Month: December 2018

REVIEW: “Bumblebee” is a movie about grieving (and alien robots, too)

Charlie is a talented-yet-gloomy teenage girl who can’t wait to leave her mom when she turns 18.

She hasn’t always been like this. In fact, she once was a chipper kid.

But then her father died. Each weekend, they would work together on his classic car. During the week, he would cheer her on at her diving meets.

Her mom found a boyfriend after the tragedy. Charlie, though, can’t put her father’s death behind her.

“I miss you,” she says, touching his picture.

Perhaps Charlie’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle—a gift from a relative—will bring her some cheer. She loves it.

Yet there’s something different about this car. It drives great, even though it’s a clunker. It makes strange noises, as if it were alive.  

Then one night in the garage, the car does the unthinkable. It transforms into a robot.

“What are you?” she asks.

Of course, we already know the answer.

The movie Bumblebee (PG-13) is now playing in theaters, starring Hailee Steinfeld (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) as Charlie, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as her friend Memo, and John Cena (Ferdinand) as Agent Burns, a U.S. military official who tries to destroy Bumblebee.

Set in 1987, the film tells the story of Bumblebee, a Transformer Autobot and a “good guy” who finds refuge on Earth after his home planet of Cybertron is destroyed. His hope is to set up a base on Earth for the rest of the Autobots, who are trying to avoid the evil Decepticons. The film is a prequel to the 2007 movie Transformers.

The Autobot-Decepticon war is but a backdrop for the story of Charlie and Bumblebee, who become friends and fill voids in one another’s lives. Indeed, when Charlie cries while thinking about her father, Bumblebee hugs her. Charlie, in turn, tries repairing Bumblebee, who was injured in a battle and has lost the ability to speak.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Moderate/extreme. The violence in Bumblebee is mostly bloodless, but it nevertheless has the knockdown, dragout fights between robots that made the Transformers series popular. Some of the battles end in death. The film begins with a huge battle on the planet Cybertron involving punches and laser guns. The scene then switches to Earth, where we see Bumblebee being chased by soldiers, who shoot him with guns that don’t harm him. Bumblebee then battles a Decepticon. We see Bumblebee held over a cliff and dropped; the battle causes him to lose his speech. We also see a Transformer split in half, execution style. Decepticons twice shoot humans; they turn into a slimy goo. A Decepticon talks about killing Bumblebee and a another human. The film ends with a massive battle between Bumblebee and two Decepticons.  


Minimal. A teen boy takes off his shirt at a theme park and is ogled by the girls. Later, another boy takes his shirt off in a car. A man and a woman get into an argument; she says he tried sleeping with her sister. A married couple share a brief kiss.

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 29 words: OMG (9), h-ll (8), d–n (5), misuse of “God” (3), s–t (2), a– (1), misuse of “Jesus” (1).

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Charlie is bullied several times in the film; once, the bullying involves a joke about her deceased father. “You should have your dad buy a better [car]. Oh, wait,” another girl tells her, fully aware that Charlie’s father is dead. Charlie, Memo and Bumblebee later roll the girl’s yard with toilet paper. They egg her car, too. We see a child vomit.

Life Lessons

We learn lessons on mercy (Bumblebee), grief (Charlie), the importance of parents (Charlie and her family), companionship (Bumblebee and Charlie) and peer pressure (Charlie).  


Bumblebee may be a movie about robotic aliens, but the film’s dominant theme is recovering from grief. Charlie misses her father. Bumblebee misses his home. Together, they form a great friendship.

For some moviegoers, the film may spark a sense of gratitude and love for their family. For others, it may lead them to reach out to those who are hurting.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Paul wrote in Galatians 6:2. Bumblebee doesn’t reference Scripture, but it’s easy to make that jump with family members or friends in a discussion after the film.

What Works

It’s a Transformers movie where the story dominates and the battles are secondary. I liked it. The movie features 80s music, too, which will attract adults (like me) who grew up during that era. Also, John Cena is impressive as a tough guy. Steinfeld is great, too.  

What Doesn’t

Paramount is trying to attract a new audience to the Transformers films—perhaps even more families. Nethertheless, it contains a tad too much adult content for many parents.  

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was Charlie’s mother able to move on with her life but Charlie unable to do so?
  2. Why did Charlie and Bumblebee have in common? Why did they make for good friends?
  3. What did the movie teach you about bullying and the harm it can cause?
  4. Who (if anyone) was at fault for the broken family relationship—Charlie or her mom? What was needed to repair it?

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence.

Legislative preview

Republicans will maintain a majority in both chambers when the 86th Session of the Texas Legislature convenes Jan. 8, 2019. Yet, despite that and the prospect of conservative leadership from presumptive Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R – Angleton, Christian conservative advocates said the mid-term elections chipped away at the conservative majority and, possibly, their will to advance controversial causes.

The TEXAN spoke with religious liberty and pro-life advocates about the upcoming session and how it bodes for issues they champion.

A unanimous Republican caucus nominated Bonnen Dec. 1 to replace Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who stepped down from both the post and the Legislature after the 2017 session. The full House will vote for a new speaker on opening day.

Conservatives complained that Straus’s 10-year control of the gavel and committee leadership killed their legislation, including the Privacy Act. While Bonnen’s legislative history demonstrates pro-life and religious liberty convictions, if elected Speaker of the House, he will face an increasingly moderate Republican base and Democrats emboldened by mid-term additions to their liberal ranks, Christian lobbyists said.

“Too many Republicans get gun shy after an election like this and mistakenly think that moving to the center will bring appeasement, while Democrats are always aggressive even while in the minority,” Dave Welch, president of the Texas Pastors Council told the TEXAN.

Welch rallied Texas pastors during the last session to champion, unsuccessfully, the Privacy Act. The bill would have required men and women to use public restrooms, dressing rooms and locker rooms according to their biological sex rather than gender identity. He suggested the bill might be reintroduced this session.

The 2017 legislature’s efforts to pass the Freedom to Serve Children Act faced staunch opposition from the legislature’s LGBT advocates. And their influence has grown since the mid-term elections. Two lesbians and one self-described bisexual, all female Democrats, defeated Republican incumbents, including Matt Rinaldi of the House Freedom Caucus.

“Having five of us there that are going to be advocating for a lot of the same issues that are important to our communities, there’s no telling what we can do,” Mary Gonzalez, a lesbian, told the Dallas Morning News Nov. 7. “That, and given that Democrats gained so many seats, it gives me lots of hope that we can actually make huge strides this session.”

Despite the ideological shift —Democrats flipped 12 House seats—Cindy Asmussen, SBTC Ethics and Religious Liberty Advisor remains hopeful that under a Bonnen speakership conservative legislation will not be undermined.

Rep. Scott Sanford, a Republican from McKinney, told the TEXAN he expects “a more member-driven process, which should allow for a more transparent legislative process culminating in more bills getting to the floor.

“I don’t expect power to be as centralized this session, allowing the legislature to get to work earlier and debate more bills based upon the support of legislators, not the whims of a few,” he said.

He expects school finance and property tax reform to highlight agendas on both sides of the aisle.

Such diligence will be necessary as pro-life legislation “will see more obstacles and fewer champions” this session said Emily Horne, Texas Right to Life (TRL) legislative associate. Pressing for legislation that protects preborn children with disabilities tops the group’s agenda this session.

“These preborn Texans are not even protected from late-term abortions like their counterparts that do not receive a diagnosis of disability,” Horne told the TEXAN.

The group will again seek legislative relief to prevent hospitals from withdrawing life-sustaining support from patients unable to make decisions for themselves. That measure failed in 2017.

Although the Texas Legislature lost three “pro-life stalwarts,” Horne said both chambers remain firmly pro-life. The Senate, led by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, has 20 “reliable” pro-life votes out of its 31 members and the House has 86 from its 150 members, she said.

But passage of pro-life legislation does not ensure its implementation. The Dismemberment Abortion Ban passed in 2017 was immediately challenged in court by pro-abortion advocates. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Dec. 3, and a decision is expected by spring.

While advancing religious liberty and sanctity of life bills is a priority for Texas Values, a legal organization promoting biblical virtues of family, defensing against bills that threaten those rights is also essential said Nicole Hodges, Texas Values policy analyst.

Legislation establishing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Texans as protected classes under state law has already been introduced in both chambers she said. Gays and lesbians in states with LGBT nondiscrimination laws have filed lawsuits against business owners who, because of their biblical convictions about marriage and human sexuality, declined services to gay weddings and a pride parade.

Republicans, knocked on their heels in the mid-terms, could “play it safe” and back off the hot-button issues with the hope of maintaining control of the legislature in 2020, Asmussen and Welch said.

“I choose to think they will work hard to get as much accomplished and passed as possible because the fact is that the majority of Texans still hold to conservative values and they want something to get behind and support,” Asmussen said. “Texans do not want legislators who refuse to stand on the principles that got them elected in the first place.”

Life Briefs

Doctors face charges for euthanizing autistic women

Three Belgian doctors are facing criminal charges for euthanizing a woman who was diagnosed with autism but may have been suffering only from a broken heart.

The woman, Tine Nys, was voluntarily euthanized in 2010 after being told she had Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. But her sisters say she lied to get the diagnosis and that she wanted to kill herself because she was depressed after breaking up with her boyfriend. 

Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for the terminally ill and for those with psychiatric ailments that cause “unbearable and untreatable” suffering, The Washington Post reported.

The Netherlands is the only other country that permits euthanasia for psychiatric reasons.

Depression, personality disorder and Asperger’s are the three most common mental health reasons that people are euthanized in Belgium, according to the Associated Press. 

The doctors who approved Nys’ death now face charges of poisoning and could spend life in prison.

The trial will have major repercussions, experts on the subject say. 

“I think this (trial) has symbolic importance in the sense that it sends doctors a message … that you could be accused of a very serious crime and prosecuted if you don’t comply with the legal requirements for euthanasia,” said Penney Lewis, a law professor at King’s College London. “The prospect of criminal investigation may act as a mechanism to make doctors more careful.”

—The Washington Post, AP 

Woman gives birth using deceased donor’s uterus 

A woman who was born without a uterus has given birth after receiving a transplanted uterus from a deceased donor.

The first-of-its-kind surgery took place in 2016 when the recipient—who was born with a rare condition known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome—was 32. The deceased woman was 45 and had experienced three deliveries during her life.

The baby, a girl, was born in December 2017, weighing nearly 6 pounds. 

Doctors revealed details about the surgery and birth in December 2018.

The surgery required connecting the birth canal to the donated uterus. The embryo was derived from in vitro fertilization. 

“Biologically, organs of the living and the dead aren’t all that different,” Allan D. Kirk, the chief surgeon at Duke University Health System, told The New York Times. “But the availability of deceased donors certainly could open this up to a much broader number of patients.”

—The New York Times, CNN

Ala., W.Va. voters approve anti-Roe amendments  

Voters in two states—Alabama and West Virginia—laid the groundwork in November for outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

Alabama voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that recognizes “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” It further states that “nothing” in the state constitution “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

In West Virginia, voters passed an amendment that says “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

The goal is to ensure that a state’s constitutions cannot be used to legalize abortion if Roe is struck down.

—CNN, LifeNews

The pro-life story behind George H.W. Bush’s colorful socks 

Many people enjoyed watching the late president George H.W. Bush wear colorful socks. But fewer people know the story behind them.

Bush—who was pro-life and who famously signed the Americans with Disabilities Act—often wore colorful socks that were created by John Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome, and Cronin’s father, Mark. They formed a company, John’s Crazy Socks.

Bush wore a pair of John’s Crazy Socks to his wife’s funeral.  

“John would not have had the education he had and the opportunities he’s had without President Bush and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Mark Cronin said. “For him to reach out and touch our son, to let my son know he mattered and that he could stand with all other entrepreneurs, no matter that he had Down Syndrome, that was very special to us.” 

—KHOU, LifeNews

From “table for four” to a family of 10

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

DALLAS It all began in Dallas Life, the largest homeless shelter in North Texas and place where homeless men, women and children can receive help and hope as a family during their time of need.

It’s where Derrick and Candace Jones and their two children centered their family ministry—processing incoming families, leading arts and crafts classes for kids and more. And it’s where God began opening their eyes and hearts to the fatherless, placing Scripture upon their hearts and tugging them in a new direction.

“We were enjoying our tidy ‘Table for Four’ days,” Candace said, referencing how they referred to their time as a family of four. “Just for the record, families of four are always welcome in a restaurant and are greeted with a crisp smiling, ‘Hi, guys! Will that be a table for four today? Right this way.” Not so much when you ask for a table for nine or 10 or even 12.”

Candace says the family began meeting young adults at the shelter who had aged out of the foster care system, meaning they were never able to find their forever family. 

“You are released rudderless into the world until you hopefully find your place in life.” 

After some initial resistance, the family sat down together and created a mission statement for who God was calling them to be and how they were going to operate. Candace says her husband’s corporate background in laying a foundation and setting goals helped to set them on the right track before they even started down this path.

They were only going to foster—and they were only going to foster one child. But Candace says God was determined to bring them out of their “vapid, lukewarm lifestyle,” where their service to him fit into the hours and days they had available on their calendar. 

“We tried to make deals with the Lord … but he never seems to need my input. Thank goodness. Otherwise, we would have never fostered and we would have never adopted,” she said. “In fact, Jonah had nothing on us. God was getting ready to throw us over the ship. He would not let us remain comfortable any longer.”

So, in just a few short years, they went from “table for four” to a family of 10.

“God has a way of knowing what our hearts will love,” Candace said. “He unlocked storehouses in our hearts we didn’t even know were there. These pockets were full of grace and love for children who were not born with our DNA, a love equal to what we felt for our biological children—something I would have promised you was impossible.”

As members of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving for more than 10 years, the Jones family has ushered through the church doors every child who has come through their home. Day in and day out, children who may not have ever been exposed to the gospel see and join in on this family as they study the Bible and pray together.

Early on in their fostering journey, one girl came to Jones family from a home where her father was in an a cult. Like the other children, she attended church with them and latched onto worship and Scripture. On the day she left, as they waited for CPS, she said to Candace, “Mom, this was the hardest year of my life, but it was the best.”

Candace says she memorized Scripture while living with them and vowed to teach her dad because “he knows who Jesus is, but he doesn’t know what he came to do for us.” Months later, Candace discovered the little girl and her family had found a church and were regularly attending services.

“The Holy Spirit sets up camp in our home in a big, unmistakable way when we bring in vulnerable children,” Candace said. “He will change their hearts. … Sometimes we’re not there for the whole A-to-Z plan. Sometimes we may be A-to-M or even just A-to-C, but we can rest assured that we serve a heavenly Father who will be there with our children.”

What began with resistance and then moved to a small crack in the dam has now busted wide open for the Jones family. 

“There isn’t a single child that comes to our home and doesn’t wind up hearing about Jesus and loving the church. It’s a testament that God loves these children and they are a field ready to harvest,” Candace said. “Jesus is doing the work. If you’re interested in fostering or adoption, he doesn’t want you to be perfect. He just wants you to be obedient.” 

Grappling with letting foster kids go

Derrick and Candace Jones know the challenges of fostering children that eventually will be placed in other homes. When asked about the heartache of saying goodbye to kids they have loved, Candace said that is the number one question foster parents are asked. 

“It’s true. Half of all children in foster care return to their biological family. It’s a sad, daunting task to take care of a child, love them, and then send them back. At first, I said I couldn’t give them up either.” 

However, early on, God showed the Jones family a few things:

“The real task of fostering is to point his children to a heavenly Father who loves them.

“He would give me callouses in the right places in my heart and keep the other parts soft. I love every child now—and that’s more than I could’ve said about myself before. There are some families who can get back on their feet and get their kids back, so you have to be prepared. 

“The other conclusion that we came to is that we’re not the one coming to save the day. We’re just a part of the bigger picture. It’s really almost prideful to think we’re it for them. It’s more of a ‘I plant the seed and Apollos waters it’ mentality. He’s got a long plan with some of these lives.”

REVIEW: “Aquaman” is different, ultra-gritty and too long  

Arthur is a tall, muscular and tough young man who has — it’s easy to say — a unique background.

His father was a lighthouse keeper, and his mother was Atlanna, the Queen of the underwater world Atlantis. They met one stormy night when she washed up on shore, nearly dead, and was nursed back to health. Shortly thereafter, they married, and soon after that, Arthur was born.

Arthur is only half-Atlantean, but he nevertheless has the other-worldly abilities of his mother’s species. He can breath water. He can see in the dark. And he can dart through the ocean faster than a speeding dolphin. People call him “the Aquaman.”

What Arthur no longer has, though, is a mother. Atlanna left him and his father long ago, fearful that the war-driven people of Atlantis would kill Arthur, a “half-breed.” He hasn’t seen her since.

Although Arthur has lived much of his life on land, he now is being called back to the sea. That’s because his half-brother — Orm — is trying to unite the seven kingdoms of the sea and start a war with the people of the land. (That’s us.) The goal: destroy humanity and prove that the creatures of the sea are superior.

Can Arthur stop them?      

The DC Comics film Aquaman (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Jason Momoa (Justice League) as Arthur/Aquaman, Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera) as Orm, and Amber Heard (Justice League) as Mera, Arthur’s romantic interest and a former citizen of Atlantis.

The film follows Arthur as he tries to take his rightful place as the king of Atlantis from Orm, who is younger. In sharp contrast to Orm — who wants only war — Arthur is striving for peace. As his mother once predicted, “He could unite our worlds one day.”  

Aquaman has plenty of rough edges (more on that below) but is entertaining enough for a superhero flick. That said, the first half of the movie and its emphasis on backstory is more compelling than the last half of the film, in which the story gets overshadowed by mythical minutia and a CGI-battle-fest.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Extreme. The film begins with Aquaman saving a submarine from underwater pirates and beating nearly everyone on the stip to a pulp. They try to kill him with guns, but he’s immune to bullets. We see a tidal wave nearly kill an elderly man. We see destruction on the beaches. We watch Arthur battle his brother in a gruesome fight that would make MMA fans squirm. Scary, alien-like sea creatures attack Arthur and Mera at night. Multiple times during the film, we see people and creatures speared. The underwater battle scene at the end is ultra-violent and long — too long.


Minimal/moderate. Arthur’s parents exchange a kiss, as does another couple later in the film. We see his pregnant mom laying in bed, with her hand on her belly. Mera’s form-fitting outfit (which she wears throughout the film) is low cut.  

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 18 coarse words: h-ll (5), s–t (3), a– (3), d–n (2), b—ard (2) SOB (1), d–k (1). b–ch (1).

Other Positive Elements

The film has several touching family-centric scenes. Arthur’s tearful mother leaves him as a toddler, saying it’s “the only way to save him.” Arthur/Aquaman shows mercy to several victims, refusing to kill them when he has the upper hand. Arthur and his father maintain a relationship when he’s an adult, and we see them hug.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Aquaman curses. He drinks (a lot). And in between, he beats people up. In fact, he wants to fight. He reminds me of the old WWE pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. (That’s not a compliment.) He’s a different, grittier kind of superhero. Some fans will love the character. And, at times, the shtick indeed is hilarious. But I prefer more wholesome superheroes. Still, he has plenty of positive qualities.

Life Lessons

The movie gives us lessons on selflessness (Arthur’s mother), self-sacrifice (Mera, Arthur, others), courage (Arthur), loyalty (Mera), humility (Arthur) and the bond within a family (Arthur and his parents).


Like all DC and Marvel films, the story of Aquaman involves myths and and characters with God-like qualities.

Still, there are plenty of positive characteristics in the film. As Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote: “Inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light.”

Aquaman is a tough superhero who (mostly) practices mercy. And when he doesn’t show mercy, he later regrets it.

He’s also humble, as we see when he initially rejects calls to become king. He wants justice for the world. He opposes evil. Perhaps that’s why our society likes superhero movies so much. Deep down, we’re looking for a hero to defeat evil and save us. We’re looking for a savior. Thankfully, we already have one. We can read about Him in the pages of Scripture.  

What Works

The underwater scenes are beautiful and impressive. Perhaps the most amazing element: the way each character’s hair floats in the water as they talk to one another and interact.    

What Doesn’t

Superhero movies often are heavy on CGI and light on story. In the back half of the film, this one is exactly that.

Discussion Questions

  1. List three selfless acts in the movie. List three acts that reflected mercy.
  2. Should Arthur’s mother have left him?
  3. Why was Arthur hesitant to lead his people?
  4. Why are moviegoers so enamored with superheroes? Is it only for entertainment?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

REVIEW: “Mary Poppins Returns” is a splendid celebration of childhood & imagination

Michael Banks is a young widower and father of three who is facing eviction from the London home he inherited from his father.

It seems the the struggling Banks unwisely used his house as collateral on a loan, and he’s now three payments behind.

But that’s OK. His father owned shares in the local bank that can be redeemed for enough cash to pay down the loan. If only he could find the paperwork.

He searched the attic. He combed the bookshelves. He even asked the bank if they had proof of the transaction. Everything came up empty.    

With an eviction pending and the children still mourning the death of their mom, the Banks family sure could use some cheer.

Then an old friend drops from the sky underneath a big umbrella. Her name is Mary Poppins, the woman who served as a nanny for Michael and his sister Jane when their were children. She wants to take care of Michael’s children — Anabel, John and Georgie — during the family crisis. Who knows? She even may help the family keep their home.

The Disney musical Mary Poppins Returns (PG) opened in theaters this week, more than five decades after the Oscar-winning original was released. Just like the 1964 version, the sequel takes place on Cherry Street Lane in London. This time, though, the setting is the Great Depression — the “Great Slump” as they called it in the U.K. — and families across the city are barely making ends meet.  

The movie stars Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) as Mary Poppins, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote the music for Moana) as the lamplighter Jack, and Ben Whishaw (the voice of the bear in Paddington) as Michael Banks.

Blunt is the perfect fit for the role that Julie Andrews popularized. The movie may not be as good as the original — what is? — but it’s still very, very good.

It has the same feel, the same look, the same pace.

Like the original, it features goofy songs and quirky scenes (my favorite: the room where everyone is upside down). Like the original, it showcases a mixture of animation and live action (my favorite: Mary Poppins and the kids “enter” a painted scene on a family bowl, interacting with the animals and characters). Like the original, it has catchy, toe-tapping songs (Trip a Little Light Fantastic is a good one).

From beginning to end, Mary Poppins Returns almost seems like a movie made in the 60s.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. Georgie is kidnapped by cartoon character thieves in a truck. A chase scene ensues, and his siblings are able to get him back. We also hear the children discuss how much they miss their mother.  


None. We hear a song that mentions a “birthday suit.”

Coarse Language

None. We hear the British word “bloody.”

Life Lessons

The lessons in Mary Poppins are ones we all can learn: live life with joy, slow down, learn to laugh more, recapture the simple pleasures of your younger years.  


Just like the 1964 film, Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t tell us where she gets her powers.

“One thing you should know about Mary Poppins,” one person says when her “magical” abilities are questioned. “She never explains anything.”

But the word “magic” — a concept that repels some moviegoers — is never used. Perhaps that’s because the story of Mary Poppins isn’t about magic. It’s about childhood.

The 1964 and the 2018 films are a celebration of the things that make childhood great — imagination, creativity, wonder and laughter. All are gifts from a creative God.

The films are a recreation of what children might do if they had the “power” to do act out their imaginary worlds. It’s a joy to watch (and hear).  

The other day, my youngest son and I discussed what it would be like if zoo animals could buy groceries at the local store — you know, if they had money and human brains. If you set his story to music and added a few goofy words, I bet it would sound a bit like a song in Mary Poppins Returns.


For children, Subway likely is the most well-known partner.

What Works

Mostly everything. If every sequel to a classic was this true to the original, I’d want more of them. Some moviegoers will say the music isn’t as catchy as the 1964 soundtrack — and they’re likely right — but I wonder if our attachment to that classic film is based on nostalgia. For example, will the moviegoer in 50 years automatically prefer the original music? That’s a good question.

What Doesn’t

I’m being picky, but it would have been nice to have another “G” rating on a Mary Poppins film. The chase scene is what warranted the “PG.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is imagination and laughter so important in a child’s life? In our lives?
  2. Why do we forget the simple pleasures in life as we age?
  3. What is your view on the “magic in movies” debate? Does Mary Poppins Returns have magic?

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action.

The 10 best family-friendly films of 2018

Let’s face it: It can be difficult to find a movie that the whole family can watch.

Thankfully, though, there were quite a few family-friendly films released in theaters in 2018. Here are my favorite 10:

Paddington 2 (PG) — Everyone’s favorite Peruvian bear gets framed for something he didn’t do — stealing a book — and gets sentenced to 10 years in prison. He then warms the hearts of the prisoners with kindness. Paddington 2 is as good (if not better) than its predecessor. It also is nearly the perfect family film, with tons of great messages for kids (such as: treat others the way you want to be treated). Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. Live action/CGI.

Peter Rabbit (PG) — Thomas McGregor, the nephew of the infamous Mr. McGregor, tries to keep pesky (and lovable) rabbits out of his garden. This film is not as innocent as the children’s books — there’s too much Looney Tunes-type violence — but it’s OK for most children and includes solid lessons on forgiveness and reconciliation. (It sparked a controversy with a scene showing the rabbits intentionally shooting a blackberry into the mouth of an allergic Thomas McGregor. He then used an EpiPen.) Rated PG for some rude humor and action. Live action/CGI.

I Can Only Imagine (PG) — A boy grows up in an abusive home to write the hit Christian contemporary song, I Can Only Imagine, which was inspired by his father’s salvation experience. The film is based on the true story of MercyMe singer Bart Millard, who went from hating his father to being his best friend. It’s one of my favorite faith films of all time. Rated PG for thematic elements, including some violence. Live action.

Paul, Apostle of Christ (PG-13) — Luke works with an aging and imprisoned Apostle Paul to write the book of Acts. The film is part biblical fact and part biblical fiction, and takes place in A.D. 67 under the reign of the cruel Roman Emperor Nero. James Faulkner (Downton Abbey) plays Paul and Jim Caviezel (The Passion of The Christ) stars as Luke. Rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images. Live action.

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (PG) — A dog finds his way onto the battlefields of World War I and helps save American lives. Incredibly, it is based on a true story: Stubby was the official mascot of the U.S. 102nd Infantry Regiment. The film was released during the centennial commemoration of the end of World War I. Rated PG for war action and some thematic elements. Animated.

Disney’s Christopher Robin (PG) — A stressed-out British man rediscovers the simple things in life when his childhood imaginary friends friends — Winnie, Tigger, Piglet and Roo — visit him. It was the second movie in as many years about Winnie. That first one — Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) — told the story of author A. A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin. In the newer movie, Robin is all grown up. It’s one of the best family-friendly films you’ll ever watch. It also includes a great message about, well, family. Rated PG for some action. Live action/CGI.

Little Women (PG-13) — The lives of four sisters — Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy — are retold in this contemporary reimagining of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of the same name. Just like the book and the 1994 movie, we watch the girls mature over a 16-year period. The result is a moving and hilarious remake that is mostly family-friendly. It includes great role models for teens, and tons of great messages, too. Due to thematic elements, this one may be best for tweens and teens. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and teen drinking. Live action.

Nutcracker and the Four Realms (PG) — A teenage girl goes searching for clues to a mysterious gift her deceased mother left her. She then enters another realm and finds not only the answers, but her identity in life, too. It’s an entertaining film with positive messages on courage, selflessness and discovering your talents. Rated PG for some mild peril. Live action/CGI.

The Grinch (PG) — The green, grouchy Grinch tries to ruin Christmas for the people of Whoville but discovers the holiday isn’t based on presents and trees. This new rendition of the classic book is more kid-friendly than previous films — Grinch isn’t as mean — and it’s more Christ-centered, with two Christmas carols heard prominently. Rated PG for brief rude humor. Animated.

Mary Poppins Returns (PG) — It’s not as good as the original but it’s toe-tapping, kid-friendly fun nonetheless. The movie follows Mary Poppins as she returns to Cherry Tree Lane, where Michael and Jane are now adults and facing repossession of the family home. The film, a celebration of childhood and imagination, perfectly mirrors the look and feel of the 1964 film. Bravo, Disney. Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action. Live action.  

Human Coalition: using metrics, marketing, and big data to end abortion in our lifetime

Ten years ago Brian Fisher was a passive and somewhat reluctant prolife Christian.

“As I began to understand the prolife movement, I was sort of fascinated, but at a very surface level,” Fisher said. “I never saw myself doing this work.”

As co-founder and president of Human Coalition, the largest prolife organization in the United States, that work includes innovating strategies to reach what he refers to as the “abortion-determined woman” utilizing techniques that sound like they’re straight out of Silicon Valley.

And although much of their work is accomplished by savvy marketing and complicated algorithms, according to Fisher the church is at the center of Human Coalition’s strategy.

“We realized that the church was the necessary piece of ending abortion,” he said. “The Christian worldview is really the only viable prolife worldview, and so that means that the church is the only institution on the planet to actually enshrine or promote the prolife ethic.”

For JR Vassar, pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, working with Human Coalition has helped his church to understand and act on that conviction.

“Our partnership with Human Coalition has provided a tangible way for us to express our conviction that every life, from womb to tomb, is of inestimable worth, made in the image of God and worthy of honor, protection, and care,” Vassar said. “Partnering with Human Coalition has given us an outlet to equip and mobilize our people to contribute to the work of rescuing children and serving families.”

Church at the Cross recently finished beta testing an apologetics curriculum designed by Human Coalition aimed at helping churches teach their congregations to better articulate their convictions about life. 

Amanda Stevens, who works as the New Life Advocacy leader of the church’s Life Task Force, helped lead the group of 15 church members through the class, which is the first course to be rolled out through the new Human Coalition University.

“We just had an overwhelming response from people saying, ‘more people need to hear these things, they need to take this class, they need to read more about what’s going on with abortion and about how we can talk about it,’” Stevens said. “If we could get this type of class into more churches, I think we would start seeing God’s people rise up to the occasion of making abortion unthinkable and unavailable in our lifetime.”

As they roll out more classes, Fisher says their ultimate goal is to make the Human Coalition University offerings widely available online so that individuals and small groups have a ready-made tool to help combat what he says is the church’s biggest problem: silence.

“We have bought the lie that abortion is a political issue or not something to be dealt with by the church,” Fisher said. “The prolife churches on the whole, and again I count myself among this population at least until my mid-30s, do not actually value life in the womb the way that God values life in the womb.

 “Oftentimes it’s a mixture of fear and ignorance that keeps them silent,” he said. “We want to give them courage and education.”

The Village Church came alongside Human Coalition a few years ago with the lead gift for one of the organization’s mobile clinics, which travels around the Metroplex offering free sonograms and counseling. The partnership also gives church members the opportunity to serve women struggling through the decision of whether to go through with an abortion.

“In the years that we’ve worked with them, it’s largely been connecting folks who want to serve in a significant way in contending for life,” said Jared Musgrove, groups pastor at The Village. “Sometimes it can be difficult to connect with people, especially here in the suburbs, because it can be such a private, hidden, sometimes shame-ridden matter.”

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village, sits on Human Coalition’s Advisory Board alongside other Southern Baptists like Danny Akin of Southeastern Seminary and Owen Strachan of Midwestern Seminary.

While the church is a key component of Human Coalition’s five-part strategy to see abortion come to an end, their work extends far beyond the pew.

“In 2007 we began to test this idea of using technology and business practices to actually save lives. And the original concept was super simple,” Fisher said. “There are 1.85 million searches a month in the U.S. for abortion procurement terms. Let’s go find some of them and see if we can instead give them the option to speak with a prolife agency instead of an abortion clinic.”

They didn’t know it at the time, but they were the first people to beta test the use of internet marketing to reach women planning to abort. 

The first baby was rescued on June 22, 2010, a day Fisher describes as his “personal catalytic moment.” In 2012, he and two friends left their corporate jobs to start Human Coalition full time, with laptops on tray tables in his living room.

“Our desire now and our mission is to become the national competitor to Planned Parenthood,” Fisher said. “And to win.”

In 2010, 15 babies were rescued. In 2018, that number was over 3,000.

“But the goal is to rescue 3,000 a day, not a year, and that’s where we’re headed.”

According to Fisher, the original model was to be just an internet service pointing women to prolife agencies.

“The original ministry plan in 2012 was all about being a lead generation service for the pregnancy center movement,” he said. “But within about 60 days that plan was shot, because we began to track all of the calls that we were generating and only 42 percent of them were being answered.”

Their first solution was to open their own call center, which now operates six days a week out of the bottom floor of their Plano office.

To address the consistency of care problem, however, some executives at Chick-Fil-A suggested that Human Coalition needed to own and operate its own clinics. And so in 2014, the group acquired two existing pregnancy centers and converted them to their new model of care. 

Within 12 months, the number of babies being saved increased by 600%.

 “The marketing outreach to this population of 1.2 million women a year who are high at risk to abort is a lab. We’re always testing new ideas to try to figure out how to find them, how to persuade them to call us,” Fisher said.

This laboratory-style approach includes testing how women respond to different agents—male, female, those who have had abortions, those who haven’t. They took this data and built a decision tree that helped them improve not only their methods of finding women who are considering abortions, but also their ability to serve them over the phones and connect them to care centers.

“We realized that having standardized technology, a standardized, systematic method of care, the ability to test new ideas of serving women in the clinic, and having paid staff that were trainable and accountable made an enormous world of difference in our ability to serve a woman who, frankly, in her life has not been served, she’s been abused and exploited,” he said.

The next step was to extend the offerings beyond just prenatal counseling and clinic services into a component of their strategy they now refer to as the continuum of care.

“We thought, you know what, it isn’t enough to offer a pregnancy test and an ultrasound,” Fisher said. “We actually need to figure out how to help these women with all of the obstacles in their life that are causing them to want an abortion in the first place.”

By hiring a social worker with the role of creating a holistic network of care, they are now able to address many of those underlying causes, which in turn has led more women to choose life for their babies.

“A woman who thinks she wants an abortion is that way because she thinks she doesn’t have any other options,” Fisher said. “There are very very few women who are out there who are saying gosh, if I get pregnant I want an abortion. That doesn’t happen.”

For Sean Martin, the senior director of church outreach, partnering with churches and getting resources into their hands is the best way to see abortion come to an end—even when it entails overcoming the obstacles of fear and ignorance.

“Our role with the church is to light that passion for life within the church and trust that the Holy Spirit will move in the bride of Christ to accomplish his will in America,” Martin said. “We believe his will is to bring an end to abortion in our lifetime.”

But according to Amanda Stevens, maybe there is a reason that time hasn’t come yet.

“I wonder if God is waiting to end abortion because his church hasn’t gotten involved,” she said. “How much more glory would he have when abortion ends if it were his people that clearly put it to an end?”

To find out more information on how you or your church can get involved with Human Coalition, you can visit

99-year-old pastor receives Green Beret status

PEARLAND—After World War II, decorated Army veteran Jesse Whitley returned home and became a soldier for the Lord, serving as a Baptist pastor and preacher for more than 45 years.

“Sgt.” Whitley, who celebrated his 99th birthday Dec. 14, received renewed recognition on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, with Green Beret status for his service in a special forces unit nicknamed “the Devil’s Brigade.”

It came as a surprise to Whitley, who faced combat action with the First Special Service Force against the Japanese in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and against the Germans in Europe.

Whitley joined the U.S. Army on April 25, 1939, at age 19 in Texarkana, Ark., where he grew up. He was honorably discharged on Oct. 31, 1945.

The Veterans Day ceremony was held at First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas. Whitley lives in the Houston suburb with his daughter, Vicki Cumbie, having moved from Arkansas about a year and a half ago.

FBC Pearland member John Triplett spearheaded the effort to obtain Green Beret status for Whitley, who served in the First Special Service Force (FSSF), forerunner of the current U.S. Army Special Forces, whose elite troops wear the iconic Green Beret.

The FSSF garnered WWII fame for a 99-day period in 1943 when it operated behind enemy lines primarily at night, inspiring a 1966 book and a 1968 film based on the book, both titled “The Devil’s Brigade.”

In researching Whitley’s military record, Triplett discovered that the pastor had been “eligible for Green Beret status for approximately 10 years” but no one had been able to complete the process to formally recognize him. “So I made it a personal thing.”

With Whitley in his late 90s, “If we don’t get this done, it may never happen,” Triplett said. “It’s just time to make it happen.”

In his opening remarks at the Veterans Day ceremony, FBC Pearland pastor David Adams told attendees, “What is about to happen is a surprise to Jesse. He was told to wear his uniform today on Veterans Day, but that was all. Doesn’t he look great?”

Whitley said in a mid-December telephone interview, “I didn’t know that was coming. I thought, ‘Boy, what a situation this is.’ And they just kept going. This one said something, that one said something. I thought, ‘My land, how many people got involved in this?'”

He said he wasn’t expecting the outpouring of congratulations and well-wishes from U.S. senators and representatives; the Texas legislature; the governor of Alaska, whose father also served in the FSSF; Southern Baptist entity and church representatives; military and veterans officials; and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

At the culmination of the event, Whitley received a Special Forces Tab and a Green Beret presented by Sgt. Justin Mayrant of the 19th Special Forces unit based in San Antonio.

“I can’t imagine me being this important to anyone,” Whitley said in the interview. “It made me feel humble. And I still feel humbled by that award. It was a thing that I’d hoped I would see when I came back to America. It took it a long time … and I thank God that people will get a chance to recognize that American soldiers out there—our servicemen—need our support.

“And I’ll tell you, they are worth every bit we can give them. And I thank God for them and thank God for everyone who will support them.”

Triplett, a retired Kraft Foods executive, had known Whitley for about a year before the Veterans Day event.

When Whitley began attending the men’s Sunday School class, Triplett and other veterans in the class learned that Whitley “had fought in the war” and “that he had a Bronze Star,” one of the military’s top awards for meritorious service.

With Veterans Day approaching, Triplett said, “I thought this year it would be kind of neat to recognize Jesse…. So I met with his daughter and she gave me some information, a couple of pictures of some of the medals he had obtained from the military.

“As I began to see all this, I thought, this is a remarkable individual,” Triplett said. “And so I began to dig more and more into it,” also learning that Whitley had been a pastor of Arkansas Baptist churches for 29 years and an interim pastor for 17 years.

Despite putting “everything I could” into contacting military and veterans organizations on Whitley’s behalf, Triplett said, “I really didn’t get too far.”

But the process picked up when Triplett contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Despite being in the middle of the reelection campaign, “They took it under advisement and asked me for all the paperwork I had put together.”

Over the next couple of weeks, with the help of Cruz’s office, the Department of the Army and Bill Woon, former executive director and historian of the First Special Service Force Association, Whitley was approved to be recognized as an official Green Beret.

The approval came through two days before Veterans Day, Triplett said. “That’s how close this thing came.”

In a phone interview, Whitley’s daughter Vicki Cumbie acknowledged that “It’s a great honor for his military service to be recognized. But it’s also wonderful to know all the people that have been ministered to under him and his ministry.

“When my dad came home, he gave his heart to the ministry. He spent the rest of his life preaching Jesus and preaching salvation. And believe me, he’s a salvation preacher.”

Whitley served as pastor of six Arkansas churches: Ebenezer Baptist Church in Warren; Graves Memorial Baptist Church in North Little Rock; Hebron Baptist Church in Little Rock; Centennial Baptist Church in Pine Bluff; Lakeside Baptist Church in Hot Springs; and Green Meadows Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, where he retired.

“He’s got a great military legacy and it’s an honor,” Cumbie said. “Also, his legacy is watching people get saved.”

-Tim Tune is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.

Generosity Fueled by Love

hate talking about money. Most people hate hearing pastors talk about money. Still, how we handle money falls under Jesus’ command to “teach them everything I have commanded you.” So, talking about how Christians and churches handle money is a discipleship issue. As we begin a new year, then, let’s consider four principles of generosity we observe as the Christians in Antioch responded to the financial need of the Jerusalem church.

Principle 1 | They gave willingly & deliberately (Acts 11:29)

Once the need was known, the disciples in Antioch determined that they would send a relief offering—no one asked them to. That word determined may also be translated “decided” or “resolved.” In other words, knowing the need, they resolved to be generous. And notice that the determination was both individual (“every one” v.29) and corporate (“the disciples determined” v.29). 

There could be any number of reasons one might determine to give. Some people give out of obligation or obedience, others out of shame or guilt. But the greatest fuel for generosity is love. Think about it! We’re all generous with whom or what we love—generous with our time, our resources, and our money. If we love self, we lavish ourselves with what makes us most happy. If we love others, we lavish them with what makes them most happy. Because I love my wife, I delight in showering her with generosity, even to the point of personal sacrifice. And that’s no surprise, because love by definition and example is sacrificial. God demonstrates his own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And Jesus’ love for us is such that he laid aside his wealth in heaven to become a poor servant on earth, so that through his perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, we who are poor in spirit may share in his heavenly inheritance through repentance from sin and faith in him. That’s good news!

Jesus cares for his people through the generosity of his people, and he gives us both the definition and example of what that generosity looks like. Let us love others as Jesus loved us and resolve to be generous.

Principle 2 | They gave proportionally (Acts 11:29)

We cannot give what we do not have, and Jesus never asks us to do so. Instead, the Christians in Antioch resolved to give according to their ability—literally, according to how each prospered. The question we need to help our people ask is ‘What do we have to give’? Truth be told, as Americans, we have a lot more to give than we realize. We need to help our churches understand that everything we have comes from God, and that we are merely God’s managers of what he gives us. God provides for us that we may live and care for our family, and he blesses us in ways that allow us to be his instruments for the care of his people.

It’s possible that our people’s love for self has driven them into strangling debt. As a result, they feel they cannot give. Encourage them to get help getting out of debt so that they may be free to be generous. Then encourage them to begin giving generously according to what they have, not what they do not have.

Principle 3 | They gave purposely (Acts 11:29)

The disciples in Antioch gave for a particular purpose—to send relief to the saints in Judea. They didn’t collect a general offering for general needs; they were purposeful. And so should we be. At most churches, the purpose of giving is outlined in their annual budget. Use your budget as a teaching tool. Help your church understand the purposes for which they should give generously. Then, use the budget as a prayer guide—praying for your pastors, ministries and gospel partnerships throughout the world. And as the Lord prospers your church, remember the Cooperative Program. Together, we are giving to advance the gospel in Texas and beyond.

Principle 4 | They gave wisely (Acts 11:30)

You want your church to be purposeful in their generosity, but you also want to provide accountability. The church in Antioch wisely chose trusted men (Paul and Barnabas) to take the offering to Jerusalem. And Paul and Barnabas wisely delivered the offering to the elders of the church, not just anyone.

If we want to cultivate a culture of generosity in our churches, then we should follow the example of the church in Antioch. Because of their faith in Christ, they were labeled Christians—Christ-followers. Because of their generosity, they displayed the unity of the one church, made up of Jew and Gentile, and they displayed the promise that Jesus cares for his people through the generosity of his people. May the Lord grant our churches to grow in generosity that we may bring him glory and show the world that we are Christians.