Saturday, April 18, 2015

You've Said It...And, Now I Know It to Be True

Today, while I was poking around online, as I tend to do at times, I came across Plugged In's review of Fox's hit show The Mindy Project.  I may have read it before...but, when I looked over it today, it stirred some serious emotions in me.  Here's an excerpt:
Mindy Lahari [sic] is a good person. In her heart she knows this.

So what if she doesn't always do particularly good things or say particularly nice words or think particularly good thoughts? [...] That doesn't diminish the inherent ball of goodness that she is. Really. She is.

And while she might not have been good today, she will be good tomorrow, she swears. Or, perhaps, the day after.

Such is the setup of Fox's comedy The Mindy Project. The project, it would seem, is Mindy herself—embarking on a listless, bunny-hop progression of self-improvement that emphasizes self and sort of loses the improvement part along the way.

Mindy is played by The Office alum Mindy Kaling. She's a thirtysomething ob-gyn [sic] who was raised, essentially, by romantic comedies. She believes true love has to be the product of quirky meetings and heartfelt speeches and, if possible, a swelling musical score. Thus, as the star of her very own romantic comedy (otherwise known as her everyday life), she believes that those around her should accept her quirks, foibles and flat-out bad behavior with grace, good humor and understanding.

When her relationships don't turn out as she'd hoped or people wander off her internal script—well, it's all she can do to avoid stomping off to complain to the director.

The Mindy Project is gleefully self-aware. And in a twisted sort of way, it's a show Plugged In "gets."

Now, follow me for a minute here: Mindy is no role model, but the writers don't intend her to be. She is instead a reflection of our media-soaked, self-obsessed times. She's been told all her life that she's a great person (no matter what she does), and she believes it. She believes the template for lifelong love can be found in the movies. She believes the world owes her something, and woe to the world should it fail to pony up. And when Mindy's at her best—her real best—it's when she turns her attention away from herself and, just for a moment, considers the well-being of someone else.

She is (at least in the show's earliest stages) the foundation of a cautionary tale: If you follow secular society's step-by-step instructions to life and don't have anyone to provide a little perspective and moral grounding (say, your parents or even Plugged In), this is what can happen. It is, perhaps, the most cogent statement of 21st-century foibles and failings I've seen on television.
 Why did that affect me so much? It's not because I'm a fan of the show; honestly, I've never seen it, and I have no intention of doing so.  Rather, it's because Mindy Lahiri's life sounds way too much like mine...which is a big problem.

What exactly is the issue? Well, it's multifold.  First off: "[Mindy has] been told all her life that she's a great person (no matter what she does), and she believes it."  Over the years, I have won the favor of countless people.  From a young age, various folks--mostly older, but sometimes coeval too--were amazed by everything from my vocabulary to my computer skills to my dedication to morality to my Bible knowledge to my bargain hunting skills to...well, you name it! Though I'll admit that there are times when I deserve praise, there have also been plenty of times when I deserved the exact opposite...but wanted no part of it.  From a young age, I believed that I was a "good" kid.  Never mind that I got one grounding after another at home, or narrowly escaped serious disciplinary action at school several times; as far as I was concerned, I was still good...or even great.  I talked before about an incident where I was accused of having an air of superiority; that wasn't the only time it happened.

The issue of praise vs. reprimanding is tough.  I remember hearing a Father's Day sermon where the preacher described how a search of his notes showed that his Mother's Day sermons were usually praising and adoring mothers, whereas the Father's Day sermons were almost always challenging dads to be better.  Part of that may have been that the preacher didn't want to toot his own horn, as he had been a father of two for quite a while up to that point.  Still, you don't want to do nothing but praise someone, especially when they're doing wrong...but, at the same time, if all you do is reprimand and rebuke, you could be seen as hypercritical and a jerk, and the recipient could despise you.  I know that because I've had to deal with people--especially one in particular--who rarely had anything nice to say about anything I did, and got all out of joint over essentially nothing, such as a brief reference to Mork & Mindy or the Disney Channel.  Still, looking back, I realize: Even if I couldn't stand such individuals...maybe they had a good reason for rebuking me; I very well could have been the one being the jerk, despite my belief of the opposite.  Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice." (NIV) Most of the people I've known were much wiser than I ever gave them credit for.

You may already know this story, but, I'm going to tell it anyway: When my niece was born a decade ago, my sister and brother-in-law had three cats and two dogs...but, by the time my niece turned three, both of the pooches and at least one of the felines had to be euthanized due to various health concerns.  Though that's always hard to deal with, it became even more difficult when my niece wouldn't stop talking about them, and believed with all her heart that they were coming back someday.  No matter what her parents said, they couldn't deter her; my brother-in-law told me, "We have tried to explain this to her so many times, and it just goes right over her head."

I mention that for one reason: Even though I'm a grown man, I can be the same way; I hear what someone says, but I staunchly disagree because it just isn't what I want to hear.  Just before the likely permanent ending of our friendship, one of my former friends had this to say:
You are very rigid about your opinions, and it seems that if one does not agree with you, they are persecuting you, or just wrong. [...] Being so dogmatic can lead people to just agree without sharing their own ideas and opinions, because they don’t want to argue anymore. This means they stop really sharing themselves, and it keeps friendships very shallow.
 You may very well have read those words before, and saw how I staunchly disagreed with them...which is only further proof of how right she was.  In fact, said former friend got really upset because I refused to accept what she said...and understandably so.  She was merely trying to reach out in love, but instead got relentlessly burned.  The lesson to be learned here is: Numerous people have given me suggestions of things to try in order to have a fuller, richer, happier, why haven't I tried them? I can answer that in three words: Stubbornness...and laziness.

Second off: "Mindy believes the template for lifelong love can be found in the movies." Another former friend had this to say just before things irreparably went south for us:
No, I don't know what it feels like to not have a date/not be engaged/not be married, but i can tell you that all the people that we know that ARE doing those things--specifically engaged, married, are doing so at a young age, I think the average age of marriage is 26-28? And even later. God, Jerry, there are so many people that get married later in life. The media IS permeating your reflection of reality. Most people DONT [sic] get married so young. If my situation is [sic] different, I would have waited until I was done with grad school (25ish). But it's not.
 We all know that I grew up on entertainment.  True, some of the media I've consumed over the years had nothing to do with romance, especially when it came to gaming; love stories and Nintendo rarely mix.  Still, right much of it is just that.  Lizzie and Gordo went from best friends to becoming an item; Mork & Mindy were married and had a kid in the show's fourth and final season; and, of course, there were all those "girly" romance movies such as Leap Year and The Princess Diaries, not to mention the countless books--usually within the Christian fiction genre--that were in a similar vein.  I had plenty of other books and DVDs to watch--superhero cartoons, mysteries, sci-fi/fantasy, Christian devotional books--but I still consumed such media like it was going out of style.  My mom even mentioned a year or two ago that reading romances written by women was causing problems, and I was not happy with her for telling me that...but, a former friend of mine was saying just that years prior.  The former friend who talked about my "rigid opinions" had this to say on the subject:
I believe you have some unrealistic expectations of how relationships develop and function. They are not instantaneous, and ones that last are not easy. Whether romantic or platonic, relationships are a lot of work. They require mutual respect and consideration. [...] When you’ve talked about marriage, it’s always been about the ways you would benefit. What will you bring to a marriage? This is not about income. You’ll need to be her friend, her shoulder to cry on, and her sounding board. She’s not always going to agree with you. Will she just always be wrong (Because you know you’re not going to marry a woman who is always picking on you.)?
 Entertainment has a tendency to portray relationships--whether they involve marriage or not--as idyllic fairy tales.  How many times have we seen a show or movie that ends with a wedding and the implied assumption that they lived happily ever after? That's not the way it really works, though; even I know that a marriage is merely a new beginning...and it's wrong to expect happily ever after.  Some time ago, I read the book The Vow, the true story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, a married couple faced with crisis; it was eventually turned into a movie starring Rachel McAdams, which I have no interest in seeing.  Long story short, a mere ten weeks after they said, "I do," a car accident led to Krickitt completely losing all memory of her husband and their marriage; when they asked her who her husband was, she said the name of her old high school boyfriend.  Kim's dedication to her was admirable; if I remember correctly, he went to the trouble of holding another wedding and having another honeymoon, since she had completely lost all memory of the first ones.  That isn't a tale of infidelity or divorce, but it does show the problems that married couples go through; that isn't very "happily ever after," is it? The question that remains is: If I ever got married, would I be as dedicated as Kim Carpenter was...or, would I treat my wife like a device, and trade her in for a "new model" when she started giving me problems? I'd like to say that I'd do the former...but, with the fictional accounts of marriage I've seen, it would be hard for me not to do the latter, because problems like that aren't supposed to happen...yet they do, all the time, as I'm sure you married folks could attest to.  Maybe it's time to cut back on the romantic movies and books.

My third--and most alarming--point: "And when Mindy's at her best--her real best--it's when she turns her attention away from herself and, just for a moment, considers the well-being of someone else." We all know that I've lost friends; some of them abandoned me for reasons that aren't exactly clear.  I used to say that it was the posts about the celebrity crushes and entertainment in general that caused me to be unfriended, and that's likely true to a degree...but, more than that, it was likely my continued selfishness.  When I was little, my mom and my sister used to tell me, "Everything's always about Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!" I couldn't figure why they kept saying it, and, when I've thought about it in recent years, it seemed they were being harsh...but they weren't.  People are selfish by nature, but, in my typical style, I take the "normal" human trait and exaggerate it to levels many people have never seen.  When things don't go my way, I tend to freak out, and fail to look at the bigger picture.  Just look at this quotation from yet another former friend:
You place a lot of pressure on your friends and if they don't give you the right answers or do exactly what you expect of them, you cut them off. You ever think that unfair pressure on people has an affect [sic] on your relationship with them?

You're are [sic] not a hopeless case, but you need to do a lot of soul searching. And I will be removing you as a friend as well because of what you have said and done. [...] Try to take some steps on the road to maturity and maybe apologize to some people without making it all about you and your AS. [sic] People respect humility and the ability to admit mistakes take responsibility. Take some time to figure out what that means to you.
What's the context here? Long story short: When someone who I used to call my "best friend" got engaged to her longtime beau...I lost it.  I not only unfriended her, I laid her out in a Facebook note for all of my friends to see.  True, some people actually applauded me for what I did; maybe they just didn't want to break my heart by telling me what they were really thinking...but, this friend of my supposed best friend wasn't mincing words.  I could say that was the last time it happened...but it wasn't.  It's happened again and again and again, in ways that most of you don't know about.  I've been doing it for so long, I just don't know how to stop.

My last point before my conclusion: "[Mindy] believes the world owes her something, and woe to the world should it fail to pony up." When I was a senior in high school, there was a fight during lunch one day that was started because one guy wouldn't stop taunting another guy; the opinion among my classmates was that the recipient of the first blow deserved it...but that wouldn't be the Christian response.  Sometimes, when I think of people who have done me wrong, I believe they deserve to be punished for what they've done to me.  There's a guy I used to know who used to brutally harass me, and was pretty much a jerk quite a bit of the time.  Years after I lost contact with him, my mom was taking care of his aunt--who lived with the guy and his dad--as part of her job as a home care nurse.  Despite his supposed plans to the contrary, he never went to college or got a job; all he did was hang out at his dad's house and play video games.  It would be easy for me to be like Junior Asparagus at the start of Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie and say to him, "You're just getting what you deserve!"...but, as the film goes on to show, that's not right.  It's not my job to give people what they deserve; Romans 12:19 says to "leave room for God's wrath" (NIV), because He has promised to repay those who do wrong.

Besides which, it's not like I'm some special individual who deserves absolutely nothing but respect and honor.  This kind of goes back to the first point: I may be unique, but that doesn't make me superior to anyone else.  Jesus warned His followers that they would be persecuted (John 15:20), and that includes me.  Who among you reading this has never suffered mistreatment at someone else's hands? No one, right? Even if it wasn't for being a Christian--or even if you're not one, for that matter--you've been hurt emotionally and/or physically by someone...and so have I.  It's just part of life; people are going to be jerks and do the wrong thing...including to me.

Now, for my conclusion: For a long time--especially in recent years--people everywhere have done whatever they can to discredit the Christian faith.  Many of you probably remember the documentary from filmmaker James Cameron about the supposed tomb of Jesus.  A longtime Baptist friend of mine saw it, and had a serious issue with it as soon as it started; when they said, "This may [emphasis mine] be the tomb of Jesus," his first reaction was, "Well, if you weren't sure, why did you go to the trouble of making a documentary about it?" Though we've seen more of such media come down the pipeline since then, that isn't the biggest discredit to the Savior of the world.  You know what is? People who claim to be Christians but don't act in a Christian way.  I could sit here and tell you stories about people of the faith that did me wrong...but I've got no room to talk.  Whatever they've done, I've probably done worse; by the world's standard, at least, since all sins are the same to God.  One of the reasons I've always admired the Apostle Paul is because of what he says in 1 Timothy 1:15: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst."  You all have said for quite a while that changes have been in order; now, I know it to be true.  Here's to acting in a Christian everything I do.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Are YOU Into It?

All the way back in 2000, a whopping 1.5 decades ago, I officially became a Boy Scout.  I wasn't new to Scouting; I had previously spent over 2.5 years as a Cub Scout, mostly in Webelos, which is the last part of Cub Scouting that is meant to prepare kids for Boy Scouting.  Despite that, however, it wasn't my choice to join a Boy Scout troop; in fact, I almost didn't.  When I was finishing up Cub Scouting, I wanted to stop there; I just didn't see myself as a Boy Scout.  To me, a Boy Scout is more than a moral person of the male gender; he is an outdoorsman, a sportsman, and relatively athletic, among other things...all of which I never have been.  However, my sister insisted, and I ended up wasting thirteen months in the program before my mom decided to pull the plug, saying what I had known all along: it wasn't a good fit for me.

Boy Scouting was one of many things that other people--both family members and friends--tried to get me into that just never captivated my interest.  When I was only about six or seven years old, my mom signed me up for roller skating lessons after a psychologist suggested that "non-competitive sports" would be good for me...but I didn't enjoy the class at all.  She then signed me up for swimming lessons, which I liked even less.  Also included in that category is everything from AVID--that is, Advancement via Individual Determination--to owning a dog; I think, by now, you all know the story of the latter: when my mom brought home a canine companion intended specifically for me, I was positively livid.

There are countless other stories I could tell you...but I won't.  What I will tell you is this: In every case, my lack of interest was because I just couldn't get excited about...well, whatever.  I remember back in summer of 2003, my mom and I were in a store, and I got all excited when I saw a Lizzie McGuire calendar.  I showed it to my mom, who said, "That doesn't excite me!" It's understandable that she felt that way; she would have known nothing of Lizzie had it not been for me, and just because she respected my interest in it didn't mean anything related to the show or Hilary Duff in general thrilled her the least bit.  Most of you reading this probably feel the same way about most of what I do: you're happy that I have hobbies and fun things to do, and you're glad when something good happens to me related to those hobbies...but the thought of garage saling for an entire Saturday morning or watching an entire season of a TV show in a week doesn't excite you at all.

One of the hardest things to do when dealing with young children or those who are severely mentally impaired is making them understand tough concepts.  When my niece was born just over a decade ago, my sister and brother-in-law had two dogs and three cats...but, by the time my niece turned three, both of the dogs and at least one of the cats had to be euthanized because of various health concerns.  My niece, however, couldn't stop talking about the deceased pets, and seemed to think they were coming back someday.  Their continued explanations that they just were gone forever didn't take; as my brother-in-law said, "We've tried to explain it to her so many times, and it just goes right over her head!" Losing a loved one--including a pet--is tough for anyone to accept; my niece, however, just couldn't do that at all.  In another case, a family friend who had a mentally retarded son who was well into his twenties at the time was dealing with a very caustic situation.  Long story short, some random girl told him that she was having his child, even though he had never seen her before in his life.  Most people his age would realize the ridiculousness of such a claim...but, he believed it, because he was so far behind mentally that he didn't understand the concept of human reproduction.  His parents tried to tell him time and time again that said young woman couldn't be having his baby...but, he just had trouble comprehending it.  The whole situation seriously stressed his entire family.

I'm not a little kid anymore, and I'm perfectly capable of understanding adult concepts...but, sometimes, people have trouble getting me interested in things outside my area of interest, and have to use such tactics.  Sometimes, no matter what people say, it just doesn't work; I'm just not going to get excited about some things, especially if they relate to sports.  People have gotten mad at times because of my lack of interest; my brother-in-law was once really upset because I was all excited about an upcoming youth retreat...but couldn't have cared less about any Boy Scout camping trips.  To be honest, I can understand his feelings to a degree--he had worked hard up to that point to keep me in Scouting--but, still, he knew that I really didn't want to be in the program at all, so it shouldn't have surprised him.

I know my areas of interest are limited; when I think about that, it reminds me of an episode of Home Improvement.  It starts with Jill telling Tim that she can't take their younger son Mark to a ballet, so, Tim has to do it.  At first, he plans on doing just that...but, then, his neighbor Wilson gives him courtside tickets to a Detroit Pistons game...which is happening right around the same time as the ballet.  Tim and Mark leave the ballet early to attend the ball game; they try and keep it from Jill, but, as usual, she finds out anyway.  When she and Tim discuss it, she says, "Tim, for years I have been trying to expose the boys to something other than sports, tools, and cars.  I can't get Brad interested; Randy's light is barely flickering; now, you've gone and taken what I had with Mark."  Some people could say the same for me: "Everything you do seems to involve technology, entertainment, or shopping! There's so much more to life than that; why won't you try something new?"  First off, you'd be hard-pressed to find many things that don't involve technology; even getting a shower or sitting in church--unless your house of worship doesn't use PowerPoint--would fall into that category.  Second off, you may think that's limited, but you don't realize that my scope of interests is much broader than it has ever been.  When I was younger, I usually had a favorite entity...and everything was about that entity.  It was kind of like a little child who learns his or her first word, and proceeds to think of everything as that word; my mom used to babysit a little girl who learned the word "cat", and would point at everything from the television set to our dog and say, "Cat!"  I made progress over time, but, it wasn't until recent years that my interests even came close to being as varied as they are currently.  Maybe, over time, they'll broaden even more; we'll see what the future holds.  Still, for me, where my interests are now is quite good; ask someone who knew me when I was younger if you don't believe me.

In conclusion: I realize that my tastes in pretty much everything make me unique...but that's just how I like it.  People who tell me to do the "normal" thing instead are seriously misguided; they don't truly know me, and, whether they admit it or not, they don't want me to be me.  My interests--in all areas, not just television--are a big part of who I am.  I remember a quotation in my sophomore yearbook from a guy who said that "growing up with rap music" was a very big influence on him, and made him who he was at that time.  You all know I never bother with mainstream hip-hop tunes, but, I kind of feel the same way: I am who I am today because of not only television, but movies, books, video/computer games, technology, garage saling...and all of the other things that I grew up with, most of which I still hold in high regard to this day.  It gives me a different perspective than most, but, if you're my friend, you shouldn't have a problem with that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why I Do..., No. 4: Why I Admire Strong Women

I was raised by women.  After my biological father walked out on us when I was too young to even remember, and my grandfather died when I was only five years old, it was up to the women in my life--my mom, my middle sister, and my grandmother--to take charge.  Without any guys to rely on--well, for the most part, anyway--they had a tough road to travel...but, with the help of friends and other family members--many of whom were also women--they showed what they were made of, and proved they didn't need husbands to do everything for them.

It's no surprise, then, that I would admire strong women.  One look at some of my favorite female fictional characters over the past decade or so is perfect proof:
  • In Kickin' It, Kim, who was the lone female among her group of friends, proved that she was a force to be reckoned with, and wasn't afraid to use her karate skills on anyone who tried to threaten her, even a famous singer who turned out to be a jerk.
  • On Mork & Mindy, Mindy looked after Mork and put up with his constantly childish behavior, not to mention all the times she explained Earth culture to him.
  • On H2O: Just Add Water, Emma saved one of her sworn enemies from drowning using her mermaid ability, even at the risk of her big secret being found out.
There's plenty more where that came from; trust me.  I have to agree with the late author Anne McCaffrey when she said, "There is not a Cinderella theme.  Cinderella was a wimp.  My heroines are victims--strong people--who become survivors."  It's telling that, in high school, I wrote the longest piece I've written to this day: a tale of a female superhero and the guy who adored her.  It was pretty much a gender-swap of Spider-Man, except my heroine didn't shoot webs; she had a costume-matching green belt that was strong enough to knock a propane tank that someone hurled at her out of the way, not to mention the ability to teleport by simply touching her nose.  She wasn't all toughness, though; when she thought her best friend was going to die, "a tear came to her eye."  Most people didn't know, but, I actually modeled her after a real-life friend of mine who I had seen perform in my high school's production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers...which also features a strong woman as its lead.

We all know that there are some traditions as to certain things women don't do, especially in relationships.  Most people will tell you that girls never ask guys out, nor do they ever propose marriage; it's up to the guy to do that.  My question is: Why? If a girl likes some guy, why should she wait around to see if he likes her back? If a couple has been together long enough--and how long is "enough" depends on the couple--why does she have to eagerly wait in anticipation for him to "pop the question"?  It's not that I'm completely against guys asking girls out or proposing marriage; I just don't see why a lady can't take charge of the situation and do the job herself.  It's one of the many things about human tradition that I don't quite understand.

One of my favorite places to read about strong women is the Bible.  Critics of God's Word say that it maligns women and puts them at a lower status, but, I staunchly disagree.  Sure, there were some wicked women--the infamous Jezebel comes to mind--but there were some wicked guys as well, such as Judas Iscariot.  However, throughout both the Old and New Testaments, you read about honorable, God-fearing women.  In the OT, you've got Deborah, the only woman among the Judges; Hannah, who never gave up in her desire for a son, and it paid off; Abigail, who was married to a jerk--seriously, the guy's name meant "fool"--but honored her king and ended up marrying him after her loser of a husband died as a result of his own anger; and Esther, the girl who became queen and saved her people.  As for the NT, a personal favorite is Mary, Jesus' mother; not only did she take on the responsibility of carrying the Savior of the world--which led to some controversy--but even caused him to perform his first miracle, proving that even Jesus needed a mother.  Christ also used other women to spread the news about Him, such as the woman at the well, who went and told others immediately after speaking with Him, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?" (John 4:29, NIV) Of course, who could forget Mary Magdalene, who went to Jesus' tomb before the others did, and was the first to discover that He had risen? Seriously, if you think the Bible lowers the status of're not reading it enough.

I have two concluding points.  First off: Though strong women are usually admirable, there are times when they aren't.  Sometimes, female characters can become a Mary Sue, which, simply defined, is a lady who is unrealistically perfect, and can do absolutely everything imaginable with no help from anyone else.  A good example of that is Zoey Brooks, lead character of Nickelodeon's Zoey 101.  In the first season alone, she becomes one of the first girls to attend a formerly all-boys school, shows up the guys on the basketball team, turns random video clips into a winning commercial, and starts a backpack-making business...all with very little effort.  That's just too much.  Not only that, but, I actually find female bodybuilders rather unattractive.  I'm not against women being physically strong--these days, they need it more than ever--but, I don't like women who look like guys.  Maybe my same-gender friends feel differently, but, I have no interest in the female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Second off: Many women may be strong...but that's no excuse for guys to slack on the job.  Though I agree with feminism's stance that women shouldn't be treated as second-class citizens, I also feel that men shouldn't either.  I once had a guy tell me, "We're men; we're dumb." I know what it's like to go around thinking you're an idiot or a loser; I used to feel that way all the time because of my condition.  Eventually, I realized that such feelings were wrong; I could do a lot more than I was giving myself credit for, if only I would bother to try.  The same is true of other groups of people: those of certain races, those of certain occupations...and those of either gender.  Regardless of whether you're male or female, you're doing yourself a major disservice by labeling yourself as dumb; take it from someone who did just that...for years.

Monday, April 6, 2015

What Makes Entertainment Christian?

Over the past two decades or so, we have seen Christian entertainment grow by leaps and bounds, and reach levels of popularity it never has before.  From the mega-bestselling Left Behind books, which have inspired spinoff media ranging from movies to comic book adaptations to even a computer game, to Big Idea's VeggieTales, which started off as a series of videos but has practically become a household name, even among those outside the Christian community, to Christian bands and artists ranging from Skillet to TobyMac to Amy Grant to Relient K, all of whom have fans in the millions, to various movies ranging from Biblical epics (Son of God, The Prince of Egypt) to dramas (God's Not Dead, Fireproof) to even comedies (Moms' Night Out, Thou Shalt Laugh).  In every case, you've got plenty of people who don't identify themselves as Christians, but are nonetheless fans of such entertainment.  You've also got some Christians who refuse to consume such media, because they believe it to be of low quality, or they believe a term like "contemporary Christian music" is an oxymoron.  As someone who regularly consumes entertainment of all kinds, I have to ask myself: What makes it Christian? Sometimes, that can be hard to determine; here are some thoughts I have about the whole issue:

First off: Does the media literally praise God? That can be hard to determine; I've heard praise songs that could just as easily be interpreted as being about romantic love.  It isn't just the contemporary stuff that you hear on K-Love; at my old church, we used to sing a song called "When I Fell in Love With You" that sounded like something from a cheesy Broadway musical: "When I fell in love with You/ I fell hard; what could I do?/ You took the old and left me new/ [...] When I fell in love with You/ You swept me off my feet!" (Just reading the lyrics doesn't do it justice; you have to actually hear it sung a capella to appreciate the cheesiness.) Then again, many of the best-loved Christian songs never mention God in any way, such as Relient K's "Pressing On," which even ends with an allusion to The Mary Tyler Moore Show: "We're gonna make it after all." Many popular CCM bands--including RK--have songs that have nothing to do with God, such as "I'm Lion-O!", which is all about ThunderCats.  I myself have written such songs--okay, technically, rewrites of others' songs--that do similar things, such as turning "All About That Bass" into an ode to the Disney Channel...but I wouldn't consider them Christian.  In fact, if someone made a recording of one of my spoofs and played it during a Sunday morning service at my church, I'd probably walk out; that's no time to be singing the praises of some cable channel!

Don't get me wrong: I do believe that mainstream entertainment has its place.  Some would say that a song that doesn't specifically praise God isn't worth singing, but, think about it: What would you sing at someone's birthday party; "Doxology"? How would you teach kids the alphabet? I don't know whose idea it was to put all twenty-six letters to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," but he or she was a genius; it makes it much easier to help little kids learn their ABC's, as I learned when my mom used to run a daycare.  If you look at the Bible, you'll even see that the book of Esther never mentions God; so, if God's Word has an entire book that never mentions the Almighty, why does every single thing we write, sing, watch, read, or play have to?

Second off: Is the media based in morality? Some people would assume that absolute morality implies an unequivocal "G" rating, but, I don't think so; in fact, these days, some theatrical films with a label of "PG" or higher are more moral than the ones supposedly for "general audiences".  A good example is To Save a Life, a Christian film that was given a "PG-13," and for good reason; it contains everything from profanity to drug use to illicit sex, all involving teenagers.  That may sound sinful, but, that's exactly the point: Such behaviors are vilified for the sins that they are.  It may not be first grade Sunday School material, but, it definitely gets its point across.  Still other Christian movies--and other entertainment as well--can also contain harder-edged content, but they're not glorifying it; they're simply using it as an example of what not to do.  One of the things I've always liked about the Disney Channel and old-school shows such as Mork & Mindy or The Andy Griffith Show is that characters usually either do the right thing or face the consequences of their actions, if not both.  The same is true of much Christian entertainment: It may contain people acting in sinful ways...but it decries it.  Too much media these days glorifies sin instead of vilifying it, which is a big problem, especially for discerning viewers like me.

Third off: Does it point people to Jesus? This kind of relates to the first point, but, praising God is a little different than pointing people to Jesus.  You can thank God for giving you everything you have, but that doesn't mean you've accepted Jesus as your Savior.  One of the things I've heard in recent years is that, as humans, we are made to worship; the only question is: What exactly are we worshiping? People everywhere are practically bowing down at the altars of celebrities, sports teams, fictional characters, etc. They may not think it's worship, but, it very well could be; I never literally prayed to Hilary Duff or Anne Hathaway--doing so would have been unthinkable--but, my attitude towards them bent on idolatry.  It's pretty bad when you reconnect with an old friend from high school and one of the first things he asks you is, "You still worship that one actress?" Suffice it to say: I know all about idolatry; I suffered from it for years.  Oh, sure, I went to church; I attended Bible class; I believed in God; I listened to Christian music...but, my heart still lied with whatever entertainment-related entities.  I could say those days are past, because I'm done with the celebrity crushes, but television in general could be just as much of an idol as any given celebrity.  Maybe if I spent less time talking about the Mouse network and more time discussing my faith, people would know more about the One who created us and died for our sins, and less about the ones starring in I Didn't Do It.

In conclusion, I will say this: Entertainment speaks to people everywhere; in fact, I believe part of the reason Jesus was a popular teacher was because He didn't just speak words, but also entertained folks as well.  Even people in the Christian world would agree that mainstream entertainment can be very good; when Pat Robertson started the Family Channel--before it got ruined by ABC--he intended to have family-friendly shows and movies instead of nothing but Christian media.  I read somewhere that Robertson himself said upon founding the network, "Only a masochist would want to watch religious shows all day long."  Like anything, Christian media can get tired after a while; thanks to modern technology, there are plenty of alternatives, even for seriously discerning viewers and listeners such as yours truly. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

In Defense of My Entertainment Choices

It's no secret that I wear my tastes in entertainment on my sleeve.  For most of you, the fact that I liked some entertainment-related entity--it could be anything from Star Wars to Lizzie McGuire--was probably one of the first, if not the first, thing you found out about me.  It's also all over my Facebook page; even most of my weekly memes are dedicated to some form of entertainment, such as "TUNESday" and "Movie Magic Monday".  Whatever the case, it's become my trademark, and I'm actually okay with that; I could be known for something much worse.  When I was in Boy Scouting, I knew a guy who was pretty much seen as a target; the other guys did nothing but hurl insults at him, only because he was a complete jerk to everyone when he first became part of the troop.  I don't want to be known for something negative; that's why, if Disney Channel is what I'm known for...fine with me.

Still, some people have a problem with my entertainment choices.  They may not come right out and say it, but, the signs are there; why else would people continually unfriend me or brush me off when I try and talk to them? Certain folks have even gone as far as questioning my sexuality because I'd rather watch the Mouse network instead of the big game.  I'm going to address those people and others, and I'm going to be unflinchingly honest.  You may see yourself or other people you know in what I'm saying, but, as I'll explain later, someone needs to take such people to task.

First off: Just because I don't do the "normal" guy thing does not make me "gay" or "a girl."  Homosexuality is a complicated issue, so, I'll say as little as I have to in order to get my point across: If you look up "homosexual" in the dictionary, you're not going to find a definition that says, "A guy who watches the Disney Channel," or "Someone who does not do the same things others of the same age and gender do".  I've always liked the female kind, even when others my age didn't; most elementary school boys find the fairer sex disgusting, but, I had celebrity crushes even back then.  True, they were much older than me, but they were still female.  Too many times, we tend to stereotype people based on common characteristics, such as race or gender: "All men love sports." I'll admit that many guys do, but, I have known quite a few who were only slight fans, if they were fans at all.  Even some were more into sports that aren't exactly the most popular on our shores, such as soccer or MMA.  I mentioned before that I'm just not a "rough-and-tumble" kind of guy; it's kind of an ingrained thing, as I was never too keen on participating in even non-competitive sporting activities from a young age.  My family members and others tried to get me into everything from softball to swimming to roller skating, and I just had zero interest; all I wanted was to go back inside and--you guessed it--consume entertainment.  Oh, and, by the way: Making such remarks is middle school behavior, so, unless you're in the seventh grade--well, even if you are--you're not doing yourself any favors by what you're saying.

Second off: If someone else thinks less of me because of my hobbies...that's on them.  I used to look down on sports fans; I considered anyone who enjoyed sports to be a fanatic.  That's not really true, though; yes, some people take their love of their favorite team to extremes, but not everyone does.  Once I realized that, I felt like an idiot for thinking such things; I can't lump all sports fans into one group.  It was the same way with dogs; in 2002, I was positively livid because my mother had brought home a canine companion for me.  I had said a thousand times before that I didn't want a dog; why didn't she listen? By the time I even began to realize how wrong I was, that dog was long gone; still, it was incorrect for me to lump all members of the canine kind together, and our dog couldn't help what species he was.  While I doubt anyone is lumping me together with others--because no one seems to do what I do; more on that later--they still seem to think less of me, not only because of my entertainment choices, but because of my other hobbies, such as bargain hunting; people my age, especially guys, just don't do that, they say.  I'd say that you shouldn't judge others; instead of thinking less of me just because of what I like to do, why can't you take the time to find out why I like it? Maybe you might learn to like it as well!

Third off: I already know that people my age supposedly don't do what I do...and I don't really care.  I've had people reprimand me for being the "only one" who does what I do, or tell me, "Look at what the other young adults are doing!" First off, there's no way you can know what every coeval person--whether in the world, the country, or even just among the people you know--are doing 100% of the time.  You might think none of your friends watch the Disney Channel, but, some of them very well might and just never talk about it; not everyone wears their favorite entertainment on their sleeve like I do.  I was surprised to hear a few months ago that some of my friends did just that; if you'd asked me prior to then if they did, I'd have said no.  Second off, if you truly knew me, you'd know that I've never cared about such things.  If I was worried about doing what everyone else was doing, my hobbies and entertainment diet would be completely different.  You may not like that, but, that's on you.

In conclusion: You may be wondering why I feel the need to say what I've said here; do such people even need to be addressed? Actually, they do, because their judgmental or otherwise unkind behavior is also sinful.  Some of you may be quick to tell me "Do not judge" or "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," but, I counter with a direct command from God:
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.  Again, when a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before them, they will die. Since you did not warn them, they will die for their sin. The righteous things that person did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the righteous person not to sin and they do not sin, they will surely live because they took warning, and you will have saved yourself." (Ezekiel 3:17-21, NIV)
Jesus told people, "Unless you repent, you will likewise perish." It seems like everyone else is afraid to reprimand others for doing wrong, in fear of offending or losing them as friends; if I don't say these things...who will?