In terms of content, what we have come to think of as “Reality TV” runs the gamut, from sheer entertaining lunacy to the mostly-sensibile-but-with-ludicrous-moments. Very few shows manage to toe the line between these two extremes. Lent is here, so I might as well confess that, in the past, I’ve gotten caught up in some of the ludicrous shows and some of the sensible ones too, but mostly I’ve watched game shows and competitions like Celebrity Apprentice and The Amazing Race. When the Word on Fire production team asked my husband and I if we would be interested in a “reality show about your family,” Jason and I weren’t sure about what that would entail—just how much of our own lunacy and earnestness were we willing to put on open display for the world’s scrutiny?
But we did know one thing—that if we were going to allow the world to peek into our home, we would want to help viewers to see that having a joyful, Christ-centered marriage and family is not a pipe-dream or a Church-spun narrative. It is a reality that actually exists.
A few years ago, we were in the midst of weekly gatherings with local young adults. They would meander through our dark garage to the side entrance so as not to wake our sleeping children, and we would spend hours discussing the Church, our faith, and our lives. At times, they saw a messy house, kids that refused to go to—or stay in—bed, and a husband and wife sometimes frazzled at the end of a busy day or after a hard afternoon of parenting tired and grumpy children. One of those young adults has moved away, and he and his wife and their newborn daughter have been watching Meet the Bulmans each week. He always posts their reactions to each episode, and one week he said, “It’s like being back with that group of young adults. It’s a few minutes with Rachel and Jason each week.”
Well . . . mission accomplished? I hope so.
Unlike most “reality” efforts, Word on Fire wasn’t interested in being intrusive, or in keeping cameras trained on our household 24/7, which helped ease our anxiety a bit about overexposure and vulnerability for our family. Unlike the constant feeds in most reality television, we were ourselves able to determine when to whip out our phones and grab videos or candid photos of our family, thriving and surviving in the world today. So far, six episodes have aired, and new episodes airing will be airing later this month. Viewers learned about our kids, about Jason’s origin story (apropos for every superhero), and watched and waited for Benedict and Josephine to be born.
When we taped the overview of these episodes, our kids would play in the other rooms of the house and give us 45-60 minutes to brainstorm each week. We would discuss and discern what our family had faced during that particular time and how our faith informed that experience. We don’t see any episodes beforehand so it’s always fun to anticipate them and watch them with everyone else. Before watching the first episode, we were excited but slightly afraid. What would people think? Would we come off as pretentious? Would anyone watch?
The first episode aired a little over a month ago and has been viewed more than 80,000 times. I can barely type that without tears welling up in my eyes. Our family has been able to enter living rooms and appear on cell phone screens and laptops and become part of the realities of other people’s lives! I like to imagine that maybe folks use part of their lunch break to catch up with that week’s episode or include the show with their Friday night ritual.
It is humbling in the best way possible and reminds us of the impact of the School of Humanity, which is the name that we gave to our weekly gathering of young adults. We knew that we would not be able to sustain the School forever, but we did know that our family is a gift to us and that gifts are meant to be shared. This doesn’t mean exploiting a gift but instead sharing the joys and tribulations of recognizing that gift and allowing it to be perfected through God’s grace.
But how is it different? We haven’t been able to gather with the young adults in quite some time. When the pandemic first happened, we started to do Zoom meetings, but they lacked the incarnational reality of sitting in a room elbow-to-elbow with others eager to know and be known. The meetings only lasted a few weeks before busy schedules and other commitments caused them to taper off. After the show was filmed, I remember looking at Jason and saying, “This feels like a new season. I know the Lord called us to open up our home for the School of Humanity. Maybe now, the Lord is allowing the School of our family to enter into other families and other living rooms.”
Unfortunately, unlike our home meetings, we don’t get to hang out with every single person that joins us via the show. And there’s a large fear of the unknown since I don’t get to see the faces of our guests, out there in the ether, which is a huge loss. As with wearing masks these past two years, much in the humanity of human exchanges feels lost without the visual feedback.
Perhaps that’s why Jason and I had made a pact (mostly through a fear of rejection), that we wouldn’t read any of the comments on the posts or on the YouTube channel. We failed miserably. Last week, though, reading the comments we had planned to avoid, I ran across what was, to me, one of the kindest things that anyone could ever say: “These are two of the most grounded, real people I have ever seen.”
I think I choked on my coffee when I read that. Other than wanting to convey the joy of our family and the love of God, we have prayed for the grace to be authentic, to be real, and to be relatable for folks viewing the show. In recent years, I have spent time doing some sort of ministry, speaking to youth, leading worship, guiding retreats and giving conference talks; and I have learned that people can sense inauthenticity from a mile away and that, when they do, they are quick to tune those people out. Jason and I both hope to be the opposite of that—to be grounded in the true, the good, and the beautiful; and that’s the way that we try to form our children too.
If you’ve watched any episode thus far, thank you. I sincerely hope that through our little effort, you haven’t just met me and Jason and the kids; I hope you’ve met Jesus. I hope you’ve thought differently about our Church than perhaps you had before, and that maybe you’ve even fallen more in love with her. I hope these episodes have been conversation starters for your own families—that they’ve provided moments of retrospection and insight to the families you grew up in, and maybe provided moments of healing, reconciliation with others, and, most of all, reconciliation with God.
Thanks for coming into our home.