Thursday, June 30, 2005


I was in Tulsa earlier this week to shoot a commercial (I feel quite glamorous saying that)… Okay, I was in Tulsa doing a few voice-overs and lead-ins for some commercial spots that we have purchased to run on selected cable channels in strategic area codes of northwest Houston over the next few months, thanks to Tim Davis’ creative outreach planning. We’ll be showing the spots to WHCC folks over the next few weeks to let you know what we’re airing.

The whole 26-hour trip was interesting for me. Tulsa is a pleasant city; reminds me of a big Abilene – nice people, nothing fancy. My guess is that people who live there love it. I arrived at the studio an hour early because I had given myself extra time to get through the morning rush hour. Ha! I’ve endured more traffic getting out of my subdivision in Houston

So I pull up to the New Millennium office on a quiet street and it’s basically a townhome with a big garage that serves as a studio, or else a big studio room with an apartment above it. What catches my attention are the motorcycles, boat, and sport coupes outside, and the guys (plural) dressed in black with bald heads setting up equipment inside. As I step out of my Chrysler rental car with my Buzz Lightyear haircut and spiffy coat-tie ensemble I can swear I hear alarms go off and a voice boom “Preacher on premises.” Suffice it to say no one mistakes me for Bono.

I found the whole thing very inspiring. The company we contracted with, Faith Highway (they were renting the studio from New Millennium), is a Christian organization which provides media (television, web, and print) services for various Christian ministries. After my shoot was over they were going to film some testimonies for a local church to be aired on the church’s website.

I say I found the whole thing inspiring for a number of reasons. First, I think Christian organizations and churches need to be media savvy and to utilize elements of media as a tool for proclaiming the gospel message. It’s part of the fabric of our lives, a kind of “coin of the realm,” so we should be conversant with it. I am glad WHCC is doing this.

But a deeper reason I felt inspired, and this is harder to put into words, is that everyone in the group doing the shoot was younger (than me) and I felt a palpable sense of mission in what they were doing. One of them led a prayer before we began; he had been a children and youth minister before joining Faith Highway. What I felt from them reinforced something I have read often in the past few years, namely, that the 20’s and 30’s generation of Christians is idealistic and committed to following Jesus, often making economic and vocational sacrifices to pursue a mission for God, even as they grow impatient with the institutional “church as usual.” I guess you could say I was inspired by the entrepreneurial, idealistic, creative and “pioneer” atmosphere I experienced, as well as impressed by the professionalism.

We finished early (yours truly nailed all his lines) so I had a couple of hours to kill at a Borders bookstore before my flight. Tough life, eh? I returned energized; it’s refreshing to see new vistas for sharing the timeless message of Christ. Shoot away.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Free Me Too

Half a million people have now logged on to, a website devoted to persuading Katie Holmes to extricate herself from the manic love of heartthrob Tom Cruise and the Scientology he has reportedly persuaded her to adopt.

Yes, friends, I only tackle the most substantive and cutting edge issues in this space and I am always searching far and wide for the deep stuff to bring to you.

But stick with me. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle (“The Stars Are Aligned Under Scientology”; Eileen McClelland, 6/22/05) notes the number of actors who have been drawn to Scientology because, in the words of Glenn Shuck, religion professor at Williams College, “they’re looking for a mental edge in a competitive world.” When a star like John Travolta credits Scientology with the success of his career, notes McClelland, other celebrities find that to be a powerful endorsement.

This is the point at which the investigative theological journalist in me perks up (notwithstanding the serious issue of Katie’s freedom). To wit: Should the value of a religious practice be assessed by what it promises to do for us?

There is no doubt that the Christian faith makes claims about the kind of life which followers of Jesus will experience when we live as His disciples. Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” But seldom is Jesus or Christian teaching more specific than this about the “benefits”, as it were, of the Christian life (other than eternal life, about which it is very specific). In fact, nowhere does the New Testament or historical orthodox Christianity offer a “prosperity” gospel. It may be that we experience personal and/or professional “success” as Christians, and for that it is appropriate to thank God and be a good steward of those blessings, but to not experience it is not to say that our faith, or God, has not “worked.”

The problem with Scientology as a religious practice (as opposed to a sort of psychological methodology) is that there is no deity; it’s all about me and my self-actualization. I mention this not to bash Scientology (though I am disdainful of its religious pretensions) but to remind us (including myself) of the continuing human tendency to want our faith to “bear fruit” in worldly terms. When Jesus says “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 14:6), it seems to me that one of the things he is talking about is freedom from the tyranny of trying to perform in this life, by the world’s values, as if that is all there is. Jesus sets us free from the anxiety of deriving our self worth from our performance (God loves us unconditionally) and from the pressure of the time constraints of this life (He has prepared a place for us). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). We are free to strive for accomplishment but not to be burdened by it.

Katie’s a big girl and can make her own decisions. As for me, I think I’ll continue to work on my own freedom. Care to join me? No website necessary. -- Matt Soper

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Natalee Holloway’s disappearance in Aruba continues to mystify and trouble all who are keeping up with the story (I am writing on Thursday). For obvious reasons (she’s blonde, high school age, a good kid, etc.) this has hit close to home for me and I have read or watched the news each day with a sense of increasing dread. The longer she is missing the more likely it is that she will be found dead. I cringe even writing that, thinking of her parents, siblings, and friends from Alabama clinging prayerfully to a hope that she will be found alive. But I am speaking with a fatal realism nurtured by dozens of similar news stories over the years (Chandra Levy, in Washington, comes to mind).

I will not be sharing happy thoughts or stories with you this week because sometimes it behooves us to remind ourselves (or to be jarringly reminded) that we live in a sin-riddled world and that people are capable of unspeakable atrocities against one another. I know you know that, and I know that, intellectually, but I am talking about living daily with that difficult realization.

Are people basically good but capable of bad things, or basically bad but capable of good things? The Judeo-Christian worldview answers this question with a simple but sometimes unsatisfying “yes.” We are created in the image of God and thus capable of great good. And we are marred by a sinful nature that is capable of great evil. When the scriptures talk about “putting to death the sinful nature” through repentance, baptism, and growth in Christ (see Romans 7 & 8), they are not speaking figuratively; this is serious business. There is in each of us the possibility to do bad things and to become bad people and this does not cease with our baptism into Christ. In the words of John Stott, renowned preacher and scholar, we have to continually put our sinful nature on the cross and, if I recall his arresting image accurately, let it hang there and die slowly over our lifetime.

And when there is no restraining religious and/or moral value system, or only a casual one, to check peoples’ sinful nature, they will often do terrible things and we should not be surprised or naïve about that.

I have been blessed, though painfully sobered, to be married to a woman who has often specialized in counseling victims of trauma and abuse. I tend to have an innocent and often naïve view of people, and I have sometimes sighed and rolled my eyes when I hear her outline safety precautions for our daughters, but I know she is right.

There is an additional and especially troubling element to this story that is also all too common: the element of violence against women. When Angela worked at the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica and told me about some of the acts that men had perpetrated against women, I lost much of my naiveté. I developed a much stronger doctrine of sin, to put it mildly.

Here’s one way of looking at the importance of God’s redemptive mission to the world. Let’s call it the “glass half-empty view,” and that is: We don’t even want to consider what the world, or we, might be like without it. But maybe we need to.
– Matt Soper