Posts Tagged ‘pop culture’

I love lucyIn May 1953, I was finishing first grade at Springdale Elementary School in Fort Worth.  Much is different today than it was then:

  • Our class memorized the 23rd Psalm to recite over the school’s intercom system during morning announcements.
  • We used big red No.1 pencils
  • We shared desks
  • We bought war stamps and put them in savings books. (The Korean War did not end until June 27, 1953)
  • We had bomb drills (in case of atom bombs) both marching outside of our building in nice, straight lines and getting under our desks (crowded with two people sharing a desk!)
  • We feared polio and ending up in an iron lung, which dictated much of what we were allowed to do in the summer months.

My dad worked with televisions, so we always had at least one.  We watched Dwight Eisenhower being sworn in as president in 1953, the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy (71% of all TV owners watched this episode), and we watched Hit Parade’s version of How Much Is That Doggie In the Window, sung by Patti Page, which was the Number 1 pop song in 1953.

And to think that we could see all of that on just three channels—channels that went off the air sometime around midnight.

The average annual wage in 1953 was $3750, which is probably about what my dad made to support our five-member family. Our house was a little smaller than average, so it cost only about $9,000..  The average new car cost $1800. I do remember “gas wars” and prices of 13-15 cents per gallon.

We always ate at home—no such thing really as fast food. McDonalds was just starting in Florida. Dairy Queens were around, but they were mostly just for ice cream and milk shakes. When the milk shakes went to 35 cents, we had to stop buying them because they were too expensive.

So. . . . , that’s nice! Eisenhower

Here’s where we are today

  • No prayer in schools
  • Ipads in schools instead of Big Red pencils
  • Hundreds of 24/7 hr. TV channels (some still showing I Love Lucy!)
  • Teens spend more time now on the Internet than watching TV.
  • Average house sells for $330,000
  • Average car sells for $30,700 with gas at $3.89/gallon.
  • Polio is virtually eradicated
  • Sex is risk free with contraception. Even AIDS seems to have lost its scariness!

Life has changed a lot!

Here’s my point:  Who in 1953 was thinking that in 2013 our world would be as different as it is today? 

Who was thinking that in just 60 years,

  • both parents would have to work,
  • that a fast-growing percentage of homes would have only one parent,
  •  that same-sex marriage would be the issue of the day,
  • that Christians would be marginalized culturally,
  • that a drug culture would undermine our sense of security more than the threat of nuclear war


So what will life in the USA be like in 2073?  There is a lot of talk about how we want to leave the world for our grandchildren, but I’m not so sure we can even imagine what the world might be like then.

History does not believe in straight lines, so I’m not terribly concerned that the trends of today inevitably lead to their logical end!

Christians have a real advantage in this kind of world:  we know where we came from, we know whose we are, and we know where we are going!  That’s not entirely a metaphysical statement.

Having a framework to live within is a real help for dealing with a runaway culture.  We don’t know what diseases will threaten us in the future, we don’t know what political threats are waiting to be born, we don’t know whether technology will embellish the future or darken it, and we don’t know if our environment will continue to serve us or will retaliate and threaten our existence.

We don’t know what the future will be, but we can live in the days that each of us has with confidence and certainty that our lives are part of God’s plan.

We are not deists. We believe God was active in the world on Day One, has been involved and in control every day since, and will continue His work until the day of Redemption, when all of Creation will be made True!

“In Him we live and move and have our very being!”

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My task this weekend is to re-write what we have long called the Let’s Start Talking Guidelines. They are a list of non-negotiable behavior expectations that have grown up over the thirty years of our history.

For instance, we do not wish our workers to get involved with anyone romantically while on their mission project, so we have a No Romance policy.  I hope this seems reasonable enough to you, but because we work with many college students and because being away from home creates an exotic ambience even for adults, this is one problem area that seems to surface every year!

There are only sixteen such guidelines in their current form, so it is not cumbersome,  but over the years we have continued to revise them to the point that sometimes the primary expectation is no longer obvious.  For instance, our No Romance guideline now reads:

“Dating team members is a major distraction to the commitment you have made with LST. Spend that love, time, and attention on those who need it in order to find Jesus. Romantic relationships with Readers will block their ability to find Jesus. Involvement with church members will create undesired problems. From our years of experience, this area is one of the most sensitive. Keep your focus on spending all of your energy sharing Jesus.

See how mushy this is!  So let me tell you what my biggest problem is in this assignment. Maybe you can help!

I cannot find the right word!   Which word or phrase will describe this important document in a way that is neither offensive nor condescending to both our college and church workers? Which word might perhaps even motivate or inspire them to full ownership?  HELP!!!

Rules of Behavior is too authoritarian, but Guidelines sounds like The Ten Suggestions, which has no teeth.  Standards does not ask for commitment, but Commitments is a pretty strong word that makes people run for cover!  A Code sounds military (just think about A Few Good Men), Pledges makes me reach for my wallet, and Promises evokes strains of The Wedding March! Where is Shakespeare when you need him??

As we talked about this in our office common room today, it was interesting to notice which personalities went for which words!

Wait a minute! Therein lies a clue! Outside of gross criminal actions, we live in a society where no one really wants anyone to infringe on their own right to make their own decisions about their own behavior!!  Everybody wants to choose their own word!

How can we live in such a community? How can we live and work together?  How can two walk together unless they agree—on how to describe the mutual expectations to which they are willing submit?  I begin to think my semantic problem is a symptom of a spiritual problem!

After I finish my assignment, I’ll tell you some of the stories behind our guidelines, so you can consider them for your short-term mission project.

What word or phrase would you suggest I use?

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A ten-hour plane ride is ten-hour block of time—a rare opportunity!  Many people sleep it away, but from London to Dallas, you fly during the European and US daylight hours, so sleeping just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Sometimes I read, but I almost always check out the movie offerings. For me, those ten hours are an opportunity to watch movies that I probably would never pay money to see.

 I’m not necessarily looking for entertainment. As most of you know, I taught film and used popular culture extensively in my classes as a professor at Oklahoma Christian. I’ve always been interested in what popular culture tells us about the world around us.  So here is what I watched on Thursday as I was flying back home from London—with just a few review-like or random thoughts about each piece.

 Glee: The Pilot and one early episode – I had seen all kinds of headlines about this TV show since it appeared on TV screens in 2009, but I had never watched it. Glee is about a high school glee club, its members, and the faculty and students of a mid-western high school.  Much is absolutely predictable: the jocks vs. everyone, the beauties vs. the nerds, you know the groupings from your own high school days—so how could it be any other way! The show is meant to be optimistic and fun while dealing with problems of relationships, of emerging identities, and a pretty sizable dose of teen sexuality.  That sounds like high school to me also.  Here are my questions about its portrayal of high school in 2010:  are today’s highschoolers really that open and casual about sex, and are the teachers in the high schools so much like the adolescents?  It’s not a show for young children, maybe not for your teens if you like them sheltered from all of the possibilities out there, but it might be educational to you parents if you are of the protected variety yourselves.

 Vampire Diaries: Pilot  The massive interest in vampire stories is pretty interesting to me. Vampire stories have always included lots of suspense, sexual tension, questions about immortality, and, of course, the choice of life or death.  Perhaps the “hooking up” generation needs something edgy to make relationship stories interesting to them.  I did not see anything in the pilot that was the slightest bit different from the Twilight Series movies—just a TV version of the same. Maybe it has grown from the beginning, but I’m probably not going to find out—unless next year they have the second season on the airplane menu.

 Winter’s Bone (2010) This was a very raw portrayal of rural life of the poorest in almost anywhere in the deep South. The language, the morals, the requirements for staying alive –well there is very little that is civilized portrayed in this film. It has the feel, sometimes even the music, of Deliverance. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl, trying to protect, and deliver her crazy mother and two younger siblings from losing their home because their father is running from the law for cooking meth.  The portrayal of the backwoods mafia families and codes of conduct is frightening. Ree’s determination and courage are the only redemptive values portrayed.  Not an easy film to watch, but not a bad film.

 Getting Low (2009)  I saw the trailer to this film at the theater years ago, but the trailer made it look like a goofy movie about an eccentric hermit who wants to throw his own funeral party.  The previews did this film no service; it was much better than the trailers portrayed.  Robert Duval just never stops being a great actor! And he has a special affinity for roles that are mildly moral, religious, even Christian—just think about Tender Mercies (1983) and The Apostle(1997). The story is really about a man who has jailed himself away in a cabin for forty years for a sin he committed in his youth. Now, in old age, he wants to confess his sin and be forgiven.  Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black all do outstanding jobs as well in this fine little film.

Book of Eli (2010) Much has been written about this film, so I will be brief. Denzel Washington is and has always been one of the best. Most of this film is rather bleak and often violent, but the moments when Eli has his emotions called out are just as good as the unforgettable moments in Glory when the new, young actor Washington, steals the movie.  And The Bible gets good press in this movie; even the villain knows the power of the Words, and like all Satans, wants to use them for his own power and glory.  There is no doubt about the outcome.

 Airplane movies are usually cleaned up, so I have no idea what the theater version might contain that I did not see.  That’s my disclaimer in case you rent any of these and are shocked that I would watch it. I do, however, believe there is a difference in watching to learn and watching to be entertained—but that’s a topic for later.

 Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you!

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My special guest blogger today is Anna, my seven year-old granddaughter. On Friday, we went to see Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole with her and her sister Olivia. This morning, Anna was reading my blog on Alice In Wonderland and offered to help me with blogging, so we decided to do something with this movie.

I will say that we all enjoyed the movie very much. It has wonderful animation and design. The plot is a little scary sometimes.  Olivia, six-years-old, found it a little too scary.

Well, here is what Anna would like to tell you about the movie!

  1. Don’t get moon-blinked!  When you disobey God, you could get moonblinked. You can’t think anymore for yourself. You can’t see with your eyes.
  2. How far do we have to go? When you are exhausted, then you are halfway there!  Some things are worth really straining for, really doing even more than you think you can do.  Everything for God is worth straining for.
  3. Don’t get too out of control when you are playing. When you get too rowdy, then you fall out of the tree.  When you fall out of the tree, then bad things can happen!
  4. Listen to the old birds—some of them! Some old birds are good; some old birds are bad. How do we know which one is which? The ones who tell us the truth about God are the ones we want to listen to. They tell you the right things to do—just like the Bible says.
  5. Different children in the same family have different problems. Brothers and sisters sometimes make bad choices, but that doesn’t mean we have to. We should always love them and try to help them make good choices.

Thanks, Anna! Great thoughts—and keep on thinking when you see movies!

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Twice in the last few days, I’ve heard star athletes described as humble. The Dallas Cowboys just signed Miles Austin to a six-year multi-million dollar contract, and when asked what made Austin—who has really only had a partial break-out year—special, the notorious Jerry Jones, owner and general manager of the Cowboys (and head coach), used the word humble over and over again.

Then this morning, I heard Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski ) talking about Kevin Durant, a third-year NBA player, and he used these very words: “he is pure; he’s humble.” Kevin Durant has just led the USA men’s basketball team to its first world championship since 1994 and was voted MVP for the tournament.

Is humble a trait that superstars  are supposed to have? Is humble something you can learn in the minor leagues or in college?  Is humble found in the gym or on the practice field?  What makes humble important enough for it to be an important description for outstanding athletes—or outstanding people, for that matter.

One of the strangest verses in the Old Testament raises for me the same question. In the context of a fairly mundane case of jealousy between Moses and his siblings Miriam and Aaron, the biblical writer makes a parenthetical statement: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3).  There it is again!

Don’t forget who Moses was and what he had done! He was raised as a prince of Egypt. As a young man, he killed an Egyptian overseer in defending his people. Later he drove off a whole group of bully shepherds from the well in Midian. Forty years later, he returns to Egypt, challenges Pharaoh over and over again to his face, then leads hundreds of thousands or more people out of Egypt.

In the face of certain destruction, he walks them through the Red Sea. Then days later, he explodes in fury at their whiny rebelliousness in the wilderness as well as their flagrant relapse into idolatry at Sinai. These same former slaves Moses leads into armed conflict.  This is no humble guy! This is Rambo!

In our culture that values and promotes assertiveness, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-promotion—SELF–what do we do with these New Testament exhortations to humbleness?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 5:2)

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8)

And especially listen to the words from Jesus:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)

Here are just a few concrete suggestions for teaching ourselves and our children to be humble:

  • Learn to respect every person—every person—as equally important to God as you are! We do lip service to this, but, in fact, what about the people we disparage: foreigners, alternate lifestylers, athletes, nerds, tea party people, liberals!!, et al. When we disrespect someone, we are putting ourselves above them. God does not love you more than he does that person you disrespect—no matter who you are!
  • Learn to see yourself as the result of God’s work, not your own! Are you wealthy, are you smart, are you talented, are you kind, are you generous, are you a great athlete, are you spiritual?  Why?  If we answer with reasons that describe our work, then we are mistaken and showing our own conceit.  It is God’s work in you that makes you everything that you might be tempted to think sets you apart from others.
  • Learn to be about others, not yourself. Learn to praise others, serve others, allow others to go first, even to get the credit for what you did. I suspect this is why Moses needed to stay in Midian and herd sheep for forty years before he was ready to lead Israel. The prince of Egypt needed to learn to lead sheep, to serve sheep—without any glory—before he could be a true leader –a great leader–of people.
  • Learn that you not only can be, but SHOULD be great at what you attempt to do! Moses was a great leader and continues to be honored by all Israel today. Humility is not antithetical to excellence!

If we start with our kids and grandkids in T-ball or pee wee soccer, making humbleness a virtue to be learned and practiced, if we the parents and grandparents will continue to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand (I Peter 5:6), all the while striving for greatness—to God’s glory—then the promise of Scripture is that we will have all the glory we can stand—and much more than we deserve!

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Take your kids to see Nanny McPhee Returns (2010). I did not see the first Nanny McPhee (2005) nor have I read the Nurse Mathilda (Christiana Brand) books that the movies are based on, so I came to the film with three grandkids and no expectations. I loved it and they did too.

Emma Thompson once again is the force behind this film.  She wrote the film script, she stars as Nanny McPhee (“small c, large P”), and she co-produced the film, the role that likely gave her the most influence over the film.  The staging, the acting, the casting, the dialogue, and the plot are wonderfully crafted. I know I’m gushing, but I can’t help it—a superbly done film which children will enjoy and adults as well.

Justly briefly, let me list for you some reasons that you parents and grandparents will enjoy the film:

  • The adult humor is not based on double entendre. You get to laugh innocently—such a rare pleasure.
  • Look at the quality of the cast:  Emma Thompson (Oscar winner), Ralph Fiennes (2x Oscar nominee), Dame Maggie Smith (one of the greatest actresses ever and 2x Oscar winner), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Oscar nominee).
  • With the exception of the lone “villain” (Rhys Ifans), none of the characters is caricatured! They all have wonderfully humorous moments, but the slapstick does not overwhelm the humor!
  • The children are also well cast and well directed. They behave quite believably and are very likable!

As you leave the theater , here are some talking points for you if you like to use films as teachable moments for your kids.

  1. Why were those kids so rowdy—so out of control before Nanny McPhee arrived? You can go two directions here: one, the dad was gone to war (which is true for lots of kids today as well),  and two, Mom had to work, so they were left alone a lot. Kids really need two parents—or they can get out of control!  It may surprise your children to know there are reasons why kids are rowdy and out of control.  Help them think of those possibilities—and they might begin to understand themselves better.
  2. Why were the rich kids so uppity to the other children? I heard the story from my grandkids once about their visiting at a friend’s house who was quite wealthy. When it came time to pick up the toys and go home, the little friend said, “Don’t do that. We have people!” I’m sure the parents of that child would have also been embarrassed, but the fact is most of us have—or wish for—certain privileges. When we have them, we have to really work hard not to make ourselves more important than others. That’s hard for kids—and for their parents.
  3. What if you had to live in “the land of Poo?” When I was a boy, we used to love to go to my uncle’s dairy farm. It was a whole different world of experiences, smells, and adventures!  We hunted lizards with bows and arrows, swam in the cow tank, drank milk straight out of the cow, and ,yes, I even shoveled cow droppings sometimes for my uncle—great lessons for a city kid.  If your kids are overly homogenized, you might want to make friends with a farmer . . . .It’s good for kids to learn that much of the world does not use hand sanitizer—and to be flexible.
  4. Why did Nanny McPhee look so ugly at the beginning of the story? Especially young kids may need help with the subtle transformation of the nurse. As the movie children learn each lesson, the ugly characteristics of Nanny’s face disappear.  Sometimes other people look ugly to us because of the way we are acting more than the way they are acting.  

Of course, the obvious lessons of obeying, sharing, courage, faith, and working together can be covered. In fact, you might want to start giving medals for learning lessons as Nanny McPhee did. Just be sure, like Nanny McPhee, that you don’t make them cheap.  I loved the line when she actually hinders the children from catching the piglets; she says, “Already caught two? Hm, let’s make it more difficult!”  She was not being mean; she knew that all of us need a serious level of difficulty to really learn any of life’s important lessons.  Don’t make your medals too easy to get!

Now that I’ve discovered this series, I intend to find a copy of the original Nanny McPhee (2005) and watch it soon. The reviews say it too is “magical.” Goodness is always magical.

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I wrote a guest movie review of Inception for Tim Spivey. Go to his blog if you would like to read it. www.timspivey.com I recommend his blog to you for great articles on church organization and leadership.

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Did you remember the Cats and Dogs movie from 2001?  This 2010 version is basically the same plot without so many humans involved in the film. Even a couple of the characters (Butch and Mr. Tinkles) are carryovers from the 2001 film, but it really doesn’t matter if you remember or not. The new rendition  is a pretty forgettable movie.

In spite of a few moments of homage to James Bond films (the opening credits), to the Hannibal Lekter films (Mr. Tinkles’ muzzled in Alcatraz), and to Mission Impossible (final scene), the plot is so slow and predictable as to be uninteresting for the parents and grandparents who must attend with the kids. The kids themselves may enjoy the action –but not all that much either. Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010) did not leave my grandkids talking about the film at all—and that is the litmus test for me.

Just in case your kids do want to talk about the film, let me make some brief suggestions about topics that could develop into good conversations for you.

1. Revenge : What do you think about getting back at people for something they do to you? Lots of literature and lots of movies use revenge as the primary motivation. I bet you can name five or six films without even thinking hard—but what kind of world do we live in if everyone seeks revenge for the wrongs done to them?   That conversation can stay in your neighborhood or go all over the world. Ultimately, don’t we come back to God saying, “Revenge is mine,” and waving us off of revenge (Romans 12:19)?

2. People often do bad things because of bad things that happened to them. I don’t think that excuses badness, but it might turn “villains” into real people rather than just cartoon characters. Why does Kitty Galore want revenge? What if that accident had not happened? Would she have been as evil?  Maybe if someone had apologized, or bought her a beautiful fur coat as penance, or just loved her ugliness more . . . . What action could have changed the direction of her life?

3. Cats and dogs can live with each other! You could take this topic into race or alternative life styles, but for my grandkids, I’d leave it just where it was in the movie—boys and girls! My three grandsons—all  under 8–delight in terrorizing any girl of any size! I don’t know where this comes from, but we spend a lot of time teaching that girls are not objects to be pinched, chased, used as prisoners, scared with bugs, etc. Just seems to me that the younger they learn to respect girls, the better off they will be.

4. Why shouldn’t people try to crush the opposition, people who aren’t like them, or don’t believe like they do? It’s always to create a better world, isn’t it! This may be for kids a bit older, but they do hear a lot of this “crushing” talk from adults. Think about the “crushing” type comments they might overhear from you about the opposing political party, about people in different economic strata, about foreigners in our country, about . . . . you fill in the blank. To honor and respect people VERY different from us is challenging. Kids need to hear from you that “crushing the opposition” is rarely a Christian virtue.

It’s not a great film, but if you see it, at least you now have a few ideas for pretty important conversations with your kids.  That might be worth it.

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“It all begins  . . .  with a choice.”  And so I felt last night when Sherrylee wanted to go see the third Twilight movie.   We told our friends at supper that we were doing it so we could still have intelligent conversations with our daughter and daughters-in-law as well as the young women on our staff. We entered the theater with low expectations, but we were both pleasantly surprised by the film. For us, this episode in the Twilight Saga films was far and away the best.

Lest I end up with either a stake or a silver bullet (depending on your lifestyle) through my heart, let me just say that I have not read any of the books, so my only information is from the films themselves. My second disclaimer is that I am a male, and these movies are 100% for near-adolescent girls through women whose self-image is 18-25—and I truly do not mean that disparagingly. Don’t we all think of ourselves younger—locked in at a certain age—which makes crossing those birthday milestones that force you to re-think your age just that much more painful!

One of the reasons we had expected less from this film was anticipation that it was all about the war between Victoria’s army of vampires and the Cullen Clan–don’t you love the names! Clans conjure up images of either wild west feuds or Braveheart—but it wasn’t; rather, it did focus on the main characters and their choices—mostly choices about love.  Talking about love choices with your teenage girls should be fun!  I think I would start with questions, not comments. Try these questions and then listen to what they say. After that, you might get to make an observation or two—that’s your choice!

1. Why does Bella love Edward? He’s a pretty face, he’s an “older man,” he’s chivalrous (I’m sure they won’t use that word!), but he also tries to control her and he’s only as passionate as a cold guy can be! So what’s the attraction? . . . You are going to learn a lot about your girls if you can get them to answer this question with something besides giggles.

2. Why does Bella love Jacob? Jacob is the opposite of Edward in many ways. He’s more physical and more physically attractive, warm, same age, much more passionate, and less “mental”—meaning driven more by his feelings than his mind.  Which one appeals to your daughters? Again, if you can listen, you will learn a lot.

3. How can Bella love both of them? You may get some answers that lead to a conversation about attraction versus love—with your girls being more or less able to differentiate. You might also get hit with a taste of the postmodern (or millennial) , that is, you can’t help who you fall in love with, so you are just a passive pawn in a universe driven by nothing. This is a great opportunity to start the real meat of the conversation about love being a choice.

4. Love is a choice! Ok, finally you get to make a statement—and this is really an important one.  Especially this film shows the personal choices that not only Bella, but all of the characters are making. Bella is choosing Edward, not only out of great romantic love, but also because she has always felt like an outsider and powerless and with the Cullens, she feels like an insider and powerful!  Edward is choosing to do the most selfish thing he has ever done, endangering Bella’s soul because he loves her (This might lead to a great conversation on whether this is really love!)  Jacob chooses to fight for Bella’s love because he loves her and believes he is better for her.  (Here’s a thought question: Would Jacob turn Bella into a Wolf if he thought it would cost her something as precious as her soul??) True motivations are always complicated.

5. Is Bella making good choices? I’m not really fond of this character. She’s broody and conflicted, too much so for my tastes.  I don’t like it that she tries to take Edward to bed. (BTW, if I had teenage daughters I would tell them that very few guys will resist if a girl comes on that strong. The boys should—but very few will! ) I understand her conflict with marriage—so typical of young people today who are mostly the product of broken marriages—but I don’t like her choice of not marrying.   I do like that she respects her parents; but she doesn’t really listen to them enough—another bad choice.  She, like many kids, is not a bad person, but  I see her making lots of bad choices . . . . so how does a girl not make these or other bad choices?

6. In our story, does God have a role in any of these choices? Take every opportunity to remind your teens (and yourself) that any story that leaves God out is not the story we want to live out.  That’s our number one choice that should frame ALL other choices. You don’t have to preach a sermon—just let your kids know that for a Christian, this is the most important choice of all.

As I said, those of you who have read all the books may have a completely different view of motivations; I’m only talking about what I see in the films.  Apparently at least two more sequels are already in the pipeline: Breaking Dawn, Part One and Part Two. Whether you are a Twilight fan or not, your daughters/granddaughters probably are, so I’d suggest you use the opportunity to listen first, then talk about love and choices.

And it wouldn’t hurt you Dads/Granddads to be a part of this conversation either! Suck it up and see it! (Oops, wrong metaphor!)

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Not many remakes really stand well against the original, but the 2010 version of The Karate Kid is so true to the original that it holds its own.  Jaden Smith has a great screen presence, but is so small—even for the 12-year-old he is portraying–that it makes the physical punishment, the teacher-student relationship, and especially the little romantic involvement a little unbelievable for me. It is easier to imagine this particular story with an older teen like Daniel (Ralph Macchio) was in the 1984 version.

With younger actors, this movie feels more like a young kids movie, probably for 10-14 year-old boys. I wish they had left out the 12 year-olds kissing, and I thought the beatings and hitting were too harsh for this film’s intended audience—or maybe it was just the parents of the kids watching who were closing gasping.

I also found myself wishing they had not set up the Chinese as villains. Maybe I’ve seen too many Asian mob movies, but I’m not much for any film that encourages negative ethnic or nationalistic stereotypes to children, who might internalize a negative response to certain nations, much like kids did about Germany and Japan after WWII because of constant exposure to war movies and cartoons that were used as propaganda during and long after the end of the war.

I did love the beautiful photographic tour of China, although the narrative relationship of those trips was pretty thin.  I don’t know if the kids will even notice the scenery, but perhaps it will stick as somewhere they would like to go someday—to see the lady standing on one leg with the big snake in front of her!!

Here are some topics for talking to your kids after you’ve seen this movie together.

  1. Are the Chinese people mean? I’d love to know what your kids say if you ask them this question. Can they differentiate between the bullies and the Mr. Han—who is also Chinese? This conversation goes to my statement above about helping our children recognize good and bad are not national or ethnic characteristics.
  2. What would you do if kids tried to bully you like those boys did? Dre could have walked away from even the first fight, but he didn’t. He did not have to throw the bucket of liquid stuff on the boys to antagonize them. Most of the time, we have a choice about fighting. That’s the first lesson kids need to learn. Secondly, fighting generally leads to more fighting.  What finally won the respect of the bullies was not beating them up; it was achievement, excellence, competency, and courage—with integrity.
  3. “No weakness. No pain. No mercy.” This motto of the bad Kung Fu master is a great teaching moment to show that Jesus was the exact opposite. He gave Himself up, He suffered pain for us, and He is full of mercy!    Even our children will likely meet those coaches/instructors/mentors who think that there is one ethical standard for church and another for “real life,” where you do whatever it takes to win.
  4. You don’t get good at something without a lot of hard work. This fits in with our children learning delayed gratification.  If you haven’t read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you should.  He argues that the great successes of people are a result of a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice for which other people either don’t have the opportunity or the patience.
  5. Was it more important for Dre to win or to continue in the match? It wouldn’t have been as good a movie for sure if he had lost, but it might have been truer to life for most people. We should acknowledge to our kids that life is not fair. Sometimes people cheat, and they hit us hard, and it hurts.  Our first choice—and maybe the only choice—is to either get up and continue, or to stay down and quit.  Even if you get up, you may not win—ask the US Soccer team about that! But you have greater self-respect and respect from others, if you choose to get up!

Good movies create real emotions. The Karate Kid is a good film, which is why audiences have clapped and cheered at the end of the film. You will have fun checking your own emotional responses against the ones your kids have. That will be the stuff of great conversation.

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