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Essay

Courage

By March 16, 2013 No Comments
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Twice, yesterday, I got teary eyed. I don’t cry easily; I guess it’s a character flaw. But yesterday – twice – I ended up wiping tears from my eyes. What’s strange, maybe even embarrassing, is what caused this moist, salty, discharge. Two separate movie scenes: one from a trailer, and one from The Rise of the Guardians. I know, I’ve written about the Guardian flick before – I don’t intend to rehash previous discussions. Interestingly, the culprit was a scene in which the main character, Jack Frost, wasn’t yet Jack Frost – he was just a boy, a brother, ice skating with his sister when the ice started to break. With one heroic act Jack flings his sister to safety only to find himself in danger. The ice breaks and Jack sinks into the cold, dark, water. The second clip is a trailer for the upcoming Superman movie. A bus full of children plummets into a raging river, followed by a picture of a boy pushing the bus up onto the river bank as a women’s voice says “My son was in that bus. He saw what Clark did.” I couldn’t help myself; my heart felt like it was going to explode. I almost wept…

Why would a silly superhero trailer bring such a strong emotional response? And why would a movie I’ve seen before bring me to tears? On Thursday night at 6pm a 16 year old girl was visiting Falls Park in Sioux Falls with her family. Falls Park is a beautiful water fall right in the middle of Sioux Falls, SD. I’ve taken my kids there countless times – each time they’ve climbed over rocks, jumped over crevasses, and went too close to the water for my anxious liking. I can imagine the crowd that was there; it was a warm day and the snow was melting, which meant the falls would be full, spectacularly overflowing. At 6pm on Thursday a six year old boy went too close to the edge and fell in. Without thinking, his 16 year old sister jumped in after him, followed closely by a complete stranger – a man in his early 30’s. At some point the boy resurfaced – thrust up onto the rocks on the river bank to safety. His 16 year old sister and the complete stranger were gone – nowhere to be found. The ice on the river and the foam from the falls made rescue efforts nearly impossible. The girl’s body was recovered the next morning; the stranger’s body has yet to be found. This was the source of the my tears. For some reason, all day yesterday, I couldn’t shake this story. I still think about this girl’s parents; I think about her family and friends. I think about this little boy who was just doing what boys do. I think about the young man who jumped in after people he didn’t even know.

I think about all the things we try to teach our kids. We want them to be nice and courteous; we want them to love others and to be good disciples of Jesus. We want them to be moral and peaceful, to get along with others. How do we teach them to be courageous? Not in a super hero sort of way; true courage is found when our our finite humanity bumps up against its limitations. How do we teach our kids that the gospel is not just a call to personal or cultural transformation, but that it also calls us to have the courage to stand alongside the outcast, the suffering, and the defenseless? It doesn’t ask for a cost / benefit analysis; it asks for decisive action with no regard for ourselves or our well being. 

The question I keep asking myself – Could I do it? Would I do it? If my son or daughter had fallen into that river I know I would have been in the water in a heartbeat. But a complete stranger? I’m not sure. Thursday night two people had the courage to jump in that icy water. My tears were for them…

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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