I think the country has a bit of an Olympic hangover at the moment. There is a lot of talk about “legacy” about what the lasting impact and benefit of these incredible sporting events we have witnessed will be. Personally, for me, one of the most positive benefits from the Games which I really hope will be a lasting legacy has been a change in the heroes our culture celebrates. For about at least a decade now the popular media in our culture has been dominated by a so called “celebrity culture” The vapid “stars” of programmes like Big Brother which creates celebrities who are celebrities, for being well, celebrities, have dominated not only pathetic publications like HELLO but all too often our newspapers and even tv. There have been worrying studies done recently suggesting that particularly young girls are seeing “looks” as what they want to be the source of success in life by getting them on reality tv rather than hard work and achievement in some field. Increasingly our culture has encouraged our young people, by the “heroes” it has celebrated, to desire to be famous for nothing more than being famous.
Perhaps the Olympics will be a turning point as people react against this celebrity, fame for fame’s sake culture. After this summer I for one will be over the moon if Ellie Simmonds continues to be celebrated for her achievements and becomes a role model for our teenage girls rather than Jordan and the air heads and plastic boobs of the stars of the “Only Way Is Essex.” I am proud to be part of a culture in which Ellie is seen as a hero. There even seems to have been a change in attitude to professional football players with people reflecting negatively on their behaviour and wages compared to the attitude and commitment of Olympians like Chris Hoye and Mo Farrah. Again we can only hope that many young people continue to aspire to sporting excellence, to emulating their Olympic heroes, rather than just to be like some premiership footballer so they can have a millionaire lifestyle and a WAG style girlfriend.
All of this is important because a culture becomes increasingly like the heroes its celebrates. Nazi Germany reminds us of that reality. As I have already said I think it would benefit our nation and culture immeasurably if we continued to celebrate sporting stars for their commitment, hard work, discipline and desire to do their very best rather than celebrate “B” list air heads for their boobs, sexual exploits and ability to throw up or have fights in night clubs. However if we only celebrated our sporting stars for sporting success I would still be disappointed and I believe our culture would still be diminished.
There seems to be a category of hero which is largely neglected and only rarely really celebrated in our contemporary culture, the carers. In the Victorian era Florence Nightingale rose to be a national heroine for caring for and organising care for first wounded soldiers and then the sick in general. Even in the last part of the 20th Century a figure like Mother Teresa achieved international fame for caring for the poor. Maybe I am looking in the wrong publications but I don’t see many carers in contemporary culture being celebrated and held up as role models. Its not because there are less carers out there, I know of people who have given up lucrative medical careers to serve as volunteers in hospitals in the third world, I know our cities are full of carers, people looking after severely disabled relatives, who pour their lives into making the world better and fairer for the most needy and vulnerable. Yet how many of these people, the carers of our culture are celebrated for what they do and held up as role models?
So I do hope we continue to see Ellie Simmonds and Chris Hoye as heroes and role models but I hope we don’t see only strength and sporting ability and success as worth celebrating and emulating. I wish we could celebrate the families who look after loved ones with dementia as heroes. I wish we held up the staff and volunteers at hospices as examples of the kind of people we value. I wish we heard more in our media about the actions of surgeons, doctors, nurses and engineers running hospital ships off the coast of war torn Africa than the actions of reality tv “stars” in night clubs in West London.
Jesus used stories, we call them parables, to describe the reality of life in the Kingdom of God, in the culture he wanted to usher into history. Many of these stories picture this culture as a society in which forgiveness and grace are highly prized. In perhaps his best known such story, the Good Samaritan, Jesus very deliberately makes a man who cares sacrificially for someone whom he should have regarded as his enemy the hero of the story. Actually Jesus makes this Samaritan more than just hero, we are not meant to read the story and just think to ourselves, what a great guy and what an amazing thing to do. Jesus very deliberately by his final words makes the Good Samaritan a role model for those who live under the reign of God, He says “Go and do likewise.” Probably I am being naive in hoping that a daughter devoting herself to caring for her mother who has dementia will replace Jordan in “Hello” or “OK” but I am absolutely certain that within the Kingdom of God, within the People of God, the heroes whose stories we should be telling, celebrating and seeking to emulate should be just such people, those who are devoted to caring for others at great personal cost.
Why not this week bless someone you know is carer? The tv might not come knocking on their door but you could give them some recognition for what they do, you could tell them how impressed you are by who they are and what they do. Carers may not get gold medals but perhaps those of us who value them as much as any sports star could bless and recognise them in some way? In my idle moments I imagine the culture we could create if we celebrated our carers as much as our sports stars. In my more lucid moments I want to commit myself to working to create it. In fact I want to be determined that the church should be just such a culture. Why not join me?