Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Striking the Set

Picture this: for the past two months of your life, you have worked very hard on a project. You and a group of others work approximately four hours every single weeknight to meet the project deadline. Both your body and your brain hurt as work on the project takes incredible physical and mental stamina. But through it all, you find comraderie and fellowship with those laboring next to you. Finally, the big day has come. You and your teammates are ready to present the project to the public. The public loves it. They applaud you for a job well done. You feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Then, you and your friends turn around, and tear the project apart piece by piece with your bare hands.

Sound crazy? It's more common than you think. In the theatre world, this is what is known as "striking the set." For an actor, it's perhaps the most dreaded, unwelcome task there is.

I used to hate strike. Not only are you completely exhausted after pouring your heart and soul into that night's performance, but you have to stay around a few extra hours after closing night to tear apart the set, pack away the costumes, and take down all the lights. The entire time, you are conscious of the fact that you are voluntarily destroying your hard work and creativity. I distinctly remember taking an unusually long time on closing night to undress, take off my makeup, and make my way back to the stage to help with the strike efforts because I couldn't bear the thought of it. I haven't set foot on stage in ten years, and I still can't bear the thought of it!

Perhaps you've never been in a play, but you can still relate to what I'm saying. Now that the Christmas season is winding down, some of you will be taking down your Christmas tree, packing away the ornaments, and removing all the trimmings from around the house. It can be a depressing thing to dismantle the hard work, the creativity, and the love and care that went into decorating your home for Christmas. After everything is put away for another year, the house can look so empty and bare. A few days after this process, you may feel a little sad. It's hard to see something so beautiful come to an end, but it must. It can't stay Christmas forever.

If it's this difficult tearing down your Christmas decorations and saying good bye to 2008, imagine what it will be like when it is time to say goodbye to all of human history.This ritual is magnified by the fact that it often coincides with the sinking feeling of saying goodbye to another year. We look back on friends we've lost, opportunities gone by, and good things that came to an end. This can be especially hard when a loved one has died in the past year. For this reason, New Year's Eve has always been a difficult time for me personally. As a former existentialist, I tend to view the past year as some sort of thick liquid that holds certain precious moments in suspension. As I move forward into a new year, those moments stay trapped in the past, and I cannot take them with me. There is a reluctance to let go of the old. I don't want to say goodbye. I want to cling to that year and never let it go. This feeling is only natural, and I think it speaks volumes about our human tendency to cherish wood, hay, and stubble.

Tonight we merely say goodbye to one calendar year. And if it's this difficult tearing down your Christmas decorations and saying good bye to 2008, imagine what it will be like when it is time to say goodbye to all of human history.

They say all the world's a stage. If that is the case, then we can expect one day for the biggest strike of all time to occur. One day, this stage is going to be torn down by the very One who built it, and each of us will be required to help out. As the Creator of the Universe burns entire cities to the ground, each of us will have to shed the costumes we wore in this life, remove our masks, and wipe off all our makeup. For those who do not know Christ, it will be a sad time. They will ask the rocks to fall on them so they don't have to participate in striking the set. They will weep and mourn over the loss of the cardboard walls they built around themselves, never realizing that all the while they were rehearsing in front of an Audience of One when they thought no one was watching.

When strike comes, what will be your response? Will you cheerfully tear down your career, pack up your reputation, and throw away your accomplishments? Or will you be the actor going through the wreckage, crying, "Oh, no! I hate to see this one thing get thrown in the incinerator!"

We do not know the day nor the hour. But when the Great Director comes to strike the grand set, there will be no opportunities to salvage the curtains and the backdrop. There will be no autographs to sign. There will be no second bows. There will be nothing left except our crowns, to be cast at His feet.

~Jennifer and Geraldine would like to wish our readers a Holy New Year~

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Deconstructing Christmas?

We recently received an email from a reader (or visitor perhaps) warning us about the "dangers" that are associated with Christmas. Here is an excerpt from that email:

I would just like to warn you in the Holy Ghost that this so-called Christmas season is not of God. In fact it is an abomination unto Him and as a child of the Most High God I must warn you of this . . If it were really of God the world would have nothing to do with it. They hate Jesus. Jesus was not born on Dec. 25th. He was born around October and not only that but there is no date given in the Holy Word of God . . . There is not one scripture in the Bible admonishing us to celebrate his birth. We are told to celebrate his death, burial and resurrection which we do when we have the Lord's supper. There are lots of good websites which have all the information re this idolatrous false worship . . I admonish you to take heed to God's Word regarding this abomination and flee this idolatry for that is what is.
I would like to publicly applaud this person for being gracious enough to sign her real name to the email. This person should be commended for her willingness to identify herself to me. Too often people claim to have strong convictions, but those convictions apparently aren't worth attaching their names to them, and they hide behind the title of "anonymous." Kudos to this sister for openly standing by her convictions.

I also want to thank this person for simply taking the time to write this email and send it. It is obvious that this person is very passionate about this issue and wants to alert as many people as possible to the reasons why she views Christmas as an abomination. That being said, I am sure she will not object to me sharing a few "warnings" of my own.

Before I do, I want to make it clear that the writer of this email is correct when she states that there is no mention of Christmas in the Bible, and that much of what we know regarding the Christmas holiday is intermingled with pagan practices. Many years ago, I received a pamphlet written by Russell Tardo entitled, "The Shocking Truth about Christmas." You can read that pamphlet here. The argument set forth in this pamphlet were further solidified by my good friend and brother in Christ, Jim Jones of Grants Pass, Oregon. Jim, a former wiccan and Druid Priest-turned-evangelist, went to be with the Lord just last month. This past year, Jim granted my friends three interviews explaining the pagan origins of Halloween, Easter and Christmas. You can to those radio interviews by clicking here.

In any case, my objections to this perspective are as follows:

I am not making an argument for Christmas, rather I am making a stern warning against speaking for God where He has not spoken. If the Bible is silent on the issue of Christmas, we cannot claim to know how He feels about it.1) Speaking for God.
My first concern regarding this email is that statements are twice made to assert the idea that God views Christmas as an abomination: "In fact it is an abomination to Him," and then later, "I admonish you to take heed to God's Word regarding this abomination." This email makes it clear that there is no mention of Christmas or the date of Christ's birth in the Bible. This is true! However, if God makes no mention of it in the Bible, then how does one know that He views it as an abomination? Please note, I am not making an argument for Christmas, rather I am making a stern warning against speaking for God where He has not spoken. If the Bible is silent on the issue of Christmas, we cannot claim to know how He feels about it.

Some may respond that this is a deconstructive argument. In other words, I am totally destroying the original intent of the text by questioning its subtext (that which is not openly stated, but implied). A popular deconstructive argument that we've all made in childhood is this:

A: Mom didn't say you could do that!
B: Yeah, but she didn't say I couldn't, either.

Clearly, B has deconstructed A's position by tossing out that which Mom has implied, simply because Mom technically didn't say so. In like fashion, we have the following situation:

Email: The Bible doesn't say we should celebrate Christmas.
Jennifer: The Bible doesn't say we shouldn't, either.

Normally, we could stop here and say that my argument is a deconstructive one. But in order for this to be considered deconstruction, I'd have to be intentionally undermining what Scripture implies. In this case, I am not destroying what scripture implies, because the forbidding of Christmas is not what scripture implies. In fact, I can go a step further and demonstrate that the Bible literally says the opposite:
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. (Romans 14:5-6)

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ . . .Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? (Colossians 2:16-17, 20-22)

If God has convicted you of some sin involving the celebration or observance of Christmas, then praise God and obey what He has said. However, if a sister in Christ has not had the same conviction, you are not to impose those regulations meant for you upon someone else:
I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. . . .Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:14, 19-23)

Just as the writer of the email felt compelled to "admonish" us regarding this "abomination," I feel just as compelled to share this perspective, because this is what the Bible actually says. It warns us against enforcing regulations upon one another which God did not intend.

My other objections to the above perspective are not as complex, but still warrant attention:

2) Reference to "World involvement". The writer of the email states that if Christmas was of God, then the world would not be so involved in it. I do not think this is a strong argument when you consider the many ways in which the world opposes Christmas due to its connection with Jesus. For instance, at the workplace we are told to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". In many cases, the world views Christmas as highly offensive and has even taken legal action to suppress it. Most recently, a parent tried to sue her child's school over the song Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer because she felt it was too religious. The reason? The song makes reference to "Christmas." While some feel the world participates in Christmas, others would have good reason to say that the world is offended by it.

3) Use of websites as "proof" texts. The email recommends typing "Christmas Idolatry" into a search engine, and then presupposes that the vast number of people who hold to this view are 1) correct; and 2) true believers. First, a consensus of opinion does not prove that something is true. Secondly, a consensus of opinion among men does not reflect the opinion of God. If there are Christians who view Christmas as an abomination, again I say, praise God and let's encourage them to live out their faith by abstaining from that which is offensive to them. But again, an abomination to a group of Christians does not necessarily equal an abomination in the view of God.

The other day I heard that gold-medalist Michael Phelps eats something like 20,000 calories a day. For me, that would be a gluttonous sin. But for Michael, it is not sinful at all. His heart does not condemn him. In fact, he needs to eat that many calories in order to maintain his strength. Celebrating Christmas, or even merely observing it may be a sin for you, as it was for my friend, Jim Jones. As a former wiccan and aspiring Druid priest, Jim could not celebrate any of these festivals upon becoming a Christian. But for the rest of us, Christmas may simply be another expression of worship. Some may find that hard to swallow. Some might say, "But how can you celebrate Christmas when you consider its origins? The origin of a thing may or may not reflect how that thing is perceived in the present. The Swastika was a symbol of goodness for thousands of years. Today, it is offensive to us because it has come to represent evil. As the Bible says, everything is pure unless we personally consider it unclean. (*Please note: I am not taking a postmodern position by making this statement. I strongly believe in moral absolutes. I just believe, based on Romans 14 and Colossians 2, that celebrating Christmas is not one of them.) We should not spend so much time and energy on moons, festivals, and holidays, for these are merely a shadow of things to come.

Again, I am not trying to make a case for or against Christmas. Instead, I am encouraging each to be convinced in her own mind as to what she wants to do about this issue.

Father, I thank You for the woman who had the courage to write to us as strangers and give us what she viewed as a warning from You. I pray You will bless her for her compassion toward us. I also pray You will give her and others the freedom to worship you not from a set of rules and regulations, but from an agreement between You and each sister, based upon Your unique relationship with them. We do not know the day You came, but we are grateful that You came. In like fashion, we do not know the day or hour when You will return, but we wait for You with hopeful expectation. You are our hope, You are our peace, You are our life. May all that we do be done for Your glory. In Christ's name, Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Romanticizing the Past

Every fall semester I put in a few extra hours and teach a course at a local community college. One of my favorite ways to begin the semester is to ask each student, "If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?" It never fails: the number of students who choose an age in the past always outweighs both the students who choose an age in the future and those who choose their current age combined.

Most of us will admit to doing this as well. We've looked back at a time in the past and thought, "Wow, I wish I could be (x) years old again!" I think this is especially true for women. When you consider the pressure that the world places upon women to be physically attractive, it is easy for us to look in the mirror and lament the days when we were 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter.

But worse than this, we have a tendency to romanticize the past. Again, everyone has experienced this phenomenon from time to time, but I feel women especially are prone to this temptation because our emotions run very deep. In our hearts, we may still have ties to certain people, places, and things from the past which will tempt us to yearn for that particular time in our lives all over again. The Bible warns us not to fall into this mentality, and provides the reason why:
Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

When we lament "the former days", we are not exercising wisdom. There is a certain seduction that takes place when we start romanticizing the past. When our present situation appears less than fulfilling, we suffer from a selective memory. We choose only to remember that which was good, and forget that which was not so good. Suddenly the past seems so inviting, and we are despairing for "the good old days." We may feel as though we'd give anything to go back to that time in our lives. Our present situation, as well as our future, seems bleak.

I believe this is a tactic of the enemy to destroy our hope. Consider the skewed perspective of the people after the Lord had freed them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, "Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." (Numbers 11:4-6)

These people were not speaking from a place of wisdom. Yes, they had free fish, cucumbers, melons, and the like. But they were slaves! We love to read this account, shake our heads in disbelief, and ask how these people could be so foolish. Yet how many times have we have fallen victim to the very same deception?

The holidays are just around the corner and you're single. Suddenly, you're wishing you were back together with your abusive ex-boyfriend. Or perhaps you are noticing more wrinkles and gray hairs, so you think back on how attractive you were when you were eighteen -- and completely dead in your sins. Maybe you are sick of your job and wish you could go back to a time when you were unemployed -- and homeless. The book of Ecclesiastes is clear: when we think this way, we are not speaking from a place of wisdom. We are deceived into believing utter foolishness.

The reason it is foolish is we are taking our eyes off Christ and focusing instead on circumstances that we falsely believe will bring us happiness if we could just get them back. In Luke 17:32, we are warned to remember Lot's wife. As God spared her from destruction, she grieved the things she was leaving behind. She looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus cautions us that whomever wishes to save his life will lose it. Have you ever lost yourself in trying to hang on to the things of this world that are passing away?

The only time we are ever instructed in scripture to "look to the former days" is when we are commanded to remember the great things God has done for us to bring us out of various trials and difficulties. After considering all God has done, our present should appear far better than our past ever could be!

You have a choice: you can either lament over Yesterday as the Beatles did, or you can rejoice in Tomorrow. Which song best reflects the attitude of a person who has chosen to be not conformed to this world, but transformed, by the renewing of her mind?When we find ourselves longing for the day when we are released from our current circumstances, we can look to the past, or we can look to the future. Looking to the past produces nothing but despair because the past is elusive. We can never get it back. It is completely out of our grasp, forever. But looking to the future gives us hope, because the future is guaranteed to be delivered into our hands. God promises He will not only deliver us from these unpleasant situations, but also from our sin! And He will not stop there. God will take it one step further and deliver us into His own hands. He is preparing a place for us, where we can live with Him forever in eternity.

Our film of the month, Annie, was chosen because the most famous song from this story is a song called "Tomorrow." It may seem foolish to endorse what has been long heralded as a children's song, but this simple song is packed with wisdom. Just thinking about tomorrow will clear away all of the sadness, depression, despair, and hopelessness of today. Contrast that with a song like "Yesterday". After listening to that song, it's no wonder so many people say the Beatles are satanic!

You have a choice: you can either lament over Yesterday as the Beatles did, or you can rejoice in Tomorrow. Which song best reflects the attitude of a person who has chosen to be not conformed to this world, but transformed, by the renewing of her mind? (Romans 12:2).

Praise God, He is coming soon. Perhaps it will be tomorrow!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Is Christianity Arrogant?

Back in May of 2006, I was privileged to attend an Evangelism Boot Camp in New York City (which is where I met Geraldine). One day, the group of us went to Washington Square Park and we sat around the fountain, taking turns preaching. As a brother named Donovan was preaching, a heckler reacted angrily to Donovan's assertion that he would be in heaven. The heckler stood up and challenged Donovan, saying, "You are so arrogant!" Donovan probed him for an explanation and the heckler said, "You're arrogant because you say you know that you're going to heaven! You are so full of yourself!"

I never wanted to be preaching so badly as I did at that moment. I wanted to push Donovan off the fountain, take the microphone out of his hand, and explain to this heckler that he was looking at the issue from the wrong perspective. It all goes back to Charles' Stanley's illustration on faith vs. hope. I detailed this illustration back in July, but I will review it here again to demonstrate why Donovan's claim was not arrogant at all.

Suppose I see a man that I fancy. I am completely smitten with this man, and I think to myself, "Oh I just know he feels the same way! I just know in my heart he's the man I'm going to marry." The months go by. The man doesn't talk to me. But I keep right on telling everyone that I just "know" this man is my husband. Then one Sunday morning it is announced in church that the man is engaged to someone else. Huh? What happened?

Now suppose instead that this man actually begins pursuing me. He verbally asks me to marry him. He gives me an engagement ring and brings me to meet his parents. I tell my whole family, church, and friends that this man is going to be my husband. Would it be fair to say that my claim is arrogant?

God is Trustworthy

Something is not true because we believe it, rather, we believe something because it is true. In the Christian faith, the primary evidence we have that something is true is God's word. At this point, a heckler may respond by saying, "Well I just don't believe the Bible." There is a lot in the Bible that people do not believe. And as I just stated, truth does not hinge upon what we personally believe. But let's go with this premise for just a moment.

After three years of street evangelism, I have noticed that the main problem people have with the gospel message is that it offends their pride. The only way around the offensive stuff is to simply cherry-pick the scriptures we like, and throw out the rest. The result is we've created a god in our own image, in our own likeness, to suit ourselves. (The Bible calls this the sin of idolatry.)

This is when I will generally reason with the heckler by asking him, "Would you say your god is a good god?" Generally people will agree that "goodness" is a quality they have assigned to their own personal god. I then ask, "Would you say that your god is trustworthy?" Again, trustworthiness is another quality that most will assign to their personal deity. Then I ask, "How do we know that someone is trustworthy?"

The obvious answer is, a trustworthy person will mean what he says, and say what He means. God is trustworthy. When He says "I will never leave you nor forsake you," you can put your faith in that. When He says, "I will be with you always," we can believe that as well. But God's trustworthiness doesn't end with pleasantries. If your god is truly trustworthy, he will follow through with those scriptures that warn, "Repent, or ye will likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).

Those of us who choose not to believe these scriptures are selling ourselves short. We have chosen to believe in a god that does not mean what he says 100% of the time. If I cannot trust that God is going to punish the wicked, how is there any hope for me that He will save those whom He has called righteous?

Christianity is not arrogant, for we boast not in ourselves, but rather, we boast in Christ. Donovan's claim that he was going to heaven was not based on some prideful assumption that God was going to be so impressed with him, He'd have no choice but to let him into heaven. No, Donovan's claim was based on the trustworthiness of God's word: "For there is one name under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

If we have placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and if we have repented of our sins, we can boldly proclaim with confidence that we will be in heaven when we die. That might be offensive to an athiest. It might be offensive to a Muslim. It might be offensive to a Jew, a Catholic, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Hindu, an existentialist, or a Quaker. But that doesn't make it any less true, nor does it make us arrogant for saying so.

There is a popular bumper sticker which reads, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." A few years later, another bumper sticker was printed with this rebuttal: "God said it, that settles it, whether I believe it or not." So which God will you put your hope in: the God who means what He says, or the one whose word is not trustworthy? The Bible was written so we may know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). This is why He is our hope. He means what He says, and we can trust what He says. So let's get out there and proclaim His truth with confidence!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Misguided Hope

A few years ago, I was in a Bible study with some new believers. One night we were examining Matthew 17. When we came to verse 20, which reads: "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you," one of the girls in the study suddenly blurted out, "That's not true!"

We were all quite stunned by the outburst, but I asked her to elaborate. She explained that as her grandmother lay dying in a hospital, she prayed to God earnestly to let her grandmother live. "It says here to have faith as a mustard seed, but I had much more faith than that! She died anyway. It doesn't work." I asked her to define for me what she meant by "having a lot of faith." She said faith was believing with all your might. I explained to her that the reason her grandmother died was because she didn't have any faith. Instead, she had described hope. We like to think these words are synonymous, but there is a difference.

I once heard Charles Stanley give an excellent illustration of faith, based on the actual definition given in Hebrews 11:1. The Bible defines faith as the "evidence" of things unseen. Faith requires actual evidence! If you do not have evidence that something is true, yet choose to believe it anyway, you do not have faith. My friend in the Bible study was told her grandmother was dying. She had every reason in the world to believe her grandmother would not live, yet she blindly chose to ignore the evidence. She became disappointed when her grandmother passed, even though she "believed with all her heart" she would live. The result? She grew angry with God, feeling as though He had betrayed her. Friend, haven't we all been there?

Some of us are growing weary in our faith because we are choosing to base our trust in God solely upon our hopes, and not upon what He has actually promised:
Faith: Jesus is coming back soon. (Evidence: He actually said so.)
Hope: Jesus is coming back today. (Evidence: None.)

Faith: Jesus died to save sinners (Evidence: The Bible tells us this is true.)
Hope: My father will one day be saved. (Evidence: None.)

Faith: God will supply all my needs. (Evidence: Scripture, past examples of how God has been faithful to me.)
Hope: God will supply me with a husband. (Evidence: None).

Hope is a wonderful thing. It fuels our faith and keeps it fresh. But it is not the same thing as faith. If we learn to separate God's promises from our desires, we will find that our walk with Him will be much more sweet and satisfying.

The difference between hope and faith can also be noted by the fact that two distinct words were used to describe these two terms in the original Greek. Take, for instance, 1 Corinthians 13:13, which advises us to abide in faith, hope, and love. The Greek word for faith is pistis, which means something that is true or gives an assurance. The word for hope, on the other hand, is elpis, which means an anticipation, usually with pleasure.

Here's another example: is your husband a Christian? Is there some sin in his life you wish he'd repent of? Have faith. God promises in Philippians 1:6 that He will complete the work He began in your husband. But if you stop expecting God to do great things, your faith will become nothing more than a dry knowledge, instead of an exciting, passionate anticipation of what God is doing in your life and your husband's life.

By the way, when we consider this difference between faith and hope, we can safely assert that there is no such thing as the Hindu faith, the Muslim faith, the Baha'i Faith, the Jewish Faith, the Catholic Faith, the Protestant Faith, etc. Religion is a man-made system of wishful thinking. Those who put their trust in religion can only hope in an afterlife. Those who put their trust in Christ have faith that He is actually preparing a place for us. This is why there is only one faith: The Christian Faith. Anything else is just misguided hope.

For further reading on the subject of faith and hope, see this prior post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jennifer Gives the 411 on "Annie"

After a month of depressing stories, courtesy of my testimony, I thought I'd lighten things up a bit and choose a theme of "Hope" for the month of December. The Film of the Month to accompany our theme is Annie. Now I know what some readers might be thinking, "Annie? That's for kids!" or, "Hrm, I think I'll skip this one this month." Stay with me on this. Annie is more than meets the eye.

Year: 1999 (Not Rated - Made for Television by Disney)
Directed by Rob Marshall, based on the stageplay by Thomas Meehan (book) Charles Strouse (music) & Martin Charnin (lyrics)
Starring Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Audra MacDonald, Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth and a special appearance by Andrea McArdle
Setting: New York City, 1933.

Content warning: No objectionable content observed, however Annie does lie and steal during the "Tomorrow" scene with the police officer. The film takes the position that deceit and theft are wrong.

Please Note: I strongly recommend the 1999 Disney version with Alicia Morton as Annie. I do not recommend the 1982 version with Aileen Quinn. I present a summary of the difference between the two versions further below. In the meantime, here is the trailer for this film:

1. The special relationship between fathers and daughters.
2. The precious blessing of adoption.
3. The message of hope throughout the film.

Andrea McArdle, who played the title role in the original Broadway production, makes a cameo appearance as the aspiring starlet in the "NYC" number. What a treat! Click here to see rare footage of Andrea singing "Tomorrow."

The 1999 version we are recommending is in "moratorium" status, so it will soon be hard to come by. If you wish to buy a copy for your family, you can get it for a great price on Amazon.

Annie has long been dismissed as a movie for children lacking in any real substance. But do not be fooled. Annie has a rich heritage rooted in American history and politics. The title character has lived through the Great Depression. She speaks up for what's right. And she inspires hope for the underdog. Truly, she is a slice of American culture that still speaks truth to us today.

Annie first appeared on the scene in 1885 as the subject of a poem entitled, Little Orphant Annie. The poem later inspired the Little Orphan Annie comic strip in 1924. The comic strip was originally intended for children, but with the onset of the Great Depression, the storylines turned very dark. Harold Gray, the strip's creator, began to use the strip as a platform for his political views. By 1931, Little Orphan Annie was read by more adults than children.

Gray's political views, which were a cross between conservative and libertarian, drew ire from Democrats. Gray was a strong believer in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. His themes focused on human depravity, especially greed. Many of his villians were corrupt businessmen. His strip was accused of being fascist by its critics, and The New Republic even referred to it as "Hooverism in the Funnies." This naturally was a reference to former President Herbert Hoover, a Republican who was blamed for much of the economic fallout that resulted in the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Annie had moved from print to radio. During the 1930's, the story catered once again to a child audience. But the political and historical themes present during the Great Depression were revived again in 1977, when Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin produced the first musical version of Annie on Broadway. Interestingly, the show deviated from the comic strip's conservative roots and instead took a more left-wing view on the depression. This is evident in three of the show's musical numbers.

"Hooverville" presents a chorus of homeless people living under Manhattan's 59th Street Bridge. The homeless characters are openly angry with President Hoover and the lyrics make several references to Hoover being one of the reasons for the Great Depression. It is one of the most political numbers in the entire show. (Some productions have gotten downright vulgar in their portrayal of disgust over the Hoover administration.) The play also features a reprise of "Tomorrow" sung by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt character. Roosevelt, a Democrat, is portrayed as a hero in the Broadway version. The finale is called "A New Deal for Christmas," and the show ends with an implied promise that FDR's series of economic programs will usher in the relief the country so desperately needs. In the Broadway version, it is Little Orphan Annie herself who serves as the inspiration for the New Deal with her positive outlook on life. The irony here is that Gray, the strip's creator, despised FDR and his policies.

In 1982, a film version of the Broadway musical was made, featuring an impressive all-star cast including Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, and Ann Reinking. In 1999, Walt Disney Pictures produced a made-for TV movie -- it is this version of the film we are recommending to our readers, not the 1982 version.

The 1982 version deviated quite a bit from the Broadway script. As a Broadway purist, this film is difficult for me to watch as Columbia Pictures virtually slaughtered the original stageplay. Aside from many of Strouse and Charnin's wonderful songs being cut and replaced with new ones, most notable is the inclusion of Punjab. Punjab is one of the regular characters from Harold Gray's comic strip. In the 1982 film, Punjab is a swami who performs miracles through the use of Hindu mysticism. This character is not present in the 1999 version (as with the Broadway play).

The 1982 version of the film also makes some immodest choices. As much as I love Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett, their portrayals of Lily St. Regis and Miss Hannigan are indecent compared to 1999 interpretations of the same characters played by Kristin Chenoweth and Kathy Bates. Other instances of immodest dress appear in some of Anne Reinking's dance numbers, as well as the "Let's Go To The Movies" sequence. The film makes no attempt to clean up the dozens of times Warbucks says "damn", nor does it filter out Miss Hannigan's constant use of the Lord's name in vain. There are also several references to drunkenness in this version.

Finally, the climax of the 1982 version involves a very dramatic, cat-and-mouse chase which ends in Annie dangling from a bridge. The entire scene is over-the-top but also very dark, complete with Rooster (Tim Curry) threatening to kill Annie. She is finally rescued via helicopter. It is a terrifying sequence (I saw the film in the movie theater when I was 8 years old). Throughout the film, child abuse and neglect is used as a vehicle for comedy. Needless to say, these are the reasons I do not recommend this version as it is inappropriate for children. If you wish to view this scene for yourself, you may do so by clicking here.

The 1999 version, on the other hand, has remained true to the original Broadway production in many respects. The Disney version has removed most of the political references from the story. It has also cleaned up much of the dialogue from the Broadway script to make it more family friendly. But aside from that, all of the music comes from the original Broadway score. The music is outstanding and you will enjoy the wonderful arrangements.

Whether she is being used to support Republican or Democratic political views, Annie has been a symbol of hope during tough times. Her message of optimism is a timeless one which we may need to revisit as we enter a new chapter of American history -- a chapter in our history that is strangely reminiscent of the America portrayed in Annie's time. As the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, "There is nothing new under the sun." In present times of economic crisis, our hope is not in Republicans, nor in Democrats. Our hope is not in money or stable employment. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, we can "hang on 'till tomorrow, come what may." He is coming soon.

And you thought Annie was just for kids!