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Every once in a while, someone says something so profound within earshot that your soul can’t help but nod in agreement, highlighting the words, drawing your attention to the truth with an intellectual vigor akin to being grabbed by the cheeks, forced to gaze into serious eyes and demanding, “Are you listening?” I had this experience recently at the Charlotte Mason Institute East National Conference, where Dick Keyes of L’Abri Fellowship spoke on the importance of giving our children a deep well of hero culture from which to drink.
All people, Mr. Keyes reminded us, have a space inside themselves which longs to emulate something bigger, something more. From the beginning, cultures have sought to fill that space with things simply not worthy of the high calling of “hero.” A gladiator, after all, is no hero. Most likely a slave or prisoner of war forced into the role, he fought not for a high calling or noble cause, but because he had no choice. Heartbreaking, but not hero fodder— even though a handful obtained pop star status in early Roman times. So we’re not the first society to foist the label “hero” onto an undeserving group. Today, it’s athletes, actors, and comic book characters. Our criteria really hasn’t improved with the centuries.
The ultimate hero for every Christian is, of course, Jesus; and all truly great heroes should point us toward Him. But so few of those people whose faces are marketed to us fail to do so. Most, actually, drag our eyes away. With so much coming at us at high speed, so many books and games and distractions jumping onto our plate at every turn, deciding to be different, determining to nourish your child’s soul with something that will encourage him to grow and not just “keep him busy” feels counter cultural.
In many ways, it is.
If you’re thinking that your child’s spirit and imagination follow the same “you are what you eat” paradigm as his body, you’re right. The food matters. And this is where parenting comes in, where seeds need to be planted and cultivated and allowed to take root that are so much healthier than junk food. Yes, you could throw Frozen into the DVD player one more time. Or you could try Inn of the Sixth Happiness, and introduce your children to Gladys Aylward, who went just a little bit further in showing selfless love than Elsa, Anna, or even Olaf. You could read about kids pulling pranks and creating a comic book about Captain Underpants before bedtime, or you could dive into The Green Ember, and talk about good versus evil and perseverance. You could chew on that bit of Batman trivia over lunch, or you could talk about the Christians who created safe places in their homes for the hunted in Nazi-controlled WWII Europe. Small choices, every day. But deeper messages, rich food for the hero-hungry soul of a child.
Homeschooling, for us, has provided an open door for introducing heroes. George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, Benjamin Warfield, Alvin C. York— and that’s just the beginning of a long list of heroes centered in American history alone. Jack’s study of Church History with Sonlight 200 has, in just 5 weeks, not only allowed him a deeper understanding of Jesus’ apostles, but also of Nicholas of Myra, Athanasius, and the Cappadocian Fathers, men who fought heresy tirelessly. It’s become commonplace here as a family to mull over Jack’s newest revelation, to savor the works of these men and women and ultimately to consider what would have become of the church had they not been bold and held fast to their convictions. This is the ripple effect of true heroism; once you’ve met someone who fills the role, you can’t keep it to yourself, and you find yourself recalling their story and seeing if your feet fit into his or her shoes.
Of course, there are the myriad fictional heroes we’ve met along the way; men, women, and children who have encouraged us to shake off mediocrity and long to live up to our potential: Benj in Mountain Born, Armand in The Family Under the BridgeThe Family Under the Bridge, Sara in A Little Princess. Good stuff. Deeper stuff. No record of shots on goal or list of Academy Awards, but food for our souls nonetheless.
Mr. Keyes’ lectures on heroes reminded me of the imperative nature of offering a wide, varied introduction to the many people history has given us who sought first to glorify the Lord. My children are hungering for examples as they find their way, and it’s my privilege to guide them to heroes who not only satisfy their need to look higher, but are worthy of their admiration despite their flaws. It’s a huge responsibility, but one I am delighted to step into. The world is eager to fill our bellies with fast food idols. Taking the time to dig deeper and inspire our families is worth the effort.