Many have been raving about the Netflix series, "Stranger Things." With all due respect for a number of wonderful, genuinely faith-filled friends, watching the second episode had the effect of my cleaning house. DVDs like "Titanic" are now on their way to the incinerator.
Here's how it played out.
For starters, if you must know, I'm no puritan. I was in the media business, helping to drive successes of major Hollywood films such as "Narnia" and "Superman Returns." I've had my battles with media temptation, because I'm human. The filters on all our phones and digital devices aren't simply to protect those I love. (CatholicCovenantEyes.com) I know the assault, and I want to help those I love. That's what love does. I know the simple truth: If you're in the barber shop long enough, you're going to get your haircut. Indeed, most people today are walking around with an attendant barber eager to chop. Only the truth is not so benign as a haircut: It's loss of supernatural life in the soul, affecting every aspect of human life. The goal of lust is to snuff life out of your soul.
Unfortunately, unless we're going to live in a cave, exposure to ungodly threats is impossible. And regardless, authentic virtue is tested and strengthened when presented with vice. To know that fine line of not leading our children into temptation, and fostering growth in virtue, is a distinctly parental grace and responsibility; we do need to foster in them a healthy capacity to identify threats and act accordingly. In our home this played out during commercials while watching sports or news events, or generally appropriate movies-- we cultivated the virtue of the "look away."
So back to "Stranger Things." It involved our two, older sons, John Paul (17) and Joseph (18).
Now I may be biased, but John Paul and Joseph are impressive young men. Sons of Thunder. They are informed, convicted, intentional, "in it to win it" young Catholic leaders and evangelists. Last night they led dozens of kids for the weekly LIT GROUP in our home--- a truly transformational experience for their peers that's been going now for two years. They both lead and communicate the Gospel with authenticity and conviction frequently at events small and large, and even on radio and video.
Over the past weeks, I had been letting the two watch the series on their own. Knowing my love for exceptional media, Joseph gave it high commendations. After we cleaned up the house and all crashed, I wasn't tired and thought I'd give it a try. I got through most of the second episode, and hit a brick wall, or fiery furnace.
Let me sum up. There are certainly a number of positive things I could say about the series. In the same way, I could share a glass of cool, refreshing water. But add one drop of poison, would you drink it?
Ok, I know. That sounds severe! Where's the balance? Why not chalk this up to another "look away" moment?
Why did this strike me so emotionally, even as I'm sharing it now? And trying to tell my sons in a composed way why it wouldn't continue in my home?
Because the girl took her shirt off, bra exposed, inviting her boyfriend to use her.
Because the lust scene in bed wasn't a flicker... it went on, and on.
Because she deceived her parents who love her.
Because this glamorizes the door to real, lasting destruction in real life.
Because too many of us tolerate it. Too many of us merely "look away."
And because the girl was the general age of my daughters.
What if this young lady was any of my beautiful daughters, or their friends? Or if the young man was any of my sons, or any of their friends? Should I care less because they're not? Or that this weed is now sewn in the memories of perhaps hundreds of thousands of young people who've seen this... who've experienced the real threat... while many of us "adults" stood on the sidelines indifferent, or making excuses?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense." 2354
All this was nagging at me. Deeply. The moral decline of our world. The consequential suffering. So many men and women. Porn. Infidelity. Using of persons. Abortion. Brokenness. The seeds are in scenes such as "Stranger Things." If we'd never want these seeds cultivated, why would we allow them to be sewn?
The Holy Spirit convicted me: The only sin greater than what I observed, and all its like, and all that it may incite... would be my knowing all that, and allowing it. Men rush into burning towers, risking their lives to save people they don't even know from a temporal death. God put this quality in men. In the present instance, we're talking eternal life. Where the hell are the men? Where the hell am I?
So, this morning, the conversation went something like this:
Me: "'Stranger Things' is done." (keeping my words declarative and brief, because I felt the emotion rising again)
Me: "Because I wouldn't give anyone a full glass of water if it had even a drop of poison."
Son: "But you can look away?"
Me (shaking): "There's something different here. I'm emotional about it. The girl was the age of your sisters. She took her shirt off. Would you be ok if that was your sisters? And the lust scene wasn't a flicker... it was extended." "Last night your message to your peers was, 'Jesus was sold out for 40 pieces... what is your price? What would we sell him out for?'"
Son: "What about other 'look away' moments in other movies we've seen?"
Me: (challenged) "There's a notable difference in a moment between consenting adults... and children... the age of your sisters!"
His challenge lingered. My reply wasn't enough. Why do we give quarter to Satan in otherwise "good" movies we own? The Holy Spirit rushed in a moment of clarity and conviction: "You're absolutely right! Go get 'Titanic' right now. It's going in the garbage right now. I'm done."
I confess my sin, and am happy to confess it publicly. I've been complicit. Too many of us, particularly men, allow a "complicity block" to stand in the way of sainthood. A greater outpouring of grace to build the Kingdom here. We need the Holy Spirit to illuminate, heal and empower us. We can not claim our homes, much less our world, for Jesus Christ, if we're playing games with Satan. We can't merely "look away." We have to put our flag in the sand and declare: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord! (Joshua)
Following this small victory, I know we need to be aware of the Enemy's next tactic-- stirring up in us any self-righteous indignation. I'm under no delusions that this step makes any of us saints. We remain far from the mark. We can't judge others for where they're at in their journey. Together we all need continuous clarity, challenge and encouragement. I hope I've ennobled them to hold us accountable, and that we will remain true to our declaration: God has appointed and anointed this place to be an ecclesia domestica-- a domestic church.
This is not simply a price for our authentic, eternal intimacy with and in God, in this world and the next... it's a great exchange, of lesser things for greater.
LORD JESUS CHRIST, we are Your Holy Tabernacles! Conquer us all the more! Flood us with your Holy Grace to overflow... to our marriages, our families and this world! Come, Holy Spirit!