Category: Entertainment

The Ballad of Thomas Ryman

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There are many reasons why people think that the Ryman Auditorium is called “the Mother Church of Country Music.” First, it looks like a church. Notice the arched windows and doorways, the American Gothic architecture, and the wooden pews inside.

Then, there’s the devoted, religious following of the Grand Ole Opry, which still closes most of its performances with a Gospel tune.

Finally, there’s the notion that you haven’t really arrived in Country Music until the “Mother Church” gives you her blessing, and you are invited to play the Opry (even if most of the performances are now held at the Opryland Resort.)

But how many realize that the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, was actually a church?

In 1885, Riverboat operator and saloon owner Thomas Ryman noticed that the ongoing Christian revival across Tennessee is cutting into his business. Looking to preserve his business ventures, Ryman decided to go to a revival meeting held by the great Evangelist Samuel Porter Jones for the purpose of disrupting and heckling the service.

Instead of stopping the revival, Ryman himself wound up converting to Christianity. So moved by the preaching of Jones, and his own redemption, Ryman endeavored to make sure everyone could hear the Gospel as spoken by Jones’ voice. So, he invested $100,000 ($2.7 million in today’s cash) to build the “Union Gospel Tabernacle,” a 6,000 seat chapel where Jones would be able to preach to multitudes.

Worship services were held, and Jones held many revivals in the facility. The tabernacle was renamed the “Ryman Auditorium” in 1904 by Jones as he preached Ryman’s funeral.

The Ryman Auditorium closed in the 1930s, and fell into disrepair before being taken over by WSM-AM in the 1960s to become the site of the Grand Ole Opry.

I read this story several years ago, and it continues to impress me that a hardened sinner was so moved with gratitude for his salvation, and concern for the eternal destiny of his fellow man, that he put his fortune to the test to build a place where everyone could come, hear the Gospel, and be saved.

When I think about this, I wonder what I have done to show my gratitude to God for my salvation. I also wonder what would happen if I did more. Furthermore, what if we had more Thomas Rymans in the world, hardened sinners broken and redeemed by the power of Christ who turned around and did everything in their power to reach those around them? If this happened, what kind of revival would we see in our country?

Right now, the entertainment industry politicizes everything, thinking that to legitimize their fame and popularity, they have to adopt a cause or message to change the world. Politicians legislate to leave their mark on the world. Athletes endorse ideas and causes.

The rest of the world uses its platform to advance a secular agenda. Isn’t it time that Christians use their platform to advance the Kingdom of God?

May God grant you the boldness to live out your faith and reach others with the Gospel.

Scars, stars, bazaar: The Greatest Showman rocks our imaginations

Forget everything you know about P.T. Barnum. The Connecticut-born son of a tailor who so coveted high society that he swindled and cheated his way into mass fortune died 126 years ago. All that remains of him is the name of a circus.

The P.T. Barnum depicted in “The Greatest Showman” is a fictitious character, an energetic, benevolent man whose blind ambition led him to make occasional mistakes in his relationships.

Portrayed by Hugh Jackman, P.T. Barnum whisks his love, Charity, away by imploring her to use her imagination, adding that the world is what they make of it. A running theme throughout the musical is how they can change their stars, and create their own world, being limited only by their own imaginations. His love, dreams and enthusiasm lights the hearts of his wife and daughters, and inspires his followers, a rag-tag group of misfits including the bearded lady, the world’s smallest man, a theatre director and even a world-renown opera singer.

The movie maintains a happy tone, even when the characters deal with very difficult situations, ranging from rejection, personal pain, and hopelessness. The darkest of times are quickly abandoned for the next adventure, and the next song.

The ongoing theme of “The Greatest Showman” is that of acceptance. P.T. Barnum struggled to gain the acceptance of high society, while his cast of odd characters struggled to accept themselves, and struggled to gain acceptance of mainstream society.

Having gone from pauper to prince with the financial success of Barnum’s Circus, Barnum enlisted the help of a popular theatre director to “win the high brows.” This resulted in an audience with the queen of England, which connected Barnum to the famous opera singer Jenny Lind, with whom Barnum strikes up a partnership for a North American tour.

Regardless of all that happened, Barnum never really gains the acceptance of high society. He is then reminded of the true value of the friends he has, and learns to quit living to impress people that he doesn’t really like in the first place.

The cast of odd-characters struggle throughout the movie. Rejected not only by their own mothers, many had trouble accepting themselves. Throughout the course of the movie, they learn to accept themselves, and to see their oddity as a gift. They also find comfort in each other.

I came away from this movie inspired and happy. I was reminded to dream big, to be myself, and to love those around me. And for that reminder, I give the movie a thumbs up!

Not because it’s right, but because it’s trending

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Photo: Bob Beecher

I was on the phone with a publicist for a movie production taking place in Texas.

“This is big,” she said. “Oprah has reviewed our script, decided she likes it, so the film will be produced by The Weinstein Company.”

Back when this conversation took place, The Weinstein Company was nothing more than a “W” logo that flashed on the screen at the beginning of a movie trailer or at the end of the movie credits. I didn’t know who they were or what they did. I did know who Oprah was, and I thought it was really cool that she had taken on this particular project.

There’s a lot with which I disagree with Oprah. I think her daytime TV talk show is overly emotional. Her politics lean left, mine lean way right. I still haven’t forgiven her for thrusting Dr. Phil upon us. Then again, I can blame the Texas beef industry for that. Had they never sued her over her show on “Mad Cow” disease, she’d have never gone to court in Amarillo, and would have never met Dr. Phil.

On the other hand, I have to respect a woman who went from absolute poverty to the billionaire she is today. She accomplished her success through hard work, good decisions, and by creating a product that, even if I don’t like it, is adored by millions.

Still, her speech at the Golden Globes the other night went all over me. While I agree with the message she spoke, I wondered how she must have felt delivering the message.

I don’t think Oprah engaged in inappropriate behavior with Harvey Weinstein. She has too much dignity and class. I don’t think she knowingly helped him, or was complicit in any specific encounter he had. She has a moral compass.

Yet, everyone in Hollywood, Oprah included, knew what Harvey Weinstein was. Go back and look at the Seth McFarlane joke on YouTube. Read or watch the jokes about the entertainment industry, and how Hollywood execs, including Weinstein, behaved themselves. What was going on was common knowledge, and had even become the punchline of a twisted cultural joke.

So, when she stood on stage and proclaimed that a new day was coming when powerful men would no longer be able to prey on young ladies, I couldn’t help but think, “Why haven’t you said anything before now?”

As long as getting along with Harvey Weinstein was good business, Oprah did it. Now that Weinstein has been revealed to be the pervert that he is, good business dictates criticism of him and the entertainment industry that allowed him to thrive.

But that’s all it is. Good business. Oprah’s speech, and the “Time’s Up” pins worn to the Golden Globes amount to nothing more than a social media post designed to get page views because the right hashtag was used. And therein lies the problem.

Our culture has become one of “hashtag activism.” You don’t actually do anything, you just post about it, and people congratulate you on your compassion for being able to type 140-280 characters.

When you log onto Facebook, look in the right-hand margin. You’ll notice a few topics that Facebook says is trending. On Twitter, that list is to the left. Make any post, add a hashtag that aligns with the word or phrase that is trending, and presto! Page views, comments, likes and shares.

When Weinstein’s accusers came out, the #MeToo hashtag began to trend. When that happened, accusations came out against multiple Hollywood celebrities and executives. Justice for sexual harassment victims trended, which is why Hollywood added the #TimesUp pins, and Oprah gave her speech. They are merely following the social trend.

Next year, this will all be forgotten, and another social cause, environmental cause, or political cause will take its place. Hopefully, more will have been accomplished than a few elite personalities going viral on social media.

In the meantime, Oprah can bring about a lot of healing, to her industry and reputation, by apologizing for her associations with Weinstein and vowing to create an entertainment industry where young ladies will be able to sell their talents, not their bodies.

When Rome falls

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You find the most interesting things on Facebook.

Scrolling through my news feed this morning, I came across this gem, comparing the distraction most Americans enjoy via the NFL with the distractions most Romans enjoyed via chariot races, gladiator “games,” and the Olympics.

And while the Roman government deliberately built elaborate stadiums to distract the masses from the crumbling empire and human rights abuses, in America, we distracted ourselves.

Now, I’m not bashing sports, or the NFL. I enjoy watching football, and even have been able to attend a few Big-12 College Football games, and one Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game.  I will probably continue to enjoy watching sports for the foreseeable future.

But for some reason, seeing the above-posted meme on Facebook was kind of an eye-opener for me.

Do you know why the NFL protests were so controversial? And subsequently, why the NFL protests have, at least in part, played a role in the decline of NFL ratings? It’s because, once the players used their platform to advance a socially conscious agenda, they reminded us of the social problems that remain in America.

Whether you agree with Colin Kaepernick or not, seeing he and his followers take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner reminded you that the reconciliation we thought we had accomplished hadn’t advanced us as far as we had thought. Having that bubble burst, watching football became a reminder of the deep-divides that remain in American society. Once that happened, watching football wasn’t as fun as it was before.

And that’s why the NFL protests were so controversial. People don’t like to be reminded of their problems as they try to escape them. So, we had the controversial debate over the past two years, and we quit watching football.

The good news is that we can use our newly raised awareness to make good things happen. True change will not come through legislation, political action, or by socially-conscious NFL players. It will come through the small, daily decisions made by each individual. So, to borrow a phrase, “be the change.” Extend random acts of kindness to others, and let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven.

And Go Bulldogs!

Why we love Star Wars

Star_Wars_The_Last_JediMovies succeed at the box office due to effective marketing campaigns. Movie franchises, like Star Wars, the Hunger Games, or Jurassic Park, thrive because they either (a) mirror our lives or (b) speak into our human nature on a deep level.

Jurassic Park thrives because, in addition to capturing our imaginations through the resurrection of the dinosaurs, it poses the question as to whether man has the ability to create life, species, and whether we can overcome the natural order set forth by our Creator. Spoiler alert: We fail every single time.

The Hunger Games succeeded because it captured man’s natural desire to be free, the fact that hope never completely dies, and the lengths to which man will fight to win his freedom. All of that was embodied in the main character, Katniss Everdeen, who struggled through poverty, oppression, imprisonment, torture, and PTSD to lead a rebellion against a powerful overlord who subjugated everyone. Most who watched that series could identify with Katniss on some level, which is why the series succeeded.

The success of both of those franchises, however, pales in comparison to the success of the Star Wars franchise, which has become the definitive movie franchise for three generations due to the fact that it speaks into virtually every aspect of our lives, from our family life, to our professional life, to our philosophical life. Star Wars touches on family drama and pain, captures the plight of characters who are trying to overcome their station in life, and poses the bigger questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On this level, Star Wars speaks to our entire persona. We are all trying to make our way in this world, battling the elements of opposition as we try to climb the corporate ladder, move into the next tax bracket, or obtain the next level of education. While we fight those battles, we deal with issues at home. We struggle to repair or maintain relationships with our parents, to make our marriages work, to give our kids positive direction, and to keep from losing touch with those closest to us.

This multi-generational family story is laid against a back-drop of intergalactic battles, space ships, and planetary conquests.

In an interview after he sold the franchise to Disney, George Lucas said, “Star Wars isn’t about space ships and aliens, it’s about family.”

Those who understand that statement will understand Star Wars that much better. The franchise follows the plight of a single family, the children of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, as they learn their family history and fight to keep the galaxy free. Skywalker was overcome with rage and a desire to rule the galaxy, so Amidala took her two twins and hid them in separate places with friends and family.

Their circumstantial reunification and new-found purpose became the first Star Wars Trilogy, Episodes 4-6. In order to explain that trilogy, Episodes 1-3 were later released (for better or worse) in the 1990s. Now, we’re working on the third trilogy, which will follow the plight of the third generation of Skywalkers.

You see the family drama at work when Darth Vader is reunited with his son, Luke Skywalker, as well as when Hans Solo and Leia pine for their wayward son, Kylo Ren. Rey is trying to solve the mystery of who her family is, and why they left her on a desert planet, and Finn is the orphaned former Stormtrooper who’s searching for belonging.

You see the quest for betterment as Hans Solo continues his career as a smuggler, as inn-keepers and bar owners struggle to stay in business, or when Rey seeks Jedi training.

And then there’s the forbidden love between Anakin and Padme. Those two had to defy all customs and protocol in order to be together.

The issues that these characters deal with are issues we can all relate to. We’ve had family struggles. We’ve experienced lost love. Our kids have turned on us. We struggle to overcome, and we often feel like we get caught up in world affairs beyond our control.

And that’s why we love Star Wars. We see a little bit of ourselves in those characters, and so we root for them. We rejoice with them, we cry with them, and we die (figuratively speaking) with them.

Right now, critics and fans are debating whether “The Last Jedi” lives up to the hype. If it turns my life into another sci-fi thriller, it most certainly will.

Obey God and do as you please

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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.