I read an article several years ago (which is my excuse for not citing it) that dealt with the American desire to be “on top” of something. The author made a case for our love of competition, but more provacatively for our tendency to create things that we can be on top of. If we can’t be king of the hill then we don’t feel compelled to work harder to ascend that hill but we move to the side and just create another hill that we can be king of. At some point there are so many hills that all hills become, to a certain degree, irrelevant. It reminds me of a line by comedian Mitch Hedberg:
My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold my belt up. I don’t really know what’s happening down there. Who is the real hero?
– Mitch Hedberg
I’ve been fascinated by this phenomenon in our culture ever since reading this piece. So, in Isaiah yesterday I came across a verse that brought this article, and this concept back into my mind and pushed it a bit farther.
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
Isaiah 5:22 ESV
We love heroes, we love rescue missions, we love people who put their life, body, and reputation on the line for a worthwhile cause. But there is a condition that every legitimate hero story has to meet: the goal has to matter. In our world we can get so wrapped up in the act of heroism that it’s easy to lose sight of whether the rescue being carried out is worthy of all the fuss. I’m not being critical of video games, but the fact that there are national competitions with large cash prizes for people who can play a video game the best seems like an absurdity. For each time those sweaty thumbs rescue the princess there are a thousand legitimate little girls under the oppression of human trafficking that need real heroes. This is just one example, but there are obviously more.
Isaiah makes the statement that there is a way to become great at things that don’t matter at all. The “hero at drinking wine” is a wasted hero. What hills are we fighting for? What causes are we championing? What is it that we are giving our lives for? Those are the questions that real heroes have to ask.
Today those question are valid. In fact, the hill that might be worth fighting for first is the one of knowing what we truly care about. If we can ascend that hill and honestly reflect on our motivations we just might have won the first battle of a truly heroic quest.
The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.
– Joss Whedon