Monday, November 30, 2015

What Happened to Kids TV?

Even though my girls are getting older, it seems that Disney and Nickelodeon are the most-watched television channels in our house. I can't complain too much; Lord knows they are better than a lot of the stuff out there that teens are watching.

But I have noticed over the last several years some interesting cycles in children's television. Here is a sample of some of the newest shows these channels offer kids these days.

"KC Undercover" -- a girl who is a secret spy, which all the required gadgets spies have
"Best Friends Whenever" -- two girls who can travel through time
"The Thundermans" -- a family of superheroes
"Henry Danger" -- a kid who becomes a superhero's sidekick
"Talia in the Kitchen" -- a girl who has magical spices she can use in her food
"Dog with a Blog" -- a family with a talking dog (this one was just cancelled, as was . . . )
"The Haunted Hathaways -- a family of ghosts living with another family (nevertheless . . . )

Notice a pattern here? These kids all have "powers", magical abilities that normal kids don't have. "Wizards of Waverly Place" probably kicked off this wave several years ago. Interesting . . .

Now, a few years ago, I was seeing a different trend (one that still is bleeding over a bit into today; some of these shows are still on):

"Austin and Ally" -- a couple of kids who become famous pop singers
"Liv and Maddie" -- a famous TV actress comes home to live with her family again
"Shake It Up" -- a couple of girls get gigs dancing on a TV show
"ANT Farm" -- a class of kids with unusual talents, led by a singer/musician
"Victorious" -- a school for the performing arts
"iCarly" -- a couple kids with a popular webshow
"Big Time Rush" -- a boys' band trying to make it big
"Sonny with a Chance" -- kids on a TV sketch comedy show
"Hannah Montana" -- which probably started this trend

Yep -- a bunch of shows about kids becoming famous performers.

So, where are the shows about regular kids living regular lives? There are a few, and they kind of stand out. "Girl Meets World" is probably the biggest one these days. Except for the fact that it is overtly and quite intentionally sappy and preachy, it may be one of the best shows on these channels right now.

Very likely, this isn't news to anyone. Kids shows have probably used these themes for years. But then I look at some of my girls' favorite kids' shows from the past:

"Drake and Josh" -- an all-time favorite, about two relatively normal kids (yes, Drake has a band, but it's not the center of the show)
"Zoey 101" -- bad acting and writing, but again, pretty regular (albeit rich) kids
"Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" -- regular kids surviving middle school
"Lizzie McGuire" -- my eldest STILL watches old episodes of this at night and loves it because the characters are genuine and real.

I don't know that there is a particular point I want to make here. Just observations -- mainly that writing a good TV show for kids must be pretty difficult because it's not often done very well.

Monday, November 23, 2015

On Coughing and Praising

Although I feel like I've been blessed with generally pretty good health, I have two chronic problems that have plagued me for years. One is the sleep stuff that I'm sure you're all tired of hearing about. The second is that when I get a cold, the cough settles in my lungs and makes my life hell for weeks. Doctors have tried inhalers, all sorts of drugs . . . nothing helps. It's awful.

And after a week of a normal-person-common-cold, I have my cough again. I'm miserable. But a comment from someone in my BSF group is giving me a different perspective on it.

We studied the fourth chapter of Revelation last week. This is the first part of the vision John has, and it is all about the throne of God. The majesty of it. His awesomeness and splendor. There are living creatures and twenty-four elders (the details of all them I don't get, but it doesn't matter) surrounding His throne and worshiping Him day and night.

[Sidenote: Some people have said that heaven sounds boring, doing nothing but worshiping all day. But you know, I'm not convinced that we have nothing to do there but to stare at God and be awed by Him. I think we'll have plenty to do – scripture talks about us ruling with him (what that means exactly, I'm not sure, but it sounds pretty active). I suspect that this vision of John's is a piece of figurative imagery for us: "rejoicing in the Lord always", "praying continually" . . . that constant attitude of worship that we are called to be in even here on earth. In heaven, we won't be hindered anymore by our sinful, fleshly natures and that worship will come naturally. And won't that be wonderful?]

But back to my friend's comments. She told us how it hit her that, when the attacks happened in Paris, nobody in heaven suddenly stopped and looked and said, "Whoa, God . . . what's going on here?" No, they continued to worship – day and night, just like always. Because what happened in Paris was not a shock to anyone up there like it was to us. They know what we don't know. They see the big picture. They see what's happening on a macro-level and on a micro-level with all this chaos and tragedy and they know that it is all under God's control . . . it is all working toward His grand and glorious conclusion . . .  and they know that even in the midst of this, He is still worthy of all praise.

Now, it's not like I didn't know that in my head. But somehow, it penetrated my heart this week. And I needed that.

If God is working through even the tragedy and sin of terrorism to accomplish His will, what up with my whining about a cough? Like God isn't bigger than that? Like my irritated lung tissue is suddenly evidence of His negligence and impotence and lack of compassion? Like He clearly doesn't know what He's doing if He isn't going to stop this cough?

So, I'm coughing and praising. As best I can. Lord, I believe . . . help my unbelief.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Paris, My President, and my Lack of Confidence

Paris. So sad. And what happened in Beirut last week is so sad, too. (How many of you even heard about Beirut? Look it up.) What's been happening in the Middle East and Europe for months. Sad, sad, sad.

But now the question is, what do we do about it. And that's the saddest part for me, because I don't trust our leaders to have the wisdom to know what to do about it.

Specifically Obama and his crew. And this isn't a political tirade nor a personal tirade against the man-- it's simply a fact about me right now. Personally, I don't have confidence in President Obama that he truly understands the nature of the situation and knows what to do to protect our country. I wish I did.

When I was studying psychological theories for my counseling degree in graduate school, I found
that I was able to divide the theories into two broad categories. On the one hand are the theories that are based in the idea that people are born good and only get messed up because of what happens to them externally. Bad parenting. Mean kids. Poverty and lack of opportunity.

On the other hand are the theories that are based in the idea that we are born with a tendency toward doing wrong and that it is only the constraints of society that keep us from really going off the deep end. External things can certainly affect us negatively as well -- bad parenting, mean kids, poverty, lack of opportunity -- but the germs of our problems were there from the beginning. Taking away the external wrongs doesn't fix the internal wrongs.

It is distressing to me how many people don't understand that the Bible is in the second camp, not the first. It is distressing to me how many Christians don't understand this. It is distressing to me how many Christians act in ways to try to improve things in the world, to build the kingdom of God, and do these things in God's name, and yet their actions are completely contrary in premise to the most basic teachings of the Bible.

And yes, this has to do with Obama and ISIS and Paris.

I have NO idea what to do about ISIS. I am profoundly grateful to not be in our President's shoes having to make decisions about the matter, and I have been praying for him (and all of our world leaders) daily for the decisions they need to make.

But as his constituent, one of the basic messages I have gotten from my President during his term in office is that the reason the world is the mess it is, is because the U.S. has been a busybody bully. We've stepped in to other people's business and forced our way on them, which has made them angry and made them act out against us. The answer is to back off, be respectful, give them the means to do the right things (which they, of course, will want to do) and all will fall into place.

This is right out of psychological theory camp number one. And it's foolish and dangerous.

Some semblance of this method might work on a one-on-one basis . . . for example, with me and a defiant student. On a national level, this is a disaster. Surely he knows this. But as a general rule, he seems to operate from an incorrect worldview, which makes me distrustful of the wisdom of his actions. I expect more disasters to come. I expect weak responses to those disasters. And in all honesty, I pray for a stronger leader in the White House very soon.

However, even if I am not confident in my President, I am confident that he is only in that office because God put him there. And I am confident that God is more in control of world affairs than my President is. Whatever tragedies or victories follow this already tragic week, they are of God's ordaining and will ultimately serve His purposes.

Somebody remind me of that truth when the next tragedy hits closer to home.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Getting Rooted at the Right Now Conference

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Right Now Conference in Dallas and hearing some amazing speakers (Francis Chan, Eric Metaxas, and others). I've been digesting what I heard for a couple days and want to summarize the most pertinent points here -- for your and my benefit.

- The parable of the mustard seed. Note that, when we plant a mustard seed, our end goal is . . . well, mustard. But in the parable, what God accomplishes is a huge plant in which birds build their nests. We have one goal -- God uses our work to accomplish another goal, often something that never even occurred to us. God's purposes are far beyond what we have in mind. Cool. (From Mark Batterson)

- If the Spirit lives in us -- if we really and truly believe that -- why don't we allow Him to live through us more often? Why do we insist on doing things on our own strength? (Pete Briscoe)

- We pray best when we're most aware of our sin . . . when we involve our bodies (knees, anyone?) . . . when we pray our gut-honest desires (which is risky and takes courage) . . . and when we remember God's grace. (Jen Pollack Michel)

- Plagiarism is taking credit for another person's work and words. How many of us commit spiritual plagiarism every day? Taking credit for work that was actually God's. ALL THE TIME . . . (Bryan Carter)

- Larry Osborne spoke about Daniel being a model for the Christian in this post-modern age. He teaches us how to live successfully in Babylon. So much to glean from that. Daniel had humility with the pagans around him. He never copped an attitude about how wrong they were; he spoke with respect and graciousness to them. He made Nebuchadnezzar a better king and a better person, just being with him. He had the wisdom to pick his battles rather than fighting everything wicked around him.

Something interesting he pointed out. Daniel and his friends were brought to be trained "in the language and literature of the Babylonians." That means, they were being taught Babylonian religion -- paganism and the occult. And not only did they not refuse to participate in that education, but God gave them "knowledge and understanding" of what they were learning and more, to the point that when their training was evaluated by the king, he found none equal to them. And this was the only reason that they were allowed to be in the service to the king, that they were put in places of such tremendous influence, that they had ANY credibility with the most powerful rulers of the world at that time, and that we even know their names today. A great argument against the "cocooning" so many Christians do today -- as if knowing the theory of evolution or the basic tenets of Islam will transfer heretical germs to the believer.

- When you accepted Jesus, you accepted the call to missions. Period. No further call is needed.

- Eric Metaxas talked about William Wilberforce. When Wilberforce was saved, he assumed he would need to give up politics (which at the time was an even dirtier profession that it is today). But his pastor, John Newton, told him to stay, to be a light in the place where God had put him and with the gifts God had given him. Again, no cocooning ourselves from the world's dirt and grime: go engage, and learn, and salt, and shine your light.

- God's desire is for us. (Francis Chan) Why do we need to be reminded of that? But we do. Often. God's greatest desire is not for a just society or sinless followers or miserable people or even happy people. God's desire is for a relationship with us. Everything else is either a means to that end or a result of that blessing.

Yep. A good week. Thanks, Paul and Jackie.