Recently, I’ve been thinking about the people who I look up to in life. I’ve been in the ministry world for so long that it has become easy to be myopic and only see the people who are in my discipline. But let’s face it, the superstars of preaching are part of a rather exclusive world. Outside of our circle of ministry interests, few know their names.
The person down the street has no idea who John Piper or Mark Driscoll or Charles Spurgeon are. The guy at the grocery store couldn’t pick Rob Bell or Craig Groeschel out of a lineup. And while I am encouraged and motivated by the work the Holy Spirit does through men like these, they’re not really my heroes. If anything, they’re my peers who are just way ahead of me on the curve.
Growing up, I had one hero who stood out above the rest.
In 1986, my world was forever changed by a little known, made-for-television biopic of P. T. Barnum starring Burt Lancaster. For some reason, my parents had taped the entire miniseries and I sat through the entire thing – mesmorized.
Over the years, I have watched that movie at least 25 times. There were weeks were I watched little else. Years later, when the VHS tape finally died on me, I bought a used copy on ebay from a defunct video store.
Because P. T. Barnum was a visionary. He was stubborn as a mule but smart as a fox. He knew what people wanted before they knew themselves. He was an entertainer; he was an impressario; he was an original. In short, the man was a genius.
Most people know nothing of the man who almost single-handedly created the American entertainment business. But I found out about him.
Here was a flawed man (he went bankrupt ten times over his lifetime) who struggled with the worst life could throw at you, and yet he stayed true to his vision. He stayed true to what he knew to be true.
The one quote that stuck in my head through my childhood and into my adulthood is the one that Barnum credits his grandfather with:
Imagination, Phineas. Imagination – the elixir of life, the seed of greatness.
I’ve always been a bit of a military history nut. At least as far back as I can remember, I heard stories from my dad’s vast knowledge of Civil War trivia. The Civil War stuff was interesting, but when I discovered World War II in my junior high World History class, I knew I had found my niche. (I wouldn’t discover my true passion, ancient history, until college.)
Of all the World War II generals (and there are a lot of them!), none held my interest like the desert fox – Erwin Rommel.
Here was a guy who had shown initiative and a willingness to do what it took to win; but he was also a family man, a patriot and – like Barnum – a pure, unadulterated genius.
Who else could delay the British by making mock tanks out of Volkswagens and driving the same tanks around a city block for a parade to give the impression that there were hundred of tanks in Tripoli? Or cook an egg on a tank to show the German public how hot it was in the deserts?
Best of all, he was not a follower. Rommel was his own man. When he saw a British personnel carrier more fitted to the desert, Rommel abandoned his German command vehicle for the British one (called a “mammoth”). This would have been unpatriotic if anyone else did it, but when Rommel did it, it was hailed as a move of innovation and superior intelligence.
When called upon to do his duty to his nation, even with next to no resources, Rommel improvised and adapted. Barnum’s genius was his ability to see what no one else could. Rommel’s genius was improvising with what he had on hand.
Rommel’s worst sin was to be on the wrong side of a war. If he had been French or British, he would have memorials to his genius all over the world.
In no apparent orders, some other great minds that have influenced me are: Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Eric Clapton, Sir Leonard Wooley, E. A. Wallis Budge, Stephen King, George S. Patton, Ronald Reagan, Robert E. Lee, George Washington. There are a slew of others.
But Rommel and Barnum influenced me the most, the deepest.