Bravery and Heroism

Yesterday I went with another dad and took our kids to see the new Pixar movie Brave. Pixar has done a remarkable job at telling meaningful tales that delight audiences of all ages (ala the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo, Cars, etc.). Brave, while maybe not quite as well-developed as the other Pixar movies, still delivers a quality story with humor, action, and (gasp) even a lesson.

In addition, Pixar adds their first female lead to Disney's princess line--but don't expect her to be like the other princesses. Plus, as a period piece, we get to explore a fantastic (as in fantasy-based) Scottish setting during the time when clans reigned.

Actually the movie probably isn't limited to just one lesson. As with any good story, there tend to be layers of lessons. The movie begins with the moral: "Legends are lessons that ring with truth." Which, of course, lets you know you better pay attention to the story that follows.

Of course the main moral is bravery. There is a good amount of courage-in-the-face-of-danger bravery. And as only Celts could, we see a princess adept at archer, climbing cliffs and facing a menacing bear.

But bravery also shown as character. A big part of the story hinges on being able to swallow pride and admit one's mistakes.

Not everyone is going to like the movie. There is a witch--which some will balk at the spiritual implications of--and there is a strong female lead--which some will also balk at--but we enjoyed it. Again, not Pixar's best, but it was a good movie.

My wife and I also recently got to see The Avengers. With some notable exceptions, many of the more recent super-hero movies have provided a nice balance of lesson and fun action (as well as a decent story): the humility learned by Thor, the responsible use of power that Spiderman shows, and the acceptance of differences through the X-men for example.

The Avengers doesn't have such a blatant lesson. Though I think it shows us the need to accept help and work together to accomplish something bigger than our individual self. It does have plenty of action (it was actually a little overwhelming for us--the last hour was nonstop).

Heroes are always welcome, though. We live in a world in need of bravery and heroism. But you don't need to be a princess or a Norse god to be brave or heroic. Those are qualities we can develop, simply by doing what needs to be done when compassion, justice or humility are needed.


Adamantium Sticks and Young Boys

Tonight the boys' school had an open house at their new school building followed by a puppet performance by Open Eye Theater. We enjoyed seeing the new building, having fun, and seeing friends.

Afterward, the boys played for a while with other friends while the adults talked. At one point we saw Nils with three sticks between his fingers on each hand. I knew right away that he was pretending to be Wolverine from the X-Men comic books (Anders had checked one out at the library recently). (We did joke, however that he was pretending to be Freddy Krueger since he watches a Nightmare on Elm Street movie before going to bed each night--again, another joke.)

As Nils was playing with the other kids, he did a good job of not moving in a way that could harm someone--swinging his "claws" down instead of up and such.

They like to play superheroes. Usually it's Batman, Iron Man or Spiderman (especially the last two as we purchased costumes on sale from a store super cheap a few Halloweens ago). They like to read comic books and watch some cartoons (the only movie we've let them watch is the old Superman movie).

Superheroes, at their essence, are role models for us all. While we will likely never get bitten by a radio-active spider or experience a burst of gamma radiation, we all have the potential to do good. Superheroes are servants of the communities in which they reside. They seek to help those in need and to bring justice where there isn't any.

Of course, comic books also come with violence and other things that you don't always want impressionable young minds to interact with, but we try to find the "safer" books from the kids' section of the library. And I guess on the plus side, the action from the books leads them to active playing.

But more than that, I hope that the kids take with them the goal of making the world a better place--of serving others, of seeking justice, of righting wrongs. I hope that someday--even in the not-too-distant future--that the boys will be superheroes in their own rights. With their tender hearts (Anders loves to look out for younger kids and Nils likes to help people) they're on their way.


Small Town Festivities

My cousin got married this weekend. The boys and I (Beth had to stay behind) left early to have some time with family and have fun.

The day of the wedding also happened to be my hometown's summer celebration, and we had time to attend many of the festivities before the wedding. It used to be called Meat Days (a great name, I know)--a celebration of the meat-producing farm community around the city and the businesses within. The county Pork Producers, Beef Producers, and Turkey Producers all grilled meat to sell at the noon-time meal. Today it is called Summerfest as a recognition of the town's Swedish heritage (though the meat producers are all still central in the food tent).

Albert City, Iowa, boasts under 800 people within the city limits. When we say "small town," we mean it. If you've got a few thousand people in your city, you're no longer small--you need to be able to name everyone who lives there to be considered small. And while we don't like the fact that the economy keeps taking people away from farms and small towns, we like small town living. I now live in a city of almost 400,000 people surrounded by another 3 million in the metro area. It is quite a different life.

My boys got to experience small-town community, though. Summerfest began with a parade (doesn't every community celebration?). It has grown quite a bit since I was young (I understand thanks to the recruiting efforts of one woman in town)--there were 30-some entries in the parade. The parade goes down three blocks of man street, turns around and comes back. The boys enjoyed this because it meant people threw candy (and other items) to them twice. And they were quite generous in what they gave. Even though it was only 30 participants, and only some of those gave out candy, the boys still had a plastic bag nearly full.

The parade was followed by a Ping Pong Ball Drop. In age range groups, children waited beside one of the buildings on Main Street where a bucket of ping pong balls was emptied up above. As they balls bounced on the street, children raced to pick them up. When I was young they were worth a nickel, with specially marked balls worth more (and after we redeemed them we would often proceed to the dime store in town to spend it all on candy or baseball cards). Now they were all worth a quarter. The boys enjoyed scrambling for ping pong balls and getting rewarded for doing so.

We went up to the park for lunch (or dinner as the noon meal is called in farming communities) for the previously mentioned choice of pork, beef or turkey sandwich with beans, chips, drink and homemade ice cream. There was also a May Pole, but we were a bit disappointed as no one knew the Små Grodorna song that is traditionally sung around it. 

They boys also got to participate in a pedal pull (pedaling small tractors with a weighted pull behind them that increases in difficulty the further you go). They both did well--Anders ended up with a medal.  We quick ended our time there with a dip in the pool (as the city swimming pool was free that day) before heading off to the wedding. 

There were other events that weekend (a showing of the new Madagascar movie in the park--which I think was rained out, a softball tournament, the ubiquitous street dance, etc), but we enjoyed what we were able to fit in. 

I don't know everyone in town anymore like I used to (and I didn't even recognize a few former schoolmates right away), but it was good to be back. And I think the boys enjoyed getting to do things they wouldn't have done in a crowd of thousands of people. 


A 15 Year Jourey

In 15 Years:

  • 2 boys
  • 9 residencies
  • 4 States, 1 Province
  • 5 vehicles; 4 bikes (not counting the kids')
  • 1 Bachelors degree, 1 Masters degree, 1 Doctorate in the process
  • 1 Ordination
  • 2 outdoor cats (Hans & Olaf), 1indoor turtle (Muddy)
  • Countless friends and family

There have been plenty of heartaches, tough times and mistakes along the way. There have also been a lot of wonderful times. We've had memorable trips to Lake Superior, Ecuador, CHIC in Knoxville twice, Savannah, and Teddy Roosevelt, Glacier, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmoore National Parks and Monuments. We have fun and challenges bringing two wonderful boys into this world. We've been to some great family reunions. We got to go to Cornerstone Festival.

There are plenty of things I'd do over--regrets from mistakes I've made and such. I know I haven't loved as well as I should have most of the time. But through it all, I am grateful that my wife has been by my side. I'm married to a wonderful woman.


Encouraging Words

I was working in the yard this morning while the boys were playing in the pool when a gentleman walked by on his way to church, and in the midst of commenting on how nice the yard looked he said, "Thanks for being a blessing in the hood."

I know I can sometimes needlessly seek affirmation, but for the most part I garden and work in the yard because I enjoy it. Still, it was very nice to hear him say that.

And he was a man walking the walk...on his way to church (I could tell by his dress and the Bible in hand) he stopped to encourage a neighbor. And I appreciated it. Sometimes all the hood needs is more neighborly interaction like that. Most of the time all humanity needs is an encouraging words once in a while.

And while I may be "blessing the hood" by keeping a nice yard, our neighbor also showed me today the importance of blessing others with a kind word once in a while. Saying "hello" to someone goes a long way. Saying a sentence of affirmation can make a world of difference in someone's day.

I'm hoping that by writing this down, I'll remember to do the same.


Scenes from a Wedding

Photos by our friend Kristen Mrkonjic
I mentioned a few posts ago that I was preparing for my sister's wedding. She was married this past weekend.

It's a privilege to officiate at a sibling's wedding (I've been able to do both of my sisters' ceremonies, but had just started seminary when my brother was married). Anymore, that's the main way I get to be in a wedding. Which is fun, but also a little anxiety producing.

There is definitely more emotion when officiating (I had to fight off tears a few times--one of which was at the end when they wanted us to sing Richard K. Carlson's "The Blessing" to them, and the pianist didn't know he was supposed to be a part of that, so I--with the help of a few bridesmaids--started it a capella; that wasn't easy to get through).

I also don't feel worthy of being up there being able to officiate. Last week a friend of mine told me he uses these words whenever he preaches or does anything like that: "It is only by God's forgiveness that I am able to stand before you."

Which is true: there isn't really anything special about me (or any other pastor or officiant) that enables us to stand up front in a religious service. We may have a special degree and recognition for a denominational body or such, but God never did anything to me to make special.

Mostly I've been very cognizant of my own failures in ministry and marriage and many other places. So I hesitated to do the wedding. But it wasn't about me--and my sister still wanted me to even after knowing of my failures.

And I said in their wedding that it is only by God's grace that they (or any of us) can stand in a church and be married as well. God brings us together. We all have our shortcomings. We're not worthy of God's or someone else's love, but we still receive it. That is grace. A marriage needs that to survive--along with forgiveness.

The nieces and nephews
with their new Uncle
As is often said in a wedding, marriage is symbolic of God's love for us. The Bible frequently talks about how the love between a man and a woman in marriage is like Christ's love for His bride: the church. Sacrificially, selflessly, wholly. Of course, His love is perfect, and we frequently fall short.

The wedding also reminds me about how God adopts us into His family. I have a new brother now. He said, "I do," and is now a part of our family. I didn't have much choice in the matter, but I love him all the same. And I enjoy family. I know not everyone does, but I enjoy going to family reunions and all. Family accepts you--despite knowing you.

So, congratulations Amy and Caleb! Many blessings on your new journey together. Thank you for letting me be a part of your big day.