Handing Down Riverdance

Last week I got to fulfill a dream that I’ve had since 7th grade. Thanks to the patronage of some very kind individuals, my wife and I were able to see Riverdance live. Now, my wife had seen the show before, but I had not. Sure, I’ve been to Ireland, and was even in Ireland during the 10th anniversary year. Now, though, we saw the 20th anniversary tour, and I was blown away.

What surprised me most was how these familiar songs still had the ability to move me. The energy of the dance was entrancing, even though all of the beats have been stamped into my memory thanks to an original recording of Riverdance that I kept on repeat for most of middle school while doing my homework. Each song felt nuanced, energetic, passionate. And I realized for the first time that this show is a bit of a 101 course in world dance, featuring the firm, dignified grace of the Irish step, the sensual, yet playful Flamenco, the aerobatic Russian style, and the jovial American tap. Each played a part in creating a fun, engaging experience.

Music has the power to move us. Whether we admit it or not, the ability of a melody or a tight harmony to make the hair on the back of our neck stand on end is a given. It helps us to grieve, to face overwhelming odds, to celebrate victories.

So I wonder about your musical gifts to your children. Are your children familiar with old hymns and new praise choruses? Are your children acquaintances of Beethoven and John Williams? Can they rock out and contemplate?

I’m the father of a yet-unborn little girl to whom I will bequeath a treasure-trove of music. I will hand down to her the music of my people, which includes, but is not limited to: John Denver, Southern Gospel, Jimmy Buffet, 90s country, classic rock (70s and 80s), Bluegrass, Celtic, Spanish guitar, swing jazz, Puccini arias, Mozart, Vivaldi, and some modern artists I’m not ready to admit to the public I like. I gained an appreciation for music as a way of life, through listening, singing, playing. I realized that the songs I hear every day are speaking to others differently than they speak to me.

I know I’ve asked this before, but have you introduced your kids to music? Do you listen to the same thing in the car every day? What would happen if you tried something new?

What I’m looking forward to is the day when my little girl looks up at me and says, “Hey, dad, check out this new song I found,” and my daughter will hand to me music in the same way I handed it to her. Now, I make no promises, future daughter, that I will like it, but I will listen, and I will appreciate that you trusted me enough to share it with me.

What art and experience have you introduced your kids to? What happened? How can you take time to introduce your kids to culture and to deeper conversations about how they interact with it? What song is played most often at your house?



One Dark Night

Your hero is dead. He was branded a traitor and killed mercilessly and cruelly. You watched as your own neighbors called for his death, shouting for the most painful execution available. Your oppressors efficiently carried out their duty, performing their grim ritual with blind reflex honed by multiple executions per month of would-be revolutionaries. Those zealots had taken up arms, had opposed the regime with righteous indignation and blood, and had paid with the same currency. The darkness overhead seems unbearable, even more oppressive than the grim eyes of the soldiers as they patrol the streets during the annual festival, prepared for another doomed coup d’etat. ¬†You look into the eyes of your friends, once so full of hope and life, and see reflected in them your own creeping doubt and fear. Every sound, every gust of wind might be the authorities coming to take you away from your friends, your family, your own life. You look up to heaven and ask, “Why?”

At least, that’s what it would probably feel like to be a refugee in a war-torn country… or one of Jesus’ disciples on Good Friday. I can’t imagine living through the hell of war in a civilian area. As an American, the idea of fighting a war on our home turf is something out of history books and legends. Yet, so many today are living it, with nowhere to run.

Jesus’ disciples probably felt much the same the day Jesus died. Their friend, teacher, and king had been ignominiously executed between two criminals whose crimes were bad enough to draw Roman attention. This man whom they knew had done no wrong, whose revolution had been one of grace, peace, and radical love. We downplay this love. Jesus’ love for others wasn’t a wimpy, fickle love. His humility and acknowledgement of the dignity of human beings was profound, and changed lives. His love challenged authority, challenged hypocrisy, and leveled the playing field of faith. His love healed the broken, sought the lost, and strengthened the weak. His disciples felt this, and it transformed them… eventually.

Jesus’ death rattled them. Suddenly they were unsure, afraid, unable to move from their hiding place. The darkness overwhelmed and consumed their hearts, snatching victory and leaving only despair. I wonder what their prayers sounded like Friday night and Saturday? Did they pray? Did they shout in anger? Did they weep in despair? Did they recite Psalms calling for God’s judgment in harshest terms for those that had maligned and killed their teacher? Was there one that understood? Was there one who sat in the silence and heard the faintest whisper of Spirit saying, “Just wait and see…”?

In our lives it seems like we are always feeling like we are on one side or the other of Easter. We are Easter people, living in a victory that is still breaking through to our reality. But some days, we are surrounded by pain, by death, by brokenness, by sin, and we wonder whether we will ever see the light of the sun rise again. These things can’t hold Jesus… and they can’t hold us forever, either. God saved the Israelites from Egypt, and has saved us from the bonds of sin and death. God is faithful.

One dark night… led to a brilliant sun rise.

Easter is coming.

The Truth About Your Favorite Company’s “Social Media Activism”

I read an article in the New York Times today that struck me as so bizarre as to be almost humorous. Apparently, there’s a big push on social media for companies to start picking sides in conflicts over social issues. Besides being an absurd request, what has gotten into everyone’s mind about the role of corporations and social change?

Here’s a reminder about most large companies – they exist to make money. If a large company suddenly decides to pick a side on a social issue, that means that the company’s PR team has done the research and decided that picking one side over another will make them more money than by staying out of it.

For an innocuous example, consider that Axe Body and Dove are owned and manufactured by the same company. They couldn’t possibly have more different messages about their products, though. Axe is known for its ads that see culturally attractive women being easily won over by a musky odor. (If that were the case, then high school boys’ locker rooms would be overrun by women wanting a sniff – but I have yet to hear of any such stampedes toward that particularly pungent sector.) Dove is known for promoting “body positivity” in women, celebrating different body sizes and shapes. This is admirable, and very good marketing in today’s American culture. So despite the different marketing approaches which seemed designed to clash with one another, one company gets to ride both sides of the objectification issue and make money hand over fist in the process.

That example aside, a company picking a side is not evidence that they are socially conscious or making a stand on principle or values. A company picking a side is more likely to be a cynical money grab by a savvy marketing team who can weigh cost effectiveness.

Now, this is not to say anything about actual individuals who may run these companies or design these marketing campaigns. The individuals may actually be giving money to charity, volunteering their time, or making an effort to effect change for the better or stand up for values they believe are right. But we should be careful conflating individuals and companies. Corporations are file folders full of legalese-d paper that protect against being sued personally. And, as I hope we all know, file folders don’t have emotions or moral aims.

Many business owners I know are very involved in social action – donating money, time, and energy to causes they support. They tackle everything from medical research, to local religious institutions, to poverty, to overseas aid, to adoption, to foster care, and so many other issues that are desperately in need of support.

The take away here is to make sure our kids and families understand that companies exist to make a profit, unless otherwise specifically stated – or management isn’t up to snuff (ha, ha, business joke.) We need to train our children to think critically about advertising and what it’s actually saying, and what its unstated aims are.

How do you encourage critical thinking in your kids when it comes to advertising? How does your response to advertising inform your kids’ view of it? When do you stop and think about advertising and what its direct and underlying messages are saying to you and your kids?

TV Review: Trollhunters (Netflix)

There are very few shows that I would recommend with little to no caveats attached. Sure, most TV shows are going to have a few weak points or have some questionable content. Shows that have good lessons, engaging story, and characters that are believable and relate-able while still managing to wrestle in clean language and humor are rare. I can list most of the older elementary shows that fit this category in a short list:

Batman: The Animated Series (from the 90s)

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Gravity Falls

Danny Phantom

and introducing, Trollhunters

Now, to be fair, I cannot claim that I disovered Trollhunters on my own. This find rests squarely on the shoulders of my brother-in-law and nephew. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the show after watching my nephew swing whatever sword-like object he could find into the air shouting, “For the glory of Merlin, daylight is mine to command!” and proceeding to attack me ferociously. Well, as ferociously as a young child can, but it still seemed rather intense.

The show itself focuses on a young man in high school named Jim and his buddy Toby as they discover that trolls (a subterranean race of stone-based creatures) exist. Jim is chosen by “the Amulet” as the new “Trollhunter” (who ironically defends the good trolls from bad ones, despite the imposing name) who must stop an ancient evil from finding its way out of the Dark Lands. Now, if that seemed a little arcane to you, don’t worry. The show takes its time spooling out the thread of its deep and well-developed lore so that at no point will a viewer feel completely lost. The plot moves at a steady pace, not rushing in order to get to a destination, but allowing viewers to become truly attached to each of the protagonists and their personal struggles and victories.

Trollhunters delves into topics such as friendship and loyalty, single parent families, abandonment by parents, courage, determination, dependability, and honesty. Each episode may not have a specific “moral,” but at least one character has grown or changed by the time each credit sequence rolls.

If anyone could find an issue with the series, it might be either with the emphasis on magic and mild fantasy violence. Magic is used as a tool, that often causes more problems than it solves. (Think of magic here like the Internet, used appropriately, it’s a great tool, inappropriately, it can wreck lives.) Violence is part and parcel of the whole “trollhunter” role, but most of Jim’s battles are self-defense or the defense of others. He often chooses to fight with the intention to spare his enemies, though it doesn’t always work out that way. We also get to see Jim struggle with not being able to solve every problem and learn that most problems are more easily solved in a group. (There is a romantic plot between two characters, but it’s a chaste romance by modern standards: mild flirting, some glances, and an almost kiss, if I recall correctly.) Oh, one more issue is the plot device often left untouched by other superhero shows – keeping the heroism a secret… even from parents. The secrecy of Jim’s life begins to wear on his relationship with his mother and causes a rift. It is a great lesson in honesty inspiring trust, though and could very well lead to some great conversation about honesty and responsibility.

Overall, the series is well animated with a wonderfully cartoony style done with CGI. Characters (including trolls and enemies) are unique enough to maintain continuity and keep confusion at bay. Villains are scary, but never to the point of utter terror. The sense of urgency is quite present at all moments, creating a sense of acute dread that eases with the heroic credit music, but will keep viewers coming back with each successive episode.

If you have an aspiring hero in your house, give this one a watch. Watch it with your child. My brother in law is currently building my nephew a life-size replica of “Daylight” (the protagonist’s main weapon) because they both enjoy the series so much. Laugh, cry, gasp, and cheer with your kids at Jim and the Trollhunters’ exploits. It’s worth a watch for older elementary, and maybe even younger, depending on your child.

Watch with them. Ask questions. And learn about each other together.

Oh… and never forget Rule 3. It’s vital.