Thinking Out Loud

April 26, 2020

The Conflict Waging in our Minds

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Okay, maybe there was one.

Earlier today in an online discussion, I had reason to look something up and rediscovered this summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud between 2011 and 2017 with the blog tag “thought life.”

Each one of the headers below is a link to a larger article. You need to click each to unpack each topic in full.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(again, click the individual headers to see great discussion on each of these…)

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

Media to Fill Your Home

(you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

A Day Lived Entirely for God

Several years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8… [the link takes you to an overview of David’s media diet and ministry diet.]

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

…If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves…

An illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

click image to orderRelationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

(the article contains two stories of the manifestation of over-consumption of the worst the net has to offer)

…Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;
Sow an action, reap a habit;
Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen…

April 21, 2020

CBS-TV Continues its Ambivalent Relationship with God

After only two seasons, CBS-TV has cancelled the Sunday night Drama God Friended Me. The show will have a two-hour finale this Sunday night, though not the season finale producers envisioned when drafting the master story arc. That episode was lost when production had to wrap up early due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s really just one in a long series of events where the network develops something and then mysteriously chooses to walk away; a series that goes back to the original Charlie Brown (Peanuts) Christmas special more than 54 years ago. The show had no laugh track, there were actual children doing the children’s voices, the soundtrack was all jazz, and finally, there was that pesky extended reading from the Gospel of Luke.

So as we noted in this article, the network decided to just take a tax writeoff on the entire production. Fortunately, the story ends differently.

Perhaps in more recent memory, there was Living Biblically, a weekly sitcom, which was produced by Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory. As we noted in this article, in order to be sensitive to two different religions’ approach to what Christians call The Old Testament, there was both a Christian pastor and a rabbi on the set while they were filming.

CBS cancelled the show after only one season.

Then in Fall 2017 it was deju vu all over again, as the network introduced God Friended Me, in which the God wouldn’t necessarily be the God of Evangelical American Christianity, and the ‘friended’ wouldn’t necessarily be Facebook. We wrote about the series in this article, and also reviewed the first episode, which I compared, quite accurately looking back, the detailed script writing to the series Lost.

Fans using the hashtag #GodFriendedMe are simply shocked as to why the wholesome series would be deleted, especially “now, when we really need it.” Others are suggesting another network swoop in and save the show, with The Hallmark Channel leading a list of suggestions that also includes FOX-TV and The CW.

One writer notes that the lead character, Miles, will receive “one last friend suggestion;” though it’s unclear if this is in the content which will air on Sunday or in the master arc final episode left unfilmed.

Although Miles is an atheist in the story, Christians resonated with his search for God. His father is portrayed as an Episcopal Bishop in New York City. But some felt the series lost its Evangelical following when a lesbian couple was introduced later this season.

Another writer noted that the cast were equally surprised by the cancellation. The actor who portrays Cara, Miles’ partner-in-crime trying to track down “who is behind the God account” while at the same time helping the people it sends as friend suggestions, resigned herself to the news, “Unfortunately this is the end of the road for the God Squad. We found out yesterday that our show will not be continuing for a third season. I’ve been so humbled by all of the messages I’ve received from all of you throughout these last two years, about how much these stories have impacted your lives and helped you through some tough times.”

Again, it amazes me how these networks invest in the development of these series only to pull the plug if ratings aren’t superlative. Many feel the show suffered by frequent broadcast delays due to sports programming running overtime, but the network contended it was comparing to other programs which have had to deal with the same issue.

Is God still alive and well at CBS? Yes he is, in the form of the occasional editorials by outspoken Roman Catholic and Late Night host Stephen Colbert. Hopefully he isn’t being told to tone down faith-focused references.

I’d like to see this show survive on another broadcast network, just as conservative comedian Tim Allen’s sitcom Last Man Standing did when it moved from ABC to FOX. There are precedents for this sort of thing, and I believe God Friended Me still has much longevity.

 

April 16, 2020

Conspiracy Theories Just Never Stop

Filed under: Christianity, current events, media — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:07 pm

I was going to post something else earlier today, but I’ve just spent the better part of an hour chasing down a rabbit hole of sensationalism someone posted on their Facebook page; and more time thinking about it.

The story announced with great confidence that in the move toward online sermons, tech giants were blocking sermon content from Christian churches. [Pauses. Do I include the link? Nah, why bother. Search it if you must.] Notice that both sermons and churches are plural. The implication is that this is pretty widespread.

Instead, there was a reference to one church which had its app suspended over allegedly insensitive remarks concerning the Coronavirus. This church is headed up by a controversial pastor whose subject matter and content was probably already being closely watched. [Pauses again. Do I mention the church? Suffice it to say it’s in Moscow, Idaho. Some of you will immediately make the connection.]

Usually it’s televangelists who advance this theme. If they can unite you and me in the face of a common enemy, experience tells them that we will then reach into our pocketbooks and donate to the organization which has sounded the warning.

Fear = Funding.

I did not shoot from the hip at my friend who had posted the link on Facebook. Instead, I spent a long time trying to find other examples of this that weren’t based in countries already under a religious persecution watch. Instead, I found two other articles, one of which was an echo of the one posted, the other one of which was its source. None were major media, or even major religious media.

When you read something like this, do the research. You may not be trained as a journalist [considers temptation to add, ‘Neither am I, though I play one on TV.’] but you’ve got time on your side right now.

Check everything before liking or sharing.


We’re not doing link lists (Wednesday Connect) during this time because most items posted would have a single focus and you’re seeing those anyway.

However, it’s been announced that Willow Creek has named a new senior pastor. David Dummitt is the founding pastor of 2|42, based in Ann Arbor Michigan (where they have five services each weekend) with six additional campuses (many of which also have multiple services). He starts in June. See the full story at Religion News Service, which also links you to a formal announcement and video from Willow Creek. [Watching one of his sermons at his current church as I type this.]

Also: A longstanding teaching and music festival in the UK – Spring Harvest – was forced to become an online event this year which means you and I get to be part of it all week, April 13-17. Speakers and worship songs which may be unfamiliar to you! Refreshing! Check out the various videos at YouTube.

 

April 13, 2020

Christian Media and Publishing: Who is Hurting – A Top Three

Filed under: Christianity, media, publishing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

The Creators of the film, I Still Believe

The first faith-focused movie ever produced for IMAX couldn’t have had a more unfortunate release date. With glowing advance reviews, if it had released a week earlier, it would have enjoyed a solid week of box office sales on entering wide release. If it had been scheduled for a week later, its release would have been put back to whenever it is this summer that the motion picture industry will play catch-up. Instead, the creators acted quickly and decisively and rush-released the Netflix premiere. Later, many who missed both options will pursue the DVD release.

Vacation Bible School (VBS)

Make no mistake, VBS is a multi-million dollar business in the United States alone. Where I live, primary and junior school grades run to the end of June, so VBS is a July/August thing, but now it’s already in doubt in some places. In the U.S. it’s not unheard of to have a VBS week in late May, so many cancellations are possibly already kicking in, perhaps with some opting for postponement. This of course is part of the larger vulnerability of seasonal product, and there are also publishers of material for Easter and Mother’s Day who are experiencing unforeseen losses right now. An example with Mother’s Day might be Dayspring Cards, whose wares are sold through Christian bookstores many of which are either forced to close (see next item) or are in areas where people are being more diligent about social distancing.

ChristianBook.com

The place that everyone would turn to if shopping at the local Christian bookstore isn’t an option, Christianbook.com (aka Christian Book Distributors, formerly CBD) has been handed an order by the State of Massachusetts forcing it to close from April 7th to May 3rd, with only orders for digital product releasing. (See story.) The problem compounds for people hoping to get physical Christian books and music online because Amazon is prioritizing food and essential product orders, delaying some book shipments by up to two weeks.

March 29, 2020

A History of Thinking Out Loud (18-minute audio class lecture)

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, media, writing — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:30 am

I discovered this unlisted video this morning. If you’re finished attending virtual church (or churches) for the day, you’re welcome to listen. (There are a few slides.) I was asked to speak to journalism students at Canada Christian College, and it was winter and the weather was not cooperating, so I created this for them instead.

Because it’s unlisted, I can’t embed it here, but you’ll find it at this link.

August 13, 2019

Death of the Sitcom

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

Even as broadcast television loses much of its influence amid the vast array of media vying for our attention, I usually devote a post or two to upcoming series, especially when there is something faith-focused which might interest readers here. In the latter case, God Friended Me is indeed returning for another season.

Today though, I want to focus on some shows which will not be returning.

I was sorry to see Abby’s cancelled by NBC. The program was a modern day version of Cheers with a few twists, the most significant of which was that the program was filmed in front of a live outdoor audience. You would think the novelty of that alone might have attracted more viewers, but the late-in-the-season start probably was its greatest challenge.

CBS cancelled Life in Pieces. Again, a show with a creative flair, consisting each week of four short skits interweaving characters from four families.

But most notably, ABC axed anything with kids in the cast. The Kids are Alright was set in a simpler time in the past — filmed in sepia tone for added emphasis — and portrayed a very typical devout Roman Catholic family of ten in the early 1970s. Fans of this show were very vocal when its impending demise was announced, and honestly, I was sure another network might pick this up the way FOX did with Last Man Standing.

ABC also ended Splitting Up Together. I realize that for Evangelicals, the premise of this one was a little suspect, but having watched most episodes, there was a quest to hold to some deeper values and principles, a flawed but earnest model of how to reconcile a broken marriage and deal with the damage done during the time apart.

I was less passionate about ABC ending Speechless, wherein Minnie Driver portrayed Maya, a totally-driven parent of a special needs child. I suppose with JJ moving off to university, some of the dynamic of the series — Maya’s interactions with JJ’s high school teachers as a best example — would be lost. Still, the show was groundbreaking for its portrayal of the challenges faced by a family with a son who has cerebral palsy, played by Micah Fowler, who knows that challenge firsthand…

…It was also the year that The Big Bang Theory ended, though we get one last season of Modern Family. For those looking for the usual faith-focus, I’m drawing a blank so far. Patrica Heaton is featured in Carol’s Second Act, and the show Prodigal Son, while having a Biblically-inspired title, is a one-hour investigative crime show.

FOX has three sitcoms featuring actors such as Kristen Whig (SNL), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, SNL), and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation); but you won’t get to actually see any of them, since all three respective series are animated.

And CBS, not content to bring us the aforementioned God Friended Me, felt the need to balance the goodness out with a little evil, or in this case the series Evil, “A psychological mystery that examines science vs. religion and the origins of evil. The series focuses on a skeptical female forensic psychologist who joins a priest-in-training and a carpenter to investigate and assess the Church’s backlog of supposed miracles, demonic possessions and unexplained phenomena.” It’s the term supposed miracles that worries me.

I think I’ll be spending more time this Fall looking for entertainment on YouTube.

 

 

 

October 1, 2018

Review: God Friended Me

Back on August 27th, I told you about a new series beginning this fall on CBS-TV, and last night, after a 13-minute delay due to NFL Football — you’d think God would have that game under control — the series God Friended Me launched.  Miles Finer, the main character is the son of a minister turned atheist following the death of his mother, and is now an aspiring podcaster hoping to have his faith-focused program picked up by Sirius Radio.

The producers had said that “When we say ‘god,’ it’s the general — we’re not focusing on one religious figure or portrayal;” yet what was shown last night leaned more toward a Judeo-Christian God, probably due to the need to solidly introduce the main character, well-played by Brandon Michael Hall.  

So while the premise is multi-faith — “In the cast, Violett [Beane]’s character is Jewish, Miles (Hall) is an atheist, Suraj [Sharma] is Hindu.” — the execution of the pilot episode was more one-sided by necessity. That will may shift in future scripts.

If I have any takeaway from the show, it’s the extent to which individuals at large have their God-picture shaped by circumstances. One of the many comments on Twitter compared the show to Early Edition, and there are certainly a number of story vignettes involving characters in the right place at the right time, except that here the characters are connected, their stories are intertwined well beyond the realm of coincidence.

For some reason, I was reminded of Lost in the sense there is probably more backstory to the characters than we’ve seen — plus new ones which can be introduced at any time in future episodes through friend requests — and due to the story’s quest; in the case, the Holy Grail being finding out who is behind the “God” social media account.

All that to say that our view of God — even among those of us Evangelicals who contend that the object truth about God is clearly stated in the scriptures — is often subjective.

The pilot’s treatment of both belief and skepticism is respectful. Though the tension is certain there in the father-son dynamic, both viewpoints are given equal credibility.

And for all the Calvinist/Reformed people in the audience, Miles doesn’t confirm the friend request the first time around; God has to keep pursuing him. (But for all the Wesleyan/Arminian viewers, Miles can also unfriend God.)

The show’s downside on broadcast television is that CBS consistently stacks the commercial breaks on all its programs with more clutter promoting other shows than any other network. –“Blip-verts, anyone? — so there is also wisdom in waiting for the Season 1 DVD, though the show needs viewers now for that DVD to happen. 

One review concluded: “Should You Accept a Friend Request From God? I guess that depends on whether you’re still even active on Facebook. If God were smart, he’d pivot to Instagram and connect with the teens via dank memes and absurdist humor. He’s already on Twitter, but that site’s a good approximation of hell.”  You decide. 

The show airs Sunday nights on CBS at 8:00 PM, or, with the football season in full swing, more accurately “After 60 Minutes.”

August 27, 2018

God is Back on CBS-TV

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

After dumping the series Living Biblically after only one season, God returns to the CBS network in the series God Friended Me, this one a one-hour long comedy/drama, or if you prefer, fantasy/drama which first airs at the end of September. (Airing in Canada on CTV.)

Wikipedia has this short summary:

God Friended Me is described as a humorous, uplifting series that explores questions of faith, existence and science. It centers on Miles (Hall), an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he is friended by God on Facebook. Unwittingly, he becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him. Violett Beane will play Cara Bloom. Confident, compelling and quick-witted, Cara is a leading writer at an online magazine. Under pressure for her next big story, her life takes an interesting turn when she meets Miles—thanks to God’s friend suggestion.

The network has been in talks with Facebook to settle the question of how the social media giant is portrayed and we’re told there will be some real-world Facebook accounts which will tie in to the program.

The website Deadline.com notes:

CBS’s new series God Friended Me is not Highway to Heaven or Touched By Angel, executive producers wanted to make very clear to TV critics at [Television Critics Association]. That, though both NBC’s Highway and CBS’s Touched were quite successful long-running series. Both those shows featured angels; this series does not. “There is nothing supernatural about our show,” [Executive Producer] Bryan Wynbrandt said.

At TV Guide (owned by CBS) we learn more about the “God” of the series:

CBS’ new heartfelt comedy-drama hybrid God Friended Me … probably conjures up the image of an old man with a long flowing white beard sitting on a cloud on his iPhone 5 (he’s old, remember) looking at recipe GIFs or cat memes, you know, the classic image of the Christian/Catholic God doing his thing when he’s not giving someone the flu when they say his name in vein.

But good news, all you other religious denominations — this “god” in God Friended Me is all gods, according to the producers of the show.

“When we say ‘god,’ it’s the general — we’re not focusing on one religious figure or portrayal,” executive producer Bryan Wynbrandt told reporters Sunday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “In the cast, Violett [Beane]’s character is Jewish, Miles (Hall) is an atheist, Suraj [Sharma] is Hindu.”

So if God is present, what about Satan? The article continues,

… [T]he question of whether an opposing powerful force came up, but producers wouldn’t say if one would be in the show. But they did offer up this one bit of information.

“The devil would probably be on Twitter,” Wynbrandt said.

August 21, 2018

Review: God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

Three movies later, God’s still not dead, and The Newsboys are still singing the same song.

It would be so easy to be cynical and say that this movie franchise went back to the well one time too often, but in fact, I didn’t really mind the movie at all. Heck, if they can keep it at this level, they can make a 4th one, too.

God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness releases today on DVD and Digital. The film was part of an avalanche of major Christian movies this winter which included Paul, Apostle of Christ and I Can Only Imagine.

The plot is as fresh as the daily news, with the church-and-state issue concerning a parish which helped found the university on whose property it still sits, only to face that the college has evolved into something completely secular and can no longer, in good conscience be perceived as giving preference to one particular religious worldview. That the church has been destroyed by fire makes the situation more complicated.

There were also some surprising storyline developments, but to enlarge on those here wanders into spoiler territory which I’ve chosen to avoid. Generally speaking, the film kept my interest, a few overused Christian clichés notwithstanding.

Apologetic cinema like this seems to fall into two categories. There are the fast-action scripts involving multiple plot-lines intended to educate and entertain (Do You Believe), and there are the more cerebral films which are intended only to provoke thought (The Case for Christ). In God’s Not Dead 3, the only chase scene is a foot chase lasting about ten seconds. It’s about the characters and more important, about the ideas.

Speaking of characters Shane Harper is back as Josh Wheaton from the first (2014) movie. There’s a passing reference, but having seen the other film isn’t a prerequisite. Also, David A.R. White, a major force behind the camera (mostly) in so many Christian movies — he’s a co-founder of PureFlix — steps front and center in this picture…

…This is a movie about holding various positions in tension, and right to the end, it delivers that. Again, without providing spoilers, I know that some viewers will be unsettled by the direction the battle between the church and the university moves, but then that’s just more fuel for post-movie discussion.

 

 

April 5, 2018

Mercy Me! This is a Popular Movie

We continue our series of better-late-than-never movie reviews. Think of this as being an early review for the DVD release.

…So it turned out that I had a pass for I Can Only Imagine that I didn’t know I had. Going through some review books on a table, suddenly, there it was. I called Mrs. W. (whose birthday is today, BTW) and said, “Drop everything! We’re going to a movie.”

Okay, here’s the spoiler:

A guy in a band writes a song which becomes very popular.

Didn’t see that coming, did you? Okay, maybe you did. The plot of the movie is somewhat of a given, and the movie begins with a documentary style introduction which thankfully is mostly abandoned once the story starts to roll. So on the surface, this is a film about a song. A film anchored in a real-life story which takes place in recent history.

However, great songs are, nine times out of ten, born out of significant, intense, great experiences. There’s often a story behind the song, and the better the song, the better the story.

Furthermore, many of the songs we like are born out of a great deal of pain on the part of the songwriter. Even a song which on the surface appears to be a joyful (if mellow) composition anticipating the celebration which awaits us in eternity.

…This movie has had a very strong reception in North America. When we arrived at the cineplex and asked the ticket taker which theater it was, she just pointed and said, “Follow the crowd.” Greater success of faith-based films has allowed for larger budgets which translates into better quality.

The casting is great. The movie’s Amy Grant, while admittedly not the singer herself, is quite convincing; my own buy-in on her character is an example of the film’s credibility.

This isn’t Biblically based in the sense of Paul, Apostle of Christ but this contemporary story has had great impact on those who have seen it. I think it’s an example of God is using the large volume of Christian films currently available to reach all types of people.

J. Michael Finley as Mercy Me’s Bart Millard


Thanks (again) to Graf-Martin Communications in Canada for an almost-missed opportunity to see I Can Only Imagine.

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