Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Journey to Christmas

The publisher's description referred to Journey to Christmas as "a fascinating new reality DVD series."  I have to say that in the context of television/DVD, I personally don't think the words "fascinating" and "reality" belong together.

We've watched a couple of "reality shows" in the past.  We have been wholly unimpressed.  Lots of completely unrealistic stuff, lots of people griping at the camera about every little thing.  It's a genre we avoid now.

But reading beyond that first phrase of the description left me intrigued.  Enough that I called up my husband and read the description to him.  He was cautiously optimistic as well, so we agreed to review this.  That description:
Journey to Christmas is a fascinating new reality DVD series that invites you to explore Jesus’ birth through five modern-day explorers. Shot on ultra-high-definition film and packaged as a four-part DVD church curriculum, this unique study series chronicles the experiences of five very different people—a messianic Jew, a First Nations woman, a poet, a Christian radio personality, and an agnostic lawyer—as they journey through the Holy Land to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Guided by a local historian (Nizar Shaheen) with on-camera commentary from a team of Bible experts (astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross, ancient history expert Dr. Paul Maier, archeologist and New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Evans, Biblical times culture expert Claire Pfann, and others), viewers will see the Christmas story unfold though the eyes of each member on this unique pilgrimage. Journey to Christmas lets you immerse yourself in the culture, places, and people surrounding the Nativity. Stunning photography, a reality show format, exotic locations, and fascinating commentary from a team of Bible experts make this an unforgettable Bible learning experience!
So it arrived, and we started to watch it.  The set consists of two DVDs, each containing two "shows" and we all really enjoyed it (well, the 5 year old pretty much tuned it out).  The basic idea is that you are watching these five "ordinary" people travel to the Holy Land for the first time, and they are specifically setting out to experience the story of the birth of Jesus.

One particularly welcome aspect of this was that the five participants got along with each other, and you could see them getting closer as the series progressed.  Dale commented to me, "It is really refreshing to watch one of these 'reality shows' where people aren't just hacking on each other or complaining about how irritating this is or how frustrating that was."

Here's a promo clip where you get a glimpse of pretty much all of the people involved, both the five on this journey, and the experts involved along the way:

Our bottom line:  this is something definitely worth seeing.  The scenery was impressive, the archaeological stuff was fascinating, the experts were interesting.  And the five on the journey?  Getting a glimpse of stuff through the eyes of "ordinary" people was nice too.  I think the fact that the five travelers didn't come from traditional Christian backgrounds helps to make these shows more accessible to a wider audience...

I loved some of the stuff they did... learning to bake the traditional bread, or how to ride a camel or donkey, learning to clean, spin and weave wool... there were a lot of great moments there.  Seeing some of the big places.... Masada, Qumran, the Via Dolorosa, Bethlehem...  that was inspiring as well.

But... I don't know.  I guess some of it is the "reality show" feel and all the repetition of what happened last time.  Some of the interaction between the two males on the trip got a little old.  The one was looking for some big, miraculous "meeting God" moment which doesn't happen.  The other seemed to take pride in being an 'agnostic' (though statements he made aren't consistent with agnosticism, but I guess that's another issue altogether) and viewing this as a cool trip that gave him more insight into what some of his friends believe.

I don't know... while I appreciate the "reality" aspect that not everyone who goes on a trip like this has their life transformed, it was still sad somehow.

All that being said, this is something I look forward to viewing on at least an annual basis as part of our Christmas traditions.  There is a lot of great stuff in here, and just getting a flavor of what life would have been like for the real people involved in the Christmas Story is worth some of the less pleasant parts.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

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