Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 15, 2006


People of strong character inspire us to live better lives


          Why do we enjoy good books and stories of heroic people? Surely it is because we like to be inspired to live better lives ourselves. The stories of men and women of noble character motivate us to raise the bar of our own standards of living.

          As I read through The Case for Character recently, I found myself looking for stories of exemplary people who have modeled strong character for us all. The author, Drayton Nabers, Jr., does not disappoint. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court tells of many persons who help illustrate his case for the noble virtue of character.

          The stories I like most are those that cause me to wonder if, in the same tough circumstances, I might have proven worthy of praise. We all like to think that, when the chips are down, we will not cave into greed or self-interest but will do the right thing or what is best for others.

          Nabers’ story of a hotel manager is a good one to ponder. Would I have had courage like that of Paul Rusesabagina? Would you? Since I have no idea how to pronounce his last name, I will just call him Paul.

          In 1994 Paul was manager of Rwanda’s finest hotel. (You may have seen his story in the movie Hotel Rwanda.) That year the majority Hutu tribe began a ruthless campaign of genocide against the smaller Tutsi people. Paul was caught in the middle. He was a Hutu married to a Tutsi woman.

          At first Paul offered refuge in his hotel only to family and friends. As the killing escalated, Paul risked his own life by taking in strangers. Soon his hotel housed over a thousand frightened people, mostly Tutsis. When the conflict finally ended, almost a million people had been killed. Somehow, though, Paul had managed to save the lives of almost all the people who had come to his hotel for safety.

          What courage Paul demonstrated! Though his own life was in jeopardy, he put other people ahead of his own self-interest. Would you or I have had that kind of back bone? We like to think we would have had we been in his place. That is what attracts us to stories of courageous people.

          Nabers reminds us of the power of example. He quotes Edmund Burke who said, “Example is the school of mankind. It will learn at no other.” When I read that I remembered what Albert Schweitzer said: “There is one way and only one way to influence others, and that is by example.”

          The Chief Justice paid a beautiful tribute to his mother and the power of her example. He describes her as a humble, faithful, praying woman, full of patient hope, who modeled in her life the two keys to virtue – self-denial and perseverance.

          His mother read to him and his two sisters every night. She enlisted his dad to read to the children also. The result of this reading is not surprising. Drayton observes, “We heard stories about virtuous people from the Bible and from classic children’s stories and fables. These, too, modeled and engendered a desire for a morally good life.”

          You no doubt know that Albert Schweitzer was the most famous Christian missionary of the 20th Century. Would you suppose he was influenced by the character and example of his parents? If you think so, you are right. On Sunday afternoons young Albert’s devout parents sat with him on the front porch and read stories of missionaries to the lad!

          Winston Churchill was a man recognized for his strong character. He lived 90 years as a man who influenced nations by his example and decisions. I had no idea that Sir Winston was a man of such strong Christian principles until I read a book on his life written by Stephen Mansfield. It is a fine book titled The Character and Greatness of Winston Churchill.

          Mansfield tells of the influence not so much of Winston’s parents but of his nanny – Elizabeth Everest. Churchill said he loved his mother “at a distance,” but he adored Mrs. Everest. She taught him the Scriptures. She taught him to pray. She taught him to trust God. In times of trouble, he found himself praying prayers he had learned at his nanny’s knee.

No wonder that throughout his life a picture of Mrs. Everest sat on his desk and lay at his bedside when he died.

Can the character and examples of others influence our lives? You betcha! Little wonder then that we treasure the stories of noble people. Such stories can make a powerful, lasting difference in our lives. + + + +