Cinderella has taken a beating in the last forty-odd years. The animated classic first released in 1950 has been criticized for everything from racism, to sexism, and impossible-to-emulate, Barbie-like image mongering. She has been lampooned, ridiculed and dismissed as irrelevant in this, the age of gender bending equivalency.

Yet she keeps coming back, ever popular with girls of every generation. Ever wonder why that is?

Of course there’s the legendary Disney brilliance and creativity. Movie-making excellence abounds in this live act out version. But Disney’s newest vision of one its oldest classics is a delight to both the eyes and the heart. And it’s the heart that really matters, the values at the core of the story revealed in plot and pictures.

Innocence is there, along with generosity, shining in glory against the narcissistic backdrop of stepsister greed. Childlike goodness too perseveres amidst adult cruelty, subtle and profound. Cinderella’s loyalty to family and home, her determination to keep the promises she made at whatever the cost serves as solid foundation, something that promises to outlast the grasping desperation of her bankrupt stepmother.

But the spirit of Cinderella, the force that continues to drive her appeal sixty-five years after her debut, is made of three things: beauty, kindness, and courage.

As Douglas S. O’Donnell says, “Biblically speaking, beauty is like a cut rose. It’s worth beholding even though you know it is withering away. It’s worth beholding even though its thorns can prick. It’s worth beholding because the flower’s beauty in that moment points to the beauty of, not Mother Nature, but of Father God.” Cinderella’s exquisite joy as her tattered dress transforms into a beautiful ball gown is a testimony of the goodness of beauty, of truly feminine beauty, that points us to the beauty of God. Something inside the souls of little girls, indeed inside all of us, knows that.

Something else we intuit, that drives Cinderella’s appeal, is that the beauty isn’t only skin deep. Some women are physically beautiful, but hard, like Cate Blanchette’s version of the stepmother in this film. Others are attractive but frail, brittle, unable to bear the brutalities of life. Cinderella is radiant, shining with courage and kindness that comes from within. That isn’t an easy thing to portray on film, and Lily James does it to perfection.

As we see in Cinderella, these values come with a cost. The world envies true beauty, and tries to destroy it. It takes advantage of kindness, and abuses it. And it seeks to overwhelm courage, to defeat it. I want to urge you, whether you are a very young girl, seeing Cinderella for the first time, or a very experienced grown up, never give up on beauty, kindness, and courage. Having been married to a real Cinderella for over thirty years, I can tell you, they are worth it.

PRANKED! In a Good Way.

“Prank, a mischievous trick or joke, especially one in which something is done rather than said.” So says I was pranked in a good way last Sunday, in a way that was deeply moving and personally gratifying on many levels, all because I am a member of a healthy local church.

My young friend, Joshua Coe, invited me to take a small part in his Eagle Scout ceremony this past Sunday afternoon at 2:00 PM; “just an opening prayer and maybe a word or two about Joshua, then a blessing for the food,” his mom told me. Knowing that I’m usually enjoying my NASCAR induced “hundred lap nap” about then, she kept reminding me of it, mentioning “how important it is to Joshua,” that I would be there.

So I went. I was about half asleep, but I went, as did about fifty others from FCC. I should insert here that becoming an Eagle Scout is a big deal. Only 1% of Scouts make Eagle. Not only that, but Joshua Coe is a special young man. I’ve watched him grow up, not only in the church but in our neighborhood, as the Coes live a couple blocks away. Joshua has the makings of a first class leader with the intellect, the talent, the diligence, the spirituality and the personality to succeed in almost any endeavor. I’m not using hyperbole when I say that if he wanted to, he could be president one day. Andy and Joy have done a marvelous job of raising him and have a lot to be proud of. (Joshua, if you’re reading this, don’t let it go to your head kid).

Having offered the opening prayer and taken my seat I enjoyed watching the ceremony unfold, thinking I was done for the day. Imagine my surprise when the MC announced that each new Eagle Scout gets to recognize a significant person in his life who has served as a mentor. “Would Pastor Dane Skelton please come to the front?” Joshua then pinned a badge on my jacket that says Eagle Scout Mentor.

I think my family would like to know that I didn’t actually cry at this point. But it was a good thing I didn’t have to give a speech because I couldn’t talk either. I never achieved anything as noble as Eagle Scout when I was a teenager, but now I can at least say that I helped someone who did. That badge will stay on that jacket as long as I live.

Joshua is the only Eagle Scout I’ve had the privilege to mentor, but he isn’t the only young man I’ve had the privilege to influence. That great pleasure is an answer to a very early prayer, a dream really, that I began offering to God over thirty years ago. I used to think the dream would take the shape of working in a boys’ home, but I realized later that I’m not cut out for that. Instead, through the ancient institution known as the local church, God has fulfilled my desire to mentor young men. What an awesome honor!

Bill Hybels said, “There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.” Never was a truer word spoken. Lives are changed in a healthy church. Marriages are strengthened and restored in a healthy church. Children develop a confident walk with Jesus Christ in a healthy church. People with addictions are set free. The poor and needy become spiritually healthy and economically viable through the ministry of a healthy church. Young men and women are mentored by mature adults in the local church. The list goes on and on!

So what is your dream? What is your prayer of service to others? God can fulfill it through his marvelous creation, the Church of Jesus Christ. And who knows? You may find him fulfilling your dream one day by being pranked in a good way.