November always feels like a heroic month. I mean that first on a personal level: as the weather begins to get colder and the tree branches stripped more bare, I often find myself needing to muster up all my inner reserves of strength as I think of the gray, dark, cold winter days ahead.
But November also feels like a month that asks us to look at heroes, or at least to revisit the stories of people who have lived bold, courageous and authentic lives in ages past. I feel that mostly because the month is ushered in by All Saints day. While it's true that "all saints" means what it says (all saints, including the ordinary and perhaps not overtly heroic ones, which includes all of us who follow the way of Jesus now) I do find myself more drawn than ever this time of year to the stories of the saints whose lives burned brightly with God's love.
Even the secular calendar gets on the act. On the 11th, it throws us veteran's day, where we often find ourselves remembering people who have given their lives or the lives of sons and daughters to causes larger than themselves.
I've been wondering lately about the best way to pass on the stories of heroes, saints...role models...to the next generation.
Our culture as a whole seems so much more easily mesmerized by badness than goodness, by worldly power than counter-cultural stands against power, by glamor than truth-telling.
Last week we were reading Dallas Willard on discipleship in our youth fellowship group (kids ages 12-17 who meet weekly at our home) and Willard mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One of the oldest girls knew who he was, but for the most part, there was little to no recognition. So we decided to try to wrestle our way through some Bonhoeffer this week (we tend to pitch high sometimes) and to share a bit about his life.
It feels painful somehow that the history we learn in school focuses almost exclusively on the "big players." I would guess most high schoolers know about Hitler, Churchill, Stalin? But how many high schoolers, even in our churches, even in families of faith, know about Bonhoeffer and Barth and the confessing church in Germany?
We need to find a way to pass these stories on. And I'm just not sure how. I know this tends to be a very visual generation. So to kick off yet another round of talk about discipleship last night, we decided to show a scene from Amazing Grace, the feature film focusing on the life of William Wilberforce.
D. and I just saw the movie ourselves a couple of nights ago, and we were far more impressed than either of us expected to be. Wilberforce has long been one of my favorite heroes of the faith; I've facilitated discussion about him in various church history classes across three levels in seminary. (I teach Anglican church history to mostly evangelical Anglicans, and Wilberforce was, of course, an evangelical Anglican...). I thought I might see glaring inaccuracies or a lack of willingness to engage the heart's core of his untiring activism: his roots in God. And while I did have minor quibbles here and there, I was really awed by the excellent acting and by the way the truth of his life and his motivations shined forth on screen.
But one of the kids kicked things off by saying he'd seen the movie in the theater and fallen asleep. Which made one of the other kids automatically assume it was boring. My own initial impatient response to the first kid probably didn't help matters (help me, Jesus!). The scene got lost in the back and forth shuffle of inattentive kids talking and laughing.
I know this is just one isolated event. I know I am tired and feeling easily discouraged right now about several things. But it really made me think. How do we find creative ways to pass on the lives of heroes, real heroes of the faith especially, to young people in our churches and communities and families? When young people are surrounded by inanity and "celebrity" and a culture of what feels like almost total irreverence and incivility -- how do we show them what real commitment and grace and courage looks like? In our own lives, yes (and I know that's huge) but how do we pass on the "family stories" of our faith?
Maybe most importantly, how do we show them Jesus? How do we speak Jesus (more than just a great role model or hero...Savior, Redeemer, Way, Truth, Life!) into their lives in ways that they will actually be attentive to and hear? "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." And "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Those are two Scriptures I find myself practically tripping over again and again these days. It seems that listening to Jesus, sitting at his feet, is the most important thing we can do. How do we make sacred space in our lives to do that? How do we make room in that space for our children to learn to do it too?