Jul 31, 2011

Eva Isabelle Blann, 1920-2011

Proverbs 31:10-31
A wife of noble character who can find?
  She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
  and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
  all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax
  and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
  bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
  she provides food for her family
  and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
  out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
  her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
  and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
  and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor
  and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
  for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
  she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
  where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
  and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
  she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
  and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
  and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
  her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
  but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
  but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
  and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

I've heard Proverbs 31 many times in my life.  As a man, I was encouraged to find a "Proverbs 31 Woman."  This chapter paints a picture of this extraordinary creature who seemingly does it all - and looks good doing it.  Naturally, guys WOULD gravitate towards this chapter.  I mean, who wouldn't want someone like that?  Women, unfortunately, have been saddled with living up to this chick for millennia.  Her children may rise up and called her blessed.  But future generations call her "troublemaker" and "curve wrecker."

When I was thinking about the life of Eva Blann, it was harder for me to put into words all that I wanted to say.  When her husband, H John Blann, passed away two years ago (almost exactly two years), the words just flowed out like my tears.  I had spent so much time with him that it just poured out.  But when I tried to put a point to my thoughts on Grandma Blann, it wasn't so easy.  It wasn't because I didn't love her as much.  She was as dear to me as my own flesh and blood family.  She treated me just like her biological grandchildren, even though I was an in-law.  And we had many conversations as well.  But it just wasn't as simple to express.

When Grandma passed away earlier, the first thing to popped to mine was Proverbs 31.  And finally I knew what to say.  I think my confusion came because there was SO MUCH to put down.  As I read through that passage again, I saw Grandma's picture emerging through every line.  From the very beginning, about being a woman of good character.  This was not ever in doubt.  Grandma was the most noble woman of high character I could ever imagine.  I remember any time a joke even approached some sort of line, she would just smile and say, "Oh my," or "Oh my stars."  Heather has told me about when she was a child that Grandma sat the kids down and gave them a lecture on the meanings of euphemisms when one of the kids dared to say "gosh."

Her husband has full confidence in her.  She brings him only good and no harm.  I cannot even imagine a couple that were closer than Eva and John.  They were just a set.  But this is also one area that helped me to know why it was hard to figure out my thoughts.  All that time I spent with Grandpa - she was there just about every time.  She may have been in the kitchen and we were in the living room.  Or she was in the living room and we were in the kitchen.  Or she was sitting in her chair reading and not even listening to what we were saying.  (Or so it appeared.)  She knew he had stuff to do.  He needed to minister to me - and she let him.  She stepped back and let him do it, but was right there the whole time.  It takes an amazing amount of grace to be a pastor's wife.  She did it better than just about anyone.  She enhanced his ministry because she brought so much to the proverbial table and took absolutely nothing off it.

All the lines about wool and flax and making coverings for the bed just made me think of Grandma.  Every one of her grandchildren have an afghan she crocheted for them.  There were always blankets and clothes around the house that she had made.  When it talks about grasping the spindle with her fingers, I can't help of think about Grandma's hands.  She played the piano, she crocheted, she cooked, she worked hard.  Her hands were always working (vigorously, like the proverb says).  The thing that amazed me when I found it out was that she had nine fingers.  This endlessly fascinated my kids, especially the story of how she lost the tenth one.  She got bit by a snake while serving as a missionary in Africa.  And she lost her finger.  But that never seemed to affect her at all.  She did more with nine fingers than most did with ten.  And most people probably never even knew one was gone.

She gets up when it is night.  By the the time I rolled into the picture, Grandma and Grandpa were up in years.  And, as is required for all older people, they got up at Oh Dark Thirty.  They were up very early and eating breakfast.  They also used their early mornings to pray for their family.  They had a notebook with every family member's name in it.  And they prayed for all of them every day.  They also prayed for friends and missionaries and pastors and leaders and anyone else you asked them to.  That's how they operated.

So many other little phrases just jump out to me.  Opens her arms to the poor.  She speaks with wisdom. She watches over her household - and can tell you exactly when the garage went up when you got home.  It was like the passage was written about this woman.  She did all of those things.  She never knew a stranger.  Grandma and Grandpa knew everyone who worked at the neighborhood Wendy's.  They greeted them every time they went there and talked to them like they had grown up on the same block.  This was Wendy's, people.  She didn't care.  Those people needed love and Grandma was going to love on them.

And when this tremendous woman's life is over, her children do arise and call her blessed.  Two weeks ago, all four of her children were down to see Grandma.  They came to spend some final time with this incredible lady.  The woman who watched her new husband leave on a boat to serve in Africa, knowing she wouldn't see him for months - if everything went well.  The woman who delivered a breech baby in an African field hospital.  The woman who raised four of the godliest people I have ever met.  She never stopped being that woman.  She used to spend time with my kids drawing and reading.  My youngest one, Gabe, had a special place in his heart for her.  He used to come crawl up into her lap in the recliner on Sundays waiting for lunch and have her read books to him.  He would pretend to "fix" her walker with a toy wrench.  And she loved it.  The staff at the assisted living facility she has lived in for the last few years were so heartbroken at the thought of this lady passing away that they desperately clutched at any hope to keep her there.  But you can't cure old age.  And time runs out for every one of us.  It was time for her to go home to see her Heavenly Father and be reunited with her husband.  And it was time for us to say goodbye.

You can't just say goodbye to someone like that.  The loss of a person that is so incredible just leaves a gaping hole in your life.  You know it is inevitable.  And in some ways you are glad, just because they aren't suffering any more.  But there is a gaping space where they used to be.  And then you look around and realize that they are a part of your entire life.  There are the physical mementos, like the old books and gifts she has given you over the years.  And there are the memories that flood back.  But a big part of it is the very foundation on which you stand.  She helped to lay that through her sacrifice and love and teaching and serving.  It wasn't ever flashy.  But it was always meaningful.  It always communicated the love of God.  It may have just seemed like a peach jello salad brought to a Sunday lunch to a random observer.  But it was so much more than that.  It was the fact that she remembered that the husband of one of her seventeen grandchildren loved that peach jello salad.  And she knew that he and his family were going to be in town for lunch that day.  And she wanted him to feel loved.  And so she made it and brought it over.  She gave him a big hug, like every time she saw him.  She saw his big smile at the salad and smiled back.  Then she quietly went in the kitchen so that he could spend time with her husband - knowing how desperately he needed to have someone like that invest time in his life.  And she prayed for him to get what he needed as she helped set the table.

THAT'S a woman worth praising.  That is the kind of woman I hope my daughter grows up to be like.  That is the kind of woman I hope my sons are blessed enough to marry.  That is the kind of woman that I was fortunate enough to marry and that I thank God every day for.  [She learned how to be that kind of woman at the feet of her mother (another example of that kind of woman) and her grandmother.]  That is the kind of woman that never sees the limelight and never seeks it.  But she will be the happiest person in the world if you gain it.  (And she'll also remind you of the dangers of spending too much time in it.)  I thank God I had a chance to be a part of her life.  And I know I am a better person because she was a part of mine.

Jul 11, 2011

Movie Transformer

From the latest box office numbers, is looks like everyone in America is rushing out to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  I read on Facebook as dozens of my friends rushed out to see the film - some at midnight the day before it officially opened.  Then I read their varied opinions.  These ranged from "you will wish you were dead" to "that was the most amazing thing I've ever seen" and just about everything in between.  I keep hoping the movie will stop making money, but it doesn't.  This makes me wonder what exactly is wrong with me.  Why don't I want to see this epitome of a summer action flick?  Not only have no interest in seeing it, but I actually have been rooting for it to fail and be awful.  Why is that?

I am a movie fan.  And I am far from one of those snooty filmgoers that only watch foreign films and limited release films (aka Oscar voters).  I am just as likely to avoid an Oscar nominee as a brainless action film.  I set my own standards for what I want to watch.  They don't have to make sense to anyone else.  I really don't care if you think my decisions are stupid.  I'm the one who ends up having to sit there.  I used to go see just about everything that came out, except for horror films.  (I have NEVER liked those.)  But now I actively avoid certain movies.  What changed?

I spend far too much time thinking about this and came up with reasons.  And, more than that, I came up with an exact date when all of this changed.  September 11, 2001.  Now, I know a lot of things can be hung on that infamous date.  You may think it is extreme to blame my increasing disconnect with many movies to that day.  But I don't.  There are three major reasons that can be traced back to that particular 24 hour time period.  But they aren't all what you may think.

I used to be lustily waiting for big time disaster and action movies.  Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, Godzilla, Volcano, Dante's Peak, The Rock.  I loved those movies - even with all the completely impossible plot lines and over the top stupid dialogue and moronic characters.  I knew they were far from top notch cinema.  But they were sure entertaining.  And I was just as amazed as anyone else with the shots of the White House exploding and New York City being demolished.  But, when 9/11 happened, the reality came home to roost.  The fact is that a city being annihilated is horrific.  When it came down to it, no one sat there and thought, "Ooooo, cool.  Look at that sucker fall."  Instead, we all got nauseated and started crying.  Turns out mass destruction and global upheaval wasn't so cool after all.  I had trouble disconnecting that reality when I watched movies.  I couldn't help thinking about the aftermath.  We always are left with scenes of plucky survivors hugging and promising a new day.  But the reality would not even be close to that.

As we saw several other major disasters, like the tsunamis in Thailand and Japan and the earthquakes in New Zealand and Haiti, we began to realize the massive human toll in these events.  It isn't just special effects.  Cities and countries don't just "come back" from that.  They are decimated and may never recover.  For me, I couldn't always turn that off.  In some movies I really like (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Iron Man) I can turn down the volume on those thoughts.  But even then, I may have random questions pop up like, "How much money did it cost Gotham to rebuild that elevated train after it got blown up?  What did all those people think when their cars got destroyed?"  But I couldn't ignore it when movies like 2012 and Day After Tomorrow just cavalierly obliterated these mega cities.  That was one of the same things I thought about in the original Transformers.  There was this major battle in the middle of downtown.  Buildings are getting shredded.  City blocks are destroyed.  The mayhem is a little too much for me to take.

The second reason that came from that day was the awakened reality of human suffering.  That wasn't so much from the scene in NYC.  It more came from the fact that my first child was born at 2:11am on September 12, 2001.  In the midst of all that tragedy, my wife was in labor with our boy.  And now, I had this little life to protect and care for and hurt for.  And suddenly it wasn't so minor to watch lives get snuffed out - even in a fictional context.  Subconsciously, I am always aware of the fact that those characters had families.  Those thousands of people who just got blasted by an out of control robot had kids who now were orphans.

I know a lot of people say, "It's just a movie.  Lighten up."  But isn't the point of a movie to have viewers connect with the story on screen?  I just connect in a different way.  I easily slip myself into the story.  As a result, I have a hard time watching movies about kids getting hurt.  I don't enjoy movies that have a lot of physical pain or killings.  Again, there are some movies that I like enough to disconnect those things.  But this plays a major part in how I watch movies.  I remember going to see Monsters Inc after our child was born.  I had such a hard time because I sat there and kept saying, "This must be killing Boo's parents - to have her missing for days."  I actually had to walk out of Finding Nemo when I went to see it in the theater.  My pregnant wife was on a mission trip in Germany and my toddler son was staying with his grandparents.  The images of a father losing his wife and kids were too much - even if they were fish.

As my kids have grown and I have become more experienced as a father, this has diminished somewhat.  I have more experience disconnecting my personal feelings from shows and movies.  But I still try to avoid things that spend a lot of time showing kids getting hurt.  If a movie shows child abuse, I won't see it.  I didn't follow the Casey Anthony case at all.  When my wife and I had a free night this summer without the kids, we wouldn't go see Super 8 because I knew kids would be in peril - and our kids were hours away from me.  I couldn't just go home and kiss them after the movie.  Transformers is just another movie franchise that glorifies violence.  People get hurt without much thought.  And I just don't like that any more.

Money isn't so easy to come buy when you are responsible for a family.  That combined with high ticket prices means that you have to be choosy when going to films.  If I am going to spend $10 on a ticket - or $30 on a family worth of tickets - the movie had better be worth it.  I know that critics are usually giant wastes of space.  But, when there is an avalanche of bad press and negative reviews, it may not be worth my investment.  It used to be that I could use my student discount and get a $5 ticket.  If that didn't work out so great, it was only five bucks.  And what else was I going to spend the money on?  Now, though, it is much more expensive.

When you combine that with the easier access to movies after their theatrical run, it doesn't make sense to risk an unpleasant movie going experience.  I have Netflix.  For $8 a month, I can watch any of thousands of movies free.  So, if there is a film that I wanted to see and wasn't so sure about, it's easy to watch.  Or I can go to Redbox a couple months after the theater run and rent the movie for a buck.  Or I can buy it on DVD or BluRay for less than a family going to the theater.  So now, if I'm not sure about a movie, I just don't go.

It used to be that I would go to any superhero movie that came out - if it was good or not.  For Pete's sake, I saw Spawn in the theater.  But that changed when I had to buy two tickets, pay a babysitter, or leave my family home to go.  Now, I am much more discriminating.  Take this year, for example.  I saw Thor, Pirates 4, X Men: First Class, and Cars 2.  That's pretty standard.  I will go see any Pixar movie that comes out.  I go to see most Marvel movies - although I avoided the first Hulk and both Fantastic Four.  I did NOT go see Green Lantern.  I love DC Comics.  I prefere them to Marvel.  I like Green Lantern.  I like Ryan Reynolds.  But I had a bad feeling about this one.  I could just tell it was going to suck.  And, sure enough, it did.  It was either going to be phenomenal or a disaster.  I guessed right and saved a good chunk of money.  If there is a franchise I particularly enjoy (Harry Potter, Bourne, James Bond, Pirates) I usually will keep seeing them until they prove themselves unworthy of that support.  Pirates 4 did just that.  If they do a fifth film, I will not go see it.  I still want to go see Captain America, Cowboys and Aliens, and Zookeeper - and of course Harry Potter 8.  

[Side Note: Yes, I realize Cowboys and Aliens seems to violate two of my new rules.  But there are several things that make me want to see it anyway.  Jon Favreau is making it and I think he is brilliant.  It stars Daniel Craig - who I really like.  It also has Harrison Ford - who I have always liked.  Mix in Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde (NO! Not just because she is attractive.  She is an intriguing actress.  Follow her on Twitter and watch Tron Legacy and you'll see what I mean.  This is where I am interested enough in the movie to suppress the other stuff.]

I am even discriminating with kids movies.  My kids would go see anything with a G or PG rating if they could.  But I don't take them.  We have found out how to minimize costs (go Tuesday night to a Regal theater or before noon to an AMC one).  But it still is $25 doing that.  So, even though my kids wanted to see Mr Popper's Penguins, I didn't take them.  That is a Redbox movie.  I still love movies and watch a lot of them.  But, honestly, I have swayed more to television shows - I think they have a higher percentage of enjoyable ones.  And I just watch my movies in different ways than I used to.

So, when it comes to Transformers 3, it fails on all my criteria.  It has too much wanton destruction and violence.  It is cavalier with human life.  And I wasn't sure it was going to be worth seeing.  I never saw the second one and didn't feel like I had missed out on anything.  I even got the DVD for it from Netflix and sent it back eventually unwatched.  Truth be told, I could have been fine without ever seeing the first one either.  It wasn't exceptionally enjoyable or life changing.  I think Michael Bay knows how to make an exciting loud movie.  I don't think he knows how to make a good one.  I hated the Transformers in their modern form.  They were so chaotic it was impossible to make out many features.  The voiceovers were poorly connected to the character (like my argument for why the Hulk movies keep failing).  The movie is so loud and wild - just for the sake of being loud and wild.  Shia Le Bouf is so annoying; I think he ruins anything he is in.  I feel the same way about Megan Fox.  And, replacing her with an animatronic Barbie doll isn't going to help matters much.  So, I just will remain in the minority of movie fans and stay away from Transformers.  I may have felt different if everything I read and heard was trumpeting the film as a work of cinematic art.  But, since even my movie loving friends couldn't decide on it if was "epic" or "lame," I stayed home.  I'll bide my time and save my money until something more my taste arrives.