The textbook asked last week whether people had heroes when they were young. Most of them answered with the names of television characters. Super heroes like Spiderman and Batman mingled with less well-known cartoon figures, and the odd completely bizarre selection; the Tellytubbies may be many things, but heroes? Is Tinky Winky really a likely candidate for sweeping into a room and disarming a villain? Sometimes I think they write things just to wind me up.
Back in the 1960s, television seemed full of heroic figures. There would be police drama series where the coppers were always straight and the crooks were always caught; there would be war films in which the central character would triumph against overwhelming odds and make a Shakespearean-style tribute to his dead comrades at the end; there would be cowboy films in which the good guys wore white; medical dramas where no-one died; science fiction series where aliens always lost. Hardly a programme, or a film, would pass without the good guys winning and the bad ones getting their comeuppance. Robin Hood was best at extracting victory from impossible situations. (James Bond’s situations were worse, but he would always produce some gadget; that seemed somehow to be cheating).
There developed a habit of looking for Robin Hood characters in life; people who would know how to cope in every situation and would know how to extricate the right result from whatever plight it was in which one found oneself.
Of course, there were no heroes who would gallop up on white horses, no-one whose physical strength and intellectual power could transform a situation. Heroes of any sort seemed in short supply; watching television stories from Vietnam, it was hard to know even what a hero might do. Despite a lifetime of evidence that no hero is suddenly going to emerge and change the world, there persists a vain hope that someone somewhere will do something to change things.
There is an abiding dream of being able to be present amongst pain and tragedy and see them transformed. In black times, it seems almost as though Christian faith is about wish fulfilment, about the desire to see things made different by someone with heroic powers. No need for tears or grief, if someone can just come in and make everything all right.
It was never so. Even in the Gospel story, Jesus does not come in as the waver of a magic wand; he never frightens off the bad guys at the point of a sword. The nearest he comes to the storybook action hero is when he drives the money changers from the Temple, and even it led to a strengthening of the forces against him.
Forty odd years of looking for a hero have really gone nowhere.
Maybe it was to be expected. Saint Paul had to learn the way of pain, not the way of story book heroism. Asking God that it might be different, he received the answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul concludes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.
Robin Hood would have been nice, though.