Category: Entertainment

Obey God and do as you please

Pete_Seeger2_-_6-16-07_Photo_by_Anthony_Pepitone
Photo by Anthony Pepitone

Pete Seeger is probably the most influential man whose name you probably have never heard. A social activist of the 1960s, he wrote songs promoting environmentalism, civil rights, the counterculture, and songs opposing the Vietnam War.

He popularized the song, “We Shall Overcome,” which became the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, and his song “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)” became a major hit for the Byrds, and a musical standard for the 1960s.

The song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” was taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James Bible. The song itself was used as an anthem to call for an end to the Vietnam War, with the final line stating, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” Those who listen to the song can find themselves transported to a peaceful state of mind, relaxing and just enjoying the moment.

The irony of “Turn, Turn, Turn” is that Seeger rejected the Bible as scripture. He did not believe the Bible is God’s word, and he thought much of the book was a collection of folk tales and poetry. In an interview with Paul Zollo, which later appeared in the book, Songwriters on Songwriting, Seeger discussed his views on the Bible:

I don’t read the Bible that often. I leaf through it occasionally and I’m amazed by the foolishness at times and the wisdom at other times. I call it the greatest book of folklore ever given. Not that there isn’t a lot of wisdom in it. You can trace the history of people poetically.

Ironically, Seeger’s biggest hit came by setting music to the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3. The idea came after Seeger’s publisher complained that he was unable to sell the protest songs which he was writing. Seeger, a social activist at heart, put the music to the scripture, hoping that the publisher would hear a Top-40 hit, and that the listeners would hear a call for peace.

Further irony is that a song that became an anthem for peace in the 1960s also proclaimed there was a time for war, a time to kill, a time to hate, and a time to cast away stones. Also, there was a time for peace, a time to heal, a time to love and a time to gather stones together.

The opening lines say it all, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Seeger rejected the Bible as God’s word, and as such rejected the one who could put more power into those lyrics than David Crosby or Roger McGuinn ever could.

Ecclesiastes is a popular book among atheists and agnostics because of its seemingly humanistic approach to life. In many places, the book claims that life is empty, and none of man’s works will last for eternity. Therefore, one should simply enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the fruit of his labor. That approach to Ecclesiastes is extremely dangerous, because it plays right into the error that the writer was warning against.

Taken in its context, words of wisdom from a King who wanted his people to live with the enlightenment of the Lord’s wisdom, Ecclesiastes teaches that life outside of God’s presence is empty. It’s pointless. It is temporary and the struggles of life are futile.

The lesson in all this is that God is in control, and there is nothing we can do to add to, or to take away from, the plan that He is working on this Earth. Therefore, we should be content to live with the blessings God has given us, to learn the purpose of the seasons of life we endure, and to obey and reverence God.

Furthermore, we should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all our labor, for it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:13). While we do that, we should give thanksgiving to God for that gift.

Or as one theologian put it, “Obey God and do as you please.”

Had Seeger understood this concept, he would not only have seen that the wars, conflicts, and times of peace and prosperity served God’s purpose, but he still would have been free to pursue his social agenda of equal rights and preserving God’s creation. Instead, he will be mildly remembered as the man behind a happy little ditty from the 1960s.

God created you with a purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God before ordained that we should walk in them. In giving us that purpose, he gave us passion for that purpose and the talent to pursue it. Do not separate your spiritual/church life from your daily life. The whole of your persona was built in when God formed you in the womb.

Pixar has us coo-coo for Coco

Coco_(2017_film)_posterToy Story. Finding Nemo. Cars. Up. Wall-E. Iconic Pixar movies that defined the childhood of a generation, and gave parents precious memories with their kids. These films moved us in theaters, and babysat our children once released to home video.

With each classic Pixar released, it was hard to imagine that a better film could be made. Then, without fail, Pixar’s next movie would elevate the theatrical experience to the next level. Their latest release, Coco, is no different.

The film centers around Miguel, a 12 year old boy growing up in Mexico who dreams of being a famous musician, even though his family forbids music after his great-great grandfather abandoned the family to pursue a music career. Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular film/music star of the early 20th who died years earlier in a tragic stage accident. De la Cruz hailed from Miguel’s hometown, furthering the young boy’s fantasy that one day he could be as famous as the Mexican film/music icon.

Through a series of sordid events, Miguel comes to believe that he is the great-great grandson of De la Cruz, and when the local talent show begins at the town plaza, he tries to borrow De la Cruz’ guitar from his grave site. That decision sets off a chain reaction that lands Miguel in the Land of the Dead during the Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos, the one day the dead can return to the land of the living to visit their descendants.

The adventure sees Miguel reunited with his ancestors, separated from his ancestors, and reunited with De la Cruz, where he learns what is truly important to him. His adventure changes the Land of the Dead, as well as the Land of the Living forever.

Coco is Pixar’s best movie yet, because it touches people of all backgrounds. There are characters with which kids, adults, and seniors can identify. If I could have taken my dog, there would have been a character for her. The movie relates to career successes, sacrifices for family, hopes, dreams and fears. There’s not one part of the human spirit, save for a connection to God, that this film doesn’t touch.

The movie experience was so uplifting that I stayed and watched the credits.

Among the many themes found in the movie, the one that really stood out to me was the need to be remembered. According to the movie, (and Mexican legend), on Dia de Muertos, the dead are able to return to the land of the living to visit their descendants provided that those descendants post a picture of them on an ofrenda, and remember them. This ofrenda also includes things the dead ancestor enjoyed during life, like food, or musical instruments.

Those in the Land of the Dead whose families do not post pictures or ofrendas to them are denied entry into the Land of the Living, and are stuck in the Land of the Dead without family or friends.

If no one on earth remembered you, then you also vanished from the Land of the Dead into non-existence. Therefore, it was important to each resident of the Dead to be remembered, and to have their family post an ofrenda in their honor.

Families in Mexico still celebrate this holiday. It speaks to the natural fear of death, the wish for an eternal existence postmortem, and the need to be remembered. It is on these aspects of the human existence that Coco spoke the most clearly. Coco also addressed our desire to remember our loved ones fondly who have passed on before us.

One of the most difficult things to deal with in life is death. It’s hard to face our own mortality, and it is hard to deal with the loss of a close friend or family member. Dia de Muertos is a way Mexican residents have learned to cope with the loss.

However, scripture tells us that we can all have an eternal resurrection if we know Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Scripture also foretells of a day described by African American preachers in the South as “That glad gettin’ up morning.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 says:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

The day is coming when the Lord will reunite us with our loved ones. Moreover, we will be reunited with the Lord Himself.

These promises are made to all who repent and trust Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Have you made that decision? If you have, then the biggest and best family reunion ever planned is coming your way.

Take heart. This life is merely a preparation for the next. Live accordingly.

Because America enjoys a good train wreck

Let’s be honest. America loves a good train wreck.

You may have heard of Amy Winehouse, but have you ever listened to her music? Most who read this know of Winehouse, fewer can recite her lyrics.

You never heard of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian before their sex-films were made public. Tommy Lee’s fame extended beyond his days with Motley Crue as his rocky relationship with Pamela Anderson kept his image on the front of tabloid publications everywhere.

While Lindsey Lohan had a good acting career as a child, most of her press coverage came as a result of her meltdown as she transitioned into adulthood.

These, and other celebrities plagued by personal calamities spawned gossip column articles, magazine covers, reality shows and movies of the week. So, it should come as no surprise that a movie detailing the saga of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in the run up to the 1994 Olympics will hit theaters on Dec. 8.

I, Tonya chronicles the life of Tonya Harding leading up to the incident where a hit man hired by her bodyguard struck Nancy Kerrigan above the knee, bruising her thigh and taking her out of the USA National Competition.

The movie chronicles the abuse she endured at the hands of her mother, her dysfunctional relationship with Jeff Gillooly, her struggle to rise to the top of the figure-skating world, the attack on Kerrigan and the fallout thereafter.

Previews of the movie show a jaded Harding character, played by Margot Robbie, struggling through life in the brash fashion that got her labeled as “white trash” back in the 1990s. The depiction of Harding in news reports, TV shows, made-for-TV movies and reality shows in the aftermath of the attack on Kerrigan is one of an unsophisticated white trash girl who somehow stumbled into the talent to make the world figure-skating stage.

The goal of each of these depictions is not necessarily to tell her side of the story, nor is it to tell Nancy’s side, but rather to present another train wreck for America’s entertainment. Judging by the trailers for I, Tonya, this next film promises to be no different.

The saga of Tonya Harding speaks to a blemish on America’s culture at large. The culture is content to thrust a person like Harding into the national spotlight for our amusement, with no regard given for her personal healing and well-being. We laugh at her failure, poke fun at her rural impoverished upbringing, mock her tears, and think of ways we could have done it better.

Such a cultural mentality is not only a shame, but falls into a category of evil described in Romans 1:31-32, “Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

Tonya Harding was a mess. I’d like to see a revived, redeemed and stronger Tonya emerge. But the fact that we are willing to sit back and find amusement in her demise places us in the same category as those who carried out the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. And folks, that’s not where you want to be on Judgment Day.

The day a generation died

Tom_Petty_2016_-_Jun_20I don’t normally get emotional when news of celebrity deaths hits the airwaves. On my radio show, I often find myself putting together tributes to musical greats, movie legends and iconic performers whose time on this earth has come to an end. I do so with the understanding that time passes on, people age, the circle of life turns, and everyone faces that time when they “cross over Jordan.”

So, when Mary Tyler Moore died, I didn’t get emotional, even though I had watched every episode of Dick Van Dyke and the Mary Tyler Moore Show. When Glen Frey passed away, I put together an Eagles tribute for KXYL, but I didn’t shed a tear.

This is life. This is our ultimate destiny. It’s one we should be prepared for, Spiritually, mentally and financially.

However, when news broke Monday that Tom Petty had been found in full cardiac arrest, I knew what was coming next. There was no doubt in my mind that his time on this earth had come to a close.

For some reason, this time, I was emotional. I was overcome with sadness. I felt as though something special had been lost. The worst part is, I couldn’t explain my own emotion.

Explaining emotions is impossible, because emotions by nature are illogical. Still, it took days to explore this emotion so I could understand why I was so upset about the passing of Tom Petty, but not other performers.

So, I went home and pulled up the video of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Take the Highway Live” tour on YouTube.

As I sat watching Tom perform his classic hits that carried me through late childhood and adolescence, it dawned on me. Tom Petty was the icon of my generation.

He’s never been called this before. He has never been labeled as the voice of Generation X, the lost generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials that no one cares about. Seriously. For 40 years, marketers tried to figure out how to reach the Baby Boomers due to their numbers, before skipping over Gen-X,Y, Z,Whatever to reach the over-hyped Millennial generation, a generation defined by youth and whatever label commentators want to attach to the bearded kid in the coffee shop. I digress.

While Petty himself was a boomer, his songs played a key role in the upbringing of Gen-X. His own daughter posted online that she grew up to his songs, that everyone grew up to his songs. I did as well. From “Refugee” to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Petty’s music emanated from the speakers of my radio, and radios around me from childhood to young adult-hood.

His videos were creative and iconic, earning him the 1994 MTV Michael Jackson Music Video Vanguard award. He was one of the reasons my generation sat glued to MTV before it was overrun by episodes of “The Real World.”

Petty toured right up until his death. He continually worked on new projects and cranked out new music.

But we never considered him the voice of our generation, even though his music spoke directly into our life’s experiences.

“Refugee” taught us that life goes on even after we’ve been burned, that we don’t have to languish in the pain our past experiences have caused us.

“Won’t Back Down” tapped into our defiant attitudes. “King’s Highway” tapped into our desire to hit the open road and go “Running Down a Dream.”

“Learning to Fly” keyed into our struggle to overcome the daily rat race, and “Last Dance with Mary Jane” identified with our experiences of lost love.

Think of a moment in your life, and there’s probably a Tom Petty tune to match the occasion. And that’s why his passing hits us hard.

You see, we Gen-X’ers, the last generation to grow up before cell phones, smart phones, internet and social media, remember a simpler time. A time where concerts were safe venues to enjoy music and let your problems go for a while.

We remember a time when TV was funny, entertaining, and wasn’t trying to change our view of culture. We remember calling the local radio station to place our requests, Saturday nights at the skating rink, and the ability to leave home without having your day-off interrupted by cell phone calls from work.

We remember a time when we felt safe, long before 9/11 and mass shootings put us on edge. We remember when music was fresh, innovative and artistic. We remember music on MTV, and wasting hours staring at the screen as music videos from all genres aired.

Cruising. Road trips. Spring break at the beach before Girls Gone Wild turned it into a freak show. Bubble tape, Ecto-cooler, Crystal Pepsi, the Arch Deluxe, and the Isuzu Amigo.

We remember going to college to prepare for a fulfilling career.

Some of these experiences are still a staple of American life. Some aren’t. But no one can honestly say life today is as simple as it was, say, in 1993 when Tom Petty had his last major hit on commercial radio. And that’s why we’re sad.

The simple life of yesteryear no longer exists, and will never return. Tom Petty’s death reminds us that life changes, and the things we hold dear often fade into the backs of our collective memory.

Or, as Tom put it, “The good ole days may not return, and the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn.”

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There is good news, however. The fact that the good ole days may not return does not mean that there aren’t better days ahead. Tom’s music was optimistic, so we too should be optimistic.

Photo credit: David W. Baker

Charly’s attempt to engage culture

Over the past two decades, Christians and churches have sought to engage popular culture through music, movies and even through news media sites like The Stream.

Following the observation that movies bear more influence on American culture than the pulpit, the Kendrick Brothers and Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., produced a series of movies that gave us box office hits like “Fireproof” and “Courageous.” The movies, flanked by correlating Bible study curriculum for churches and small-groups, were tools in reaching many.

These efforts have led to the conversion and discipleship of many nominal church goers and fence riders, however, cracking the shell of the culture at large presents a challenge. While individuals are being reached through these efforts, the public at large is not.

My proof? In 1986, Top Gun was a box office smash. Americans lined up around the corner to see Maverick pursue his quest of graduating at the top of his Top Gun class. The movie, which featured many action scenes featuring the F-14 Tomcats and F-15 Eagles, wooed many young men into joining the Navy under the auspices of becoming fighter pilots.

Recruiters, seeing the opportunity, set up recruiting booths outside movie theaters, signing young men who were excited about the opportunity to fly the F-15 into hostile air to intercept Russian Migs. A cultural phenomenon was born.

Historically, the only time a Christian movie has generated a large-scale response was following the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” A heart-felt and detailed depiction of the Gospel is bound to elicit a reaction. No doubt about that. However, aside from the anecdotal stories of the criminal who confessed to a crime for which someone else was convicted, there was no shift in American culture. A large number of professed conversions came from that movie, but America’s culture still trended toward unGodliness.

If the purpose of Christian movies is to create conversions, or to call marginal Christians back to faith, then those movies are accomplishing the goal. However, if Christian movies are designed to sway the culture at large, we are missing the mark. And, until this week, I’ve wondered why.

Sunday night, my wife and I enjoyed some “date time,” where we sit down and watch a movie via Amazon Prime or Hulu. We found a romance movie called “Charly,” about a New York woman who visits family in Salt Lake City and meets a young Mormon, and the two fall in love. Charly convinces Sam, the young Mormon, to be more spontaneous. Sam leads Charly to convert to Mormonism.

The plot was good, the acting was good. The depictions of family and the importance thereof were good. What turned me off to the movie was when the film would unabashedly preach Mormonism. There’d be a Sunday School scene non-germane to the plot. The main character would try to preach it to his love interest. Those scenes disrupted the plot, and raised my antenna. I spent the rest of the movie looking for the Mormon innuendos.

Now, I mean no disrespect to my Mormon friends, but as a Baptist pastor, I have several, deep, theological differences with the Mormon religion. Having those differences brought to the forefront of my mind, I began to wonder if non-believers had the same reaction to Christian films as I was having to “Charly.”

Are Christian filmmakers hindering their influence on the culture by inserting outright Christian preaching into Christian movies? I don’t know, and I have no complaints.

However, as we produce Christian movies, let’s set our purpose before writing our script. Are we looking to influence society to adopt our values? Or are we looking for mass conversions. If mass conversions are the goal, then by all means, insert explicit Bible teachings. Do a movie about the Gospel, like “The Passion of the Christ.”

However, if the goal is to influence societal values, maybe embedding Christian values into the plot is a better way to go.