Who are your heroes? Why are they your heroes? What have they inspired in you?
Sure, we have people we might look up to because of a skill or gift that they have: an athlete, artist, soldier, tradesperson, maybe even a politician. (Could be. Maybe.) Someone with a gift we aspire to share. But what about the person? Who inspires you to be a better person? Who helps build family or community? Maybe it’s not one person, maybe it’s people. Or an event.
I wonder if we really think about that enough.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews in the Bible did. In the eleventh chapter, they wrote about faith and gave a long list of examples of people of faith, people who’s lives and experiences demonstrated a faith that was life-giving, bold and forward thinking. They were witnesses to God being at work in the world. It reads a bit like it’s a test of your Bible knowledge and, to us today, some of the names might be a little dusty, maybe even unfamiliar. Their stories even more so. But to the first century audience of faithful Jews hearing this letter for the first time, I think it would have been a familiar list indeed.
And they weren’t just heroes with happy stories, of course. Inspiration can come from moments of hardship and suffering, too. Some it says, "suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:36-37). Yikes. Many of them didn’t even see the real results of their faithfulness in their lifetime.
But, as unfamiliar and remote as some of those stories may be, it reminds me that we should pause for a moment and consider what examples of faith we might find around us, what people and events we see that bear witness to God being at work in our world, in love and grace, kindness and goodness. And how might they inspire us today, these people who might be right in front of us or in the more recent past - our contemporaries.
What about all the heroes in your life? Like the examples in Hebrews, some may have struggled as much as celebrated. Some may no longer be with us, in person.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes that "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1). How ironic that we think of having a "head in the clouds" as being someone who isn't really aware of their surroundings, someone who's off in a fantasy world of their own imagination. I'd challenge you to put your head in this cloud for a few minutes and think about who might be an example of faith for you, an example worth following.
Hang on, though, it's not as easy as it sounds. It requires some discernment. First, discerning what is truly an example of a faithful witness to God in the world (however you may know God) and second, how it might apply in your own life. After all, everyone's journey is uniquely their own.
So look both ways as you step out in this cloud: look back - look around you! - and see the examples of faith that are there; and look forward, on to your own journey.