Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here are today’s dispatches from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

1. Lion King devours Dolphin. From Hollywood Reporter: Disney’s 3D re-release of The Lion King remained lord of the jungle in its second weekend, pulling off another surprise upset in beating a number of new players to top the domestic box office chart with $22.1 million. The 3D version of the animated classic has earned $61.7 million in its first 10 days of play at the domestic box office, exceeding all expectations. Overseas, where it rolled out earlier, the re-release has grossed $16 million for an impressive global total of $77.7 million. Defying the odds, Lion King trumped Sony’s new Brad Pitt baseball drama Moneyball, which ended its opening weekend in a close race with 3D family offering Dolphin Tale, from Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros.
Comment: The results reveal that people still have a soft spot for the classic 17-year-old family film — and, perhaps, that Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman should think twice before flapping their gums and alienating significant parts of their potential audience.

2. Faith-based TV to get a Bounce. From The Wrap: When the country’s first broadcast network focused on African-Americans (launched yesterday, it did so) not with new, original shows, but with “The Wiz,” a 33-year-old “Wizard of Oz” update. The choice offers a hint at the largely safe, comforting approach of the new network, which counts Martin Luther King III among its founders. Bounce hopes to establish its identity with an early slate of films that includes old and new classics, inspirational stories, and showcases for African-American icons. It will also air specials, sports, documentaries and faith-based programs.
Comment: With the audience starved for positive programming, don’t be surprised to see Bounce bust out of its target demo

3. Thought-provoking Lino Rulli. The interview I ran yesterday with Lino Rulli, host of The Catholic Guy (airing weekdays on The Catholic Channel/SiriusXM 129) and author of the new book Sinner (which I recommend), got me to thinking about my own thoughts on both the power of positive religion and positive media.

FLASHBACK: LINO ON GUILT

LINO: You say the Church calls to you perfection and you never quite get there. Does that lead to guilt?

LINO: It leads to guilt but guilt’s good thing.

JWK: Is it always a good thing?

LINO: Guilt is always a good thing.  If I kick you in the groin right now and don’t feel guilty about it there’s something wrong with me.  Something’s wrong with my conscience.

JWK: Can there ever be too much guilt?

LINO: Well, everything can be brought to the extreme. Food is good, overeating is bad. Possessions are good, hoarding is bad. Guilt is good, obsessing about guilt is bad.

Comment: That’s good as far as it goes — and a fully-formed conscience is certainly a positive thing. I’m not disagreeing with Lino. But my emphasis is somewhat different —  perhaps because I did suffer from some rather extreme religious guilt as a younger person. As I have accepted Christ’s forgiveness and my life has progressed,  I have grown to believe in the importance of putting forth a positive faith that does not burden people with an overhanging feeling of guilt or impending guilt — but, rather, frees them from it.

Churches, in my view, help shape healthier and more productive Christians when they promote a forgiving and empowering God who calls us all to live lives of love, kindness and mercy. Love is what propels us forward, not fear of sin. A focus on guilt promotes timidity and a sense of fear that can hinder the ability to use the gifts God has so generously given us.  It can also drive good people away from faith, or, at least, organized religion.

Now, anyone who listens to knows he Lino doesn’t promote an uptight approach to religion or faith. Quite the opposite, he’s a master of simultaneously exploring the humor and meaning of it all. But, because of my own past, I just don’t like the term “guilt is good.”

Lino and I also differed somewhat on whether TV executives resist putting faith-themed programming on television because they fear it won’t be popular or because they fear it will.

FLASHBACK: LINO ON TELEVISION

JWK: Why does it seem faith-based projects have such a hard time getting past the gatekeepers in the media? I mean especially on television?

LINO: People in mainstream media – I guess I worked in it long enough to know  that they’re afraid that it’s going to be boring.

JWK: Maybe they’re afraid it going to be popular.

LINO: No!

JWK: You don’t think so?

LINO: I mean, at the end of the day, every media entity is in the business of selling soap. They’re not afraid of being popular. Do you know any TV or radio executive who passes on a popular idea?

JWK: I think sometimes they do.

I think the movie box office results reported above, as well as the success of a slew of recent positive and faith-based movies support my view.  If network execs are truly just interested pulling in the audience, we should be seeing a flurry of faith-based TV series in development.  But that’s not happening — at least not to the degree that one would expect

Movies thrive on how each one individually connects with audiences and bring in the bucks regardless of demographics. Television programming, on the other hand, is grouped together in enormous cable packages with subscriber dollars being used to pay fees to networks whether they (the consumers) actually choose them or not. Throw in demos (which hold one audience to somehow more desirable than another) and you have a situation where TV shows are shielded from the need to connect with an actual mass audience. The result, more power for network programmers who support so-called “edgier” programming to ignore box office evidence, and even ratings evidence, and continue to resist family fare, faith-based storytelling and the sort of positive programming they either regard as trite and unsophisticated or are simply uncomfortable with.

I love a good story that is also a good modern-day parable. The message doesn’t have to be heavy handed. It can be as simple as Ralph Kramden humorously learning that lying is not the best policy or Columbo proving that,  no matter smart you think you are, crime doesn’t pay.  There is a purpose to storytelling — beyond the ego of the storyteller and beyond merely entertaining the audience (which, don’t get me wrong, is very important). And that is to remind us all of the values we share and on which our progress is built. A constant diet of cynical programming may seem sophisticated but it isn’t good for the heart.  All of us, not just children, benefit from positive role models and stories that remind us about that which is truly important, provide hope and offer examples of flawed people ultimately doing what is right.

Positive faith and positive media, perfect together. BTW, Here are some positive quotes from The Bible that inspire me. I hope they do the same for you.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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