“Fast and Furious 7” Flies High

Fasten Your Seatbelt! As the sunlight hours increase, I hope you are finding pockets of fun this summer. One enjoyable outing I experienced was seeing Fast & Furious 7. Because of thousands of other moviegoers, FF7 is roaring to global record-making millions for Universal Studios.FullSizeRender

Yes, this seventh film in the Furious franchise is a predictable story with its beefy street dudes, sexy chicks, muscle cars, and arsenal-packing bad guys. So, why are so many people going?

One answer is the movie’s real life tragedy. What happens when one of your major actors dies as a passenger in a one-car accident before you are done filming a car movie?

FF7 was shelved as Paul Walker’s family and friends grieved the actor’s death, Nov. 30, 2013. Afterward, writer Chris Morgan and director James Wan altered the script, preserving what Walker had already filmed. Walker’s two brothers, Caleb and Cody, filled in for screen shots of Walker’s character, Brian O’Connor. The top selling song See You Again by Wiz Khalifa from the Fast and Furious 7 soundtrack is a tribute to Walker:

“It’s been a long day without you my friend,

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

We’ve come a long way from where we began.

Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

When I see you again….”

I had only seen the first movie of the franchise, The Fast and The Furious, in 2001.  All I remember is car thief Vin Diesel (aka Dominic Toretto)–his silky voice and somewhat tortured machismo.  After the first five minutes of FF7 I almost walked out because of too many roaring cars and skimpy bikinis. “This is so cheesy,” I whispered to movie buddy as the backside of a race-car flag waver lingers more than once on screen. The truth now: I am glad I stayed for the bumpy ride.

Here is why I think FF7 works:

  1. Lead character Dominic Toretto nails it in a toast with his friends, “To La Familia.” This movie is about a stitched together family of likable rogues who care about each other and yet remain incredibly self-made. Don’t most of us want a family that cares as we individually do it our way?
  2. IMG_5610In FF7, there are many beautiful cars that roar and get busted up and exceed the limits of our imagination. The special effects team filmed real cars pushed out of 12,000-foot high cargo planes. One report said the vehicles parachuted on target 70 percent of the time! You have to love people who work behind the camera and come up with such outrageous stunts. Writer Morgan throws everything into the plot to satisfy our “seen-it-all” movie eyes. It’s one thing to have a car crash through a high-rise building in the United Emirates, but three skyscrapers in a row. Crazy, dude!
  3. Okay, there are so many hot babes in skimpy clothing, but it comes in the PG-13 variety. This is obviously Hollywood’s formula for capturing the male market. But at least Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty is smart and at one point rescues herself and another brainy beauty.
  4. Some of my twenty something friends have a favorite FF7 scene of their former teenage wrestling star “The Rock,” aka Dwayne Johnson. A hospitalized Johnson flexes his muscles to pop off an arm cast and tells his little daughter, “Daddy, has to go to work now.” Some in the audience are maturing with the movie’s characters.
Paul Walker (left) and Vin Diesel in 2013

I won’t tell you the movie’s ending, but it is an appropriate one for Walker/Diesel fans and for the newbies. I will say it resonates with the farewell friendship of the biblical David and Jonathan–just in hot-looking cars.

At FF7’s premiere there were many tributes to Paul Walker. His brother Cody said, “It’s bittersweet, but I think Paul would be proud.” Sometimes, Hollywood gets it right even while making its millions.

If your tastes run toward suspenseful films you couldn’t do much better than selecting one of Walker’s last movies, the PG-13 Hours (2013). It’s about a father going the distance to save his newborn baby during Hurricane Katrina. Walker’s PG Eight Below (2006) is a true story about an Antarctica dog sledder and his incredible canines.

Whichever summer film you choose, may your watching be worth the ticket price. After all, you are bankrolling your future flicks.




Rural Pastor Stories (Not Heard from the Pulpit)

If you vacation with a pastor and his wife you don’t expect to hear about the church back home. After all, your clergy friend is on a much-deserved vacation. Yet, interesting stories surface. Here are a few that were recently told to me by a friend I’ll call “Pastor Jim.”

geeseParty Geese: This is what can happen when a parishioner’s geese get into some fermented corn silage. One day, the farm wife looked out the kitchen window and saw her geese collapsed across the yard. Dead! She thought. Something has poisoned them! No good for food now, the resourceful woman decided to pluck the geese and use the feathers/down for pillows. Afterward, she took the birds to the garbage dump. Hours later while the farm couple was eating their dinner they looked out the window to view naked birds staggering home and honking their woes. What a party! What a hangover!

–Make Room: A family moving from northern Minnesota to an unknown destination ended up in Pastor Jim’s town on Christmas. Their truck had numerous crates of chickens and a goat, plus an artificial Christmas tree strapped above the luggage. Because the priest was president of the ministerial committee he received the knock at the door. A motel room for the family was not a problem, but the livestock was another matter. Thankfully, there was a solution. One of the Protestant churches had an unfinished sanctuary. Its walls and roof were up, but the floor was still unfinished. After a phone call between the clergymen, the family and livestock were settled that Christmas day. Imagine the surprise the next morning when construction workers open the church door and were greeted by chickens and a man milking a goat!

–Landing a Plane: Pastor Jim makes lots of visitation calls. One elderly couple recently was so pleased to have a first-time visit from any pastor they gave him $100. I told him, they didn’t get their money’s worth. But he sometimes goes the extra mile. For example, while visiting one nursing home he found former pilot and Alzheimer patient Mike trying to land an imaginary plane. The poor man was sweating from fear. Pastor Jim sat beside Mike and became his co-pilot as they worked to get the craft down safely. After that, Mike was able to have a nice chat with his minister.

–Sing “Hallelujah”: During one service, the choir sang Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from the back of the sanctuary. Suddenly, an elderly gentleman keeled over. Without missing a beat, the choir director motioned for the choir, still singing, to surround the fallen gentleman and thus provide some privacy. That man died right there, hearing Handel’s music.

banana-split-cake-recipe-strawberries-cherries-walnuts-whipping-cream-cool-whip-chocolate-summer-recipe-better-baking-bible-blogDessert Thief:  One Bible study group Pastor Jim taught ate dessert together after the meetings. During one lesson, an attender excused herself during the study, supposedly to use the restroom. Her real destination, however, was the church kitchen, where she consumed the entire pan of dessert. When one of the Bible study leaders found the dessert gone, she became extremely angry with the thief. Her orders to Pastor Jim: “I want you to tell her she is never, ever allowed to come to our study again!”

Here is the part I like. Pastor Jim replied, “I cannot say that, and I will never say that! She has an eating disorder. She will always be welcomed!”

Amen to that.


Children Like Angela and Ben Lead Us in Following Jesus


FullSizeRenderAs a children’s church teacher I never gave an “altar call” when presenting Bible stories. Rather, I preferred planting spiritual seeds. Once, however, thanks to five-year-old Angela and seven-year-old Ben Feazel, my children responded to a story in a way I had not intended. It turned out to be the best timing.

Brought to church by a neighbor, little Angela, with wavy brown hair and blue eyes, came only occasionally to Bible club. There was nothing outstanding about her. She was quiet, and therefore, didn’t get extra attention, good or bad.

Like the other 50 pairs of eyes watching me that night, her gaze seemed curious about my story-telling props: a plastic town, bucket of mud, bowl of water and two little plastic people.

“Hey, are you going to play with those toys?” inquired a boy with a toothless grin.

“Yup,” I replied, as I picked up the figurines. That brought howls of laughter. Then I added, “But I’m also going to tell you a story.”

Holding the toys, I told the kids their names were Adam and Eve Wanna Bees, and they lived long ago in the village Eden. Because they disobeyed God, they became very dirty.

FullSizeRenderQuickly into my mud I plopped the dolls. The children groaned as I pulled out the dirty toys.

“After that,” I said, “All the Wanna Bees were dirty, and they didn’t even realize it.”

From the muddy bucket I pulled a dozen plastic figures.

There were more groans.

“Then one day someone came to the village. His name was ‘Clean-As-He-Can-Be.’ He looked at the dirty Wanna Bees and declared, ‘I know the way to make you clean.’

“Some Wanna Bees were insulted, ‘How dare you accuse us of being dirty!’  they snarled.

“Others thought he was crazy.

FullSizeRender“But some looked at him and then at themselves. They knew he was right.

“‘Come with me, and I will show you how to be clean,’ he urged.

“‘Maybe another day,’ a few said.

“Some, however, said, ‘Okay, let’s go!’

“Clean-as He-Can-Be led them to a beautiful pond and told them to jump in. Since they couldn’t swim, he caught them.”

Into my water pitcher went a few Wanna Bees. I wiped them clean with a towel.

“Oh!” sighed a number of kids, including Angela.

“Can you imagine how good that first bath felt?”

Angela nodded. I continued.

“The Clean-as-They-Can-Be-Wanna-Bees shouted, ‘We must go tell the others!’

“‘Yes!’ said Clean-As-He-Can-Be. ‘I will stay here and wash the Wanna Bees when they come to the pond.’

“So the clean Wanna Bees ran to the village. Some thought they were crazy, and others didn’t care. But some Wanna Bees believed and they, too, became clean.”

The children knew I was almost done with the story. “Wash them all,” they pleaded. “Wash them all.”FullSizeRender

So I did, telling them that Jesus was like Clean-As-He-Can-Be.

Then I said, “And just like some people didn’t want to follow Clean-As-He-Can-Be, some people today don’t want to follow Jesus.”

I opened my mouth to give a final thought when little, quiet Angela jumped up and shouted, “I’ll follow Jesus!”

Before I could respond, Ben Feazel stood up, “I’ll follow Jesus!” Then there was another child standing, and another. They each declared, “I’ll follow Jesus!”

It was a powerful moment. Flabbergasted, I mumbled a closing prayer that the children would make this story their own.

I planned to speak with Angela the following week, but a few days later, Angela’s neighbor called and told me Angela had collapsed in her mother’s arms at a recreational swimming pool. Her defective heart, unknown to us, was a condition she had lived with since birth.

The second child to stand that evening, Ben Feazel, died at age 18. A car ran a stop sign and hit him on his motorcycle. He was wearing his helmet. Ben was a few weeks short of high school graduation and Marine boot camp.

Whenever I think of Angela and Ben I see them determinedly standing before me declaring, “I’ll follow Jesus!” Indeed they had.

These children taught me at least two lessons: 1) that we should not take any encounter for granted, and 2) God moves mightily among the youngest of us.