Archive for the ‘HOLIDAY’ Category

TELEVISION/TV SERIES: HANDY MANNY – Working with the Whole Community

A lot of moral dilemmas have a simple black-and-white answer. No matter how people try to excuse away bad choices, there are still moral absolutes that tell us it is wrong to steal from others, or to seek personal revenge on someone.

But we can easily forget that the same rule doesn’t apply to people. People are not simply “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. Yet we often dismiss someone who appears to be “in the wrong”, rather than considering their needs.

“Handy Manny” is a wonderful cartoon about Manny Garcia (Wilmer Valderamma), a local handyman who assists his community with the help of his talking tools. In the multi-cultural neighborhood of Sheetrock Hills, Manny gets to work with all sorts of people on a variety of projects. At the same time, he finds opportunity to explain some of his own Hispanic traditions, such as celebrating Cinco de Mayo or Quinceañera.

In the episode, “Skateboard Park”, Mayor Rosa calls Manny and the tools with a serious problem. Kids are skateboarding through the crowded park and making it dangerous for others trying to use the sidewalks. Some of the park visitors are elderly, and can’t maneuver out of harm’s way. Small children are also present, and the skateboarders can’t always stop themselves quickly enough to avoid a dangerous crash. The combination of speeding skateboarders and other foot traffic is a bad accident waiting to happen. So the mayor asks Manny to post a sign that prohibits skateboarding in the park.

It seems like a simple job. Until Manny meets his friend, Elliot (Lance Bass), one of the skateboarders. Manny explains how dangerous it has become for Elliot’s friends to skateboard in between all of the other park visitors.

“But it’s the only place to skateboard in town,” Elliot argues. His buddies need a place to skateboard safely, where there are no cars, and the park has plenty of wide sidewalks to use.

When Mayor Rosa arrives to emphasize the problem, Elliot insists, “But we’re soooo careful!” Sadly, Elliot’s skateboarding buddy demolishes his argument a moment later, as he crashes his skateboard onto the grass nearby.

Manny tells Elliot that they have no choice. They can’t risk the safety of everyone else in the park. Elliot sadly complies, trudging away with his skateboard under his arm.

For most of us, the problem would be solved. Sure, it’s unfortunate that the kids can’t skateboard anywhere, but there’s simply no alternative.

But Manny decides to press for a better solution. Having no ideas of his own, he goes to a trusted friend, Kelly (Nancy Truman), who runs the hardware store and always has whatever Manny needs for a project. This time, he needs a better idea.

Kelly listens to the problem, remembering how Elliot loves skateboarding in the park. “Well, it’s too bad there isn’t a part of the park that’s just for skateboarders,” she notes.

Manny thanks Kelly, realizing she has just given him the solution he needs. He returns to Mayor Rosa and suggest that he and the tools build a ramped skateboarding area in a corner of the park, where the skateboarders won’t risk running into anyone else. Mayor Rosa loves the idea. “I should have known you would come up with a way to make everyone happy!” she beams.

Working within a community means taking everyone’s needs into consideration. It’s not always possible to find a solution that fits for everyone. But more often than not, people simply don’t make the extra effort to come up with better ideas. Working through a problem until you find a solution that satisfies everyone is difficult and time-consuming. Some people simply don’t feel it’s worth the hassle. Especially when they view one affected group as clearly “in the wrong”, just like Elliot and his troublesome skateboarding friends.

But the best kinds of neighbors make time to find solutions that benefit everyone.

 

For more information about “Handy Manny”, click on the picture link at left for an interview with Wilmer Valderamma, the voice of Handy Manny.

 

 

SIDE NOTE: When my very handy wife, Nicki, was working on a project, our three-year old daughter was astounded at her ability to repair things. “Mommy, you’re like Handy Manny,” Abby said, awestruck. Right after Nicki thanked her, Abby said, “Daddy is like Mr. Lopart.”

For those who don’t know, Mr.Lopart is the bumbling candy store owner with a comb-over, who breaks everything he tries to fix.

I think she just wanted to give me a part on the show …

 

Friday, April 30th, 2010

MOVIE: FIREPROOF – Fighting Fires with Love

“I just want out,” the woman says, shaking. Her husband continues to yell into her tear-streaked face. Though he masks it with his rage, he’s just as hurt by her as she is by him, and he’s tired of the struggle. Tired of the rejection. Tired of the endless fight.

The man is Captain Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron), a well-respected firefighter who regularly puts his life on the line to save others, in the film, “Fireproof”. The woman is his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), who has come to the sad decision that their marriage is over. She’s tired of his cheating on her through pornography, and tired of his selfishness. Caleb is equally tired of Catherine’s nagging, pettiness, and lack of respect for him.

They’re tired of trying to make it work, and they’re giving up.

But when Caleb complains to his father about his wife’s issues, John (Harris Malcolm) challenges his son to fight. “Is there anything in you that wants to save your marriage?” he asks. When Caleb admits that he wants to stay married, though he considers it impossible, John asks Caleb to do something for him: to commit himself to applying the marriage principles of a book called The Love Dare for forty days.

Caleb agrees to try it, though he sees little point. Still, he works through the book, one day at a time. Each day, he finds instruction to do things for his wife. To help more with chores and do special things that show her love, regardless of whether she reciprocates. Caleb starts out with a sense of hope. But after a week of Catherine ignoring, misunderstanding, or even criticizing his efforts as a manipulative ploy, he’s ready to give up once again.

Caleb insists to his father that it’s impossible to keep loving someone who keeps rejecting him, over and over. Until John points to the example of Christ, who continues to love Caleb despite his ongoing rejection of him. Seeing how he has always refused Christ’s love, Caleb soon decides to let Christ change his heart. He soon realizes that all of his attempts to show love to his wife had remained self-centered, because he had always expected a reward. To expect any response at all meant that he had acted out of manipulation, not genuine love, which seeks nothing in return for its actions.

The old saying, “Fight fire with fire”, comes from the firefighting technique of putting out a large forest fire by burning away whatever lies in its path, to eliminate its fuel.

Unfortunately, many people interpret this rare technique as a way of living life, and even a way of functioning in their marriage. Fighting back with everything they’ve got against anyone who crosses them, even their loved ones.

When my wife and I got married, a few people made jokes to us about having a “ball and chain”, getting “tied down”, and that I should enjoy my “last day” before the wedding. Too many people view marriage as a battle for independence. They try to pursue their individual dreams, keeping separate bank accounts and struggling to preserve their regular “night out” with friends to do things that they want to keep hidden from their spouse.

That’s no way to run a marriage. Nicki and I agreed early on that we could never treat our marriage as if we were at war, constantly trying to outmaneuver each other. Today, people are sometimes surprised to learn that we’ve been married twelve years but still seem just as in love as newlyweds. The simple fact is that we decided to stay married. Sometimes that meant holding our tongues instead of making an argument worse. Or doing something special for one another, just to remind them that we care. Or sacrificing our personal preferences in order to do something the other one wanted to do.

We simply decided to keep loving one another. We didn’t wait for warm, loving feelings to inspire us to love. We simply chose to love, even when we didn’t always feel like it. Real love requires action, not feelings.

Years ago, a woman learned that a friend’s parents were getting divorced, after staying together for decades. She wondered why people would do such a thing. I told her the single reason that people get divorced. Marriage is a commitment that two people make to walk together. When one of those people decides that something else is more important than continuing to walk together, they divorce. Those who stay married are those who push other things aside in order to keep walking down a path with the one they love.

In the film, Caleb finds new strength and passion for continuing through The Love Dare challenge. Unable to free himself from his pornographic addiction, he reads a page in The Love Dare that warns him against distractions that will hinder his marriage. He then discovers that he’s not only distracted by pornography, but also by computer pictures of the boat he’s been saving up to buy someday, despite Catherine’s views on how they should use the money.

Caleb removes his computer from the house entirely, eliminating both distractions at once. On the desk where his computer sat, he places a vase full of roses with a note for Catherine: I love you more!

Meanwhile, Catherine finds solace in the sympathy of girlfriends, and the attention of a doctor at the hospital where she works. Dr. Gavin Keller (Perry Revell) is handsome, attentive, and most of all, caring. He takes interest in the things Catherine talks about, instead of shooting her down the way Caleb does. Having given up on her marriage, Catherine can’t see that Caleb’s efforts to love her are sincere.

Not until she must stay home sick, and Caleb chooses to stay and take care of her. To love her, seeking nothing in return.

Catherine starts taking him seriously, but she’s still not convinced. Until she learns that he also sacrificed his personal savings – the savings for his dream boat – to contribute to her ailing mother’s medical needs. She finds him at the fire station.

“If I haven’t told you that you’re a good man … you are,” she tells him. “And if I haven’t told you that I’ve forgiven you, I have. And if I haven’t told you that I love you … I do.”

The couple re-unites, and holds a marriage ceremony to renew their vows to one another.

Getting married is a decision.

So is staying married.

Find more reviews of “Fireproof” at amazon.com!

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

MUSIC: WHEN LOVE CAME DOWN – POINT OF GRACE – Christmas for Everyone

My favorite Christmas album is “A Christmas Story” by Point of Grace. It features outstanding vocals and original music, along with plenty of familiar Christmas carols with some new stylings that only enhance the original song. I can always let it play all the way through at least twice while wrapping presents, helping make cookies, or just driving around looking for the perfect present.

The opening song always strikes me, revealing the real message of Christmas.

 

Close your eyes and share the dream

Let everyone on Earth believe

The Child was born, the stars shone bright

When Love came down at Christmastime.

 

Of course, not everyone on Earth is going to believe. Not everyone will place their faith in Christ to transform their lives and make them brand new people, free of guilt and judgment for everything they’ve ever done or will do.

But they can.

That line, “Let everyone on Earth believe”, is not a mandate. It’s an invitation. It’s offered to everyone.

Even if you don’t listen to this song, you hear the invitation every year at Christmastime. The joy on people’s faces as they prepare for Christmas. The anticipation and wonder of children, searching the skies for a magical sleigh and – sometimes – working harder at “being good”. The strange sense of extra compassion people feel, when they actually consider giving a few extra dollars to a particular charity.

There’s something in the air, a strange sort of benevolent spirit that permeates the atmosphere – whether people want it to or not. And when people don’t want to act kinder or more generously toward others, it feels wrong somehow. “After all,” we think, “… it’s Christmas.”

Not everyone feels that way about Christmas. A number of people just want to “get through the holidays”. Many have sad memories associated with this time of year, or struggle bitterly with their families, so they can’t see Christmas as a time of celebration.

In the same way, many people have been burned by their encounters with people from the church. Those rough-edged memories make it impossible for some people to see the church – or Christmas – as a good thing.

But they still are, when Jesus is at the center of it. After all, he’s the one making the invitation. He’s the one who came to us – each one of us – to give us a new life.

Wherever you are now, however you’ve been burned in life, however you’ve burned others, Jesus still cares about you, and wants to be in a relationship with you. The Bible says that Jesus holds his hands out all day long to a stubborn and obstinate people. No matter how much we reject or ignore Christ, he still stands waiting to welcome us into his world.

The invitation is still open.

Merry Christmas!

 

To further demonstrate that Christmas is for everyone, click the picture at right to view the Doctor Who Christmas tribute using “When Love Came Down” by Point of Grace!

 

Find more reviews of A Christmas Story – Point of Grace at amazon.com!

 

Monday, November 30th, 2009

MOVIE: FREQUENCY – What Fathers Do

In the movie, Frequency, policeman John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) sets up his father’s old ham radio set during an extreme sunspot storm. Now living in his father’s old house, he receives a call from another ham radio operator. He soon learns that the man on the other end is his own father.

His father, Frank Sullivan, who died thirty years earlier. The strange storm has somehow linked his radio, in 1999, to his father’s radio in the same house in 1969.

John urges his father, a firefighter, to go against his instincts when he enters a fire at the Buxton Warehouse that next day. A few details about the day’s baseball game convinces Frank that he really is destined to die in that warehouse. Yet when he hears a teenager is still trapped inside, he takes a partner and rushes in.

That’s what fathers do. Fathers enter burning buildings.

My own father was never that heroic. He wasn’t a cop, or a celebrity, or even a paragon of virtue. He had his flaws, just like everyone else.

He was quiet, unassuming and honest. He started out working at a factory, then later started his own business doing furniture upholstery. Later, he sold travel trailers from his front yard in the 1970’s, when camping had become the new family vacation craze.

He soon bought a five-acre lot to set up an RV sales lot and campground, with a garage where he attached trailer hitches and did minor repairs. My mom worked as secretary and they were open six days a week. I always felt a certain pride upon seeing our simple sign, “Dunn Camping Center”, over the door of their business.

My oldest brother, David, assisted with various chores. As a teenager, he started working in the garage and showing trailers to customers. My younger brother, Robert, who has always been into cars, also learned how to help out in the garage.

I wasn’t that way. When it came to traditional masculine roles, I was the black sheep of the family.

My father wasn’t always “there” for me, the way fathers are expected to be today. Running a campground six days a week didn’t leave a lot of time for playing ball, and he came from the generation of parents who didn’t show a lot of emotion or say “I love you” regularly to their kids. Instead, people from my parents’ generation worked hard to provide for their kids, doing whatever had to be done.

But I remember vacations we took in our motor home, to Disneyworld and Texas and various Midwest campgrounds. I remember sitting with my dad in the dead of night as he drove non-stop to our next destination, enjoying the quiet darkness while everyone else slept. I remember sitting by the fireplace on Sunday evenings with our family, roasting hot dogs and watching whatever was on TV. I remember hilarious Christmases we spent as adults, opening presents and making jokes about everything.

I remember great times with my dad.

I didn’t always feel that way. After college, I resented my own ignorance of auto mechanics and fuse boxes and woodwork. I wondered why my dad took so much time teaching all those skills to my brothers and never bothered to teach any of it to me. It took me a while to remember what really happened.

I was about eight years old when my dad took me out into the garage. He wanted me to help him fix something on a trailer. I tried to pay attention, but my mind kept drifting. I couldn’t even spot the difference between a Phillips and a flathead screwdriver. Instead of handing him the right tools while he lay under the trailer, I found myself shifting from one foot to the other, wondering how much longer I would have to stand there.

The next day, my dad invited me out to the garage again. I told him I didn’t want to. When he asked me again, I told him I wanted to keep working on what I was doing, creating my own superhero comic book.

He stood in the room for a moment. Looking back on it, I’m sure he must have been surprised, a little puzzled, and very disappointed. He left the room without another word, and never asked me back to the garage again. He had to accept the sad fact that I didn’t want to do the kind of things that had made up his entire life Instead, I wanted to pursue things that he could barely appreciate or understand.

Fathers make sacrifices.

They don’t have to enter burning buildings like Frank Sullivan, or help teach their kids how to ride a bike or throw a baseball. They just have to be there for their kids, even if sometimes the best way to provide for them is to give them the freedom to be themselves.

As an adult, when Robert and I took our families to visit my parents, my dad would often disappear just before we prepared to head back home. He had been out in the garage, checking the oil and performing minor maintenance on each of our cars. He never announced it or expected gratitude. He just wanted to ensure that we all got safely home and that our cars stayed in the best working order.

My dad died in early November of 2006. I miss his jokes, and just sitting and relaxing with him in his house. I would love the chance to talk with him again, the way John Sullivan talks with his father over their ham radio set. But my father’s not some ghost or angel watching over me, so I can’t talk with him again in this lifetime. I know he accepted Christ as his Savior, and for that reason alone, I know I’ll see him in Heaven, and I look forward to talking to him then.

For now, I honor his memory and the things he taught me, through his example of honesty and self-sacrifice. I try to create those same family moments that meant so much to me when I was growing up, and I try to serve people with diligence and humility, the way he did.

Because that’s what fathers do.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

Find more reviews of Frequency at amazon.com!

 

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

BOOK / MOVIE: SKIPPING CHRISTMAS / CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS – Really, What’s the Point?

“They’re trying to avoid Christmas this year.”

“Do what?”

“You heard me.” Walt was standing next to the driver’s door, all smiles. “He’s kind of a weird one. Skipping Christmas so he can save his money for a cruise.”

The driver and the minister’s wife looked long and hard at the Krank home across the street. The kids in the back had stopped singing and were listening to every word. Wheels were turning.

“I think some Christmas carolers would do them good,” Scheel added helpfully. “Go on.”

The truck emptied as the choir rushed onto the sidewalk. They stopped near the Kranks’ mailbox. “Closer,” Scheel yelled. “They won’t mind.”

They lined up near the house, next to Luther’s favorite flower bed. Scheel ran to his front door and told Bev to call Frohmeyer.

Luther was scraping the sides of his yogurt container when a racket commenced very close to him. The carolers struck quick and loud with the opening stanza of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, and the Kranks ducked for cover. Then they darted from the kitchen, staying low, Luther in the lead with Nora on his back, into the living room and close to the front window, where, thankfully, the curtains were closed.

The choir waved excitedly when Luther was spotted peeking out.

“Christmas carolers,” Luther hissed, taking a step back.

 

 

Why do we celebrate Christmas, anyway? I mean, really? No one seems to know the answer, if you put it to them directly. We’ve all heard cliches of “we do it for the kids”, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, and so on. But those really aren’t the reasons I celebrate Christmas every year.

So why do we bother? Because when you think about it, a lot of effort goes into this annual tradition celebrated by the masses. You would think some of them might be able to explain why.

Consider Luther Krank, John Grisham’s modern-day Scrooge in Skipping Christmas. Luther is fed up with the insurmountable waste of Christmas. Crowds, stress, extravagant amounts of money thrown away on gaudy decorations, drunken office parties, and gifts that no one really wants. And by the way, does anyone actually eat fruitcake, or do people just buy them? It all seems a bit pointless, doesn’t it?

To save money this holiday season – and to prove a point about the foolishness of the season – Luther Krank has concocted a brilliant plan. This year, he’s skipping Christmas. That’s right! No gifts. No decorations. No carols. No cards. No tree. Nothing. No hints or shadows of Christmas anywhere!

So what’s he doing instead? He’s taking the six thousand dollars he wasted last Christmas and taking his wife on a cruise. You’ve got to admit, it’s brilliant.

And you’ve got to admit … Luther’s got a point. Really, why do we celebrate Christmas? Luther sees no reason for it, and his observations of the holiday crowd at the mall only helps steel his resolve.

 

He rode the escalator to the upper level, where he leaned on the rail and watched the chaos below. A Santa was holding court on his throne and the line was moving very slowly. Over at the ice rink the music blared from scratchy speakers while kids in elf costumes skated around some stuffed creature that appeared to be a reindeer. Every parent watched through the lens of a videocamera. Weary shoppers trudged along, lugging shopping bags, bumping into others, fighting with their children.

Luther had never felt prouder.

 

I can’t give you a definitive answer for why we celebrate Christmas, with all its commercial trappings, overspending, and the selfish gift-grabbing it often inspires.

But the other night, I noticed something as I turned off our downstairs lights and prepared to head up to bed. Instead of leaving, I stood there in the living room, transfixed by the white lights shining over the fireplace where our decorations had been strung.

I felt a strange wave of joy, and peace, and gratitude. Something about those beautiful white lights, shining powerfully through the room’s darkness, making the whole room seem warmer in spite of the chilly weather outside … something touched me. The same way several things about Christmas touch me every year. The same way they touch other people, whether they believe in Christ or not. Whether they want to celebrate or not.

For me, this time of year is one of change and hope. It’s a time that reminds me of the great joy and blessing I have in knowing good friends and close family members who think the world of me. A time that I can run around from store to store on my annual Christmas shopping adventure, hunting for those gifts that show them I feel the same way about them.

It’s a time when people learn they can be forgiven for past mistakes and misdeeds, as others’ hearts grow kinder. It’s a time when people learn to place others’ needs above their own. It’s a time full of wonder and hope beyond hope, whether it’s a child expecting a gift of love to appear magically beneath a tree, or a struggling family trusting for a miracle to bring them some relief.

And that miracle comes, for every person who’s willing to have his heart changed. Miracles don’t always involve dramatic events like the parting of the Red Sea. Many times, the greatest miracles – and those that have the most lasting impact – are the ones that change a person’s attitude and expectation.

If you hope for nothing more than an out-of-control gift exchange and the endless bills to remind you of it, I think you’ll be disappointed this Christmas, just as Luther predicted. If that’s what Christmas has become for you, then it truly is a sham. In Scrooge’s words, it’s a “humbug” that fools everyone into pretending life is something more glorious and fulfilling than it really is.

But if you’re willing to see the wonder in a child’s believing eyes … If you’re willing to see a friend, even a stranger, with a need that you can meet … If you’re willing to hold your family or friends a little closer, and express a little more love than you do the other eleven months of the year … then maybe, for you, Christmas can become something you would never dream of skipping.

Neither will Luther. After one crazy mishap after another, his dream of escaping on a cruise falls apart, making this his most miserable Christmas ever.

Until he considers some neighbors who could use a cruise more: Walt Scheel and his wife, Bev, who’s dying of cancer. Sacrificing his prize vacation, he decides to bless them with an unimaginable – and much needed – Christmas gift.

 

When the Scheels were once again locked away inside, Luther started home. Unburdened by the thick envelope now, shed of its pricey tickets and thick brochures, freed of all the self-indulgence contained therein, his steps were a little quicker. And, filled with the satisfaction of making the perfect gift, Luther walked straight and proud with hardly a limp.

At the street he stopped and looked over his shoulder. The Scheels’ home, dark as a cave just moments earlier, was now alive with lights being flipped on both upstairs and down. They’ll pack all night, Luther thought to himself.

… Starving, as usual, Luther suddenly craved smoked trout. He began trekking through the snow. “I’ll eat a fruitcake too,” he vowed to himself.

Skipping Christmas. What a ridiculous idea.

 

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!

 

See more customer reviews of Skipping Christmas and of Christmas with the Kranks at amazon.com!

Sunday, November 30th, 2008