Friday, August 20, 2021

"Me, Myself, and Bob," by Phil Vischer


In the late 1990s, my family met Phil Vischer and his company, Big Idea, through Veggie Tales, The children’s ministry at our church was putting together a performance, and my youngest son, then about eight years old, had to learn the following line:

“I’m sorry that I scared you when you saw me on TV.”

I’m not sure, but I THINK he was picked to say that line because he has always been the biggest kid in his class, and his role was that of Frankencelery, aka Phil Winklestein of Toledo, Ohio. So: big character should be played by a big kid. 

It did not go to my son’s strengths.

Still, we rehearsed the line over and over, and when the time came for him to pop up and speak, he had a smile on his face. And nobody threw stones.

Next thing you know, we were all marching around the house, singing “God is Bigger than the Boogie Man!” to the dog; and, we were happy with that. We bought the videos, we bought the cassette tapes, and we learned the words to Silly Songs. We even performed one of them at a family reunion. In fact, I adapted “The Water Buffalo Song” to introduce my middle school to the concept of student conflict managers.

“Everybody’s got a peace-keeping crew
To help you when you’re feeling blue,
When you don’t know just what to do
Everybody’s got a peace-keeping crew!”

Time passed, and life went on. My kids sort of aged-out of Veggie Tales videos, but we were always happy when the characters popped up again. When “Jonah” hit the big screen, I was delighted, and we went to see it, but I wasn’t really FOLLOWING what was happening with Big Idea.

And so, I was taken by surprise, when I read a May 2004 article in Christianity Today titled “Running Out of Miracles.” I discovered that Big Idea had over-expanded in developing “Jonah,” and as a result, the company collapsed. The part of the article that stayed with me was the last bit, in which Phil Vischer explains to his son the significance of the collapse of Big Idea. The article ends with the statement of hope “There are a million ways to do it” (tell people about God).  
What I retained, though, perhaps because my youngest son was not much older than Phil’s, was the emotional gut-punch of telling your child that your dream, your creation, was just gone.

And that part of my life crawled off into a cave, and whimpered.

17 years later: one of my oldest friends tells me of this podcast he has discovered, taking very seriously  some terrific challenges facing the Christian church. It turns out that it’s none other than: PHIL VISCHER! I start listening, and quickly become FASCINATED with the combination of humor and deep theology. Eventually, I discover Vischer has written THIS book. So, I get it, and read it, and that whimpering part of me comes out of the cave. 

Yes, the book DOES provide interesting bits about Phil’s background, including his amazing forebears, and how he got in trouble in Bible college. It also describes the way technology and talent combined to permit the birth of Veggie Tales. However, the part of the book that has greatest value, to me personally, AND to anyone who wants to turn creativity into a career, is his detailed analysis of how it all went wrong. In brutally simplest terms, it was a conflict of vision with marketing, and a lack of management over all.

It’s a very poignant story. Like the article in Christianity Today, it ends with hope. HOWEVER! It also ends 15 years ago. That was long before he started the podcast I’ve been immersed in for the past couple of months, and it doesn’t reference a number of creative products he has put forward since then. Not all of them worked! Know this, though: Phil Vischer is still plugging away on one or more of the million ways to tell people about God.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough, by Taylor Schumann

This is an Amazon Associates link; if you click on it, and buy something, I get a few pennies.

Taylor Schumann took advantage of the opportunities that came her way. She had earned a degree in social work, was deeply involved in her church, and was one day away from her bridal shower.

The buckshot that mangled her hand and entered her chest changed those opportunities forever.  The day was Friday, April 12, 2013. It was the last morning she would ever wake up without physical pain.

Her book is not really about the shooting, and it’s not about the shooter.  If you are looking for some methodological police procedural, look elsewhere. True crime junkies will not fawn over this book; neither will those who are rabidly anti- OR pro-gun. That’s because this book presents us with a closely observed experience of a person who saved her own life (literally) by hiding in an unlocked closet, and then was (figuratively) forced to save her life again by fighting her way out of locked closet she was placed in against her will.

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, is a trained birth doula. She comes alongside expectant mothers, and guides them through the complications associated with giving birth in the antiseptic, and potentially hostile, conditions found in many hospitals. Time and again, as I was reading Taylor’s story, I wished she had an analogue of a birth doula at her side, to explain to her what was happening, what she could expect, what the outcomes might be, and mostly, to explain her choices to her. Actually, at SOME steps of the process, she had people to fill that role. She commends the police investigators, and representatives of the victim’s assistance program, for guiding her through some of the rough spots in the immediate aftermath. At other times, she was able to rely on family members to help her with procedures and paperwork that were required due to her injuries. 

Those just covered specific points in her recovery, however. Vanessa sits with the expectant mother, all through the process; she attends birthday parties afterward. And over and over, I wished Taylor had a Vanessa to sit with her, providing comfort, support, knowledge and advice; most of all, someone who understood what Taylor was going through.

Behold, I shall hide nothing from you: I own firearms. I am a Life Member of the NRA. Taylor and I are not alike in many ways. However. HOWEVER. However, Taylor’s story touched a part of me that I wasn’t aware existed. It’s not the universe leading up to her shooting that has changed my mind and heart; it’s the universe that exists afterward.

You see, except for the immediate aftermath, Taylor was ignored by too many of the people who meant the most to her. Her background is one that could be described as firearm-friendly, not firearm-hostile. I find myself unable to describe it, other than solidly Southern middle class. People didn’t carry a gun to the dinner table, but there could very well be hunting rifles in a gun cabinet and perhaps a pistol in the drawer of the bedside table. It wasn’t a big part of the lives of her friends and family, but everyone believed in the Second Amendment. 

And because of that, when Taylor got shot, too many of those she cared for simply didn’t know what to do with that. SO, she got ignored. And so, she suffered another loss, in addition to the physical loss of the use of her hand.

That is the figurative closet she was locked into, against her will. 

This book is the story of how she saved her life, a second time. It is also a story in progress.

Taylor offers some action steps, for those who hear her story. Will you understand me if I tell you that there is NO WAY that some of those steps work for me? However, I am compelled to take action to assist those who, like Taylor, had their opportunities limited because someone shot them. I’m open to anything God leads me to do in this respect, but until I get directed in a different direction, I will be donating money to benefit gunshot victims. I’ve already started the process, and will refine it as I get more light.

Peace be on your household.