Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I'll Miss "Good Luck Charlie"

One of the mainstays of the television arm of the Disney empire over the last four years has been Good Luck Charlie.  As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I remember fondly watching The Cosby Show.  Dr. Cliff Huxtable (Cosby) dealt with normal, suburban, middle-class problems in normal, suburban, middle-class ways.  There was really nothing special about the show other than the relatability of the cast to its market audience.  In many ways, Good Luck Charlie followed the same concept.  This show was not about wizards running a sandwich shop or single moms living in penthouses.  It was not about prep-school protégés or talking animals acting like people.  It was about a regular family—mine and yours.  And it dealt with regular problems—just like the ones you and I encounter each day.
The show centered on Teddy (Bridgit Mendler), a high schooler who decides to make a video diary to help her recently-born sister Charlie (Mia Talerico) “survive their special family.”  Teddy’s parents are Bob (Eric Allen Krammer), an exterminator (sounds magical, right?), and Amy (Leigh-Allyn Baker), a nurse who aspires to be a TV personality (admit it, you know someone like this).  The family is rounded out with older brother PJ (Disney veteran Jason Dolley) and Gabe (Bradley Steven Perry).  (A fifth child is added at the end of the third season to coincide with Baker’s real-life pregnancy.)  Bob and Amy go to work and manage tight bank accounts.  They discipline their kids when they misbehave and celebrate their kids with vacations.  And they offer their advice when asked (or not when asked) and then work with their kids to clean up the messes of life.  PJ is a good kid, although not outstanding, until he discovers that his passion is cooking.  Teddy is the shining star of the family (she is accepted to Yale in the final season), although she occasionally schemes against her parents only to find out that they are right about whatever Teddy didn’t like.  Gabe is the stereotypical “lost child,” a troublesome prankster who eventually matures when he hits his teen years.  And Charlie has no filter, just like a young child.
Living in a Denver suburb, the Duncans faced problems like annoying neighbors, first crushes and first break-ups, getting a driver’s license, deciding where to go to school, and lying to cover up mistakes or the breaking of a rule.  The oddest problem this family faced was when termites destroyed their house ... on television.  Mostly, the problems faced were relational.  How do we get along with people in our own families?  How do mom and dad live together and raise a family?  How do these completely different children who share a last name live together in harmony?  In truth, this show never promised to be anything more than a comedic look at a fictitious family that looks a lot like your family and mine.  Bob, although he tries to be aloof, cares deeply about his family and is willing to work hard to support them.  Amy, although she is a little controlling and preoccupied with her own dreams, serves as a good example of the fun-loving mom who makes sacrifices for the good of her family.  And the kids really do love each other and are willing to help one another out.  In many ways, Good Luck Charlie is what reality television would actually look like if a real family were followed. 
Remember the one controversial thing that happened on The Cosby Show?  One of Bill’s adult daughters decided to marry a man who had already been married and was raising a daughter.  Remember the one controversial thing that happened on Saved by the Bell?  Jessie took caffeine pills.  What about this show?  Well, this show had two touchy subjects.  In one middle episode, Charlie starts “using” bad language.  It is discovered that Amy says that same thing when she gets upset.  Obviously the lesson was for parents to be careful about what they say in front of their children.  The actual controversial thing that happened was saved for the next to last episode when Charlie’s playdate shows up with two moms.  At first, I cringed at this.  Then the initial moment wore off and I realized the producers were not making a big deal out of this.  The actresses did not kiss or even hold hands.  It was seven minutes of reality.  The two moms were just as awkward in relating to a traditional family as Bob and Amy were in relating to them.  Yet, they all got through it and taught us an important lesson in a more subtle way than Modern Family is capable of doing—community is formed through kindness and acceptance, not sarcasm and manipulation.  As a person of faith, it reminded me that I cannot avoid certain issues just because I do not like them.  It also taught me that forcing people into a certain mold is not going to open doors for community. 
I will miss Good Luck Charlie.  On one hand, Disney’s four-season rule is too long to allow a show to prove itself.  On the other hand, Good Luck Charlie proves that four seasons is not long enough to enjoy a program.  It was not as serious as the lesser-known, more mature Canadian import Life with Derek, yet it was a family worth watching.  The show was light-hearted yet provided an endearing glimpse into the life of the average American family.  During a time of oppressive recession with all of the other political and social fallout that has occurred, Good Luck Charlie gave my family something we could watch together as a family (and something we enjoyed watching together as a family).  My wife and I never questioned the show’s motives or morality (we have done this with a number of other programs, even Disney programs).  We also never groaned in disappointment when the entertainment value was found lacking. 
The Duncans were family friends for four years.  We watched their kids grow up, and they taught us a few things about marriage and parenting.  Yet, as friends often do, the Duncans have moved away, taking their comedic laughs and familial insights with them.  With all of the other options available today, there were no others that equaled Good Luck Charlie.  It never intended to be spectacular; it only promised to be a funny show about a normal family.  And this is what made it spectacular.  I hope that Disney (and other networks) will consider bringing us into the homes of families like the Duncans in the future.  If we are serious about making this world a better place for our current and future generations, then the place to begin is the family.  Whatever shape it takes, the family is the starting place for community building and citizenship development.  Thus, I will miss Good Luke Charlie because it showed how much better the world can be with some nice, average families in it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

BE: Persecuted (2014 KCU Faculty Sermon Series)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV).

Of all the sayings that open this sermon, this really ought to be the one that shocks us the most.  It is shocking for two reasons: First, this is the opening of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew’s epic narrative.  If you are trying to convince people to follow you, this is probably not the altar call that you would want to offer.  Yet, Jesus is unconventional is all that he does.  Remember John 6, when Jesus says that we have to embrace cannibalism to be a disciple?  Okay, cannibalism might be a bit extreme.  However, Jesus’ claim to embrace persecution as a result of faithful practice is not.  Second, who’s being persecuted here?  No one really knows of Jesus yet.  His popularity is in its infancy.  He has not stirred up any ire with the religious or political leaders.  So why would he be talking about persecution?  Scholars point to the contextual situation of Matthew’s audience, a time when Christians were being persecuted (either by the Jewish leadership or the Roman government).[1]  These first (and maybe second)-generation Christians are enduring great suffering because of their commitment to Jesus’ mission.  And for that, Jesus says they are blessed.

Most of us will never experience persecution because of our faith.  Thankfully, this is not a requirement to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  As we have said throughout this series, these are descriptions of—not prescriptions for—citizenship.  Therefore we should not seek out persecution.  It is said that Justin Martyr, the second-century apologist, got his nickname because of his burning desire to fulfill Matthew 5:10-12.  However, Justin has a phobia about being naked in public.  To keep him safe, his mother would often hide his clothes, for fear that Justin would find a way to become a martyr.  Eventually, of course, he did find a way to die for his faith.  Now, this is not to disparage Justin’s sacrifice, only to note the general appropriateness of what Jesus is talking about.  Persecution is not a mandate for entrance into the kingdom.  Yet, we should always be ready to publicly confess Christ before others (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; cf., 1 Peter 3:15-16).  Tweeting a picture to demonstrate our support for a particular hash-tagged cause is helpful, however “raising awareness” is a far cry from missional faithfulness.  Again, this is not to disparage such actions; they are good and useful.  Yet, we must always be willing to go a step further.  For how would we be persecuted for our faith if we never publicly proclaim our faith (cf., Romans 10:14)?

  1. Read 1 Peter 3:8-22.  For the next two weeks, knowing that you may encounter rejection and may even endure suffering as a result, pray that God will provide you an opportunity to proclaim your faith in a challenging situation.  How did the opportunity arise?  What did you say?  Did you feel comforted during the encounter?  What was the outcome?
  2. Read the “Prayer to St. Justin” ( and then pray for those who are enduring suffering for their faith in danger places across the globe.  You may want to visit the Voice of the Martyrs website ( and select a specific area to pray for.

[1]Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary 33a (Dallas: Word, 1993), 94-95; Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997), 50-51.