There is a time for religious exercise to be in private, as Our Lord Jesus Christ taught; but there’s also a time for it to be publicly shared. This, too, the Bible teaches.
But our “entertainment” is a massive God-free zone, dryer than the Sahara–when was the last time you saw a fictional character praying? It’s like they all came out of a faculty lounge somewhere–arch-humanists, every one of them. And that’s not realistic. That is not what human life looks like. But then who knows less about humanity than a humanist?
Some of you, like me, don’t watch television anymore, largely because it’s gone so crappy. You don’t even have a television set. And you reacted strongly to “Beauty Beyond Bones” watching–and blaming herself for watching–the unbelievably cheap and sleazy denouement of a popular “reality” show.
Like you, I don’t watch such bilge. But I was part of the first generation of Americans that grew up with television, and TV was a big part of my childhood. I thank God that the kind of TV we have today wasn’t! And thanks to the Internet, I can no revisit a lot of those great old shows, commercial-free.
I have fond memories of many of those shows. Even more, I learned a lot from them about the art of storytelling, which now I have the honor to perform in the service of the Lord.
Man, when I was eight years old, nothing turned me on like Ramar of the Jungle! Later on in my childhood I moved on to Wagon Train, Rawhide, Route 66, etc. But it was Ramar that set my mind on fire and introduced me to techniques of storytelling which I use today. They had only half an hour, minus time lost to commercials, to tell the story of an adventure, with beginning, middle, and end, create coherent characters and put them through their paces in a way that made sense, and still devote some time to immersing the viewer in the exotic African setting. It was a big job, but week after week, they did it.
OK, even old TV had its share of (shall we put it kindly?) faults. Grandma’s soap operas, for instance. Twilight Zone sneakily pushing atheism. Queen for a Day. I remember when the first kid in our third-grade class got color TV and invited the whole class to his house to watch Howdy Doody one Saturday morning. We were treated to an unearthly mixture of greens and reds in seldom-seen tones: color TV still had a ways to go.
So I grew up with television before it entered its current Gold Age of Sleaze. It helped teach me the kind of work I do today. And when I play an old Columbo episode from 40 years ago, I like it!
For those of you who missed out on 1950s TV because you weren’t born yet, Wagon Train was one of the hit series of the era. And here are the three stars of the show, still in character, doing a car commercial (Ward Bond, Frank McGrath, Terry Wilson).
I find something pleasantly weird about this commercial, although I’ll be dashed if I can tell you what it is.
Gee, how come living dinosaurs don’t show up on the White House lawn or in Central Park, New York City, where we can all see them? And what am I doing, writing pap like this the day after yet another mass shooting in America?
If I don’t turn away from the “real” news from time to time, it’ll destroy me.
And anyhow, what if those stories from New Guinea are true? Hey, a few years ago, the idea that you could find and study dinosaur soft tissue would have seemed like sheer lunacy. Now it’s done all the time. We do not yet have the official and bona fide scientific explanation of how soft tissue can survive 65 million, 100 million, years in the ground. (I see only two possible explanations: either our understanding of how animal remains get fossilized is totally all wet, or else those remains are much, much younger than Official Science will admit.)
Eyewitnesses describe a huge, two-legged monster with long, sharp teeth as inhabiting the environs of Lake Murray. They say they’ve seen it with their own eyes. A couple of the witnesses were Christian missionaries.
It makes me think again of that Wagon Train episode. If Bill Hawks had dropped what he was doing and ridden out among those hills and canyons, not very far away, would he have found Dimetrodons? We’ll never know, because he just did what the script called for and possibly the thought of Dimetrodons never crossed his mind.
But what if somewhere, somehow, someone does discover a living dinosaur and presents it to the world?
Watching an old Wagon Train episode last night, there was a view of some not-too-distant hills and canyon walls; and for no reason I can identify, an odd thing flitted through my mind: “That looks like Dimetrodon country.” Please don’t ask me to explain that.
People think Dimetrodons were dinosaurs because they’re always found in dinosaur play sets, but they were more closely related to mammals than to dinosaurs. When I was a kid I called them Sailbacks.
So this clip is from the BBC production, Walking With Monsters, and I enjoyed watching it because the effects are just so cool. I have learned to ignore the Darwinian fairy tales that usually accompany such films. We know that once upon a time there were Dimetrodons, and that there aren’t any now (except maybe in those hills beyond the ranch), and that’s all we know. I hoped Bill Hawks would ride out there and find the Dimetrodons, but he got sidetracked by having to buy horses from extremely dishonest people.
I am beginning to wonder if there are any Dimetrodons in Obann.
Our secret agent in Hollywood reports that Schlockmeister Studios is going to remake the classic late-1950s TV Western series, Wagon Train.
“But of course,” says studio honcho J.T. Fidget, “we’re going to update Wagon Train to bring it fully into line with today’s highly-evolved, modern sensibilities.”
So instead of Major Adams leading the wagon train, we’ll have Sister Twonda, a street-smart African-American nun, and her wife, Spike, 450 pounds of towering female fury. Instead of Flint McCullough as the scout, we’ll have a “gay” character named Zooey (“Oh, the Native American braves are just so fabulously brave!”), and Charlie the Cook will be replaced by Imam Khalil, who will make sure everybody on the wagon train eats a proper Muslim diet, or else.
Out of respect for animal rights, the wagons won’t be drawn by horses, mules, or oxen anymore, but only by heterosexual white men. To Save the Planet, the train won’t actually go anywhere. It’ll just go around and around in a circle. The passengers will all be undocumented Mexican immigrants living on checks from the government. And each episode will begin and end with a sermon against the evils of heteronormativity. [Gee, look at that–my computer’s spell-check doesn’t recognize any such word as “heteronormativity.” Obviously it has never been to collidge.]
“A lot of those old classic shows were very good,” says Fidget, “as opposed to most of the shows we produce today, which are crap. All those old shows need, to be popular again today, is drastic modification which will make them grotesque parodies of themselves. And that should be easy!”
We watched a Wagon Train episode last night and found it wonderful: Chuck Wooster, Wagonmaster, from Season 2 (you can order the whole season from Timeless Video).
In this episode, the train is trapped in the mountains by heavy snow. Before it can be extricated, characters begin to disappear mysteriously, without a trace. With the wagonmaster, the assistant wagonmaster, and the scout all gone, the responsibility for the whole train falls on the cook, Charlie Wooster (Frank McGrath)–not that he has any leadership abilities, but he’s the only one left who has any relevant experience at all.
Charlie is a garrulous, happy-go-lucky, bearded scamp who has no business leading anything; and he knows it. So what does Charlie do?
As King Solomon asked God for the wisdom to govern the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 3: 5-14), so Charlie prays for the strength and wisdom he needs to lead the wagon train. Meanwhile, a woman whose husband has gone missing in the snow drops to her knees in silent prayer. This is all done naturally and with dignity, not self-consciously, not hitting the viewer over the head: but because belief and trust in God is part of who these ordinary people are.
It’s quite beautiful.
I have tried to do this in my Bell Mountain books–show religious faith and practice as a natural, ordinary part of everyday life. The stories include characters who don’t believe, and others whose belief has been mis-instructed by a Temple that has lost sight of its true reason for being and become an end in itself.
Charlie’s prayer wasn’t tacked on to make Wagon Train a “Christian Western.” The characters in my books are living in the midst of a religious upheaval, so the circumstances are different. But in both, faith is part of who these people are, and they cannot be realistically depicted without it.
Meanwhile, in the stories told by nearly all our novels, movies, TV shows, and other forms of “entertainment,” we find no trace of any kind of relationship with God. There are notable exceptions, of course, for which we give thanks; but for the most part, our daily entertainment, whose content we dump into our minds unceasingly, is a God-free zone.
I can’t believe that this has had a good effect on us.
But I think, with God’s help, that it can be fixed.
P.S.: Well, I couldn’t get Charlie’s picture to display, but at least the link works. I still have much to learn.