Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Johnny Be Good

November 15, 2013

I want my kids to be good.  I want them to mind when their parents tell them something, to be kind to one another and everyone else for that matter, to respect themselves as well as others regardless of their age, to be honest and responsible. I want my kids to be good.

But this isn’t the same thing as raising Christian kids.  This blogger reminds us of this fact.  The fact that he quotes Phil Vischer is also interesting.
As with many Christian parents, when our kids came along and we were looking for good material for them to watch, Veggie Tales was at the top of the list.  They weren’t nearly as insipid as Barney or Teletubbies, they were Christian-based – what more could you want?  Our kids loved them, and so did my wife and I.  They were that rare mix of production that engages with young minds while also keeping the adult in the room from nodding off into a coma.  
In Seminary I remember being disgusted with one of the profs who criticized Veggie Tales.  They weren’t preaching the Gospel, he said.  And while I didn’t disagree with his assessment of the shows, I didn’t feel that it was a major issue, either.  After all, we need to teach kids all sorts of things, including how to be good people.  The shows may not have taught the Gospel, but that’s OK – not everything has to.  The Gospel can be taught another way.
Unless you get confused and assume that just because something uses Jesus and the Bible as a basis, it’s teaching the Christian faith and the Gospel.  In which case, you’re apt to not go out of your way to teach the Gospel otherwise, which means your kids grow up knowing they ought to be good people, but not knowing about Jesus and how He fits into that.  And when they hit high school and college and life, and find out that lots of religions teach people to be good people, suddenly there isn’t much compelling about the Christian faith and the Bible.  All these religions must be teaching the same thing, because they all want people to be good.  
This is a good reminder to my wife and I that we have to be intentional about conveying the Gospel.  While our kids have by and large outgrown Veggie Tales (although all of us still get a kick out of some of the Silly Songs with Larry segments), we need to continue teaching them the Gospel, and the rather counter-intuitive idea that while they are to be good people, they ultimately aren’t good people in terms of God.  Which is the unique and amazing message of the Gospel – that while the rest of the world and the religions and philosophies therein work their hardest to get people to be good (whether for social good or salvation/enlightenment/hereafter stuff), the Gospel recognizes that we can’t
That’s going to take some time to flesh out and discuss and clarify and pray about.  At least 18 years.  Hopefully not too much longer than that.   Right?  

(Un)Common Sense

November 6, 2013

I don’t watch Glenn Beck.  To clarify, I don’t watch anybody on TV.  But I do recognize common sense when I hear it.  And I hear it in this segment with Mike Rowe.  

This isn’t a purely academic issue (pardon the pun), as the father of three young children.  My wife and I talk regularly about why we do what we do with them (home schooling), and what our goals for them are.  We have to talk about this regularly because there are so many pressures in any number of other possible directions.  It isn’t that any one of these other areas isn’t good and wonderful to a certain degree, but none of them can substitute for two primary goals.  
The first goal is that they have a healthy, life-long, vibrant relationship with God the Father who created them, God the Son who redeemed them, and God the Holy Spirit who is with them every second of their existence now and forever.
The second goal is that they be able to function well as independent adults.  They’ll know personal finance, how to do the laundry, how to cook, how to keep a living space clean, how to interact with other people, and hopefully how to love and be loved by one special person for the rest of their lives.
Do they need to go to college?  It depends on their giftings, their abilities, and what they want to do with their lives.  If they don’t need or want to go to college, I’ll support them in pursuing a career that doesn’t require it.  If the job is honest, and they enjoy it, I need to overcome my biases for or against any particular line of work.  
The reality is that there are a lot of jobs out there that don’t require degrees.  Our school systems are set up to drive students less towards meaningful lives and occupations and more and more just towards college.  When I was in high school I knew that there was such a thing as vocational coursework, but it always had a stigma attached to it.  In hindsight, perhaps such a sigma is unavoidable in a system that seems designed (and funded) to specifically reinforce itself and the values of test scores (which dictate funding).  
If one of our kids really wants to go into a trade or other arena that doesn’t require college, I pray I’ll be supportive enough to overcome my own biases and encourage them, while also offering whatever advice I have based on my life experiences and observations.  But just telling them that they have to do college because that’s what everybody does these days doesn’t seem to make much sense, and could become a dangerous distraction from our two main goals.  
I’m grateful for the folks who do the jobs that nobody else wants to do.  If I want my children to value these people and jobs as well, I need to be careful about what I say about those kinds of jobs.  I need to make sure my kids know that picking up garbage or driving a truck or any one of myriad jobs that don’t generally come up in home-schooling circles for discussion are valuable and honorable because they are, even if they aren’t as glamorous as being a rocket scientist, engineer, or even a pastor.

Television on the Internet

October 27, 2013

So, hypothetically speaking, if you have a lot of work to get done but are looking for a time-sink that will keep you endless procrastinating, and if you grew up with television in America, this has to be one of the most fascinating sites on the Internet – the The Archive of American Television.  

This site has interviews with writers, producers, directors, and stars of a stunning array of American television shows.  Plug Gilligan’s Island into the search bar, and a page comes up with information regarding the series and links to a dozen different people talking about the show, including some of the stars of the show.  Plug in Gunsmoke and listen to James Arness talking about the show.  Plug in Star Trek and watch Nimoy, Shatner, Koenig, Takei and others (Ricardo Montalban!) talk about the show.  
Truly a great resource if, hypothetically, one is procrastinating or needs to fill some spare hours when sleep is elusive.  

Vocationally Challenged

November 29, 2012

This article yesterday caught my eye, about one of the stars of a popular television show that has taken some serious flack for some very unflattering comments he made about the show.  Thanks to Gene Veith’s blog (always very worthwhile reading!) for a link to this interview with the actor last month before the controversy erupted.

This is an interesting – and very public – study in vocation.  How does a Christian live out their life of faith in the context of any number of roles or responsibilities in their life, in this case, actor/employee, son, co-worker, student.  
Angus T. Jones would seem to have it all.  He has been blessed to be a child actor on a very popular television sitcom.  He is well paid.  But he has reached a point where he recognizes that the themes of the show are in direct contradiction to his Christian beliefs.  In a taped interview with a source not related to his church, Jones called the show “filth” and encouraged viewers not to watch it.
This is indeed an interesting situation.  Jones feels that it is very difficult if not impossible for Christians to be actors or actresses because the industry is promoting a world-view contrary to the Scriptural one.  Yet he finds himself in exactly this predicament.  His personal comments have been widely criticized, and it’s a safe bet that, had he not already probably been planning to leave the show at the end of his current contract, he will be asked to leave now.  I can’t blame his employers for that, even if I commend Jones for his honesty.
But is his honesty a faithful way to live out his faith and vocation?  The article by Christianity Today doesn’t provide any information on Jones’ life of faith.  He indicates that he’s always gone to Christian school, but also that his home life wasn’t terribly Christian (at least by his standards).  He has recently found a place to worship in an African-American Seventh Day Adventist Church.  He describes an epiphany – moments of divine revelation – that have woken him up to the contradictory nature of his very visible vocation as an actor on this series.  Now what to do about it?
I suppose it becomes a matter of how he defines his vocation at this point.  Is his vocation to work for reform from within the industry?  He’s probably blown that chance.  Is his vocation to try and destroy a show that he sees as directly hostile to the Christian life?  I suspect he’s learned that even if he felt this was his vocation, he isn’t going to be very successful at it.  Not that success is necessarily a vocational criteria, since none of us can know the impacts of our words or actions in the long term.  Is it to provide a role model for young Christians aspiring to be entertainers?  Jones seems to close the door on that possibility, instead choosing to discourage others from getting into the entertainment industry.  He talks about the fantastic visibility he has, and the willingness of people to listen to him based on his stature.  I suspect that is a good clue as to how he can and should think of his vocational obligations right now.  
He does have obligations to his employer that are part of his vocation, regardless of how he feels about that vocation.  Publicly denouncing your source of employment as “filth” is going to be widely understood to be hypocritical and ungrateful, and not without good reason.  As he himself says, when you sign the dotted line on your contract, you have obligations to your employer.  So long as he remains bound by that contract, he is obligated in good faith to fulfill those obligations to the best of his ability.  I suspect that if it isn’t explicit in such contracts, the implication is that the employee will not publicly denounce their employer or its products.  In allowing himself to make negative statements that could be made public (since I don’t want to assume he knew his comments were going to be made public), he’s not fulfilling his vocational duties.  
All that being said, I think that Jones could still have made a very powerful witness to his faith, but avoided a lot of the public backlash and the vocational biting-of-the-hand-that-feeds-you by not speaking specifically about his show.  “Stop filling your head with filth” is a good admonition to anyone, and while people might connect the dots to determine that he thinks his show is filth, the dots would be a lot farther apart then he made them.  
It will be interesting to see if Jones leaves the series at the end of his contract.  It will also be interesting to see how God uses him in the future.  

Mayberry, RIP

July 3, 2012

I suppose there is some internal disconnect that distances me from extreme emotional responses.  That can be a blessing in my line of work, but it can just as equally be a limitation.  While it is understandable that there will be emotional responses as I see friends and loved ones reaching the end of their life, it surprises me when I have an emotional response to the death of someone I never met.  It’s just not normal for me.

But that’s what I find today with the death of Andy Griffith.  When I poke about the unexpected tenderness inside me at the news of his passing, I have to admit that it’s not so much for the man himself.  I never met him personally.  I can’t tell you the last time he came to mind.  Yet what he represents in my imagination is apparently pretty powerful, foundational stuff.  
My father had a guitar in the house when I was a young child but I don’t remember ever seeing him play.  But I can remember watching Andy Griffith strumming the guitar on his front porch in the evening with friends around him.  He wasn’t performing.  But he was playing the songs that they all knew and loved and sang together.  That has remained a defining reason why I decided to learn guitar later in life.  While I’ve yet to figure out how to create that setting of relaxed and cooperative – natural –  music, it remains one of my oddest and most persistent dreams.  
I grew up watching The Andy Griffith show in reruns in the afternoon on the local TV station in Phoenix.  I loved that show.  I still do, though until I watched a clip of one of the episodes this morning I hadn’t seen it in years.  And though there are many memorable characters from that show, Griffith is the one who held them all together.  A man made remarkable in his lack of remarkability.  A man constantly at the center of attention by his steadfast refusal to seek the spotlight and notoriety.  A man who was successful in his job not because he promoted himself, but because his simple capability is what anyone in any vocation needs, but seems to the be the first thing to be forgotten in the quest for more and greater.  
A few weeks ago a Facebook friend was querying for possible titles to a certification program his school was going to be offering.  The certification basically stated to the business world that the school stood behind these particular students and graduates as being ready and able to perform successfully in an office environment.  Sounds sort of silly, doesn’t it?  That someone could go through two or four years of school and not be ready for a job?  Welcome to today.
There were lots of impressive sounding names for this certificate offered.  My contribution to the discussion – which didn’t garner much interest or response, predictably – was that the point of such a certification wasn’t to sound high-falutin’ or fancy.  It was guaranteeing what were once considered simple, basic, elementary skills.  As such, there was no dishonor in using a basic word like ‘competency’ in the name of the certification itself.  Most businesses aren’t looking to hire Sir Richard Branson.  They’re looking to hire someone that is capable and competent in whatever the position asks of them.  
I don’t think suggestion was what my friend was looking for.
This is what Griffith always seemed to emanate.  Capacity.  Competence.  Humility.  Not in the sense we seem to hear that word today – as someone with no self esteem or someone who has nothing to offer – but in the traditional sense of someone who doesn’t allow their own abilities to eclipse their sense of who they really are.  The greater the abilities, the harder it is to ensure that they retain their proper place in our sense of self.  The greater the talent, the more impressive the humility, or the more dangerous the lack thereof.
We glorify pride and arrogance today on television.  Although I gave up watching TV regularly eight years ago, I haven’t heard about many shows where humility is the central showcase feature.  Griffith’s shows – particularly The Andy Griffith Show, were marked by his humility, which was often the saving grace for those around him with delusions of grandeur.  
So I miss Andy.  I miss the fact that through a long public life his personal life and on-screen personas seemed remarkably well matched.  I respect his deep Christian faith.  And I’m grateful for his unexpected influence on me.  I know that he rests in peace and joy now, and I look forward to some time in the future when perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to strum the guitar with him.  Not competing.  Not showboating.  But just being.  

Of All the Crazy, Green-Blooded Ideas…

May 26, 2012

Ok, yeah.  This is pretty cool.

Colbert Report

January 8, 2012

Not watching TV has some downsides, I suppose.  One of them is that the phenomenon of Stephen Colbert has largely eluded me.  As compensation, I realized the other day that Ryan Seacrest really has no meaning in my life, despite the fact that someone thinks he’s worth $15 million per year to host American Idol.  If I were watching TV, I might be incensed about that situation.  Livid.  But as it is, I can say it literally with a smile.  No effect.

One of my only real exposures to Colbert was this awesome little video clip that mocks (to the endangerment of my marriage) liturgical dance.  It’s just so perfect.
But while readying this New York Times article on Colbert, I was blown away by his statement about 2/3 of the way into the article.  I’m amazed they printed it.  I’m amazed that there isn’t more commentary or explanation about it.  It explodes out of nowhere and the article continues on as if nothing strange had happened.  But for me, it is an amazing exploration of what it means to live in grace.  Free.  Completely free.  See if you can figure out what paragraph I’m referring to, and let me know how this jives with your understanding of Colbert and his character of the same name.  

Good Grief, Charlie Brown

December 9, 2011
I wrote this a week ago, but somehow it didn’t get published!

I grew up with A Charlie Brown Christmas.  And while I don’t watch television regularly any more, it remains one of my fondest memories of the medium.  It doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that 46 years ago, television executives were probably just as leery of the show’s appeal as they would be today.  

But it’s a good reminder of what we can accomplish in large and small ways if we attempt to remain true to our convictions, rather than cave to the pressures of the culture around us.  

Good Grief, Charlie Brown

December 2, 2011

I grew up with A Charlie Brown Christmas.  And while I don’t watch television regularly any more, it remains one of my fondest memories of the medium.  It doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that 46 years ago, television executives were probably just as leery of the show’s appeal as they would be today.  

But it’s a good reminder of what we can accomplish in large and small ways if we attempt to remain true to our convictions, rather than cave to the pressures of the culture around us.  

Best Friends?

August 11, 2011

When I ran across a blurb on this yesterday, I wasn’t sure if it was legit.  But apparently it is, so I’ll weigh in.  There’s a petition afoot to have Sesame Street make Bert & Ernie get married.  The petition states that it can be done in a “tasteful way”.  

It’s tempting to take offense at this, and there are certainly plenty of good reasons for it.  On one level it’s another brazen effort to indoctrinate young children in the arena of sexuality and sexual norms.  Rather interesting, given the show’s overall non-sexual nature (Katy Perry guest appearances not withstanding).  I’m assuming however, that those pushing for this change in the show’s characters are seeking equal representation (there are heterosexual married humans on the show, though I’m pretty certain this is never an emphasis of the show!).  
On another level, it’s a reminder of how hyper-sexualized we are as a culture.  Any relationship between two people can be suspect of being sexual – or must at least hold sexual possibilities (along the lines of the ‘friends with benefits’ theme explored in yet another movie).  Any close relationship between two people regardless of gender is fair game for innuendo and smirking.  Or for being co-opted into a sexual relationship for marketing purposes.  This is what we’re taught in our culture.
It’s sick, until you realize how steeped in this we all are – even those of us who recognize it and fight against it.  I was with some buddies a few nights ago and we were discussing someone we all know who is a very eligible single person – gainfully employed, educated, professional, etc. – who we have not seen in any sort of romantic relationship.  And after a few beers or glasses of wine, there were the inevitable snickerings and musings as to this person’s sexual orientation.  After all, if you’re a normal person (whatever that means), you ought to be married (or at least divorced) by a certain age assuming you don’t have some sort of mitigating circumstances.  If you aren’t, perhaps you’re gay, right?  
No, not right.
The idea that someone could be good, platonic friends with someone else ought to be a basic one.  And at least for Biblical Christians, the idea that someone could choose to remain single without it meaning that they’re in some way gay or sexually confused ought to be a basic one as well.  After all, St. Paul has some firm ideas about the benefits of the single life in the focus and freedom it can afford someone for sharing the Gospel (1Corinthians 7:6-9, 32-35).  The Bible affirms the validity of both married heterosexual relationships as well as the single life.  Yet culturally we’ve been tweaked to assume that anyone who doesn’t marry or publicly date must be gay or have something wrong with them.
A statement from Sesame Street clarifies that Bert and Ernie (who share a bedroom but not a bed) were created to teach children that people who are very different can get along.  At the same time, the pair serves as a powerful example that people can be very close without being sexual, and that people can remain single and good friends without it meaning that they’re sexually involved or attracted to each other.  
Which is a lot for a couple of puppets to convey to 4-year olds.  Maybe more of us should be watching to be reminded of these simple and timeless truths.