Monday, March 14, 2011

The Best Heroes Are Long Gone

Have you ever been disappointed by someone you greatly admired? Felt let down by actions or words of an individual who represented everything you regarded good and noble?

A pastor friend hosts a weekly study group called “The Dead Theologians Society.” Each morning attendees read and discuss a book by a theologian from centuries past. Current spiritual leaders are never considered. Why? Because participants won’t have to worry about whether their subjects will appear in tomorrow’s news, accused of some moral failure, ethical breach or other disgrace. They’re all long gone.

Growing up in New Jersey, 40 miles from New York City, I was an ardent Yankee fan. My hero was celebrated slugger Mickey Mantle, Oklahoma’s golden boy. In my eyes, the sun rose and set on “The Mick.”

That, however, was before the Internet and 24/7 sports coverage. Years later, books revealed Mickey and his Yankee pals were famous partiers. Who knows how many afternoons he nursed an acute hangover in centerfield, probably unable to see a fastball, let alone hit one. Maybe that’s why he struck out so much.

Today, players of Mickey’s ilk are routinely exposed in the news, blogs, talk shows. A celebrity can’t hiccup without having it reported somewhere.

Last week Jim Tressel, Ohio State’s widely admired and respected head football coach, confessed to withholding information about players. Their misdeeds weren’t criminal, but against NCAA regulations just the same. Today, Tressel’s integrity is under severe scrutiny; values he’s espoused are being questioned. Pedestals have an annoying habit of toppling, no matter who’s on them.

I’m not here to defend Coach Tressel. I certainly don’t have all the facts – although I doubt his fiercest critics do either. But his situation underscores the warning from 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”

We tend to exalt leaders in prominence, from the President to athletic coaches to corporate executives. Then, like circling sharks, attack when they fall. Why are we ever surprised?

All we have to do is look to another Bible passage for the grim reality: “There is no one righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23).

My suggestion? If you’re looking for a hero, choose a dead one. Then he or she can’t grieve you with any more mistakes.

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