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Father of Steel!

My father passed away in October, 2012 at the age of 98. This will be my first Father’s Day without him. I just recently had a birthday reaching the venerable age of 58. 58! When did that happen? But, this birthday was bittersweet because I was born on my father’s 41st birthday. This was my father’s first birthday without him. He would have been 99. So, birthday and Father’s Day have always had a very special meaning for me. They arrive almost simultaneously each year and in the past, this has meant a blow out party mainly focused on my father. At 98, his last birthday should be properly celebrated! This year, no celebration.

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To say I am sad is an understatement. To say I am wistful is a given. But, I want to talk about something entirely different. Movie critics. Now that we have the internet, movie critics are coming out of our pores! If you want to see a movie and want to search diligently, you can find a positive review somewhere, even if the movie is horrendous. Conversely, the “mainstream” critics seem to have an unspoken agreement and routinely pan or praise movies in tandem. Case in point was “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Most of the mainstream critics praised the movie. And yet, according to detractors, this movie has NOT met the financial goals of the studios. Great reviews; poor box office returns. Certainly not on the same scale as “After Earth” which was universally panned by mainstream critics and fanboy critics.

What is interesting is that both of these movies touch on fathers. In After Earth, the father son relationship is at the center of the story. In Star Trek, it is the fatherly relationship between Kirk and Pike that drives Kirk to become the man he must become in order to be an effective captain to his crew. I have not seen After Earth. I will not see After Earth. But, I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness 4 times. Okay, so I’m a Trekker. I have been since I watched the very first televised episode on network television way back in 1966.

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Yesterday, my daughter and I went to see “Man of Steel”. I checked out the mainstream critics. They were unimpressed with the movie calling it “dour”, “deadpan”, “lacking chemistry”, “tedious”, and “boring”. Even the fanboy/geek sights were unimpressed. Not on the scale of “After Earth” but for a movie with this much anticipation, the criticism was worrisome. I went into the movie expecting to be disappointed. I was not.

First, let me say that this movie has so much emotion, I cried at least three times. Yes, I am a man. And, yes, I cry sometimes at movies. It has to be a really, really effective movie to make me cry. I am a writer. I am getting older. I have seen every movie trope there is. It takes a lot to impress me. It takes a lot to make me cry. Both Star Trek movies made me cry at very unexpected times. I did NOT see those moments coming and for me, that is the best “thumbs up” a movie can get from Bruce Hennigan.

In “Man of Steel”, I was so moved by key scenes. The artists behind this movie were brilliant in their use of flashbacks and set pieces that spoke volumes without a single word being uttered. Watch for the “rebellion” scene in the truck between Clark and Jonathan Kent. I dare you to NOT hold your breath! Don’t miss the simple, quiet flashback at the end of the story where not a word is uttered but the scene beneath a clothesline is the single most moving moment in a movie I have experienced in years!

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Secondly, this movie was a believable story. I had the privilege of experiencing the first Superman movie in the theaters. I was amazed that a man could fly. Christopher Reeves nailed the character of Superman and the Kent farm scenes were beautifully filmed and moving. But, all of these films were filled with campy, tongue in cheek moments. The assumption was while you may believe a man can fly, Superman could never really exist in our world. He is a comic book character. The reason “Man of Steel” has been labeled as “dour” and “boring” is because it dares to tell a story that is REAL. I believed that Clark Kent could have existed and that somewhere out there he waits to put on the cape and save the world. This movie was never as dark as the Batman movies. But, it carried a serious tone that just worked. Period. Was it filled with comedic moments? No. Was it moving and satisfying as a cohesive, believable story? You bet you!

Third, this movie was about a father and a son. For the first time in all the years I have read comics and watched movies, Jor-El was a real character filled with bravado and idealism and a love for his son that transcended the world in which he lived. Jor-El fought for his son’s future. Jor-El was a true father — wise, strong, and willing to fight for what he believed even if it cost him his life. Russell Crowe has never been better. Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner was perfect. His conflicted fatherhood was obvious — torn between protecting his son from the ridicule of a world that saw him as different with the desire to let his son beat the crap out of a bunch of bullies. Jonathan Kent’s soft spoken, spare words of wisdom were just right. And that scene — oh that scene in the truck. Wait for it and I dare you to not be moved!

Which brings me back to my own father. Experiencing “Man of Steel” brought back so many memories of my father. Like Clark, I grew up on a farm. Like Jonathan Kent, my father was a man of few words to me. He spoke eloquently from the pulpit and sang wondrous songs and was a true ham when it came to showmanship. But, his relationship with me was at best tentative in my early years. Like Clark, I rebelled against my father and the most painful moment of my teenage years was the day I made him cry because of my behavior. In my mind’s eye, I see my father standing on the edge of eternity, with so many years of life behind him and now facing the brink of darkness and he nods at me as if to say, “I hope I taught you well, son. Go change the world.”

One last note. There has been a huge swell of interest in the possibility that Superman in “Man of Steel” was deliberately patterned after Jesus. In fact, I read where the movie studio was hoping that Christians would think this also and go see the movie. But, as usual, the media, the internet movie critics, and the Hollywood “story” machine just don’t get it. Clark Kent, Kal-El is mortal. He is a man of flesh and is given in to temptation and the desire to do harm to others. The telling final battle between Superman and Zod define it all and Superman’s inevitable solution is very, very human.

Let me be very clear here. Jesus Christ was a real person not a comic book character. He existed and history does not dispute this. Some think that Jesus was the product of our imagination; our desire as a primitive people to create transcendent heroes to give meaning to our paltry lives. No, that would be true of Superman, but never of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, we see elements of the character of Jesus in Clark Kent. But, that is true of any human being. Each of us has the capacity and the desire for altruism, for forgiveness, for love, and yes, for self sacrifice. That does not make anyone of us Jesus. It does mean that those characteristics are there for a reason. We are made in the image of God. God who is creator, sustainer, lover of humanity, and capable of great sacrifice. And yes, capable of the gentle, and sometimes harsh hand of fatherly discipline. Jesus was God in man form. The attributes we see in “Christ” figures are very poor reflections of the true character of Christ. He was without wrong doing. He was without failure. His every word and deed were carefully planned and thought out. His life was the ultimate Story that gives our lives meaning. This cannot be said of Superman.

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What we see in Superman and the Doctor and a myriad of “super heroes” is our need for a savior. Can someone please save us? Please? Save us from what, you ask? Ourselves!

For this father’s day, go see “Man of Steel”. For the day after, seek the true Father Son relationship in the person of Jesus Christ. Find your Savior!

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We’ll Follow the Old Man Because We Love Him!

waverlyEvery Christmas I make sure and watch one of my favorite movies of all time, White Christmas. Yes, I love the song. Yes, I love the romantic angle. Yes, I love the story of loyalty to old friends. But the real reason this movie touches me is because of the relationship between General Waverly and his men. When the film opens, a tired, war weary group of men are trying to celebrate Christmas Eve on the German front. General Waverly is being sent back to the states. The men sing a song to “the old man”.

We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go

Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe

We’ll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay

Long as he stays away from the battle’s fray

Because we love him, we love him

Especially when he keeps us on the ball

And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call

With the grandest son of a soldier of them all!

It is hard for us to understand this kind of devotion in today’s jaded, cynical world. A group of men so tightly devoted to each other they would tell their leader they “love” him? Unthinkable!

Why did they love General Waverly so? What characteristics of his leadership inspired this kind of devotion? A key to understanding the answer to this question can be found in the following dialogue. Bob Wallace, played by Bing Crosby and Phil Davis, played by Danny Kaye have arrived at the General’s inn in Vermont and watch as the man once a commander is now cleaning kitchen floors. This is what they said:

Bob Wallace: We ate, and then he ate. We slept, then he slept.

Phil Davis: Yeah, then he woke up and nobody slept for forty-eight hours.

Walt-Disney-Disneyland-CastleOne of my favorite photographs shows Walt Disney walking through Snow White’s castle in a very early Disneyland. Walt was famous for his “management by walking around” philosophy. He would pop up unannounced and ride the rides; watch the shows; listen to the musicians. Yes, he was a stickler for quality but more than anything, he wanted to be a part of his creation. He would wander the hallways of the animation studio after the animators left for the day and dig through their trash to find new ideas. He really believed in his animators. And, his expectations were very tight and rigid, but inside he cared about his employees; he loved them. There were many times he would take an employee who was in trouble and pay his salary while he dried out in what we would call today “rehab”. In fact, when his animators joined the union, Walt was devastated. He considered them a part of his family and the decision to join the union was akin to saying they didn’t appreciate his tender care.

I’ve been writing blogs the past few days about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m trying to focus on his teachings and put aside, for now, his claims to be the Messiah. His teachings are universal and transcend anyone’s religion. And, in the history of mankind no one has changed the world than this one man and his 12 followers. What did Jesus do that inspired these simple men to go out and literally turn the world upside down?

Many books have been written about Jesus’ “leadership” style but I believe it comes down to a simple act that typified Jesus’ approach to assuring these men would indeed change the world.

It is the night of his betrayal and Jesus and his disciples are gathered in a room to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread prior to the Passover. It is a somber and moving dinner filled with meaning and remembrance of the passing over the children of Israel by the angel of death while they were slaves in Eqypt. Imagine the men talking among themselves; eager to take their place at the right hand of this new king who would soon overthrow the tyranny of the Romans. They are excited; filled with hubris and arrogance; over confident after Jesus’ reception by the people of Jerusalem. Suddenly, the door to the other room opens. Standing in the doorway is Jesus. He has taken off his robe and wrapped a towel around his bare waist. His chest glistens with sweat and his eyes are filled with a haunting passion. He holds a wooden bowl filled with tepid water. As the disciples watch in utter amazement, this man; this king; this ruler of all of mankind kneels before the first of his disciples and begins to wash the man’s nasty, dirty feet.

Shocked and stunned they whisper among themselves as their leader takes their feet, dipping them into the warm water and washes away the dirt. Their king is kneeling before THEM! The world has turned upside down.

This stunning development was just the beginning of a huge paradigm shift for these men. Later, anticipating a board room meeting in which each man would receive his marching orders and his assignment in the new hierarchy Jesus shocks them again with these words:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Stop here for a moment and really hear those words. Jesus is talking about love? Not conquest or battle strategy or corporate intrigue. He has become a servant to his men and now he speaks of love! How has he loved these men? Listen to his next words:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

There is an awful lot love mentioned in this section. The word here is a Greek word, agape meaning “the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.”

In fact, the original Greek word, agapao, has taken on this meaning through its use by Jesus of Nazareth and his followers. There are some interesting words in the above definition such as “the love of one’s fellow man” and “unconditional, self-sacrificing”. I could go on but lets stop right here for now. Let’s look at what Jesus of Nazareth is telling us about his concept of being a “king” or a “leader”. Simply, put Jesus of Nazareth is teaching us:

You cannot be an effective leader until you know how to follow.

You cannot ask someone to serve you until you know what it is like to serve someone.

Loyalty is freely given and cannot be demanded.

The truest form of “friendship” is based on “agape” love.

Jesus of Nazareth redefined love as unconditional and self-sacrificial love for his fellow man; his friends.

As this season approaches, no matter what your worldview; no matter if you believe in God or not; these simple teachings of Jesus of Nazareth carry profound implications for us today. If we are to be the kind of leader that changes the world; the kind of leader that results in “love” from our “followers”; the kind of leader that inspires the kind of creativity and self sacrifice we see in the above two modern examples then we must first understand that the highest place to lead from is often at the feet of those we serve!wash-jesus-washing-apostles-feet-christian-art_290281018067

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