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.

Invisibility

I wanted to start off this morning by sharing a link to a video that a friend of mine shared with me. It shows a family doing a pretty good job of convincing their youngest daughter that she’d become invisible. You can view the video here.

So, what did you think? I should add that when it comes to a good practical joke, I’m all in. In fact, I have a fairly high threshold when it comes to practical jokes. Almost anything goes, as long as it doesn’t break the law. As a kid, practical joking was pretty much a way of life for me, my brother, and my sister. My brother is now with the Lord in heaven, so he can’t testify to this truth, but you could certainly ask my younger sister. She’d tell you just how hard it was for her to keep her Barbie dolls from being strapped to rockets and out of trees. And she’d affirm the terrorizing things my older brother did to me under the cover of darkness.

The point is, I have plenty of experience, both on the giving and receiving end of the mayhem. Even better, as a parent, such experience serves as a wellspring from which to sip when I’m in need of ideas for tormenting my own kids. Feel free to ask them, too.

But I’ll admit that the trick in this particular video bothered me a little. It was funny at first, but then I began to see and hear a palpable terror in a little one who had come to the realization that she was completely invisible to the people around her, namely her mother. In that brief moment between humor and fright, I realized something.

No one wants to be unseen to others. No one.

Sure, someone might say that he or she wants some alone time—a time to be invisible to the world. I get that. I feel that way sometimes. But that feeling comes and goes for various reasons, and some of those reasons, I’d guess, probably do emerge from the invisibility factor—the fact that so much of what we do and say and labor to accomplish is seen a certain way, and the rest of who we are is completely invisible to the ones standing right in front of us. Sometimes I need to get away from that.

From a different perspective, watching this video and admitting the shackles of a digital age—one full of smart phones and laptop computers and tablets—I wonder if we’re actually training ourselves to be so isolated from human contact that the only possible outcome is human invisibility.

I remember one evening this past summer having dinner with my family at Buffalo Wild Wings in Fenton. It was truly a time of joy just sitting together and laughing, talking about the details of each other’s lives, and just being the Thoma family. I remember leaning to Jennifer’s ear and whispering to her about my growing discontent with another little family a few booths away. It was a young couple with an infant child in a high chair. Both parents had their faces locked to the screens of their smart phones while the child sat there staring into nothingness. There was no interaction whatsoever with the child, and none between the parents. I concluded that this must be normal for them, because if they were so willing to display this in public, they most certainly lived this way in private.

I fear that child is at this very moment growing up invisible to the ones who matter, and this invisibility is because the time with the digital devices are more important to the parents.

Psalm 127:3 reminds us that children are a heritage and blessing for the Lord. Even more so, take note that whenever anything is happening in the Old Testament involving God giving blessings to His people, children are almost always ushered to the front of the line. In the New Testament, there’s no shortage of joy for children. Jesus Christ declares a great love for the little ones in Mathew 18 when He heralds their great value to our Heavenly Father. He does this again in the very next chapter when He rebukes the disciples for not permitting the children to be close to Himself. In John 21, before the Lord’s command to Peter to take care of His sheep, He first implores, “Feed my lambs.”

Children are by no means invisible to the Savior.

My hope for you today is that you would behold your little ones—no matter their age—and see them as the Lord sees them. He gave them to you because He loves you. He gave you to them because He loves them, too. That’s an incredible bit of information that, thankfully, was not left to the realms of invisibility, but rather was revealed by God’s Word for the benefit of His world, namely the wonderful underpinning of society known as “family.”

By the way, do you want to know one of the best ways to strengthen your family? Go to church.

You knew I was going to say that eventually, didn’t you?

Yes, worship together. Sing the hymns. Kneel in prayer. Listen to the Word and preaching. Approach the altar and gather together with other families to receive the gifts of grace in the Lord’s Supper. Be strengthened and then sent out by God’s holy benediction to be His Christian families in a world that truly needs the stability provided by the bright beaming light of His love through you.