Sunday, November 25, 2007


Everyone deals with career frustrations. Actor Jonathan Jackson recently faced a huge one.

The winner of three Daytime Emmy Awards for portraying Lucky Spencer on “General Hospital,” Jonathan has also co-starred in major films like "Tuck Everlasting," "Insomnia," and "The Deep End of the Ocean." He planned to continue that trend with his latest project “The Dark Is Rising,” a fantasy film based on the novel by Susan Cooper.

Jonathan moved his wife and two children to Romania for three months so he could play the crucial role of The Walker in this big-screen adaptation. But while the film was being edited, the producers decided to rewrite the whole script and wound up editing out Jonathan’s character. (Editor’s note: They also wound up changing the title of the movie twice indicating a definite problem behind-the-scenes.)

During a recent interview on the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” Jonathan admitted, “That was a hard blow for me...It’s been an interesting journey of faith just to give that to the Lord and trust there’s a reason and purpose behind it.”

Jonathan’s Christian faith has led him to believe that taking his anger and frustrations to God is a normal and necessary thing to do – “I think God really wants our vulnerability and our honesty. So when I go to him in that place, what I get is a kind of transference from Him which I think manifests into faith. So faith…is a choice but it’s also a supernatural gift that God gives when we go to Him…and say ‘This hurts, this is hard, I don’t understand, but I’m going to come here and be honest with you and ask for help.’”

Asking for God’s help was something that came naturally to Jonathan at an early age. He started working on “General Hospital” when he was eleven years old, but never fell into the familiar trappings of drugs or self-absorption. He credits the Hollywood environment for pushing him toward a life of faith, not away from it. Jonathan recalls, “There was a polarizing thing that happened to me in moving to Hollywood at such a young age. It kind of put me in a position…to really choose what kind of a person I wanted to be because there definitely were things available to me in my teenage years that were much more available in Hollywood than they were in Washington where I grew up for the first ten years…In the end, I think it was a bit risky being thrown into a dark spiritual environment like that, but it ended up doing a great thing for me. It made me run to God and say, ‘This is the kind of person I want to be so I’m going to need your help here because I obviously can’t do this on my own.’”

Jonathan also credits his parents for giving him and his siblings a firm foundation of love and faith. He says, “A lot of people can talk…about God. Then there are those people that the love of God is just alive in their hearts. The things that they do are coming from a response to that intimate relationship. Looking at my parents…that was just the kind of people they were. They had such a gratitude in their hearts for everything that God had taken them through..There was just a real genuine love, not just for other people, but for each other. And you can’t overemphasize enough the importance of a father and a mother loving each other in the relationship and what that does to the kids – to look at daddy and mommy and say that they love each other, and that they have a covenant together that’s going to be forever. I know the kind of safety that put in my heart is absolutely incredible.”

Jonathan wanted the same kind of relationship when he eventually got married so he felt sure that he would never marry an actress. Then God and His inimitable sense of humor led him down a different path.

In 2002, Jonathan married actress Lisa Vultaggio who he had met on “General Hospital.” Today, they are the parents of a son and a daughter. So what was the initial attraction? Jonathan says, “(Lisa) started coming to home groups and Bible studies that we were having...every weekend for over two years. There was no romantic thing going on there. We were a group of about twenty young people just seeking the Lord…I got to see (Lisa) fall in love with Jesus. From week to week, I would look in her eyes and see something different. It was a powerful transformation. She’d been through a lot of struggles in her life so the kind of rebirth and redemption that she had was just epic and beautiful. That was definitely the thing that drew me to her heart.”

Next to God, family, and acting, music is another passion close to Jonathan’s heart. He’s a member of the rock band Enation along with his brother Richard Lee, and their friends Daniel Sweatt and Michael Galeotti. The group’s goal is to create music that reflects the heartbeat of God. Jonathan says, “This last album we made was called ‘Where the Fire Starts.’ That title comes from…a lyric in one of the songs…‘Don’t Lose Heart.’ And the lyric is, ‘I know where the fire starts / It starts with the dream / I know where the dream goes when it passes through the fire.’ The idea is that when God gives us a dream, that dream gets taken through the fire…Look at Abraham and the dream that God gave him, and the process of faith he had to walk through. All of us, I think, walk through that fire. This album was about that process of when God gives you a dream and then you get taken through the fire of that dream - who do you run too, how do you get through that, and what happens to your heart and your faith in that process?”

Jonathan Jackson’s heart and faith have survived the challenges of making his dreams come true. And though his recent experience with “The Dark is Rising” was extremely disappointing, the dark will not overtake him. Instead he moves forward confident that, with God at his side, even better things are still to come.

(Enation's newest album "Soul Story" will be available Nov. 30.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OF JILTED BRIDES AND JAR JAR'S DADDY humor columnist and my good e-friend Mary Beth Ellis has recently published some funny pieces about "The Bachelor" finale and George Lucas (mind you, those were 2 separate columns. George Lucas was not this season's Bachelor - though that's a version of the show I might actually watch). Here are a couple of excerpts from those columns which I hope you check out:

‘The Bachelor’s’ choice? Nobody!
What if “The Bachelor,” after an entire season of “he chooses his bride” hyping, doesn’t choose anyone?

For once, a bachelor gave “The Bachelor” a great big one-finger salute — and it wasn’t by slipping a big old diamond on the left hand of a tooth-whitened real estate agent from Tampa. Brad didn’t issue a proposal, or a promise ring, or even an “I love you — I’m just not in love with you.” He rejected both finalists.

In a show that has rarely been little more than an opportunity to knock back the womens’ movement a good 40 years one rose at a time, this season’s edition of polygamy on parade promised an “unprecedented” ending. Rumors swirled over a request to date both, an instant Vegas wedding, an “actually, I’m gay.” Not many expected that Brad would stone-cold drop the final two. Bachelors have upended the “I’d like to see where this amazing incredible journey takes us” wheelbarrow before, but to stand before each with “I have to say goodbye”? Ouch.

Can Lucas be trusted with ‘Star Wars’ universe?
One of my readers alerted me to this story after I published yet another article agonizing over the vastly disturbing direction the Star Wars universe has taken since the release of the prequels and the much-maligned Special Apostasy Edition of the original trilogy. He was a missionary in Africa at the time, and he sat down amidst the social unrest, the poverty and the rampant malaria to type very earnestly about the horrible injustice that is the insertion of Gungan celebratory footage in the last scenes of “Return of the Jedi.”

“Personally,” he concluded, “I've decided that George Lucas underwent some sort of serious personality alteration during the 80s that adversely affected his artistic judgment, even to the point of not being the same man. Obviously, the man who invented Indiana Jones was, in some metaphysically substantive way, different from the one who thought that it was a good idea to have Anakin Skywalker use The Force to feed his girlfriend a fakey orange.”


In honor of Thanksgiving, I'm posting a video of the song "Why Me, Lord" written and performed by Kris Kristofferson. Because of the title, you might think it's a lament to God complaining about why bad things are happening. Instead, it's a song about being thankful for the blessings you've been given and the importance of giving back to those in need.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


In general, Christians who are conservative tend to bash television as a morally bankrupt wasteland. I often get the feeling that these people don't actually watch much TV - and if they do, they seek out shows that are deliberately controversial or that revel in pushing the envelope so they can have something to complain about. The example I always cee cited is "Sex and the City." I've never actually seen an episode of the show - only clips on Awards programs. From what I've seen and read, the show is too crass and vulgar for my tastes. I stopped watching the sitcom "Two and a Half Men" because I found it to be filthy. I have no problem with funny, well-written sex jokes (the sitcom "Cheers" pulled them off well). Even Shakespeare enjoyed bawdy humor in his plays, and those are considered great literature. But there's a line. Like the traditional definition of pornography says, "I'll know it when I see it."

As a Christian with conservative leanings myself, I want to take a few minutes to defend television. It's a medium I've always found entertaining and, at times, enlightening. My tastes aren't always particularly highbrow so this will not be a post extolling the virtues of "Masterpiece Theatre" (not that there's anything wrong with that). But I enjoy mainstream broadcast television. So here are the shows on my current "watch list" and what I like about them. Feel free to add your own suggestions:

- "Heroes" and "Chuck" - both shows deal with characters who have special talents or responsibilities thrust upon them and do their best to meet these responsibilites for moral reasons.

- "30 Rock" and "The Office" - though I'm lumping these two sitcoms together because they air together, they are somewhat different. "30 Rock" is a satirical, often hilarious look at the workings of the television world. The jokes are more hit than miss, but some episodes have fallen completely flat. And sometimes they push the envelope too far like last week's scene with Pete and his wife in bed together. But when this show is on, it's hysterical. An even better and funnier workplace comedy, in my opinion, is "The Office." Its characters are also exaggerated for comedic effect, but they also integrate moments of relatability that make them seem real instead of just caricatures. For instance, there was an episode last season in which Pam (Jenna Fischer) had an art show and invited everyone from the office. The only one who showed up was her boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) who tends to be a likable comedic dope a lot of the time. But when Michael shows up saying he wanted to support Pam's work, she's genuinely touched - and so is the audience. Integrating poignant moments into a sitcom isn't easy. The show that did it best for me is "Everybody Loves Raymond." "The Office" does a nice job of it too from time to time so that, along with the steady laughs, make this the best sitcom on TV.

- "Lost" - this complex, multi-layered island mystery engagingly deals with themes like human nature, relationships, philosophy, faith, and sacrifice. It also contained the best priest-character in Mr. Eko that television has seen in a long time. I'm guessing that the fact that executive producer Carlton Cuse is a practicing Catholic has some impact on this show's mature treatment of spiritual themes.

- "Pushing Daisies" - this whimsical, funny, sweet detective show offers great stories and performances. See other posts for my full opinion.

- "Battlestar Galactica" - probably the best-written show on television today. It addresses modern issues like politics, war, and faith in a sci-fi setting that may turn some people off. But it's their loss. They should put aside their pre-conceived notions about sci-fi and give this show a look on DVD.

- "American Idol" - this show probably has more Christians on stage every week than any other. By my count, 6 of last season's top 12 were Christian. I know it's fashionable to look down on "Idol." It subjects us to 4 weeks of horrible singers at the start of the season, while others complain that none of these contestants are "real" singers. Well, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood could argue that last point. But ultimately, this is a talent show. It's not a new concept, just one that's been repackaged for a modern audience. It does what it does incredibly well and deserves the success it's had.

- "Dancing with the Stars" - the most purely entertaining show on television. When it first started, I thought the concept sounded totally cheesy. I only watched because I had taken ballroom dancing lessons on-and-off for a couple of years and knew how much fun it could be. But would that fun translate into an enjoyable TV show? Absolutely! When couples dance well, there's a sense of joy and electricity that ignites the live audience and comes through the screen. There's also an amazing amount of stamina and athleticism involved in performing these routines that make them fun to watch. Maybe DWTS is a little cheesy, but it always makes me smile - and that's enough to keep me coming back week after week.

So there's my take on television. I also enjoy books, films and music. But since TV is often seen as the bastard stepchild of "the arts," I wanted to offer a different take. Feel free to add your own.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


As someone who believes that the writers currently on strike should be fairly compensated for their work (not to mention the fact that I will sorely miss my favorite scripted shows if the strike goes on too long), I'm posting this blog entry from a blogger named Teresa. It offers an idea of what ordinary people can do to make their voices heard to The Powers That Be.

1) I'd like to think that I work in an industry where writers get the respect they deserve. Very often, Hollywood will be really deferential to actors, directors, and producers, but treat the writers like the red-headed stepchildren. It's really inexcusable, considering that without the writers, the entertainment industry would be far less entertaining. They're not asking for anything unreasonable, and they should not be denied the opportunity to earn a living in this industry that's already making other people so much money.


2) I WANT TO BE ABLE TO WATCH "LOST" IN FEBRUARY! As many of you know, I'm a big fan. If the AMPTP doesn't cut the shenanigans, give the writers what they deserve, and end the strike in time for episodes to be written for the long-awaited fourth season, I'm going to go to L.A. and punch every producer in the face. Smile (I'm sure many people reading this have a show they feel this way about!)

Some of you are members of one union or another. Some of you, like me, are artsy-types who are not members of a union yet, but hope to be someday. All of you watch TV and go to movies. I read that the WGA was welcoming non-union supporters to picket with them. While I don't have time for that, I thought I would send a letter to the AMPTP expressing my support for the writers as a viewer. Thought I'd get other interested parties to do the same.

If the spirit moves you, and you'd like to extend your support, you can contact the AMPTP here:

You can either send an e-mail via their online form (quick and easy!), send a letter to the mailing address on the page to the attn of AMPTP president, Nick Counter (nothing has the knives-out poetry of angry letters stacked on a desk!), or call the phone number on the page and leave a polite message with Nick Counter's assistant (depending on how concerned you are about the whole thing). It doesn't have to be long. It can be something like this:

Dear Mr. Counter,

I am a television viewer and movie-goer. It is the job of your organization to make and keep me happy so that I continue to go out and buy things, thereby keeping your advertisers happy and those in your industry gainfully employed (and also happy). What would make me happiest at the moment would be if you treat the WGA fairly and give the writers what they want and deserve to successfully end this strike. The entertainment industry needs its writers. It also needs its audience. The longer we have to sit through re-runs, the less likely we'll be to keep coming back - especially when we have On Demand cable and Netflix and YouTube to keep us warm. I'm writing this note, as one of the many viewers you are trying to court, to express my support for the writers. Thank you.

(your name here)

Or something like that. In fact, feel free to steal that and alter it for your own purposes. Smile Feel free to forward this e-mail to anyone you think might be interested, too, as there is power in numbers. Post the links I've included in your blogs, on your networking sites, or on any relevant message boards you visit. I would love the writers to know that it isn't just fellow union members who support what they do, but the average viewers across the country who enjoy the stories they tell, and want to keep them coming. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I attended a great 'Theology on Tap' talk in New York City last night featuring Lino Rulli, an Emmy Award winning TV host/producer who now hosts "The Catholic Guy" show daily on SIRIUS satellite radio's The Catholic Channel. Based on what I've read, Lino's got the most popular show on the channel because he combines his self-deprecating and offbeat sense of humor with an actual knowledge of Catholic theology.

The theme of Lino's talk last night was why the Church's message isn't heard in the mainstream media. As someone who works in mainstream media, he has some interesting and relevant insights. One of the problems he sees is that Catholics (and sometimes Christians in general) have an 'Us vs. Them' mentality. They often think there's some large conspiracy by journalists and such to portray Catholics or the Church in a bad light. Not true, says Lino. In some cases, there's a genuine ignorance of what the Church actually believes. But often he's discovered that when he's revealed he's Catholic in various workplaces, other Catholics revealed their faith to him too. Some were practicing, others weren't, but he didn't encounter hostility because of his faith.

Lino acknowledged that some journalists disagree with the church's stance on political issues like abortion or gay marriage, and will therefore approach a story about the church with some bias. He also admitted that this was a problem of human nature because when a group he disagrees with gets in trouble, he may take them to task also. The church, however, isn't well-served by approaching these people with an 'Us vs. Them' mentality. If we constantly speak out with anger and condemnation, we come across as un-Christian and even hypocritical. Lino discussed appearing on a radio show in which the host launched into a 20 minute diatribe against God and religion. Then he questioned Lino about certain things the church believes. After Lino explained these church beliefs or teachings in a rational, even humorous way, the host's response was, "Well that makes sense." By the end of the interview, this vehement atheist acknowledged that there might be more to this religion thing than he thought. That doesn't mean this radio host is going to become a Bible-thumper anytime soon, but he may have more of an open mind the next time he hears someone talking about their religious beliefs.

In terms of news coverage, Lino pointed out that the church makes news for bad things it does because everybody gets covered for the bad things they do. Newspapers and broadcasts in general cover bad news because that's what gets ratings. The Church, which is about Good News, can therefore have trouble getting positive stories on the air. A priest simply doing his job without scandal isn't a 'story.' Lino did point out that viewers can have an impact on positive coverage by letting station managers know when they like something instead of just complaining when they don't. He cited as an example a positive story he once did about a particular group that then sent an email blast to all its members telling them to contact the station offering compliments and thanks. Within hours, the station manager was inundated with so many positive notes that he promised to do more stories like it in the future.

My favorite part of Lino's talk dealt with how to approach things in our culture that seem to slam Christianity. The example he used was "The DaVinci Code." While he saw the story as a piece of crap, he didn't offer the kneejerk verbal assaults on the film like others in the Christian media. Instead, he attacked it with humor. He pointed out how ridiculous the premise was because the book suggested that a bunch of Italians kept a major secret about Jesus for hundreds of years. Lino said he's Italian and he knows Italians can't keep their mouths shut long enough to keep a secret for a few minutes, much less a few centuries. People and journalists were open to this argument because it was funny yet real. And it showed that Catholics can display a sense of humor.

Lino is an entertaining and insightful speaker and host who relates well to a young adult audience because he is one of us. He doesn't speak over peoples heads, but rather speaks to them where they are in life - because he is there also. If you ever get the chance to listen to him, you should definitely take the time. Chances are he'll leave you with something to think about - and laugh about.