ball in bounds. They can’t sustain a volley. And scoring? Who can figure that out? In Wii-Tennis the players make brilliant saves to keep the volley alive, an announcer keeps score while a crowd cheers. And there’s that power serve: my son mastered his by pushing the ‘a’ and ‘b’ buttons at the same time. Maybe Wii-Tennis will encourage my children to play real tennis, but what if when they pick up a real tennis racket, they’re so delusional about their ability they walk away in frustration? Wii is to sports what grade inflation is to academic achievement—it makes it so easy, everyone thinks they can play. On the ‘bright side’ think what that will do for our nation’s out of shape children: they’ll always make the team, the stadium will always be packed, the crowd will always be on their side. On a virtual playing field we’re all champions. I just wonder if our kids will ever find out what a [real] playing field is like.”
Kelly’s thoughts took my mind back to a poignant scene from 2003’s best animated film, The Incredibles. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll remember that Mr. Incredible and his family, who are all endowed with superhuman abilities, have been forced to hide their identities in the wake of lawsuits brought against the nation’s superheroes. The Incredibles do their best to blend into American suburbia, but it’s not easy being normal when you’re not. Dash, the family’s young son, acts up at school to compensate for not being able to play sports for fear of blowing their cover. One day as Mrs. Incredible drives Dash home from school, he turns to her and begins the following dialogue:
Dash: “You always say, ‘Do your best,’ but you don’t really mean it. Why can’t I do the best that I can do?”
Mom: “Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in. We’ve got to be like everyone else.”
Dash: “But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.”
Mom: “Everyone’s special, Dash.”
Dash: “Which is another way of saying, ‘No one is.’ ”
On a hopeful note, a possible cure for our cultural march toward mediocrity may be coming from a surprising source: the acclaimed TV show American Idol. It’s a televised nation-wide search for musical hopefuls looking to hit it big. Some, like country singer Carrie Underwood, do! But many others with less talent soon meet the face of reality in the show’s most talked about panelist: Simon Cowell. According to one description, “Cowell is often depicted as the judge who crushes the...dreams of wannabe pop stars. His brutal honesty and penchant for cutting to the chase...makes up for the more refined remarks made by fellow judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.”
I am in no way commending any rudeness Simon Cowell may dish out. I am, though, commending a preservation of the spotlight for true greatness and a culture honest enough to reserve praise for the truly praiseworthy. Only in a society where the great and talented are singled out for acclaim will we nurture our God-given penchant for inspiration so that we too, normal and unincredible though we may be, might do our best to say ‘good-bye’ to mediocrity to the glory of our truly praiseworthy God.