By: Mark Deisinger
On Saturday, December 17, Sharon and I headed to Incarnation Lutheran cemetery on County Road J to join the local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter in a program called Wreaths Across America. The goal of the program, which is nationwide, is to lay wreaths on the graves of as many veterans as possible. Representatives were on hand at our local spot for each of the armed services, and also to represent those who never came home — those who were/are prisoners of war or missing in action and never found. enCompass Church’s very own Caren Nicholson represented the Air Force. The service was moving, with a gun salute, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the singing of the national anthem. The service was also over quickly, as it was a bitterly-cold day. Even so, we felt it was worth it, because these fallen men and women had sacrificed much to serve our country.
After the service, as we trudged through the snow and tried to find the correct spots on which to lay wreaths according to our maps, I wondered about the people we were honoring. Many would call them heroes, and rightly so in many or even most cases. They volunteered or responded when called to duty. They went above and beyond.
But the honest truth is we don’t really know if we should attribute the word hero to these individuals, because we don’t know them. As I was laying a wreath, I wondered about the man buried there. He was married. Was he a good husband? If he had kids, was he a good father? Was he a force for good in the world, generally speaking? Was he even a good officer or enlisted man? Would those that knew him call him a hero?
Maybe he had been every bit the heroic, self-sacrificing, salt-of-the-Earth man. I am proud to say my own father, John, was such a man. He served stateside in World War II in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to Caren’s Air Force. After the war, he parlayed his experience as a radio technician and the GI bill into a degree in electrical engineering. He married a blind woman in the late 1940s and raised eight children with her. Never once – not once – did I witness even the smallest hint of a dispute between my parents. They modeled a loving and respectful partnership like none I’ve seen since. I didn’t know it growing up, but I couldn’t have asked for better parents. My parents are two of my heroes.
But what of the man whose grave I visited? I hate to think so, but he may have been cruel to his family, he may have cheated a business partner, or he may have had even darker secrets. He may not have been a hero at all. Yet there we were, honoring him as a hero because we were painting with a broad brush and honoring all the fallen service people.
I’ve heard it said you should never meet your heroes. We’ve all read stories about encounters with famous individuals where the celebrity turned out to be a condescending jerk to the (probably-now-former) idolizer. It isn’t a universally true story, of course, but the trap we can fall into is setting up people we don’t know as larger than life or beyond reproach. The reality is that they’re just people like us. Their situations and lifestyles might be different, but inside they have the same fears and hopes and dreams, and the same failings and foibles, as us.
There’s one exception, of course. There is a true hero out there. We can all rely on him at every moment. He won’t let us down. He sacrificed himself for me and you. He has no shadows in his past, no skeletons in his closet, and no wounded innocents in his wake.
Paul tells us this in Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV):
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Let’s all resolve to follow and be like this greatest and most consistent of heroes.