Given the collective angst from the Christian community every year over Halloween, it seems odd to me how little attention is given to November 1.
on Nov 1, 2011 · No comments

Given the collective angst from the Christian community every year over Halloween, it seems odd to me how little attention is given to November 1, celebrated in Western Christian tradition as “All Saints Day,” a time to honor and remember exemplars of the faith, people historically recognized by the Church as having “run well” the race all believers are called to contest. I’d think it would be something we’d embrace wholeheartedly and celebrate.

Maybe it’s just too Catholic. The Reformation and its fallout gradually soured many of us in the Protestant stream on the idea that anybody not showcased in the Bible, with the possible exception of our grandmothers, could be worthy of emulation. We’re all sinners, all equal in God’s sight, and our righteousness is as filthy rags before Him. Why should we look to any mortal man or woman as an example of how to live the Christian life? It seems so…idolatrous, so arrogant to assign the title “Saint” to anyone, beyond the generic meaning shared by all believers. We’re all saints, sanctified to God, called to follow in Christ’s footsteps.

True enough. And yet…

And yet, there’s something deep within us that cries out for heroes worthy of our admiration and emulation. Certainly Jesus is our hero, the ultimate hero, but this is a little different. We see it in our literature. Every story, speculative or otherwise, worthy of calling itself a story, has a hero or heroine. They don’t have to be perfect—from a storytelling point of view, it’s better that they aren’t.  What they must do is fight, struggle, and persevere in the face of opposition and their own flaws. As we read, we put ourselves in their shoes and ask ourselves the same questions: Can I endure? Can I survive? Can I win out? And the hero’s answer is, Yes. It is possible. Have courage.

One of my favorite movies, The Incredibles, is about heroes, and it not only wrestles with the question of what a hero should be, it shows how drab a world without heroes can be. Removing heroes from our life leaves a vacuum, and we might not like what comes along to fill it.

The Bible itself continually points us to human examples of heroic faith, and not all of them are marquee names or even identified as individuals. In Hebrews 11, we find what is colloquially known as “Faith’s Hall of Fame,” which lists not only Abraham and Moses and David, but “…others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”

Following in their footsteps are centuries of believers who’ve kept the faith despite unimaginable persecution and deprivation. We could probably all stand to dust off a little Church history and acquaint ourselves with the exploits of our spiritual grandcestors. I know I could.

We could also spend years debating why some of us succeed in our walk with God and why some of us fail. We can argue about free will versus predestination, irresistible versus resistible grace, or the nature of faith and our participation in it. At some point, though, I think we have to acknowledge that the Bible says, not just of Christ but also of ordinary human beings who have, with God’s help, done extraordinary things, Look at him. Look at her. Do likewise. They’re a benchmark. To ignore them, or those who have followed after them in turn, all pressing “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God,” is to deny our own heritage, to deny any need to be different from the unbelieving world, any need to live differently.

Not a big fan of heroes.

Some people are threatened by heroes, because they not only serve as examples, they put our own shortcomings in sharp relief. Without heroes, It can be easier to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for our own actions. “They’re not really any better than me. Maybe they’re special, but so am I. So is everybody. We’re all special in our own way, and my way of being special is just as valid as anyone’s.”

And to paraphrase one of my favorite villains, “When everybody’s special, nobody will be.”

Fred was born in Tacoma, Washington, but spent most of his formative years in California, where his parents pastored a couple of small churches. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983, and spent 24 years in the Air Force as a bomber navigator, flight-test navigator, and military educator. He retired from the Air Force in 2007, and now works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, providing computer simulation support for Army training.Fred has been married for 25 years to the girl who should have been his high school sweetheart, and has three kids, three dogs, and a mortgage. When he's not writing or reading, he enjoys running, hiking, birdwatching, stargazing, and playing around with computers.Writing has always been a big part of his life, but he kept it mostly private until a few years ago, when it occurred to him that if he was ever going to get published, he needed to get serious about it. Since then, he's written more than twenty short stories that have been published in a variety of print and online magazines, and a novel, The Muse, that debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, which was a finalist for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Speculative fiction is his first love, but he writes the occasional bit of non-fiction or poetry, just to keep things interesting.
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  1. Johne Cook says:

    The only thing that causes my ears to perk up like any mention of anything Firefly, is any mention of anything Incredibles, still pound-for-pound my favorite superhero film of all time. Great post, Fred.

  2. Julius says:

    Great post! I was honestly thinking about that today. I’ve always kind of wished that the Protestant churches like my own had kept some of those hgih days. When you know what they mean, they’re wonderful!

  3. Galadriel says:

    I like it. Humanity needs heroes, or we have no one to point to and say “this is what a human life of godliness looks like” (Dear, that’s an oxymoron isn’t it?)

  4. EegahInc says:

    “Maybe it’s just too Catholic.”
    As one of your Catholic readers, just let me say… you can never be TOO Catholic.
    Sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂

  5. Maria Tatham says:

    Fred, I agree! By the length of the comments, it looks like you’re not going to get much of an argument.

  6. … Which leads me to ask: Who disagrees? Why would they disagree?

    Perhaps a desire to ensure we don’t mistake the means — human heroes — for the ends? Perhaps a reaction to folks who have done this? If such folks are around (and I’m sure they are), I’d suggest this is another case of taking a good thing, which some abused for wrong, and acting as if the Thing, and not those who abused it, was at fault. But, I say that a lot

    • Kaci Hill says:

      Well, history shows that sometimes the real saints were burned, not sainted; and the heretics were sainted, then later relinquished of that title (that’s not a dis; I’m just saying, we’re flawed humans).  That said, at least in general principle if not in practice, all believers are saints.  But hey, I’m gonna let the resident Catholic pick that on apart (because my understanding is mostly via books).
      And I think, Fred, your conclusion really hits a rather disturbing trend I’ve noticed in Christian circles. We are not all heretics; we are not all sinners. We were sinners, but now we’re saints.  And I think once we start declaring ourselves a bunch of worthless bloodsuckers, that’s all we see ourselves  as, forgetting, as you say, the great cloud of witnesses made up the strangest concoction of creatures to call saints anyone could imagine.  We call ourselves unclean, when Christ as made us clean; and call ourselves base when he’s made us holy.
      Okay, sorry.  This one hit close. Very, very close.

      • Fred Warren says:

        I think there’s danger in both extremes: self-deprecation, as Kaci observed, denying the work Christ has done in us and declaring ourselves so depraved and hopeless there’s no point in pursuing righteousness; and the Syndrome solution of saying everybody’s super, everybody’s arrived at the destination and there’s nothing to strive for.

        The heroes of the faith put the lie to both errors: they were just as human and fallible as us (as Kaci said, “the strangest concoction of creatures to call saints anyone could imagine”), and for that reason they had to rely on God for the strength and grace to persevere. The fruit of that struggle, the impact of their transformed lives, is evidence that it wasn’t futile or pointless.

      • Kaci Hill says:

        Well said, my friend. Well said.

    • Fred Warren says:

      Next time, I’ll take a really controversial position on some topic and horrify everyone. You have been warned.

  7. Well, I am one of “those” Christians who experiences the angst of Halloween, but this hardly seems to be the focus of the article with the exception of the lead-in. I agree wholeheartedly about the lack of appreciation of All-Saints Day. I’d like to agree with the ideal that we are uncomfortable “saintifying” individuals, but I think there’s a greater indictment against humanity which you hint at here. There is a severe lack of of historical knowledge prevalent in our churches. Some know the Bible itself. A few might know the first century theologians, but few make it to the edict of Constantine. Unlike most of my fellow Christians, I do know much of our history, but  I wasn’t exposed to a lot of our rich history until seminary. All I could think of was “why wasn’t I taught this sooner?” I wasted so much time listening to superficial, feel-good, messages.    
    Keep up the good posts 🙂

    • Matthew, I agree that a lot of our lack of Biblically balanced hero-recognition is a result of our ignorance of church history. Or, if we have human heroes, they are all too often only contemporary figures — famous Christians, who indeed may be heroes of the faith, but haven’t yet died and thereby solidified their church-history-paragon status!

      Hey, and if you like, catch up on Rebecca LuElla Miller‘s explorations of the Devil, the Universe, and Everything (my title, not hers) in yesterday’s post, and other Halloween-related material on Speculative Faith during the past months.

  8. John Weaver says:

    Fred, the Incredibles as Christian exempla? It’s teeming with Randian subtexts that make my skin crawl. Even my atheist friends have a problem with that movie, though perhaps I shouldn’t talk about it till I see it for myself. Best of wishes to you all.

  9. Fred Warren says:

    Hi, John!

    Actually, the saints would be the Christian exemplars. As we often do here, I used the movie as a springboard to illustrate some of the ideas I was discussing and didn’t intend to hold it up as a model for Christian living.

    With regard to The Incredibles, I suppose you can find some Randian subtexts in any superhero story, as Rand deals heavily in superheroes, though hers are intellectuals, inventors, and entrepreneurs. There was an alternate-history storyline in Justice League a while back that had the alternate JLA overseeing a global police state that lobotomized criminals. However, comic books are pretty much united in their stance that when “Homo Superior” tries to assume control of society because they’re the “most qualified,” it doesn’t end well for anybody.

    Likewise, I think The Incredibles mostly runs counter to Rand’s ideas. When he feels misunderstood and unappreciated, it’s the villain, Syndrome, who holes up in a remote fortress and creates technology designed to bring the world to a halt until he can swoop in to the rescue. His plan to “level the playing field” between supers and normals includes an exception that the most powerful gadgets remain under his control. Hardly an endorsement for Going Galt.

    The supers, on the other hand, submit to authority when their do-gooding causes enough collateral damage to raise an outcry from the public, and there’s a sense that they really have been careless and sloppy, and even a little arrogant. Most retire into obscurity, a few try to work within the system. Bob (Mr. Incredible) gets into trouble when he tries to restore some polish to his tarnished self-image, and he recovers his heroism only when he turns his focus away from himself and onto his family and the people who need his help. Even after the Incredibles defeat Syndrome and vindicate the role of supers in society, they maintain their low profile and pull out the masks only when a threat emerges that requires their particular talents. They don’t want to rule, or think they deserve to. They just want to fit in and do their part.

    The overarching message is that love is the greatest super-power, and it finds perhaps its most complete expression in family. It’s also simply a fun movie, well-crafted and entertaining, and fully enjoyable on those merits alone. Do give it a watch when you get a chance.

  10. I think the problem you identify, Fred, is unique to the last century. Until the early 20th century, one of the only books Protestant Christians had other than the Bible was Foxe’s Book of Martyrs — a Protestant listing of “saints,” if you will.

    We have our Christian heroes from the last hundred years, though we probably don’t talk about them enough — Jim Elliot and the other missionaries who lost their lives in Ecuador, Jim’s wife Elisabeth and Rachel Saint (how ironic is that! 😉  )who went back and lived with the native people group responsible for their deaths, Corrie ten Boom who preached forgiveness to the Germans responsible for the concentration camps where she and her family suffered, Joni Eareckson Tada who exemplifies contentment in Christ in the midst of suffering, Gracia Burnham whose husband lost his life after a year of captivity by the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippians, and Katie Davis who is a young woman doing amazing things with orphans and other needy in Uganda. How many more? Billy Graham, Peter Marshall, J. I. Packer, Brother Andrew?

    Interesting that Paul went on to say in Philippians a few verses down from that “press on” verse you quoted, “Brethren, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17).


  11. Fred Warren says:

    Becky: There’s certainly no lack of modern Christian role models, and if there was, something would be very, very wrong with the Church. As you observe, they don’t get the attention they deserve, and I don’t think it helps that the idea of reserving a day to ponder the accomplishments of our Christian heroes, modern or otherwise, has largely fallen off the evangelical radar screen.

    I’m still a little puzzled over the consensual amnesia beyond the past 100 or 200 years. Maybe it’s an American thing. We don’t have that much history compared to most of the rest of the world, so we don’t tend to take the long view of anything. The denominations I’ve spent most of my life in haven’t seemed to think anything between the time John struck the last period on Revelation and 1900 was much worth talking about.


  12. Maria Tatham says:

    There is an awareness of a few Reformation superheroes, though two of them get a lot of bad press (Luther and Calvin). And there does seem to be some awareness of the heroes of the First and a little of the Second Great Awakenings.

    It seems that some of us are afraid to acknowledge the heroes of earlier centuries because these men and women were Roman Catholic or Orthodox.

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