What is the value of heroes in our lives? Why does the Bible say so much about people who stood out? “Honorable” people? Why is there a whole chapter—Hebrews 11—devoted to chronicling the lives of people who did great things—not just remarkable, but admirable things? And they’re referred to as “men of whom the world was not worthy.”
I think it’s because heroes remind us that there really is such a thing as greatness. While the rest of the world chases its tail looking for satisfaction at discount store prices, kids who want their lives to amount to something have people, living and long gone, to look to for examples. Their heroes both raise the bar and at the same time show the way to get over it. To have a hero—not just a role model—is to be inspired to rise above the ordinary. It is a constant reproof to laziness, low standards and unworthy attitudes. Truly great people make us dissatisfied with ourselves, impatient rather than comfortable with our faults and ashamed of complaining about our difficulties, most of which pale in comparison to those once shrugged off by our heroes. Many of our heroes—the real ones, I mean—came from humble circumstances but were raised by virtue to dizzying heights of honor and achievement. Boys who get to know them, aspire to rise above their circumstances too. To dream of being worthy of honor is an honorable thing in itself. It is surely the most direct path to becoming a hero to some kid who will come along in a future day.
One of the most rewarding projects I’ve done is the resurrection of great old books for kids in audio form. We’ve been thrilled to find biographies of great Americans written for young folks and before political correctness robbed kids’ literature of real heroes. So far I’ve recorded an excellent biography of Washington and another one of Franklin, both important founders. The author emphasizes character and quotes Scripture repeatedly. I also have some collections of stories about other American heroes. It’s exciting to know that in the years to come, thousands of kids around the country will hear old Uncle Rick read to them on CD about people worthy to be their heroes. They’ll learn an awful lot of our nation’s history at the same time. By the same token, you’ll find that our extensive e-book library contains a lot of biographies of honorable people along with other subjects.
I’ll admit that I was a little jealous when my wife wrote her popular book, For You They Signed. I’ve been heard to say that for a year and a half, I saw little of her but the top of her head. But her excitement over discovering the greatness of the men who gave us the Declaration of Independence drove her on and the result was remarkable. We’ve all seen Trumbull’s painting of the signing of the Declaration, but how many of the 56 men depicted can any of us name? And what do we know of their character and accomplishments?
Nobody seems to know of Caesar Rodney, the delegate from Delaware, who gave up treatment for his skin cancer—available only in England—when he signed the Declaration. Or that he rode eighty miles on horseback, mostly at night, through a driving rain to cast his vote for independence.
Kids should also know the name Abraham Clark. He was a signer. Two of his sons, officers in the Continental army, were captured by the British and held in the stinking hold of a British POW ship for many months. One of them was given no food but what could be passed through a keyhole by another prisoner. Yes, I said a keyhole. Clark was offered the freedom of his sons in exchange for recanting his signature on the Declaration of Independence, but he refused.
Signer Robert Morris watched the bombardment of the British forces in Yorktown when the Americans had Cornwallis bottled up in his last fight. Morris was a man of means, and had a mansion in the city which was being used as a headquarters by British officers. When he asked why his mansion was thus far unscathed in the shelling, soldiers informed him that they were trying to avoid damaging his property. He told them to train their cannon directly on his home and blow the British out of it. They did so, and he lost his house.
That’s the caliber of the men my wife was writing about. Is it any wonder she fell in love with the project?
My experience with audio recording biographies of great Americans has become something of a fetish, too. Biographies written a hundred or more years ago reflect the values that used to be standard in America. And they made no bones of teaching character lessons to the young people they were written for. In the biography of Franklin, the author, Elbridge Brooks clearly reveals young Ben’s diligence, honesty, civic spirit and eagerness to learn. While modern biographies portray Franklin as a deist, Brooks’ version makes plain the God-fearing philosophy that impelled Franklin to contribute his own funds to many various Christian ministries, including the famous evangelist George Whitefield. He relates the fact that Franklin, after a “long and useful life” (as described in a letter he received from George Washington) died with his eyes on a painting of Jesus that hung on his bedroom wall.
The same author wrote the biography of Washington that Uncle Rick recorded. Throughout the book, he quotes Scripture (yes, children’s authors used to do that) and emphasizes George’s exceptional and carefully developed character qualities. He closes the book with an exhortation to his young readers to emulate the character of Washington throughout their lives. Don’t waste too much admiration, he says, on Napoleon who was also a great military leader of the time. Napoleon went to war for his own glory. Washington would rather have stayed home and been a farmer at Mt.Vernon, but was called upon four times by his country and always answered the call.
Boys will be men. They need men worthy of the name, and women too, to whom to look for a picture of greatness. In our day of small men casting long shadows, it’s worth the trouble for parents to find heroes, past and present who will challenge their sons to become the men our society needs to lead us back to the way of our fathers.