To Capture the True Beauty You Must Look and Listen

This is fantastic for so many reasons!

I only wish I could have been there when it happened.  The look on peoples’ faces is remarkable, their delight at an unexpected symphony in the streets as memorable as the experience itself.  It is regrettable, therefore, that only a handful of people will, in fact, remember the event.

A guide from my Costa Rica trip wisely advised us travelers to have a no-technology zone.  When you see, hear, or experience something that takes your breath away, don’t be so quick to pull out the camera.  Take a few minutes at least to absorb the sights, the sounds, to process all of your senses.  This is the act of creating a long-term memory.  Then, and only then, should you document the experience using a cell phone or a camera.

That is our faulty habit, our natural instinct.  That is what these citizens did on the streets.  Many will only recall what they recorded on a 3″ LCD screen.  They didn’t see or hear the symphony for themselves.  Their memory is too small.  Only adults could make such a foolish mistake.  In contrast, a child sits in the front row with an attitude of admiration.  A child walks away with a rich, genuine memory.

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Violence All Around Us

Last week’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO is undoubtedly fresh in everyone’s minds and, as a result, there has been much discussion surrounding the nature or prevalence of violence in American society.  The media networks are pouncing on this as a hot topic, politicians are using this event to drive gun control debates, and ordinary people are raising ethical questions as they share their thoughts and fears with family or friends.  It is a serious and sobering topic, especially as we draw a connection between violent images and real life tragedy.

I, too, have been vocal on the issue of violence in entertainment.  In particular, I am discouraging people from going to see The Dark Knight Rises in theaters or from pumping any more money into the franchise, just as I did four years ago with The Dark Knight.  Not surprisingly, my position is met with a lot of opposition and that is OK so long as my ideological opponents are willing to balance their cravings for entertainment with a critical mind.

With that preface in mind, this seems like a good time to clarify some personal views which I have voiced in conversation and to share some broader biblical truths related to the issue of violence:

#1 – Violence is all around us. This is one piece of evidence that we live in an abnormal world.  In an ideal and normal world, that may not be the case but the fact is that man sinned.  His rejection of God’s perfect order injected violence in the forms of both human aggression (Gen. 4:8) and natural rebellion (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:19-22).

#2 – Violence is inescapable.  Some will argue that God is all powerful and God is loving towards His creation; therefore God will intervene and stop the violence.  As a meta-narrative, their conclusion is accurate.  God will ultimately deliver His children from evil, but that is through the wide lens of a telescope. What we experience in day-to-day living is likened to a view through a microscope.  From that more narrow perspective, the premises are true but the conclusion is not.  Evil is a major problem to the original design for this universe against which violence must happen to eradicate it.  An all powerful and loving God will bring justice to counteract this disruptive evil but judgment is a very ugly, violent thing in itself.

What I mean when I say “violence is inescapable” is that it prevails for both parties in this abnormal world.  Those who are set on doing good will still encounter violence around them.  Those who are bent on doing violence will be met with violent judgment in return.  Biblical examples of this include the very controversial “holy” war carried out by Israel against the surrounding “wholly” corrupt nations and the plagues brought upon Egypt (respectively).

#3 – When violence originates in man, it does not take long to see the horrific effects.  Consider that when Cain slew Abel he invented the act of murder.  Humans, at that time in history were vegetarians – they didn’t even slay animals for food much less another person of their own kind!  And this was only the second generation of humans to walk the face of planet earth or, in other words, the first generation of humans to be born on planet earth.

With minimal effort, one can find many other biblical or historical examples of violence carried out in a hurried manner, above all the illegal and state-sponsored crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

#4 – When violence is carried out as part of God’s divine judgment, it is preceded by grace and thereby delayed.  Take, for instance, the violent flood that drowned nearly all of humanity and reshaped the entire planet.  God made his decision to eliminate the wicked human race (Gen. 6:11) but gave men the opportunity to repent and change their ways – over the course of 120 years! (Gen. 6:3)  He drove His own people, the nation of Israel, into captivity under a violent and oppressive regime as a means of purging their wickedness but only after warning them by dozens of prophets across several hundred years!

God’s judgment is violent because that is the only fair or truly just way of addressing the problem of evil.  It is likened to a calendar where you can rip the pages off and count down the days.  Until that day of judgment arrives, God extends his grace in more ways than we recognize.

#5 – Violence in shooting sprees of recent years is not new.  Some have claimed that we are experiencing a rapid increase in violent behavior and the world is a much more dangerous place than it was decades or generations ago.  I will allow the statistics to determine whether or not violent acts are more frequent.  I simply do not have, nor am I capable of interpreting, those hard numbers.  What I do know is that we have a heightened awareness of violent or large-scale crimes due to mass media as compared to previous, pre-internet eras. Also, in the words of Solomon, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9)  The crime is never original although maybe the artistry associated with the crime shows more creativity and boldness than before.  The Bible as the oldest history textbook in the world is thoroughly violent and graphic; 21st-century Americans didn’t invent this stuff.

#6 – Violence cannot be legislated effectively.  In light of recent events, a few are  awakening to the widespread presentation of violence and calling for its censorship from television, movies, video games, music, and literature.  Contrary to what you might expect from me, I must contest that government or otherwise public censorship is not the solution.  Besides the inherent flaw in this plan (revisit my point #2), this will result in more of our freedoms being taken away and it will only address the problem on a surface level.  The violent behaviors broadcast through news outlets arise fundamentally as a matter of the heart. Therefore, violence can only be monitored and censored effectively in the private sphere. Everyone, convicted felon or not, needs to re-examine their heart and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  He submitted himself to the horrors of this world and died under violent conditions in order to free us from sin, from fear, and from eternal death.  He rules over this chaotic world and He alone can perform invasive surgery within the depths of our hearts.

KONY 2012 (Part 2): Fear for the World’s Future

In the fall of 2006, I saw posters appearing on my college campus to advertise the screening of a low-budget documentary called Invisible Children.  The film drew small numbers and many of those who attended the screening were only looking to satisfy a class requirement or to receive extra credit.  In actuality, that tiny audience was moved by the story that they heard.  They banded together, formed an activist group code-named Project Okello, and pledged to put an end to the evils experienced in Uganda (those aroused by the now-famous Joseph Kony).  Over the next few months, “Invisible Children” became a buzzword on campus.  More posters appeared on bulletin boards, dormitory walls, and bathroom stalls.  The film was presented twice more to the public that year and shown dozens of times to individual groups or clubs.  Curious as to what the hype was all about I, too, attended one of the screenings.

Invisible Children drew me in from the start with background music by Switchfoot, a favorite band of mine but one that probably reached their peak around the same time.  Then it tugged at my heartstrings when I saw the plight of real people just like myself.    Finally, I looked around at the wide range of captivated students and heard the concern in their voice during the Q & A sessions.  When all of these sensations collided it gave me an exciting feeling that I would be a part of a movement and that, ultimately, I could change the world.  I joined the ranks of Project Okello and, whenever convenient, participated in their events or fundraisers.

Now, almost six years later, I have no connections with the former group members, no allegiance to this “higher cause,” and no output to suggest that I ever made a difference.  My interest and motivation completely disappeared, that is, until I was reminded of my history with the release of a new film: KONY 2012. What made Invisible Children so gripping before?  And why might its successor be cause to fear the future?

Consider that we live in an image-based society, one in which visuals are more powerful than words.  To cite just a few examples: In the 21st century, movie tickets generally sell faster than copies of the printed books.  Companies build entire marketing strategies around logos and symbols.  USA Today delivers news through infographics and bite-sized articles saturated with photographs. Televised news craft stories and carefully select videos to play on their viewers’ emotions.  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Coupled with the prevalence of image, consider also how these images are used. They are rarely haphazard.  More than words, images and motion pictures are powerful devices for propaganda.

For instance, several minutes of the KONY film are reserved for the producer, Jason Russell, to describe his relationship with his three-year old son.  He then proceeds to tell this young boy about a man who harms children and makes them soldiers for evil purposes.  When shown two photographs, the son easily points out which man is Joseph Kony and identifies him as the “bad guy” daddy is seeking to bring down.  While never explicitly stated, the message behind these images is clear: If a three-year old can tell right from wrong or separate the good guys from the bad guys, I should be able to as well.  Duh!

Images reach a broad audience and appeal to the senses, even when we are unaware.  It worked on me in 2006.  It worked on the world in 2012.  That is not to criticize the documentaries or their producer, only to explain why these films are so powerful.  In fact, I applaud Jason Russell for his skillful command of this medium in order to achieve a noble purpose.

But the downsides to this approach relate back to my own experience.  We are so saturated in images that we can lose sight of our mission quickly.  What was inspiring to people in March might not be so motivational in April, in May, or (dare I say) by December.  Within a year or even less time, the enthusiasm can die.  My point is this: If the world’s quest to bring down dictators and evil persons is driven exclusively by images or motion pictures, many of those villains will remain in power.  Regardless of whether the KONY campaign succeeds or not, many resources will inevitably be wasted in the process.

Thus leading to my next question and the second thing we have to fear: If the KONY campaign works, it will be a launching pad for future endeavors.  Jason Russell and his team have devised a system to mathematically evaluate their success.  According to the video, if you purchase one of their activism kits it will have a serial number which you can register online in conjunction with your Facebook account.  It is much like registering a new product with its manufacturer.  To sweeten the deal, you can even share your involvement with others through this means and encourage them to get involved in the cause with a click of a mouse.  That makes this campaign the first of its kind because all KONY-related activities can be tracked, identifiable to the user with nearly all users linked through social networking.

In theory, the strategy is brilliant.  If it puts an end to Joseph Kony’s reign of tyranny in Uganda I will celebrate with the next person.  But now what we have to fear is governments utilizing the same means to get whatever action out of their subjects that they want.  And it will not take much coercion.  Present the right images, prey upon emotions, and find a means to unify the masses through social networking.  I don’t wish to speculate what could be accomplished, but I can foresee a very powerful strategy playing into the wrong hands, advancing immoral or otherwise dangerous agendas.

In conclusion, do not let KONY be a repeat of Invisible Children where it seizes you with enthusiasm but dies as barely a memory.  Whatever happens to Joseph Kony, be aware that the methodology behind this campaign will endure as a new reality for us in the 21st century.  Be critically minded of what information you are fed, use sound judgment to determine whether it is worth joining the cause, and look for the cunning implementation of propaganda at every turn.

KONY 2012: Hope for America and Danger for the Future

If you don’t live under a rock, you will know that this was a big week for Jason Russell and his non-profit organization Invisible Children.  They released the mini-movie entitled KONY 2012 and within 48 hours it went viral across the web.  How do I know that this is a big deal?  Because I don’t even have a facebook account and I heard so much buzz on or off the internet that it made me wonder what was capturing everyone’s attention.

The video sparks many reactions and I, like millions of others, was moved.  In response, I am posting a two-part series to identify the promise and the scare behind this movement.  By design, The Workshop of Worship is about “reclaiming the carefree spirit of a childlike faith,” but the reality of our fallen world is that few things are truly “carefree.”  And so I write about ideas more than anything, whether in an attitude of wonder and reverence or an academic mindset.  These next few posts are no exception.  By the time I can actually get my thoughts written down and published it may be old news.  A busy life might interfere with my aspirations of writing and the hype may have passed, but that is also a portion of the message behind part two so stick with me!

In the meantime, if you have not seen the video yet, allow me to follow my orders and repost it.  You may see the full video below or visit http://www2.invisiblechildren.com/videos.

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Entertainment and Awareness

I don’t watch much TV.  In fact, I have prided myself in years past for not owning a television set at all.  There are two half hour shows that I watch on a weekly basis, if that, and then I might have the news playing in the background through breakfast or dinner.

Lately, my viewing hours have drastically increased due to the Republican Presidential debates.  These debates have been playing out and broadcast ever since May though I have paid more time and attention to them in recent months.  Sometimes they are useful to my understanding of the candidates and the issues, like on Saturday night with the ABC News/Yahoo! debate where I learned more about the history of Israeli/Palestinian relationships.  Sometimes the debates don’t really offer much, like Thursday night’s FOX News debate in Sioux City, Iowa.  Still, I want to hear what the candidates have to say, even when they don’t say much.

Politics, in some peoples’ views, is boring or our government is showing such disregard for our founding principles, they say, that these debates are not worth watching.  The average American is uninterested, even moreso if they have no intention of voting for a Republican candidate in 2012.  What perturbs me, though, is that our society permits this attitude of ignorance.  It is perfectly acceptable to watch several hours of television a day or a quarter of our waking hours throughout the week glued to a glorified light box with no awareness of political candidates or issues.  Then, when general elections have passed, those same people spend their time complaining about the President or elected officials whom they knew little about before empowering them in political office.

So as not to waste my word count on complaining about our government or criticizing the general populace, my counsel is to find some way to get informed.  If you have not already done so, research the issues, read about the candidates, write to your politicians, and get involved in our great American system.  And if you do spend several hours in front of the television set, don’t waste it all in front of entertainment that, in the grand scheme of things, will in no way benefit your life (see Chapter 1 of Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death for more on that line of thought).  Instead, invest your time wisely and responsibly in things that matter.  Admittedly, there are even better sources for understanding the political climate of this country than televised debates between bickering candidates who seek to gain publicity through name calling and predetermined attacks.  Still, televised debates, news reports, or conversation with your neighbor are things that will ultimately matter.  In the words of one of my favorite theologians and authors, applying this line to a different context: “Don’t waste your life.”

Scoop