Flawed Heroes

Jean Vanier

Yesterday I heard the expression, ‘He can’t walk and chew gum at the same time’. I was amused. I assumed it was about an inability to multi-task.

I was more amused to learn that President Johnson had said it of Gerald Ford, implying that his inability to do two tasks simultaneously demonstrated his limited intelligence.*

I have been musing on ‘holding two ideas simultaneously’.

George Floyd has been praised as a gentle giant, a man of peace who worked to improve his community. This deeply spiritual family man attended church and prayed.

And yet he was also a criminal who had spent five years in prison for armed robbery. He had a drug problem that continued to his death.

Martin Luther King was a civil rights leader of intellect and spiritual depth. His peaceful protests, struggle for social justice, and ultimate martyrdom are legendary.

But he had a weakness for women and marital infidelities; he plagiarised academic work and sermons. At his death he was hated by other black civil rights leaders. The FBI called him, ‘the most dangerous man in America’.

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, established communities where people with intellectual and mental disabilities were loved and cared for. He gave up power and money for the poor and outcast. His writings, example and communities are inspirational and life transforming.

Any yet since his death it has been revealed that he sexually abused a number of vulnerable women…

The Biblical narrative is one of flawed heroes – Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul. Often the greatest men and women have the greatest weaknesses and make the greatest mistakes.

We can mentally chew gum and walk. We hold the tension of the paradox that a hero can also be a villain.

I am encouraged – I can still be an imperfect hero!

*Apparently President Johnson said of Gerald Ford, who later became president, ‘He is so dumb that he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.’ The US media deliberately misrepresented the remarks in the interest of decency.

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