March 16, 2011

My Obession with DVDs

If only my parents had never bought the black-and-white television set in Indonesia. Then I might never have bought—and thrown away—hundreds of DVDs in Russia. Twice.
My sister and I grew up in a TV-free home until I turned 11. Then a Filipino missionary family at Klabat University, where our parents taught, put their old television up for sale. My sister and I grew excited when we learned that our parents were talking about buying it.
As a downside, we would have to pay the equivalent of $5 every month to the government for a “TV license”—no small change for a frugal missionary household. In addition, the national broadcaster offered only one channel, which aired from 5:00 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. and, if we were lucky, provided two daily programs in English. But a TV of our own would mean no longer dashing over to the neighbors’ house on Sundays to watch Little House on the Prairie.
The new TV set captivated me. I soon learned that there was much more to watch than Little House on the Prairie, and I began to stay up past my bedtime to view U.S. action shows at 12:30 a.m.—a time that the Indonesian government deemed suitable for “adult” programming. Sometimes I couldn’t fall asleep after the shows because I grieved over the people who had been killed during filming. The bravery of the show’s heroes amazed me, and I marveled at their fortune in surviving so many close calls. I thought television depicted real life.
By the time my parents moved to the United States when I was 15, I realized that much of what was shown on TV was make-believe. But I enjoyed the entertainment and rented videos by the dozen, trying to catch up on what I had missed while growing up overseas. I started to collect videos, a hobby that I took with me to Moscow when I moved there to work as a journalist after college. As my father saw me off at the airport, he paid steep overweight fees on my luggage, stuffed with videotapes.
2011 1508 page14A Different Perspective
For eight years watching videos, and later DVDs, helped me unwind after work. Then I embarked on a search for God and read the story of the Flood during my morning devotions. I had always thought that God destroyed the world because people were evil, but Genesis offers a more precise explanation: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. . . . So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them’ ” (Gen. 6:11-13).*
I reread the passage. The words stunned me. God destroyed the earth because people were violent. The earth had become one big action movie.
My thoughts shifted to the hundreds of DVDs crammed on shelves in my apartment. If violence had caused God to destroy the world, what must He think about my DVD collection? I went to the shelves and started piling the action movies on the floor.
As I sifted through the films I noticed a number of nonviolent movies with sexual content. “Whatever is true . . . noble ?. . . right . . . lovely . . . admirable . . . think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Thud, thud, thud! More DVDs landed in the discard pile on the floor. I looked back at the shelves. Less than half of my DVD collection remained.
Emotionally drained, I sat down on the couch to relax—over a DVD of a popular U.S. sitcom. A comedy will be harmless, I thought. I was wrong. The main characters took God’s name in vain repeatedly. I winced.
After the show I packed the discarded DVDs in plastic bags and stacked them in a closet. My mind was spinning, and I didn’t want to make any hasty decisions.
The TV sitcom bothered me for weeks. I continued to watch it, but I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with how the actors tossed the Lord’s name around. One actress even used God’s name as her trademark one-liner every time she expressed surprise, much to the merriment of the studio audience. I wasn’t amused.
Making the Decision
Finally I resolved to get rid of the “worst of the worst”—the movies stored in the plastic bags. But what should I do with them? Sell them? Give them away?
I prayerfully tried to use logic to find an answer. If I were a recuperating cocaine user, I reasoned, I would not sell my leftover stash or give it away. If I were a recovering alcoholic, I would not sell or give away unopened wine bottles. Likewise, if I were a struggling pornography addict, I would not sell or give away my magazines.
There was only one thing I could do. I pulled out a pair of industrial-grade scissors and began hacking through the shiny silver discs. It was slow, painful work. Some of the movies carried fond memories. They represented a bundle of money. I thought wryly that the energy exerted in destroying the discs would prove a good safeguard against buying them again. I resolved that my criteria for selecting DVDs would be stricter in the future.
The Temptation Returns
Two years passed. One day a friend visited, and we popped an action film he had brought with him into the DVD player. I was shocked. The film, once a favorite of mine, had not seemed so violent when I last watched it. I struggled to recall why I had liked it. After the movie finished, I praised God for resensitizing me to the wickedness of violence. A few Sabbaths later I mentioned the incident in a sermon about the sin of lying. (“Did you know that every year the world honors the world’s best liars? The ceremony is called the Oscars.”)
But Paul was right when he said, “So, if you think that you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12). Remember the scores of discs still lining my shelves? Sin is no less potent when it’s collecting dust. A friend found the DVDs and started watching them, urging me to join him. As we made our way through the films, I began to remember the old movies that I had once loved. I wished I still had several to watch with my friend. After several weeks of inner struggle, I again bought an action movie. Then another. In six weeks my DVD collection swelled by several hundred movies.
Abraham and his wife, Sarah, did not give a second thought to the life of ease that they had left in Ur after God said, “Leave your country and your people . . . and go to the land I will show you” (Acts 7:3). Indeed, “if they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return” (Heb. 11:15).
I thought about the country I had left—and to which I had returned.
After six weeks I felt exhausted from late nights packed with movies, adrenalin, and laughter. I looked at myself in the reflection of the Bible during my morning devotions and loathed what I saw: a dog that had returned to its vomit; a sow that had been given a bath and gone back to wallowing in the mud (2 Peter 2:22).
Even worse, God had entrusted money and time to me, both of which I had misused grossly. I wondered how I could even begin to comprehend Jesus’ murder on the cross with a mind benumbed by violent films.
The apostle Paul had no qualms about condemning the profanity, double entendres, and silly banter so popular in movies and TV shows. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5:3-5).
My very salvation depended on what entered my mind from the TV screen.
God—Again—Comes to the Aid
I prayed for Jesus to forgive me. Shamefacedly I tossed all the action movies into the garbage. For the second time.
A week later I decided to write down my experience. After rewriting several drafts, I realized that the story lacked an ending. I still had hundreds of DVDs clogging my shelves—titles that I had previously classified as harmless. I started sifting through the DVDs. But which ones could I keep? I earnestly prayed to God for wisdom.
Ultimately I made three piles of films worth keeping: Christian, educational, and borrowed. It wasn’t difficult deciding which discs belonged in those categories. The rest went into plastic bags.
I took a break midway through the task of hauling the bags to the garbage chute in the hallway outside my apartment. Emotionally drained, I prayed for assurance that I was doing the right thing, discarding even the family fare that my sister and I had watched as missionary children. I felt impressed to open the Bible. But to which verse? A voice seemed to tell me to pick up from where I had stopped reading during devotions that morning. I opened the Bible to Mark 10.
The first few verses didn’t seem promising, with the Pharisees quizzing Jesus over the legality of divorce. But then I reached the story of the rich young ruler and the apostle Peter’s impulsive exclamation to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” (verse 28).
A knot rose in my throat as I read Jesus’ response: “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in the present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (verses 29, 30).
A short time later the rest of my DVDs were hurled down the garbage chute, together with my Wii console and video games.
God is once again looking at this earth and saying, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.” He calls you and me to come out of this violent world and not think of what we have left behind. Instead, we should long for a better world—a heavenly one with no more death or mourning or crying or pain. No movie can ever top that.
Andrew Mc Chesney is a journalist living in Russia. This article was published March 17, 2011.