This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I need a hero

I included the audience participation parts, so you can participate at home.
Part I
So if you've hung out with me at all, you know that I have an obsession with tsuperheroes that borders on creepy. So I'm going to talk a bit about heroes, super and otherwise today, and I promise not to geek out on you too much.
I'd like to get started by learning who your heroes are. Not the super kind, just the regular kind: who do you want to be most like. Can be real or fictional, but I'm going to just ask you to say the name - no explanation because we've all got barbeques to get to.
So what is it about our heroes that makes them heroic? An English proverb says that a hero is a man who is afraid to run away.
I recently read this news story about a guy who found $45,000 in a house he'd just bought and gave it back to the people from whom he'd bought the house. The guy who found the money said that he wished he could say that the thought of keeping it never crossed his mind, but he had bills and wanted to adopt a kid and he really could have used the cash. But he knew giving it back was the right thing, so he did. Something bugged me about this story. It took me a minute to put my finger on it, but I realized what bothered me is you're not supposed to keep things that don't belong to you. If you find somebody else's money, even if you could legally get away with keeping it, you don't give it back even though you could use it or because it's the right thing to do, you give it back because it's not yours. That's what you're supposed to do with stuff that's not yours. And that got me thinking that maybe all heroes are are people who do what they know they're supposed to. Not what society tells them or Sunday school or your mom, but the still quiet voice that hides in the corners and tells us what we don't want to hear - what that voice tells us to do, that's what we're supposed to do.
Let's look at Superman. Superman has super hearing, so he can hear the voice of everyone who calls for help in the whole city. See, if you're sitting in your apartment and you hear someone on the other side of town scream because they're being murdered, and you have the power to stop it, you'd be kind of a jerk if you just stayed on the couch watching Jersey Shore. What choice, really, did Superman have? He was just doing what he was supposed to do.
Peter Parker? Soon as he got his Spider Man powers, he tries to figure a way to make money from them, like most people probably would. But while he's busy making money, he ignores the opportunity to stop a thief, one who later kills his Uncle Ben. Not the same guy who made the rice. Peter Parker finds out the hard way that, as the comics are so fond of reminding us, “with great power comes great responsibility.” You get super powers, you don't get to sit around any more. It's not really fair, but once you've got the power to do something you're supposed to do, you have to do it.


Here's where I quoted myself and read from my own This I Believe essay. But it really fit in this context:

I believe in sticking my nose in other people's business


Part II
In a way, I'm really jealous of Superman. And not just because he gets to wear his underpants on the outside of his clothes. His super hearing always tells him exactly where he's supposed to be. His super powers mean he always knows what to do about it, and unless Lex Luthor is feeling particularly devious, he comes away without a scratch. If it were that easy, we'd all be wearing our underpants on the outside of our clothes.
Christopher Reeves said: A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
I recently read the memoir Fish: A Boy in a Man's Prison by TJ Parsell. It's exactly as depressing as it sounds, but I wouldn't let that scare me away; it's one of the most beautifully written and powerful books I've read in a long time, and in large part the inspiration for my doing this sermon at this time. Parsell was a seventeen year old boy in 1978 when he entered prison for, among other things, robbing a Photomat with a toy gun. His first night in prison, he was brutally gang raped, and raped many times after that until he was released when he was in his early twenties. He doesn't go into quite how it happened, but he went on to become a successful dot com executive. Parsell talks of the moment, when he was in his mid-40s, that he realized he was supposed to face his past and tell his story:
I had it all - a successful career in the software industry, a Senior Vice President title, and a comfortable six-figure salary that went along with it. My past had been clearly behind me. I was a kid then, and who I was at the time had nothing to do with who or where I was at today. But ever since I walked into a video store in Manhattan and saw some kids laughing at a depiction of prisoner rape on the TV monitors - I decided it was time to do something. In short, I became a human rights advocate dedicated to ending sexual violence in prisons.
Are you sure this is what I'm supposed to be doing?” I said out loud....
I don't think that finding the heroes in ourselves has anything to do with standing on rooftops with capes billowing. I think it's about listening to the still quiet voice inside ourselves, the annoying one that's always telling us what we're supposed to do. Listening and finally saying “Okay. Okay fine, I'll do it.”
So if you're anything like me, sometimes you know what you're supposed to accomplish, but not necessarily how. It's one thing to say you're an advocate, but how do you carry that out? Particularly if you've got limited means and you live in... you know, not the most socially conscious of locations? So I talked to some people that I know who are sort-of self-made advocates. Not people who had the foresight to go to school for doing advocacy things, but people who came to a realization one day that they were supposed to do something and then did it. I talked to my friend Sarah, who is an advocate against animal mistreatment, particularly all the bad stuff people do to pit bulls, and she said that more than volunteering and donating money, it's important to educate people, talk to people about breed myths and and animal cruelty, and to talk to people about spaying and neutering. Andrew Line, whose poem I read earlier, has done extensive writing on the subject of violence against trans people and gay rights in general, and has been working on building our URU GLBT advocacy group. I came to the realization some time ago that I was supposed to advocate for the rights of people with mental illness, and that started with simply coming out of the closet as a person with a mental illness myself.
It's not always easy to hear the still quiet voice that tells us what we're supposed to do, so I'd like us to take a moment here at the end of things, to stop and listen to the voice. We'll sit in silence for a moment and listen, just listen to the part of us who knows what we're supposed to do. The voice might be telling you what you're supposed to do with the rest of your life, or it might just be telling you what you're supposed to do today. So I'm going to ring this chime and I want you to listen to the sound of the tone for as long as you can hear it, and then I want you to keep listening, listening for your still quiet inner voice.


When the will defies fear, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death - that is heroism. Robert Green Ingersoll

This song came up on my play list Friday and it just seemed really appropriate.



So enjoy yourself, do the things that matter
Cause there isn't time and space to do it all
Love the things you try, drink a cocktail, wear a tie
Show a little grace if you should fall

Don't live another day unless you make it count
There's someone else that you're supposed to be
Something deep inside of you that still wants out
And shame on you if you don't set it free




  • ere's a link to Just Detention International, the organization with whom TJ Parsell works to end prisoner rape.
  • And a Link to Trans Ohio, Andrew's trans charity of choice.
  • And Sarah wants you to help needy puppies by helping the guys at Paws Ohio.

Other sermons
Thanksgiving:
I've since been told that everything
I said about Squanto in this
sermon is wrong, but let's pretend.
Mental Illness


4 comments:

denny16 said...

I don't have a specific person I can list, but I will say that anyone who stands up for what they believe in will make my list of heroes.

Things to Do said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua said...

I love me some Jonathan Coulton. "The Future Soon" and his version of "Baby Got Back" are the best. And "Code Monkey." And "Chiron Beta Prime." And "RE: Your Brains." And...

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