Every blog post should be written like a love letter.
Donald Miller implores every blogger to remember that you are writing to a real reader, with a real life, a life that may actually be impacted by what you write. According to Miller, every writer should fix the reader in mind, by loving them (http://donaldmilleris.com, September 16, 2011). In that sense, I suppose, every blog post is like a love letter. However, love letters are never written only for their intended reader. Philosopher and theologian, Peter Rollins, reminds us that love letters have another purpose, as well:
“Love letters always get to their destination. Love letters always get to the person they’re addressed to, because, in a sense, love letters are addressed to the one who’s writing them. That’s why we often write love letters that we don’t even send…they’re there for us to work through our feelings, to work through our emotions… the one who is speaking it is the one who really needs to hear it” (February 20, 2011).
I think that is true of my blog posts so far: I am writing to you, but I am also writing to myself. (Even shrinks need to be reminded that life is a story, that redemption is slow, that shame undermines our story, and that we all need new, fresh voices to help us narrate our lives.) But I think that is especially true of today’s post. You see, I’m a cautious person. I was the kid who avoided the cracks on the sidewalk, not for fun, but because, “Who knows?” I figured my mother really needed her back, and I wasn’t about to mess it up for her. My nickname in my church wilderness group was “Shy Fox,” and my Sunday school teacher once told my parents that she was concerned about my mental capacity because I never talked. For a kid like that, it’s very hard to imagine yourself growing up into a hero. I mean, Clark Kent may wear his glasses askew for effect, but let’s be honest, when you’ve been jumping over buildings for most of your life, it’s not much of stretch to imagine yourself a grown hero. However, when you’re a third-grade boy named Kelly, in your third new school in three years, and on the first day of class when your name is called the boy next to you says, “She’s not here,” and you shrink down and can’t imagine correcting him, well, being a hero seems like a serious longshot.
Yet, I’m convinced that deep down, we all yearn to play the role of a hero in our own story. I think we want it, not to satisfy our narcissistic need for attention and acclaim, but because heroes save and protect and leave the world a better place. Somewhere in us, we know that if our story can be about those things, then when the credits roll, we can be at peace with ourselves and the stories we have told.
But I wonder if we have given up on real-life, I’m-living-it-out-in-the-world-of-flesh-and-blood heroism? If the young people I meet with in my office every day are any indication, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” The kids that I’m talking to are insightful and articulate, and they have something to say: They look around their world, and they see parents whose stories are about scrambling to make mortgage payments and fighting to protect their fragile egos (by the way, I’m guilty as charged), and they wonder why, if that is the story awaiting them in adulthood, they should try so hard to grow up. They have parents and teachers who are telling them that life is all about being in the top quarter of their graduating class and getting a step ahead of their competition, and they sense that their authority figures have lost the plot. They see the aimless stories being lived out around them, and no one is giving them a better story to join. So, many of them have given up on being someone meaningful in their own story. The consequence is that they are bored to death. Most of the kids I talk to are not delinquent or rebellious or disturbed—they are bored. Question: “What would life be like if you quit smoking pot?” Answer: “Boring.” Question: “What would life be like if you quit having sex with random people?” Answer: “Boring.” You get the idea.
But it isn’t all the drugs and sex that has me thinking about this as a crisis of heroism. After all, teenagers have been having sex and doing drugs for a very long time. Rather, it’s the video games. It’s the games the kids are playing that have made me realize how much our kids are hungering for a story in which to be a hero. The majority of the most popular video games being played today are called role-playing games (RPGs for short, or “first-person shooter games;” think Call of Duty and Halo), in which the gamer is playing the role of a hero within the context of the game’s “story.” The stories themselves are not particularly creative: the world is in danger of annihilation, whether at the hands of zombies or aliens or some other sinister force, and it is your job to almost single-handedly save the world from destruction. Now that’s a hero. They play for hours, because with controller in hand, they can step into the role of a hero and save something big, whenever they want. And with no other alternatives being offered in their real lives, a generation of adolescents is abdicating heroism and sacrifice to the video game console and the movie screen.
This is tragic, because we need real-life, flesh-and-blood heroes. We need them badly. We need the obvious heroes: the police officers who dedicate their lives to making sure that drugs don’t find their way into our children’s veins, the firefighters who will climb up burning towers while those towers are falling down, or the men and women in uniform who believe so deeply in the value of freedom that they are willing to die for it. But we need the quiet and hidden heroes just as badly. We need the pre-school brother who grabs his sister’s hand so she doesn’t step in front of a moving car. We need the first grade boy who is reading books to raise money for orphans in Rwanda. We need the second grade girl who is collecting pennies for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We need the middle school girl who spends all of her social collateral by standing between the mean girls and the girl with big glasses and braces, because that girl’s tears rupture her heart. We need high school almost-men who resist the advances of confused young women, because they care more for her heart than for her body. We need leaders who leave work early to tutor disadvantaged children in after school reading programs. We need men and women who watch the snow falling and think first about the elderly woman across the street who will need her front walk shoveled. We need business people and homemakers who drop what they are doing and flock to disaster areas after hurricanes and tsunamis hit. We need people who are willing to sacrifice a season to build wells for parched tongues in West Africa.
I want you to know, I have seen the look in a kid’s eyes when he realizes that he doesn’t have to sit in front of a television to be a hero, and it thrills me to my core. Girls who choose a summer trip to the inner city over cheerleading camp. Boys who write poetry, despite the taunts of the masses, because that is what their heart is saying and they think it might make their friends better people. I have seen middle-aged men, just fired from a job that was supposed to be unloseable, decide that their stories stink and that they’re going to do something that matters in the world, even if it means cancelling a cable subscription and chewing up a 401k, and it makes me want to sing. I have seen women who have spent decades lying down while their husbands dictate everything begin to stand up straight and place themselves between him and the kids, and it makes me want to be a better person.
Thank you, to all of you who are insisting that your story be meaningful and that you play the role of a hero in this world. You give me hope.