Bored to Be a Hero
Peter A. Speckhard on Finding Molehills to Conquer
My wife and I really enjoyed the movie Juno, so we downloaded the soundtrack. The songs mostly go for a sort of half-serious folk, half-goofy summer-camp sound, with Kimya Dawson using a deliberately amateurish, unpolished sound for a sort of innocent-yet-world-weary authenticity.
You get the feeling these songs are meant to be performed by peer leaders during group time—they’re almost daring you to comment, so they can call you judgmental and part of the problem, while they’re all trying to be happy and mutually affirming in this mixed-up world. My problem with them isn’t that, but is with the lyrics and with the delusion that current geopolitical events somehow define our personal lives.
No Tough Times
But first, a disclaimer. I do not think I have ever experienced “tough times.” Having been born in 1969, I have a vague recollection of our family devotions including prayers for “Uncle George and Uncle Tom, who are at war in Vietnam,” which I probably only remember because it rhymes. The 1970s for me were all about childhood, not world affairs.
Then, in the early 1980s, seemingly everybody except me began to worry about a nuclear war. I knew that one might happen, and we were told that we lived in a key strategic area sure to be targeted by the Soviets. I daydreamed about being a survivor, having fended off the blast by holding a textbook over the back of my neck while kneeling under my desk.
It was never more than a story of adventure and survival (and personal heroism, I might add) to take my mind off whatever the teacher was going on about. I never lost a minute’s sleep because of the arms race. Whatever innocence my childhood lacked was traded away fair and square by me, not stolen by Ronald Reagan.
Then we were all supposed to get mad about how greedy everyone suddenly became in the mid-to-late 1980s. But pretty much everyone I knew was related to a Lutheran school teacher, so that issue never hit home, either. I went to college, got married, went to seminary, had children, became a pastor. The headlines didn’t really affect me.
Only twice in my life do I remember really pondering national or global events as though they really might fundamentally unite the course of my life with that of my whole generation. On the first day of the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, I was a college exchange student in Germany and in the US Army Reserves. Many people look back at Desert Storm as a big joke, but heading into it we had been promised the Mother of All Wars.
About a dozen of us Americans gathered in one dorm room listening to Armed Forces Radio. Everyone was thinking, “This could be it. This could be a turning point in all our lives.” Iraq would bomb Israel. Israel would respond, uniting all the Islamic countries with Iraq. Massive chemical and biological warfare would ensue. But that feeling lasted at most a few days.
The second time was, of course, 9/11. Like most churches, the church I pastored called a special service that night, and the church was full. When we sang the refrain, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour,” suddenly the words seemed to refer to a pretty specific hour. Only rarely does a whole nation or generation face a common hardship together in a way that really defines our personal lives as well.
Peter A. Speckhard serves as senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School in Munster, Indiana, and the author of Connected to Christ: Why Membership Matters. He also serves as associate editor of Forum Letter, a monthly publication of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. He is a 1997 graduate of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves. He has previously served congregations in Green Bay, Wisconsin and Spring Grove, Illinois. He and his wife Heidi, who teaches Latin at St. Paul's, have six children.
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