By Jason Herring
Growing up in my parent’s home I was introduced at an early age to the Parthenon of American Heroes. I’ll never forget my dad coming home from a trip and handing me a comic book of Davy Crockett. The 45rpm read-along record was tucked in a flap in the back of the full color American adventure. Davy Crockett looked like Steve Rogers with blonde hair and big biceps. I could hardly contain my excitement when that year for my birthday I got a coonskin cap and toy long rifle. At 6927 Holmesville Road in Jesup, Georgia, I was King of the Wild Frontier.
Back then you could rent films from Disney, and my dad would host movie nights at the church for the youth department. So even though the Disney classic was released in theaters 21 years before I was born, I saw Fess Parker bring Davy Crockett to life on a projector screen in the fellowship hall of our church, and my love for the legend was sealed.
Whether it was Daniel Boone or “The Swamp Fox” or Lewis & Clark or Teddy Roosevelt, I was always enamored with the larger-than-life heroes of history. This fueled in me a desire to be great and do great things, and that hunger was further stoked in Sunday School by the stories of the Bible. The Scriptures were filled with heroes of the faith who subdued kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, slew giants, and quenched the violence of fire.
I remember thumbing through my dad’s Bible from college and seeing written on the top of every page “I WANT TO BE A GIANT FOR GOD.” “Yes. Yes!” I thought. I too wanted to be a “giant for God!” Follow the giants. Follow the great men. “I will get me to the great men for they have known the way of the Lord,” the prophet Jeremiah wrote. And how many times did I hear William Carey’s quote? “Attempt great things for God” and you can “expect great things from God.” Who would want to attempt small things for God? Mediocrity was a sin. And wasn’t being normal just another way of being mediocre? Was there any significance in being ordinary? And what fate could be worse than insignificance? To put an American spin on it: Go big, or go home.
In the genealogy of Genesis we read a one-verse description of the sons of Zibeon: Ajah and Anah. “And this was that Anah who found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the donkeys of Zibeon his father.” That’s it. That’s all we know about Anah. His grand place in the Testament is to be known as the man who found mules. For some strange reason I don’t recall ever learning about Anah in Sunday School. I don’t remember any illustrations or flannel graph lessons of the moment when he found mules in the wilderness. But does that mean that Anah was insignificant?
The stand-out great men are great because of the circumstances that were thrust upon them, not because they sought out great moments in history. If not for Goliath, David could very well be known as “that David who watched over his father’s sheep in the wilderness.” Right after slaying Goliath the Bible says, “he returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep.” Imagine that. One day you’re a national hero – the Giant Slayer – and the next day you’re watching sheep graze and poop on a hillside. Perhaps this brings to mind the high school and college-aged kids who defeated the Nazi war machine in Fortress Europa to return home as gas station attendants and grocers. So then what about all those jockeys and clerks and factory workers who were never summoned to the frontlines of a global war? Could they be considered heroes?
This past week I attended the funeral service of a dear friend in Cottonwood. On my drive up through the Idaho backcountry, I reflected on my friend and why I looked on him as a hero. At seventy-eight years old Chuck Uhlenkott passed away leaving behind 8 children, 30 grandkids, and his wife, Kerry, of 47 years. Chuck worked with his uncle to support his family before taking over Uhlenkott Pump Service in 1973 and then sold the business at his retirement almost 40 years later. In the annals of history it might be recorded: “This was that Chuck who drilled wells and installed pumps.” Was that so insignificant? Not if you ask his children and grandchildren. Not if you ask the community that packed the parish for his homegoing service.
Chuck was unassuming, but as soon as you met Chuck you could feel warmth – that warm feeling that comes from meeting a person who is genuinely good and guileless. Had Chuck been born in a time and place to find himself on the ramparts of a besieged little mission on the outskirts of San Antonio de Bexar, he would have been counted amongst the martyrs who gave birth to a new republic. I have no doubt about that. But it is enough that he drilled wells. It is enough that he remained faithful to the same woman for nearly half a century. It is enough that he was a man who gave a legacy of deep abiding faith to his children and grandchildren.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines hero as a ‘man of distinguished valor,’ an ‘extraordinary person.’ But Oxford Dictionary has updated the definition to include someone who is admired for ‘noble qualities.’ Take my Uncle Edward Bruce for instance. Even though his name combines two of the greatest rivals in Scottish history, he’s never distinguished himself in valor. And although a veteran of the Air Force, he’s never been in a fist fight in his entire life. Growing up, I never heard stories about Uncle Ed kicking-butt-and-taking-names of some bully or blowhard like my other uncles and grandfather did. I never saw him stand on a platform and command the attention of a few thousand people like my dad has done. But what I have seen him do is model faithfulness, honor God, and love the same woman his entire life. He is a man of noble qualities and no less a hero than my grandfather who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“There’s an unspoken message that the only stories worth telling are the stories that end up in history books,” Viola Davis said in an interview with Brené Brown. “This is not true. Every story matters.” Indeed. Not every story is equally compelling. It is certain that finding mules in the wilderness is not as interesting as slaying giants. But every story matters. The endless lists of genealogy in the Bible bear witness to that. Everyone of those hard-to-pronounce names were part of a family lineage and faith legacy that spanned generations.
No career, no glory, no pursuit is worth the price of family. If you want to go big, go home. Life may never require us to risk life and limb for the freedom of others, but every day it requires us to love our family. Love thy neighbor as thyself begins first at home, and there is no greater commandment than this. It is not required of stewards to attempt the extraordinary and achieve greatness. It is, however, required in stewards that a man be found faithful. As a steward to what he had been allotted in life and given by God, Chuck was found faithful.
This was that Chuck who drilled wells. This was my friend. This was my hero.
Jason Herring is a father to four amazing kids and husband to his wife, Suzanne, of 21 years. In 2009 they experienced two miscarriages and the loss of their 4-year-old son Josiah to cancer. In the wake of that devastation, Jason has sought to share hope with others who walk that same valley. He is passionate about his family, mountains, Spartan Races, history books, writing, and speaking on the grace of God.