Friday, January 04, 2008

High Def, Low Quality

The day had finally come for the old Hollywood Family television to go into retirement. A relic from the last millennium, the old faithful set was beginning to dim, its heavy glass cathode-ray tube not quite what it once was back in the days of Grunge Rock and the first George Bush.

Father and Mrs. Hollywood resolved to abstain from swapping any Christmas gifts in lieu of buying a flat screen TV this year. Our congregation, in a very sneaky fashion, right under my nose, took up a secret collection during the Divine Service to give the Hollywoods a monetary gift for Christmas. And my goodness! How generous the people of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church truly are! We were absolutely stunned. And knowing that some of my parishioners are reading, thank you so much!

We bought a brand new Westinghouse 26-inch LCD High Definition TV from Target (as we call it in these parts: Chez Tar-ZHAY).

Oh my goodness!

Not only is the picture beyond belief, but we get more channels! We don't have cable, but the trusty rabbit ears draw in a lot of TV stations. It's like "poor man's cable". We even get Telemundo - and it is every bit as melodramatic and cheesy as the SNL parodies with Horatio Sanz.

I now get three channels of Religious Wacko TV (a must for Lutheran pastors - we all seem entranced by this stuff). I can watch Benny Hinn pretty much on demand. I also saw a Pentecostal preacher preaching a "sermon" about paying bills and relying on ourselves to get out of debt and not seek co-signers for loans. Good advice. What it has to do with Jesus, the Church, the Christian faith etc. is beyond me. Lot's of Ay-MANs and raised hands, though. One lady started literally running in place and making funny faces. And no, this was not a commercial for a new exercise gadget. This kind of thing never happens in congregations that use the Nineteen By God Forty One Lutheran Hymnal - I can tell you that!

Hey, what's up with Benny Hinn's new outfit? When he's on camera, he wears this black Nehru jacket with a white shirt underneath. It has a set of buttons down the center. On first glance, it looks like a traditional Roman cassock! Gads! And when he is "preaching," the "cassock" is all white - like the one worn by the pope. I was disappointed, however, that this time there was no blowing on crowds of people turning them into a quivering mass of flesh. That trick is always good for a few laughs. However, this time he was in Latin America and had an interpreter prancing along with him, step for step, in a sort-of Pentecostal tango. He even managed to translate Benny's "speaking in tongues" gibberish into his own non-Spanish gibberish. Now there's a trick that not even the Holy Ghost has pulled off - English "tongues" to Spanish "tongues" that nobody can interpret anyway. Impressive! Even better than Telemundo!

There is also a woman "preacher" named "Pastor" Melissa Scott, who actually wears a clerical collar and lectures using the Greek text of the Bible. I came to learn that she is the widow of the famous Dr. Gene Scott of California. The Granola State, of course.

I was introduced to her dead husband Dr. Gene Scott's TV antics by one of my professors - an aficionado of wacky religious television programming (as nearly every Lutheran seminary professor is, whether he admits it or not). It seems that the late Dr. Scott had a legitimate Ph.D. and was an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God. He had a TV ministry in which his eccentric personality was front and center. He would drink "adult beverages" and smoke cigars on camera. He would use mild profanity and threaten to stop the show unless donations be phoned in right then and there. He wore funny hats and glasses and would engage in irreverent banter with the staff. He was a little like the late-night movie hosts, and often "preached" about UFOs and the Great Pyramid as having relevance to end-times prophecies. Deliciously wacky!

It seems that at some point, he brought in bikini girls to put in the front row of the studio as "eye candy." One of them, a porn star who used the pseudonym Barbi Bridges (whose real name was Melissa), became quite friendly with the preacher who was old enough to be her father. She ended up becoming his fourth wife, and inherited the "ministry" from him upon his death. To quote the Church father Tertullian: "I believe it because it is absurd." You can't make stuff like this up.

Anyway, this is where "Pastor" Melissa Scott comes in. Upon her husband's death, she declared herself a "pastor" and took control of all the "church's" assets (the congregation claims to be downtown Los Angeles' largest Protestant church). She apparently leads a pretty extravagant life and has some of her husband's quirky traits when teaching - though she seems to lack his brilliance.

An Anglican deacon from Tulsa has a blog article about her "prowess" with the Greek language that you can read here. What he observes is absolutely correct, and exposes "Pastor" Melissa as a fraud, a phony intellectual, a false prophet, and a scam artist.

Later on in my surf through religious TV-land, a well-heeled Oral Roberts, Jr. was lecturing about (what else?) money, offerings, and "first fruit giving" to his ministry. A flashing "$100" appeared at the bottom of the screen. On the new TV, this looked like a Las Vegas marquee. Anyway, the Reverend Roberts was exegetically explaining a passage from Genesis (4:3ff) in which Cain's grain offering is not accepted by God, whereas Abel's offering of blood was accepted. Roberts opined that Cain's offering was refused because he dragged his feet about it, instead of giving promptly. He argued that the text which reads "In the course of time..." (Gen 4:3) could be interpreted as "Whenever he got around to it..." Of course, if God is to accept our donations to Oral Roberts, we need to be quick about it. Otherwise, God might not bribe us with blessings, and Roberts might miss a Mercedes payment. Did I just type that last part out loud?

Interesting exegesis. The Hebrew word used here is a form of the verb HYH, translated as "to come to pass" or "to become." My Hebrew is very rusty, so I did the "Old Iowa Trick" (thank you Dr. Scaer) and checked the LXX (Septuagint Greek) translation for a little help. Lo and behold, the Greek text of Gen 4:3 reads: "kai egeneto..." - a common New Testament expression that is often translated: "And it came to pass that..." or "And it happened that..." and so forth. This is just the narrator's way of moving the story along and has nothing to do with Cain's lack of speed in "showing God the money."

Bunch of liars, charlatans and thieves! And then there are the secular shows which are about as heathen as the "Christian" programs!

I was flipping through the channels and caught a few minutes of Boston Legal. I have never seen this show before. There was a nun serving as a courtroom interpreter (which would never happen in the real world). The witness is speaking Spanish. The nun translates his testimony using words that can be interpreted in a sexual way. She goes on and on using a word that is often applied to male genitalia. It would have been very funny if I were in fourth grade, I suppose. Do adults really laugh at stuff like that? Later in the program, a lawyer gives a passionate monologue about how abstinence education kills people, how the condom is the greatest invention in the last 2,000 years (Mr. Edison, please pick up the white courtesy phone...), and how schools need to distribute condoms - all the while the camera was focusing on a 15 year old girl while the word "condom" was repeated ad infinitum. The judge was a stereotypical comic prude. This was pure, unadulterated political advocacy and - especially when combined with the earlier scene with the nun - an explicit attack on conservative Catholic Christianity and traditional Christian values. I can only wonder if Nancy Pelosi will be calling for the "Fairness Doctrine" in response. But I won't hold my breath for Congress to act.

During the program, I continued to surf the channels. I landed on a Family Guy episode that was using the very same word used by the nun in Boston Legal that is a double entendre for male sex organs. It was even more un-funny the second time around. Now, we can't blame this lack of creativity on the writers' strike, since these were already written before. This is all they've got, I guess. I guess that's the price we pay for rampant illiteracy and hands-off parenting.

Then there was the visit of pop singer Justin Timberlake on Jay Leno's Tonight Show that featured a skit in which Timberlake cuts a hole in a box, puts in his male genitalia, and gives the box as a present. Leno presented Timberlake with a long list of various slang terms for the male organ that he could get away with on network TV. Again, do adults really find this funny? (And what's that sound coming from Johnny Carson's grave?).

There is a lot of low quality in high def. And just think, if I had cable, I could actually pay for even more crap!

However, football really looks good in high definition. Really. I expect overthrown passes to fly right through the screen and knock out my window! Wow! The news is also now broadcast in high def - and it is impressive to the eye. I can actually see what the New Orleans fugitives look like when Crime-stoppers shows their mugs. Our movies (including Lion Boy's Spiderman and Blue's Clues DVDs) all look a lot better than on the old ever-dimmer CRT-based television from the last century. And the HBO Rome series - again, wow! Not for children though - especially in high def. Severed heads and full-frontal nudity are much more explicit in the new format. But so are the magnificent costumes, sets, and intense acting. Phenomenal!

Like anything else, technology can be both good and bad. But if you're going to watch TV, you might as well see it in its full glory - especially when Benny Hinn is doing his magic tricks and the porn-star preacher is messing up the Greek alphabet. Besides, next year, the old TV won't work anyway.

Just don't expect televangelists to get any more orthodox and less fraudulent in the new format.


Past Elder said...

Bless us and save us, Mrs O'Davis!

When my wife Nancy was alive, I often grilled steaks outside (on a Webber like a man) while she made the rest inside -- which also gave me the opportunity to engage in something I enjoyed but drove her nuts, shortwave radio.

One time all of a sudden there came in a clear signal some Albert Collins, the Master of the Telecaster, one of the finest practitioners of that ultimate expression using music of the human experience known as the Blues. I passed through several stages of consciousness in seconds, as usually happens when hearing Blues without warning, and then found it was sort of a hymn, as it was followed by something somewhere between a discourse and a sermon -- and thus began my introduction to Gene Scott, a magnificent phenomenon.

While surfing channels -- apparently a fascination with worship by other means extends to past elders too -- I came across Pastor Melissa. I'm sure you're right about the Greek, but what I find most lacking in the Albert Collins et al.

As to the others -- Benny Hinn, I thought the slaying in spirit was administered with laying the hand upon the head, not the throat or throwing a coat. How do you have catchers for a whole section of the audience?

What, no Swaggart II?

We also get our local Baptist (but don't use the term) megachurch, an ELCA parish (proof that heterodoxy and vestments/liturgy do mix), a Congregational (but don't use the term) megachurch, EWTN (the sorriest lot of them all, trying to be Catholic and Vatican II at the same time) but strangely, our local LCMS (but don't use the term) Willow Creek affiliate megachurch is absent.

Now, if you get Telemundo, where is Univision? That's the one!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

My parents love watching the Scott show - much preferring the old reruns - but it can be entertaining.

Father Hollywood said...

I can also get Creflo Dollar (once again, truth is stranger than fiction, and God, in His providence, has a sense of humor).

I was leafing through Reverend Joyce Meyer's new book in which she advises all of us little people to be content, to not lust after things, and to simply our lives. Well, she's got, er, guts. You gotta give her that.

But thanks to Ole Anderson (who I'm told is some kind of Lutheran) of the Trinity Foundation (who is also publisher of the hilarious Door Magazine), Congress is actually investigating these false prophets to expose their fiduciary fraud. I'm not a big fan of Congress meddling in religion (if if the religions are non-Christian cults), but if these charlatans are abusing the tax system, there could be a backlash against legitimate clergy. Better to expose these fiends now and at least discourage theft in the name of Jesus.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

When I was young, 2nd or 3rd grade - my dad was the treasurer of our congregation (pre-sem days for him) when the head pastor was caught stealing from the Offering. To this day, I don't bring my wallet with me when I am preaching - just as a reminder to me of why I am preaching - and it ain't for cash.

solarblogger said...

Give Boston Legal another try or two. I remember the episode in question. I had the same reaction as you to many things. The nun joke was cheap. That lawyer (the character's name is Alan Shore) always presents impassioned cases. That judge is always silly. But what the show is good for is the friendship of that Alan Shore and William Shatner's character Denny Crane, the Republican head of the firm. It's their "balcony time" at the end of the show that makes it worth watching. Camaraderie seldom gets this kind of treatment on TV.

Father Hollywood said...


No wallet when you're preaching? How do you get your parking ticket validated?

Father Hollywood said...


Meh. Put up with an entire show of anti-Christianity and 7th grade jokes about human anatomy for the "payoff" of a Republican having "balcony time" with another man? What the heck is this, the Larry Craig Show? ;-)

solarblogger said...

From what I've been told, they actually did an episode based on the Larry Craig incident. So if you tune in on the right night, it will be!