Friday, October 28, 2016

Let's All Go to the Movies ... or Not

Speaking of decline, fewer people are going to the movies than in years past. Some people blame this on the quality of movies produced (“Nothing but sequels and remakes! Doesn’t Hollywood have any original ideas?”). This may be a factor, but if you look back at Hollywood’s glory years, you’ll find that they produced some pretty lousy movies back then, too.
And they still produce some good ones now. I don’t usually agree with the Awards voters, but the fact that those voters selected this movie and I preferred that movie just tells me there are still movies out there that appeal to people.
A large part of Hollywood’s problem is just culture. Those pictures they love to show us of a movie theater crowd from the 1940s where all the men are in suits and ties and all the women in dresses and the theater is full, what else did those people have to do on a Saturday or Sunday night after it got dark? No TV, maybe some high school sports or a dance, or sit at home and listen to the radio. Plus, there weren’t that many theaters in town, so everyone who wanted to go to the movies was crammed into one or two theaters instead of being distributed over two 16 theater multiplexes (making it easier to take a picture of a crowded theater).
Personally, though, I think Hollywood’s biggest problem with declining theater attendance is all about TV.
And I don’t mean the quality of the TV programming. If the movies Hollywood turns out are a swamp (and I don’t think it is; as stated earlier I think there are still some good movies coming out), TV is the stagnant, vermin-infested cesspool the swamp drains into. 200 channels and, at any given time, it’s nigh-impossible to find something you want to watch.
No, the problem Hollywood is having with TV is with the units themselves. I have a family of four, so if we want to go to a movie—even a matinee—we’re out at least $25. Evening movie it’s almost $40, and if we want to see something in IMAX or some other fancy format like that, we’re talking $60 before popcorn. Throw in popcorn and a drink, and we’re closing in on $100.
Or …
We can wait three months (sometimes less) and check out the BluRay copy of the movie for less than three dollars, watch it from our comfortable couch on a large, HD-TV, and we don’t have to worry about unclean restrooms or (you may have seen this news story in your town) bed bugs. Now, personally, I hate pausing movies for a restroom or snack break, but sometimes I give in to popular demand and do so, in which case we can pick up right where we left off. At the theater, if you gotta go, you gotta miss something.
Don’t get me wrong: I love going to the movie theater. It’s an event. A two-story screen has advantages over even a 62 inch HD-UD-UpYours-Whatever, but the cost has led me (and my family) to ask of every movie that comes out that we are at all intrigued by, “Will this lose anything on the ‘small’ screen?” And the truth is, even with the movies I have really enjoyed, the large screen spectacle is rarely enough to make me feel like a $25 outlay is worth it for something I’ll see in a couple months for $3.

Why the NFL's Ratings Are Declining

There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on because the NFL’s TV ratings are declining. Some want to blame it on that 2nd string QB (maybe 1st string this week, who can tell?) who won’t stand for the national anthem, but while I think that turned a few people off, I think it was just one piece of the puzzle—one more straw, if you will—in an overall picture of decline.

Why is it happening?

Could it be that the NFL did this to themselves?

Well, not them alone. Part of it’s our culture, and I’m not just referring to the fact that the NFL now has to compete with so many other offerings (movies, other sports, etc.).

Walk yourself through the last football game you watched. What did you do when it went to commercial break? If you’re like most people, you went either to the kitchen or the bathroom. (Maybe not on the first commercial break, but for later ones.)

There was a time, when there weren’t quite so many commercial breaks. During a change of possession, for instance, rather than going to a commercial break, we might hear the announcers talk about … whatever it is that announcers talk about, but presumably it was something about the game or its players that made us want to listen. Except during the Super Bowl, no one wants to watch the commercials, so we leave the room to either go take care of important matters or just because we’ve been conditioned to get up when the commercial starts.

But now, they’ve added commercials where they didn’t used to have them (or didn’t used to have so many of them). We get a commercial break during every change of possession, time out, injury on the field or—it seems—every time someone falls to the ground.

As proud Americans, we have trained ourselves to zone out through most commercials so … see what’s happening here? The NFL has trained us to zone out more often and then seems surprised when we don’t come back.

Really, I think that’s the crux of what has happened with the NFL: they trained us to step away and then it occurred to us over time that if we could leave that easily there wasn’t really a strong reason to return.

So we went to the restroom or the kitchen or just another channel and eventually we stayed there. Combine this with the cost of the tickets to see the game live, the poor quality of officiating (leading to the perception that the “sport” is no more real than professional wrestling), the spectacle of someone who makes 10x what most of us will make in a lifetime for one season of playing a game complaining about some injustice and the surprise to me isn’t that the NFL’s ratings are declining these days but wonder that it didn’t happen sooner.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why Didn't God Save that Guy?!?! He COULD Have You Know. Blah blah blah

The truck just fell out of the sky and crushed that man. One minute, he’s walking along, no thoughts to his imminent demise, the next he’s a body on the way to the morgue.

I don’t know what kind of guy he was. Maybe he was a wonderful, church-going, wife-loving, kid-hugging saint. Maybe he was a jerk. The kind of guy you want to drop a truck on. Maybe he was somewhere in the middle.

For the sake of this blog, here’s the question: why didn’t God stop that truck?

I’m not here to debate predestination, free will, or anything like that. I’m just thinking of the time when I was asked, along with an elder in the church where I served as minister, to pray over a woman who had cancer. She’d already been diagnosed with it and it was bad. She was to see the oncologist the next day and find out how much time she had left, presumed to be something along the lines of “a few weeks”. So we anointed her head with oil, prayed over her, and the next day she went to the doctor and the doctor couldn’t find any sign of cancer. Not a one. The woman lived several more years.

I can think of another time when the story is almost identical but the believer in question went to the doc the next day and found that their cancer had spread. A week later, they were in a coma and a week after that they were dead. Maybe a month later. I don’t remember exactly, I just remember that—in spite of the whole church family gathering at the church building and holding a prayer vigil, the beloved believer died.

Someone might say the first person had more faith, or that the second one didn’t really believe. What about the people who laid on hands? Were that elder and I somehow more pure than the elders and I from the second story? Not that I could tell.

This question has caused a lot of people to abandon their faith: why didn’t God ___________ ? [fill in the blank] “Heal my son?” “Get my cousin out of that war?” “Stop [fill in another blank]?”

I’ve asked this question myself. Sometimes about people I have known, and sometimes just about that stranger I heard about on the news who had a truck fall on him. Why didn’t God stop it? He could have, right? So why didn’t he?

Besides not knowing the whole picture (to say that God is working even when the circumstances seem evil to us is true, but it doesn’t ameliorate the fact that what happened was still just flat-out evil). Why didn’t God stop it?!?!

OK, I said earlier this wasn’t going to be about free will, but I guess now it is, because the question that keeps coming up in my mind is, “How much could God do about this situation and still leave us with free will?” [If you don’t believe in free will, you might as well stop reading now because I take both free-will and predestination as givens.]

Here’s what I mean: a lot of factors went into that truck falling on that guy. The man’s choice to be walking down that sidewalk at that moment, for instance. The truck-driver’s choices—which may have included such things as texting while driving, drinking while driving, driving while upset, a surprise flat tire, etc.

So, saving that guy from that truck is more than just God catching the truck like Superman and depositing it somewhere else; it’s negating a lot of choices that free-willed people make/made. Even if we take the case of, say, a five year old girl with an incurable disease, why doesn’t God heal her? Sometimes he does! but not every time, right? Why not?

I don’t have a complete answer for that, maybe not even a partial one, but I’m still back to my question of, “How much can God do in these situations and still leave us with free will?” So God heals the little girl today, praise God!, does that mean she will never die? Does God also step in and protect her from cancer 30 years hence and heart disease 40 years after that?

“But I’m not asking for that! I know we all gotta go sometime, but why can’t my grandma just have five more years now? Five good years, I mean. Not five sucky years in the care home. Why can’t grandma have five—even four! more good years?”

Maybe my heart’s in the right place when I ask for healing for that little girl. Good motives and all that. Except that maybe, way deep down inside, the real issue is not just that I don’t want to let her go. I’m praying that she’ll get better because I don’t want to lose her. Maybe I’m even throwing in, “And God, heal all these other kids in the children’s wing, too,” so I’ll look magnanimous and pious, but deep down inside I may not really care about them. I may not even care about her as much as I care about getting things my way.

I’m not saying this is unnatural, or that praying for our children’s health is unrighteous. I’m just saying that we’re looking at one tiny piece of a million-piece puzzle and thinking we are qualified to tell the puzzle-maker what it all looks like. Maybe we’re even trying to tell the puzzle-maker what it should have looked like.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Death of the Newspaper

Newspapers are going away.

I don't think that's news to anyone. If you live in a big city, like Dallas or Denver, you've watched in the last couple decades as the number of major city newspapers was cut in half. Some places, the newspapers have gone from 50 pages to 32.

Silverton, CO ... they probably had a lot of newspapers, too.
And admit it: if you're reading this blog you may not even know anyone who still subscribes to a newspaper. The young people view them as a quaint, old-people's thing. The middle-aged people see them as still a nice thing, but not necessarily something to subscribe to. That leaves the elderly, who are still the newspaper's most reliable source of income. (Sad news, though: the elderly are dying off for some reason [we need a government study on this]).

What happened?

The obvious and easy answer is the internet. This is true, but it's only part of the problem, in part because finding local news is not always easy on-line. You can find out what mud a Kardashian is currently rolling in with two flicks of the thumb on your smart phone, but finding out whether the local city council voted to outlaw gypsies last night is going to take some digging. The newspaper is still the best place to find out the details of the local haps, but most people in our world are content with either a] not really caring about the local haps (most popular answer) or 2] (less popular but still more popular than the newspaper) finding out about the local affairs by having the TV news on while they order take-out.

It didn't used to be this way. I remember reading about the little gold-mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado--it's little now, anyway. Back when it was a booming mining town of 10,000 residents, it had ten different newspapers! The New York Times and the New York Post still wage something of a war, but the only people who care about it are the employees of the New York Times and, occasionally, the New York Post.

Now, instead of getting their misinformation from the NYT, most people would prefer to get their information from whatever squirrel writes the news for the internet or, barring that, just skip the news entirely and play Pok√©mon Go! (is that still a thing?) or watch reruns of "Game of Thrones Porn" on their phone while telling their friends at church they only watch it for the storytelling.

Is there a way to get back to those old days, when newspapers mattered? Short of the kind of disaster I champion in my novel series "The Last Valley" (buy it in paperback or for Kindle or Nook by clicking here), I don't think so. For one thing, go to a museum (check your GPS to find the one nearest you) and check out old newspapers. You know what they had in them?


Back in the day when Cripple Creek could support ten newspapers, all ten of them were either one broad sheet of paper, or maybe one broader sheet of paper folded once to make a four-page newspaper. Almost no pictures (sometimes none at all), very little advertising, just news. Column after column of tightly written, sometimes sensational, news and commentary. They still had the baseball scores and recipes, but what they didn't have was three pages taken up completely with an advertisement for a dress shop. Once they started running pictures, the pictures were part of the story, not just a hook that replaces the story.

I don't think our world could go back to that. We don't have the desire or aptitude to read the kind of long articles they wrote back then (with long paragraphs and long sentences to boot). We have short attention spans (most people bailed on this blog long ago) and want quotes that could appear in Reader's Digest because they're both pithy and short (as opposed to succinct, which is really different entirely).

Addendum: I thought about adding something along the lines of how most newspapers (especially those with "Globe-News" or "Avalanche-Journal" in their title), if you submit something to them like, oh, I don't know, a comic strip, won't even bother to write back. No, "Thanks but no thanks", even. I realize they're busy drowning in debt, but maybe if they had a little more courtesy toward their public it would help their relationship to the public?

Monday, October 3, 2016

10,000 Years

I love the song "Amazing Grace". One of the most beautiful songs ever written, and a wonderful encapsulation of the gospel message.

I thought I should say that first before I mention that the last verse bugs me.

"When we've been there ten thousand years ... "

This is poetry, so maybe that's poetic license. It probably is.

But here's what bugs me: there is no night-time in heaven, so there is only one day. Therefore, there is only one year ... for all the rest of eternity.

I get what he's saying. That eternity won't be long enough to get all the praising of God done that we'll want to do, or need to do.

Maybe the poem needed something and "One really long year for all eternity" didn't fit the meter.

On the other hand, depending on your view of the end, years may be counted in heaven for at least the first thousand, so maybe this is a referent saying that ten times the earthly reign of Christ will not be sufficient time to get all the praising done.

Just something I was thinking about in church while we were singing another song.