Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson and Track Spikes

Jeff Richardson could moonwalk in his track spikes. That did it...Jeff was officially the coolest guy in Jr. High! When he wasn't beating everyone on the track, he was midfield, dancing to Thriller on somebody's boom-box. The students' interest drifted from their teammates' events and crowded around the main event: Jeff Richardson popping and breaking and doing the moonwalk in his track spikes.

Then there were the garage parties. We would get together after school on Friday and decorate someone's garage with posters and tattered old rugs and christmas lights. A garage or shed became our own little dance club, away from parents and teachers and the disconnectedness of small-town life. What was happening in a garage in Memphis, TX, population 3417, was also happening in LA or Manhattan or Paris or Berlin: people dancing to Michael Jackson.

I couldn't do the moonwalk in track spikes, but I could do it in my sock feet on my grandmother's kitchen floor...and occasionally in those garages. And I could pop. The best song was "Wanna Be Startin' Something." The beat would just get into you, the strings lulling you into a trance. And there we'd be, carried away into our own little universe. Jeff Richardson wasn't around for these dances. Even in 1983, our black friends lived literally across the tracks and we didn't see them again until school. "Mama say mama sa ma ma coo sa..."

In the end, we don't remember our icons as they were at their time of death or even as they were in their heyday. We remember them as they were in our cars and our bedrooms, in theaters and our living rooms, in small-town garages and at track meets.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rant: Christian Music

I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music. The reason for this is twofold. First, the quality of the music—creativity, power, beauty—is lacking. There don’t seem to be a lot of Christian songwriters who have a good feel for inventive chord changes, beautiful melodic structure, rhythmic dynamism. It’s as if they've only ever listened to…Christian music.

Having spent years making my living as a Christian musician, majoring in composition in college, even first coming to know the Lord as a result of Christian music, I’m heartbroken by the sheer boredom I experience upon a couple of minutes tuned into national Christian radio.

The other reason I don’t listen to much Christian music is lack of lyrical depth. This, again, is a twofold problem. First, there seems to be only a very basic theological grounding. Now, if the intent is only to present the Gospel in its simplest form, maybe this isn’t the worst thing. I was drawn to Christ by Stryper singing, “We are the soldiers under God’s command / we hold his two-edged sword within our hands.” As a teenage guitarist into Motley Crue and Ratt, but also a 5th-generation Methodist, this scratched me where I itched. But what next?

I eventually found Rich Mullins—a real poet by anyone’s standards—but then he died, having spent his career being largely ignored by the Christian industry. People have their favorites, but they always end up sounding as cheesy as most preachers trying to sound “relevant” (more on that in another post).

The other end of the shallow lyric pool in Christian songwriting is lack of lyrical quality. If the theology is shallow, the actual lyrical craftsmanship is all but absent. Christian songwriters seem to think it a badge of honor NOT to have really worked on their lyrics. “It just came to me and I wrote it down.” You don’t say! I’m sure that’s much more spiritual than actually working hard and straining toward perfection with God’s gifts. Or maybe the gift is lacking. (Oh snap! No I didn’t!)

One of my favorite bands—King’s X—a prime example of brilliant musicianship and stunning lyrics, ended up getting shunned by their Christian fans when their lead singer/bassist came out as a homosexual. Maybe this shunning was warranted, we make our own decisions about such things. My decision is quality and honesty. I am not deaf to the point of view of the artist, so there are plenty of conclusions that secular (and Christian!) artists come to with which I completely disagree. But I would rather listen to someone’s honest, creative, and beautiful music about their pain and questions rather than someone’s trite, contrived, and bland music about their shallow faith and empty answers.

So, I continue to search. There are a handful of decent Christian artists out there. There are many hymns that have proven their quality through time. But the findings are few and far between, so I search on. The world is searching. In a culture that communicates more and more through the sights and sounds of the arts, the church desperately needs creators worthy of the Creator. Step it up, Christians. We haven’t come as far as you think.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Best Romantic Comedies

Okay, I'll admit it: Despite my high cinematic standards, I enjoy accompanying my wife, my crush, to the occasional romantic comedy. In fact, when done right, I think a film like When Harry Met Sally can be a meaningful and lasting piece of art. Paste Magazine listed their picks for the 17 Best Romantic Comedies of This Decade. Paste can be pretty artsy, so you won't find a lot of what we'll call "Jennifer fare" (i.e. Garner, Aniston, Lopez, etc.). But some of their picks are pretty original; some are absurd. I'll list them here, and readers feel free to share what you think of their picks and/or share your picks for ALL-TIME BEST ROMANTIC COMEDIES.

17. Waitress (2007--Keri Russell; dir. Adrienne Shelly)

16. The Science of Sleep (2006--Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gael Garcia Bernal; dir. Michel Gondry)

15. Ghost Town (2008--Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, Ricky Gervais)

14. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001--Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth)

13. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005--Steve Carell, Katherine Keener, et al; dir. Judd Apatow)

12. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008--Scarlett Johannson, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem; dir. Woody Allen)

11. Lars & the Real Girl (2007--Ryan Gosling, a sex doll)

10. About a Boy (2002--Hugh Grant, Rachel Weisz)

9. Juno (2007--Ellen Page, Michael Cera)

8. Knocked Up (2007--Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, et al; dir. Apatow)

7. Sideways (2004--Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, Thomas Haden Church)

6. Punch-Drunk Love (2002--Adam Sandler, Emily Watson; dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

5. High Fidelity (2000--John Cusack, Iben Hjejle; dir. Stephen Frears)

4. Wall-E (2008--Disney/Pixar)

3. Amelie (2001--Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz; dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

2. Before Sunset (2004--Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy; dir. Richard Linklater)

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004--Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet; dir. Michel Gondry)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hamilton on Homosexuality

Following is an excerpt from an interview with Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Kansas City-area mega-church, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. The interview is from the Wesley Report blog, and can be found in its entirety here. Hamilton offers an interesting take. Feel free to share your own.

SHANE: You recently preached a sermon on a controversial topic: homosexuality. Your position on this subject seems to have moved left over the years, but you show an unusual amount of respect for people on both sides of the issue and you even appear to be attempting to forge a "third way." What would be your advice to congregations that take far left or far right positions on this? Is it possible to take a traditional position on homosexuality and still be a congregation that effectively reaches gays and lesbians?

ADAM: I think it will be increasingly difficult to be a vocal proponent of the current UM [United Methodist] position on homosexuality [that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching] and effectively reach the next generation, or to effectively reach gays and lesbians. I think one might hold the current UM stance and not address the issue and reach them. One might, for the next five years (ten years in the south) articulate our current position with great compassion, and still reach young adults, homosexuals and their friends, family and co-workers.

But the world is changing and I think the church will see this issue differently in the future. I'm convinced that all of the evangelical churches will wrestle with this issue in ten to fifteen years or they will have lost a generation and will themselves begin a steady period of decline. Sunday I asked our congregation to raise their hands if they have a close friend or someone they love who is gay. 90% of the congregation raised their hands. These folks already see greater complexity in this issue than the church does. They may still be a bit more conservative, but they will not tolerate churches that speak in ways that are cruel and insensitive about their friends. It's one thing to debate homosexuality as a hypothetical argument about someone you hardly know. It is another thing to consider a position regarding the life of someone you love.

My own journey and position on this involves several things: First, I continue to acknowledge that the scripture teaches that heterosexuality is normative and, to use Leslie Weatherhead's language from his book, The Will of God, God's "intentional will."

The second is to recognize that there is a small portion of the population that seems to be shaped differently from that intention, either at birth or by early childhood, and usually not by a choice that was their own. For these heterosexuality will be very difficult to live into, even with the kind of "reparative therapy" offered by some.

Next, after thirty years of daily Bible reading I have come to recognize that the Bible is a more complex document than most people would like to admit. It is both a book written by human beings who were shaped by their cultural and theological presuppositions, and the limitations of their knowledge, and it is a book through which God has spoken and continues to speak. This recognition gives us the ability to wrestle with the texts on homosexuality and to at least ask questions of them (did God really intend that homosexuals be stoned to death? Does God really see the gay children who we baptized, gave third grade Bibles to, confirmed and raised up as an "abomination"?)

Fourth, we have a clear mandate, throughout scripture, concerning demonstrating love. We are to "do justice and to love mercy." Finally, what has most affected me and my views of this issue over the years has been my love of the children in our congregation. Having been in this church nearly 19 years, more than a dozen of the children I've baptized and watched grow up in the church later "came out" - I love these children (now young adults) and as I listen to their stories, and the way they've been treated by other Christians, I find myself being very protective of them.

Likewise, in a congregation of 16,000 people, if we're reaching a representative sample of the community, 5% of these - roughly 800 people - are gay or lesbian. And I feel a great compassion and care for those in my flock that I know who are gay. So, both in my theological reflection about the nature of God, the nature of scripture and the nature of love, and in my personal experience with children and youth I care about in my flock, I find my views moderating on this issue.

I've tried to navigate a third way that says that we at Church of the Resurrection will agree to disagree about this issue - we've got folks on both sides. But we will continue to try to learn, grow and understand more clearly both the issue of homosexuality and how God looks at his children who are gay. And we will be a place where no one's children are turned away, or wounded by our church. I have tried to model how we might affirm the normative status of heterosexuality while seeing homosexuality with fresh and more sensitive and understanding eyes than we have in the past.

I still have a lot of unresolved questions about homosexuality, but what I've said captures the struggle, and the journey, I've been on.

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