Friday, June 8, 2012

Deserted Islands Filled with Noise

Are we losing the ability to be quiet and listen? That may sound a little strange since that seems to be the only thing people do these days, right? It seems that everywhere I go I can look around and observe seemingly countless teens silently and methodically rolling through an average day. Their activities are fairly normal: walking through a mall, eating at a burger joint, or even browsing in a local book store. Many times everything seems to be at peace. A common thread, however, that links many students together is the obvious presence of tiny headphones lodged deep into their ears. 

It turns out that something that so many of us have in common can also be the very thing that divides us. Since the invention of Sony’s Walkman in the late 1970s, the trend of personalized music devices has exploded. Apple released the first iPod in 2001, and since then the devices have only gotten smaller, yet with more memory to hold access to literally thousands of songs, videos, and multiple other types of media in the palm of our collective hand. Everybody has one! We’re all the same, yet more distant than ever from each other. We’re rapidly forgetting what true fellowship and community is like, and perhaps many of us are trapped on deserted islands filled with a lot of noise.  

Maybe it’s time to begin thinking differently about how we listen to music. The rising iPod trend (which takes on many forms--not just the iPod) offers very little opportunity to listen to music in community. We tend to think of music as my music, my playlist, etc. Not that all music should be a communal experience, but as Christians we should invite the accountability of others into whatever we’re spending our time doing.

It’s easy to deceive oneself along these lines: “I’ve had a long day.  I just want to be alone, plug in my earbuds and not talk to anyone.” The problem with that is that we’re not alone. We may not be having a two-way conversation with another real human being, but we’re certainly allowing ourselves to be on the receiving end of a one-way counseling session.  Often we choose to be alone, but not silent. Instead of quiet introspection, it’s easier to relax our mind and experience an emotional connection with our best friend, the Playlist.

We’re designed by a magnificent Creator for relationship. Christians should continually be seeking opportunities to have strong, lasting fellowship with others. We should explore what it means to love and serve God and others, and not get sucked into the lie that everything should be iCustom, iSelfish, iMe, iUniverse... iSolation.

What are some other ways we tend to isolate ourselves from the accountability of others? Would you be willing to listen to music that isn't your "style" in order to listen in community with others? You may comment below...

*pictures borrowed from:,

Friday, June 1, 2012

Family Friendly Entertainment ... Or is it?

From the beginning, Axis has said that music, movies, and TV shows need to be analyzed for content, artistry, and quality, not just one or the other. For years now, we have tried to do just that: help students and adults think deeper about the media they consume. And we have talked about countless songs, movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and other forms of media in the hopes that people would not just judge media by whether or not it has a “catchy beat” or “bad words.” There are too many other subversively powerful ideas that are propagated through media (without the use of bad words!) for us not to be keenly aware of them. How can we battle lies that hold us captive if we don’t even know what those lies are?

It’s a good question that brings up another: if we change the lyrics of songs, does that make them safer? If we alter the words enough, can music even been safe enough for young kids to listen to?

As always, the answer is never as simple or clear cut as we’d like it to be. Case in point: the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, Chipwrecked. (see trailer below) 

The “Alvin and the Chipmunks” characters have always been geared toward younger kids, and recent “Chipmunks” feature films have been advertised as family-friendly, G-rated fun. And families have been frequenting theaters in flocks to watch the films. But, if you watched the trailer above, you might have noticed that something is terribly amiss.

In the movies, the Chipmunks and Chipettes sing and dance to songs from pop-culture that have been popular in the last few years, as well as a few oldies. The movies have featured songs by artists like Lady Gaga, LMFAO, Beyonce, and Katy Perry, to name a few. Since things really haven’t changed in the music industry in the last 40 years or so, you can easily guess the things that these Top 40 artists are singing about and realize that they’re not necessarily “kid friendly.” So why are these songs in the Chipmunks movies?

The words have been changed, of course! Well, at least, slightly changed. Offensive words have been removed or replaced in order to make the songs safe for kids! It’s a perfect solution, right? (Something else that does this is “Kidz Bop,” music albums in which kids sing pop songs with the words changed so that younger children will be able to listen to popular music, too.)

As much as we’d all like for that to be the answer, it’s not that simple. Whether the songs are sung by the original artists with the original words or by the Chipmunks or the “Kidz” with the changed lyrics, the songs are catchy as all get out. So when kids who have already been exposed to the tunes through a “safe” avenue hear the original songs on the radio, they most likely will think, “This is a good song! It was in the Chipmunks movie!” and be none the wiser to the difference in the lyrics. The result is that they are desensitized and never think twice about listening to and singing the song.

In addition, though “offensive” words have been removed from the songs, many of the dangerous concepts that permeate pop music are just as present as ever. One song celebrates partying until you lose your mind, another extols unhealthy and destructive relationships, and another glorifies the idea that you can’t change who you were born as. Young kids do not yet have the ability or experience to discern which concepts are God-honoring and which concepts are enslaving, so unless parents help their children to see this, they will continue to sing these words.

The Bible is clear that words are powerful. James 3, Matthew 15:18, Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 21:23Proverbs 15:2 & 4, Psalm 19:14, and Luke 6:45 all speak of the power of the tongue. What comes out of our mouths is what is is our hearts. Do we want these things to be in our hearts? Or our children’s hearts? Music and lyricss are dangerous if they lead us to destruction, no matter who the artist is.

Do you agree or disagree that song lyrics matter? Are there other examples of children’s media that have dangerous concepts that have been disguised? You may comment below. . . 

Kung Fu vs. Karate vs. the Force. . . .Who Wins?

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the original release of Star Wars, an epic battle is taking place: in one corner of the ring, Po is shoving his face full of food while the Furious Five cheer him on. In the next corner, Mr. Han is giving Dre Parker a quick pep-talk. And in the third corner, Luke Skywalker readies his lightsaber while remembering all of Yoda’s advice. But it’s an unfair match up. As the bell rings to begin the fight, everyone knows that with the Force on his side, Luke Skywalker can’t lose. Nothing can beat the Force--not even the “dark side” of the Force!

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve seen Kung Fu Panda (1 or 2), the newest Karate Kid, and some or all of the Star Wars movies, so you know all of the characters in this imaginary battle. And at this point, you might be thinking, “One of these things is not like the other. What do the Force and spaceships have to do with kung fu or karate?

In this particular case, everything! What many American moviegoers don’t know is that each of these movies comes from the same worldview, that of spiritualism. Spiritualism is the basis of most Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc.), and it is the idea that “God” is not a personal being but rather an energy flow that is made up of all living things. In Karate Kid, this idea of god is referred to as “chi,” and in Star Wars it’s called (duh) “the Force.” In order to achieve the things you need to accomplish, you must come to the realization that you are part of this energy flow, then learn to harness it. And while Kung Fu Panda never specifically mentions any such “flow,” many allusions are made to this and other concepts from spiritualism (i.e. becoming “one” with the universe, letting go of the illusion of control, finding inner peace).

So, to answer the original question, the winner of our imaginary boxing match would be determined by one thing: whoever can fight the best. “The Force” would not give Luke an advantage; neither would Dre get the upper hand by harnessing “chi.” And no matter how much “inner peace” Po claims to have achieved, it would not help him to dominate his opponents. Why? Because there is no such thing as a universal energy flow! Not only is this a false view of God because it is contradictory to who God says He is, it is also a concept that has and will continue to lead people astray.

As adults, it is not hard to comprehend and discern the difference between the Force and a biblical view of God. But it’s not as easy for younger children and adolescents who have never been taught how to discern between different belief systems. So when they are surrounded by media that propagates different worldviews, it can be very hard for them to discern which ideas will bring them to a fuller understanding of God and which ideas will only ensnare and confuse them, resulting in a weaker faith in the God of the Bible.

However, the answer is not to prohibit children from viewing these movies, but rather (you guessed it!) to watch and discuss these movies with them. In fact, movies like these really make our job simpler: they provide visuals and relatable stories that make understanding difficult ideas from different worldviews much easier. Watching them can be a great segue into conversations that don’t normally arise. And in the end, you are helping your kids to refine their understanding of who God is and is not, as well as to be able to better identify other false worldviews in media, which, I think we would all agree, is a wonderful thing!

What other movies or TV shows have you seen with elements of spiritualism in them? Have you found good ways to discuss these ideas with your children? If so, let us know. And finally, how do you know when your child is ready to handle more complicated concepts like that of spiritualism? You may comment below...

*picture borrowed from: