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Harmless Entertainment… or not

10 Mar

I can’t quite place why, but this is weighing on me tonight and I thought it was worth sharing. In short, this is what’s on my heart: we have got to be vigilant about guarding what we let into our lives as entertainment.

My desire is not to create a list of do’s and don’ts as far as what one may or may not watch or listen to. Rather, I’m thinking of the words of the Apostle Paul: “…’Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1Cor 6:12, NIV). Within our systems of entertainment lie all sorts of subtle traps that try to master us. We let down our guard in order to be entertained, and don’t notice the strings attached to the things we allow inside our souls.

A little while back, I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and he was telling me about this great movie he had just seen. It was an awesome movie. It was the best movie he had seen all year. The rest of us should go and see it… provided we could “handle” the language. I didn’t believe him. Not that I doubted it was a great movie, but I wasn’t sure that he could “handle” the language… especially when a curse word slipped out of his mouth just a few minutes later (to my knowledge, he doesn’t routinely swear). My friend is a lovely, God-fearing guy with a great heart and a hunger for the Lord. But exposing himself to the barrage of cursing in that movie made it that much easier to slip into unintentional sin.

I remember another time, years back, watching the movie Emma with some girls from my youth group. I loved that movie. Still do. But on this occasion, when the movie was over, and Emma and Mr. Knightley finally got together, one of my friends mourned aloud, “Where’s my Mr. Knightley?” While Emma is overall a pretty clean movie, for this one girl at least, it was a stumbling block that thrust her into the path of loneliness. Watching it left her pining for the imaginary but ever-appealing Mister Right to come on the scene and solve her inner ache.

I had a similar experience once with this house I used to live in. One of my roommates had some Christian romance novels, mostly by one author whom she loved and raved about. One afternoon, when I was at home by myself and bored, I decided to skim through one of these books.

I hated it.

Now, when I read, I can’t turn off my inner writer/editor.  I found myself constantly critcial of this author’s style. The plot was predictable. The dialogue was trite. The characters were shallow. Because the book was Christian, it was completely clean, but it made for terrible reading. I polished the book off in an hour or two, thinking that it would have to get better at some point, but it never did. I couldn’t figure out my friend’s obsession with this author. For some inexplicable reason — probably to find out if there was anything this person had written that was actually good — a few days later, I picked up another book. I read several of these novels, discovering that each one was practically the same as the last. It was set in a different era, and everyone had different names, but the plot and personality of the characters was nearly identical. I don’t know why I kept reading, but I did, mentally chwing out the author the whole time.

Yet I found out something completely unexpected. As I put down my latest read, inwardly composing a scathing review of the book, I felt something strange. I felt mopey. I felt alone. I felt a little depressed. I wondered why no guys had expressed an interest in me. Suddenly, I realized what I was thinking, and why I was thinking it. And that’s when I vowed never to read a romance novel series again.

I don’t tell that story to try and make a hero out of myself. I tell that story because I apparently have a weak spot in that area, and these novels — perfectly clean, inoffensive, cheesy books — inflamed that weakness in me. I didn’t even like the books, yet they threw my emotions off-kilter. So they became something that, for the sake of my own heart, I had to cut off.

I’ll tell another story on myself… a slightly less flattering one. A while back, I was having a frustrating bout with my self-image. I wasn’t happy with how I looked. I saw a million flaws in the mirror. I knew that the Lord wasn’t pleased with how I was speaking and thinking of myself. I wanted desperately to get my heart aligned with His, but I felt stuck.

It was then that He began to speak to me of the movies and online TV shows I had been watching lately. I hadn’t been watching anything dirty. I hadn’t even been watching very much of it — not compared to the average American, at least. But I was watching more than was normal for me, and had been filling my vision with these beautiful, “flawless”-looking Hollywood women to the point that I was losing sight of my perfect Creator’s opinion of me.

I tell these stories because I am feeling burdened again to guard what I let into my “eye-gate” and “ear-gate”. I can’t think of anything negative that has been stirred up in me lately, and I don’t think I’ve been necessarily grieving the Holy Spirit, but I feel this renewed need for vigilance in this area. I’ve decided not to worry about the “why” too much, and just roll with it… after all, periodic housecleaning never hurts. If there’s something specific going on, I’m positive that the Lord is able and willing to highlight it. Gotta love that kind of faithfulness.

I wanted to blog about this for a couple of reasons. For one, misery loves company. 🙂 Just kidding. Sort of.

But mostly, I wanted to set it out there that if you’re struggling with an area of sin or emotional turmoil — or hey, maybe even if you’re not, but this topic is speaking to you right now — bring your entertainment before the Lord and see if He points something out.  It may not be as cut and dried as avoiding blatantly wicked films; there might simply be something that is making your battle harder than it needs to be. That’s something that only the Lord can speak to your heart about (and He’s really good at it). But if we ask Him, He can help us identify those stumbling blocks, and can do so gently and clearly. Praise be to God that we do not have to be mastered by anything.

So, I wasn’t intending to write this whole post tonight, but I seem to have done it anyway. I hope it resonates with someone. It seemed a little too random to be random, you know? Hang in there. God is for you. He is with you in the battle. And He is committed to see you through to the end.

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14 Comments

Posted by on March 10, 2008 in Heart Stuff, Intimacy with God

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 responses to “Harmless Entertainment… or not

  1. Stephanie

    March 10, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Amanda, great post. I think often in the church we are either legalistic about our choices for entertainment, or so scared of being legalistic that we swing too far the other way and lead ourselves astray by what we choose to open ourselves up to.

    I loved the line “there might simply be something that is making your battle harder than it needs to be.” There is a middle ground where we as Christians don’t need to draw the irrevocable line of what we are allowed and what we are not, forever and ever amen, but where we might steer clear of something that is hindering us as we run to Christ.

    And by the way, I know a lot of girls/women for whom Jane Austen can be a blessing and a curse, since you mentioned Emma . . . for me it really depends on the season I’m in, whether I’ll allow myself to watch/read one of her stories or not 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

     
  2. Dorean Beattie

    March 10, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Awesome post, Amanda. This kind of entertainment sets up for disappointment in so many ways. Besides the reasons you listed, I was thinking of how we let it define what we should expect out of life, and what is “normal”. (Kinda funny since my most recent post is on if I’m normal, but, well…) Specifically I was thinking how movies and TV have defined what is romantic. True romance should come from the heart; the heart of one person in love having studied the object of their affection and knowing what will bless them, and doing what they can to pull their heartstrings. Instead, entertainment has now defined romance as something expensive and extravagant, like filling a room with dozens and dozens of roses. Now, I’m not saying that isn’t romantic, just that it doesn’t have to be that big to be romantic. For me, I’d be horrified about the money that had been spent on 12 dozen roses, and worry about if we could really afford it… Sorta kills the mood. Add to that the fact that so many of the men in chick-lit aren’t real good guys, and I think the whole thing gets much worse. I mean, really, is Mr. Darcy the kind of guy you would yearn for if the book and movie didn’t make him the hero? Wouldn’t you really rather have someone who could be open with their emotions, and honest with you, and didn’t have to be convinced you weren’t really way below being worthy of his attention?

    I think another big issue with entertainment is how addictive it can be. It’s fun, and takes very little motivation to participate in. Most everyone will admit it’s easier to do something that takes less motivation than to work yourself up to do something worthwhile. I wonder how much of the work of the Lord doesn’t get done because we’re busy being lulled into the doldrums by good, clean entertainment. Unfortunately, I speak for myself on this issue. I’m assuming I’m not alone in this… It seems to me that entertainment is fine when used as “originally intended”, meaning as an occassional intermission in a life full of work and accomplishment. Our society has turned it into an everyday indulgence to the point where many people feel it is a God-given right, right up there with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Sorry about the length of this. Guess I should have just written my own post, eh? Guess you pushed a button… 😉

     
  3. Lauren

    March 10, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Emotional turmoil because of movies? Does that really happen? 😉 The number of times I’ve experienced what you’ve written about is so, so high. Being realistic about where you’re at and what you’re capable of receiving from entertainment is such a good thing. Way to speak truth. You rock pretty hard.

    Stephanie – Amen on knowing the season you’re in. There’s an entire genre of movies I haven’t watched in months. We are so worried about being legalistic but we are so far away from legalism it’s ridiculous. It’s easy to make excuses for “that one scene” or the main theme of an otherwise great movie.

     
  4. Christopher

    March 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Hi, just happened by your blog after some aimless browsing at Technorati, and decided to stay for a moment.

    You really threw me for a curve with the Emma story, and yet I understand your angle. Just count youself blessed to be able to recognize the Holy Spirit’s revelation of areas in your life that initially seem benign yet prove to be potential stumbling blocks for you.

    Grace and peace be with you.

     
  5. Haybark

    March 11, 2008 at 12:16 am

    I Really like how you put this;

    “My desire is not to create a list of do’s and don’ts as far as what one may or may not watch or listen to. Rather, I’m thinking of the words of the Apostle Paul: “…’Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1Cor 6:12, NIV). Within our systems of entertainment lie all sorts of subtle traps that try to master us. We let down our guard in order to be entertained, and don’t notice the strings attached to the things we allow inside our souls.”

    You pulled out a nice subtlty here, and drew a great picture with the “strings attached.” I think this is a timely message in an hour that is calling for greater vigillance. I really think the stakes are getting higher and our steps need to be circumspect. The verse from Hebrews 12 came to mind as I read your post, and I think it appropriate here; “laying aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us…”

     
  6. Amanda Beattie

    March 11, 2008 at 3:22 am

    Wow! I’m a bit overwhelmed by all the comments. Let me respond:

    Stephanie: Thanks for your comment. I like how you put it, “I think often in the church we are either legalistic about our choices for entertainment, or so scared of being legalistic that we swing too far the other way and lead ourselves astray by what we choose to open ourselves up to.” Really, what we need to do more, is simply include the Holy Spirit in our day-to-day lives, and invite His input into everything we do. He’s way better at sorting out that “gray area” than any of us are.

    Mom: The length is no problem. I loved reading what you have to say, and I offer a hearty amen.

    Lauren: Hehe, thanks. You rock pretty hard.

    Christopher: Glad you stopped in. The Lord is so gracious in how He points that kind of stuff out to us. Like in the verse at the beginning of this post, there are so many things that are permissible to us, but we need divine help if we want to live free from bondage to our stuff.

    Haybark: I agree. Maybe I just notice more, but it seems to me that there is a sharp increase lately in the underlying message of the spirit of this age in our mainstream media. And since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I’d rather do my best to avoid drinking in as much of that junk as possible.

     
  7. Jerry James

    March 11, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    “…’Everything is permissible for me’
    I think we believers often use this to condone doing borderline stuff, believing we are invincible. We are not.
    I never like to hear people say that someone is to young to hear this, do this, or see that. If it is not good for a young one it most likely is not good for an older one either.
    Thanks for posting, Amanda. Let those who have ears, hear . . . that would be me.

     
  8. Haybark

    March 12, 2008 at 12:07 am

    Off topic, sorry, but did the server crash at IHOP? I’m like jones’n for the prayer room and this page comes up about server runtime error. Any news??

     
  9. Amanda Beattie

    March 12, 2008 at 3:16 am

    Jerry: Amen. When I was growing up, my parents just didn’t own movies that the kids shouldn’t see. That has challenged and provoked me all my life. Even now, although I don’t have children, I think about that every time I consider purchasing a movie. “Would I let my kids watch that?” If the answer is no, most of the time I leave it on the shelf. (Exceptions being things like, “The Passion”, etc.)

    Haybark: I am not aware of a server crash, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen… the system is still new enough and growing fast enough that we hit glitches here and there.

     
  10. robertmonson

    March 12, 2008 at 3:17 am

    this is an amazing entry. i came across your blog, and i fully agree!

     
  11. Amanda Beattie

    March 12, 2008 at 3:42 am

    Robert: Thank you for your kind comment. 🙂

     
  12. Mark

    March 18, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve often heard romance novels coined “emotional pornography”. I don’t know how a woman’s mind works, but from your description, the title fits.

    I was just talking to some friends about this on Sunday. It’s essential to guard what goes in that mind, because “out of the overflow of your heart the mouth speaks.”

     
  13. Amanda Beattie

    March 19, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Mark: I think it’s different for different readers, and especially different for different authors and books within the genre. For instance, Jane Austen is an author that I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem reading, because she writes brilliant story lines with highly-developed characters with unique quirks. There are “real” events that happen to “real” people (translate: extremely believable), and so it’s very easy for me to read the stories without getting sucked into the pit that can accompany romance novels. For instance, my favorite example is Pride and Prejudice. The leading ladies all have their own personalities which are definitely different than mine. The leading men are not the kind of guy I’m looking for. And so it’s easy to enjoy the story for what it is without going, “What if it were me?”

    On the other hand, most of what we think of as romance novels — the kind that comes out every two weeks with the covers sporting a chiseled hunk and blonde damsel in distress — yeah. I think the term you highlighted above is a very fair one. But then I think that even for clean romance novels, where it’s not so much about the story as it is the genre and the formulaic plot, then it can be very much a snare for one’s emotions. There are no strong characters to sympathize with, no story to follow along with, just a basic undefined sentiment of “Mr. Right steps in and suddenly everything’s better.” It becomes super easy to put yourself in the heroine’s shoes, pining for that flawless knight in shining armor who has everything a lady wants and no visible weaknesses.

    Yeah. Bad news.

    So basically, while it’s not completely accurate to blanket-label every single romance novel as “emotional pornography”, I think it fits the vast majority of what’s out there.

     

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