Monday, November 29, 2004

Hypocrisy: What America Says, What America Does

Here's an incredible article from the New York Times. The headline?

Many Who Voted for 'Values' Still Like Their Television Sin.

I believe the challenge for Christians is to live what they believe (actually, you're not a disciple of Christ if you don't). What are you watching?


The results of the presidential election are still being parsed for what they say about the electorate's supposed closer embrace of traditional cultural values, but for the network television executives charged with finding programs that speak to tastes across the nation, one lesson is clear.

The supposed cultural divide is more like a cultural mind meld.

In interviews, representatives of the four big broadcast networks as well as Hollywood production studios said the nightly television ratings bore little relation to the message apparently sent by a significant percentage of voters.

The choices of viewers, whether in Los Angeles or Salt Lake City, New York or Birmingham, Ala., are remarkably similar. And that means the election will have little impact on which shows they decide to put on television, these executives say.

It is possible that some secondary characters on new television shows will exhibit strong religious beliefs, and an occasional plotline may examine the impact of faith on some characters' lives. But with "Desperate Housewives" and "C.S.I." leading the ratings, television shows are far more likely to keep pumping from the deep well of murder, mayhem and sexual transgression than seek diversion along the straight and narrow path.

"It's entertainment versus politics," said Steve McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment. He dismissed the notion that program creators might be developing ideas specifically to chase voters who claimed moral values as an important issue in this election. "I have not heard an idea of that kind,'' Mr. McPherson said, "none whatsoever."

As much as network entertainment executives believe in taking note of trends, the rating figures from Nielsen Media Research remain their bible.

"They tell you more about creative values than anything that's in the political zeitgeist," said Dana Walden, the president of one of the largest production studios, Twentieth Century Fox Television, which produces shows like "The Simpsons" and "N.Y.P.D. Blue." "It's those values that are striking a chord with the American people," Ms. Walden said.

So if it is true that the public's electoral choices are a cry for more morally driven programming, the network executives ask, why are so many people, even in the markets surrounding the Bush bastions Atlanta and Salt Lake City, watching a sex-drenched television drama?

"Desperate Housewives" on ABC is the big new hit of the television season, ranked second over all in the country, behind only "C.S.I." on CBS. This satire of suburbia and modern relationships features, among other morally challenged characters, a married woman in her 30's having an affair with a high-school-age gardener, and has prompted several advertisers, including Lowe's, to pull their advertisements.

In the greater Atlanta market, reaching more than two million households, "Desperate Housewives" is the top-rated show. Nearly 58 percent of the voters in those counties voted for President Bush.

And in the Salt Lake City market, which takes in the whole state of Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming, "Desperate Housewives" is fourth, after two editions of "C.S.I." and NBC's "E.R."; Mr. Bush rolled up 72.6 percent of the vote there.

"We say one thing and do another," said Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment. "People compartmentalize about their lives and their entertainment choices."

Regional differences, of course, do exist in the country's entertainment choices. Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" both took in staggering profits, but the busiest theaters for "Fahrenheit" were in Democratic territory, like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, while "The Passion" performed best in Republican states like Texas, Ohio and Florida.

But moviegoing requires active and out-of-home decision-making, and has a price attached, unlike broadcast television. Watching television has always been a passive activity, with people selecting their entertainment in the privacy of their homes.

Even on television there are modest discrepancies in the popularity of various shows. "Desperate Housewives" may make it into the top 10 in Birmingham, Ala., but in the eighth spot. And "Will and Grace," the NBC comedy with two gay main characters, ranks in the top 10 in New York but just 22nd nationally.

Any geographical differences are overwhelmed by the distinct viewership patterns among blacks and whites. A study conducted last year by the advertising-buying firm Initiative Media found that while "Friends" and "E.R." were among the top-rated shows among whites, they were much less popular among blacks. And the highest-rated shows among blacks, like "One on One" and "Girlfriends," could not crack the top 100 of network shows.

The divide between what people accept as proper in public and what they choose to enjoy in their private lives is, unsurprisingly, nothing new in the history of the world or this country.

"When the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock left behind writing, it was William Bradford's, and you can clearly see what they believed in and what their values were," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, referring to the colony's first governor. "Then you look at the court records and you see all kinds of fornication, adultery and bestiality."

Herbert J. Gans, professor of sociology at Columbia University and the author of "Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste," said, "For some people it's a case of 'I am moral therefore I can watch the most immoral show.' ''

That point was echoed by Gary Schneeberger, the senior manager of issues for Focus on the Family, an influential evangelical Protestant group that urged its supporters to vote on values. "History has shown that even people who could be described as values voters are prone to sinful behavior and watching representations of sinful behavior," Mr. Schneeberger said. "Is it shocking that people would be enticed by it? It's not shocking, but it is tragic."

He said he understood how some viewers might enjoy the murder-mystery aspects of "C.S.I.," the No. 1 show his group has assailed for its graphic depictions of violence, even though justice is served most weeks. But, he added, "is it worth having to go through all this garbage to solve a mystery?"

Mr. Schneeberger said he was encouraged by the criticism heaped on ABC last week for using a sexed-up opening for its "Monday Night Football" coverage, which included one of the stars of "Desperate Housewives" dropping a towel and jumping, apparently naked, into the arms of a football player. But even while ABC was apologizing for the segment, cable news and sports networks like ESPN (which is owned by ABC's parent, the Walt Disney Company) were incessantly replaying the offending scene. It is a contradiction played out again and again in popular culture, where for all the backlash against everything from Murphy Brown's single motherhood to Janet Jackson's exposed breast, the boundaries of what's acceptable keep being pushed by the increasingly graphic shows on cable, like FX's "Nip/Tuck," and even offerings from the networks.

There have been successful series with religious overtones, like "Touched by an Angel."

But since that show went off CBS, the record is less impressive, said Leslie Moonves, the co-president and co-chief operating officer of Viacom, which owns CBS and UPN. On the CBS show "Joan of Arcadia," God is a recurring character. But he is not pulling in the viewers, and that goes for almost all states.

If moral and religious values were truly what people most wanted to see depicted on television, Mr. Moonves said, "I guess we'd be seeing 'Joan of Arcadia' doing better than 'C.S.I.' ''

Mr. Moonves said his network had no plans to tinker with its shows. "As soon as you think of something that makes you start putting other things in a show, you change the nature of the show," he said.

Mr. Reilly of NBC, however, said, "I do think we tend to give short shrift to certain areas of the country."

"One of the things we're playing with is having characters with strong religious beliefs included in some of our new shows," Mr. Reilly added. "This would not be the premise of the show, but we could have a character who simply has this strong point of view."

And over at Fox, Preston Beckman, the executive vice president for program planning, said he had some advice, however marginal, for producers pitching the networks. "Make sure that a lot of them are at least located in red states," he said. "And give the characters a dog."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Music in the New Testament

What is the role of music in the New Testament? How does it compare to the Tanakh usage and role of music? Granted, that topic could fill the pages of a book, but I'd like to take a brief look to see what the Scripture instructs on this topic.

Some OT examples of music's role and usage:

1) Moses and Miriam leading the rejoicing of the Hebrews after being delievered from the Egyptians (Exodus 15).

2) The book of Psalms is a collection of songs. It references many different instruments and even commands believers to praise the Lord using them (Psalm 150:5).

3) Music was used to celebrate the Ark of the Covenant being brought to the City of David:

1 Chronicles 15:19
The musicians Heman, Asaph and Ethan were to sound the bronze cymbals; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah and Benaiah were to play the lyres according to alamoth, and Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel and Azaziah were to play the harps, directing according to sheminith. Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.

4) God clearly approves of the use of music to worship Him:

2 Chronicles 5:12-14
All the Levites who were musicians--Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives--stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang:
"He is good;
his love endures forever."
Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.

There are MANY more examples, but you can see the gist: music had a prominent place in the rejoicing of God's people and in the worship of God.

What are some New Testament examples?

1) When the Prodigal Son returns home, the older son, coming in from the field, hears the sound of "music and dancing" (Luke 15:25). The parable is a picture of the return of a believer back to the Lord after leaving Him; we're told in Luke 15:7 that heaven rejoices over the repentance of a sinner.

2) Making music is a command for New Testament believers! Note that the command includes "to one another" as well as "in your heart"--so there's a basis for singing together as well as privately.

Ephesians 5:19-20
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3) Music coexists with teaching, and is commanded alongside it:

Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

4) Music is again associated with rejoicing:

James 5:13b

Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

5) Revelation 14 and 15 make it clear that there will be plenty of music in heaven.

Revelation 15:2-4
And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:
"Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages.
Who will not fear you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed."

6) Music is definitively part of corporate Christian worship. The early church experienced and expected to sing and make music together in addition to teaching, reading the Word, and prophesying.

1 Corinthans 14:26
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

None of this is to say, though, that the way music is incorporated into the services today is anything like what the early church did. To my way of thinking, early church music methodology would more resemble a campfire or home Bible study's use of music than a band up front on a stage. But times are different, technology is different. I am still not sure what we've gained or lost with our current way of doing things.

In the Old Testament, you could say there was a band: the skilled Levites who played the instruments and sang. Perhaps the modern "worship band" at the front of the church is fulfilling this type of role. That makes sense, but I feel a sense of loss of intimacy and group participation with the "stage" aspect. Yet another reason why the home church model is the best, and the most like the early church.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Current Films

The movie industry is one of the enemy's primary indoctrination tools for the US and for people around the world who embrace American pop culture. Movie theaters are like temples for postmodern worshipers. Inside these places of "idol" worship (isn't that what many stars are called?), audiences are exposed to everything from serial killings, rapes, incest, adultery, and much more...all in the name of entertainment, the pop culture's god.

Two films I read about recently that I find particularly appalling, even in these dark times, are Birth, a movie about a woman's reincarnated husband, now 10 years old, coming to claim her before she marries her live-in fiance, and Saw, a film about a serial killer's torturing of his victims (in a nutshell).

It's not that surprising that the film industry is promoting and glorifying themes of pedophilia, murder and psychological torture; but I see in both of these movies an "upping" of the ante.

Even many non-Christians see the inherent depravity of pairing an adult woman with a ten year old CHILD as love interests: a screening of Birth at a film festival--where crowds are usually hungry for novel things and ready to embrace "new visions"--drew widely-reported boos and hisses as Nicole Kidman's character shared a bath with the boy claiming to be her reincarnated husband. Regardless of the context, this movie has the effect of giving credibility to pedophiles (see, she's in love! It's not a boy--it's really her dead husband!).

I don't really even want to go into Saw's story, it's so revolting. See the review above if you want to know more of what it's about. But check out this particular portion of what the reviewer had to say:

"Touting torture as a treat becomes the heart of Saw—something that should automatically send most morally minded moviegoers running for the exits. And yet, sadly, it won’t.

In all honesty, Saw's perverse pictures weren't the most disturbing things I saw while reviewing it. It was disconcerting enough to sit in a theater full of mothers with their 8-year-old boys in tow and groups of 12-year-old girls chaperoned by solitary adults. It was nearly intolerable to witness them—kids and adults—applauding when a man onscreen got his brains bashed in. And laughing when Lawrence sobbed helplessly on the cell phone while his wife and daughter struggled at gunpoint with their kidnapper.

So in the end, Saw may say even more about the people who see it than it does about the people who created it."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Great News Regarding British Vote!

Britain Spanking Vote

"Parliament has overwhelmingly rejected calls for all smacking of children to be outlawed despite the wishes of some Labour MPs."


Check out this part, though:
"Hinchliffe, head of parliament's Health Select Committee, said Britain was in breach of its obligations under the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights."

In BREACH of its obligations? Is Britain a sovereign nation, or is it subject to a world governing body? What was once a question with a clear answer is becoming muddier by the day.

The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child was approved by nearly every nation in 1990:
"Only two countries have not ratified: the United States and Somalia, which have signalled their intention to ratify by formally signing the Convention" (Unicef).

Recently the UN sought to persuade Canada to prohibit spanking, and in fact "ruled" that Canada should ban it. The UN doesn't currently have the power to enforce its "ruling", but an attentive observer will see which way the wind is blowing.

Stephen Macklin (a blogger) looks at the issue from an individual-rights perspective and makes some good points.

The sovereignty of nations is waning and will eventually disappear, replaced by a one-world government. We are hurtling towards that time...I am just surprised that so many nations are already willing to hand their sovereignty over to world govemment without protest. Decisions are being made on an international level by the World Court, and once sovereign nations are expected to abide by its rulings.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Britain May Make Spanking Illegal

Article on Spanking in Britain

Britain is considering outlawing spanking. Many other nations already have outlawed it, and I believe the U.S. is headed in the same direction.

The Bible is incredibly clear on this point, but it's not as simple as "spanking is good," and I think that's where many people run into trouble when thinking about spanking.

First, Christian parenting should reflect the character of God and be obedient to His commands. What is God's character? He is defined as love:

1 John 4:8
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

This begs the question, though--what is love? Love is a fundamentally misunderstood concept, though perhaps nothing else has been the subject of more writing and rumination. According to the Bible, love is not a warm feeling; it's not getting whatever you want, or giving someone whatever they want; it's not physical affection. God repeatedly defines love for us in the Bible, and what's especially important is to know how to love HIM. How do we love God?

1 John 5:2-3
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

So love, in a very basic and rudimentary way, has to do with obedience. If we don't obey God, we don't really love Him and can never be in relationship with Him. He enables us to obey by cleansing us and giving us everything we need for life and godliness, but we must choose to obey Him in order to say we love Him.

What does that say about parenting?

Look at the facts: we are all sinners; we have all fallen short of the glory of God and are doomed to Hell because of our own rebellion against a loving Maker. What has God done? He sent Jesus to die for us, so we could be redeemed from a deserved death and begin life as children of God.

1 John 4:9-10
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1. God made a way for us to be able to obey Him. He did this out of His love and tenderness toward us--He desires NO ONE to perish. He loves the world, even though His wrath abides on those who rebel against Him. That's why He sent His Son.
2. Once we are in Christ, God expects obedience--He has enabled us to obey Him and desires us to walk in loving closeness with Him.
3. There is chastisement for every child of God.

Hebrews 12:5-7
And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

Christians should parent as God does: lovingly, tenderly, firmly--always guiding the child toward godliness. Sometimes this is done with words; sometimes with the "rod," which is not condoned but commanded by Scripture. If you do not spank, you hate your child. That's not me talking, but the Word of God.

Proverbs 13:24
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

Proverbs 22:15
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.

There are many scriptures on the rod, and I won't list them all. Suffice it to say that a Biblical understanding of discipline will include the use--the loving and careful use--of the rod. Spanking should never be done in anger or in retaliation. It is a tool of discipline, with the design of breaking a child's rebellion to help him, later, not seek to rebel against God. To help him understand that sin always has consequences, and those consequences are invariably painful. The ultimate consequence for sin is Hell. A permissive parent allows his child to believe that his sin has no repercussions.

Don't ever forget that children desperately need and desire boundaries. That's why the shepherd's staff is a comfort--it's not a torture device.

Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

I praise God for His lovingkindness and for His discipline. I pray the U.S. does not quickly follow the steps of other nations in this matter.

Other resources:
No Greater Joy
Shepherding a Child's Heart

Citizenship--Voting Day special

Here's what I am thinking about as we reach the culmination of months of arguments, accusations, reporting, factions and strife:

This world isn't my home; I don't really belong here now that Jesus has made me a new person. Just as Paul was first a citizen of heaven, I am also an ambassador of Christ in a foreign land.

Philippians 3:18-21
For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Hebrews 11 contains testimony about people throughout the Tanakh who were faithful to God. They knew by faith that their true home was elsewhere, and they trusted that God would someday bring them to this home they had never seen.

Hebrews 11:13-16
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

As the citizens of America go to the polls, I want to remember where my true home is and where my allegiance lies: solely in the Kingdom of Heaven, and solely at the feet of Jesus Christ. I'm not saying 'don't vote'; I'll be voting tomorrow. But I know there's something much greater I am expecting and longing for.

Which brings me to my favorite verse!

Titus 2:11-14
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.