Putting the "Real" Into Reality TV
Interview With Gregory Schlueter of Image Trinity
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By Andrea Kirk Assaf
ERIE, Pennsylvania, DEC. 6, 2010 (Zenit.org).- As the parents of six children, Gregory Schlueter, and his wife Stephanie, know something about the real, everyday lives of families and the often chaotic scenes of home life that come with it. And as Catholics who are active in the New Evangelization through media and parish initiatives, they also know that at the heart of the hurricane lies a still point where the very image of the Trinity resides.
Schlueter is the president of Image Trinity, a nonprofit corporation committed to family renewal, which carries the tagline taken from Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Familiaris Consortio" (No. 17): "Family, become what you are." Under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Blessed John Henry Newman, Image Trinity seeks to promote a culture that celebrates God's design for the family.
"Living IT!" is the group's newest evangelization project, which, with the prayer and financial support of other families, beginning next year, will produce a monthly reality TV series that will put the spotlight on the lives of authentically Catholic families.
In this interview with ZENIT, Schlueter, who is also the chief executive officer of ID Video Productions, ErieAlityTV.com and co-owner of Keys2Heaven.com, shares his vision for Image Trinity and its goal of promoting the family in modern culture.
He will also discuss Presence for Christmas, a four-week series of evenings of reflection being held in Erie this month to explore the meaning of the holiday.
ZENIT: Tell us a bit about your personal vocation within the world of media and the creation of Image Trinity.
Schlueter: We all have leading roles in an ultimate drama, which is playing out before heaven and earth. All of us on the planet have been created in the image of God, but we're suffering from amnesia. We have forgotten who we are. Peel back the many layers of varied, human experience, and we'll find that all of our souls are crying out: God, are you there? For real? For me? Here?
We know there's got to be more to faith than external obligation. At the heart of ritual there has to be relationship.
Great media has the power to awaken us from our amnesia, to rediscover who we are in this story. When we discover who we are, we know what we're meant to do, and we discover our connection to every other person. When we discover this, civilization can be transformed.
Our company's name, ID Video Productions, signifies our guiding vision and calling: to help individuals, families and organizations connect their Identity with "Imago Dei" -- image of God. This insight is a blueprint for individual and corporate fulfillment. We contributed substantially to the successes of Disney/Walden's "Narnia," Warner Brother's "Superman Returns," A&E's "God or the Girl," Catholic Exchange's "Champions of Faith," Father Larry Richard's Reason for Our Hope Foundation, "Extraordinary!" for Boy Scouts of America, and many other endeavors.
Around my age -- 43 -- you begin to recognize how short our time is on this planet. The static diminishes, and the big question comes in more clearly: Are you willing to really listen to the voice of God, and follow? To give him everything?
Two years ago, we were moved to take another step in faith. Foregoing compensable work, we set aside six months to create a local reality series with the purpose of transforming culture. Through this program we introduced a spiritually inspiring woman to ABC/ Extreme Makeover, which resulted in a powerfully touching moment for our entire community. This set the stage. God was speaking. Catholicism is, indeed, beyond the scope of a weekly event; indeed, our faith is a blueprint for real transformation.
So we're in the process now of uniting all of our film, marketing and media capabilities into one nonprofit endeavor: inviting families to discover and live out the adventure of their identity and mission as Image of the Trinity.
That's what IT's all about -- get IT? We seek to accomplish this through a movement that integrates dynamic programs, resources, multimedia Web sites and retreat centers. In particular, we're inviting families who get "IT" to get on board, to be the praying, driving heart of IT: Family, become what you are!
ZENIT: Is the "Living IT!" TV series a Christian contrast to other reality TV shows about families that are less than edifying?
Schlueter: There's something good in the proliferation of reality TV. People want authenticity. They want real. They connect with the imperfect and broken. They're looking for answers. Our Catholic faith is the full supply of this need. And reality TV right now is a channel of connecting the masses to IT. For a world in search of itself, "Living IT!" has the potentiality to give every American a compelling, moving, authentic experience and vision of "love lived," revealed in the compelling stories of real families.
More than "just" a program, we're hoping the series becomes a rallying point for all families. Integrated with the site, programs and resources, we're inviting families to join us in the mission, the great adventure of discovering and living out our identity -- proclaiming IT to the world.
ZENIT: How do you enter into and follow the lives of the families who take center stage in the series?
Schlueter: We have a devout, talented and fun production crew that will go on location and respectfully capture their ordinary, every day lives -- what makes them extraordinary. Each episode will be a moving, behind-the-scenes, real-life portrait of a family that is uniquely and authentically living "IT."
As an example, for the pilot we may capture the story of the Michael Hennessey family. Michael is a devout, Catholic husband and father of seven children who lives in San Antonio, Texas. They have committed their lives to promoting respect for human life, particularly trisomy (13 and 18) children and their families. Anchored in their Catholic faith, they have given hundreds of thousands of their own money; recently, Michael set the world record for the number of Ironman Triathlons competed in one year, all as part of their nonprofit, "Ironman for Kids."
ZENIT: Speaking of holy families, what is the Presence for Christmas initiative about and how will it help families avoid the commercialization of Christmas during the season of Advent?
Schlueter: I can only remember one "bad" Christmas as a child. While my parents always maintained a spiritual environment in our home, during that particular Christmas they went overboard on the gifts. It was overwhelming. There was something in the misguided focus that contributed to a heavy sense of spiritual "yuck." They were spiritually astute parents. Less than a week later they sat us down and told us they had a "conversation with Santa"; we were advised that gifts were going to take the back burner from there on out. None of us complained!
At risk of cliché, time and time again this proves to be the core truth: More than anything else, we need God. We need to know him intimately. We need to discover him among each other, particularly in family. This cannot be shouted loudly enough: There are no presents that surpass the gift of presence!
As an integral part of the Image Trinity vision, Presence for Christmas is a four-week "journey into the heart of Christmas" that will take place on the four Wednesday evenings in Advent. Comprised of inspiring song, story and prayer, each family will bring a candle that will illuminate a "burning bush," a pyramidal structure on top of which will be Our Exposed Lord.
Hopefully they will return each week with another family or two, having prayed with their respective candles each night -- the light being a real symbol of their spiritual brightness that comes from their connection in Christ.
We're inviting "host families" to be the heart. Presence for Christmas is "easy" evangelization. As they extend the invitation to other families, they will experience transformation in their own family -- preparing them to more fully receive the ultimate gift of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
In short, we are in need of the real Savior, here and now. We want to make the anticipation for our Lord and Savior come alive, to awaken in us our need for him, and our awareness of our God-designed capacity to bring him to each other. In short, this year we're seeking "presence" for Christmas.
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On the Net:
Image Trinity: http://imagetrinity.blogspot.com
To nominate your family for the "Living IT!" series: http://imagetrinity.blogspot.com/2010/10/families-living-it.html