Thinking Out Loud

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.”

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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.

March 25, 2018

Faith-Based Films: On the Range Between Feast and Famine, Now is Definitely Feast

She left a note on my Facebook page saying that she had gone to see I Can Only Imagine this weekend, but it was sold out. Fortunately, she had a second choice at the very same theater complex, namely the film Paul, Apostle of Christ. Even for that, she got the last two seats.

It’s a busy enough week for Christian families in North America with Good Friday, Easter Sunrise, and Easter Sunday services happening, but with three top Christian movies releasing within 20 days of each other, it digs deep into both the schedule and the pocketbook.

Forbes reported,

Sony’s Paul, Apostle of Christ debuted in 1,473 theaters but ran into the populist/crowd-pleasing I Can Only Imagine. Sony ran the tables in faith-based dramas for a few years, but now it looks like Lionsgate is a force to be reckoned with. Even with Jim Caviezel returning to the faith-based sub-genre 14 years after The Passion of the Christ, this Bible story flatlined. It snagged $1.66 million on Friday for a likely $5.1m debut weekend. Yes, the Affirm flick cost just $5m, but this isn’t a good result and shows that the Christian rock biopic may be the exception to the rule.

(See also the website, Box Office Mojo.)

Here in Canada, we have a dedicated website just to track the various movies and where they’re playing. FaithFilms.ca is a venture of Graf-Martin Communications, which is involved in promotion and publicity for these films, many times involving both the theatrical release and subsequent DVD, along with related books or novelizations.

The Guardian in the UK also reported on the upswing in faith-focused films.

As Hollywood struggles with sexual harassment scandals and box-office woes, it could do worse than turn to God. For while religious movies have traditionally been considered a niche phenomenon, that assessment may need to be revised.

But the story based on Bart Millard’s song is definitely a surprise hit. The Guardian continues,

[Co-director] Jon Erwin says he was told there “was no audience for a Christian music movie … But everybody I knew – in the Christian world that we live in – knew and loved the song, so we just believed that there was an audience for this movie and that they would show up”. I Can Only Imagine was ultimately picked up by Roadside Attractions, maker of Manchester By The Sea, and Lionsgate. The distributors agreed to promote it as a general audience production. With a $25m box-office take so far, it is also showing Hollywood that Christians can make consistent, repeat filmgoers. Audience polling found that 79% said they planned to pay to see the movie again.

That one I really wanted to see the most, but there were no advance screenings which means there were no reviews in the Friday newspapers on the weekend it released. I can only imagine how good it is! (Terrible humor, I know.)

The third movie in 20 days? God’s Not Dead 3 opens in North America on March 30th, just in time for the Easter weekend crowd, and in the UK on May 25th.


We are hoping to get to the Paul movie this week, provided our local cinema accepts our passes this time!

March 20, 2018

What’s Wrong With Christian Radio is Purely Intentional

For those of you who don’t know her, meet Becky. Becky is the fictional target audience for Christian radio stations. Christianity Today helped define her back in 2007:

Her name is Becky.

You probably know her. She’s recently turned 40, but is not quick to admit it. She’s a Christian and a devoted wife and mother. She drives a mini-van. Half-melted crayons roll around on the floor as she stops at a light en route to her daughter’s Tuesday night soccer practice. She laughs sometimes, chagrined that she is the very “Soccer Mom” they talk about come election time. Becky lives in the suburbs, likes to read, enjoys the women’s retreats at church, is struggling to remember algebra so she can help her son with his homework, and is a regular volunteer at the food pantry.

One more thing about Becky, a very important fact for this discussion: she listens to the local Christian music station almost exclusively…

We’ll get back to her in a moment.

On the weekend my wife pointed out something that the more I thought about it, the more profound it seems. She said something like, “There’s more variety on any given contemporary Christian music album than what is played on Christian radio.” In other words, the songs chosen to be the single off the albums tend to get chosen because they all match the station sound and therefore they all sound alike.

In my mind, I envisioned the following diagram where each line represents the range of the songs on any given artist’s album — some exploring a greater number of musical genres — and the dots representing the songs selected to be featured on the radio.

Wouldn’t you like to hear some of the songs from the edge of each artist’s collection?

I owe a lot of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, but I’m not a fan of what it has become. A year ago 20 The Countdown Magazine did a special show on the Best of Christian Worship. It could have been called Chris Tomlin’s Greatest Hits. There was a song which we knew by Robin Mark where they chose to play a Chris Tomlin version, again either because it matched the sound of that show, or because… well we won’t go there. Any possibility for musical diversity was eliminated. (Listening to how many times the host said “Chris Tomlin” during that two hour show became a bit of a drinking game.)

Not everybody likes Becky. In a January, 2012 article in CCM Magazine, Matt Papa, not sparing the use of Caps Lock, wrote:

I love Becky. I really do. That’s part of the reason I’m writing this. Becky needs to be ministered to just like I do and just like everyone else does. But Christian radio/industry people: please MINISTER TO HER!! Stop giving her what she WANTS….GIVE HER WHAT SHE NEEDS and that is the GOSPEL….or stop calling yourself “christian”. There is NOTHING “christian” about telling someone who has cancer that they are OK. Stop tickling her ears. Becky is a human being who needs to hear the truth of Christ, not an object to use for your financial gain. Woe to you. And here’s a novel idea: Why not target other people besides Becky?!?! The gospel has no demographics! Christ shed His blood for all people everywhere and you have misrepresented Him. I pray with all my heart that the money tables in your temple would soon be overturned.

Pastor Gabe Hughes, who apparently has some insider knowledge wrote this in the summer of 2016:

Like most radio and television programming, Christian radio caters to a specific demographic, and that demographic is women between the ages of 20 and 50 (give or take). Whether or not Christian radio is doing it on purpose, that demographic is also mostly white.

It gets way more specific than that: this target woman lives in suburbia in a house with a mortgage, drives a mini-van, has three kids, a dog and a cat, a husband who works full-time, she also works but it’s probably part-time, has a household income between $55 and $70K, vacations in July, doesn’t have enough time to read her Bible but she has enough time to journal, loves Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, and goes to church about 3 times a month. This woman even has a name — Becky.

Some radio stations will put up a mock picture of this woman in the studio, and the DJs are told to look at it and know that’s who they’re talking to. I’ve attended seminars where this was the whole focus of each session: Becky, Becky, Becky. The entire radio station is programmed for her — not her husband and not her kids. Giving glory to God is incidental, or it’s presented like this: “By reaching Becky, you’re giving glory to God.” Becky’s name is mentioned more often at these conferences than God’s name is.

This is unofficially referred to as Becky Programming or the Becky Mentality. The gospel-minded might recognize this as exactly how not to evangelize. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ, right (Galatians 3:28)? But rather than giving an audience what they need to hear, Christian radio sections out a particular audience and gives her what the research says she wants to hear…

Why do so many of the songs sound alike?
Because radio is about producing the least number of negatives. Technically a radio station is not actually trying to give you something that you like. They’re trying to give you something you don’t dislike. As long as they can remain as even as possible without too much variation or fluctuation, they’re more likely to keep you on their radio station and not flipping to something else.

When the radio station maintains a continuous blend of sound, it just kind of melts into the background and you become oblivious that you’re still listening to it. You know how when you drive the same route to work every day, sometimes entire stretches of the trip will go by, and you’ll wonder where those miles went? Listening to the radio is kind of like that…

Even when it comes to production quality, songs have been equalized to be at the exact same volume level. Put on your headphones, find a song from the late 80s or early 90s, and give it a listen. Then pick a song from within the past decade and listen at the same volume. Notice the difference? The older song has more dynamics, highs and lows, crescendo and decrescendo, and the more current song is a lot louder and dynamically consistent throughout.

The reason why every single Christian recording artist sounds like they’re recording the exact same song is because they know K-Love won’t play it unless it sounds like every other song. Yes, Christian radio is the very reason every Christian artist sounds the same. It’s not necessarily the artist’s fault. They just have to play along (pun implied).

(There’s a lot more; I’ll be honest, I just wanted to copy and paste Gabe’s entire article, so click here to read more.

The early Christian music radio hosts were typical of FM radio guys in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was no single off the album, they just picked a song they liked. They exposed and celebrated the things creative Christian songwriters and performers were doing across North America, and if you got lucky, some of the things from the UK (which even today we rarely get to hear, everything being so Nashville-centric.)

There are still some great songs being written and great albums being recorded, but I must say I feel sorry for the kids today who only know Christian music’s after and missed out on Christian music’s before. Fortunately for them, broadcasting is not the primary means of transmission in their generation. Indie artists survive and even flourish on alternative media, such as Fresh Life Radio which itself provides balance by playing some of the CCM fare, or the notable broadcast exception, Project 88.7 in Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho. 

Full disclosure: The business I own also sells Christian music. Sales are down. I am increasingly convinced that downloading or online sales of physical product are not blame. Many in the next generation are not hearing anything that captivates them. Groups are recognizable, but it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate one male solo artist from another.

The push for homogeneity is killing Christian radio.

Blogger and Pastor Gabriel Hughes posted this Becky collage in the article linked above. Maybe you know her.

 


Related? This was posted yesterday in conjunction with a new book release. The headline says it all: The founder of Christian rock music would’ve hated what it’s become.

March 10, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time vs. The Shack: Reactions from Evangelicals

Let’s face it, the church doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to art. Decades ago, I heard Larry Norman say that the church tends to be in an imitative mode, but not necessarily an innovative mode. We’ll copy the world — often many years later — when it’s doing something successful, but those who think outside the box are usually ostracized.

This goes double when it comes to the literary genre of fiction.

My day began early today, reading an article on my phone from the Salt Lake Tribune (written for The Washington Post) by Sarah Pulliam Bailey titled Publishers rejected her, Christians attacked her: The deep faith of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ author Madeleine L’Engle. There’s been renewed interest in the book because of the movie, which opened yesterday in most markets. I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, though now my curiosity level is high. 

The book along with other writing by the same author has been sold in many Christian bookstores for decades.

In the article — carefully researched — she doesn’t mention The Shack. That’s not her purpose. But to me the similarities were leaping off the page.

  • rejected by 26 publishers (Shack: 20)
  • greatest criticism from conservative Christians
  • immense popularity nonetheless
  • authors desire to express a deep faith through (L’Engle: “If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, this is it, This is my psalm of praise to life, my stand for life against death.”)
  • some of the greatest attacks came from people in the Reformed tradition
  • accused of univeralism
  • made into mainstream market movie enjoying greater acceptance by non-Christians

At the outset of the article one reads, “While L’Engle considered herself a devout Christian, and sprinkled the book with scriptural references, she was accused of promoting witchcraft.” 

I’m sure she found that as encouraging as Paul Young did when faced with similar charges over The Shack.

 

 

 

 

 

February 27, 2018

Living Biblically: Producers, Writers and Cast Aimed for Accuracy and Sensitivity

Filed under: bible, Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

There was both a Christian pastor and a rabbi on the set while they were filming.

That, to me indicates that the creators of the situation comedy Living Biblically which debuted on CBS-TV last night were trying to avoid the many pitfalls of dealing with a sensitive subject: Religion.

Based on — they use the term inspired by — A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically, the show is about a man distraught over the death of a friend who decides to live for a year (or possibly at least the nine months until his child is born) according to every precept and commandment in the Bible.

Brent McCracken previewed a few episodes for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and noted the lengths to which the production team had gone to deal respectfully with both the Jewish and Christian faiths which share the book we call The Bible.

Living Biblically wants to be a comedy that both Christians and atheists can watch and laugh at—one that provokes both sides without belittling or dismissing them. This is not an easy task, and we’ll see if the show maintains this balance, without feeling boring or neutered, for the rest of the season.

But you can’t expect a show like this to go deep. McCracken, mindful of the perspective of TGC readers adds,

But is this really what Christianity is about? It remains to be seen whether the show will find Chip encountering Jesus, grace, the cross, and the true gospel (I’ve only previewed three episodes), or whether it will continue exploring faith through the vague, but sadly pervasive lens of moralistic therapeutic deism.

And what about the church? Aside from a few visits to a Catholic confessional booth, Chip’s journey is largely of the “personal path” variety, unencumbered by institutional accountability or ecclesial authority. And in this way his faith is a bit more Protestant. It’s just Chip, the Bible, and his experience, with dashes of “clerical guru” wisdom from his ecumenical God Squad sidekicks.

Though meant for laughs, this one-liner from Leslie (describing her husband’s spirituality) is telling: “He’s not super religious. He’s just living 100 percent by the Bible.”

That may be asking a lot of one program. This is CBS, not TBN.  However as Branson Parler at Think Christian notes:

Later episodes, however, do highlight a more complex take on what it means to live biblically in the modern world. When engaging the question of idolatry, Chip is attuned to the way in which his smartphone functions as an idol. Having smashed his phone in a Moses-like fit of rage, he dons a fanny pack in a futile attempt to replace all the functions of his smartphone. Fanny packs aside, this episode presents a more nuanced way of reading Scripture, of understanding not only the message it contained for the original audience, but thinking through what it means to be people shaped by that text in today’s context.

I only watched the one episode but I also watched a 25-minute Facebook discussion with two of the producers and four of the cast members in which I noted that they themselves had been impacted by participating in the series. Behind the project is Johnny Galecki, better known as Leonard on The Big Bang Theory. They pitched the series simultaneously to four networks and Christian Cinema reported that all four were willing to air the program.

…So why do I write all this?

Watching the comments on Twitter after the show had aired, I have to admit I got baited by a woman who found the program blasphemous. I have to admit, while I know the meaning of the word, this sent me looking for various definitions online.

While various dictionaries suggested it involved being sacrilegious, the Christian sites offered a different meaning. BibleStudy.org wrote,

The word blasphemy is mentioned fourteen times in the King James Bible. It is used only twice in the Old Testament and twelve times in the New. Two of the main Scriptures that use the word are found in the books of Matthew and Revelation. In Matthew, Christ uses the word to warn the Pharisees who accuse him of using the power of the devil to cast out demons. In Revelation, the word is used in reference to the Beast power that will soon take control of the entire world and force the worship of Satan onto all people.

BibleStudyTools.com takes this in greater detail:

In English “blasphemy” denotes any utterance that insults God or Christ (or Allah, or Muhammed) and gives deeply felt offense to their followers. In several states in the United States and in Britain, blasphemy is a criminal offense, although there have been few prosecution in this century. In Islamic countries generally no distinction is made between blasphemy and heresy, so that any perceived rejection of the Prophet or his message, by Muslims or non-Muslims, is regarded as blasphemous.

The biblical concept is very different. There is no Hebrew word equivalent to the English “blasphemy, ” and the Greek root blasphem- [blasfhmevw], which is used fifty-five times in the New Testament, has a wide meaning. In both Testaments the idea of blasphemy as something that offends the religious sensibilities of others is completely absent.

I did not see blasphemy by either definition in this program.

I told her she needed to lighten up. Like many, she fails to grasp the place for humor and satire, something we got into here a few weeks ago in this column.  There I noted,

The enemy of The Church today is not those who poke fun at our sacred cows, but the people who simply walk away. I responded to the woman who left the comment:

…For what it’s worth, “hardened hearts” don’t engage. They walk away. They are apathetic. Most of us read something like this and it’s very easy to resonate with the spirit of it, and that is fully compatible — to me at least — with being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.

Sadly, the person who wrote to me said I had “lost another reader.” In other words, she chose to walk away rather than engage.

See also this article — especially its second half — on being able to laugh at ourselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere last night and look forward to next week’s program. It raises some interesting themes, and offers what I would call a healthier Hollywood perspective. I hope the “holy rollers” as one Facebook comment called them don’t mess this up with complaints and criticisms.

The humor in Living Biblically is because of the way in which the characters respond to what the Bible says, not at the expense of the book itself.

 

 

 

January 13, 2018

Growing up in Church: A Common Thread for Child Celebrities

If you’ve ever held a hymnbook in your hand, played on the youth group worship team, or sung in a church music production, you are at a distinct musical advantage compared to the other kids in your class. Doing school drama productions, singing in a couple of middle school choir things, and playing in the school orchestra all certainly furthered my musical education, but going to a large and musically diverse church enriched that education tenfold.

Sometimes more is caught than taught, and that was definitely true in my case. I played in the church orchestra and was pianist for the college and career youth group. The church was the first in Canada to broadcast on television, and regularly did major theatrical-style productions ranging from contemporary to operatic. I also learned about sound, lighting, make-up, camera-blocking, stage set-up, mixing paid musicians with volunteers, and learned about the relationship of all these superficial ingredients to the ultimate end: the communication of a message or story.

BelieberIn the competitive entertain market, such training would put someoune at a distinct advantage. So it’s no surprise that Justin Bieber and Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne and so many others all grew up in church.

Sadly, while they learned a lot about music, they didn’t always fare so well when it came to being prepared to “handle the darts of the enemy.” (Ephesians 6:16) However, I don’t want that remark to appear judgmental. Kids that grow up too fast in the music, TV or film industry face all manner of temptations. Many hit fame too young to have really taken ownership of their faith, let alone grasped the dynamics of spiritual warfare. UK Classical singer Charlotte Church — raised Roman Catholic — said that young female artists were “coerced into sexually demonstrative behaviour in order to hold on to their careers” 1

So the same faith heritage that helps them make it to the head of the class of aspiring singers — perhaps even plants the seed of that desire somehow — isn’t fully developed enough to help withstand the pressures and the success. They got to hone their craft musically, but missed a lot of the warnings, admonitions and proverbial (literally) advice about life in the real world, in fact their careers led to a season of skipping church entirely.

There’s another dynamic to all this also, and that is the what happens when the kids in question have already made a public confession of their faith, or have identified with a church. That was the case originally with Miley Cyrus, but you look at her career in general — and some music videos in particular — the first thing you think about is not the Fruit of the Spirit. When people reach that point, their denominational affiliation becomes more of an embarrassment to the church or pastor than anything.

Next, there is the issue of what happens to the Christian kids who are simply fans; the teens who buy in mostly because of the common faith link they think they have with the actor or musician in question, only to have that belief in that pop star dashed when they crash, as they seem to almost always do. While I’m too old to be star-struck, I always had a personal admiration for how Cliff Richard carried is faith and his fame, but later on, elements of his personal life have forced me to temper that support.

Finally, all this is also a parenting issue. Many of today’s superstars that grew up in church went there because their parents took them. Avril was raised in a Christian school environment about an hour east of where I’m writing this. Justin’s mom has been interviewed on Christian talk shows and had a biography published with Baker Book Group; what did she think as she watched his 2012 arrest reports on television?

So in conclusion? I don’t have one. Each time a new kid on the block scores a number one hit song or a box office smash, we all simply cringe waiting for the inevitable train wreck to happen. There are exceptions, like when child star Angus. T. Jones in the TV hit Two and a Half Men went so far as to stand up to the TV industry and tell viewers to stop watching2, but those exceptions seem few and far between.

I guess we pray.

And if we have kids of our own, we make Justin’s career a teachable moment. Yes, he’s making a much stronger faith identification, but just like the tattoos that don’t come off, or the compromising pictures which will always be on the internet, some damage has been done. 

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be rock stars.

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2This blog Nov 27/12

December 30, 2017

The Mind is a Battlefield

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Here’s a summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud with the blog tag “thought life.”  Each one of the titles below is a link to a larger article.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(this ran in March of this year; you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • 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… The 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…

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