In Out Stealing Horses, a novel by Per Petterson of Norway and winner of the 2007IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and translated by Anne Born (Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2005) Trond Sander’s sister cites David Copperfield. Dickens gives David Copperfield these words: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show” (p.212). In a way that is the question of Petterson’s novel: whether Sander or his father is really the hero of the story. But it is a good question for all of us along with that of whether we ought to be the heroes of our own lives if we are Christians.
I have from time to time wondered if we should not be rather more like ‘fifth business’, the character in a classical play who is minor, yet without whom the action cannot really occur. There would generally have been protagonist, antagonist, their seconds and then fifth business. At the risk of being trite, it seems that somehow Jesus would be the hero of our stories. This year I had the privilege of preaching at the convocation of the Yale Divinity School that was also the twenty-fifth reunion of the class with which I was graduated. I had begun thinking about this hero business even then, largely inspired by the work of James Alison. If you are interested in more you can find a manuscript of that sermon here.