Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Discernment of Heroes - Week 2

This week we have fewer questions to discern than last week, but these are weightier matters.  Several of these topics would be deserving of an entire week by themselves.

How you talk: There are a number of directions in which to take this.  In some ways the most obvious is to ask whether you engage in "right speech" - not profaning the Lord's name, not gossiping, always speaking the truth.  Undeniably, these are good things.  But I think it can be tricky for many of us to notice our own speech.  After all, we've been listening to ourselves for a very long time, and we tend to think that we talk like - well, we talk like ourselves!  So let me suggest an exercise: try writing a description of how you talk.  Maybe you're describing a character in a novel or a film.  What kind of accent does he or she have?  Does he speaking quickly or slowly?  Loud or soft?  What kind of metaphors does she use?  Does he talk like his friends and co-workers?  Does she have catch phrases?  If you manage to write out a description, lay it aside and try listening to yourself over the course of the next day or two.  Do you match your own description?  Now that you have begun to pay serious attention to how you talk, ask yourself: Do I engage in right speech?  Do I use my words to glorify God?

Physical habits:  This is essentially an extension of the previous question.  What kind of body language do you use?  What do you do with your hands?  How do you sit?  How do you walk?  Cataloging your physical habits may simply be an interesting exercise, but it may also reveal to you habits that you ought to change: slouching or biting your nails or maybe, standing before an audience you "saw the air too much with your hand, thus."

Special skills:  Every hero has 'em, right?  But do you?  Matt Bird argues that Zero to Hero stories are rare and don't work well as narratives.  Heroes almost always start out with some special skills.  That finds an echo in Christian theology, which tells us that we are made in the divine image and we are made good.  But, you might be saying, what kind of skills do I have?  Oh, I can fix a radiator or type real fast or program computers, but those are hardly heroic skills.  Christianity is ultimately not about natural perfection, but supernatural perfection, accomplished by the grace of God.  But grace builds on nature; God works with us beginning where we are.  He draws out and makes use of our natural skills in ways we could not image or do on our own.  So as you're tabulating your list of special skills, be creative - be zany!  Because something you might not consider important, something you wouldn't bother to put on the resume, might be the very thing God wants to show you.

Vulnerabilities and ordinariness: Bird contends that a hero who is too awesome makes for a lousy story.  Now, let's be clear about some theology: Christianity teaches that perfection is good, it is possible, and it is the goal of the Christian life.  But Bird's observation is still insightful.  Heroes who are too powerful are boring because we cannot identify with them.  And why not?  Because we are imperfect.  You might be good at all sorts of things; you might be rather successful in life.  Your list of special skills may be five feet long.  But you have weaknesses and failings too.  And Christ wants to heal and redeem those.  He wants to transform your weakness into His strength.  Because that's the kind of God He is.  But sometimes it is hard to offer to him struggles or failings that we did not know we have.  So spend some time and ask yourself: how am I broken?  How am I weak?  How am I tempted and vulnerable?  And how am I simply ordinary, like my fellow man?

Today's image of Ben Cross (l) and Nigel Havers (r), playing Harold Abrahams and Lord Lindsay, respectively, in Chariots of Fire, comes via Wikipedia.

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