Home > Brandenburg, Culture > Television: My Story

Television: My Story

May 7, 2008

Hi.  My name is Kent.Â

I want to tell you the true story of me and television.  The names will not be changed to protect the innocent.  I’m not innocent.  Is anyone?  We could add a chapter to James and say that he is a perfect man who can control the television.  A television can no man tame.  But I digress.

Before I really get into this story, I want to give you a few preliminaries.  First, for the last 20 out of 21 years, which is my married life, we have owned a television, but had no antennae or cable hook-up, which in California means that we don’t receive any actual television to view.  We do own a combination DVD/CD player and a VCR.  Second, I think television can be as dangerous as anything to us.   But so can guns.

The Early Shows

OK, I grew up watching television.  I watched Armstrong make his one giant leap for mankind on our black and white tube television, peering through the porch window where my brother and I slept on a very warm July late evening before my dad left for graveyard shift at the factory.  Did you notice that I remembered all that and television was a positive part of it?  Yes.  Gilligan’s Island, Hogan’s Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, Get Smart, Gomer Pyle, Petticoat Junction, Leave It to Beaver, and The Waltons strand my cultural fiber.  I remember the talking heads of the Watergate hearing.  I first witnessed the amazing growth of homosexual political power in San Francisco on a news program on the same black and white.  I’d never go to San Francisco after witnessing that.  Ooops.  Many days of my childhood I spent google-eyed in front of Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans.  I still can’t look at a shoe box without thinking of Mr. Kangaroo’s, filled with his paste and scissors and other implements.  After school I often rushed home for Popeye and Janey and during the summers it was Cowboy Bob and Chuckwagon Theater.  I drank Chocola because of him and I’ll never forget what he said at the end of every program:  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  Some of you might wish I had listened more closely to that one.

I loved cartoons.  I said “loved.”  I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.  I still love spinach because of Popeye.  Not directly any more, but because I ate it faithfully and enthusiastically as a child because of the obvious consequences anyone could see if they watched the man.  And then it was bugs bunny, the roadrunner, and the rest of the Looney Tunes cast.  And then there were John Wayne, the three stooges, Abbot and Costello, Batman (“pow!” “bam!” “smack!”), the Lone Ranger (yes, Keemo-sa-bee), and you’re a strange one, Mr. Grinch.

I don’t think any of it was the best for me, but I still smile when remembering.  I don’t endorse it.  I’m still planning on studying out the uniform opposition of Christians to dramatic arts in church history.  I don’t believe we should ignore historic doctrine, especially unanimous, so we should find out why they were against the medium itself, let alone the content expressed.  To do so, I’ve started reading Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy, which compares Dionysian versus Apollonarian art.  Dramatic art didn’t originate in Scripture, you know.  The Greeks came up with it.  They knew what they were doing when they invented it, and since Scripture is sufficient and yet silent about it, we should wonder why.  I’m going to do my best to find out and then I’ll probably let you know my findings.  And then I think of The Incredible Hulk, the Bill Bixby version, “You won’t like me when I’m angry.”  Bill Bixby, ah yes, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and The Magician.  Yes, I liked TV.  I still do.

I liked TV so much that my kids haven’t grown up on it.  We got rid of the television at least three times in my childhood history.  When I was 12 we moved from Covington, IN to Watertown, WI.  The TV didn’t come with us.  We didn’t buy one.  A few years later, however, one of the grandfathers bought us one.  Not us.  One of the grandfathers.  After a few years and a few hot messages, we got rid of that one.  We had gaps of television-less years that are holes in my trivial knowledge.  I saw just a few episodes of Happy Days and zero of Cosby.  The first Happy Days episode, which will explain why I saw just a few, was centered on Fonzi showing the rest of the “boys” how to remove a girl’s bra strap.  That was the main plot.  We didn’t pray before we sat and watched.


Movies were preached against.  Sometime way back preachers started preaching against movies.  It was a sin to go to the theater.  Before that, it was a sin to go the playhouse.  That was in Spurgeon’s day.  He was death on that kind of entertainment.  I never went to the theater.  The last time was five years old at a birthday party when The Jungle Book first came from Disney.  My great grandmother took the tickets at the theater in Clinton, Iowa.  We went a few times when we visited before I was five.  We didn’t go to movies, but we all kind of wondered why movies were so bad, but it was OK to watch the same thing when it came out on television.  Television got worse too.  The regular programming regularly attacked Scriptural values and behavior, making the alternative seem more normal and desensitizing the viewer often to the lifestyles observed.

I remember seeing a few episodes of Charlie’s Angels.  That wasn’t approved fare, but it did slip through a few times.  Then I would see that Farrah Fawcett poster up at stores for purchase.  As little as I saw, I know that wasn’t the best thing for a teenage boy to have seen.  It was very difficult to block out that image of Farrah and then the accompanying lust.  Those are powerful tools of the world, the flesh, and the devil, those images.  Amusing Ourselves To Death has been mentioned, but one part of that book that I remember is Postman’s description of images as idols in the mind.  Imaginations are the idols in the mind that we must pull down, even to get saved.  We can’t see Farrah on the poster and stay pure in heart.  The pure in heart shall see God.  It is a choice—God or Farrah.   We know the right choice, but the the images create thorny ground that opposes genuine conversion.  More images, less opportunity to be saved.

When teenagers fell away, I think television was a major if not the major cause.  How?  Movies are preached against from the pulpit.  The Christian family watches something much worse at home.  Hypocrisy might be the worst enemy of Godly teenagers.  They need a consistent message and real Christianity.  What’s the solution?  We have to be honest about what we believe.  We can’t come out against bad movies if we are going to sit and watch it.  You be a fake about your entertainment, and that might be how you lose your kids.

Videos and Cable

I didn’t see television much in my high school years, none in my college and grad school years.  That didn’t hurt me at all.  I saw an occasional game at someone’s house.  But I do know that when I was in college, something big took place that changed the landscape of entertainment forever.  It also impacted standards and preaching.  What was it?  The invention and then marketing of the VCR.  Now you could go to a store and rent movies, and watch them in your own home.

So movie theaters wrong.  No brainer.  Television OK.  Video stores?  When in Christian college, you got expelled for theater attendance.  What about video store visit?  Nothing.  A guy I was in school with worked at a video store.  We just weren’t scripted for the video store.  And before we could get anything written up, a lot of the leaders were taking advantage of the loophole.  The video store guy said that administration came in to rent stuff that was just in theaters.  But kids were still getting shipped for theater attendance.

Personally, I wasn’t bent out of shape about the faculty renting videos.  I didn’t want to go myself to the stores, but I already knew there was heaping portions of hypocrisy to pass around.  I was living my own Christian life with my own beliefs and I wasn’t depending on their example.  However, some were.  For some, that kind of activity is a stumbling block.  I also knew that we needed some video store talk or preaching.  Not much of that ever occurred that I remember.  It really was ambiguous to people what was the right thing to do.  I still think it is for many.

When I was in college, I was a counselor at a Christian camp.  I gave out a survey to the jr. and sr. high kids with various questions.  I asked what was their favorite movie.  One kid wrote, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  I thought it was a documentary on the search for Noah’s Ark.  I thought he must be a fine Christian kid who didn’t know about movies.  At that time, he had to have seen it at the theater, which is, of course, wrong.  You only get to see it when it comes out on video.  Then it’s right.  You know that, right?  Theater wrong.  Video store right.

We didn’t have a television for the first several years of marriage.  We didn’t have furniture either, but I digress.  When we did buy one about five years in, we decided on cable TV.  We tried that for a year and we really started enjoying certain shows.  Some were over the line, so we didn’t watch, but some we thought we could watch with a clean conscience.  Sometimes we saw things we shouldn’t and as the leader of the family, I would confess it as sin.  Sometimes when I was preaching, it crossed my mind that viewing a certain show might not match up with some of the sermon content.  We stopped the cable subscription after a year.

Cable offered so many things to watch that I started thinking about what was going to be on.  We started thinking about our schedule as it related to certain television shows.  This was new to me, this thing of controlling a TV, deciding what to watch.  I found that you could easily rationalize something you perhaps shouldn’t have seen.  You didn’t like it and you told yourself so.  You could watch sports, educational, or only the “good” shows.  Sports had the commercials, the cheerleaders, and the music.  There was a lot of sports, enough to keep someone from being close to God.  I couldn’t explain how that it was worth it to pay so much if we weren’t going to watch.  The amount that you needed to watch to justify a cable bill was too much to be a good Christian.

As children came along, television was another temptation for them.  It would need to be monitored and there was already plenty to monitor—practice time, homework, devotional life, church ministry, and general behavior.  There was the threat of it looking so important to us that it would be a bad testimony to them, causing them to stumble.   We decided we wouldn’t have cable, but what about videos?  This was before DVDs came along.

We wouldn’t rent things at the video store.  We would get films at the library and sometimes at the grocery store.  Nobody made me stay out of video stores.  When I walked into one, I wanted to walk right out.  I was uncomfortable being in.  That wasn’t because I heard video store sermons.  When I walked in, it looked like the wrong place for a man of God to be.  But how much different was it to pick up something at the library?  And when I got one at the grocery store, I dreaded that space of time, because it didn’t feel good when I did.  One time while at our pharmacy, which had a rental aisle, I was standing there when a church member walked by and said, “Hello.”  My heart pounded up into my throat, my face turned red.  The church member didn’t say anything or act like there was any problem at all.  I hadn’t preached a standard.  It was my standard.

Well, you might feel sorry for me.  I shouldn’t feel so guilty.  I shouldn’t let it bother me so much.  I need more grace, more liberty, that God doesn’t want me feeling this way.  I’m fine with my reaction.  I believe it was two things:  my own conscience and the counsel of the Holy Spirit and I better listen.   Was I feeling guilty because of getting caught looking at videos or was it because of the videos themselves?  I don’t feel guilty watching a movie.  I do feel guilty showing public support of the movie industry.  I think it hurts people.  It won’t help our church members if their pastor is a big movie guy.  I don’t think movie watching adds much to their lives.  I know that I wasted so much time and the entertainment can produce a deadness toward the things of God, even if it’s wholesome.  It gives something that the Word of God must compete with our lives.  I’d rather have the serious reaction.

My Position

My position on movies, the theater, television, and DVDs is essentially that, first, Scripture is technically silent about them.  What is a theater, but a big building with a lot of seats, a screen, and a projector.  What’s wrong with that?  Nothing in and of itself.  The reasons I was given as a kid were good reasons not to go.  They didn’t tell me that it was a sin to go.  I preach against going to a theater, but not because it is a sin to watch movies.  I think it can be a sin and it can be wrong.  I don’t go to the theater myself.  I don’t encourage it.  We’ll talk about it.

But what about IMAX?  I’m smiling.  Christians can go to IMAX, especially if it is at a museum or science hall, some educational center.  But if it is disconnected from those places, standing alone.  Whoooaa!  Is it a theater then?  Well, it depends, you know.  If you are watching a documentary, it’s an educational thingy and if you’re watching Poseidon Adventure, it is a theater.  This is why we need to be up front and honest about this.  And what about Barnes and Noble?  Don’t they have bad books and magazines in there?  This is why this thing has to be a matter of discernment.

Kids are a lot more savvy than many give them credit.  They start figuring out that our principles work places where we don’t apply them.  They start asking questions and that’s where certain rigid standards stop working and we find we’d have done better targeting heart change and giving them discernment to make good decisions about any area in this fast-changing world.  We need to keep them away from things, but it’s even better if they witness firsthand our love for God.  We don’t have much time for these forms of entertainment because they interfere with what’s really important to us, our service of God.

Next time, I’ll go further with my story and I’ll tell you some more about what I think God’s will for us is.

Categories: Brandenburg, Culture Tags: ,
  1. May 7, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Good thoughts on theaters and video stores. There has always been a nagging conflict in the Christian response to these things. Thanks for bringing it up, and for telling us your “story.” We all (no doubt) feel better having read it.

  2. Cathy
    May 7, 2008 at 11:54 am

    The answer is Netflix, LOL

  3. May 7, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I was hoping you would notice the deep exegesis.

  4. Mara
    May 9, 2008 at 4:34 am

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom on the subject.

  5. May 9, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Ah, “shipped”, “demerits”, “You’re stuck!” Those were the days. It was even fun to get in trouble, or get someone else in it. But it was really really fun to give out demerits. Who needs television. I guess the lesson is, if you really get busy in God’s work, you won’t have time for television. Well, maybe the news.

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