Mr. Ratburn Explains It All

“It’s the end of the world as we know it!” Yes, PBS decided to go full SJW and portray a same-sex marriage on Arthur. I wasn’t aware that there was a character named Mr. Ratburn, but I’m really disturbed that he came out as gay after twenty-plus years and that PBS decided to portray that to the impressionable kids of America.

Or maybe I’m just rolling my eyes and saying, “Ah! It’s the obligatory homosexual character.” Every show pretty much has to have one these days. Relevance to the plot is completely optional. In response to the “coming out,” I actually saw one tweet that complained that Marvel hadn’t done this yet, suggesting that the failure to action indicated that the comic titan doesn’t care about LGBTQ+ lives. Really, how many more people have to die before Marvel will act?!

Although I’m not thrilled with the choices at PBS, what else is new? Knuckle-dragging social conservatives like me should know the world in which we live. And if we think that Mr. Ratburn’s trip down the aisle is going to cause the fall of Western civilization, then we don’t know the much stronger indoctrination that is flowing through our schools.

But here’s where I will complain. Those who applaud the Arthur decision, perhaps heralding it as bold and courageous, probably argue that young people–straight and otherwise–need to see good role models–straight and otherwise–in their media diet. It’s like an African-American kid who never sees African-Americans as teachers or doctors or whatever. I understand that logic.

If that logic is sound, however, I have to wonder if it isn’t similarly vital that we portray Christians in a positive light. Shouldn’t kids–believing and otherwise–be exposed to good Christian role models in movies and TV and the like? Is there an openly Christian character on Arthur? There is a Jewish girl, Francine Frensky, but where should the impressionable young Christian kids go to find a role model?

Honestly, how many Christian characters have come out on mainstream TV or movies? When people are portrayed as Christian, they are typically shown as bigots and haters. At best, they come off as hypocrites and fools. It’s the modern-day version of all those stereotype characters we wouldn’t tolerate today. Seriously, how many such characters can you name? Since many hundreds of characters are portrayed in various productions and since a significant percentage of people identify as Christian, must we assume that Hollywood is just keeping those characters closeted?

Today, a young person is watching television. Between shows, this child wonders, “What’s wrong with me? Am I maybe Christian?” Doesn’t that child deserve to see positive portrayals just as much as the ones who might benefit from Mr. Ratburn?

Surely they do deserve that. Unless, of course, the message is that there’s something shameful and wrong with being a believer.  But that couldn’t be, could it?

Surviving the Night of the Living Dead

This is the one that started it all. A low-budget, star-starved film, Night of the Living Dead came along in 1968 to change the landscape of horror films and introduce the world to an apparently endless stream of additions to the genre. The Fount of All Knowledge has a list that includes over 400 such movies, and that doesn’t include the various television series.

In the original George Romero film, which referred not to zombies but “ghouls,” seven people find themselves holed up in a farm house as an inexplicable number of recently deceased people find themselves laying siege to the place. As you might imagine, there are internal squabbles and–a cliché of later zombie flicks–the living wind up being just as dangerous as the dead.

An after-action discussion could have been held by the people in that farmhouse. “How could we have been more successful?” That’s what you do after a major project, right? So how might they have avoided the problems that they eventually had. [Shameless spoilers ahead, but the movie’s over 50 years old!]

We find our cast assembled around a table discussing the situation they have just endured.

Harry Cooper: If you had all just listened to me and come down to the basement, everything would have been just peachy.

Helen Cooper: Harry, they might have taken you more seriously if you had helped them when they first got here instead of hiding downstairs.

Harry: Shut up, Helen!

Helen: That’s right. You’re a bully until you face something truly frightening. Then you’re a coward.

Barbra: Johnny has the keys.

Judy: You could have kept your wits about you, Barbra.

Tom: Give her a break, Judy. You shouldn’t have panicked and come to the truck.

Judy: And you shouldn’t have slopped gasoline around to make the truck explode.

Ben: Now we know that Tom didn’t mean to start that fire and barbeque you two.

Harry: This wouldn’t have happened if you had all come down to the basement.

Ben: Why should we have listened to you, because you’re older . . . and white?

Harry: Why should we have listened to you, because you have a full head of hair?

Ben: You’re a racist!

Harry: And you shot me.

Karen: I ate Daddy.

Helen: Quiet dear.

Tom: Actually, let her talk. What would have happened if we’d all been in the cellar when she turned into a ghoul?

Harry: Uh . . .

Judy: That’s right, Mr. Cooper. Would you have killed your own daughter?

Barbra: Johnny has the keys.

Tom: Maybe we should have found Johnny, gotten the keys, and then made a break for it to the cemetery to find the car.

Judy: I can’t believe I ever liked you, Tom.

Ben: Maybe you should have all listened to me and strengthened the house.

Harry: We see how well that turned out.

Ben: It worked out fine for me.

Harry: After you shot me and after you hid out in the cellar, just like I suggested from the start.

Helen: He does have a point there.

Ben: But then I got shot.

Judy: Did you never think to say something to those men? One word would have kept you from being shot.

Ben: But . . . uh . . .

Karen: I’m hungry.

So as we leave the Farmhouse Seven to squabble, what have we learned here? Ultimately, we all die. But when we die, we do not spring back into motion seeking out human flesh. Instead, the dead will all rise, not as a terror but some in rightful terror.

I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books.–Revelation 20:12

None of those who took refuge in that farmhouse can hope to remain standing, judged positively on their merits.

  • Harry is not sufficiently decent.
  • Helen is not sufficiently maternal.
  • Judy is not sufficiently loyal and loving.
  • Tom is not sufficiently fearless and forthright.
  • Karen is not sufficiently young and innocent.
  • Barbra is not sufficiently clueless and damaged.
  • Ben is not sufficiently noble and brave.

All of them have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. They were, from the outset, the living dead.

I Am Fed Up!

Belly FatPenny and I spent a rainy Saturday morning recently, sprawled on our couch watching a movie on Netflix. But it’s okay. We weren’t eating Doritos out of the bag, and the movie was a documentary, the film equivalent of eating kale. Daughter #1 had recommended this movie, the Katie Couric vehicle, Fed Up, which I assumed would be another version of Food, Inc.I don’t know how many people have gone back to the well of Whole Foods self righteousness to wring our collective hands over the American diet, but apparently the genre is to documentaries what comic-book movies are to movies with explosions. This one, sprawling all over the subject matter (but without a mention of Monsanto as the paragon of all evil), covered a good deal of the same fare as the previous incarnations.

What Fed Up does that is new is to point a fairly convincing finger at sugar as the biggest single problem in the American obesity problem. (Can we ever mention that word without putting “epidemic” after it?) On the other hand, it doesn’t really offer a great number of answers to the problem.

But I’m fed up with part of the message of Fed Up, which seems to blame every actor imaginable for our fat selves. The food companies are to blame. The schools are to blame. The food lobbyists are to blame. The wimpy Department of Agriculture is to blame. Former President Clinton is not to blame, apparently, and is interviewed mouthing commonplaces several times, although it’s not clear why his administration is absolved when those before and after him are held to account. Even Michelle Obama is criticized for allowing her anti-obesity message to shift from foods to exercise.

Everyone is guilty, it seems, except for the people who actually put the food in their mouths and, in the case of the children, their parents. We see a 400-pound fourteen-year-old going in for bariatric surgery, while his parents, both of whom are fairly fleshy, worry about him. Can we just agree that all of the eating that gets a person to that size doesn’t take place at school?

This film ridicules the narrative of the “nanny state,” but in suggesting that government is the answer in reining in the horrible greed of food companies, she ignores an inconvenient truth. You don’t need a nanny state when the actual nanny is doing the job. The problem is that too many American families are making a nanny out of the school and the television . In the end, you don’t need a nanny when the parents are on duty. Certainly there’s a place for the government to take a hand, but let’s not jettison personal responsibility.

One Man’s Wolf

Wolf-of-Wallstreet-585x370When the Academy Award nominations were announced last week, I took my usual interest in the matter, which is to say none. That was, I didn’t care a bit until I heard that the Martin Scorsese vulgarity-fest, The Wolf of Wall Street, had been nominated for, among other things Best Picture. Granted, these days, virtually anything that doesn’t involve exploding world landmarks or Vin Diesel swiping every wheeled vehicle in sight can be nominated for Best Picture. Still, a film that had left me feeling like I needed a shower after I endured it shouldn’t make the list in my conception of the universe.

I wouldn’t complain as much about this film if its deluge of f-bombs and gratuitous sex had been tempered with some sort of quality. Instead, I just found the story tedious and highly cliched, a good forty minutes worth of narrative compressed into three long and repetitive hours. And what a message: Wall Street is greedy, immoral, and exploitive. What a vision! Is that a hearty enough recommendation not to see this film?

Imagine, then, my surprise this week when, flying home from Nashville, I happened to sit next to a guy in the investment industry. “Did you see, The Wolf of Wall Street?” I asked, curious if he’d found the film as dreadful as I had.

Indeed he had seen it. Twice. That’s six hours, about a hundred nekkid girls, and over 1,000 f-words. I’m sure that when the DVD is released, he’ll buy the director’s cut with nineteen hours of special features. His mother, he explained, couldn’t understand him sitting through the movie twice, since he doesn’t do movies. Then Mom saw it herself and understood. She must be so proud of him.

“That movie is everything I love: the selling, the partying . . .” Thankfully, he didn’t elaborate.

That’s when everything became clear to me.

Why should I be surprised that the Motion Picture Academy would embrace Martin Scorsese and his obsessive attention to the seamiest aspects of American culture? In a world where twenty-something investment shills boast of saying anything to make a sale, where the fruit of their labor is simply an ever more vast bank account, and where the best use of those funds is in conspicuous and profligate consumption, why wouldn’t Scorsese’s paean to avarice be admired? Scorsese’s Jordan Belfort makes Gordon Gecko look like a Salvation Army bellringer, all to the delight of a culture that loves to hate this sort of person.

We aren’t surprised that those who think Justin Bieber an artistic force enjoyed his latest silver-screen offering. We are not shocked that people who love baseball flocked into Moneyball. Why, then, do we find it amazing that people like my stock broker acquaintance would be attracted to a tale of excess and indulgence? The message of the cross is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). By the same token, the message of the wolf is foolishness to those who are not perishing.

What should be surprising, I guess, is not that this movie was nominated but that Hollywood’s toboggan ride into a moral cesspool has not proceeded at higher speed.


Split Identity (Hebrews 1:6-8)

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” (Hebrews 1:6-8)

There’s an entire genre of movies and TV shows involving people traveling back in time or being magically transmogrified into a younger or different version of themselves or somesuch. One well known example of this is the Back to the Future films, but dozens of others exist. One feature that is virtually required in such a film is a moment where the changed character nearly blows his or her cover by referring to somebody by the wrong term. For example, in the first Back to the Future, Marty nearly blows it by referring to George McFly as “Dad.”

In real life, where time travel and body-jumping don’t exist, we don’t often make these sorts of mistakes. For example, in twenty-nine years of marriage, I don’t believe I’ve ever called my wife “Mom.” Why then, does God seem to forget not only who he’s addressing but who he himself is in these verses. Look carefully.

In verse six, God is the proud father, commanding the angels to worship his firstborn, the incarnate Jesus. Several times in the gospels, we see God commending Jesus as his Son and commanding people to hear him or otherwise respect him. So far so clear.

But in verse eight, God the father seems to forget himself. He refers specifically to the Son and says, “Your throne, O Son…” But that’s not what the Father says. He says, “Your throne, O God…” The Father speaks to the Son and refers to the latter as “God.” Does God the Father forget that it is he himself who is God? Is God the Father confused? Of course not.

This passage holds one of the great mysteries and marvels of Biblical theology. Not only is Jesus God, existing from (and actuating) the creation of everything, but Jesus is Man, God’s firstborn. By that birth, God enters creation to set right what Man has broken. If that’s not action worthy of worship, I don’t know what is.


Up Where We Belong (Hebrews 1:4)

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?
(Hebrews 1:4-5)

At the end of one of the great chick-and-guy flicks of all time, An Officer and a Gentleman, there’s a scene that always sticks in my mind. After weeks of serving as a drill instructor to a group of naval officer candidates, Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.) stands outside the barracks and salutes each newly minted ensign in turn. The man who had held the power of success and failure over these trainees, who could make them miserable physically or mentally, suddenly found himself addressing his former charges as “Sir” and snapping off a perfect Marine Corps salute.

It seems to me that it would take a special person and an abundance of self knowledge to serve in such a capacity. Training enlisted recruits would be fairly simple by comparison, but working with those whom you know will be above you in the chain of command is another matter. Still, Sgt. Foley seemed to be at peace with his place in the universe, and we all know that Hollywood does a great job of portraying reality.

This, it seems to me, is the role of the angels. They spend their existence–is it really a life?–exercising great power in the service of God, often on behalf of the pitiful and hapless humans. And then a human–granted a very special one–takes up a position far superior to theirs. In a sense, they found themselves saluting not just God the Son, but the man Jesus. And that’s not the end of the story. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. One day, all believers will take a place not a little lower than the angels but a little lower than Jesus. We’ll gather in the presence of God as joint heirs with Christ.

And the angels, like good Marines, will stand back happy with the entire arrangement. We won’t see Debra Winger or Richard Gere on a motorcycle, but that day will definitely be a moving one. Congratulations, Ensign Christian.