When I was young, we not only had heroes, we had super-heroes, and chief among them was Superman, the original superhero. Superman was cool because he didn’t need anything like web shooters or a shield or an iron suit. It was just him—faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Bullets just bounced off his chest like they were nothing. Was there any boy who watched Superman who didn’t get their mom to pin a towel around their neck like a cape and run around like Superman?
And it was particularly cool that all he had to do to disguise himself was put on a pair of glasses. One time I found an pair of old black-rimmed glasses, and I thought, “Cool! I’ll put these on, walk out of my room and my family would be like, ‘Hey, who’s this new kid walking around the house?’” So I put them on, walked out of the bedroom, and my older brother said, “Hey, Stupid, where’d you get the dumb glasses?” And I thought, “Hmm, maybe I need to get a suit too.”
The thing about Superman, though, is that as cool as he was and as much as we’d like to be him, there was no way. He was just too together. I think animators caught on, and they started closing the gap between normal humans and superheroes. They came up with Mighty Mouse. I mean, come on, he may be a superhero, but he’s a still a mouse. That closes the gap, right? Yeah, but he flies and takes cats six times larger than he is and twirls them around and throws them into the atmosphere. I can’t do that, can you?
Probably the ultimate regular guy superhero ever invented was Underdog. His name says it all, right? Anybody remember how the show started? “Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a frog.” “A frog?” Then Underdog would say, “Neither bird nor plane nor even a frog, it’s just little ol’ me, Underdog.” And in real life, when he wasn’t Underdog, he was Shoe Shine Boy. Just a little ol’ shoe shine boy. And who did the voice for Underdog? Wallly Cox, the original T.V. wimp. They even made Shoe Shine Boy to look like Wally Cox.
And Underdog spoke in verse, like only a wimp would: "When Polly's in trouble I am not slow, it's Hip, Hip, Hip and away I go !" "There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!"
As I grew up, my heroes became more mortal. Brooks Robinson of the Orioles became my new hero, and the thing I liked about Brooks was that, even though he was a great baseball player, he was otherwise just so ordinary. Skinny arms, skinny legs, just playing a kid’s game and loving it.
Now, we all admire heroes. But not the cartoon, comic book kind of hero, and not the Hollywood terminator kind of hero, but the everyday, ordinary, common variety heroes. The kind of heroes that rise to the occasions when they find themselves in impossible, life-threatening situations, like firemen rushing into burning buildings on 9/11 or jumping into flaming forests in California. We find these people appealing not because they are able to do what we aren’t, but just the opposite: they are ordinary people just like us, ordinary people who do extraordinary things. And they inspire us to think that we would do the same thing if we were in the same situation.
And this is how I feel when I read the story of Stephen in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen was a real hero. He was also the first martyr of the Christian church. And when you read his story, it moves you to the edge of your seat for all the reasons that the modern day stories of heroes move us to the edge of our seat. Because he is just a regular guy. Just like one of us. He wasn’t Jesus. He wasn’t an apostle. He was just a layman. A regular guy with a heroic faith.
Or Abraham. He was a man of great faith—and one who got in trouble because he got scared and tried to pass his wife off as his sister. And even though he got in trouble for that, he did it again no much later! He repeated his mistake, just like a regular guy.
Even David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart,” was pretty ordinary—if you call being an adulterer and a murderer “ordinary.’ His own son rebelled against him. What’s more ordinary than that? Granted, his son literally rebelled against him, raising and army going to battle against his father, but that’s my point: if David could be that ordinary, mess up in ways that I never have, and still be called a man after God’s own heart—well, there’s hope for me.
Hope that even in my ordinary life, I can be heroic. I can have a heroic faith, show a heroic love, display a heroic devotion, follow in heroic obedience, even in my ordinary life.
If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be in my ordinary life, because an ordinary life is all I’ve got. And I guess that’s enough, isn’t it?