Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Downside of Christmas

First, on a personal note, what a year this has been. For those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you know I’ve been on a personal journey to rediscover God and how he is at work in my life as well as in the world. All of that has led me to write a book called A Media Culture, which I recently re-titled, The Red Pill, A Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. I never set out to write a book, but as I have discovered, God has his own plan and purposes. I thank God for giving me the words and inspiration.

I had hoped to have the book published back in September, but the process is much more difficult than I ever could have imagined. However, the delays have been helpful and perhaps even a blessing in disguise. With my wife’s help, the book is now better organized and, frankly, a lot more readable. As this year comes to a close, it appears that the book will soon go to press. With God’s help The Red Pill may be available in early Spring.

What has all of this taught me in light of the Christmas season? It has been a year of ups and downs, valleys and mountains. After losing the ministry that I founded 11 years ago, I have had to learn to make many adjustments in my life. Rediscovering God is one of those adjustments and probably the greatest blessing.

Second, what does the journey have to do with downside of Christmas? After watching several Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel this week, I noticed that in most of the movies, the final shot would be a slow pushback crane shot revealing a happy and content family sharing a bounty of food and gifts, the perfect picture of an old-fashioned Christmas with all of the trimmings. As the shot continued to pull away, it would reveal an exterior wonderland of fresh falling snow. It’s the perfect Christmas with every piece in place. All the problems have been solved and there now is harmony and peace.

Of course, this is the Christmas we want. And somehow we think everybody is living this perfect Christmas except us. It makes us feel depressed and missing out when we look at our situation and realize that’s not the picture of our families. I think the first thing that we need to realize is that there is no perfect situation or family. No matter how perfect you think your neighbors are, trust me, they all have issues that are not noticeable on the surface but nevertheless are present.

Realistically, perhaps you’ve lost a job or a loved one, or you are experiencing financial difficulties or maybe you have no family to celebrate Christmas with. This time of year has a way of emphasizing our loses. Let me put it this way. God never guaranteed us a life that will be comfortable, safe or convenient. However, he did promise to always be with us and be our comfort in grief, our protector and defender in trouble. He is always just a prayer away. Jesus came to earth as a babe, he lived his life here on earth experiencing what we all go through, and He promises there is nothing we experience that he is not able to be a help to us. Dealing with the problems of life help us to grow into the likeness of Christ and move closer to the Savior.

With all of the hustle and activities of Christmas, we often lose sight of the things that are truly important. What’s helped me this year, especially this Christmas season, is to take one day at a time. Remember we’re not promised tomorrow. My goal is just to get through today. Tomorrow will have it’s own issues and problems. What God has also helped me to realize this year is to find joy in the small things. These are the things we often overlook. And it will be different for every person. Perhaps it’s watching the sun rising on a new day and knowing God is with me today. Or, for me, it’s just the joy of having a cup of coffee and reading the paper before the day gets started. The point is to slow down and enjoy what God has put before you. We’re often so consumed with the big issues that we forget to live our lives in the moment.

And, finally, I realize that you know this and have been reminded countless times that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior. He is our only hope for redemption. This life will soon pass, but what we do in it and the decisions we make will have eternal consequences. To truly celebrate Christmas is to embrace what Jesus has taught us and to accept his sacrifice for us so that we may have a future and a hope.

Merry Christmas to you and may you rediscover God on your journey in the coming year.  

The Best Of Christmas - Part 1

This past week, I sat down and watched a couple new Christmas movies on television. It got me to thinking what exactly makes a good Christmas film. Without naming names, the ones I watched would not make my list of the best Christmas movies. Here’s what ingredients work best: you need a sense of wonderment, a magical feel, a movie that makes you feel like a child again. I’m looking for something that restores my faith in mankind that we all have the desire and ability to care for each other. A good Christmas film should instill hope for a better tomorrow.

So what are my top ten movies that capture the essence and the spirit of Christmas?

1. National Lampoons 
Christmas Vacation

This one is my guilty pleasure. I know it’s crude, but it’s ridiculously funny. And we are all guilty at some point in maybe going a little bit overboard with the holidays like Clark Griswold. He’s a good guy, and all he wants to do is the right thing and provide a great Christmas for his family. But as you can imagine, complications arise just as in real life. No big message in this film, just a lot of entertainment value. I make a point to watch this movie every year. It’s like an old friend. Somehow it just gets better with age.

2. The Santa Clause

This one is definitely an original. Of course, it’s been copied countless times. But forget about all of the counterfeits. The Santa Clause has heart and passion. It offers a look at the modern family and the difficulties it presents during the holidays. Not everything in this film is sunshine and happiness. Tim Allen’s character is an absentee father who is self-absorbed in his work. He’s in desperate need of an attitude readjustment. The film is magical, funny, and has all of the right elements. Absolutely a perfect holiday film.

3. It’s a Wonderful Life

How can you go wrong with Jimmy Stewart. This is absolutely a “must see”. Recently, I talked to someone who has never seen this film. How is that possible? This is a story about a man who thinks his life has been a waste until he gets an opportunity to see what life would have been like had he never been born. Sometimes we never know what kind of impact we make on people’s lives and what a positive influence we can have on the people around us. George Bailey discovers that he really does have a wonderful life. This film offers us a timely message that is still relevant today.

4. The Homecoming, A Christmas Story

You don’t often see this one on television. The Homecoming was the pilot for the successful 1970’s series The Waltons. The Homecoming is a celebration of the joys of family and the struggles that we all must endure. Set in rural Virginia during the height of the depression in the 1930s, The Homecoming feels like a warm memory from our childhood past. At times you feel like you are actually there. It’s amazing considering they shot the exteriors in the Grand Teton National Park and the interiors on a sound stage in Los Angeles. They captured the nuances of this historical period from the 1930’s depression in an authentic manner. There is nothing more universal than the desire to be home with your family at Christmas. I think this is a film everyone can relate to.

5. A Christmas Story

Everybody loves this film except my wife. I don’t understand why she dislikes it so much. I love this movie. Who hasn’t wanted a Christmas gift as a child and schemed on how to get it. Ralphie is determined to get a Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle at all costs. Obviously, mayhem ensues as a result. A Christmas Story has been made famous because of TBS who airs it continuously 24 hours starting on Christmas Eve. There’s no way you can miss this one. A Christmas Story was released in 1983 and feels like it could have

The Best of Christmas - Part 2

6. One Magic Christmas

You’ll have a hard time finding this on cable television or at Wal-Mart or Target. It’s probably one of the least known on my list. But it’s worth the effort to find it. One Magic Christmas takes a tough look at the holidays. Not everything is peachy. In fact, I think many people can relate to this film thanks to the tough economic times we are going through. Mary Steenburgen’s character is dealing with lost dreams and disillusionment during the holidays as her husband is laid off from his job. Sometimes we don’t know what real loss is until we are reminded. One Magic Christmas has the wonderment and magic with a sense of realism that It’s a Wonderful Life offers.

7. Miracle on 34th Street

No way can I leave this one off my list. I’m sure everyone has seen this one. There’s at least three versions available. For my money, I would go with the original 1947 edition. What I find interesting about this film and what I think a lot of people miss is that it is a discussion of the issues of the modern family as the lead character is a single mother struggling to balance career and family. Miracle on 34th Street is based in fantasy in one sense but has a realistic view of life in another sense. The question is how do we balance the two while retaining our childlike ability to dream and to use our imagination to believe that anything is possible?

8. White Christmas

This film is a total joy. Shot in beautiful Technicolor, how can you go wrong with the talent of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney? This is a celebration of all things American. I absolutely love the music of Irving Berlin. The musical numbers are sensational. This film has never looked better because there is a restored Blu-ray edition available. White Christmas is a sentimental journey of song and dance. The plot goes something like this. Two army buddies who have hit it big on Broadway decide to help their former army commander who is danger of losing his Vermont Inn. Of course, along the way, there will be a series of complications and romantic escapades.

9. A Christmas Carol

I don’t know where to start with this one. There has been so many versions of Charles Dicken’s classic over the years, including last year’s offering with Jim Carey and Gary Oldman. I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on whether or not it’s any good. But my favorite version is from 1984 starring George C. Scott. He makes the perfect Scrooge. The film is very authentic and the special effects are not over the top. I know you’ve probably seen it a hundred times, but it’s always worth another viewing at Christmas.

10. A Season for Miracles

This film originally aired in 1999 as part of Hallmark’s Hall of Fame. It has developed a rather loyal following over the years perhaps because it’s been difficult to find on television or at your video store. I think it is one of Hallmark’s better offerings. The story is about an aunt who has to take custody of her niece and nephew because their mother is institutionalized after an attempted drug overdose. She’s afraid they will fall into foster care and flees the situation and finds her way to a small town called Bethlehem that offers an opportunity at redemption and a second chance in life. Patty Duke is on hand as the guardian angel. It’s a wonderful story and a very optimistic one at that.

Building your Home

Building your Home from The Bridge Church on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sex and violence? It may not sell soap, after all

Since the inception of the modern Olympic Games, high jumpers cleared the bar with a scissors motion, rotating their chest over the bar. Dick Fosbury changed the sport forever by “flopping” back first over the high jump bar, creating a new paradigm that is now the norm. Like Copernicus who changed our perceptions of the universe and turned them inside out from the very center, new ideas appear suddenly and change the world in a flash.

Likewise in the world of advertising there has been an accepted wisdom that has gone unquestioned for decades: 18 to 34-year-old consumers are the most desirable demographic, and if you want to reach them, include lots of sex and violence in your ads, or at the very least, advertise on programs that contain a lot of sex and violence.

But what if that entire paradigm is wrong?

Marketers deemed the 18 to 34 demographic desirable in part because of their elusiveness: young adults are more likely to be out with friends than home watching TV, which in the distorted view of youth-obsessed marketers, makes them a hot commodity. They are also sought-after because for years companies assumed that if you can get customers while they are young, they will be customers for life – but recent research shows this is seldom the case. An AARP survey found the relationship between brand loyalty and age is exaggerated, and that an individual’s consumer experience, not his age, will dictate brand choices.

And it’s not merely that advertisers are going after the wrong demographic, it’s that they are employing an ineffective strategy to reach their audience.

Take TV shows. The Parents Television Council just released its annual Best and Worst TV Advertisers List, which focuses on companies that sponsor more family-friendly TV programming and those that do not. In a number of consumer categories, the PTC was able to identify companies that seemed to be going out of their way to support family-friendly programming, and companies that were shunning family programming in favor of more salacious content.

The most inspiring corporate performance came from Walmart, which had the best score across all categories. Walmart has a longstanding commitment to sponsoring more family-friendly TV programming. Walmart’s own market research found an 18 percent improvement in performance of its ad when that ad appears on a family-friendly program, as opposed to a program containing graphic sex and violence.