The State of the Union

When it comes to my television set, I mostly use it to watch rental DVDs, old movies and documentary channels on cable. I have often heard, and myself said, that network television is a wasteland, barren of programs worth watching. I believe that to be the case, though I will admit that, infrequently, the stark emptiness of broadcast television is broken by a program, usually on PBS, that merits viewing by individuals above the age of 15 years.

For the most part, or so it seems to me, network television's offerings mirror the entertainment taste of a society that is driven by adolescent fantasies. Like the computer games that are so popular, car crashes and violent death seem to be mandatory in just about any movie or program that is not centered on infantile humor and/or what used to be called illicit sex. And yet we wonder why there is so much violence and licentiousness in America.

There is just as much violence and infantile humor to be found in cable TV, and sex-centered programming is even more explicit. Fortunately, there are oases on cable where families might watch together without mom and dad being embarrassed by the presence of their children or their parents. On cable, there are channels at which one might actually learn something other than a new sexual technique or how to more efficiently kill or maim greater numbers of innocent bystanders.

When I was a kid, I recall that one of the annual events my parents used to look forward to, and which I came to eagerly anticipate, was the release of the MGM major musical movie for the year. There were plenty of musical movies in those days, but every year, MGM pulled all the stops and made a BIG musical, with fantastic sets, major stars, incredible choreography, etc.

Not long ago, I watched one of those old MGM musicals, the 1953 film Kiss Me Kate. The roster of stars appearing in this delightful movie is impressive: Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Keenan Wynn, James Whitmore, Bob Fosse and more. The score was written by Cole Porter, and includes many songs that were standards in their day, and are still being recorded today. One scene that keeps popping into my head, long after the movie ended, was a comedic vaudeville song-and-dance routine by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore. When those two old guys, who weren't so old 52 years ago, sang "Brush Up On Shakespeare" and shuffled off-scene at the end of the song, I was in as high spirits as I had been in a very long time.

In this movie, there is no sex, no violence, no swearing and no nudity, yet I was thoroughly entertained. When the movie ended, I felt good and was in a peaceful state of mind. How different from today's movies. I have seen young people exiting a mall cinema in a state of high agitation, excitedly reviewing violent scenes they had just watched in some modern movie. How many times have I walked past a mall game room and looked in to see young people arching and twisting their faces and bodies as they 'played' a video game that involved killing, usually in some horrible manner, uncounted numbers of people and creatures? I recall how people looked and acted when leaving the theater after watching one of those old musicals. They would be smiling or laughing as they chatted about their shared movie-going experience. They would be happy.

The 1950's are referred to as the Decade of Innocence. Families used to do things together; like go on picnics in the country or at a city park, or gather in the living room to read or listen to the radio or watch TV. Streets were, for the most part, safe for taking walks or playing. What went wrong? What changed America from a nation where family values ruled to one in which "I got mine" is the catch phrase of the day?

What went wrong is that America, as a nation, shoved God into the background as we began worshipping other gods; gods like material goods, homes in the suburbs, big cars, personal convenience, personal freedom, etc. The chief of these new gods is called “ME. We never stopped to think that sacrificing to those new gods involves credit card debt, big mortgages, high-interest car loans, big insurance payments and the loss of personal liberty and security. These new gods are jealous gods, and ME is the most jealous of all.

Once we are committed to worshipping and serving the new gods, we soon discover that they demand virtually all of our attention and energy, if they are to be satisfied. Of all the new gods, ME demands the most time and attention, for ME seems never to be satisfied and always wants more. And the more we serve ME, the more we distance ourselves from the only real God, our eternal Father.

As we draw away from Almighty God, the Tempter finds it increasingly easy to step between us. Unless we turn again toward God, it becomes more and more difficult to see Him, for He is overshadowed by the cares and desires our new gods create. And we never seem to notice that every one of the new gods is in submission to Satan.

How can the old ways, the peaceful times, be restored in America? I can think of but one way; and that is for Americans to restore God Almighty to primacy in our lives. I am not talking about putting a “Jesus Saves” bumper sticker on our car, or going to church on Sunday, while continuing to sin seven days in every week. Nor am I talking about false piety, such as is often observed in folks who seem to punctuate their every sentence with “Amen,” or “Praise God.”

What I am talking about is putting God first in every aspect of our daily living. I am talking about waking up in the morning and thanking God for the night’s rest and the new day – and meaning it. I am talking about doing the best we can to obey the two new commandments that Christ gave us:

35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
-- Matthew 22:35-40

I sincerely believe that America can be restored to greatness, real greatness, by restoring God to His rightful place in the hearts and minds of Americans. That will not come about by executive order, act of Congress, or Supreme Court fiat. It must happen within ME. One way to start would be to say, and mean it, “Lord, I am so sorry for having sinned against You. Please help me to live in a way that will be pleasing and acceptable to You.”

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