Our current cultural context includes toppled statues and discussions of which people are worth memorializing, thus creating two camps. The first is those who believe our heroes can do no wrong. The second are those who believe that few if any people should be considered heroes or memorialized.
This begs a question: How do we handle our heroes?
Let’s turn to the second camp first. What is lost when we refuse to venerate or memorialize a person? I believe inspiration for the next generations is lost when we refuse to have any heroes.
We need people to inspire us, to call us out to something greater. We need to remember what these figures accomplished and let that urge us to be the next to accomplish big things, overcome hurdles. Without heroes, without great and worthy figures whose shoulders we may stand on, we are often tempted to look only at our current context, forgetting our history and losing our aspiration to change the future.
While we need heroes to help us put stars in our eyes and great dreams in our hearts, the first camp needs to realize that these heroes are people, not gods. One of the greatest ways to diminish a hero’s impact on future generations is to pretend they did no wrong and to refuse to condemn this wrong for what it was.
It is the humanness of these figures that is often most inspiring. A life that may have been marred by sin, terrible choices, or bad ideology but that STILL accomplished something great can often lead us to swallow our fear and spur us to become better people with great things in mind. I’m rarely ever inspired by what looks to be a flawless life on the outside; I am often encouraged by broken people whose lives I would not want to emulate but who still left an important mark on history.
So how do we handle our heroes? We treat them like humans. We acknowledge all the wrong they did, the sin, the bias, the flaws. But after we do that, we point to the fact that there is still something about their life that can encourage us and lead us to do great things as well.
We need venerated people, but veneration must hold hands with reality. No one is perfect but praise God that some imperfect people can still encourage us to do great things.