In our world today we seem to measure greatness by the amount of attention or recognition one gets. Sometimes the attention is connected to accomplishment of some sort, and sometimes it is merely the byproduct of self-promotion, or even of some notorious behavior. With cell phone cameras, instant digital video, and the internet, it is becoming an increasingly public world. It is easy to put oneself in the public consciousness, or to be put there, even unbeknownst, by someone else. Greatness and notoriety have become interchangeable.
A politician, social activist, or minister who finds the camera often enough will take on a mantle of greatness whether that moniker is actually deserved or not. Witness the homage we pay to the Nancy Pelosi’s, the Al Sharptons and the Benny Hinns of the world. A music group can be promoted to the top of the industry much the same as an individual can be exalted by his handlers.
But exposure, in my view, does not constitute greatness, nor does accomplishment, even on a grand scale. I see greatness as an internal quality, a character casserole of sorts, a quiet contribution to the world, the kind of contribution that the world would miss were it not present, a contribution which does not necessarily have ones name prominently, or publicly attached.
I know a young woman who claims to be in Christian ministry. She travels around the world supposedly saving the under-privileged in the under-developed regions of under-developed countries she wants to see. I think SHE is under-developed. But what do I know.
She counts, and keeps track of, supposed conversions resulting from her ‘ministry’, as if she could know another’s heart, then prints those results on her web page, and in fund-raising newsletters she sends out to solicit additional support to enable her to continue to travel around and see the rest of the world. She includes pictures of little black children whose lives she has supposedly improved, and whose souls she has supposedly saved. She considers herself a preacher, a teacher, and an evangelist. She exploits her parents, she asks other people for gifts. She asks them to pay her debts, to furnish her house, to commit to monthly contributions so she can afford to raise the family she wants to have. She owns her own house back in her own hometown, but conveniently leaves that part out of her fundraising communiqués. She claims to be following the Lord by faith. She brags about her goodness in ways that fool people into thinking she is glorifying God. She tries to dress self-aggrandizement in humility.
She is not a great woman. She mistakes ambition for greatness. She embodies why I left the church more than 30 years ago.
My little brother is a great man. Growing up in the shadow of two older brothers, he received very little attention. My older brother was the golden child, and he fulfilled that expectation. I was the sensitive, troubled child, and I fulfilled that expectation until I became strong enough to break those chains. But my little brother was only expected to get through life without fucking up too bad. He did so much more than that. He spent many years baking that character casserole inside himself. He found ways to share the cooking with those around him. He worked a job, educated himself, raised a family, helped support a larger community, and gave of himself as opportunity arose around him. He has worked in Christian ministry for most of his life, he just doesn’t call it that. And he doesn’t ask for donations. He quietly helps mold the character of teen-agers with whom he interacts. He provides help for those who need it. He gives of himself, of his time, and of his resources. He has been taking off work, going down to New Orleans, and helping to clean and rebuild houses and homes for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. He’s been doing this since the beginning. He does it quietly. He doesn’t ask for anything in return, and he doesn’t post his business on the internet.
And he cares for our parents in their old age.
I wish the young woman I spoke of could get to know my little brother. It would do her well to become more like him. It would do us all good.
My little brother is a great man.