March 9, 2017 By Mark Brunke: March 17th is almost here! I’ve been looking forward to this day for at least half a year. No, I’m not a huge fan of Hermione Watson. No, Beauty and the Beast is not in my top 10 list of Disney movies. So why am I excited? Because I’ve got a cute and cuddly little princess of my own who absolutely adores the classic Beauty and the Beast. Angelina, my two-year-old daughter, and I have danced dozens of times to the songs from that classic.
But this Beauty and the Beast remake has added a bit of controversy to its theatrical debut. It was announced that LeFou, Gaston’s bumbling sidekick, will be portrayed as a gay character in this go around. And there will be an exclusively gay moment toward the end of the film.
As you’d expect, there has been quite a mixed response. Many celebrate the inclusiveness of Disney. Others have reacted with swift outrage at the pro-gay agenda in a children’s movie. I’m really not riled up either way. But it has changed my plans on seeing it. For those of you reading who are Christians with young children, I hope you find this helpful. But even if you are not Christian or if you disagree with me about homosexuality, I think you can find some good parenting advice here as well.
Homosexuality is a sin and so is a lot of stuff.
As a Christian, I look to the Bible for right and wrong. There’s no getting around the fact that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin in numerous passages including Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. If you’d like more of my thoughts on that, you can find them HERE.
But just having a gay character in a movie is not going to stop me from seeing it. Movies are filled with sin. Action movies are rife with violence and murder. Romantic comedies usually contain or at least hint at pre-marital sex. I really don’t think I need to go on listing. Homosexuality is a sin. Sure. And so is a lot of other stuff in a lot of movies.
I choose to see movies with sin in them all the time. Why doesn’t that bother me? In short, because I’m an adult. At length:
Sin isn’t really the issue. Discernment is the issue.
Because I’m an adult, I know how to process what I’m hearing and seeing. I can run the choices and actions of the characters on the screen through my worldview, values, beliefs, and moral code. I can pick out what is right and wrong, good and bad from what I’m seeing in a film. In Christianese, this is called discernment.
So when I watch the Matrix, I can admire Neo for his self sacrifice and choose not to emulate his swearing. When I see Rogue One, I can admire the ethical dilemmas Cassian finds himself in and even admire his choice not to assassinate a certain character while still deeming his cold-blooded killing of an ally at the beginning as… totally not cool dude. As adults, we can discern. We can weigh through a lot of what we are seeing and learn from good examples and bad ones alike. We can also decide if seeing something will be too much for us to handle or too strong of a temptation to sin.
Children don’t know how to do this right out of the gate. Kids just believe, accept, and imitate almost everything and anything they see. After watching some Ninjago, I don’t really feel led to punch someone in the face but all my five year old wants to do is jump off the couch with a flying kick to my eye. Kids imitate. And it takes a lot of time, maturity, and parental coaching to help them learn how to discern.
So when it comes to movies and shows you know have characters or scenes that go against the values you want to raise your kids to have, here is my advice:
Shelter them before they can discern and engage in conversation after they can discern.
Our children need us parents to be the gatekeepers of what they see. When all they do is imitate, we need to be putting only good examples in front of them to learn from. That means we need to watch out for movies and shows with violence before our little ones decide to punch everything. We should probably avoid characters that lie so they don’t pick up on that little habit. And when it comes to matters of sexuality, we need to put examples in front of them that are right and true. Believe me, our kids pick up on a lot even at a young age. Angelina asked Christy the other day, “Where is my true love?” She got that from Snow White. A couple of weeks ago she gave me a long kiss on the lips with her eyes closed and then tilted her head to the side. She was copying the happily ever after kiss at the end of lots of Disney movies. So it’s our job as parents to put the right stuff in front of them.
But that’s only half of our job. It’s also our job to be teaching and instructing them with our words about right and wrong. We need to be using life lessons and calling on things that they’ve seen around them. And as we guide our kids we will notice that each of them matures differently in this area of being able to discern right and wrong. My five year old really has her head on straight when it comes to talking through what the good examples and bad examples of Ninjago are. So as their discernment grows, we can thoughtfully allow them to see movies and shows that include the occasional bad example. And it’s our job as parents to have an intentional conversation about what we just watched.
So let’s bring it all back to Beauty and the Beast. I’m not shocked by the inclusion of a gay character. I’m not even upset. But I will make a careful parenting decision with my own kiddos about what they are ready to see and what they are not. I don’t even really know what this “exclusively gay moment” will be. My guess is that two men will romantically kiss. If that’s the case, it’s a bad example for human sexuality and romance. My two year old isn’t discerning enough to process that, so we won’t let her see it. My five year old might be up to the task as mommy and daddy coach her through thinking on that one. I’ll be thinking about it. She might need a few more years. While Christy and I figure it out with our kids, I urge you to think it through for yours!
February 22, 2017 - By Pastor Paul Davis: Over the last decade or so, social media has exploded into literally every part of our lives. It connects us with friends we haven’t seen in years. It keeps us informed about tough situations that loved ones are struggling with. It helps us celebrate the happy times too. But one thing I’m noticing about all of this media socializing is that many people think that their Facebook page or Twitter accounts are good places to share every single thought they have with the rest of the world. Sometimes this is harmless. “Pizza tonight.” “About to go see Star Wars.” “So excited to attend Paul Davis’ Genesis Equip Class!” Even though other people may not care about these things, they aren’t really hurting anyone.
But, somehow, in the midst of all of this communicating, social media outlets have tricked many of us into removing the filters that screen out the sinful, harmful, or ridiculous thoughts that we have. So, instead of stopping just before they come out of our mouths, they are plastered all over the world’s biggest billboard of ideas: the internet. We say things on Facebook that we later regret. We tweet things on Twitter that we wish were never said. We express our opinions whether we know anything about the topic or not. And my question for all of us in this mess of MassComm is, “Is God pleased with this way of communicating?” I’m not wondering if social media outlets themselves are godly or not, but only if we are using them in a godly way.
And thankfully, God is not silent on this issue of communicating, and a bunch of good, challenging passages are to be found in the book of Proverbs. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:
Do you see the trend? Sin inevitably comes with many words. Even a fool looks wise when he keeps his mouth shut. A fool lets his thoughts just spew out of him, but a wise man is restrained in what he chooses to say.
So, what are your habits of communicating? Do you post everything that comes to mind? Do you express your opinion when you’re not even close to knowing what you’re talking about? (Come on… we all do it.) I think these proverbs are clearly telling us that God wants wise, restrained, thoughtful communication. It doesn’t matter if it’s face-to-face or through a screen, on a piece of paper or through a blog-post. Jesus-followers have been called to speak in a way that is godly and wise. So, how can we get there?
Just a couple of thoughts.
First, just don’t post everything you think. Not all of our thoughts are good ones, and not all of our opinions are valid. Sometimes we think things and feel things that are sinful, coming from our own hearts or from the tempting of Satan. Posting when you’re angry or confused or uninformed is not a good idea. Instead, talk through your thoughts with a real human being who loves you and can respond to you in an actual conversation. If you’re working through an idea or you’re not sure what to think, adding to and taking from the confusion that’s on the internet is probably not the wisest course of action.
Second, put some of these proverbs around your work space. It could be physical sticky notes, or digital reminders or banners, but make these wise, godly sayings a part of your environment when you’re communicating on social media. Let them help you communicate in a way that honors Christ and makes you look wise in the process!
Social media outlets are a powerful tool. They can be used to harm or to help, to tear down or to build up. But God has given us some principles of wise communication that can help us redeem our digital environments for the Kingdom of Christ and to use them for his purposes.
February 15, 2017 By Pastor Tim Simpson: I hope it’s not a sign of insanity that I talk out loud in the car (sometimes) to other drivers. If it is a sign of mental illness, please refer me to someone with compassion. Anyway….it makes me crazy when other drivers cut through intersections on a 45 degree angle, rather than slowing down and making their turns at a 90 degree angle. I still remember my driver’s education teacher at Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City in 1973. He said when you come to an intersection and need to cross traffic, you make crisp, hard turns at 90 degree angles. That keeps traffic flowing more effectively because the “right of way” is being observed and others’ safety is protected.
What’s been driving me crazy recently is that folks cut diagonally across the intersections and miss the front end of my car by inches...okay...maybe a foot or so. Which leads to an outburst from me of, “Come on, man! Everyone knows you have to do a “90” there!”
I suppose this observation of others’ behavior could lead to discussions about: turning lights off, picking up your trash, opening the door for others, and silencing your cell phone in movie theaters. Easy to see the annoying things other people do, right?
So, would you believe, on the way to church last week, running a few minutes late for a meeting, I failed to drive correctly. I cut through an intersection on a 45 degree angle. And at least one other driver communicated their reaction, verbally and non-verbally. Message sent, message received. Guilty.
And then the nudge of the Holy Spirit came, reminding me of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You, hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
How would I process all the comments if I actually heard what others were thinking when they saw my sins and weaknesses - my planks? The truth is, neither my driving nor my living are perfect. Not even close.
I need to give and receive God’s grace constantly. I also need to privately give the Lord access to my planks - holding on tight to the promise in Psalm 103:8, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
Splinters or planks? Gotta run - the Lord wants to have another private conversation!
By Mark Brunke: What’s my purpose? My destiny? Why am I here? These are powerful and deep question that millions of us wrestle with on any given day.
Stop and answer it for yourself. Who are you? Answer it in one sentence. Now write it down and remember it, because how you begin to answer that question reveals a lot about where you find your identity.
Here’s some common ways we start to answer and handy Disney comparisons ala Moana.
Our Community: Moana’s parents work hard to convince her that her destiny is wrapped up in her island and her community. If you know where you are, then you'll know who you are. Her identity is wrapped up in the role she will play as a future chieftain.
If your answer to the identity question was about where you fit in a social group, then you are finding your identity in your community. I’m a dad, the funny one in my group of close friends, a pastor at my church. Is that who I am?
Our Heritage: Moana meets her ancestors. They affirm her parents’ values and then add something new to the mix. They tell the stories of their elders in a never-ending chain. So not only do we need to know where we are but where we've come from. Then we'll know who we are.
I’m Italian. I’m from Chicago. I’m from a dysfunctional family. Is that who I am?
Our Achievements: Once we are out on the open seas, we meet Maui. He is a hero with magical tattoos that appear on his amazing bod to tell the story of all his mighty deeds. If you want to know who he is, you just need to look at all he has accomplished.
Did you answer your question with a list of your finest moments? I have a college degree. I was a straight A student. I’ve led a bunch of people to Jesus. Is that who I am?
Our Toys: But Maui is a tad more complex than a walking tattoo billboard. He has a magical fish hook… or should I say… had a magical fish hook which gave him cool powers. And without it, Maui is convinced that he is no hero. He is nothing without that fish hook.
I’m a homeowner. I drive a Nissan Pathfinder. I have an iPhone 5s. Is that who I am?
Our Appearance: Moana and Maui journey together to the lair of Tamatoa. He’s a giant crab who keeps a hoard of treasure on his own back. Why? Because it makes him look shiny! He was a drab little crab once, but now he can be happy as a clam because he is beautiful baby.
Did you answer with the clothes you wear, jewelry you have, or even your social media followers?
I’m handsome (well, Christy thinks so!). I’m short for a dude on the east coast. I’ve gotten hundreds of likes on Facebook. Is that who I am?
Moana’s Big Answer!
Toward the end of the movie, two things happen that bring us to an amazing "aha" moment. Moana has a vision of her grandmother and she reveals the answer to the question that the movie has been clearly circling. She sings…
The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on Earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
Moana, you've come so far
Do you know who you are?
If you want to know who you are, listen to the voice within. Moana is convinced. She realizes the calling she has felt her whole life wasn't something out there calling to her but something within her compelling her. To know who she is, she only needs to look within. She already knows and has all along. She cries out triumphantly as the music swells, "I am MOANA!" And it’s this revelation that allows Moana to save the day in the end by urging Te Fiti to look deep inside, to hear the voice within, and to remember, to know again who she really is.
I love that Moana takes us on this journey. It causes us to evaluate where we find our identity. But I’m dissatisfied with the conclusion Moana leaves us with. Just follow your heart and your desires.
I think we can all agree that deep down we shouldn’t find our identity in our community, heritage, achievement, toys, or appearance. These things can be good and important, but they don’t quite capture the worth and destiny of unique human lives. But what about the voice within?
The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Whoa! The Bible stands in opposition to Moana’s conclusion. Don’t let your heart steer your life! Our hearts desire all sorts of foolish, harmful, and sinful things. We can’t find who we are just be consulting our heart and desires on any given day. So many today find themselves incredibly confused because we are looking within for answers about who we are.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” See, our identity isn’t bound up in where we are but whose we are. It’s not about where we’ve come from but where we are going for eternity. It’s not about what we’ve accomplished but what Jesus has accomplished for us. I pray that when you ponder your worth and your destiny in life, that you would turn to find it in the loving plans God has for you to walk in.