1-Minute Ad Captures the Beauty of Adoption and Family

AdoptionWith all the books, movies and TV shows out there, sometimes true beauty pops up in an unexpected place. This currently running ad from Principal Financial may be selling insurance, but in the end, what it’s really selling is the idea that couples can respond to deep disappointment with an even deeper expression of love and generosity.


Image: YouTube screenshot

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L.A.’s Bishop Barron Cheers for C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Great Divorce’

CS-Lewis-Great-DivorceSince I started working at Family Theater Productions, I acquired a daily commute, so I resonate with Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron’s reliance on the company of audiobooks while navigating the L.A. area’s interminable traffic.

I’ve been working my way through some purchases from Franciscan Media during the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, while Bishop Barron — formerly Father Barron of Chicago, the founder of media apostolate Word on Fire — has been matriculating through C.S. Lewis’ religious fantasy work, “The Great Divorce.”

Today, he wrote an essay about why he recommends it.

It follows several ghosts that get a respite from Hell and take a bus trip to Heaven, where, apparently, they have an option to stay. Surprisingly, many don’t take it.

A 2014 essay in Crisis Magazine on “The Great Divorce” explains:

The majority of the characters in Lewis’s novel—given the choice after they visit the Bright World and learn of its conditions—prefer the Grey City to the Bright World for a variety of motives but ultimately for one main reason. A heretical bishop rejects the invitation because “I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little theological society down there.” To the cynic called “the hard-bitten ghost” the Bright World offers the same old thing: “A human being couldn’t live here. All that idea of staying is only an advertisement stunt.” To enter the Bright World the ghosts must surrender their attachments, opinions, addictions, and pride.

And …

The narrator (C.S. Lewis), one of the ghosts who desires to enter the heavenly kingdom and not return to the city, enjoys a conversation with the Spirit addressed as Teacher, George Macdonald, one of Lewis’s mentors in the art of fantasy literature. The Teacher explains the strange psychology of the Ghosts as the mentality of Milton’s Satan who boasted, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Macdonald compares these ghosts to a petulant child who “would sooner miss its play and supper than say it was sorry and be friends.” Of course Macdonald is defining the deadly sin of pride in all is many expressions, whether it assumes the form of Achilles’ wrath or Satan’s sense of “injured merit.”

In his essay, Bishop Barron observes that, while Hell seems immense to those entombed there:

However, when the narrator, in dialogue with a heavenly spirit, wonders where precisely Hell is in relation to the heavenly realm, the spirit bends down, pulls a single blade of grass and uses its tip to indicate a tiny, barely perceptible, fissure in the ground. “That’s where you came in,” he explains. All of Hell, which seemed so immense to the narrator, would fit into a practically microscopic space in Heaven. Lewis is illustrating here the Augustinian principle that sin is the state of being incurvatus in se (curved in around oneself). It is the reduction of reality to the infinitely small space of the ego’s concerns and preoccupations. Love, on the contrary, which is the very life of Heaven, is the opening to reality in its fullness; it amounts to a breaking through of the buffered and claustrophobic self; it is the activity of the magna anima (the great soul). We think our own little ego-centric worlds are so impressive, but to those who are truly open to reality, they are less than nothing.

In regard to another chapter, he says:

What I especially appreciate in this episode is Lewis’ spot-on representation of how the soul clings desperately to what is actually killing it, preferring, in W.H. Auden’s phrase, “to be ruined rather than changed.”

In my former life as a journalist covering television, I’ve seen any number of episodes of home and personal makeover shows — from “What Not to Wear” to “Clean House” — in which people desperately want to different lives, but just as desperately don’t want to change anything to achieve them.

I saw it so often that I’ve concluded it’s a fixture of human nature. It’s like wanting to have been a marathon runner while never going further than from the front door to the mailbox.

Here’s a peek at a stage production of “The Great Divorce”:

Image: HarperCollins Edition cover

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Jay Leno Teams With Catholic Parish to Cheer Police Widow

Jay_Leno_at_Laguna_Seca_03Last November, Richmond, Kentucky, police Officer Daniel Ellis, 33, was shot and killed in the line of duty after entering a residence in the city in the course of a robbery investigation.

Four suspects have been arraigned in the case, and all have pled not guilty.

Whatever the outcome of the prosecution, Officer Ellis will never be returning home to his wife, assistant high-school principal Katie Ellis, and his young son, Luke.

The community has found ways to support the slain officer’s widow and child, and that includes their fellow parishioners at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, part of the Diocese of Lexington (and by the way, today, April 25, is the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist).

It also includes someone who’s not a member of the church family — nor has made public statements about embracing any particular faith — and who’s not even from Kentucky.

Local TV station WKYT reports that former “Tonight Show” host, and stand-up comedian, Jay Leno joined forces with Saint Mark’s own Father Jim Sichko on April 23 for “An Evening Among Friends.” It raised money for St. Mark and its school, and for the Officer Daniel Ellis Memorial Foundation.

Said Leno:

“You know everybody thinks the world is such a terrible place, but there are more good people than there are bad people and we hear about the bad people. You know, it’s like this police officer that was killed in the line of duty he was a good man.”

The Ellis family also got some uplifting news during the evening:

Sichko surprised Ellis with an all-expense paid trip to Disney World for her and her three-year-old son, Luke. That wasn’t the only surprise of the night. Leno surprised her with $10,000 for Luke’s college fund.

“I’d like to see him go to college,” said Leno. “Police officers don’t make enough money anyway and when you lose the bread winner of the family, it’s the saddest thing in the world.”

“It is very surreal,” Katie Ellis said. “We’re just regular people that have unfortunately been put in this position and we lost Daniel and we’re very honored that someone like Jay Leno would care just a little. It means the world.”

There are good people everywhere, even in Hollywood.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

‘The Voice': What is ‘Family Programming’ on Network TV These Days Anyway?

The-VoiceLast week, courtesy of an invite from a PR firm, and some extra help from executive producer Mark Burnett, Senior Producer Tony Sands and I scored some great seats (as you can see in the picture above) for a taping of “The Voice.”

(And, like others, I’m sad to see folk-singer-y Emily Keener go home …)

Watching the enthusiastic crowd — which spanned a range of ages, from teens to retirees — I started thinking about what, in the current TV landscape, especially on the broadcast networks, actually functions as family television.

Sands and I noticed that many of the contestants were teens, and that while their song choices were contemporary, they weren’t scandalous. The girls’ outfits had skirts that were short, but not to the level of provocative or raunchy. Burnett is known for producing faith-friendly programs like “The Bible” and “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” and he’s aware that, while satisfying mainstream viewers, there are also parameters of acceptability for the broad audience he’s seeking for “The Voice.”

These days, that truly broad audience doesn’t show up often, and when it does, it’s usually for the NFL or unscripted shows.

It’s hard to come up with a scripted show on primetime network television that doesn’t have objectionable elements, or that would hold the interest of everyone from gradeschoolers to grandparents. Unscripted shows — both on network TV and on cable — have often become the default destination for families.

Of course, not all unscripted fare is family-suitable (that’s putting it mildly), but music-competition shows like the now-defunct “American Idol” and “The Voice,” physical-challenge shows like NBC/Esquire’s “American Ninja Warrior,” and cooking shows, like Fox’s “MasterChef” — and, of course, “MasterChief Junior,” which grew out of the popularity of the adult show with young audiences — offer a rare opportunity for the whole family to enjoy a show together.

And, if you put them on the DVR, you can skip over the dicey commercials that may occasionally occur. Or, you can wait and catch up with them on the networks’ Websites or on streaming services like Hulu.

On cable, viewers of all ages enjoy “Gold Rush” and “Deadliest Catch” on Discovery Channel (some of these guys are pretty salty, but it’s all bleeped), along with lots of offerings on HGTV, Cooking Channel, Food Channel, DIY, Animal Planet and National Geographic Channel. And of course, there’s always my perennial favorite, PBS’ (and HGTV’s) “This Old House” — inspiration for Family Theater Productions’ own viral series “This Old Chapel” — on which contractors and carpenters are king.

In a way, this is a very good thing. In place of a steady diet of cartoons and scripted shows that bear little resemblance to reality, kids and parents can learn about real occupations and skills — from chef to general contractor to gold miner to dog trainer to crab fisherman — and get a glimpse (put through the reality lens, of course) of how people make their living in the world.

As for the music-competition shows, kids can learn that effort pays off, that talent alone is no substitute for hard work, and that not everyone’s a winner (but that’s OK, considering how many “Idol” and “Voice” runners-up have gone on to do very well).

On “American Ninja Warrior,” kids can see how sacrifice and practice yield results, and that just because you fall on an obstacle, you can come back and try again the next year.

Speaking of Burnett, there’s also his “Shark Tank” on ABC, in which moguls hear pitches from entrepreneurs in search of funding. Sometimes, it’s like a masterclass in business, in digest form (with more material available on the Website). Young viewers can also see that an indisputably cool kid like Ashton Kutcher can also have a sharp business brain.

We’d all like more family-suitable scripted shows on network and cable, but until the entertainment industry wakes up to the audience’s desire for inspiring, wholesome dramas and comedies, parents have lots of unscripted choices that are not only good, but good for you.

Image: Kate O’Hare

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Catholic Actor Gary Sinise to Receive Saint Pio Award

Gary_Sinise_guitar-ffblogActor and military-veterans advocate Gary Sinise is a Catholic convert — his wife reverted to the Faith, and her children, and eventually husband, followed — and one of film and TV’s most bankable stars.

Born on St. Patrick’s Day, he can currently be seen on CBS as FBI Unit Chief Jack Garrett in “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,” about an FBI team helping Americans overseas. That follows a long run in as military vet and cop Detective Mac Taylor on CBS’ “CSI: N.Y.”

When he’s not working or being a husband and father, Sinise is traveling the world entertaining American military personnel with the Lt. Dan Band (named after his Vietnam-vet character in “Forrest Gump”), along with honoring, and working for the benefit of, U.S. military veterans.

Now, the Saint Pio Foundation is honoring him:

The Saint Pio Foundation is proud to present the 2nd “Saint Pio Award Ceremony,” which will take place at The Naval Heritage Center (701 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20004) on Friday, May 27, 2016, at 12:00 PM (noon). A cocktail reception will be followed by the award ceremony.

The Saint Pio Award has been established to recognize the selfless and outstanding contribution of those individuals who have strongly committed to support the Saint Pio Foundation and its vision. Recipients of the Saint Pio Awards will be the Emmy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Academy Award nominated actor Gary Sinise, and Hon. Jim Nicholson, former Secretary for Veteran Affairs and former US Ambassador to the Holy See.

Special guests of the event will be Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington; Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations; the acclaimed actors Joe Mantegna & Tony Lo Bianco; and the Hon. Robert P. Astorino, Westchester County Executive (NY). Part of the proceeds of this event will be allocated to the support of the VA Maryland Healthcare System’s Homeless Program in Baltimore.

Joe Mantegna is also a Catholic — who had a conversion experience of his own — and the star of CBS’ FBI-profiler drama “Criminal Minds,” an episode of which was used to launch the “Beyond Borders” spin-off.

Here a video in which Sinise expresses his gratitude at receiving the award:

And here’s a peek at “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” (Sinise is a good family man, but this show isn’t for kids):

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

More Bishop Barron: Seeking God Among the YouTube Heresies


Ran across this video this morning, from a series of talks this February. Los Angeles Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, media evangelist and founder of the Word on Fire media apostolate, addresses the four questions that are keeping young people out of the Church: Clarity about God, deep confusion about the Bible, religion and science, and religion in relation to violence.

In this extensive, passionate talk, he takes them on one by one (especially the appeal of the “new atheism,” and what it deeply misunderstands about the true nature of God). Watch and learn …

Image: Word on Fire

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.