Hooray for Hollywood

My Dad was a huge fan of Benny Goodman and his orchestra. However, I know this song because Doris Day sang it. I loved her movies as a kid. Heck, I still love her films. They just don’t make them like that anymore. I find myself saying that more and more, especially now when Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner.

Things were very different and not all that long ago. During Christmas or Easter season we could always count on great films like The Greatest Story Ever Told, King of Kings, A Christmas Carol, The Bishop’s Wife, The Sound of Music, The Song of Bernadette, The Bells of St. Mary’s, and It’s A Wonderful Life. I also remember gathering with my cousins around the television and watching Family Classics with Frazier Thomas. We couldn’t get enough of Heidi, Gulliver’s Travels, Jungle Book, Little Women, The Lone Ranger, and so many more.

When I got married and began having children, I passed on many of these traditions to my girls. It was an Easter ritual for my eldest daughter and me to watch The Ten Commandments. Along with Christmas and Easter films you could always count on Yankee Doodle Dandy on Independence Day, The Quiet Man on St. Patrick’s Day, and Pride of the Yankees on baseball opening day. In 1992 the country was caught up in Sister Act mania, thanks to Pope John Paul II, including my two daughters who routinely paraded around the house with arm chair guards on their heads (their nun veils). But that was 22 years ago! As my girls got older these films all but disappeared except for an occasional go-round on Turner Classics.

Think about it. Christmas classics are now considered Home Alone, Elf, and A Christmas Story. As much as I love Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder B.B. gun, there is not a mention of Christ in A Christmas Story. Actually, I’m shocked they’re still airing A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC since Linus proclaims the real meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ.

Let’s face it. We people of God are movie-starved! Remember the excitement when Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ? And the movie doesn’t have to be religious. Name one person who hasn’t seen The Blind Side. The Book of Eli was more than thought provoking. I went to see it at the theater where several young boys were seated in front of me. At the end of the film one of them got up and shouted, “Yeah, God!” Do you see what I’m talking about?

But we’re beginning to see a shift. The Bible miniseries, which aired on The History Channel last spring, broke all records and its major motion picture follow-up, Son of God, was a box office smash. God Is Not Dead opened several eyes and what did Hollywood do? They released Noah. It made money but was not nearly as successful as the independently made movies mentioned above. Why? It was “loosely” based on the story of Noah. Now I’ll give them room for creativity since the story of Noah is not lengthy. But portraying Noah as an almost homicidal baby-killer? Even the Hollywood movie critics laughed at it and gave it a bad review for not being Biblically correct.

Why is all of this happening? Elitist Hollywood types and others like them want to change our traditions and eradicate religion. Unless of course you practice the religion of environmentalism or atheism. When Tim Tebow bent his knee to thank God before and during each football game he was ridiculed and eventually blackballed. When Kirk Cameron was gearing up to release his faith based documentary, Unstoppable, Facebook pulled the trailer from their site and his Twitter feed filled up with words of hate. Facebook eventually restored the page, but Cameron had the biggest laugh of all. His one night only documentary broke all records and he was named King of the Box Office by Yahoo! Movie Talk. Why? The film grossed more than $2 million on just 700 screens.

However, it seems like the joke is on Hollywood. 2014 is going down in history as one of the worst years for the film industry. Box office sales are abysmal and movie studios are handing out pink slips. Why is nobody going to see Transcendence, Ride Along or Sex Tape? But they are flocking to see Heaven Is For Real, Mom’s Night Out, Persecuted, When the Game Stands Tall, and America? Americans are hungry for something to believe in. Something they can relate to with substance that makes them think about what has been missing in entertainment—like truth, wholesomeness, and God.

Noah is not the answer—but it could have been. Hollywood elitists don’t grasp that to create a fantastic film that can survive the test of time is not just about the money—you have to know it and believe in it. Cecil B. DeMille, whose mother was Jewish and father an Episcopal lay minister made The 10 Commandments to spread biblical values during the Cold War. A little unknown fact—DeMille himself appears at the beginning of the film with this message to the audience, “The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God? The same battle continues throughout the world today.” Amazing. Too bad this is left out of the television version. And what DeMille said is still true today.

Hope springs eternal. There is a new Exodus film coming out later this year. David and Goliath is scheduled for a 2015 release. The latter is produced by an atheist turned Christian and promises to be based on the Bible and history. Sounds promising given the fact that there is so much written about Moses and David.

Let’s face it folks, we are now the counter-culture. It’s up to all of us—no matter what denomination or no denomination at all—to come together and sponsor, promote and frequent these films. We must win the culture war or our grandchildren and great-grandchildren may never know what Christmas or any Judeo-Christian-based traditions truly are. They’ll only know what Hollywood tells them they are.

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The Name Game

Today is September 11th. It’s such a profound day for those old enough to remember. As the day approaches my emotions usually take a somber tone. It’s just something that you can never forget. The images are burned into your memory. Each year I try to watch the live coverage of the 9/11 Memorial from New York City and the traditional reading of names. It never fails to bring me to tears. I didn’t know anyone in the Towers that morning and yet I feel I knew every one of them.

I’m writing this while listening and watching the roll call of those innocents who perished in the terrorist attack 13 years ago. I listen to the select group of friends and family chosen to read the names. The very last name they read is that of their loved one. I’m always struck by the diversity of the names read. Every nationality, age, and sex is represented. Evil doesn’t take stock of where your ancestors came from, sex or how old you are.

Many of the older children relay the most personal messages. One of them told the story of how her dad tucked her in to bed the night before never realizing this would be the last time she would ever see him. Another stated while he remembered his father, two younger siblings did not, but he was determined to teach them who their father was.  While another young man, so inspired by his father, decided to devote his life to service and had just joined the US Marine Corps.

And of course there are the parents who lost children and the husbands and wives who lost their spouse. All refer to them in the present tense, as if they are still alive and living within the walls of the waterfall memorial. As it gets closer and closer for them to recite the words they wish to say, the more their lips quiver and they tense up. Many say they know they are with God and they will all be united once again. They are right.

This year I noticed more young people between the ages of 13 and 18 reading the names. They do not speak with the same emotion. As they recite their personal message to their loved one they tell them, mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, uncle Joe, I never knew you… I’m not criticizing them because they are telling the truth.

There are so many lessons to be learned from this day. I won’t touch upon those that our government, intelligence agencies and military need to learn. I’m talking about lessons we can learn from the grieving. There but for the grace of God go I. My own child lives in New York City. Those planes could just have easily attacked Chicago. Last night I asked my youngest daughter if she remembered that day, thirteen years ago. She was only 10 years old but she remembered watching the horrible sequence of events with her 17 year-old sister. When she began to cry, her older sister comforted her. I’m sad my children have to have a memory like 9/11. I’m also happy that they have a memory of it because I know they’ll never forget.

Which leads me to the larger lesson to be learned. I watched a wife give a heart wrenching remembrance of her husband, a New York City police officer. In her hands she clutched an 8×10 photo of him taken on 9/11, leading an injured woman to safety. A nervous young man, approximately 12 years old, stood next to her, waiting his turn to speak. She motioned to her daughter in the crowd and said that her father was proud of her as she followed in his footsteps. Holding up the photo, she said this is who her husband was and this is how he lived and died, laying down his life for a stranger. She then invoked God’s name and His blessing on all grieving survivors and on America and closed by stating her husband was now with God. When it was the young man’s turn, he mentioned his uncle’s name, said he missed him, and God bless America. The difference in demeanor and emotion was striking.

As parents we want to protect our children from evil. It’s a natural instinct. We don’t want them to see atrocities. A college freshman today has no memory of 9/11 because they were too young to remember. News agencies don’t show the images of 9/11 because it might upset someone. I believe those images should be shown every day so we don’t forget. Especially since our education system is not teaching US history.

Thirteen years after 9/11 firefighters can’t wear American flag or Marine Corps stickers on their helmets. Do you remember how each firefighter proudly wore that flag on 9/11? Members of the military can’t go to their children’s school in their fatigues because it might offend a student. All of us are alive and free today thanks to the sacrifice of members of our military.

We cannot allow ourselves to forget and become indifferent. Those younger children who lost their parent on 9/11 have no memories. It’s not their fault. But what will become our fault is if we deny our young people their history and the right to know what happened that sunny day in September, 2001. Sometimes seeing evil is the best defense against it.

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Alan Jackson is one of my favorite country singer/songwriters. Most of his songs are about simple country living, but what affected him on September 11, 2001 cut deep—just like it did to all of us. As in his song, we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. While Jackson may have been on stage prepping for a concert, most of us, like the innocent victims of the terrorists, were also at work or school just like any other day. But September 11, 2001 was no ordinary day.

It was a warm and sunny morning in Chicago. A university meeting was scheduled but I was too busy to go, so my student and I were alone in the office. I had my radio set to my favorite station when the DJ announced that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and then a few minutes later another plane slammed into the South Tower. My student, who happened to be Muslim, knew exactly what happened. I’ll never forget the fear in his eyes when he shouted at me after the second plane hit, “Do you know what this is!”

I immediately picked up the phone and called my Dad. I wanted to hear his voice and make sure he turned the news on. My youngest daughter was with him. I remember how angry I was at her earlier because she claimed to be sick, but I didn’t believe her. I was now relieved she had stayed home with grandpa. My second call was to my eldest daughter’s high school. The shaky voice on the other end said the girls were OK and they were watching the coverage in their classrooms. My husband, a City of Chicago employee, called me. We both knew if a plane hit anywhere in Chicago, he’d have to go.

The university meeting ended abruptly after the third plane hit the Pentagon and employees returned to their offices in a panic. It was a day at work where no work was done. My radio was the only outside link we had. Rumors swirled that Chicago was next. Everyone was scared.

I worked just a half-day and returned home to an empty house. I turned on the television and for the first time watched in horror at what was happening. I cried watching victims jump because they believed it was the better alternative, seeing others waving white cloths out windows for help that would never come. I covered my mouth as the Towers came down, covering everything and everyone in white ash. It looked like a movie, but it was real. Later I sat outside and listened to the only music on the radio—patriotic music. It was eerily quiet as all planes had been grounded. When my eldest returned home from school she recounted how they kept hearing planes low overhead and they were terrified until the teacher reassured them their school was near a military facility.

Once the girls and my husband returned home we held tight, grateful just to be together. We watched the coverage of survivors walking around New York City with pictures of loved ones—praying they’d be found. We watched the endless streams of people walking miles across bridges to get home to other boroughs of New York or to New Jersey or Connecticut. The cameras took us inside New York and Washington D.C. hospitals where dedicated doctors and nurses tended the injured and regular folks donated blood. We saw police and firefighters, covered in ash, some sitting on curbs with their heads in their hands and others embracing each other. Three firefighters raised a small flag among the debris. It looked like the end of the world.

In the following days, we cheered as police and fire units from other cities and states rushed in to help. News stations interviewed scores of survivors of all races and religions but nobody saw the differences. It didn’t matter. We were one and we held on to each other for comfort and solace. The candlelight vigils followed. People of all backgrounds formed a human chain, some prayed or sang, while others remained silent, but all stood together. We’ll never forget President Bush’s “bullhorn” speech to the emergency workers at Ground Zero. Churches were full for the first time in years. Chances are if you had a Bible in your house it was in your hands. We vowed never to forget.

If you’re under the age of 18 you probably don’t remember, or you weren’t born. We have shielded our children from the horrific images of September 11th. A huge mistake and why so many Americans are back to the mindset of September 10th. As a child I was taught about Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t there but I’d learned about it, saw the actual footage, and even visited the memorial in Hawaii. But no one is educating our children that true evil exists in this world and will touch us—no punch, kick and knock us down again.

Where does God fit in? Everywhere. Many people cried to Him that day. His name the last words uttered by some. Many demanded to know how He could let this happen. I don’t have all the answers but I know He was there. I saw Him in the faces of those first responders who rushed into the Towers and the Pentagon. I saw Him on the face of the dying Catholic priest, Fire Chaplain Father Mychal Judge and on the faces of those who carried him from the Tower, where just earlier he was anointing firefighters and giving last rites to others. I know I saw God on the faces of all those survivors who carried co-workers from burning buildings or for those who gave comfort to strangers on the streets.

Jesus tells us in John 15:13, “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Isn’t that what every lost first responder did? Isn’t that what the passengers of Flight 93 did? How many regular people sacrificed that day to save others? Many lost their lives saving co-workers and strangers. A few days after the attack, Franciscan Father Brian Jordan was blessing the remains at Ground Zero when a worker asked him, “Father, you want to see God’s House? Look over there.” At first Father Brian could not see anything but then he saw it. There was a long silence as several workers saw it too. What we now call the 9/11 Cross thrust into the ground. God was there.

St. Paul’s Chapel built in 1766 miraculously escaped destruction. Positioned on the edge of the World Trade Center site, it opened its doors to rescue workers, offered meals, cots, counseling and prayer. On April 30, 1789, President George Washington attended Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s after his inauguration at Federal Hall on Wall Street. It was at that chapel that President Washington dedicated the United States of America to God, saying the nation would prosper and be protected as long as it remained committed to the will and purpose of God. Only two countries have such a covenant with God: the US and Israel. Do you think that was a coincidence? God was there.

Today I read that two days before the anniversary of 9/11 four Chicago suburban firefighters were suspended for refusing to remove a patriotic sticker of an American flag posted on their helmets and lockers. One came to America from Cuba and said his parents brought him here because the government told them what to do. Another suspended firefighter was an African-American whose father was an ex-Marine, ex-Vietnam Vet, while still another was Caucasian. You see how quickly we forget?

At the close of Jackson’s song, he quotes 1 Corinthians 13:13. “As it is, these remain, faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.” We especially loved our fellow man the day after September 11th and the days that followed. Do we still love them today?

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

I’m not ashamed to say I love baseball. It’s my favorite sport. Turn on any game and I’ll watch it. I’ve been a Chicago White Sox fan since I was old enough to throw a ball. For that I thank my late grandmother. Things I remember most about my grandmother are the delicious aromas that engulfed her kitchen, the radio on in the mornings turned to a station that played “old” music, the amounts of mouth-watering Italian food she cooked, and the kitchen television turned on to Channel 9 during baseball season. It didn’t matter if the White Sox or the Cubs were playing. At that time WGN broadcast both teams. I can still remember Jack Brickhouse yelling “Hey! Hey!”

If you’ve ever lived in Chicago, you know about the White Sox/Cubs rivalry. It can get heated at times and my grandmother was no exception. So why did she watch them? Well, it was baseball. And she loved cheering on the team who played against them. To give you an idea how far she took the rivalry, when the Cubs were in the pursuit of the National League pennant in 1969 my grandmother hung an effigy of Leo Durocher, the Cubs manager, out the front window of her second floor apartment.

The rivalry between Cubs/Sox fans is still alive and kicking. However, as much as we tease each other we still have God, the Bears, Blackhawks, Garrett’s popcorn, deep dish pizza, and genuine interest and care for each other. We have common ground.

One of the best days of my life was when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005. First, I cheered like mad, and then cried my eyes out just like every other White Sox fan. We cried remembering all our friends and family who didn’t live to see this great day. The first person I thought of was my grandmother.

It’s nine years later and the White Sox are about as far away from the World Series as it gets. Chicago has changed—the whole world has changed since 2005. We now are witness to true hatred. We see it playing out in the Middle East and it’s not a friendly rivalry between baseball fans. It’s deadly and it’s growing and if it’s not taken out it will be right here in the US. Unfortunately we are also seeing hatred here at home. We are allowing ourselves to be labeled and in a bad way. You are different than me in some way or have different ideas then me so I hate you.

Abraham Lincoln said the United States would never be defeated by an outside force. It would be defeated from within. And he was right. Remember September 11th? I remember watching survivors fleeing from the World Trade Towers covered in soot and ash and thinking to myself, I can’t tell if they’re black or white. Remember who we were on September 12th? I remember everyone holding on to each other and nobody cared what political party you liked, how much money you made or what color you were. Churches were full and people turned back to God. We all found common ground and we loved each other. What happened?

Chicago, once noted for its architecture, culture, great restaurants, and sports is now known for being the murder capital of the US. Years ago when I traveled, people would ask me how I could live in Chicago with Al Capone and gangsters running around. I used to laugh. They obviously didn’t know Capone had been dead for years. Now when I travel people ask how I could live in Chicago with all the crime. I tell them the murders and shootings do not represent all of Chicago. But they don’t believe me. There are actually people just a few miles away (I won’t name names) that keep a wide berth from Chicagoans.

But this week I have great hope that Chicago’s image can change and it has everything to do with baseball. Last week Chicago’s own Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team won the US Championship. This team of 13 boys accomplished what no politician, activist, or community organizer could do. They united this City—Cub fan, White Sox fan, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, Democrat or Republican. Everyone was glued to the television to watch them play. And play they did. They never gave up. And they won with integrity and character. This was not only a win for these boys and their coaches; it was a win for their parents. They raised these boys to love God, be humble, to work hard, to trust in their teammates and coaches, and treat those around them like they would like to be treated.

Last week the City threw them the same victory party as they threw for the 2005 White Sox. I was there. So were all my co-workers and thousands, perhaps millions of Chicagoans. When those trolleys and buses drove by we saw excited young boys who had fulfilled their dream. That’s it. We didn’t see color, we saw champions. At the rally we heard from several pastors who spoke about these boys and credited their parents for raising them right. There were also speeches by countless politicians who did absolutely nothing, except try to capitalize off the boys’ win, and I was thrilled when the crowd started jeering them and yelling “we want the kids!”

This is who Chicago is. The City of Big Shoulders. The City That Works. The largest small town in the Midwest. We are a group of ethnically diverse neighborhoods that make up one metropolis. Together we have accomplished much. We arose from the ashes of the Great Fire and built this architectural gem we call home. We all look forward to the 90 days of summer and have all survived the blizzards from countless winters. We all celebrate Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, Taste of Polonia, Jazz and Gospel Fest, Greek Independence Day, Gay Pride Parade and St. Patrick’s Day to name a few. And we all celebrate the 4th of July – US Independence Day. We work together, play together and genuinely care about each other. We have common ground. We are Chicagoans and we can’t allow politicians, activists, outsiders and “well-meaning” insiders to tell us differently.

It’s one week after the win and there have already been 31 shootings in Chicago. The ball is in our court, Chicago. Do we remember who we were on 9/12? Do we remember who we were just last Tuesday when we cheered for a group of young boys, Jackie Robinson West Little League? I pray we remember when nothing divided us and baseball brought us together as one.