Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Have the Berenstain Bears Converted to Christianity?

Every now and again, I do read The New Yorker. But you know what the The New Yorker is supposed to be, right? Reviews of books, movies, and concerts, and articles about arts and culture. They are not a political site, nor do they (most of the time) profess to be one.

But when it comes to stereotyping Christians? They're all over it, apparently, and totally without tact.
Ian Crouch of The New Yorker writes a review of the new iPad app for the Berenstain Bears. Instead of reviewing it, though, he decides to pick on the new Berenstain Bears line through Zondervan, "Living Lights," which teach Christianity through books which include, "The Golden Rule," "The Berenstain Bears Say Their Prayers," and "The Berenstain Bears: God Loves You."

I was thrilled to read that my favorite bears remain popular with kids today, and a new platform means new readers. Then I noticed something odd about this incarnation of the Berenstains: they’d become practicing Christians!
He continues:
The singular quality of the series always seemed to be the everyday fallibility of the characters; they could be mean-spirited, selfish, territorial, and gluttonous (they’re bears after all), but by the end of each book, they would redeem themselves—restored to their better selves by the steadying influence of trusty humanist values and good cheer. God never seemed to have anything to do with it. Now, I'm faced with the unthinkable: would these once agnostic Reagan-era bear creatures now vote Tea Party in the next election?
New Yorker.com

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Wait, I'm not even going to say anything. I'm going to just let something from the Comments section speak for itself. It's from some dude named...oh...Mike Berenstain:
As co-creator with my mother, Jan, of current Berenstain Bear books, I appreciate your positive review of Oceanhouse’s app of "The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule." I must, however, take exception to the suggestion that these books have any connection to the “Tea Party” or any other political movement or ideology. The books are about basic moral and ethical themes in everyday family life, with an emphasis on their spiritual side. They are not about politics or do they espouse a social agenda. My own Christian faith naturally informs the series which may be identified by the Living Lights logo on the cover. We continue to create non-religiously themed Berenstain Bear books with Zondervan’s parent company, HarperCollins, with equal dedication and enthusiasm; for example "The Berenstain Bears’ Computer Trouble" which deals with the family challenge of modern techno-obsession, a phenomenon to which Berenstain Bears apps may admittedly contribute.
-Mike Berenstain
A blogger from Get Religion points out:
Um, this is just utterly bizarre. Saying prayers, going to Sunday School and believing that God loves you might be views that some in the Tea Party hold. But what does it say about The New Yorker that these activities are so beyond the pale that they think that only those awful Tea Partiers do them?
I mean, I actually know political liberals who pray, go to Sunday School and believe that God loves them, too!
And USA Today:
Actually, the bears are espousing values in parallel universes. The general market will still get the bears' values, bare of explicitly Christian language and imagery, through HarperCollins.

It's not even like the Berenstain Bears got themselves a big name and then changed all their stuff over. There is no malice. Somebody just decided to write an app for the Christian version before they did one for the secular version. Big deal. If anything, he should be more upset at the developer, not anyone else (whether publisher, Christian, or Tea Party). But to stamp stereotypes on not just one, but TWO groups of people is highly unprofessional.

I've never even been to a Tea Party rally, nor do I know anyone (who is a Christian) who has. Actually, most Christians believe that politics should be kept out of religion, which is why I've never heard anyone talk about it (for his information). Remember John 18:36?

It's also why I have a blog, where I can rant for no one to listen.

The views of this blog are not endorsed or approved by the churches of God.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Question for the Writers...

"To describe a character's physical appearance with specificity or not to describe a character's physical appearance with specificity...that is the question."

I've wondered this. Every once in a while, I'll read a book where the author doesn't give a specific enough physical description of the character during the exposition. Like finding a cockroach under a counter, it gets brought to light in such a way as this: Well into the book... "So as to avert attention from her intense concentration from the situation, she flipped her long, beautiful brown hair to the side, and..." Hang on. I've been imagining her as having short brown hair with glasses this entire time! But yet I'm emotionally invested in the character; I can't just abandon the way I, the reader, have painted her already. Most times, I just ignore it.

Of course, my immediate reaction to this is to say, "Describe! Describe! Describe!" But that would give the reader no freedom. Reading a book is much different than watching a movie, where we are told exactly what to perceive and when to perceive it. It's an experience—one that can be very much personal and emotional. The way we use our imaginations isn't detached; just like in "Inception," the characters we imagine are, in a way, projections of our subconscious. I could hate someone, and imagine a villain as looking similar if the descriptions even remotely match. A particularly relatable main character could look very much like myself, or a friendly older mentor like an influential teacher from my past. To offer such a strict description of a character's physical appearance would retract whatever emotional investment a reader could potentially bring to your book him or herself.

I do the same thing with houses. I have a few templates for what I imagine a house as in a book, be it relatives' houses or houses in which I have previously resided. It makes things easier. But as soon as, during the climax of the book, a character rounds some corner that doesn't exist to me, I'm thrown for a loop.

This is why it is so difficult to make a book into a movie—physical descriptions are perceived differently by everybody because we imagine things based on what we already know.

So, what do you think? Should we use strict standards for physical description—laying the important framework for the reader's imagination—or loose standards, giving the reader freedom of imagination to become more personally invested in the book?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"I represent the Rent Is Too [DARN] High Party..."

via BoingBoing

Disregarding the mild language, this is awesomely hilarious. When Greg showed it to me, I thought it had to be a joke. Not only is he not respectable because he's being a smarty, he's actually not saying anything except...well, that the rent is too darn high. (Heck, I respect President Obama more than this guy—or this guy...or this guy.)

Then, to UP the epic-ness a few more notches, someone made a remix, using a scene from the movie "UP."

And friends, this is why I love politics. Because in a sea of estupido, of Congresspeople fighting like 13-year-old girls, of sub-sub-subcommittees, and of just plain ARE YOU SERIOUS, every once in a while there's something that really is this funny.

My husband happens to be working on an AutoTune remix as we speak.

The Bravest People on Earth: Persecuted Christians

via @brooksbayne

Don't know about Christian persecution around the world? This video is well worth a watch. (Warning: some moderately graphic footage).

Some thoughts right now:
    1. It makes me wonder. Why do my professors talk about human rights in a way that excludes Christians, as though Christians are the cause of human rights violations all over the world? I would expect the truly non-hypocritical human rights supporter to extend their moral compassion to persecuted Christians too. Show some equality—don't be a hypocrite by discriminating. 
    2. The video mentions at the end: "There were over 26 million documented cases of martyrdom [for Christianity] in the 20th century alone. More than in the past 1900 years combined." That's, well, since the last big persecution, when Christianity caused Rome so much anger against Israel that they took it over and drove everyone out. Gee, I wonder if there was a huge increase in terrorism in the 20th century, too, after Britain gave Israel back. Isn't history interesting? 
    3. Why don't we call terrorism religious persecution against Jews anyway? Who do we feel the need to call it something else? Are we all really just blind to the fact that the whole world seems to hate just this one God?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Woman Arrested for Damaging "Jesus 'Porn' Art" in Colorado: A Question of Freedom of Expression

A 56-year-old woman was arrested last week for taking a crowbar to a controversial art piece that, according to a Fox News artcle,
"includes several images of Jesus, including one in which he appears to be receiving oral sex from a man as the word 'orgasm' appears beside Jesus’ head."

The damaged 12-panel lithograph by Enrique Chagoya (2003), is viewable at Shark's Ink's website, though the panel in question is completely destroyed.

According to the artist, and Shark's Ink, The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals was meant to be symbolic of Christianity's misrepresentation of Jesus as a whole. But that doesn't excuse the use of sexually suggestive material (they say it's not "explicit" because it's not visually explicit, meaning it doesn't show genitals, but the mind can apparently connect the dots.)

I understand that some don't see it that way. But in 1994, an amendment was proposed to the Colorado constitution that would censor sexually explicit public expression in order to protect children. It never passed. However, Colorado has been forward about how permissiveness toward sexually explicit material can potentially endanger vulnerable populations such as women and children—specifically children (since we can't say much about women and their choices, even if they do ultimately find themselves in harmful situations like rape). If porn is easily available and it makes money, then more of it will be made, and therefore, there is a higher likelihood that more people will be forced to perform in it. Hence the controversy: Colorado already has some laws surrounding the issue of obscenity, but ultimately, freedom of expression won out.

According to Fox:
"It has triggered protests and even calls to police by critics asking for an investigation into whether it violates a Colorado law that protects children from obscenity, the Loveland Reporter Herald reported. The city attorney determined it did not."
The Fox News article quoted the artist for most of the article, actually, painting himself as the victim on the basis of the first amendment. I agree that destruction wasn't the best way for this woman to get her point across. She could have done it legally by having people sign a petition, or trying to bring the amendment back.

But, it did gain attention. And after all, she was expressing herself.

I would love to hear some comments on this. Additionally, here is some good reading on the issue from the 1999 US Congrssional Record, beginning on page 13,134.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Greg's Parents Made it into the Tampa Tribune!

Pete the Pelican Pirate
Here is the full text of the article:
(Photos added by moi.)

The Tampa Tribune
Published: October 4, 2010

ODESSA - Charles Haines has signed autographs, stood at center field at a Rays game and center ice at a Lightning game and posed for pictures when people stopped him.

You'd never know it was him.

Haines stays silent and hidden the whole time under heavy layers that include tights, a jacket, a boxy "ribcage" and even an eye patch and fat, yellow beak. A managing partner for an executive search firm, Haines assumes an alter ego on the weekends for Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful.

He's "Pete the Pelican Pirate," who appears at events throughout the Tampa Bay area to promote recycling and conservation and discourage littering. Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful created the mascot a year and a half ago, and Haines, his wife and children quickly got involved.

Chuck and Carolyn Haines

A team of volunteers take turns as Pete, but the Odessa family did so much that Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful honored them last summer for their work.

Charles and Carolyn switch off as Pete, with Charles handling events such as the Rays and Lightning games and Carolyn donning the costume for school functions. Carolyn also guides her husband to his appearances, because he has trouble seeing in the costume, and appears as Pete's sidekick, "Marina Debris," to speak on his behalf.

Their daughters, 14-year-old Courtney and 13-year-old Emma, also help at the presentations.

"They're my roadies," Carolyn Haines quipped.

The girls - Courtney is a ninth-grader in Hillsborough High School's International Baccalaureate program and Emma is in eighth grade at Smith Middle - hand out educational material while their parents are in character.

Courtney Cairns Pastor
Source— The Tampa Tribune: Mascot Has Beautiful Job

Cool, huh?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Christ, Depression and Suicide

As many of you know, I am psychology major. We learned about depression and suicide in abnormal psychology this week. Here are a few points from the lecture:

  • Learned Helplessness Theory has now been modified to include hopelessness.
  • Suicide in children ages 10-14 has increased 70% since 1981.
  • Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, and is much more common in Western, industrialized nations than in non-industrialized nations
    (gee, you think Solomon practically told us that already?)
  • Depression is probably far less genetic than bipolar disorder.
Also, this one surprised me.
  • The rate of successful suicide is actually highest in people 85 and older. Attempted suicides are highest in people aged 25-44 (typically older men who use alcohol).
But of course, alarmingly but not surprisingly, the rate of suicides for people 15-24 tripled from the 1950s to the 1980s. Also, according to this study, attempted suicide rates in teens age 14-17 is three times higher for those who are sexually active, both male and female. (Yes, the article is from the Heritage Foundation, but I happen to like the Heritage Foundation.)

Certainly anyone doing any form of ministry should recognize that depression is a big problem in America—and not just among youth or college students.

But, the biggest reason I think depression is a problem? Because that was me.

I was a self-cutter in high school, depressed, and what a high schooler at that time would call "goth," or someone who dresses in black and acts depressed. (No, not someone who worships Satan or listens to death metal music—I believed in God and listened to classical music and it did the exact same thing for me. And by the way, nowadays we have something called "Emo," which is practically making depression popular.) I also struggled with suicidal thoughts and thoughts of death in general. I never actually planned to kill myself—I just wanted someone to have sympathy for me (when most females attempt suicide, this is what they are after).

What restrained me was my belief in God. I wasn't a Christian yet, so I didn't understand much, but I did read the Bible every day, being careful that my mom wouldn't catch me and beat or humiliate me for believing in something so ridiculous. I'd say that in the same way I entertained thoughts of suicide (the only way I could have any control), I also entertained this crazy idea that maybe this God had a plan for the rest of my life. That maybe he had a purpose for me.

And I'd like to look at something here that most of you might not expect. Let's look at Paul.

Paul described a dilemma in Philippians when he was old and in prison. It was the "To be, or not to be" of Hamlet. No, he wasn't thinking about killing himself. But here's what he said:

 21"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me."(Philippians 1:21-26)
 The reason Paul stayed? Purpose. Purpose is so important for someone who is thinking about suicide or even someone who is just depressed. It's the reason why Christianity is so good for depression. No, it's not this cheesy "you have to help the depressed person get outside themselves"—the [severely] depressed person can't. But it can help them find some value in themselves first, because God created them for a purpose and sees them as valuable for the kingdom.

Additionally, the main tenet of Christianity is that mankind is loved freely by a personal God who desires to be a Father and Husband. Hard for the depressed person to accept or even understand, but there is much personal worth in that statement. So many psychologists make the mistake of saying that religion is bad for people because of the guilt factor, but Jesus offers so much more positive than negative. The only time this ever becomes negative is when it becomes too much for the person to accept and they are sent careening in the opposite direction.

I am a firm believer that Jesus can help somebody out of depression. He helped me out. It's like sitting alone in a dark, mold-ridden well just waiting for somebody to pull on the bucket cord, but after a while, you give up hope that anybody will. Then, when Christ comes along and holds out his hand, the decision that has to be made is whether or not you're willing to take it.

Here are some lyrics to a song I thought of during that lecture: the refrain, last verse, and refrain of "Because He Lives" by Bill and Gloria Gaither.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, All fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives.

And then one day I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain.
And then as death gives way to victory,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, All fear is gone!
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives!
Is that not hope or what? Hope and purpose were the two things I think were biggest for me (because they're connected).

Sure, I'm still susceptible to depression if I'm not careful, and occasionally I'll go through periods where I think about death or killing myself, even now. But it's nothing like it was back then—not even close. And if anyone has ever experienced depression like that, you know what I'm talking about. But Jesus rescued me out of it, and he can rescue you too.