Thinking Out Loud

June 1, 2018

When a Sitcom Cancellation is Front Page News

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Amid everything else that happened in the world this week, the cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s eponymous #1 hit television show got far more coverage than one would expect in a world of fragmented screen choices. The network news shows, ever searching to balance out hard and soft news, found the rakish Ms. Barr’s latest escapades newsworthy, and there was much discussion about how it’s not what you Tweet, but who you are that determines the extent of the backlash and consequences.

I’m told that 200 people make up the production team. I picture scriptwriters and set designers and costume designers and sound engineers and lighting directors and camera operators. They were all due to start work on Tuesday, following the Memorial Day long weekend. Many of these, including lower-tier actors did not have a guaranteed salary.

This is the entertainment business. Easy come, easy go.

For most of my readers here, who have come to expect a faith focus in what I write, the connection today may seem hard to make, but closer revelation reveals that the program touched on some rather important themes. Generally, the farther away the story-lines stayed from politics, the more universal the message and the comedy; but that’s hard to achieve in these very narcissistic, navel-gazing times in America.

The program gave voice to the struggles of the working class in the area of the U.S. known as The Midwest, the same geographical zone that gave us the TV show The Middle, which is currently being mined for a possible spinoff to fill the Tuesday night slot. They’d have to start filming rather quickly.

Beyond the employment and economic challenges faced by the fictional Conner family, in a short eight-episode season the show dealt with inter-generational families, health care, immigration, shoplifting, gender fluidity, bullying, surrogacy, parenting, pharma-care, addiction, elder care, Muslim neighbors, union labor, FEMA; and many more issues gently alluded to in the very topical scripts.

For those whose aims including writing, acting, directing, etc., the program’s reboot proved that a situation comedy can make a difference. It can bring topics out into the open, sparking constructive discussion.

Again, this is not an unqualified endorsement nor do I agree with making a comedy script politically partisan. But I understand why the cancellation made the evening newscasts. For many people, the show simply mattered. I hope something comes along that can replace the aforementioned benefits.

I also suspect ‘The Rise and Fall of the Roseanne Reboot’ is a story still in the making. Stay tuned.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

August 28, 2017

Media that Wasn’t Meant for Christian Insiders

A typical Friday night or Saturday night at my house might consist of sitting by the computer and spinning the giant YouTube wheel. This past weekend, the wheel spun to songs from the musical Godspell.

When I was very young, myself and my friend Cliff boarded a Toronto city bus and rode for forty minutes to the Bayview Playhouse to see the production that some others at our school were talking about, having seen it on previous nights. Despite growing up in church, I had minimal exposure to live music at a professional level and the quality of the band, the singers, and even the lighting and sound was certainly impressive. It didn’t hurt that the cast and musicians included Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas, and Martin Short, and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer.

But while I wouldn’t have articulated this way at the time, I can also report with great clarity that two things struck me that night.

First was the Jesus story itself. I had never before seen the story arc of the four gospels in a single presentation. Years of Sunday School suddenly came to life! You can’t make this stuff up. It’s awesome. I keep coming back to the phrase “If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” (Philip Yancey attributes this to Walter Wink; though Voltaire, with an entirely different motive, said something similar.) The life of Christ; the teachings; the miracles; the conversations with seekers and critics; it’s all — if I can be permitted this indulgence — the making of great theater.

Second however was the power of contemporary music to convey the Jesus story. I think that night planted the seeds which would cause me to go on to become an ambassador for what was to be called “Jesus Music” and later became known as “CCM” or “Contemporary Christian Music;” and to want to do this in a country where Christian radio, as well as access to the artists and recordings were basically non-existent.

But Godspell had its critics among Evangelicals.

Problem One: The musical originated outside of the Evangelical bubble. How could Christians support something that wasn’t composed by one of their own. John Michael-Tebelak, who wrote the spoken parts of the play describes being overwhelmed by the joy found in the Gospels and decides to attend an Easter Vigil at a nearby church. “I left with the feeling that, rather than rolling the rock away from the Tomb, they were piling more on. I went home, took out my manuscript, and worked it to completion in a non-stop frenzy.” Jewish composer Stephen Schwartz wrote the music.

Problem Two: Jesus was seen as being portrayed as a clown. This assessment is clearly off-base. If anything, the costume used with most touring companies more resembles the look of Robin Williams as Mork from Ork. The idea was to capture the joy the playwright in the previous quotation found lacking. To this day I have never seen this choice of wardrobe as in any way diminishing the character of Jesus, though if it were historically accurate, Jesus would have stood out in a crowd in ways the texts indicate he did not.

Problem Three: There is no resurrection. Wikipedia elaborates:

The “Finale” begins, loud and in B-minor, with Jesus wailing, “Oh, God, I’m dying,” and the community answers: “Oh, God, You’re dying.” Jesus dies and the music comes to a rest. The women of the company sing “Long Live God”, and the men join in with “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” in counterpoint, as they remove Jesus from the fence and carry him out (either offstage or through the aisles of the auditorium). There is controversy over the fact that there is no obvious resurrection of Jesus present in the show, although it can be interpreted that either the singing of “Prepare Ye” in the finale or the curtain call (where all including Jesus return to the stage) is representative of the resurrection…

Stephen Schwartz notes the following in the script:

Over the years, there has been comment from some about the lack of an apparent Resurrection in the show. Some choose to view the curtain call, in which JESUS appears, as symbolic of the resurrection; others point to the moment when the cast raise JESUS above their heads. While either view is valid, both miss the point. GODSPELL is about the formation of a community which carries on JESUS’ teachings after he has gone. In other words, it is the effect JESUS has on the OTHERS which is the story of the show, not whether or not he himself is resurrected. Therefore, it is very important at the end of the show that it be clear that the OTHERS have come through the violence and pain of the crucifixion sequence and leave with a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings they have learned during the course of the show

(This is also as cited in Wikipedia: CapsLock as in the original)

Again, I can’t say how much the musical means to me on a personal level. On that one night, I saw the power of music to convey the Christian message, and this exposure partly set the trajectory of my entire life. But as I was brushing my teeth on Saturday night, two thoughts hit me.

First: Godspell wasn’t written for Christians. It wasn’t even supposed to be that successful, at least where I live. In Toronto, the plan was to hire local performers and produce a few dozen shows for subscribers. Instead, the show moved up to the Bayview Playhouse where I saw it, setting what was then a record run of nearly 500 performances.

Second: I think this is where I get my love for media that is capable of starting conversations with people in the broader marketplace who would never set foot in a church. Those media vehicles we sometimes describe as “crossover” in nature, even if some of them didn’t originate with us in the first place.

  • This is why I like Godspell.
  • This is why I endorse The Shack.
  • This is why I defend the sermons of Andy Stanley.
  • This is why I review and quote from Rob Bell.
  • This is why I refer people to Bruxy Cavey’s church.

When someone is willing to take the message out there and do it in a way that resonates and find an audience with the secularist, the humanist, the cynic, the skeptic, the critic, the seeker, the sinner; at that point I’m on board. “Go for it;” I’m cheering, “Rough edges and all.”


The song All Good Gifts had a rather operatic (and choral) sound when first released. Compare with the 2nd clip below, a more modern version.

The video clip below is from a newer cast.

 

 

 

 

April 3, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Not new, but too good just to link; you have to watch this…

  • Edith Shaeffer, wife of the late Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer, has died at age 98
  • A member of The Church on the Way in Valencia,CA — and grandson of Jack Hayford, the church’s founder — is now back home uninjured after being kidnapped last week in Mexico.
  • Singer Carrie Underwood and NHL hockey player Mike Fisher discuss their shared faith in Jesus.
  • Know the song “‘Tis a Gift To Be Simple”?  Terry Mattingly says that definitely applies to the new Pope.
  • Yes the Easter story really happened in a real place, and if you want, you can even get the GPS coordinates.
  • And did they play that “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-Coming” video at your church this week? Here’s the text for all you aspiring preachers to give it your best shot.
  • And don’t miss this story about church pyrotechnics gone awry. This could have ended very badly.
  • Also at Parchment Pen: Did the author of the Gospel of Mark sleep in the nude?  The public wants to know.
  • Sandy Patti is headlining at Carnegie Hall with the Manhattan Pops Orchestra and the pianist formerly (and still) known simply as Dino.
  • For 32 years, Rick Warren said ‘no’ to the idea of doing a radio show. But then a year ago
  • A friend of ours, Rick Webster, pastor of The Third Space church in Peterborough has written Introducing Jesus — but he doesn’t use the word pastor, preferring Spiritual Wilderness Guide and Community Architect. We don’t normally do this here, but you can order the book online
  • From the artist who brought us the Reimagine song, a cover of Larry Norman’s UFO song.
  • Canadian author and blogger Sheila Wray-Gregoire says that if you are concerned for someone, you need to ask yourself three questions before you say anything.
  • Another Elevation Church high-tech year end summary. Does your church’s annual report look like this?
  • Maybe some cartoonists can illustrate complex issues, but Dave Walker finds himself somewhat lost for ideas in Uganda
  • Okay, Doug Wilson, curiosity was killing me when you wrote Good Friday and the Death of Same Sex Envy. (And then he also discusses pattern recognition, too.)
  • Shauna Niequist is the wife of a Christian musician and daughter of a world famous pastor. And a published author.  But she still deals with jealousy.
  • Money Where Your Mouth Is Department: Michael Kelley offers us two things we can learn from the Veronica Mars movie campaign on Kickstarter.
  • How about another 30-or-so links, all on the subject of apologetics? And don’t miss the first comment. 
  • Blog flashback — one year ago: James MacDonald’s holiness test.
  • The latest addition to our “lost song” collection at YouTube is this original version of God and Man at Table by Craig Smith. 
  • And I didn’t realize until today how much this song and this song sound alike. Guess some classic gospel music or CCM just flies under the copyright radar.

Top Bible Sales 2012

November 13, 2008

Got Kids? Veggie Tales Creator Phil Vischer Launches JellyTelly.Com

Filed under: Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:56 pm

While I’ve always enjoyed the humour in Veggie Tales, I became a fan of Phil Vischer after reading his book, Me, Myself and Bob; which chronicles the ups and downs of trying to build a kidvid empire, only to watch it collapse; and the lessons God has taught him throughout the process.

So after getting this as an e-mail this morning; I wanted to pass it on.  Don’t miss the enormity of the task they’re taking on here: 20 minutes of fresh content DAILY delivered to your computer.

jellytelly

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dear FFP (friends and fans of Phil!) …

We’ve launched!  After three years of work, we just launched JellyTelly – our new kids “mini-network” – at www.JellyTelly.com!

Every day on JellyTelly kids can watch 20 minutes of “mini” TV shows and play online games while learning about the Bible and their faith.  Biblical illiteracy is a huge problem in the church, and we think we can help address it in the same way Sesame Street tackled basic literacy back in the 60s and 70s.

phil-vischerBeyond that, by collaborating with other Christian producers we are planting the seed for what could become an alternative to Nickelodeon® and the Disney Channel® – a tiny kids network that can help raise the next generation of Christians while launching the next generation of Christian storytellers.  It’s an exciting time – the most fun I’ve had since we launched VeggieTales® out of a spare bedroom way back in 1993!

To hear more about the mission of JellyTelly, watch this video.  To see a sample of our programming and meet Buck Denver, Clive & Ian, the Bentley Brothers, Dr. Schniffenhowzen, Agnes & Winnefred, and Quacky the Duck, watch this clip.

We’ve got a great opportunity to launch the next phase of Christian kids media, and you can be a part of it.  Check it out at www.JellyTelly.com!

Phil Vischer

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.