Have I Ever Told You?

"As you get older it's more difficult to have heroes, but just as necessary."
-- Ernest Hemingway

I have always had heroes—people who are models for me of the kind person I have wanted to be. Some I have observed up close and with whom I have had meaningful conversations. But most of them I have known only through books. Starting from childhood and daily visits to Suffolk's Morgan Memorial Library in the summer, I have devoured biographies of great men and women and tried to learn from them.

US Presidents have been my favorites—with Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and JFK at the top of the list. Later, Reagan was added. Check out the shelves in my office at the church, or at home, and you will see volume after volume about these and many of the others.

The foreign leader I have esteemed the highest is Winston Churchill, England's Prime Minister during World War Two. Arguably the greatest man of the 20th century, he was able, with his own inner strength and the power of his magnificent speeches, to save his nation and maybe just the entire western world.

My leisure reading over the next several days will be The Splendid and the Vile, by Eric Larson (Random House, 2020). I bought it to carry on vacation later this month but have already started and may finish it before we go. I can't seem to put it down. This is a more intimate, personal account of his life—filled with details about life in England for the common man during the war, and personal details about his own.

I like to study leadership, and the marks of great leaders. He was certainly the one for his time. By sheer courage, perseverance, and eloquence, he held England together during her darkest hour and lead her to survival and on to victory. That first year, May 1940 to May 1941, was the toughest stretch, and that's all that this 500 page book covers.

I have heroes in other fields, too, of course. The ministry, as you would certainly expect. Many of these are pastors that you probably would not know. But again, by their books and sermons and sometimes personal conversations, they set a standard for me and helped steer me in the right direction when my natural inclination might have been to go another way. They have been worthy models for me all of these years. In various crises throughout my ministry I have often asked myself: "What would Vander do?". Or, “How did JC handle this when he went through something similar?" And the little tapes that constantly run in my head would give me the answer.

"Theology is biography," one man wrote. He meant that we form our beliefs and practices in the faith by more than just an unfiltered reading of the Bible. If we are honest we will admit that our Christian Faith has also been shaped by the people we have chosen to listen to and watch most closely. "Follow me, as I follow Christ," said Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1—and we all follow somebody.

There seem to be fewer heroes today. We have lots of celebrities now—people who are famous for being famous. Leaders of character, high morals, and who possess the ability to inspire us to being better than we are—they are harder to find.

"I have nothing to offer," Churchill told the nation in his first speech to Parliament, "but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He told them the truth—and it was enough.

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