John Hagee: Reflections on My Facebook Post (Part 4 of 4)

486525_10151146516347518_322558031_nWhen I previously wrote about John Hagee I defended my link and comment by saying that Hagee is misleading multitudes. I believe this is apparent once you read the biblical texts above and then read what Hagee is saying. Then follow his actions on behalf of the state of Israel. (Have you ever seen photographs of his studio/auditorium where his services take place? His platform is surrounded by the flags of both the U.S. and Israel. And have you ever followed the money trail of his Christians United for Israel mission and asked where does Hagee send significant funds to support a nation, not a mission? And have you heard what he says about the gospel and the need for the Jews to believe in Jesus as the Messiah?) To suggest that I should read the entire Four Blood Moons book before I comment on his teaching is nothing short of preposterous. For beginners I have read all of John Hagee that I care to read. His exegesis is terrible, his theology is worse and his public ministry is built on sensationalism and the total support of the state of Israel as primary. I need say no more.

In my last Facebook comment I noted that when this sensational prediction cycle is used by a Reformed voice, namely like that of the late Harold Camping, I offered the same criticism. My deep problem is not with the eschatology of dispensationalism, per se. Nor is it with some version or perversion of this system, though this is really worse yet. Some respectable dispensationalists avoid this kind of emphasis admirably. (John MacArthur comes to mind here as one excellent example of not predicting the end!) But it must be admitted that many dispensationalists, like John Hagee, have a hard time not talking constantly about the End being near. Sadly, this tends to go with this system and the exceptions tend to (generally) prove the rule.

What troubles me even more about ministers like John Hagee is the way the prophetic conclusions that he draws have been linked with American nationalism and international political decision making by the USA with regards to our Middle East policy.

Jesus clearly said: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

My rationale for raising these kinds of questions is rooted in this teaching. John Hagee is promoting war! You ask, “How?” By assuring us that wars must happen or God’s word will fail. What stirs the blood of some Christians more than anything I know in the present context is the assurance that God tells us that some wars “must” come soon AND that God himself instructs us about which side we should be on in advance of these wars. This is not only bizarre it is dangerous. It is not peacemaking in any meaningful sense. (Think of how much we criticize some radical Muslims about jihad and knowing God’s will about war and then plug this into Christian interpretations like these and you can at least see the possible dangers!) This is why I wrote a simple, slightly sarcastic, comment on Facebook. And this is why I posted a link to an article about John Hagee’s prophetic meanderings.

John Hagee’s teaching is not consistent with orthodox, mainstream Christianity. It is blatantly strange. It should be repudiated and rejected by serious Christians. If you desire to listen to Christ, and pursue unity in peace with all people and especially with the household of Christian faith, then do not give a moment’s thought to teachers like John Hagee. Certainly save your money. The day that Hagee openly recants this nonsense I will happily support him. Meanwhile, I am not sorry that I warned some of you to avoid him.

Posted in ACT 3, America and Americanism, Church History, Current Affairs, Eschatology, Evangelism, Kingdom of God, Politics, The Church, The Future | Leave a comment

John Hagee: Reflections on My Facebook Post (Part 3 of 4)

B166PIn the case of John Hagee very few people within the larger culture are paying attention to his prophecies. Last week I scanned a copy of John Hagee’s book, Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation (Howard Books, 2010), in a Half-Price Bookstore near home. The copy I looked at was called an “Updated Edition.” (I love how these books have to be updated. I wonder why? This is humor dear reader!) The subtitle on this newer edition reads: “Startling Revelations and Promises of Hope.” The cover speaks of “special updates” on: the death of the dollar, a nuclear Iran, the reaction of Israel, and hope for a troubled nation. Hagee writes of the following:

  1. The impending nuclear war in the Middle East
  2. The coming death of the U. S. dollar
  3. The consequences of rejecting Israel
  4. The absolute accuracy of biblical prophecy
  5. The coming Fourth Reich

The dust jacket of this same book says, “As a candid conservative Christian leader . . . this bestselling author courageously sounds an alarm to awaken the American nation from the slumber of political correctness. Using carefully documented facts and powerful biblical teachings, Pastor Hagee illustrates the relationship between current newspaper headlines and biblical prophecy.”

Now, why does all this matter?

For starters, I was challenged that I was quoting a link to a very biased source. I was also challenged that I should not even write about John Hagee because I was in violation of Matthew 18:15-20. And some just seem to think that my emphasis on unity precludes any comment on any issue or person who is saying anything to the church or to modern society. (Simply put, I should leave them all alone and never comment.) I profoundly disagree with all of these points.

  1. Whether the link I posted was written by a person who is fair and unbiased, or plainly has an ax to grind, is irrelevant. The report that this writer gave was true. Any simple perusal of John  Hagee’s website, books and hundreds of sermons will show this is the case.
  2. Matthew 18 has nothing to do with posting a comment like mine on Facebook. The context of the aforementioned text is one involving an offense between persons in need of being reconciled. I have no personal offense with John Hagee. I do not need to be reconciled to him as a person. He is a minister who has a public audience via television, sells millions of books and influences more than a few who read him. What surprises me is how frequently this Matthew 18 passage is used to say that we should never comment on living ministers who write and teach. While I do think some “gatekeepers” believe it is there special calling to single out every preacher they disagree with this is clearly not the path that I follow. And regular reading of my blogs and Facebook posts will reveal this quite clearly to a fair-minded reader.
  3. As for my emphasis on Christian unity I see this appeal as the best of the three made on my Facebook wall. Having said this, and there are times when I do withdraw something because of this very point, unity is not uniformity. Unity does not mean we never discuss our differences. What I hope I show is that we can pursue unity and discuss (yes even debate) our differences. I recently engaged with the Indiana controversy over discrimination against same-sex couples. I was not dividing people. We are already divided. I was giving as clear a statement of my own understanding as I could and I was appealing for dialogue and love. This same-sex issue, to cite a very important modern one, will not go away. Unless, and until, we can dialogue in love about this issue we cannot pursue robust and meaningful unity. There will always be divisive issues. The question is this: “How do we engage with them constructively?”
Posted in ACT 3, America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Church History, Current Affairs, Eschatology, Evangelism, Hermeneutics, Israel, Kingdom of God, The Church, The Future | Leave a comment

John Hagee: Reflections on My Facebook Post (Part 2 of 4)

So what did Jesus teach about his coming again and the End?

UnknownWe read the words of Jesus in Mark 13:32-37. These are often read as words about this age and his coming again:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Most of you know that these various biblical texts referring to Jesus’ return are in the three synoptic Gospels. Parallel to Mark’s Gospel we thus read in Matthew 24:29-31:

“Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Later, in this same chapter, Jesus further warns:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day[i] your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (36-44):

Then in Luke 21 we read:

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly,  like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (34-36).

Now, before I go further let me says several simple things about these eschatological passages. Some of you are aware of these points but others are not:

  1. The “end” that Jesus is speaking about in these synoptic accounts is the “end of Jerusalem” in the specific context. This “end” came exactly as the Lord said it would in these texts. I do not see how you can miss this if you simply read the texts in their very clear context. But miss this multitudes have done.
  2. These prophecies are followed by what some interpret as references to a second coming, namely the End of this present age. This view is debatable itself but let me assume that this is a correct reading of the verses I have cited.
  3. If Jesus is referring to the End, the final day of this age, then one thing is abundantly clear: No one knows when that will be. Look at what Jesus actually says: “The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
  4. Only the Father knows when the Son will come. Yes, you read that right. Jesus plainly said: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mark adds, “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
  5. Now, assuming that all these texts do refer to Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of this present age of grace (an assumption that I do not make about how to interpret these texts) one thing is abundantly clear: John Hagee has no idea when Jesus is coming or when this age will end. I don’t either. And you surely don’t. No offense intended friends.
  6. Therefore, regardless of what these texts do actually refer to (the destruction of Jerusalem and/or the end of this present age or maybe both) this much is clear: when the end comes things will be as they always have been then Jesus returns!
Posted in ACT 3, America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Church History, Current Affairs, Eschatology, Evangelism, Hermeneutics, Kingdom of God, The Church, The Future | Leave a comment

John Hagee: Reflections on My Facebook Post (Part 1 of 4)

Several days ago I posted a comment about John Hagee on my Facebook wall. Hagee is a New York Times best-selling author and pastor from San Antonio, Texas. In this comment I posted a link to a site that was critical of Hagee about his growing predictions of “the end of the world.”

PastorJohnHagee_resizedJohn Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, a non-denominational evangelical church with more than 19,000 active members. He is the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel. (Note this as I will reference it again later.) He is also the president and C.E.O. of John Hagee Ministries, which telecasts his national radio and television ministry throughout America and can be seen weekly in 99 million homes and in more than 200 nations worldwide.

John Hagee graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, then earned his Masters Degree from North Texas University. He received his Theological Studies from Southwestern Assemblies of God University and an Honorary Doctorates from Oral Roberts University, Canada Christian College, and from Netanya Academic College in Israel. He is the author of twenty-two major books including two New York Times bestsellers.

I have never met John Hagee personally. I went to his church back in the 1990s when I visited San Antonio several times for meetings. It looks like a Texas mega-church, with a huge parking lot and a box-like structure that feels more like a television studio. Satellite dishes and trucks surround the place.

Hagee’s most recent best-seller is: Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change (Worthy, 2013). This book, which the blog link I posted on Facebook referenced, is built on the words of Jesus: “…There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars…Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:25a, 28).

The publicity available online about this book says: “It is rare that Scripture, science, and history align with each other, yet the last three series of Four Blood Moons have done exactly that. Are these the “signs” that God refers to in His Word? If they are, what do they mean? What is their prophetic significance?”

The publicity for the book goes on to say: “In this riveting book, New York Times best-selling author, Pastor John Hagee, explores the supernatural connection of certain celestial events to biblical prophecy—and to the future of God’s chosen people and to the nations of the world. Just as in biblical times, God is controlling the sun, the moon, and the stars to send our generation a signal that something big is about to happen. The question is: Are we watching and listening to His message?”

The answer of John Hagee, to the question of whether or not these celestial events demonstrate that we are near the end of this age, is clearly in the affirmative. No one can read anything that he writes, or watch him on television for even a few minutes, and not realize that my conclusion is obviously true. Hagee recently broadcast a live television event to reveal “direct connections between four upcoming blood-moon eclipses and what they portend for Israel and all of humankind.” This kind of broadcast is common to the man and his mission.

John Hagee asked during a recent sermon, before quoting Acts 2:19-20, if Christ was going to return soon. He answered, “I believe that the heavens are God’s billboard, that he has been sending signals to planet Earth. God is literally screaming at the world, ‘I’m coming soon.’”

Hagee has predicted that four eclipses (three of which have happened) are signaling a “world-shaking event that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015.” He concludes: “God sends plant Earth a signal that something big is about to happen! He’s controlling the Sun and the moon right now to send our generation a signal, but the question is, are we getting it?”

Some readers of my Facebook link to Hagee’s comments about the coming of Christ posted comments that were directed to me about what I wrote. Here is what I wrote on my Facebook wall: “O no, say it ain’t so. I thought Harold Camping was gone but his spirit lives on in Texas!”

Seriously, that is ALL I wrote when I put up a link to another site about Four Blood Moons. My reference to Harold Camping should be fairly obvious given the media attention the late radio-preacher created a few years ago when he boldly announced the day when Christ would return. It seemed at the time that every late-night comic had a field day. Even mainstream news covered the issue on the day that Christ was supposed to return. Harold Camping actually bought billboard signage in major cities announcing the End. Some will recall that he had announced the End many other times before that last prediction. Camping’s final prediction got the biggest response because some of his followers, as well as his media ministry, invested so much in public advertising that everyday people saw these city signs and heard the cultural buzz. Thus I connected Hagee’s words and books with Harold Camping because he was the most recent “prophet” to mislead people and to bring reproach on the person and message of Jesus, especially regarding his coming again.




Posted in ACT 3, America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Church History, Current Affairs, Eschatology, Evangelism, Hermeneutics, Kingdom of God, The Church, The Future | 2 Comments/Likes

Aaron Niequist: The Practice – Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Aaron Niequist began an experimental community at Willow Creek early last year (2014).

The Practice: Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace. Aaron aims to be a discipleship-focused, formation oriented, practice-based tribe asks two simple questions:

(1) What is the Life that Christ invites us into? and (2)

“What are the practices,” he asks, “that we can do together, and on our own, to embrace this Eternal Life now?”

Said simply: What is God doing and how can we join Him?

As Aaron and I have gotten to know each other as good friends the last two years I have watched these developments with increased joy and interest. Today I would like to share some exciting video material with you as my friends. This material is available here for only one week so please watch it now.

On a Sunday night in May, Father Michael Sparough, SJ, guided The Practice community through the historic Christian practice of The Examen. The night was powerful and so unexplainably holy that we wanted to invite more people into the experience. So we’ve turned the live recording of Fr Michael into a full New Liturgy—fleshing it out with an evocative musical score and three original songs. We hope it helps you connect with God in a deep and daily way.

Here is the promo for examen:

Check out the full examen liturgy project here.

Remember, you can only see this for one week so take advantage of it now and check it out.

Posted in Church Tradition, Discipleship, Faith, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, The Church, The Future | 1 Comment/Like

Steve Bevans: A Missional-Ecumenist Catholic Theologian

Stephen Bevans is Louis J. Luzbetak, S.V.D., Professor of Mission and Culture. He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of the Divine Word, an international missionary congregation, and served for nine years (1972-1981) as a missionary in the Philippines. He has been on the Catholic Theological Union faculty for 26 years. He is also a very dear friend to me and the work of ACT3 Network.

Steve’s publications include: Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004, with Roger Schroeder), Evangelization and Freedom (2009, with Jeffrey Gros), An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009), Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections on Christian Mission Today (with Roger Schroeder, 2011). In 2012 Steve edited Mission and Culture: The Louis J. Luzbetak Lectures. All of Steve’s books are works of mission, ecumenism and deep reflection on God and the Word.

Steve is also the past president of the American Society of Missiology (2006) and past member of the board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2007-2009). In March, 2012 Steve was part of the official Vatican delegation to the assembly of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in Manila, Philippines. He has taught and lectured in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, Ghana, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

I have not had the joy of building real friendships with a lot of theologians like Steve, thinkers who are missional theologians who are also active in ecumenism. Thank you Steve for being my friend, a friend to ACT3 Network and an active, serious and faithful follower of Jesus.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Personal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, Theology, Unity of the Church | Leave a comment

The Lord’s Supper: A Roman Catholic and Reformed Evangelical Dialog (Video)

Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? How frequently should we observe it? What does this meal mean? What happens when we eat the bread and drink from the cup? What do Christians disagree about and what do they hold in common? These and other questions are explored in my book, Understanding Four Views of the Lord’s Supper. 51Uh-nniC6L._AA160_This volume in the Counterpoints series from Zondervan allows four contributors to make a case for the following views: • Baptist view (memorialism) • Reformed view (spiritual presence) • Lutheran view (consubstantiation) • Roman Catholic view (transubstantiation) All contributors use Scripture to present their views, and each responds to the others’ essays. This book helps readers arrive at their own conclusions. It includes resources such as a listing of statements on the Lord’s Supper from creeds and confessions, quotations from noted Christians, a resource listing of books on the Lord’s Supper, and discussion questions for each chapter to facilitate small group and classroom use.

After this book was published in 2007 I engaged with my friend Fr. Thomas Baima in a dialogue hosted by Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church on a Sunday evening. Until recently this dialogue was not available on the Internet but today we make it available for the first time.

If you wonder what the “boot” is on my right foot it is a surgical boot used after one of my three surgeries on that foot. It still gives me fits today so now we are treating it for inflammation. Since I walk like a “nut” as part of my daily routine I can never get it to stop barking at me but it is much better right now.


Posted in ACT 3, Biblical Theology, Church Tradition, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Personal, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Sacraments, The Church | 10 Comments/Likes

The Church: Ever Ancient

photoThe church is one of the only places in culture where people of multiple generations make our lives together. This is the way God wants it. Augustine addresses God in prayer this way: “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” I think here of an early church martyr named Polycarp who was ordered by the Romans to curse Christ. “I have followed him eighty-six years and he has done me no wrong. How can I curse my king who saved me?” I think too of John the Baptist leaping in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. The church stretches from the not-yet-born to those on the cusp of the next life.

This is also really difficult. Younger and older folks often struggle to understand one another. We all know this in our own families. Why would we think the church would be any different?

Yet it is crucial that all ages become God’s church together. Scripture promises that Israel’s “sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). This is fulfilled in the church at Pentecost according to Acts 2. How can the church be, like God, ever ancient and ever new?

I was delighted when Arnold Lester joined our church recently and added to our north-of-90 set. I am struck how often they tell me how pleased they are to see younger folks at our church. Bill Dixon, of blessed memory, used to know every child’s name at our church. Buck Robbins, also of blessed memory, was an advocate for children his whole life here. This church stood in for him when he had no father of his own, so he knew in his bones the church must be a surrogate parent for today’s young. When Gene Ammons joined us as one of our retired ministers he pointed to the regular infant baptisms we do as a reason. And when Leveda Law started worshiping as a retired missionary some of her fastest connections came among our young families.

I have been pleased with the way older members of our church have leapt in and joined me in leadership. I have asked for their help, being keenly aware of my own inexperience. Five of our most important committees are ad council, finance, missions, trustees, and staff-parish. Two of those groups have the same leader I inherited. The other three saw as their first new leader after I came someone decades older than the person in that chair when I arrived. All have been a privilege to work with.

Our visioning group, which has yielded our new mission language, is both seasoned and new. John Thomas has been one of the most active leaders in that group. Bob Dunnigan was gracious to lend his effort early on. Jim Deal and Bobby Sharp and Susan Jones have decades of leadership at our church. Even some of the younger folks, like Michaele Haas and Kelly Broman-Fulks, have nearly four decades of experience at our church between them. Altogether that group has more than 200 years of membership at our church.

One of the most exciting proposals that group has had, about which you will hear much much more, is for an elder care facility in our town. Part of our excitement is that a similar facility in West Jefferson (NC) intentionally puts their elders in relationship to their preschool kids. What a glimpse of the church—making our life together across four generations, dreaming dreams and seeing visions, becoming the church God dreams about.


Dr. Jason Byassee has been the senior pastor of Boone (NC) United Methodist Church since 2011. His church is an atypical mainline Protestant church which has continued to experience numerical and spiritual growth under his leadership, some of which if reflected in this pastoral epistle you read above. Previously Jason served at Duke Divinity School as Director of the Center for Theology Writing & Media, Special Assistant to the Dean, & Executive Director of Leadership Education (2008-2011) and as assistant editor of Christian Century, 2004-2008. He still serves as a contributing editor for the Christian Century and on many boards and professional organizations. Jason is the author of many excellent books and has been a friend of John H. Armstrong and ACT3 Network for over a decade.

Posted in Culture, Current Affairs, Missional Church, The Christian Minister/Ministry, The Church | 6 Comments/Likes

Difficult Men: Why Did Cable Television Produce So Many Great Works of Popular Art? Part 2

61wQB1+4LXL._UX250_Brett Martin identifies a first burst of literary energy in 1950s television (when the medium was young) and a second that came in the 1980s (when the forward-thinking television executive Grant Tinker’s MGM Enterprises begat the groundbreaking Hill Street Blues). These are followed by the “Third Golden Age,” beginning with The Sopranos. This story is at least half the content of his book. He uses it to set the stage for understanding what followed in shows that may be even better than The Sopranos. The Emmy Awards, given for the best programming in television, are now routinely given only to cable shows such as these, all of which have garned an incredible number of such awards. The New York Times book review of Martin’s books says that he “writes with a psychological insight that enhances his nimble reporting.” Again, I have to agree completely.

Martin takes the reader (listener) behind the scenes of this cultural shift and provides extensive reporting based on interviews and good research. He gives you “never-before-heard” stories and reveals how cable television has distinguished itself from the networks, making their programing less and less compelling and interesting. Personally, I can think of only two television series on the networks that captured my interest in the last decade: The West Wing and Friday Night Lights. Martin’s account explains why this is true and thus helped me understand what was going on in the making and development of these works of popular art that I have found riveting at times. Breaking Bad is so compelling I am reading about it, watching it on Sunday evenings and reading follow-up dialogue about it on the Internet. Almost all my young friends watch it!

Some Christians do not appreciate popular art, especially popular art on television. I do not wish to engage in that debate here but I believe the human condition, the nature of sin and the fears and dreams of real people, all come alive in these particular shows. I have seen few great movies in the last five years. The best viewing, for my time, is shows like those Martin features in this book.

Other critics suggest that these shows are nothing but modern soap operas. There is a small element of truth in this claim but a very small one at best. The sustained drama, the gripping story lines and the development of profoundly human characters, is all more like Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers than a network soap opera.

One of the appealing things about these shows is that you can watch them in large chunks all at once via CD discs or Netflix streaming. This allows you to process the story with a growing awareness of the plot and development without large amounts of time in between episodes. Plus, most seasons are only thirteen shows or less. I am not sure what comes next from this “Golden Age” but the shows Brett Martin writes about in his fine book are clearly ground-breaking in terms of modern culture. Unknown-1As Breaking Bad came to the end of its television life scores of my friends were interacting with me about Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and the entire series. Groups of millennials are gathering to watch the series in person as a shared group experience. Mad Men will soon come to its final season, leaving us all trying to more profoundly grasp the terribly flawed life of another antihero, Don Draper. (And the amazing 19th-century period piece, Hell on Wheels, is also nearing the end of its final season, reaching a much too premature death because of behind-the-scenes wrangling.) But then I still have another season of Justified on FX so all is not lost in cableland. It is to be seen if this “Golden Age” can be sustained or something else will follow in its wake but one thing is sure to me, television will never be the same because of this kind of dramatic programming. If you consume large amounts of cable news forget it. It is so  ephemeral and wasteful, even corrupting in a deeply unseen way. Immerse yourself in one of these great series, overlook certain objectionable parts that might stun you at first, and dig into the deep characters of fictional people who come through as real humans in living color!



Posted in Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Film, Personal, Television | Leave a comment

Difficult Men: Why Did Cable Television Produce So Many Great Works of Popular Art? Part 1

cover225x225As a true fan of what Brett Martin calls “The Third Golden Age” of television I devoured his new book, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Man Men and Breaking Bad. I devoured the book by listening to Martin’s work as an audio book. Listening to a book in its entirety is a first for me. This one was very easy to listen to since I used long driving stretches to work thorugh it in only a few days. The essential core of Martin’s story was easy to grasp. The actual reader, Keith Szarabajka, was also fantastic, making the aural experience deeply satisfying. (I am told my own book, Your Church Is Too Small, is poorly read in its audio version since the reader apparently does not understand important words and thus mispronounces a number of them. O bother!)

In the late 1990s, and early 2000s, the landscape of television began a transformation with a wave of new shows, all featured on cable channels. The reality is that the advent and popularity of cable channels made this creative outpouring of really good popular culture possible. Because cable could feature shows that did not have to be commercial success stories, and because cable did not have to face the same standards as network television, creative genius could be developed in a more open artistic freedom. This two-way street led to a lot of bad programming but Brett Martin focuses on the award-winning programs that truly captured the heights of this third wave.

These new shows allowed for television’s narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance and artistic ambition under the care of a new breed of auteurs: the writer-showrunner.

The title of this fascinating study actually refers to the antiheroic male protagonists of these immensely popular television series. These include the foreboding and likable Don Draper, the lead on Mad Men and the out-of-control Walter White in the lead on Breaking Bad. imagesTony Soprano, the best known of them all, was the lead on the ground-breaking HBO series, The Sopranos. (The actor who played Tony Soprano recently died, as some readers will know.) But as reviewer David Pitt has noted the title of this book also refers, in “a slightly lesser degree . . .  to some of the men who made those shows—David Chase, for example, the demanding creator of The Sopranos, and David Simon, the ambitious creator of The Wire. The author’s premise is that around 1999 what he calls a third golden age of television (The Sopranos debuted in ’99) began. Whether you agree with Martin’s designation of this era as “Golden” one thing is certain in his tighyly argued story – a new kind of TV series started to flourish around this time. Can you imagine any earlier point in television history when Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos could have existed? Brett Martin combines a compelling account of behind-the-scenes production battles, stories about the stars who helped make these shows great, and the struggles over scripts and how they progressed, with in-depth profiles of the people who, in a very real sense, changed the modern face of television. Critic David Pitt concludes, “Fans of the shows he discusses, and especially those interested in television history, should consider this a must-read.” I could not agree more. This is a great read so long as the subject interests you.



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