I Have A Theory…

I have a theory. To tee this up, I need to do a little explaining.

I’m a true moviegoer. And whether or not my wife, Jennifer, would admit to it, apart from the stereotypical chick flick (which for me to watch is tantamount to having my wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia), I’m fairly eclectic. I like all sorts. However, I’ll admit to liking horror and action movies the most. Growing up in the 70s and 80s in Danville, Illinois, horror movies were my go-to favorites. In fact, on Friday nights, I’d stay up late to watch a show called “Sammy Terry’s Nightmare Theater.” If I recall correctly, it was a broadcast out of an obscure studio on a public access station somewhere in Indianapolis. The host—Sammy Terry—would show two scary movies back to back, and in between at the commercial breaks, he’d do campy routines and commentary with his rubber spider “George” bouncing from an elastic string beside him. He showed all the classic films, movies like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “The Wolf Man.” But he also showed the other, more hokey, films of the era. There were a few that teetered on spooky, but not very many. In fact, I don’t actually remember ever feeling scared by any of the movies. I do remember thinking how awfully ridiculous they seemed even as I was oftentimes rooting for the hero to defeat the guy in the rubber suit, and if the acting was really bad, sometimes the other way around.

Still, I loved watching them. They were fun.

Nowadays, scary movies bore me. Often they’re already too off-putting to me because of the foul language and/or the unnecessary sexual content. I’m exhausted by how these two elements are almost standard to American cinema. There was a period of time in the 70s and 80s when some really great movies came out, and they didn’t necessarily rely on these things to be successful. From among those, I do have some favorites—“Alien,” “The Thing,” and “Jaws” (yeah, go figure, a movie about a shark). And while the special effects and the storylines had gotten more impressive than what Sammy Terry used to show, still, I can’t say that I’ve found the one flick that has truly tested my nerve. Not even the movie “The Exorcist” had me on edge the first time I saw it. Thinking back on that movie in particular, maybe it’s because God knew I’d be meeting up with the real thing today. Who knows? But with that, the search continues to find the one movie that will stir the need to look over my shoulder and pick up my pace after I turn out the basement lights to make my way up the stairs.

More to the point of why I’m telling you all of this… my theory.

I’ve seen a lot of scary movies over the years. Within the last few months I happened to watch a few of the newer horror movies at the suggestion of friends, and aside from being mostly unimpressed by the gratuitous content, I did find myself hovering in the realm of a newer concern. Here’s the why and what of the concern.

Scary movies are meant to scare. I get that. But before they make it into theaters, it’s pretty typical that test audiences will watch them in order to measure the level of tolerance moviegoers will have for certain images. One thing you could always count on was that children in movies would get along relatively unscathed. They might get chased. They might be found in peril. But they’d never die. If a scene ever depicted something tragic happening to a child, the mainstream test audiences most often rejected it and it was cut from the final release.

In books it’s different. Just read a couple of Stephen King’s volumes and you’ll see. But not in the movies. To read about it is one thing. To put it on screen has been, for the most part, taboo.

But not so much anymore. Now these scenarios and scenes are becoming more prominent. The last thee horror films I’ve watched, the children in them have either been unbearably dispatched on screen in some rather vivid ways, or they themselves have been the brutally emotionless antagonist behind the terror, doing things and using means that make the 80s slasher films look like a director’s cut of “The Little Mermaid” (which I’ve never seen, by the way).

Add to this that I read recently that the market for theater-released scary movies is sliding a bit, which is probably why so many of these movies go straight to or are produced only for Amazon and Netflix. Apparently people aren’t all that willing to pay $12 to $15 per person to go to a theater to see them anymore.

All of this makes me wonder.

First of all, it makes me wonder if I should keep trying to find that one film that actually scares me, or if I should just stick with action films. I’m thinking I’ve come to a fork in the road in this regard.

Second, I wonder if one of the reasons people don’t go to the theaters to see these movies as much anymore is because people aren’t all that shocked by the actual stories they present. Real life is scary enough as it is. They can get their daily dose of horror just by listening to or watching the news.

Lastly, circling back around to the topic of kids in movies, I wonder if our view of children has become so twisted that we can’t make heads or tails of what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Pedophilia is on the rise in America. Child sex-trafficking is a problem pretty much everywhere. News reports are chock full with stories of little ones being left in hot cars while mom goes into the casino to gamble, or children found strapped in car seats and traumatized from a parent’s death at the steering wheel from an opioid overdose. Considering the abortion debate, which is no longer about taking the life of what the pro-choice folks would simply deem an unseen “clump of cells,” but rather has reached the level of killing a newly delivered, full-term child. The Governor of Virginia just affirmed that this would be acceptable if the child was deemed unwanted, even as the child was more than capable of surviving outside the womb. Now the deathly things are happening right out in the open where everyone can see them. It’s not an obscure scenario. It’s no longer a hushed conversation. It’s no longer a menacing act that is relatively hidden in the underbelly of society or within the womb.

So, where’s the outrage? Why the general complacency in response? My theory is that it’s because the death of children is becoming commonplace. It’s no big deal anymore. American society is truly becoming desensitized to the horrors perpetrated against the most vulnerable among us.

I wonder if the change in cinematic patterns is just one of the many indicators betraying this view of children by the general populace. Again, as it meets the topic of abortion, I think we see this in two ways, both of which mirror the treatment of children in the latest horror movies. The first is that children are becoming something of little value—someone easily eighty-sixed in the most gruesome of ways, a character of little value to the storyline; or second, the child is seen as the enemy—a terror, an inconvenience, an antagonist in what was once a pleasant storyline, and if he or she survives until the end, things will only be terrible, so it’s imperative to destroy her.

Some of the scenes I’ve witnessed in these recent films tells me that the tolerance of the general test audiences has reached a disheartening level.

So, what do we do?

Well, we can’t necessarily change Hollywood. And we can’t change the videogame manufacturers who, in my humble opinion, are the modern day mind-altering drug dealers to this generation. I suppose as a Christian community, what we can do is, first, to see our kids as the precious gifts of God that they are (Psalm 127:3) and to realize that He loves them very much (Mark 10:13-16). And perhaps second, recognizing ourselves as stewards of these gifts, we can seek to provide for them toward Godliness, which means to shield them for as long as we can from those things that would serve to pull them away from their Creator. We can work diligently to take them to church, the place where they’ll receive the greatest care possible—even when they don’t want to go. We do this because we know that even as enticing as the sinful world might be, it’s lively intentions are never to serve our little ones, but rather to consume and digest them into a much darker kingdom—a kingdom that has fixations that are anything but what the Lord and His Gospel would provide for their eternal salvation.

This is a tall order. But as Christian parents, we signed up for it. When we brought our little ones to the font of Holy Baptism, we committed ourselves to the war. Yesterday in the Divine Service, as a newborn among us was baptized, together we prayed for his parents, as well as all parents. That’s you and me, too. It was a prayer that affirmed the importance of these things:

“Lord and Giver of life, look with kindness upon the father and mother of this child and upon all parents. Let them ever rejoice in the gift You have given them. Enable them to be teachers and examples of righteousness for their children. Strengthen them in their own Baptism that they may share eternally with their children the salvation you have given them; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Know that every time we pray this prayer, I’m rooting for you and you’re rooting for me. Know that we’re standing together as a Christian community to help and support one another, calling out a willingness to fight beside one another. Most importantly, know that Jesus is leading the way for His battalions. Take your children by the hand and get in behind Him. Trust Him to get you and your family through to brighter days that see your little ones becoming parents who raise your grandkids in the same Christian faith. The world would certainly see otherwise, and yet, this is our prayer for one another.

“Baby Joy!”: The Irony Betrayed by People Magazine’s Latest Cover

Did you see the recent cover of People Magazine? I did. Just in case you missed it, I attached it below.

Did you notice anything interesting about the wording regarding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s current pregnancy? I sure did. A former professor of mine, Reverend Dr. Peter Scaer, noticed it. In fact, he posted a snapshot of the cover on Facebook along with a short bit of insightful commentary. I was right in the middle of doing the exact same thing when I saw his post show up in my feed, so I shared it.

But simply sharing his post didn’t satiate the need to finish sorting through my own observations in a more meaningful way for all of you. There are a few layers of irony to peel away from the image and its tagline, and as Christians, these layers are important to us.

The first has to do with the fact that People Magazine is a journal that not only observes and reports on the latest happenings in our culture, but it seeks to help set the pace for our trends. In the midst of this, more often than not, People Magazine is found toeing the pro-abortion (or pro-choice as some choose to call it) line. It walks the pro-abortion walk and talks the pro-abortion talk. It has offered more than its fair share of articles defending a woman’s right to choose whether or not to end her child’s life in the womb. And several of the authors behind these types of articles have taken this view to some pretty terrifying extremes, such as protecting a woman’s right to abort right up to the moment before delivery—which is, in my opinion, nothing short of strict infanticide. It is to entertain an idiocy that approximates the value of a child based on his or her physical location. In other words, if the child is inside the womb, it’s a medical procedure. Only when the child is outside of the womb could it be considered murder.

Again, the absurdity of this turns my stomach.

In the meantime, true to this irony and by way of one example, People Magazine did an article back in July of 2018 on comedienne Michelle Wolf who had a show on Netflix called “The Break with Michelle Wolf.” Thankfully, it has already been cancelled, because, well, it was terrible. But over the course of its ten episodes, no one could argue that Wolf’s pro-abortion throttle was wide open, especially when it came to bashing pro-life people. She made every effort to communicate that anyone who is “anti-abortion,” is by default anti-women, and a threat to America.

In that same article designed to build Wolf a stage, People Magazine quoted her as saying, “Access to abortion is good and important. Some people say abortion is ‘killing a baby.’ It’s not. It’s stopping a baby from happening. It’s like ‘Back to the Future’ and abortion is the DeLorean. Everyone loves DeLoreans.”

There’s a strange sprinkling of irony in this, too. Wolf is portraying herself by way of her humor, first, as having a philosophical care for women’s health, and second, as being an astute humorist who understands a deeper logic behind this care. But it doesn’t take too much intellectual prowess to know that when you keep a sperm cell from fertilizing an egg cell, babies don’t happen. But there’s a really good chance that a baby will happen if these two cells meet. Additionally, Wolf’s time-travelling analogy, while familiar to most pop culture movie-goers, is so incredibly detached from logic that it truly falls flat. It almost seems like an incredible waste of time to examine it. And yet, we need to examine it because far too many are sitting on the sidelines in our meme-munching society, and these folks appear to be more than accepting of digital one-liners as argument-winning mic drops. We need to take a minute and sort through the facts that aborting a child is in no way like a time-travelling DeLorean in the sense that it is equal to one going backward in time to a moment before someone’s life existed and doing what is necessary to avoid the triggering of that person’s life. It sounds interesting, but it remains science fiction. Abortion isn’t that sterile. Abortion is to continue forward on the same timeline to a point where another life has begun, and as these two lives travel together beside one another on the same timeline, the stronger one extinguishes the weaker one. Wolf’s attempt at humor doesn’t change the fact that a human being existed and was then deliberately snuffed out by another human being.

Her perspective is mushy at best, and at its least, it is a flowery attempt at wit designed to make murder more palatable.

But back to the magazine cover.

Another level of irony I take from the cover image has to do with the swapping of the term “fetus” for “baby.” The cover announces “Baby Joy!” noting that Meghan is three months pregnant. Pro-abortion warriors are usually very careful not to call a fetus at this stage a baby. One of my own family members by marriage is militantly pro-abortion and an example of this dogma. He refused to call his unborn daughter anything but “fetus” until she was actually born. This is important because while the child is considered a fetus, he or she remains an abstract part of a bodily process or condition governed by a certain set of rules and can be dealt with as the sentient host body sees fit. But once the child is identified as a baby—another sentient human being—a different set of rules takes over. These rules announce life and negate the previous set of rules.

People Magazine refers to Meghan’s child as a baby, but based on the magazine’s usual legislative bend, Meghan is carrying a fetus—an optional condition—because she is three months pregnant and still well within the abortion window in most states. I say “most” because right now, a majority of states have laws that close the window for abortion somewhere between 22 and 24 weeks. And yet, because of the efforts of very powerful pro-choice activists—some of whom have written for People Magazine—these limits are less restrictive in other states. Currently, there are at least three states that allow abortion up until 28 weeks, and there are a total of seven states—Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont—that do not limit the procedure by gestational stage at all. (By the way, current science has established that an unborn child is fully pain-sensitive no later than 20 weeks. Some scientists claim it could be as early as 15.)

All of this means that right now, even though Prince Harry and Meghan are excited for the pregnancy, there’s still time for them to change their minds. They can still abort the child. Speaking from an American perspective, if the U.K. suddenly outlawed all abortions, Meghan would only need to travel to a state in the U.S. that allows the procedure during her particular gestational stage.

And I suppose that’s leads us to the final irony that People Magazine has effortlessly betrayed by this cover.

The cover shows us that abortion isn’t really about women’s healthcare. It’s about a radicalized individualism that takes what it wants and gets rid of what it doesn’t. In America, it’s only “Baby Joy!” if we want it. It’s a fetus—an invasive parasite or an intruding glob of cells—if we don’t. A baby can be murdered. A fetus is optional, nothing more than something to be discharged during a medical procedure if we so choose.

Now, I suppose this is an appropriate time to mention something.

Yes, there is forgiveness beyond the shadowland of such a regrettable decision. God mends the penitent hearts of those who’ve done this. This is the Good News. But how about we remind ourselves of the fruits of faith that same Good News produces by the power of the Holy Spirit? Let’s be God’s forgiven people. Let’s be those whom God has recreated by His Gospel to actually care enough to stop folks from arriving at the doorstep of such a tragedy. Let’s be those who know the objective truth of right from wrong, those who hear and believe and are moved by God’s Word to defend the unborn, to defend the helpless. As someone standing right beside you in the trench, I humbly urge you to do what you can to be a shield for those who cannot shield themselves. Stand up and take a step forward to help form the resistance to this ungodliness! In fact, if you feel that the only “stepping up” that you can do is to vote for pro-life candidates in elections, then by all means, do it! You’ll certainly have your chance on November 6. Elections, like so many other means in life, are avenues for the Church to flex the muscle of Law and Gospel and to live and serve and actually be the church in the world around us.

Twisting History

(A Facebook Post.)

My wife and I recently began watching a show on Netflix called “Turn: Washington Spies.” The following is AMC’s brief synopsis of the series:

“TURN: Washington’s Spies takes viewers into the stirring and treacherous world of the Revolutionary War and introduces Abraham Woodhull who, after aligning with a group of childhood friends, forms the Culper Ring — America’s first spy ring.”

Now, we just watched an episode in which George Washington is portrayed as more or less at the edge of delirium—imagining his teeth falling out in a pool of blood, hearing the ranks of his soldiers mouthing things they aren’t actually saying, seeing and talking to his dead brother, Lawrence. Near the end of this particular episode, he wanders away from the camp in a frenzy and out into the surrounding woods where he is confronted by his deceased brother. He falls to his knees in a prayerful stance, begging his brother to answer him. Finally, he does. His brother offers an instructive monologue and then disappears. The camera pans out and away to show Washington still on his knees, hands folded reverently, and bearing an enlightened look of resolute peace.

As soon as it flashed on the screen, I knew exactly what I was seeing.
This was a depiction of one of the better known portraits of Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge. AMC and its writers purposely mishandled what is a solemn American image of a great man, having recast him in the scene as that of a madman talking to his dead brother rather than kneeling devoutly in prayer.

I was truly bothered by this. Not necessarily surprised. But bothered. I say this because, for example, any young person who may be following this series, if they do by some slim chance happen to come across the prominent portrait in a history class—and knowing the situation in our classrooms, I do mean slim—the student may just recall and then apply this cinematic interpretation.

“Oh, yeah. Washington was crazy. Did you know he used to talk to his brother’s ghost? In fact, that’s what this portrait is all about. He’s talking to his dead brother.”

Having said this, I offer two final observations.

The first is that I rarely enjoy watching TV, other than the news, and I’m hard-pressed to say I actually enjoy such viewing. Still, I’ve made the effort to engage with this particular historical drama. And yet, this one episode has now stolen away all flavor of interest for me in continuing through to its end. Likewise, I’ve lost all interest in reading the book upon which the series is based. As is the case for most volumes translated from print to the screen, my guess is that the author most likely consulted and agreed to these overly creative articulations of his work.

Second, there was another scene previous to the one I described above in which the writers worked vicariously through the character of a jail warden, going well out of their way to impose upon the viewer an absolute certainty that there is no God or devil, and that all that truly exists is the base instinct of every man. That primality, from the warden’s perspective, is most truly revealed during times of extreme pressure. Having that explanation in hand, the scene changes and the viewer is ushered more deeply into the crazed struggle of George Washington. The effort is deliberate. We are, indeed, meant to be carried along by an obvious anti-Christian agenda within the script.