Heroes, Angels, Outlaws and Life

Dave Pilot with son Chance

Been spending a lot of time lately rethinking my concept of a hero.  Since childhood, it’s been the John Wayne archetype.  You know, the strong and silent guy with the soft voice and the fast gun who’s standing by what he believes come hell or high water and happy to die for his creed if it’s called for.  I’d still say there’s tremendous honor and character involved in a life lived that way, and there’s no question that at times it’s undeniably heroic.  But what happens when the hero can’t see past his or her personal convictions?  What happens if they are incapable of taking in the larger perspective?  What if everything they deem faith is, in reality, simply dogma?  What if they, and their purported faith, cannot withstand questioning and inquiry?  In those instances, these “heroes” I’ve always put on pedestals become nothing more than mindless sycophants of whatever belief system they’ve tied their identities to.  Worse, they can cause irreparable harm to those around them — often with nothing but the best of heartfelt intentions.

The proverbial challenge of having one’s heart in the right place and head in a dark place, I suppose.  In principle, you tell me — what distinguishes your run-of-the-mill fundamental evangelical Christian from a Nathan Bedford Forrest or an Adolph Hitler?  At their core, aren’t all three truly and irretrievably convinced of the justness of their cause, and unwilling to consider alternatives?  But haven’t all three made careers out of fostering injustice and pain?

I’ve come to believe for my own self that any life based solely on a single set of principles that cannot abide nuance or shades of doubt is a life thoroughly wasted.  My faith is mine.  Yours is yours.  We should be able to compare notes, to ask tough questions, to learn about and from one another.  And when it’s all said and done, when one of us is laid open and bare and vulnerable to the other, all of the trappings of religion should fall away.  It’s only in those moments when we find the true grace and compassion that must be imbued by God.  It’s only in those moments that we are blessed with the opportunity to reach out and touch the eternal.

And if our heroes can’t do those things, if they can’t be there for us in those moments, then they were never truly heroes at all.  Their character and the strength of their convictions may be unassailable.  But as useful vessels in our lives, as examples we could point to as sources of comfort and courage?  No, sir.  That’s been a very hard lesson for me to learn over these past weeks.  As Willie once sang, there’s nothing quite as hard as watching your heroes die.  But life goes on, and perhaps even in their rigidity and lack of compassion there is an opportunity for each of us to learn.

I’m with Brian Burns on this one:

Someday we’ll meet on the edge of that river

And we’ll fly away to some far distant land

Where angels and outlaws can walk

Hand in hand

from Angels and Outlaws-Brian Burns
Until then, I think I’m going to forgo any thought of heroes, and see if I can’t make something of my own damned self for a while.

Adios for awhile,

~Dave Pilot

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Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas.

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