What Defines Us?


Second Lt. Charles “Charlie” Brown and his B-17 crew had just finished a mission bombing several areas in Germany. Their B-17, severely damaged in the skirmish and riddled with bullets tearing the plane apart, amazingly could still fly. There was a dead gunner with injured crew throughout. Their main obstacle was that they would have to cross enemy lines to get to the North Sea and home to safety. Their plane was defenseless with no way of defending themselves from any attack. Things seemed hopeless. They thought, “what could be worse?” It was December 1943, five days before Christmas.

Then from the clouds appeared another nightmare. A German Messerschmitt approached them. Second Lt. Franz Stigler came upon the crippled American ship and, at first, saw it as an easy kill. As he neared the craft, he could see that it was defenseless and that shooting down a plane in this shape would be to him, not war, but murder. He peered at the crew and thought of them as men with families at home, and it touched his heart.

Instead of shooting down the B-17, Stigler flew in formation beside the American ship. They crossed the German front with those on the ground seeing a captured plane by Stigler, or so they thought. He continued to fly with them as they crossed the shore and over the sea. Stigler turned and flew back to German territory with a final salute and a gesture pointing the direction to safety.

It is often in times of distress and turmoil that people bind closer together. September 11, 2001, the U.S. brought our country closer together. Flags sold out; the color of skin didn’t matter; we were all one. It was reminiscent of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when a country pulled together from depression and poverty. You watch the storms from the past few years, and you see people helping people regardless of religion, skin color, and nationality. These instances and others show where people saw each other as people and not a political statement or racial bias. Amid disaster, they responded to a need. 

What defines us as human beings? Who we are is defined by how we react when things don’t go as we hope. We are defined by how we accept disappointment. We are defined by how we accept life when we are on the losing side. We are defined by how we react to those who oppose us. We are defined by how we live and act and speak when life throws us a curve. We are defined by how we treat our enemies or those who wrong us. 

The world does not determine who we are as individuals. The world’s events around us only influence us if we allow them to enter our thoughts and feelings. We have the power to remain respectful, with our heads held up high, no matter what happens around us. Who I am depends on me and who I want to be in this world. The world contains many things of which I have no control. I can vote for the president, but I have no control over the outcome. I can wear my mask and keep social distancing, but I have no control over what happens daily. I can close my doors and windows, but I cannot control the winds and rains and damage they may do. However, I do have control over how I will react in these and so many other situations. I determine how my life is defined.

It’s not an easy road to take. Even Paul struggled with keeping himself in control. He writes to the Romans, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.Romans 7:15-20 (NIV2011)

After the war, Brown and Stigler later met and became friends. It happened because of one man defining his life by being a person of compassion, even though those above him would undoubtedly disapprove. The event was labeled “Top Secret.” If the German command higher-ups had known what happened, Stigler would have likely faced execution. 

So, what defines us? How will we react to events around us? Will we give in to the ways of the world, or will we be defined by how Jesus wants us to respond to life? We hold within our hands the ability to choose.

(Note: Find the full story of Brown and Stigler in Adam Makos’ “A Higher Call.”)

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ


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