One of my favorite questions for taking a conversation to the next level is "Who are your heroes?" Who a person identifies as their heroes reveals much more about them than it does about their heroes. It reveals their passions, their hopes, how they identify themselves, and what they dream of for the future. It may even be an indicator of that thing we all long for: vocation.
I realized something recently. My heroes have changed. From late college through seminary into church ministry and along to campus ministry, me heroes were pretty much consistent. I may have oscillated from one person to another, but they were all teaching pastors with a scholarly bent. They had Ph.d's or were extremely well read. That was who I wanted to be. I wanted to be a senior pastor, maybe with a adjunct professor gig or two, with a breadth of knowledge, who was primarily a church educator. I went out of my way to initiate with those pastors and I sought to imitate them - their preaching and teaching, their disciplines, even their mannerisms. Most of the books I read were about doctrine and theology and teaching and leadership, and I often considered enrolling in either a D.Min program or Ph.d program. That's what you do if you want to be a scholar-pastor.
A few months ago my spiritual director called me an "artist," and something clicked. You know that moment when you arrive home after a trip or a long day, and you let out a long sigh, your body relaxes, and you know you are somewhere familiar and welcoming? That's what the word artist did for me, almost like it was some sort of password into another realm. I am an artist and my medium is the written word. It helped me make sense of some of my outlier tendencies - i.e. my dislike of meetings and overly structured days, and my need for quiet, reflective space, for beauty, and for words and sentences that dance.
Ever since, I have been on the lookout for new heroes. I have spent more time in museums in the last year than I did in the previous 10 years. It seems that I have to force myself to read theology books these days, but my heart naturally tends towards fiction, biographies about Van Gogh and Coltrane, and people who are better writers than they are theologians (except for N.T. Wright, who is a brilliant writer). And honestly, these new tendencies produce quite a bit of tension in my life, because I feel somehow that artists or writers contribute to the church less than do theologians and teachers. Once my gifts sat right in the heart of church ministry, but now I find myself in a circle of people that has sometimes felt alienated, especially in Protestant churches. Suddenly I find myself more wrapped up in beauty and story and mystery than I am in precise doctrinal categories. I am quickly bored by theological debate and discussions about detailed exegesis (and I have a Masters of Theology in New Testament), but I am captivated by poets and mystics, even though they still seem really weird. I have become far more comfortable with expansive questions than I am with capsulized answers. I still have pastoral heroes but they are pastors who can write, who can paint pictures in words, and who can capture the emotion and the transcendence and the color of the Christian vision in black words on white paper.
When your heroes change, often it signals a change in your community. It's like "home" relocates. And it's a painful transition, but even more painful is denying the changes that are taking place in yourself.
So, who are you heroes? Have your heroes changed?