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‘If heroes fix things and I am not a hero, then it’s not my job to fix things’

Musician, speaker and author David LaMotte tells APCE gathering he prefers movement stories over hero stories

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

David LaMotte helped provide music and led a workshop during last week’s annual gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. (Photo courtesy of David LaMotte)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It’s clear Presbyterian musician, author and speaker David LaMotte prefers movement stories to the more dramatic hero narratives coming out of Hollywood studios.

In fact, LaMotte, who was otherwise busy last week helping to provide catchy, singable music during the annual gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, took time to lead a workshop he called “The Downside of Hero Stories.”

“We are soaked in these stories from all sides,” he said, displaying slides of Wonder Woman and any number of male action heroes. “But there’s an alternative narrative, which has the added benefit that it’s true.”

That’s the movement narrative in which “large-scale change happens when many people make small, intentional efforts in the same direction. This is how history happens,” LaMotte said.

Rather than waiting for a hero to step in and take dramatic action to avert a crisis, it’s better to take the movement approach, LaMotte recommended. Five steps are involved:

  • Pick something you care about.
  • Find your community.
  • Figure out the tools at your disposal.
  • Make a plan to do something achievable.
  • Get to work.

“If heroes fix things and I am not a hero, then it’s not my job to fix things,” he said. “That’s problematic, especially for people of faith.”

“It’s not the hero’s fault,” he added, “that we heroify them. The difference between a hero and a leader is largely in the way we relate to them.”

Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks had been an NAACP activist for more than 20 years — including 13 years as chapter secretary — when she was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, for disobeying a bus driver’s directive to move toward the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Her arrest followed that of Claudette Colvin, who movement leaders concluded wouldn’t be the preferred test case that Parks proved to be.

Parks had of course been to countless NAACP meetings.

“You know what changes the world? Committees!” LaMotte said, eliciting laughter from a workshop full of Presbyterians. “People gather to talk about what needs to be done and who’s going to do it. That’s what changes the world.”

The bus boycott organizer was Jo Ann Robinson, who as a member of the Women’s Political Council of Montgomery had been “agitating for change” in the city’s bus service, LaMotte said, including pushing for more stops in black neighborhoods and more black drivers to serve those neighborhoods. On the night of Parks’ arrest, she called two of her students — she was a professor of English — and they mimeographed more than 50,000 flyers explaining the planned boycott, dropping them off to boycott captains early the next morning.

Boycott organizers selected the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the effort, LaMotte said, in part because “he was new in town and didn’t have complex relations with the other pastors.”

The bus boycott “is largely understood and told as a hero story,” he said, but it’s much more about the movement undergirding the events that set the movement in place.

LaMotte called belief in hero or movement narratives “the biggest split in Christendom.”

“The hero narrative is that Jesus paid my debt and saved me” by his death and resurrection, LaMotte said. “My job is to clap, praise, worship and tell the story.”

“The movement narrative is that Jesus showed me a whole new way to be in the world. He invited me to join him in making room for the kindom right here on Earth,” he said. “That’s a different story, y’all.”

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