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Most parents are concerned about how much television their kids watch. Bad parents, we all know, simply set their kids in front of the TV all day, never considering what their kids are watching or what the incessantly shifting images are doing to their kids’ brains. But the rest of us fall into two groups: (1) those who strictly ration “screen time,” preferring their kids entertain themselves in the good old-fashioned ways, and (2) those who allow their kids to watch multiple hours of television or movies in a given day. Those in the second group often feel guilty about letting their kids watch TV. But I don’t think they should.

Now, I’m not saying that we should turn the television into a babysitter (or a parent!). Nor am I suggesting that we should let our kids watch whatever they want, or whatever comes on the screen (may it never be!). But here’s what I am saying:

My daughters (3 and 5 years old) have watched a lot of movies in their short lives. We definitely limit the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, and we are very careful about the content they’re exposed to at this age. However, I am very glad our girls are movie watchers.

How to Train Your Dragon 2I’ll start my explanation with an example. I recently watched How to Train Your Dragon 2 with my daughters. (Spoiler alert!) In the movie, Hiccup’s father dies by throwing himself in front of dragon fire to save his son. I paused the movie to ask my five-year-old if she noticed that Hiccup’s daddy died to save his son. I think the concept registered to some extent, but we kept watching the movie. Then I asked her, “Will Hiccup be able to see his daddy again?” She thought for a minute and said, “Yes.” When I asked her why she said, “Because of Jesus.” “Yes, sweetie!” I said. “If they know Jesus, Hiccup will see his daddy again. He will miss his daddy very much, but one day, they will see each other again and they’ll be so happy.”

Later in the movie, Toothless (Hiccup’s dragon) and Hiccup get literally entombed in ice by the evil dragon. Everyone gasps because they’re dead in the tomb. But then Toothless gains some new form of life that makes him glow, and he explodes the ice-tomb and defeats the evil dragon. So I asked my daughters, “Who else do we know that was dead and came back to life again?” Both girls knew the answer: “Jesus!” “That’s right!” I said. “Why did Jesus come back to life?” They’ve both known the answer to this one from our Easter conversations: “Because Jesus doesn’t stay dead!” And we continued watching the movie, sprinkling in a bit of theology here or there.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers wanted us to have this conversation. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not brought to you by the people who made God’s Not Dead or Fireproof. But those theological concepts are there, embedded in the movie. Actually, these theological concepts are the reason why this movie is so compelling. So I talked about them with my girls. And I believe that these concepts are that much more understandable to young kids (and to human beings in general) because they were embedded in a story. That’s how incarnation works. I do at times try to talk to my daughters about death or resurrection or the power of God, and I think these conversations are beneficial. But there is a special power of understanding available to us when we see these concepts played out in compelling stories.

One day my five-year-old told me, “Daddy, why are kings mean?” “Um, why do you think kings are mean?” I asked. As it turns out, she had been watching the “evil” king on Doc McStuffins. This turned into a great conversation about how many kings are mean because they want to use their power to get what they want. Then I asked her who the best king in the world is, helping her understand that Jesus is the best king. This theological softball was lobbed to us by Doc McStuffins, so my daughter and I took a swing.

I want my daughters to be able to play in the “real world.” I want them to run and sweat and learn to play well with others. So we are careful to do all of those things. But I also want their heads filled with stories. I want to them immersed in tales of bravery, in examples of fear and how it’s overcome, in explorations of good and evil, in stories of true friendship and sacrifice. Sure, Doc McStuffins is not Pilgrim’s Progress, but it orients them to many important concepts, and my wife and I simply do our best to help them process these concepts in biblical ways. There are many shows or movies we won’t let our daughters watch at this stage because we feel they promote disrespect or trivialize violence, but we’ve had great conversations about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, you name it.

So by all means, follow your parenting instincts and don’t waste your kids’ childhood in front of a screen. But when you do turn on the TV for your kids, don’t let yourself feel like a failure as a parent. Just view it as an opportunity to teach them about God and the world and the people that he made. You may never get opportunities this good to talk with them about the things that really matter.

Making Sense of the Grammys

Mark Beuving —  January 28, 2014 — 8 Comments

This year’s Grammy Awards (the 56th) has caused quite a stir. On some level, the Grammys are always a big deal. It’s got to be one of the most viewed, most diverse, most star-studded concerts every year. The event inherently celebrates God’s gift of music, and that aspect of the event glorifies God. Then there’s the quantity of famous people attending, performing, and award-receiving, so the event is bound to be big every year.

But this year was more stirring than most. Here are a few of the crazier highlights.

Katy Perry performed her song “Dark Horse” in a particularly satanic manner. She emerged from a crystal ball to dance on stage wearing a red cross in front of demons and other black-clad dancers imitating a human sacrifice. It was dark. The thing is, the song itself isn’t this crazy. It references magic in the chorus, but it’s referenced metaphorically. So in her choice to make her performance focus on witchcraft, I think Katy Perry was simply playing with that metaphor:

“So you wanna play with magic
Boy you should know what you’re fallin’ for
Baby do you dare to do this
‘Cause I’m comin’ at you like a dark horse”

She’s using the concept of “magic” as a metaphor to say, “don’t get in over your head by getting involved with me.” I really think it’s that simple. Unfortunately, she illustrated that metaphor so vividly that even the non-conservative media outlet E! Online tweeted: “Um, did we just witness actual witchcraft during Katy Perry’s #Grammys performance?” That definitely made for some dark viewing.

Then there was Beyonce, joined by Jay-Z, performing “Drunk In Love”—a pretty filthy song—in the most trashily scandalous way imaginable (in my opinion). It was crazy, and played its part in turning a potentially classy event into something awkward at best and sleazy at worst.

But probably the most talked about aspect was Macklemore’s song “Same Love.” The song bashes the church for being hateful and intolerant, bashes hip-hop for the same reason, and proclaims that:

“Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love”

Then Queen Latifah walked out, pointed out the 33 couples lining the aisles—many of them homosexual couples—and performed a 40 second marriage ceremony in which no vows were exchanged, no names were mentioned, and rings were hastily shoved onto fingers.

Now, here’s the thing. I love music. I love “Christian” music. I love “secular” music. I love the celebration of music that the Grammy Awards represents. But does all of this make me love the music world less?

No. I think there are reasons for the craziness of the Grammys. One primary factor is that while the Grammys intend to honor genuine musical excellence, the actual award ceremony is about entertainment. All of that stuff is great for ratings for the Grammys and the TV network, and the media buzz is great for record sales for the artists involved. Even after such a controversial performance at the VMAs, Miley Cyrus explained at New Year’s that it’s been a great year for her. She got a lot of heat, but celebrity is celebrity, record sales are record sales.

So even if the show itself got out of hand, I don’t think that devalues the music that ties all of these diverse people together.

And while some music and musicians are inherently dark or sexual or propagandistic, the Grammys still represent many thoughtful, earnest, and creative musicians. I’m not surprised by the sexual content in some of the songs, like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.” One reason I’m not a huge fan of rap/R&B is the persistent focus on licentious sex, fame, and wealth (though I’ll be quick to point out that not all of it is that way). But Taylor Swift was also there as a more wholesome alternative, and Lorde won Song of the Year for a song denouncing licentious sex, fame, and wealth.

I don’t endorse gay marriage (for a balanced and helpful discussion of this issue, click here), but I do think people like Macklemore should be free to explore that concept and sing about it. What I disliked about that song and the surrounding performance is the propagandistic nature of it. There’s no subtlety. It’s not pushing the listener to reflect. The message is just there in your face, which I think devalues it as art. And by the way, this is a problem that I have with most Christian music. So many Christian songs are not contemplating life, they’re not encouraging reflection. They’re just stating their message sermonically. This makes these songs great as sermons and weak as art (in my opinion).

So I’m not turned off to music because of Macklemore’s performance. He’s not the first to give a sermon set to music, nor will he be the last. The world eats this stuff up. We eat it up. It’s great to have something to be angry about. What saddens me is that the focus is taken off of the music, which the Grammys are meant to celebrate. It takes the focus off of the thoughtful musicians who are consciously or unconsciously glorifying God by using the gifts he has given them and reflecting the creativity God implanted within them. Music is still a precious gift from God, even if its award shows get out of hand.

History Channel The Bible 2Yesterday, I talked about the History Channel’s new series on the Bible. As I said, many found the show compelling and faithful to the overall story, if not to every detail of the biblical story. My argument in yesterday’s post was that adapting a book for film is fraught with difficulties, so we should be cautious with our expectations. Today I want to continue exploring our response to this show by showing why the criticisms are valid, but why I tend to disagree.

The most important concern about the series is that it changes some of the events, dialogue, and chronology within the biblical storyline. This is serious. We’re talking about God’s divine revelation to us, after all. So even though it’s difficult to adapt a book to film, the issue is significant when we come to the Bible.

If presenting the Bible on film is so difficult, we might argue that it shouldn’t be done at all. God wrote the Bible, so let’s stick to that. That’s a legitimate position to hold. This would allow us to stick with the inerrant version of the story and keep us from needing to interpret the events for visual depiction.

But that does seem a bit simplistic. For example, can we paint pictures about biblical events? Christians have been doing this throughout the history of Christianity. What about stained glass windows? At one point in church history, these windows were designed to tell the biblical stories so that illiterate peasants would have access to these inspiring and important accounts.

So we probably shouldn’t rule out visual depictions of biblical stories outright. Instead, we’ll need to focus the discussion on what types of presentations are permissible.

History Channel Abraham IsaacAnd that’s where we’ll disagree. As an example, I was okay with the History Channel’s decision to put the words of Genesis 1 –3 into Noah’s mouth (when in fact it was Moses who wrote them). It served as a cool introduction to these chapters, it put the flood in its theological context, and it allowed them to cover a lot of ground in a few minutes. Was this presentation inaccurate? Yes. We have no record of Noah saying this. Is it bad? I don’t think so, personally. Moses would not have been the first one to be aware of the creation story, though he was the one chosen to record it in Scripture. Noah would have known these things. So I liked it as a storytelling device that stayed accurate to the overall story, if not to the details. Others will disagree, and that’s okay. It’s a tough issue.

I also saw in a preview that when Jesus is asked by his disciples what he will do, he replies, “Change the world.” The gospels don’t record these words, so again, we have an inaccuracy. But would any of us deny that this is what Jesus was doing? It’s a storytelling device that shows the significance of what Jesus was up to. Again, I’m okay with it. And again, others won’t be.

So here’s my point in writing these two posts. If you find yourself disgusted by The Bible on TV, then don’t watch it. It won’t be helpful for you to smolder on your couch. But be okay with other people being encouraged by it. Be sure that they’re committed to the reliability of Scripture and the primacy of the biblical telling of these stories, but be okay with them finding value in something you don’t like.

And if you find yourself upset at those who didn’t like the series, understand that the Bible is the most important book in the world. It’s understandable that some are disturbed at seeing the biblical events altered for film. We can all agree that something more significant is going on here than disliking the way the Hobbit was adapted for film.

For all of us, if we curb our expectations and evaluate the series based on its faithfulness to the overall message of the Bible, we might get more out of it. (But then again, we might not—it has yet to be seen if the show will faithfully present the overall story of the Bible.)

Here’s the position we should hold: The Bible is and always will be the only inerrant and definitive telling of God’s story. If we cling tightly to that, we will be equipped to critically assess and still benefit from a visual interpretation of that story.

History Chanell the BibleLast night, the History Channel aired the first episode of their series on the Bible. I watched the previews for this show with curiosity. For one thing, Hollywood isn’t known for its efforts to protect the accuracy or intent of Scripture. For another thing, if the History Channel wrote a history textbook, it would contain at least a chapter on each of the following: World War II, antiques, aliens, truckers and loggers, and conspiracy theories; then there would be a concluding chapter entitled “Other Things that Happened.” So as I watched previews for a dramatized film version of biblical stories, I was skeptical.

If my Facebook feed is any indication, the show proved controversial. Some are arguing that it was very reverent and preserved the intended message of the Bible, even if some of the details were change for the new medium. Others are outraged, concerned that the Bible was changed to make a good show. Most people seem to be falling in between these two positions.

I was only able to watch the first 20 minutes (though I plan to keep watching), so what I will offer here are some thoughts on what we should expect from a film version of Bible stories, rather than what the History Channel did specifically. I feel that many of the negative reviews seem to be stemming from a misunderstanding of how the Bible might work as a movie.

So what should we expect when we go to see the Bible on the silver screen? Well, don’t expect too much. Haven’t we all watched a film version of a beloved book only to be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as the book? This is because books and film work in different ways. If a book could be easily and accurately adapted as a movie, then these movies wouldn’t need writers. The story is already written, why rewrite it! Right?

History Channel JesusMovie-adaptations need writers because we read books differently than we watch movies. A book can tell you Frodo threw the magical ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Your mind conjures up a wonderful image of what this “looks” like, based in part (though only in part) on descriptions the author provides. But the movie has to show you the details. They have to show you lava flowing, rocks shaking and falling, a convenient rock peninsula that seems to have been built for throwing magical rings into the lava below. Thousands of details that a writer can leave out have to be thrown into a movie.

So when the Bible says that Jesus fed five thousand and picked up basketfuls of leftovers, a film presentation would have to show you people’s faces. It would have to interpret their reaction to getting increasingly more bread and fish from a single man. The Bible doesn’t tell us if the people sat still for this, if they were dead silent or talkative, or if they fully realized what was going on. A film has to make a decision on each of these things in order to portray the event.

Similarly, a book can give you extended dialogue on what a character’s motivation is, or pause the action to describe the significance of what’s happening. A film has to keep moving. It can fill in some gaps with a narrator (which the History Channel chose to do), but much of the interpretation comes from the visual depiction and the action and interaction of the characters.

So back to the question. When the Bible hits the silver screen, we shouldn’t expect it to be a word for word retelling of biblical events. Aside from necessitating the longest film series the world would ever see (or wouldn’t see, because it would be immediately cancelled), this would make for a bad movie (can you imagine the many many episodes on Numbers, or the similarity between the Kings and Chronicles episodes?). Don’t get me wrong. The Bible is indeed the greatest story ever told. But God chose to record his story in a book. The doctrine of inerrancy says nothing about how that book should adapt to film.

Can some events be left out? Can some dialogue be extrapolated in order to present the significance of what was happening? We’re left to make those decisions on our own. Just keep in mind that it’s not an issue of Hollywood trying to change the Bible, these are decisions we’d all have to make in trying to present the Bible visually.

These are a few thoughts to help us consider how well the History Channel did. We have to keep in mind that they took on an audacious project, one that we would all find exceedingly difficult, and that we would all be criticized for undertaking.

But there is more to be said. Tomorrow I will give some concluding thoughts and show why many of the concerns presented are justified. Then I will explain why I tend to disagree with most of the concerns.

Cheating

Mark Beuving —  February 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

Boom Mic Guy NBC’s The Office has recently been raising a fascinating topic of discussion: cheating. The show is a comedy, and most of what the show portrays is lighthearted and funny. But the writers have never shied away from storyline and drama (the humor often flows from these aspects rather than cheap gags), and the show has introduced some heavy and important themes from time to time. [Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen any of the January episodes and don’t want to find out what happens, read this later.]

Cheating in relationships is not new to The Office. Angela, Michael, Andy, Dwight, Stanley, and Oscar have all been involved in relationships where someone was cheating. For the most part, however, these characters and their relationships are so flawed that their moral failings are brushed aside (“Of course she would do that!”). I’m not suggesting that’s right, but that’s why these subplots have never caused much of a stir.

Recently, however, there have been hints of cheating amongst more relatable characters. Most notably, Pam has developed (has been developing for quite some time, apparently) an emotional relationship with the guy who holds the boom mic for the supposed documentary crew (henceforth known as “the boom mic guy.”)

The crazy thing is, they haven’t done anything. All we’ve seen thus far is a touch of flirtation, an emotional connection, and some very sweet comforting. Compared to what other characters have done, this is nothing. But it makes me furious. This form of cheating really bothers me. Pam is married, and her husband Jim has been busy and unavailable. So Pam’s connection with the boom mic guy is dangerous. Pam’s form of cheating is troubling because we’re rooting for Pam and Jim. We believe they ought to be together, so we don’t like outsiders messing with their relationship.

But look at it from another angle. Pam and Jim got together because Pam was acting exactly like this in a previous relationship. In the first few seasons, Pam was engaged to Roy, and Jim eventually won her over by subtle flirting, an emotional connection, and some very sweet comforting. Pam and the boom mic guy in season 9 are basically Pam and Jim in season 1.

This shows how manipulative television can be. We believe that love involves loyalty; that love is something greater than sticking with the person who makes you feel happiest in a given moment. But we don’t seem to hold these views when it comes to television characters. We wanted Pam to leave Roy. The only reason we’re not rooting for the boom mic guy is that we still like Jim. (By the way, a while back I wrote about this very phenomenon in the movie Water for Elephants).

The Office - Season 9An interesting comparison is Erin cheating on Andy with Pete, one of the new guys. Like Pam and the boom mic guy, this one is subtle—nothing much has happened. But in this case, I find myself rooting for Pete. Why? I think it works the same way. When Erin was dating Gabe, she was connecting with Andy, and we were rooting for Andy because we liked him and we didn’t like Gabe. Now that Andy is treating Erin poorly, we’re rooting for Pete. It will be interesting to see how this relationship develops when Andy returns.

The point is this: we need to be careful that our view of love is not shaped by the television shows we watch. I love The Office, but all good things must be enjoyed with discernment. I am certain that the writers will keep Pam and Jim together, but the recent bumps in this relationship brought my attention to the other forms of cheating on the show, and I was surprised to analyze which relationships I was rooting for. And ultimately, love is love—whether our favorite characters realize that or not.