A month ago I posted about a list of my heroes. I wasn't talking about the individuals that touched me personally- professors, elders, etc. I have talked about some of them in other posts. Many of them (most of them?) are now passed on, my mentors are gone. But these heroes are some of the world-changers who have most motivated, inspired, challenged, and ultimately changed me. It started as an introduction to a post of pictures of Cesar Chavez that I took over 40 years ago. It is now morphing into more than just Sr. Chavez.
Here then is that original list, in alphabetical order, with one addition that I can't believe I missed.
- Louis Armstrong- perhaps the greatest, most creative and even talented of all 20th Century musicians. He inspired me as a trumpet player, but also as one who stood up and did what needed to be done to be successful.
- Dan and Phil Berrigan- The Brothers Berrigan, both originally Roman Catholic priests, although Phil left to get married. Their faith led them to some acts of civil disobedience and time in prison. Jesus, they believed, wanted His followers to speak out against war and injustice. Their witness was a challenge to my easy, comfortable, "personal" faith.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer- Deeper than even the Berrigans, Bonhoeffer may be the quintessential theologian/witness against the horrors of the 20th Century. His challenge to "cheap grace" and the "cost of discipleship, opened understandings into being a Jesus follower that he barely had a chance to live out. A man of amazing trust in God and a challenge to cultural christianity.
- Cesar Chavez- I spoke of his witness for the poor and oppressed. He was another man of faith, non-ordained, but one whose life was guided by an awareness of the ways of Jesus.
- Robert Kennedy- In my mind, the most challenging of politicians of the mid-20th Century. A complex and probably conflicted person who showed both the good and bad of politics in his short history. In the end, he was attempting, I believe, to make the changes in himself and the country that were, and still are, sorely needed. His announcement of Martin Luther King's death on the streets of Indianapolis is one of the more moving moments of a very difficult year.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.- The man I would nominate for American of the Century. Another man of faith, working at his best to make a difference. His commitment to non-violence helped move civil rights into the mainstream. He and others lost their lives to make it happen. His "I have a dream" speech still stands as a beacon and guidance for the future.
- Mahatma Gandhi- The guiding saint of non-violence. He died the year I was born, but his teachings and witness still reverberate. An amazing individual.
- Harvey Milk- A man who kind of fell into the right place at the right time. He didn't know what to do with his life so he became an activist for Gay Rights- or at least that's how it looks from the outside.He came out of the closet, won his place in the city of San Francisco, and lost his life. Yet he helped give life to that part of the civil rights movement that we are finally seeing the results from.
- Nelson Mandela- In my book, the Man of the World for the 20th Century. With every reason to be angry and vengeful, he turned toward reconciliation. Oppressed and imprisoned for his fight for equality, he didn't try to take away the equality of his prisoners or oppressors. Along with Bishop Desmond Tutu, a witness to the world of the right way to forgive- anything!
- Pope John XXIII- A quiet man of gentle faith who pulled the Catholic Church out of the middle ages and showed that the church should have a voice in the modern world. In way too short a time as Pope he accomplished hundreds of years of reform. While some of it slowed down after his death, he gave faith a hopeful name. Pope Francis appears to be trying to walk in his holy shoes.
- Archbishop Oscar Romero- El Salvadoran Bishop, he believed in liberation of the oppressed and to change a corrupt system based on wealth and prestige. He had called for Christian soldiers to put down their arms and stop oppressing the poor. A day later, as he stepped to the altar for the Eucharist, he was assassinated. The oppression of Jesus' followers can be just as powerful in Christian countries.
- Elie Wiesel- Holocaust survivor, Nobel Prize laureate, the voice for the voiceless millions of World War II genocide. The only man on the list (other than Chavez) who I personally saw and heard speak. A gentle man who in his demeanor maintains that innocence that continues to ask the awful question, "How can this happen?" while always working so that it will happen "Never again!" He is an icon for me, an image that allows me to see into the pained face of God as God looked down on our human insanity of the 20th Century.
Many were men of deep faith who allowed their faith to guide their whole walk in life. As a result, most were willing to stand up to the established order so that it would be more open and receptive to more people.
All, in their own ways, were rebels, radicals, even, hoping to make a difference. Whether through music, words, or actions, these individuals have shaped my faith and my outlook on the world. They all make sense to me. I have no idea if I could ever do what they did in the face of what they lived. When I look at them, I can only repeat what the father of a boy with an evil spirit said to Jesus:
I believe; help my unbelief.