Wednesday, October 12, 2005

you should be commited


That was the headline on my morning paper on Tuesday.

Obviously God is still big enough news to warrant a story on page 2 with a big blazing banner across the top of page 1 just beneath the masthead.

The article reported a speech by Sydney's Anglican archbishop Dr Peter Jensen, who told the annual meting of the Sydney Diocese Synod that society had become resistant to the gospel. Laying out a list of factors, he cited such things as ever-busier lives, boring church services and horror stories about child abuse.

However I was struck by his comment that Australians, particularly those in their 20s or younger, showed a "deep, deep unwillingness to commit. For them, accepting Christ would mean a totally unacceptable restriction on their moral freedom - unacceptable and unimaginable."

People, even older ones, were only prepared to accept spiritual beliefs that catered to their individuality and made no moral demands. Contributing to this is a distrust of any authoritative institution.

Reading over his words, I admit that Dr Jensen has a point. The well known Australian tendency to resist authority doesn't help any instiution.

But I believe the biggest problem is what he calls the unwillingness to commit. The modern lifestyle is predicated on a belief that nobody has the right to tell you what to do. The concept of obeying a set of rules which are literally set in stone makes the eyes widen and the heart sink.

Church membership makes demands, observes Dr Jensen. Indeed, a commitment to Christ is putting oneself in the hands of one who makes the greatest demand possible.

At my church, it's always encouraged me to see so many young people in the congregation. Not just children brought along by their zealous parents, but young adults whose commitment to their faith is obvious and marked.

The greatest example would be Noel and Catharine. Catharine is expecting her first child this month, but instead of their whole world revolving around the newborn, they are planning to pack up in six weeks and move to Arnhem Land.

There, Noel will finish clocking up the hours he needs in the air so that they can head for New Guinea and fly with a missionary organisation.

I am in awe of the faith and commitment that these young people show.

But then it has been ever thus - those who are called to the mission field are a special breed and I wish them well.

Meanwhile the UN has found a new way to get their message across.

It's just another smurfy day in Smurf Village. The perpertually perky blue beings frolic around the fire, holding hands and singing that "tra-la-la-la-la-la" tune as bluebirds flutter by and rabbits hop around.

A regular Smurftopia.

But then the bombs come.

Hundreds of them raining down from warplanes in the sky, wiping out the mushroom-shaped abodes. Amid the fiery explosions, Smurfette is killed. Papa Smurf disappears. As the smoke clears, only an orphaned Baby Smurf remains, sobbing among the corpses.

No, this is not some pipe dream of Gargamel. The Smurfocide was instead perpetuated by the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF.

UNICEF's Belgian office is using the Smurfs as the centerpiece of a new fundraising initiative to shock viewers into donating money to help children in war-torn regions. The agency also hopes to rehabilitate former child soldiers in Burundi.

"The idea of using familiar, reassuring childhood icons in a decidedly dangerous context was intended to bring home to the public the horrendous nature of this theft of children's rights," says UNICEF's Gaelle Buasson.

"We could have shown real-live images of children wounded in Iraq, Palestine or other places. But we refused this option because they would not respect the dignity and rights of the depicted children...So we decided to use 'fictive' cartoon images."

Dubbed the first adults-only version of The Smurfs, UNICEF's 30-second 'toon ends with the tagline: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."

After coming up with the idea for the Smurfogeddon, UNICEF obtained permission to create the short from IMPS, which took over control of the critters after the death of their creator, the Belgian cartoonist Peyo. The clip was previewed on Belgian TV last week during evening newscasts.

According to London's Daily Telegraph, the spot evoked mixed emotions from viewers--including shock from children who accidentally caught the spot.

But the clip received a thumbs up from the official Smurf fan club. "I think it will wake up some people. It is so un-Smurf-like, it might get people to think," a spokesman told the Telegraph.

Julie Lamoureux, account director for Publicis, the ad agency that created the campaign, says the original concept included even more graphic imagery of weapons of mass Smurfstruction.

"We wanted something that was real war--Smurfs losing arms, or a Smurf losing a head--but they said no," she told the Telegraph.

The clip will begin airing regularly next week in Belgium, but only after 9 p.m., and run through April. UNICEF says response has been so strong that the short could soon be seen in Europe, Latin America and Australia with the stipulations that it must air after 7 p.m. local time, it can only be aired with information explaining the clip, and it cannot be put on the Internet. There are no current plans to broadcast the clip in the U.S.

For Stateside fans, and those who prefer their Smurfs intact, a 3-D, CGI-animated Smurfs feature film will bow in theaters in 2008. The extravaganza from Paramount's Nickelodeon Movies will be the first in a planned trilogy. {Aaaaagh!}


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