What do you long for in a hero?
I have posed that question to teenage students over the years with surprisingly similar results: fairness, self-sacrifice, character, nobility of purpose, humility, self-control, authenticity, a savior.
When looking at the top 15 grossing films of all-time in America (not adjusted for inflation), these heroic qualities poignantly emerge — from fantasy characters such as Frodo (“The Lord of the Rings”) to real-life figures such as Jesus Christ (“The Passion of the Christ”).
With the Twilight series’ latest film “New Moon” approaching $300 million, a new teen hero-heroine combo may soon be joining the list.
Falling in love with Edward Cullen (a 100+-year-old vampire), Bella Swan longs to be bitten to join him in vampire immortality. Edward resists Bella’s desire, however, for fear that vampires do not have souls. Nevertheless, Bella declares, “Then take my soul. I don’t care! I don’t want it without you.
On the surface, the Twilight series captures many of the heroic traits my students long for — self-sacrifice and self-control to name a few. But is Bella’s willingness to forego her human life — and even her soul — to fulfill the longing of being with Edward the message we want our children taking away from this fantasy?
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Manhattan pastor Tim Keller address the danger of turning a good thing (in this case a relationship) into an ultimate thing. In his latest book “Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters,” Keller warns his readers of the enormous power of romantic love over the human heart and imagination — to the point where it becomes so excessive that we no longer want to live without it (i.e. Bella and Edward.)
Which begs the question, where does the longing and hope for a hero — someone to save us from this fallen world — come from? I believe a personal God has hard-wired us for this type of hero, whose coming is celebrated by millions throughout the Advent season.
Take, for example, my son’s response to “The Blind Side” — the story of a homeless African American teen (now NFL star) Michael Oher and the Tuohy family who help him realize his potential.
When I asked my sports-oriented 11-year-old to share his favorite part of the story, I expected him to recount an exciting football moment or a great recruiting story. But the answer he gave caught me totally off guard.
It was the compassion shown by Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Sandra Bullock) upon first meeting Michael that deeply moved my son. Seeing Michael wearing only cut-off shorts, a t-shirt and ragged shoes on a frigid, snowy day, Leigh Anne tearfully learns his reason for heading to the school gym — not to practice, but to stay warm.
Through this encounter, Leigh Anne (who had been raised in a “very racist household”) determines to live out her Christian faith by not only providing clothing for this large, black teen, but hope as well. Leigh Anne brings Michael into her home — and through adoption — into her family.
While The Blind Side’s depiction of Christians is not always flattering, the authenticity of Leigh Anne’s faith is undeniable. And as Bullock shared after meeting the real-life Leigh Anne, “I finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach.” My son saw that, too.
Ultimately, “New Moon” and “The Blind Side” offer two contrasting heroines. While Bella seeks to gratify herself to the point of losing her life and soul, Leigh Anne puts the need of another first. For what motivates Leigh Anne is the only hope that matters — a hero worth living for.
John A. Murray is the Headmaster of The Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac, MD.