Thursday, June 22, 2017

Buyer – or Viewer – Beware!

Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, it seems we can’t judge a movie by its previews. A few weeks ago, I took one of my grandchildren to a “sci-fi” movie. Judging from the previews, it promised to be a fun, lighthearted, even cartoonish film he’d like. Parts of it were indeed funny, even silly. It had a wise-cracking raccoon, a goofy-looking Gumby-like creature, and assorted other weird characters. All the ingredients for an enjoyable, family-oriented movie.

Sometimes the PG in "PG-13" can
stand for "pretty gross."
This film had earned the highest gross revenues for its opening week. Critics largely gave it two thumbs up, so I thought it would be a safe bet for a grandpa-grandson outing. Uh-uh.

I discovered the writers and directors saw fit to add some other “ingredients” – dashes of profanity (totally unnecessary), along with splashes of sexual innuendo, some not very subtle. Once it became evident these had been sprinkled throughout the production, we left.

It’s hard to figure out why the Hollywood elite think vulgarity equates with sophistication, enlightenment, and “coolness.” In my view, it’s a reflection of puerile thinking, a desperately low-level worldview. Makes me wonder whether these folks start their mornings by gargling used toilet water.

I’m not na├»ve. I understand we live in a world where most folks don’t use words like “golly,” “gosh,” “darn” and “drat” to express their most base emotions. And leaving profane language out of many adult movies probably would make them seem unrealistic to many viewers. However, had the cussing and sexual references been omitted from this film, it would have been no less entertaining. In the world of Hollywood, why bother with bright, imaginative writing when four-letter words can easily fill the gaps in dialogue?

Most of us don’t aspire to ever write motion picture scripts. But we all communicate, and it helps to have guidelines for conveying our messages effectively. I’ve learned basic principles from the Bible can be applied to communications in any of its many forms. Whether writing emails, dashing off texts, having conversations, “tweeting,” speaking at public meetings, sending a letter to the editor, or crafting the next great American novel, these guidelines offer a solid framework for effective, productive expression.

One passage speaks directly to the issue: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen(Ephesians 4:29). When we speak, write, text, or comment on social media, is our intention to edify, to build up – or are we seeking to tear down?

Elsewhere the apostle Paul admonished believers in the church at Philippi, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Living in a world that puts less and less stock in virtuous thinking, it can seem difficult to find communications that qualify as true, noble, right and pure. But that doesn’t mean we must respond in kind. As Proverbs 4:23 admonishes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

I like how it was presented on a church marquee a friend of mine saw recently: “Tweet others the way you want to be tweeted.” Because our words, whether in a theatrical film or a friendly chat, have power. The power to heal or to harm, to affirm or to attack, to promote or to poison.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Stop the World…I Want to Get Off!

Years ago, there was a Broadway play called, “Stop the World – I Want to Get Off.” Opening in 1961, it ran for 485 performances. It was even turned into a movie and was revived from time to time, but the most memorable part of the production was its title. It was set against the backdrop of a circus and the central character, Littlechap, would shout, “Stop the world!” whenever he encountered something unpleasant.

Maybe the world needs an emergency brake.
I feel that way sometimes, wanting to yell, “Stop the world!” It seems the backdrop for just about everything these days is some kind of circus, whether it’s politics and the menagerie we fondly call Washington, D.C.; the clowns who dominate our national media; the garish sideshow we know as the entertainment industry, or the sad state of many of the once-esteemed centers of higher learning that seem to specialize in college indoctrination, not education.

But that’s merely the iceberg’s tip. It seems like every moment there’s reason for wanting to yell, “Stop, the world, I want to get off!” Deranged terrorists intent on killing people in the name of their god. Protesters demanding tolerance while demonstrating just how intolerant they are toward anyone that doesn’t agree with them and their causes. So many other examples of mankind’s unlimited capacity for inhumanity toward one another.

Then there are the personal struggles and pain that are part and parcel of the human condition. We could easily justify throwing in the proverbial towel – until we remember that our hope is not (or should not be) in this imperfect world.

The apostle Paul listed the many hardships he had encountered since his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ – “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

Then he made this observation: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our  body…. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”  (2 Corinthians 4:10-18).

Perhaps there were moments for Paul, too, when the “stop the world, I want to get off!” thought passed through his mind. However, he never forgot his mission – and he never forgot where his focus needed to remain. “… 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” (Titus 2:13-14).

Waiting for “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ.” That’s what uplifts me, gives me encouragement whenever life’s circumstances take a bad turn, or I foolishly subject myself to the barrage of continuous bad news and the relentless parade of examples of just how sinful, self-absorbed and depraved humankind can be.

The time will come when God Himself shouts, “Stop the world!” and He commences with an incredible “do over” that once and for all eradicates sin, pain, grief, death and every other affliction that has infected this world. Until then, we need to do as Paul did – cling to “the blessed hope of Jesus Christ.”