The New "Star Wars" Film & the Longing of the Human Heart

It's almost forty years old. 

It became a game-changer for the film world.

The term "action figure" was birthed by its popularity.

Even poor sequels made tons of money.

It's Star Wars.

And it impacts the culture greatly. I'm not saying that is a good thing. I'm just saying that if you wish to be a student of the culture shifts and live as those who understand the times, ignoring what's happening with Star Wars is not wise.

Oh, sure, it's just a silly action/adventure movie franchise. That's true. In fact, especially based on the third film and the three prequels in the series, there are some pretty poor sequences of acting as well as some storylines and characters that make even the most die-hard fan cringe (Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christenson, anyone?)

According to feminist scholar Jackie Byars, film analysis can help us see "the range of readings a single text can evoke," and expose "the hierarchies of power at work in and through texts," hierarchies "linked to race, class, sex, and the gender differences." In other words, close analysis of the Star Wars films can help us not only to examine the problems of a galaxy far, far away, but also to understand how the films reflect and potentially help shape cultural struggles over questions of gender and sexuality in contemporary American society. . .To dismiss the Star Wars films out of hand as lowbrow adventure-romance films that cannot support any meaningful analysis, as some commentators have done, is erroneous and perhaps irresponsible.1

It is amazing how a space opera written by a fairly young director (yes, I know THX1138 and American Graffiti were out, but they didn't put George Lucas on the map) could prove to create phrases, characters, philosophies and even ideologies that would impact culture in America and globally for half a century or so.

The Perfect Storm?

Maybe it was a combination of the era of filmmaking, the partnership with Kenner to make toys, the licensing of products, and the incredible images on screen within the first five minutes that drew children into this world in such a way that now, those children are in their mid to late forties and still enjoying the stories. 

I'm not talking about the guys who live in their parents' basement, playing video games, playing with their action figures (while also owning a set that are still in the original packaging.) I'm talking about the men and women who have productive lives, send their kids to school, maybe attend church every now and then and seem. . .well. . .normal.

Even they are posting updates about Star Wars and seem to be very excited about 2 minutes worth of video primarily due to just a few seconds featuring a senior adult man who needs to shave ("Who's scruffy looking?") and a very tall man wearing a furry costume.

Here's the two-minute trailer. If you would like to know more about it, there are approximately 45 million (my estimate) blogs and websites breaking down every little scene in the trailer. Just Google for them, you'll find them.

 

In an age of amazingly fast culture shifts, something about the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is offering middle-aged men and women something to enjoy. Millennials do not really understand this. Oh sure, they saw the first three films on VHS or DVD and enjoyed the over-the-top CG prequels and the edited re-releases of Episodes IV - VI, but they don't remember 1977. They cannot really understand why their parents are looking forward to a sci-fi film coming out in eight months. 

And. . .the parents of those who were children in 1977 don't understand it either.

The truth is that Star Wars was more than just a film for many of the generation of Toughskins jeans, Keds tennis shoes and banana seat bicycles. Star Wars was something that allowed the nerds in school to be accepted by others. Why? Because it seemed that everyone had seen the film and no one hated it. Even the Star Wars Christmas Special was something kids made sure they were home to see.

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Then, these children grew up, started families and found themselves trying to keep up with all that culture was throwing at them with life changes and philosophies and when the trailer for the new film came out. . .they had a moment of reflection. It's like being a kid again. . .even if just for a moment.

And, it's weird.

And dangerous.

The Star Wars films, to me, are entertaining. I understand the false religious teachings presented in the narrative. The Force is a facade. It's New Age mysticism. It's a man-made idea for a film, based on Buddhist and other beliefs. For the follower of Christ, it's fiction. Yet, for many it's a modern expression of what they believe to be true. It's sci-fi karma.

Darth Vader is an enigma. He was viewed as the epitome of evil for decades. Then, he became a whiny kid and a brooding teenager and everyone wondered "What did Padme ever see in that guy?" Well, maybe everyone didn't wonder that, but I did.

His fictionalized story is redemptive, but still fiction.

For my Christian brothers and sisters, the Star Wars universe is a fun, fictional place to visit. So is Tolkein's Lord of the Rings world and Lewis' Narnia. My encouragement is to visit, but don't live there. It's fiction. 

In the meantime, it would behoove my pastor friends to at least seek to discover why so many of your middle-aged church attenders are excited about a forty-year-old movie series' latest installment. It is not really about the special effects, the spaceships or the character development. It goes much deeper than that. It has more to do with the innate desire of all adults to go back to a time when they had less responsibility, pressure was lighter and summer was never long enough. 

It's a longing for peace.

Ultimately, a fake world with droids and aliens will not offer that . . . even if you buy a costume and pretend that what is fake is real. (BTW - I don't recommend wearing your Jedi costume out in public unless you work for Disney or are at Comic-Con or maybe a camp or costume party.) Maybe this is a reminder that we are wired to find this. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 (ESV)

________________

1Silvio, Carl, and Tony M. Vinci. Culture, Identities, and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Print. p. 136.


Gay Men & Soccer Moms: A Target Audience That Reveals Much About the Times

After finishing my post about the soon to be released Fifty Shades of Grey film, another film trailer hit the internet and has been making quite a splash. Now, my intent is not to have this blog become a movie review site, but as an observer of culture and one who attempts to keep up with the latest trends, it is quite disturbing how pornography and erotica are seen as acceptable and commonplace. While some would say that this is a sign of sexual freedom, in my opinion, it's a sign of cultural degradation.

I enjoy good movies and as a pastor have used clips and illustrations from popular films (legally) at times to help make points in my messages and talks. Believing that the message of the Gospel is written on the hearts of all humanity leads me to see the value of storying and the parallels in stories or movies that speak of battle and rescue and beauty and honor. Now, in most cases, the films I speak of are not written by believers in Christ. In many instances, these are just visible, moving images that tell a story that attempts to connect with an audience, ultimately for high ratings and profit.

I believe God is the Master Storyteller, the author of the Gospel and the hero in the story. That is why I believe that our Enemy seeks to pervert and destroy all that is good and holy and turn that which was meant for good into evil in an attempt to thwart the movement of God's Spirit in the lives of people.

Some of you are saying in your head right now, "Seriously? You're talking about movies. They're just movies." I know, I know, but foundational to all of life is a story that is deeper and more important than that which is projected onto a screen, streamed on Netflix or burned onto a DVD. 

Nevertheless, there is a trend that seems to be growing. It's not really new. There have been stories of violence, sexual perversion and erotica around for ages, even prior to the advent of the film industry. Yet, as each year goes by, it seems our culture is moving a little deeper within Sodom (referencing the story of Lot in Genesis - living outside Sodom, near Sodom and eventually inside the city.) 

Whether comedy, drama, action or romance, overt sexuality (hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, etc.) has become little more than enticement for audiences who seek to justify what they view under the guise of freedom, art or just entertainment. 

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"Artistic" Pornography

Last year, Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 was released and subsequently was being written about, reviewed, and had YouTube trailers shared by many. The film starred some notable actors and actresses (Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, and Connie Nielson, to name a few) and received reviews speaking of it's artistic integrity and depth.

"The film is an intellectual high-wire act, death-defying, dangerous, entertaining, and delighting in its own inventiveness and daring." - Roger Ebert

However artistic it may appear. . .regardless how well edited and developed the film may be. . .it is little more than blatant pornography with a story attached.

No, I have not seen the film. I don't intend to do so. I have seen the trailer. . .and had to stop it due to the imagery presented.

So, Fifty Shades of Grey is not surprising. Neither are other sexually-laced and expressive new films on the way. Boundaries have been moved and Sodom has become home for many in our culture it seems.

With the sexually inclusive society now set in place, Hollywood is now overtly marketing to sub-groups and sections of the populous that will guarantee a strong opening weekend for their films. This is not new. Pixar films have been targeted toward children and parents for years. American Sniper and other war movies have been pointedly marketed toward men. Romantic comedies have a female demographic in mind. Different people enjoy different stories.

Magic Mike XXL

The eye-opening trailer for the male stripper film sequel Magic Mike XXL is clearly focused on two groups in our culture - gay men and "soccer moms."

When the first Magic Mike was released, the theaters were filled. Many women (wives and mothers) had movie nights with their girlfriends and packed theaters to enjoy the Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaghey and Matt Bomer film. The target marketing worked as the film finished second on opening weekend.

The other target group was gay men. I heard one gay man in our community speak about watching the film with his friends (other gay men) and how much they enjoyed it. This was no anomaly. 

“It’s a fun night out with a bunch of gay friends to go see a movie about hot boys,” said Aaron Rhyne, 32, a theatrical projection designer who saw the film with about 10 friends. “We’ve been throwing the trailer around, laughing about it.” (New York Times - "Magic Mike" Is a Big Draw for Gay Men.)

Sex Sells

It's been the mantra of Madison Avenue for decades - "sex sells." The sexual revolution and free love movement of the 1960s was little more than "moving near the gates of the city." Now, we are fully inside.

The trailer for Magic Mike XXL has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online (well over 1 million if all versions are combined.) The reviews that laud the trailer as wonderful speak openly about the sexuality and openly stated double-entendres throughout. (I presume this allows an R or PG-13 rated trailer, to be viewable in all theaters.)

Even though these are sexually explicit (i.e. pornographic) films and are more common than we'd like to admit, we must realize that these stories are little more than perversions of holiness, morphed to confuse, trap and eventually aid the enemy to "steal, kill and destroy."

So What?

What's a Christian to do? 

The same we've been commissioned to do for centuries - live as salt and light, make disciples, love the unloveable and honor God.

Sexuality is holy. It is God designed and beautiful, when experienced within His guidelines. Those guidelines are clear in Scripture - heterosexual and within the covenant of biblical marriage only. 

Casual sex is only another term for casual sin.

Redeem the day. Don't be taken in.

Boycott theaters? That's NOT my recommendation. Most people view Christians, and especially Baptists, as people who are "against" everything anyway. Redemption shows what we are "for." 

Be for the Gospel.

Be for God's plan for marriage.

Be for God's plan for sexuality and relationships.

Be for God's plan for holiness.

Be for God.

He's for you.


Mainstreaming Porn: A Strategy That's Working, Unfortunately

The Book

The top selling book in 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey. No doubt you have heard of this multi-million seller, but in case you haven't, here's Amazon's description:

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
 
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

This book is intended for mature audiences.

"Intended for mature audiences" is a subtle way to say "This is a really dirty book with a bunch of sex in it." Funny, I know some really mature people who would say this book is nothing more than mental porn.

Why do I bother writing a post about a book that I've never read? Some would say that must read it in order to give an honest account of the material. I guess that would be true if I were writing a review based on the character development, writing style or flow of the story. I am not. In those cases, the book may very well be good. I'm more concerned with what the runaway success of this and other books in the "erotica fiction" category say about our community and culture.

What truly baffles me is how women (the primary target audience of the book) who post their daily devotional thoughts, attend their weekly Beth Moore studies and serve in the body of Christians have simply added this book and others like it to their regular reading regimens. 

While it is no secret that pornography has a foothold in the lives of many men, evidenced by the vast number of websites dedicated to the subject, the best-selling status of erotica fiction reveals that women are not immune to this attack.

Tim Challies shared recently on his blog about the realities that Fifty Shades unveils about our culture. He lists them as. . .

  1. Erotica is in
  2. Sex isn't just for men
  3. Erotica is dangerous
  4. Erotica is among Christians
  5. Erotica wounds our walk
  6. Erotica harms us all
  7. Erotica shows we need Jesus

Click here for the link to Tim's full article.

The Movie

Why is Fifty Shades of Grey back in the news? Because on Valentine's Day the film will be released. This film will likely make millions and some are predicting it will push American Sniper out of the number one spot, which is likely since Sniper has been showing for weeks.

 

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Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' (Universal/YouTube)

 

 

However, the pushback against this film is not just latest effort from Christians who like to boycott everything and preach about how much they hate everything. In this case, there is a heightened effort by groups such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) developing campaigns against this and other like films. They state this. . .

"Hollywood is advertising the Fifty Shades story as an erotic love affair, but it is really about sexual abuse and violence against women," said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Hawkins noted that the public sees too much sexual abuse and violence against women in real life and urged Hollywood to take this into consideration when setting the entertainment agenda.

"The porn industry has poised men and women to receive the message that sexual violence is enjoyable. Fifty Shades models this porn message and Hollywood cashes the check," said Hawkins.

I know, I know, it's just a movie (or book) but the wise person will see it for its fullness.

As Michael Medved said years ago, and I paraphrase, "There are no accidental messages portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. There's too much money involved for unintentional messages to be prominent." That means that under the guise of entertainment and artistic creativity, the bottom line is the bottom line. This is about money and Hollywood knows "erotica sells." 

And, here's a reality as well. The fact that I'm even blogging about this often creates more interest than otherwise would be shown. You know the old adage - "There's no such thing as bad publicity." This happens all the time in the film industry. Just look at how trending the film The Interview was based on the North Korean threats, and from all accounts, it wasn't even a very good movie. . . but almost everyone was talking about it.

The Real Story

I'm not declaring the need for an organized boycott. I don't think there's value in Christians picketing movie theaters. I do think there is value and need for Christ-followers to be aware of how the Enemy attacks. We live in a culture that celebrates sex, as long as it's outside the bounds of biblical marriage. Even Christians struggle with overt justification of sin and fall into the lies of "It's just a movie, or book." It's much more. It's a window into a culture that has heard the lies for so long, they sound like truth.

So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)


Can I Learn from a Disciple of the "King?"

On Friday of this week, our church is honored to host the annual fall senior adult gathering and banquet for our Jacksonville Baptist Association (Engage{JAX} Network.) This annual event is always well attended and this year more than 300 tickets have been purchased.

As the host venue, we have little to do other than open the facility and provide some technical help. 

In fact, since this event is planned and organized by a volunteer committee of Baptists from throughout our city, the Network actually has little to do other than promote and provide financial accountability for tickets sold and honorariums for guests.

This is a fellowship event. I say that because sometimes we look down our pious noses at church events that do not seem to have a purpose. This event's purpose is fellowship. It's designed to be fun. There will be times of singing and eating and stories shared. In other words, in case it's not clear - this is good. Christians can gather and have fun. In fact, they should. This does not take away from the mission.

Now, if all the church does is casserole meals and fellowship events, it will eventually cease to be a church and become more of a club, but I digress. In an of itself, an event like this does not detract from the mission of the church and may just scratch an itch that often churches miss - the joy of doing life together.

What caught my eye regarding this year's event was the special guest. 

 

Fake-elvisThat's right. The senior adults of Jacksonville will be entertained by an Elvis Presley impersonator.

Just to be clear, based on the photograph I have seen, this is a 1970s Elvis impersonator, not a 1950s version. That means the white jumpsuit, sequins, mutton-chops and scarves. No "Jailhouse Rock" jeans or red "Teddy Bear" jacket.

And, just in case you're thinking I'm an Elvis hater. I'm not. I'm listening to "Burning Love" (hunka-hunka) as I write this.

Honestly, when I first saw this I thought, "Seriously? They're bringing an Elvis impersonator in for entertainment?"

I've heard that many often long for the "good-old days" of church, back when hymnals were used, pianos and organs were the norm, pastors wore suits and ties and bulletins actually had the order of service printed, but this seemed extreme.

Was this a throwback to the by-gone days?

Was this a not-so-subtle message of longing for the past? 

Are we now at a place where we have forsaken trying to draw crowds to see the King of Kings and have settled for a copy of the "King of Rock?"

No, I think the message is simpler than all that. I think someone thought "This would be fun." That's it. Fun. No message. No statement. No forsaking of the Gospel. Just a fun night listening to songs that take the crowd back to another time where music wasn't really as innocent as we'd like to think, but at least it wasn't Miley Cyrus, right?

Since we're committed and faux-Elvis will be here Friday, I started thinking about these people who entertain as Elvis impersonators. What an interesting hobby or career.

There are thousands of Elvis impersonators in the world. Most of them live in Las Vegas, but you can find one in just about every city in the nation. This is amazing because Elvis (according to most reports) is not actually alive. There's no new material, unless you count the version of "A Little Less Conversation" that came out in 2002. 

There's actually a network of impersonators that connects via the internet. There are conventions and gatherings and if you remember Nicholas Cage movies, you know they can sky dive as well. 

What does it take to be a good Elvis impersonator? Here are my thoughts:

  • It helps if you can sing.
  • It's even better if you can sing and sound like Elvis.
  • Having the right clothes is essential.
  • Depending on the era of Elvis you are impersonating (and this has to do with your age) you will either need the gold jacket, black leather 1968 special suit or the 1970s jumpsuit.
  • You need the Southern drawl and the curled lip.
  • If you are really into it, you need a Cadillac.
  • It helps if you take karate lessons.
  • Maybe a stint in the Army would be a benefit.
  • Hip action is needed, but depending on where you perform, be careful. If you're appearing on an Ed Sullivan impersonator's show, your hip gyrations will be edited and not viewable by the audience.
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches need to be a favorite of yours.
  • Watch the movies, all the Elvis movies. 
  • Study the movies, the documentaries, read the biographies, visit Graceland and maybe take a trip to Vegas as well.

You see you cannot be an effective Elvis impersonator if you do not study, prepare and do as best you can to act and perform like the real thing. I'm not saying you need to wear a WWED bracelet, but I do believe that while performing as a faux-Elvis, the thought "What Would Elvis Do?" needs to be running through your mind.

To be an effective copy of the real thing, you must be a fully devoted disciple of the King. So, yes, I can learn from these disciples of the "King of Rock."

The problem is that even if you are the very best Elvis impersonator in the world. I mean, even if Priscilla and Lisa Marie are convinced you're really Elvis, it doesn't do you much good. Oh, you may get to entertain in Vegas, or maybe even a Jacksonville senior adult event, but ultimately, being a copy of Elvis will never be enough. It cannot. There's no life in being a copy of a dead man.

However, there's another King, a true King, who calls his followers to impersonate him. Jesus Christ, the King of kings, has clearly called his followers, his disciples to impersonate him. It's deeper than a WWJD question. We have been called to live our lives as copies of the King who is not dead, but alive. In fact, in order to be his disciples, we must die to self. We will never be convincing impersonators of the King if our lives look more like "ours" than "His."

Elvis may have left the building, but Jesus remains. He is still alive and his version of Graceland is far better than the house in Memphis.


"Reverend Camden" Falls and It Will Impact Real Lives

The news blew up yesterday with reports of actor Stephen Collins' alleged admission to child sexual abuse. The recording, said to be made secretly by his ex-wife, actress Faye Grant, during a therapy session years ago has gone viral over the web and has elicited numerous reactions and responses.

Many who grew up watching the family-focused television show, 7th Heaven have responded with  despair, frustration, anger and confusion. Some state that their childhood has been ruined. Some have found this an opportunity to state that no "pastors" should ever be trusted.

 

It's unfortunate, especially since Reverend Camden is a fictional character played by an actor in a television show. More unfortunate is that there are enough real pastors in the real world who have fallen into the same sinful situations.

Collins' is a dreadful story and is leading to numerous reactions and false follow-up stories.

  • 7th Heaven has been removed from syndicated view by numerous television stations.
  • Collins has resigned from the SAG Board.
  • He has been removed from the cast of Ted 2.
  • Neighbors haver erroneously tweeted that he committed suicide earlier today.

Sadly, in the midst of this story, regardless the reason for the leaked audio tape, there is indication that at least three children were sexually molested. The NYPD is continuing to investigate, so at this point everything is alleged.

Yet, in this story of depravity is a marriage that was lost and a skewed identity of manhood. As prognosticators and entertainment analysts attempt to create fodder for conversation along with explanations and justifications for such behavior, the root of all such behavior continues to be ignored.

SIN.

Yeah, it's now a term that is not politically correct and in a culture that has excised absolute truth from its vocabulary, the term seems to be relegated to a small sub-group known as the church. It has become offensive to refer to anyone else's actions as sinful, especially in a world where "what's true for you may not be true for me."

In the strange version of church presented in 7th Heaven, I'm not sure the biblical view of sin, justification, redemption and repentance was every clearly shown. Those seeking their theology from such a show will always be sadly lacking. A liberal, feel-good, tickle-the-ears, message was often presented in an imaginary church that was always way too full to be an accurate representation.

As for Stephen Collins, people are irate that their imaginary pastor has apparently fallen.

Personally, I never viewed Collins as a pastor. He was the adventurer from "Tales of the Gold Monkey" and Commander Decker from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Ultimately, he was none of these characters and perhaps that's a revelation of a deeper problem in our culture.

Behind these false worlds and imaginary characters in film and television is a man. A real man. A man named Stephen who at this juncture must feel as if his world is falling apart. This is a man who seems to be caught in a sin that cannot just be "personal" because it impacts others (the three alleged victims) and a multitude of fans.

What should happen? 

Justice. There's no debate on this matter here. Accountability for such heinous acts is not something to be ignored. At this point, the police and legal system is involved and must do their jobs. The court of public opinion has already spoken, but, as always, there's most likely more to the story than has been made known.

In the midst of this, the young girls need healing as do their families. The girls are unknown to the public (and should remain so) and yet, they need to know the healing touch of a loving God who is true and pure. This is my prayer for them. Sadly, as the story cycle ends and everyone has forgotten this instance, these girls will not have, so join me in praying for their hearts.

Stephen needs help as well (in the midst of his consequences.) I pray that he will encounter the true God (not the imaginary one who plays a character on a television show) in a very real way. May he gain identity not in characters, roles, titles or even accusations (even if true) but in Jesus Christ.

While some would say this is just an "entertainment" story and does not impact the church, I beg to differ. For some, the imaginary "Reverend Camden" was the father they always wanted, the pastor they always desired and the image of hope and right. Now that this story has come to light, these images are gone and many have been fooled by the Enemy to believe that all is hopeless and that no one offers Truth.

May we offer clear images of Christ, not skewed ones. 

May we offer true church, not imaginary ones.

May we be obedient to God as we wear His name. We are his ambassadors.


"Heaven Is For Real". . .a Bad Take on Heaven

Culture is enamored with "gone to heaven and now back" stories. I just saw a deal at BJs Wholesale with three of the books in this genre packaged together for a great price.

Heaven-is-for-realNo, I did not buy them, but many will. Many have. In fact, many Christians have.

All of you who think the book, Heaven is for Real is cute (and plan to see the movie) as well as all the other "I left earth, went to heaven/hell and came back to write a book" books are now upset with me. I'm sure I "shouldn't say these things about books that touch people and help them." Sorry. Not sorry. This isn't about throwing anyone under the bus. This is about shining light on stories that enamor many believers, but do not line up with the Word of God.

It is frightening how many church attenders, members and Christians are so confused when it comes to eternity. I hear it when planning funerals all the time. 

Take a look at David Platt's wonderful explanation about these stories and the biblical viewpoint.

 

"Why are we buying this stuff, when we have the Word of God?" - David Platt


"Saving Mr. Banks" is Really About Healing the Wounded Heart

A movie about the making of a movie based on a book had just opened in theaters. For those unfamiliar with Disney lore, it is the account of Walt Disney's twenty-year odyssey to secure film rights from author P.L. Travers for the character and stories of Mary Poppins.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is  an interesting film, in that 99 percent of the audience knows that eventually "Mary Poppins" was made and was a tremendous hit. Words that never existed before like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" entered the lexicon of many American children and images of Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins somehow seem natural.

<SPOILER ALERT>

Saving-Mr-Banks-Movie-Poster2I just put "spoiler alert" there because other articles and blogs do that when speaking about a film that is currently in the theaters. However, I always read below the "spoiler alert" banner anyway. In this case, since everyone knows "Mary Poppins" was eventually filmed by Disney, there really aren't that many spoilers.

Since I don't recall ever watching "Mary Poppins" in its entirety, the title of this film "Saving Mr. Banks" didn't quite reveal much to me. I did some reviewing and soon found that Mr. Banks is the father in the Mary Poppins book and film. I think I used to know that, but had forgotten. Therefore, once I discovered who Banks was, the title made sense. . .somewhat.

This film goes back to Travers' childhood in Australia when she, her siblings and parents were struggling to make ends meet. Her father had a successful job with the bank there, but due to his bouts with alcoholism, and subsequent outburts and inability to function well at work, he was demoted. This seems to have pushed him even farther toward his addictive behaviors. Travers, as a little girl, obviously adores her father as he does her. The flashback sequences are done well and give the audience a sense of what may be going on in Travers' head as she so adamantly fights Disney for things regarding Mary Poppins and the Banks family that seem irrelevant. 

A WOUNDED HEART

As the story unfolds, it is clear that P.L. Travers carries a deep wound in her heart. Like all of us, we have wounds. These wounds are most often inflicted, willingly or unwillingly, by our earthly fathers. It's part of our human story. 

John and Stasi Eldredge speak of this clearly in their respective books, Wild at Heart and Captivating.

John says it this way regarding men and their heart wounds:

Every man carries a wound. I have never met a man without one. No matter how good your life may have seemed to you, you live in a broken world full of broken people. Your mother and father, no matter how wonderful, couldn't have been perfect. She is a daughter of Eve, and he a son of Adam. So there is no crossing through this country without taking a wound. (Wild at Heart, 71.)

Stasi reveals this about daughters with wounded hearts:

The vows we make as children are understandable - and very, very damaging. They shut our hearts down. They are essentially a deep-seated agreement with the messages of our wounds. They act as an agreement with the verdict on us. "Fine. If that's how it is, then that's how it is. I'll live my life in the following way. . ." (Captivating, 71.)

"Saving Mr. Banks" is an entertaining film and while some I know have commented and Tweeted that "It's a cute film" it is much more than that. Unknowingly, the filmmakers and actors have portrayed that which is evident in the hearts of all people. We all carry a wound. Most often it is inflicted by those we love the most. What we do with that wound determines much. 

HEALING THE WOUND

Even non-believers desire healing. Their lack of acknowledgement of a Healer leaves them seeking throughout their lives and settling for temporary relief. Unfortunately, even some Christ-followers lack the courage and faith to invite God into the deepest parts of the wound. Consequently, those who claim and do follow Christ, remain the walking wounded, never fully free. Forgiveness is key and yet, not a surface-level, superficial forgiveness that never goes to the depth of the wound. The forgiveness that God offers us is that which He leads us to offer others - a forgiveness that says "What you did hurt, in fact it still hurts, but I choose to not hold it against you." That is the beginning of healing and sets the captive free.

"Forgiveness, Mrs. Travers," says Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. "It's what I learned from your books."

IT'S NOT REALLY ABOUT SAVING MR. BANKS

It may seem that making Mr. Banks into a likeable, affable character was truly Mrs. Travers' goal, but in actuality, it wasn't Mr. Banks that needed to be saved, but Mrs. Travers. 

WHAT YOU TAKE WITH YOU AS YOU LEAVE THE THEATER

We all carry wounds and what we do with them is vital. "A cute movie?" - perhaps, but maybe, just maybe, God can use this story to remind each of us that He alone can rescue us and He alone can set us free.

 

______________________

Here's a good review on "Saving Mr. Banks" from Focus on the Family's Plugged In site.

 


All the "Borrowed Christmas" Commercials with the Kids

I had a great time making these parody commercials modeled after the famous AT&T ones with some of the kids from our church. We showed some during worship services and on Christmas Eve. Others were posted to Facebook. Here are all thirteen videos featuring Ansley, Drew, Anna and Eli.

#1 - What's better, birthdays or Christmas?

 

 

#2 - What's a better present, a Batman or a Barbie?

 

 

#3 - What's better at Christmas, going to the beach or somewhere there's snow?

 

 

#4 - What's the best Christmas gift you ever received?

 

 

#5 - Do I make a better Batman or Robin?

 

 

#6 - What's better, cookies or candy canes?

 

 

#7 - Who are the characters in a nativity scene?

 

 

#8 - Is this annoying?

 

 

#9 - Do you put your feet on the tables at home?

 

 

#10 - If you were buying a Christmas gift for your mom and dad, what would you buy? (Does your dad want to be like me?)

 

 

#11 - If you could go anywhere to have fun, where would you go?

 

 

#12 - Why do people go to church at Christmas?

 

 

#13 - So, what do you want for Christmas?

 

Borrowed christmas


The Inevitable: Phil Robertson Speaks His Mind & Is "Suspended Indefinitely" by A&E

Whether you are a fan of Duck Dynasty or not, you cannot help but notice their popularity and presence everywhere. I don't begrudge the Robertson family at all for realizing that reality show fame is fleeting and taking every advantage of their "fifteen minutes." The real-life characters in this family have become caricatures somewhat, and yet, millions still love to watch their antics on television.

Phil robertsonThe show has definitely taken off and allowed a cable network previously known for Biography and Horatio Hornblower to suddenly become one of the most watched cable and satellite channels on televisoin. 

When A&E approached the Robertsons about doing a reality show based on their family, even those in the family were shocked. The patriarch, Phil Robertson, was reluctant and not so sure anyone would watch. He theorizes in his autobiography, Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander, why he believes the show has garnered such a following:

Everything else on TV nowadays is dysfunctional and for the most part has been that way for forty years. The last TV shows we saw that featured functional families were The Andy Griffith Show, The Waltons, The Beverly Hillbillies (don't laugh), and Little House on the Prairie. That was a long time ago! (Robertson & Schlabach, 1)

He may be right, but whatever it is, the audiences are responding. Millions tune in weekly and just recently, the Season 4 premiere broke cable/satellite ratings records with 11.8 million tuning in to watch. That means there were millions of people wearing T-shirts purchased at Walmart with pictures of the bearded ones on it, sipping iced tea from Uncle Si Tupperware tumblers watching the Robertson family welcome their clean-shaven, preacher brother to the show for Phil & Miss Kay's renewal of vows. (Yes, I was one of the 11.8 million, Jack!)

IT WASN'T ALWAYS "HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY."

The folks at "I Am Second" released one of the most watched film shorts in their library this year as well. This one featured Phil, his son Jep and grandson Reed. These are real stories, of real men, struggling with real issues and it's refreshing to hear them speak honestly. 

 

PHIL HAS NEVER BEEN KNOWN FOR BEING SUBTLE

Phil and the Robertsons faith in Jesus Christ has never been a secret. It's evidenced in the above "I Am Second" trailer. Fans of the show know that each episode closes in prayers ending in "Jesus' name" which, amazingly, is signficant in our culture today. When Phil surrendered his life to Christ, everything changed. At hunting conventions, he would take the time to share the Gospel which garnered him the nickname "The Billy Graham of Duck Hunting."

THE FIRESTORM HAS BEGUN

Well, it was inevitable. Phil has been featured on numerous talk shows, news shows, and magazines. He's a character and speaks his mind. Today, social media is blowing up over statements made by Phil and the response of A&E. The statements were made in a recent interview with GQ Magazine and they are controversial, at least to some.

The writer of the article, Drew Magary, interviewed Phil. You can read it here, but be warned, this is not an article for Christianity Today. The author uses words that. . .well, you probably wouldn't say in Sunday School. Some in social media are angry at Magary for the wording of the article, calling it "baiting" and worse. I'm not sure why people ever expected an article in GQ to be anything but what this is. Nevertheless, it seems that Phil's opinions have moved from being categorized by the mainstream as "quirky, old fashioned, and plain-spoken" to "hateful, anti-gay, and divisive."

It was inevitable.

Based on Phil's remarks, A&E has put him on "indefinite hiatus." That means, for now, he's been fired. Fans of the show, especially Christians are up in arms.

Though Phil used some pretty graphic anatomical descriptions (which I believe were unnecessary) as to why he views homosexuality as unnatural, his quote in the article that has led to the firestorm is below. This statement follows a question by Magary to Phil asking him to define what he believes to be sin:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

That was it. Partnered with the graphic descriptions he gave earlier and his questions as to why any man would ever want to be with another man sexually, the flame was lit. . .and the firestorm has begun.

MAYBE ALL PUBLICITY IS NOT GOOD PUBLICITY

I don't disagree with Phil. His statement is a pretty accurate paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Therefore, it is truth. He even has the right to state his beliefs. His follow-up comment that has been released today gives clarity of his love for "all humanity" and the grace that God gives all of us.

The cable network has responded by atttempting to distance itself from their current cash cow, so as not to find themselves in trouble with GLAAD and other LGBT rights groups. This should not be a surprise to anyone.

THE "CHRISTIAN" RESPONSE

Here's the challenge as we now see it. Hundreds, if not thousands, of those who claim to be Christians are responding with new Facebook pages  and postings supporting Phil, tweets and blogs about the story (this one included.) The anger at A&E, GQ and the "liberal media" is spewing. On the other side, anger at Phil and his family grows as he's labeled a bigot, homophobic, anti-gay and un-Christian.

We have seen this before. When Christ-followers share their opinions and beliefs in a culture that professes to be tolerant, it is soon realized that this tolerance is really one-sided. Tolerance for every belief other than biblically grounded ones are celebrated.

READ MORE

Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. Russell Moore and Micah Fries and others have written some good posts today related to this story. Rather than restate what has been said so well by these men, I recommend you read their postings, linked below.

 


"The Great Gatsby" and Blurred Lines Between Reality and Fantasy

A friend of mine posted a pretty interesting video highlighting the special visual effects used in the 2013 film version of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." As one who loves to watch the deleted scenes and the "making of" documentaries that are often on the "Extra Features" section on DVDs, this was worth the seven minutes of viewing.

Leonardo dicaprio the great gatsbyAs I watched this, I could not help but think of the many people in our culture, especially teenagers, who have traded reality for fantasy. Whether it be a video game or a television show, many people begin to connect more with imaginery characters and situations than the reality of life. Just take a look at the Twitter feeds of many teenagers. Fandom has reached a new high. Fictional characters are "followed" and the celebrity culture is worshipped. Imaginery situations garner more attention in some communities than actual incidents. In other words, that which doesn't matter, because it's not real, is more important to many than that which does matter, and is real.

When the truth is presented, it is often challenged or ignored.

Is this really a problem? It appears to be when young people break into schools or theaters with guns and explosive devices. Often the media is quick to point out the fantasy world created in the minds of the young people via violent video games and music. 

But, what about the fantasy world that isn't violent, just fake? What about those who cry and lament the death of fictional characters in their favorite television shows to such an extent that they fall into depression? What about the stress that develops in a family when the DVR must have the desired show recorded or a family argument ensues? What about when the worldview of authors, song writers, producers and the like are so strongly presented by the celebrities and imaginary characters in film and entertainment that they are cemented in the minds of the listeners or viewers to such an extent that truth is ignored?

Does this happen?

I believe so.

There is always someone behind the curtain pulling the strings. Even Dorothy and her friends from Oz discovered that the Wizard wasn't much of a Wizard at all. 

When that which is fake is so strongly presented that the truth is ignored or forgotten, the enemy wins a battle. He's behind the curtain. Make no mistake.

Now, this posting is not really about "The Great Gatsby" or any other film for that matter. I love films and I appreciate a good story. I enjoy watching fictional characters journey through fictional adventures on the screen. Just like anyone else, I like to be entertained with good writing and excellent acting.

However, I know where fiction ends and reality begins. 

The Enemy desires to blur this line, and I believe he is doing a fine job of it. 

Jesus wasn't exactly referring to movies, songs and stories, but his message here rings true in this case.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Matthew 8:31-32 (ESV)

Truth is always the key to freedom. Truth is knowable. Jesus is the Truth.

So, if you have the time, watch the clip below. It's pretty amazing and while I have not seen the movie (and really don't desire to) I am truly impressed with the special visual effects presented here. Remember as you watch it, that what you see on the screen is not always the full picture and often is not true. 

 

Be discerning. Don't be caught living a fantasy. Reality is too vital to miss the Truth.