I’m teaching a class to the middle and high school boys in our home-school group.  The topic is ‘Heroes, past, present and future.’  I did it because last year’s book club had the boys moaning with books like ‘Anne of Greene Gables,’ and ‘Heidi.’  Fine books, and no doubt.  Heck, I even enjoyed Jane Eyre, a little, back in high school English.

But most boys don’t take kindly to gentle books about feelings and kindness, broken hearts and wisteful sighs.  Boys, you see, need adventure, bloodshed, great deeds.  They need examples of greatness to lift them up from their MTV and High School Musical soaked world and show them that there are higher, nobler causes.  John Eldredge, writer of ‘Wild at Heart,’ said every man needs three things:  an adventure to live, a battle to fight and a beauty to rescue.  Like it or not, he’s pretty much dead on there.

So, in preparation for our book-club I sat down with some of the young men yesterday and we discussed heroism.  I asked them for some heroes of their own, and they struggled.  I suppose we’ve lost the concept of the heroic in our post-modern cynicism.  We reduce everyone to their component parts.  Every hero is ultimately a failure, a fraud, a man or woman of sins or brokenness.  So, we are told, heroes have no place and heroism is consigned to the grave.

Except, it isn’t.  We long for it.  We hope and pray for it.  We desire it in others and in ourselves.  And I see it in you, my readers, medical and otherwise.  Heroism lives inside us, often hibernating for the time in which it is needed, or for the time in which we dare to rouse it.

So, let me invite you into part of our study of heroes.  Our first book is one of my all-time favorites.  Beowulf!  We’re using the Seamus Heaney translation.  It’s a work of genius by a Nobel Prize winning writer.  My children have all read Beowulf, or had it read to them.  We know the story and love it.  It calls to our Anglo-Saxon heritage.  It makes us want to take to the long-ships, strap on our swords and shields and go off on an adventure.

In Beowulf, the writer, whoever he was, used an Anglo-Saxon poetic device called a ‘kenning.’  If you don’t know what it is, here’s a definition from answers.com:

kenning (plural ‐ings or ‐ingar), a stock phrase of the kind used in Old Norse and Old English verse as a poetic circumlocution in place of a more familiar word. Examples are banhus (bonehouse) for ‘body’, and saewudu (sea‐wood) for ‘ship’. Similar metaphoric compounds appear in colloquial speech, e.g. fire‐water for ‘whisky’.So, I want you to write or at least think of a ‘kenning’ for yourself.  See, the old heroes weren’t ashamed of their heroism.  They didn’t shirk from bragging about their ancestors or their greatness.  They wrote poems of themselves to last past their own lives, and to give their children their stories.  Humility has its place, but it doesn’t mean the same thing as shame or self-hatred.   We could learn something from them.

In my life, I have accomplished some things which make me very proud.  See, as an emergency physician I might call myself, by way of kenning, ‘flesh-closer,’ or ‘heart-starter’ or ‘breath-saver.’  As a father I might call myself ‘child-maker,’ or ‘son-forge,’ ‘daughter-guard,’ or ‘house-giver.’  As a husband, maybe ‘mess-maker,’ ‘wife-lover’ or ‘wife-pleaser,’  (one likes to think, at least).

I’ve hunted Caribou in Alaska.  Could I be ‘Tundra-walker?’  ‘Beast-butcher?’  The possiblities are vast.

Maybe, I’d prefer to be called ‘God-talker,’ as a believer.

What are you?  Have you considered your greatness?  My physician and nurse friends, you sacrifice your sanity and health on the alter medicine, to save and help others.  You are great!  Mothers and fathers, you give to your young selflessly.  Missionaries and pastors, you help bring deliverance to those you evangelize.  Children, you struggle to grow up in a harsh time.

So make a kenning for yourself!  I’d love to here from you.  You are my heroes, fallen or not.  For in the end, we are all fallen; and if we believe, we are all risen.


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