Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Discernment of Heroes - Week 3

This week we'll be exploring two basic questions Bird poses about all characters:

What role do you play in the story?  Hero, villain, love interest, friend?
Within this role, what is your type?
In some regards, Bird's questions don't fit with Christian discernment.  After all, we are all baptized priest, prophet, and king, sharing in Christ' own perfect fulfillment of those roles.  In other words, we're all called to be heroes.  But this is, in some sense, semantics.  Because when Bird uses the term "hero," he refers to not only to someone who defends justice and rights wrongs, but also someone who is the main character of the story.  And let's be honest: not everyone can be the main character.  But even if we cannot all be the center of attention, we are all called to do good.  And we are called to do this not simply at the natural level, but - by God's grace - supernaturally as well.  Thus, being a "love interest" or friend can be just as heroic and important as being the usual hero.

(I briefly considered writing about discernment of villains.  After all, we are all sinners, and thus struggle with that side of things too.  But most villains are super-evil, in ways that may not shed much light on our own temptations.  Moreover, really great villain characters are - in their way - quite lovable.  This might work in stories, but in the spiritual life the glamor of evil is nothing with which to trifle.)

When working on categorizing heroes, Bird asks an important question: Why categorize at all?
What’s the point? Are movies more fun when you pigeonhole the hero into a certain category? Not really. But I do think it can be a useful tool, whether for creating your own heroes or evaluating the work of others. First and foremost, it should remind us that not every “rule” for heroes can or should apply to each particular hero. Some heroes suffer a lot, some hardly at all. Some are proven wrong, some are proven right. Some start from scratch, others show what they know. In order to know which rules apply to which hero, it helps to figure out which type they are.
The same may be said of our own lives.  We are all called to heroic lives of faith and virtue; we are all called to be conformed to the perfect image Christ.  But we live that out in different ways, emphasizing and expressing different dimensions of who our Lord and God is.  Thus, although we all aim to be "little Christs" (to borrow C. S. Lewis' phrase), we all look quite different, and live out our lives in different ways.

Bird proposes nine different kinds of heroes (and a couple sub-types), based on the three following questions:

Are you qualified?  This question, reflecting Bird's background, is story-specific rather than existential.  That is to say: you might be qualified in one circumstance, but unqualified in another.  Movies tend to only show one circumstance (ie, the super-spy doing spying, not failing horribly at accounting).  Nevertheless, there is an important reminder here: Heroes are not always qualified.  Thus, the special skills we considered last week, though important, are not the final word.  God routinely uses the weak.

Are you on the job?  There are two fairly literal ways to read this question.  First, are you currently employed?  Second, at any given time, are you at work?  In and of itself, this is uninspiring, but the implied reminder is that God can use us at all times, wherever we are.  Sometimes we focus on getting back "on the job," when divinely-written adventures await us right where we are.

Are you in you element?  In other words, are you comfortable?  Again, remember: God calls us to be heroes in both comfortable and uncomfortable situations.

In short, we would all like to be "The Pro at Work," the hero who is qualified, on the job, and in his element.  But "The Worst Possible Pick" - and everyone in between - can be a hero too.  Of course, God does not call us all to be all types of heroes.  Some people, for whatever reason, are more often called to missions for which they are not qualified; these things just find them.  Maybe you are such a person.  Or maybe God is calling you in a more obvious direction, one that corresponds to your skills.  Look at your life and consider not merely what your gifts and talents may be, but also where God leads you and how He asks you to use them.

Finally, a brief word on love interests and friends.  These are generally helpful folks who support the big fellow with the flashy cape.  That kind of support can be as essential as the major deeds themselves.  It is worth asking, "What kind of friend am I?"  This may vary from one relationship to another, but chances are you often fill the same role in your relationships with different friends.  Here are a few types of friends and lovers Bird proposes.

1.  The Conscience
2.  The Mentor
3.  The Helping Hand
4.  The Total Bad Ass (that is to say, the sidekick who really helps our hero fight his battles, or even fights them for him)
5.  The Best Friend Seen in a New Light (specific to the role of lover)

There are doubtless other ways that we can be friends and supports to the heroes in our lives.  But Bird also reminds us that friends and lovers can also be stumbling blocks: corrupters, weasels, objects of envy, or nymphomaniacs.  So when you're considering the type of friend or lover you might be, make sure you're always seeking the good for others. 

Today's image of Indiana Jones comes via the Daily Mail.
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