Monday, January 26, 2015

Watching With Your Brain On

The eldest's boyfriend was with us over the holidays and my girls introduced him to "Once Upon a Time" -- and got him properly addicted, like the rest of us are. Thanks to Hulu, as of yesterday, our family is caught up with the rest of the world and ready for new episodes to begin airing March 1st. Counting the days.

My 9th grade Bible class had an interesting discussion last week about entertainment and how we decide what is okay for us to watch as believers and what is not. An important verse we focused on was 1 Corinthians 10:31: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you dodo it all for the glory of God. Whatever we do must glorify God -- that is, it must proclaim who He is and the greatness of who He is. 

So, can we glorify God by watching a TV show that was not made to glorify God? Well, maybe.

The key point in our lesson was the need to be an active viewer and not a passive one. Most people (believers and nonbelievers) seem to use TV and movies to veg out to -- they just sit and absorb mindlessly, not thinking much about what is entering their minds. This is a problem. Because even shows that ARE made to glorify God will be imperfect and may have content that we should not be absorbing mindlessly. (There are even stories in the Bible that would be dangerous to absorb mindlessly.) We must engage our brains at all times when they are being influenced by narrative and images.

For example, I've talked with one of my daughters about some of the recurring themes in "Once Upon a Time," such as I will always find you. This is a motto for Snow White and Prince Charming, two of the main characters, who throughout their adventurous relationship are always being torn apart and seeking each other again. Doesn't this phrase bring to mind Jesus' parable of the lost sheep? God never abandons His own, never lets them stay lost; He will always find you. These two very imperfect characters are exemplifying one of God's most glorious attributes: his unconditional, never-failing love.

Another recurring theme: Magic always has a price. (Although I think I've only heard this phrase applied to what the show refers to as "black magic" -- "white magic" or good magic never seems to be as costly. Nevertheless . . . ) Whenever someone seeks out a magical solution to a problem, a solution that involves disrupting the natural order of things, they are always warned that it will cost them something. And yes, looking for answers outside of God's order and will . . . this would be sin. And yes, it always has a price.

But the prominent theme right now in the series seems to be the question of a person's nature. Evil is not born -- it's made, we have been told throughout the series. And we are always treated to the back story in every evil character's life, the things that happened that turned them bad. They weren't always this way; something or someone messed them up. And this is something I appreciate in the show. I have always taught my daughters to remember when they are wronged by somebody that this person is probably acting out the wrongs that have been done to them over the years. Sinners need our compassion more than our condemnation.

But the reason for this is because "there but for the grace of God go I." We are ALL sinners; we are all wrongdoers; we all have the capacity for great evil within us. Even the good guys in the show have done some terrible things. Snow White, the ultimate goody-two-shoes, murdered the Queen of Hearts. Even she has darkness in her heart. 

The big question now is can they change? Regina, the evil queen, is trying desperately to be a better person. Mr. Gold is trying desperately to appear to be a better person while still hanging on to his power. Can they actually change? Or are they doomed to the fate written for them by the Author of the storybook? 

It remains to be seen how Kitsis and Horowitz, the show's creators, will answer that question. But while watching, we remember that we already have the answer to the question. We know how people can change. We know the Author and the means he provided to rescue His fallen people. When we engage our minds and "have a conversation" with the show as we watch it (as opposed to mindlessly absorbing), we remind ourselves, and anyone listening, of what the truth really is, of who God really is and who we really are. We are making God known -- glorifying God. 

There's a fine line, of course, but I don't think I'm rationalizing my addiction here. I genuinely do find that watching this show helps me clarify truth in my mind. I find this with some other shows that fellow Christians object to, as well -- Harry Potter, for example. Paul points out in one of his letters that we cannot separate ourselves entirely from godlessness as long as we are living in the world. We must learn how to engage with it in a godly way. 

I hope I'm teaching my girls that. Turning off the TV is easy (and at times necessary), but turning on your brain is much more difficult -- and much more important a skill to learn, I think. The world we live in doesn't have an "off" button. It requires us to engage our brains.

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