Friday, October 26, 2012

This Meme Is About BOOKS

As usual, this meme is courtesy of the RevGals.

1. STUDYING: What is your favorite book or series for sermon prep or study? Or have you moved from books to on-line tools for your personal study? I'm going with the new series Feasting on the Word edited by Barbara Brown Taylor and David Bartlett. It's a one-stop resource for multiple perspectives on the same text, which I appreciate.

2. IN THE QUEUE: Do you have a queue of books you are longing to read or do you read in bits and pieces over several books at a time? What's in the queue? But of course! On my nightstand stack at the moment is Keirkegaard, Nouwen, a book about the Examen, a book by bassist Victor Wooten, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (which I read every couple of years), and a few others I can't think of.

3. FAVORITE OF ALL TIME: What's one book that you have to have in your study? Is it professional, personal, fun or artistic? I'm going to go with Gordon Atkinson's books based on his RealLivePreacher writing. I have gravitated back toward those essays so often over the years to remind myself of certain truths about ministry or to seek reassurance. They have a little bit of professional, personal, fun, and artistic all rolled together.

4. KINDLE OR PRINT? or both? Is there a trend in your recent purchases? I was almost exclusively Kindle for a little while. It was easier to read while rocking Coffeeson back when he took naps. Lately I've been drifting back toward print, if for no other reason than because of my spiritual direction program: I don't find the Kindle conducive to reading for classwork. Sadly, my Kindle has been a bit neglected for a while.

5. DISCARDS: I regularly cruise the "FREE BOOKS" rack at our local library. (I know, I know. It's a bad habit!) When's the last time you went through your books and gave some away (or threw some away?) Do you remember what made the discard pile? The last time for me was about three years ago when we moved from the parsonage to our present house. At that point I kept all my books in the parsonage because it has a pastor's study with a marvelous amount of shelf space. When we moved, I carried all my books back across the parking lot to my church office and got rid of some stuff in the process...in full disclosure, they went to the recycling bin rather than the free books rack.

BONUS:
 Post a picture of the present state of your study! See the picture above. There's another bookshelf around the corner to the left, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Being the "Wrong" Kind of Christian

This past Sunday, CNN's John Blake posted a blog post with an incredibly stupid and misleading headline: Is Obama the "Wrong" Kind of Christian? While the individual page headline seems to have been changed ("The Gospel According to Obama"), the front page still carries this headline, which may raise doubts about the president's faith in the reader right off the bat before one even reads the article. But sensationalism gets hits, so whatever.

The article's title takes its cue from a quote from Jim Wallis included within:
“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, an evangelical activist group based in Washington that focuses on poverty and social justice issues. 
“It is not the faith of the religious right. It’s about things that they don’t talk about. It’s about how the Bible is full of God’s clear instruction to care for the poor.”
The entire article is decently written, with viewpoints from conservative and liberal faith leaders regarding the various ways Christianity is practiced in the United States. One pastor in the article points to President Obama's lack of "born again" language or an emotional conversion story as proof that his Chrisitianity is inauthentic, these being hallmarks of a particular flavor of evangelical faith. Others point to his being on the "wrong" side of certain culture war issues such as marriage equality or abortion as proof that he's not a real Christian.

On the other hand, you have quotes like the one above from Wallis, who points out that progressive Christianity emphasizes God's regard for the poor throughout scripture, something that more conservative strands of Christianity only seem to be beginning to embrace.

Later in the article, Charles Kammer and Diana Butler Bass note how widespread President Obama's faith emphases used to be:
“The notion that religious people should be about feeding the poor and helping the homeless is a carryover of the Social Gospel,” says Charles Kammer, a religion professor at Wooster College in Ohio. The Social Gospel was adopted by many Protestant churches in the late 19th and early 20th century, says Bass, the church historian. Some of the Social Gospel churches grew popular because they provided the poor with everything from English classes to sewing instructions and basketball leagues.

“The first American megachurches were liberal, Social Gospel urban churches,” Bass says. 
The Social Gospel, though, sparked a backlash from a group of pastors during World War I. They were called fundamentalists. They published a pamphlet listing the “fundamentals of the faith:” Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, Adam and Eve.  
But the fundamentalists lost the battle for public opinion during the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was tried for violating a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution.

Though Scopes lost, fundamentalist Christians were mocked in the press as “anti-intellectual rubes,” and a number of states suspended pending legislation that would have made teaching evolution illegal, says David Felten, author of “Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.” 
Those familiar with American church history would know this: a type of Christianity placing emphasis on social justice, caring for the poor, equal rights for minorities, and on the thousands of Biblical texts calling God's people to care for the "least of these," the orphan, the widow, and the alien, has actually been around at least for a few centuries, but really much longer. There was a time, believe it or not, when complaining about keeping references to God on money and advocating equal time for creationism in schools weren't considered the most important items on Christianity's agenda.

This "different"--a word used later in the post which could have easily substituted "wrong" in the title-- style of Christianity is now being given fresh attention thanks in part to President Obama. President Carter was perhaps the last to embody this, and lo and behold, it was partially the rise of the Religious Right that helped suppress that level of public expression for a few decades.

This is familiar ground to people who have been reading the blog for a while. A certain strand of Christianity has dominated the public narrative for the past 20+ years, and now that progressive Christianity, which emphasizes other ideas and takes its cues from other Biblical texts, is finding a new voice--including among younger evangelicals--people aren't sure how to handle it. So media members who don't know any better ask if the president is the "wrong" kind of Christian and Christians who've enjoyed being part of the dominant public narrative say, "Well, it doesn't sound like what I believe or am used to so it must be wrong." This type of response shows a short-sighted view of history, a blindness to large chunks of scripture, and an ignorance of what millions of modern American Christians believe.

I honestly wouldn't expect the media to get that right, but I'd at least hope for dialogue and a certain amount of respect among Christians who take a different view. But the conversational climate in the U.S. being what it is nowadays, that would take a lot as well.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Small Sips Put It Through the Uprights

Take THIS, "Tweet the entire gospel" hipster types! Jamie the Very Worst Missionary shares some fortune cookie wisdom (read: wisdom based on fortune cookies, not from fortune cookies):
I'm pretty sure I've never read a life changing tweet. Not one. And I'm certain I've never written one. 
That's because the fullness of the Gospel will never be captured in a single sentence. Or a paragraph. Or a clever blog post. Or even a tacky three page Bible tract. 
Instead, it lays itself out over a lifetime; threading its way between morning and night, quietly abiding our self created chaos and gently bearing our indiscretions. It seeps into our bones over time. It nurtures us slowly, whispering light into our dark places and shoring up our weak spots. 
Grace doesn't fit in a fortune cookie. 
And the whole grand scope of Redemption can't really be conjured into a couple of words on the internet.
Now, I like playing those 140-character gospel games sometimes as well, and I'm sure that those who truly do try to save people's souls over Twitter is relatively small. Of course, I may also be quite naive about that, because people on the internet are weird and I try to avoid too much internet weirdness nowadays.

But Jamie hits it on the head when she observes that faith isn't pithy. Instead, it's nurtured and struggled with over a lifetime. Sometimes it needs words and sometimes it doesn't. And try as we might, it can't be crammed into our safe little boxes, cookies, Twitter apps, whatever.

Hint: that's good news.

Because yeah. Matthew Paul Turner shares a church's creative Halloween decor:


There's no follow-up comment. It is what it is.

VAGINA. Also from Matthew Paul Turner is a commentary involving a disagreement between Rachel Held Evans and Lifeway Bookstores:
Much of the current buzz about Rachel and her new book is about LifeWay Christian Stores refusing to carry the title because of the word “vagina”. And yes, that’s ridiculous on many levels. But of course there’s more to all of this than just the word “vagina”. There always is. And let’s face it, none of us are exactly surprised by this news regarding Lifeway. LifeWay has a long list of books that its refused to carry. Several of my books have sparked inside conversations between my publishers’ sales team and LifeWay’s buying team. One of my books was banned because of the word “masturbation” and another time it was because of a joke I wrote that referenced Baptists. Rachel’s in good company. Even Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” was banned AT FIRST. The popular title was deemed too controversial, too. But then it became too popular and a too “good of a sales opportunity” not to sell. So LifeWay’s moral code got trumped. 
LifeWay has every right to stock what they want to stock. Some have called it censorship, and of course it’s censorship. Censorship is a part of LifeWay’s brand as a “Christian” retail establishment. Those who shop at LifeWay do so because they desire a certain level of censorship. Customers trust LifeWay to have screened the content that they sell. And they do. And trust me, they take that responsibility very seriously. 
But regarding Rachel’s book, the word “vagina” is only the beginning of why LifeWay won’t carry the title. Another reason that we don’t like talking about is because Rachel has a vagina. Let me explain. Even before LifeWay read the first word of Rachel’s book, the fact that she is a female author, limited what those words were allowed to say and also to whom Rachel was allowed to say them to. Being a woman limits an author’s biblical platform according to LifeWay. 
The only thing that would put Rachel at a bigger disadvantage on the front end would have been if she was a female pastor. A book by a female pastor wouldn’t have made it through LifeWay’s security checkpoint at the entrance to their Nashville offices.Why? Because LifeWay is owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has rules regarding what women are allowed to say and do. Those rules trickle down to the retail level, influencing what and whom LifeWay is willing to support and sell in their retail stores.
Okay, are you basically up to speed on what the issue is even if you've never heard of Rachel Held Evans or that she was involved in this disagreement? If not, here's the shorter version: a conservative denomination-owned bookstore chain refuses to carry a known Christian author's book about womanhood because it includes the medically-used term for a certain part of the female anatomy. Although I'm guessing, much as Turner does, that it has more to do with Evans' gender combined with her deigning to question what "Biblical womanhood" really is.

I'm somewhat familiar with the tendency toward the sheltered reality that certain parts of the Christian subculture prefers. This applies to terms that it finds icky, but of course it also applies to theology or questions about theology that it finds icky. Somehow Driscoll's boorish descriptions of and advice about sex and gender "complementarianism" get through but Evans pushing back against such viewpoints and asserting herself as a woman doesn't.

And that's the double standard that such a subculture thinks it needs in order to protect itself.

Win #900. The winningest college football program hit a milestone this past Saturday against its in-state rival Michigan State. It wasn't a very pretty game, but in the end Brendon Gibbons was clutch in hitting a field goal in the closing seconds, helping notch the 900th win in program history and also snapping the last remaining losing streak to a rival.



Order: restored. Go Blue!

Misc. Jan on caring for the caregivers. Rachel Held Evans answers some Frequently Asked Questions about the book Lifeway won't carry. A new Advent hymn from Sara Kay. Pilgrim on finding a new church.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pop Culture Roundup

I don't have much to report this week. My reading is mostly classwork-related, I haven't seen any new movies, and my TV viewing has consisted of Michigan football, the Tigers in the playoffs, and the debates. So I guess we move straight to...

Albumwatch!

The Insyderz, The Sinner's Songbook - Much like their friends Five Iron Frenzy, Christian skacore band The Insyderz recently re-formed and initiated a Kickstarter project to put out a new album. The result is The Sinner's Songbook, in which they don't sound like they've missed a beat at all. Joe Yerke still growls his way through each song overtop grinding guitars and gut-busting drums. FIF's Reese Roper and the Supertones' Matt Morginsky provide guest vocals on the title track, which helped me relive fun ska-saturated days of yore. Yore.

The O.C. Supertones, Faith of a Child - Continuing my trip down memory lane, I listened to this disc that my onetime favorite ska band released back in 2005, but that I'd never heard before. The first few tracks aren't really ska and don't have the uptempo drums and horns that caused me to love them to begin with. They're slower arrangements of traditional hymns and praise songs, which are good for what they are, but they're not vintage Supertones. The rest is stuff from past albums, some of it different arrangements or live which, okay, fine. Again, for what it is, it's okay. But if I want the Supertones that I bounced around to in college, I need to go back to stuff that they did before this.

No Doubt, Push and Shove - And the nostalgia continues. Tragic Kingdom is the ska-pop band's big smash album from the 90s, and Rocksteady is their still-pretty-decent follow-up. I remember taking quite a while to warm up to Rocksteady, thinking they'd changed their style too much but eventually coming around to what that album offered. And maybe eventually I'll come around to this techno-synth blahfest at some point in the future as well. The title track is catchy and has elements reminiscient of earlier offerings, but a lot of the rest consists of repetitive beats and electronic riffs that sound like they're being played on a Casio keyboard. With the exception of the title track, the whole thing sounds lazy.

The Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans - I've experienced samples of the Blind Boys of Alabama on TV appearances and on Solomon Burke's "None of Us Are Free," but I hadn't picked up a full album of theirs before now. I figured their 2008 Grammy-winner was a good place to start. The majority of this album consists of arrangements of gospel tunes backed by various configurations of brass and jazz musicians, which give the songs a New Orleans flavor. On the whole, gospel music is not my thing, but I enjoyed this.

OFF!, OFF! - I heard about this band and album through the "Sound Opinions" podcast where they had an in-studio performance visit, and figured I needed to hear more. This is a punk supergroup featuring Black Flag singer Keith Morris. It's a quick listen: the longest song, "King Kong Brigade," clocks in at a whopping 1:36. But there's so much packed in to each one: loud angry drums, loud angry guitars, loud angry singing...they get in and get out and are all like, "What do you care that each song is a minute long? Wanna fight about it? 'Cause I'll fight you." It's loud, fast-paced, and fun.

Newsboys, Born Again - There's a scene in one of my favorite movies, High Fidelity, where Rob and Barry have to chase down a couple skate-punk kids after a failed shoplifting attempt. In a later scene, Rob walks into his store and asks about the music playing over the sound system. Barry shares that it's a demo made by that pair of shoplifters, and it visibly pains him to admit that it's good. This is my first encounter with the Newsboys since they added former dc Talk member Michael Tait as lead vocalist, sticking with the general theme of this Albumwatch. I think that part of me was determined not to like it: it isn't the Newsboys that I knew in high school and college in sound or makeup. It doesn't have the playful, ironic tone that that version of the band had. In fact, this sounds a lot like Tait's post-dc Talk band, called...wait for it...Tait. But for what it is...guh...it's good. I mean, yeah, it has some of the cliches that ultimately turned me off to most Christian music, but the production and instrumentation is sharp and Tait's vocals haven't lost a step. My one unavoidable gripe: THEY REMADE "JESUS FREAK." OH NO THEY DI'INT. Other than that, I'm forced to admit that this is a quality album and that I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fraternities and Churches

I've mentioned before, but not often, that I was in a fraternity back in college. It's not something that I planned to do before I began those years. I'm actually not sure how often people say to themselves, "When I go to college, I'm going to join a fraternity/sorority." I just don't think that it happens that way.

I imagine that the reasons I ended up joining a fraternity are pretty common. The very first group of people I met on campus either were members or were part of their female corollary. Two others lived across the hall from me; I remember watching a lot of baseball playoff games in their room the fall of my freshman year. I found them to be friendly and welcoming, and seemed to reach out to me in genuine ways, first as friends and second as frat guys rushing a potential new member. And it was through these relationships that I decided to pledge.

Apparently, times have been more difficult for the guys on campus, if the alumni page on Facebook is any indication. As I read up on the woes of my frat's current membership, it's clear to me and many others that they don't seem to do well at reaching out to others nowadays. A host of reasons for that have been postulated, which I don't think would be kosher to share here. At any rate, the group's numbers have dropped to an alarming low, and the alumni have been brainstorming ways to encourage them to reverse the trend.

I look at my frat's situation, and as a pastor I see some easy parallels to the church. The ones that are worst off are the ones who have a reputation of being not overly friendly, anti-social, insulated. If members can be identified, they may not represent their church in the best light.

This may not even be a conscious thing on the church's part. Like my fraternity, they may know and treasure its own rich history and heritage. "Look at all that we can offer! Why aren't people busting down our doors to be a part of this?" And of course the truth is that no matter how beautiful the building or deep the tradition or wonderful the story, it's the people who make the difference. How will anyone know about the wonderful experience one may have as part of this group if its members aren't excited about it, or talking about it, or representing it well to others, or discerning new ways to tell the group's story?

Even more important than sharing the story is sharing oneself. We're in an age where people don't join things nearly as often just to join them. Pre-existing relationships are increasingly important. They always should have been, but nowadays people join groups not to meet friends but because they were already friends with someone who's part of it. That's why I joined my fraternity: I'd already gotten to know most of the group and liked them as people, and then I also got to know the values and traditions of the group and found that I liked those, too.

The church needs a similar outlook: relationships first, institution second. The second may never even come. But caring about that first is what turns a group inward and causes relationships to suffer.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I Can't Fix You


When you try your best but you don't succeed 
When you get what you want but not what you need 
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep 
Stuck in reverse 

And the tears come streaming down your face 
When you lose something you can't replace 
When you love someone but it goes to waste 
Could it be worse? 

Lights will guide you home 
And ignite your bones 
And I will try to fix you

Every once in a while, a movie is made featuring an unlikely, unorthodox mentor figure who transcends him or herself in order to help another character see how they can be more than they are. The title character of Mr. Holland's Opus used unconventional ways to get through to certain difficult students, having heartwarming talks with a clarinet player to feel the music rather than read it and taking another to the graveside of a former student to show him what music can do. And, in simple Hollywood fashion, these kids would understand. He broke through. In a way, he fixed them.

I also think of Sean McGuire in Good Will Hunting, who took on the arduous task of getting down to the core of the title character's troubles, connecting with him in a way that everyone else failed to do. He ended up teaching him about life, love, regret, and ways to channel his gifts into something good and productive.

It's not really a newsflash to anybody that life hardly ever resembles Hollywood. Stories and problems aren't solved in an hour and half. The lead character in our narrative doesn't always win the game. And at least when it comes to ministry, but in many other vocations as well, he or she doesn't always have the right answer for the person he or she is trying to help.

At any given time, a pastor may be called to minister to people with such a diverse range of problems: cancer, depression, financial hardship, difficulties that come with aging, loss. It would be nice to be able to say the right thing in all of these cases, or do the right thing that would make these problems go away. But I don't always know the right thing. Sometimes there is no right thing. The problem is what it is, deeper or more chronic or beyond what I can do. Sometimes it's more a matter of the person needing to realize something about him or herself before things can change. Other times, things just seem to have little hope of changing.

As badly as I often want to be the one who fixes everyone around me, as often as I want to be everyone's savior, it is an important lesson for me to realize that someone already took the title of Messiah, and it wasn't me.

When I served as a hospital chaplain for a summer, my CPE supervisor would talk about "feel good visits." These were the visits with patients who didn't have something seriously wrong with them, or were especially personable, or seemed to have a positive outlook, and so on. These were the easy visits, the ones that made you feel competent and like you were making a difference; even like you had helped fix something. But of course there were the other visits: the ones where someone didn't feel like talking, or couldn't discern whether God was present or cared, or had given up hope. These are the ones where a way to help, a way to fix the problem, wasn't as clear-cut or apparent at all. They're the visits that sent me trudging back to the nurse's station wondering whether I'd just done anything worthwhile at all.

In ministry, there are feel-good moments and there are the other kind. And a big part of wanting to fix someone else's problem is really a result of making the problem about us: we want to feel good, or competent, or like Jesus' stand-in. When we make fixing others' problems about us, we'll likely be even less of a help than we would be otherwise.

As much as I'd like to be Mr. Holland or Sean McGuire or Jesus, I can't. I'm not. I don't have the perfect solution for everything. I can't fix others. I can barely fix myself most of the time.

But I can at least walk with you, pray with you, cry with you, sit in the ashes with you.

That is, if I can get out of my own way. I hope I can at least do that.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Small Sips Is All About October Justice

Justice Issue the First. October is Fair Trade Month. You should know that the coffee referenced in this blog's title is fair trade, and knowing is half the battle. The other half is beating Cobra, and supporting small farm co-ops in developing countries.

Here, from Equal Exchange's website, is a list of ways to observe the month:
  • Shop at food co-ops when possible. Find one near you.
  • Organize or suggest an Equal Exchange fundraiser at your child’s school. 
  • Learn about the co-op difference! Check out go.coop and explore the seven co-op principles
  • Watch "Black Gold," a documentary about the coffee industry and trade. It's available on Netflix! 
  • Look for Equal Exchange coffee, tea, chocolate and bananas in the places you shop. If you don’t see them, ask for them!
  • Serve Equal Exchange products at your place of worship through our Interfaith Program
  • Tell your friends and family about Equal Exchange! Share your favorite products with them (they make great gifts).
  • Want to stay in the loop? Get our e-mail newsletter, The Exchange, delivered to your inbox. Sign up here
  • Cook with Equal Exchange products! We have lots of yummy recipes
  • Check out our blog, for updates about producer partners and other Equal Exchange goings-on.
  • Invest in a co-operative organization or business. 
  • Join our Facebook page and share your photos and ideas!
Now, some may read all this and have some objections. The first may be "Why did you link specifically to Equal Exchange's site and not to the larger Fair Trade USA, the leading certifier of fair trade products in the United States?" That is an excellent question. The main reason is that Fair Trade USA has changed its philosophy lately of what qualifies as fair trade, allowing larger corporations to fall under the banner, which defeats the original purpose of the movement:
With FT4All, FTUSA is beginning to offer Fair Trade certification to every type of grower—from small, independent farmers (i.e. those not working within a cooperative) to the largest plantations, assuming they meet certain social, economic and environmental criteria. This contrasts with Fair Trade’s original practice of directing sales exclusively to democratically organized cooperatives of small-scale farmers like UCIRI.
I get the argument that the Fair Trade label may help inspire larger corporations to revise their business practices to reflect the values of health and safety for workers and such, but larger corporations don't function democratically like the struggling co-ops. I still prefer to support them.

The second objection is "but socialism." Fine, keep drinking your nasty Maxwell House and turn a blind eye to possible human rights violations that are committed in the process in the name of freedom or whatever. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Justice Issue the Second. This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week:
In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in recognition of NAMI's efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Since 1990, mental health advocates across the country have joined together during the first full week of October in sponosoring many kinds of activities. 
MIAW has become a NAMI tradition. It presents an opportunity to all NAMI state organizations and affiliates across the country to work together in communities to achieve the NAMI mission through outreach, education and advocacy. 
The MIAW Idea Book suggests activities that can be incorporated into planning for the fall. Stickers, posters and a web banner to use on websites or in documents are available for download in English and Spanish. 
The National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding is Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Special resources for outreach to faith communities also can be downloaded.  
Start your MIAW preparation now and begin changing attitudes, changing lives!
The National Day of Prayer is a more recent thing, I think, and a good one for faith communities to observe. Mental illness is another "out of sight, out of mind" issue for our society. Most people chiefly derive their "understanding" of mental illness from horror movies and media reports of mass shootings. Hopefully it won't shock you to learn that the vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness are not like that. They do so much more silently, and with an incredible lack of funding, treatment, and general regard in most states. Click on the NAMI link to see how you can get more involved.

There's "friendly" and there's friendly. Jan at A Church for Starving Artists reflects on what a church can do to be more friendly. Like, real friendly rather than self-delusional friendly:
We need to teach hospitality skills to our people. I realize that this will offend many of our long time church members who believe they are already excellent at this. We are not. Even as a Presbytery staffer, I have experienced worshiping with people who don’t even look at me, much less tell me where coffee hour is.  
But it’s not enough to say that we could be friendlier. 
We need to equip nuts and bolts hospitality skills to everyone in our congregation – not so much because we want to treat each other well within the confines of Church World. The point is that we want to model hospitality outside the walls of the church. We just hone our skills on Sunday mornings with each other and those who visit as we worship together.
The rest of the post is a list of suggestions for how to pursue true hospitality, which ultimately is an attitude thing more than a list of functions. Hopefully they feed into one another leading to church communities that really are more inviting and welcoming. Hopefully.

Next: Toby Mac joins Third Day. Probably. It was recently reported that after a five-year breakup, Christian rock band Audio Adrenaline is reforming with former dc Talk singer Kevin Max taking over on vocals:
Five years ago, Audio Adrenaline gathered in Hawaii for an emotional finale concert.  
After what was supposed to be their last performance, founding members Mark Stuart and Will McGinniss threw themselves into their work supporting a hundred orphans being cared for in Jacmel and Grand Goave, Haiti. 
They remain just as passionate about this work and their decision to reform goes hand in hand with their calling to serve orphans. 
Audio Adrenaline is returning with a new lineup of musicians with a similar heart to be the voice for orphans in Haiti and around the world. 
Proceeds from their new music will go towards the Hands & Feet Project, which provides care for the Jacmel and Grand Groave orphans. 
McGinniss resumes his role as the band's bassist, while Stuart will step down as lead vocalist due to spasmodic dysphonia, an involuntary muscle spasm in the larynx. 
While Stuart will not be taking to the stage, he is still very much a part of band decisions and has co-written many of the songs on the new album. 
Taking over lead vocals is former dcTalk singer and long-time friend of Audio Adrenaline, Kevin Max. The desire to speak for orphans is an issue close to Kevin's heart, as he was himself an orphaned child.
This coupled with dc Talk alum Michael Tait joining Newsboys a few years ago--news that I didn't know until earlier this year--just amazes me 1) that some of these groups that I loved in high school and college and had a great impact on my faith in those days are still around, and 2) that they're now reconfiguring as supergroups.

The other night I decided to listen to part of the new Insyderz album (another group that has recently reunited) and was taken back to days gone by of attending SkaMania '98 and being excited to play a Five Iron Frenzy song in worship at the UMC church where I played drums. Excluding certain experiences, those were great times, and all this news of these groups reuniting has me nostalgic. I'm sure there's a blog post upcoming about this at some point.

Remix! I meant to include this in the Roundup on Friday, but you get it today instead:



Grow ideas in the garden of your mind. Thanks, Mr. Rogers.

Misc. Black Coffee Reflections on how elections affect our treatment of each other, and what to do about it. Brant quotes the late Mike Yaconelli at length. Jamie on being a pastor's wife.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Pop Culture Roundup

I recently finished reading Alone with a Jihadist by Aaron Taylor. In case you missed it, here's my review.

I'm still making my way through Bo's Lasting Lessons. I was a bit distracted by the Taylor book and my classroom reading, so it's been a little slow-going lately. I'm still enjoying it, though. Bo does a pretty good job of relating how he ran the football program to how one could run businesses. Lately I've read about accepting blame as the leader, not giving special breaks to stars, motivating middlemen, and recognizing that people on the ground (players) will relate to peer leadership (the seniors) in a way different from how they relate to the guy at the top. I've particularly found that last one true as a pastor. I'm not sure how well every lesson he shares translates to a church environment, but maybe I just need to think more creatively about that. Even if the lessons don't always seem to fit, I still get to enjoy the anecdotes that Bo shares along the way about different players he's coached, various assistants who have worked for him including future head coaches Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, and of the couple of ill-fated years he ran the Detroit Tigers. And it's all told in Bo's natural style, which is also fun.

The Coffeefamily went to see Hotel Transylvania last weekend, starring the voice of Adam Sandler as Count Dracula. Dracula runs a hotel as a safe haven for monsters away from the torches and pitchforks of humans. More importantly for him, it's a place where he can play overprotective father to his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), whom he wants to shield from human threat as well. Then a traveling human (Andy Samberg) accidentally stumbles upon the hidden castle, threatening Dracula's plans. Other voices include Steve Buscemi, CeeLo Green, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, David Spade, and Molly Shannon. The movie has some great and well-timed humor, some of which seems to have Sandler's stamp on it, and including some hilarious and well-done musical sequences. The film also touches on issues of prejudice and grief, as Dracula learns to trust in Mavis' decision-making, and really learns to trust others in general.

We watched Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, starring Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible, a villain aspiring to become part of the Evil League of Evil. Unfortunately, a few things stand in his way: the self-absorbed superhero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), a crush on sweet community organizer Penny (Felicia Day), and his own ineptitude. He keeps a video blog of his endeavors along the way. I'd heard good things about this ever since it came out, and it didn't disappoint. The songs and humor are both sharp, and the story takes some unexpected twists. Writer/director Joss Whedon has a way of giving weight to his shows even if they're primarily comedies.

I've finally and very belatedly begun watching The Walking Dead. No better time than October, right? I figure that with the new season starting on the 14th, I have between now and then to watch all 19 episodes. I'm already four in, and am hooked just like I figured I would be. If for some reason you're not familiar with this show, sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes wakes from a coma to discover a post-zombie apocalypse landscape. It takes him the entire first episode to start catching on to what this means and how he should act accordingly: riding into a major city area on horseback, for instance, wasn't his best idea. Fortunately, he soon finds a remnant of survivors who help get him up to speed. This group, as it turns out, includes his wife and son, but that brings some complications. Coffeewife and I watched the first four episodes together, but I get the feeling that I'll be watching the rest by myself.

Albumwatch!

Mumford and Sons, Babel - Time for another round of British folk-rock featuring plenty of banjo and tweed...not that there's anything wrong with that. This long-anticipated follow-up did not disappoint as the guys once again delivered driving acoustic tunes featuring Mumford's slight growl overtop. The title track hits pretty hard right off the bat and they don't let up for the entire album. Perfect for listening while enjoying a pint with your best mates.

The Sundays, Blind - As is often the case, I flipped on the community station after determining that the other radio stations were playing the usual disappointing array of pablum. And one of the first songs that I heard during this particular car ride was The Sundays' cover of The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." Curious, I pulled up the album on Spotify. As it turns out, this was released back in 1992, and there was something about the band's general sound that reflected that. It made me want to wear flannel and watch PCU. But being of the generation that loved that kind of stuff, I considered that a good thing. Their overall sound is reflective mid-'90s British rock-pop, which I enjoyed while attempting to write a sermon earlier in the week as I was taken back to more care-free days.

Grouplove, Never Trust a Happy Song - I heard this band's single "Tongue Tied" by chance on some website, and I became curious enough to listen to the entire album. Despite the title of the album, these sound like a lot of happy songs. They're snappy and catchy, with perhaps more serious themes here and there, but the music offsets it with bright drumbeats, guitars, and synth sounds that are meant for dancing around the house to...not that that happened. Ahem. It's a peppy album and I didn't regret trying out the whole thing.

El Ten Eleven, Transitions - I saw this album advertised on Spotify and figured, "Why not?" The first song is ten minutes of bland synth-rock, which caused me to give up before the second song started. That's why not.

David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant - This collaboration is quite fun, featuring brass over electronic drumbeats, with Byrne and St. Vincent (Annie Clark) providing an interesting contrast in vocals. I first heard their song "Who" on the community station (sensing a theme?) and rushed to Spotify to hear the entire thing the first chance I got. It's quirky and odd, but in an "it works" sort of way.

Scott Lucas & the Married Men, Blood Half Moon - I first heard this band's music on a podcast that I like to listen to called Sound Opinions, which a few weeks ago featured their song "Lover the Lullaby." These guys are quite eclectic, with their lineup featuring electric guitar, accordion, and violin. It's the kind of unique sound that I especially look for, sounding like something of a cross between The Beta Band, The Decemberists, and Abney Park. This album includes a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ain't No Grave," among other great pieces such as the track I heard first and the epic "Out of the Boat."

So I guess I was 5 for 6 this week. Not too shabby.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Book Review: Alone With a Jihadist by Aaron D. Taylor

"A common tendency among human beings is to separate the world into 'us' versus 'them,' empathizing with those whom we perceive to be 'us' and dehumanizing everyone that we perceive to be 'them.' The interests of those whom we perceive to be 'us' need to be protected no matter what the moral cost is to those we perceive to be 'them.' The 'thems' are at best an inconvenience or at worst our enemies. Even the 'thems' that have little to do with the conflict between 'us' and 'them'--like innocent civilians--are disposable commodities to serve the interests of 'us.' The tragedy in all of this is the Body of Christ is supposed to be a spiritual entity that transcends 'us' versus 'them' distinctions, especially the ones created by national boundaries." - Aaron Taylor, Alone With a Jihadist

Before he became a senator in Minnesota, many will recall that Al Franken was a comedian and actor. He is probably best known for his time as part of the cast on Saturday Night Live, most notably his Stuart Smalley character that spawned an ill-fated movie as well. Over time, Franken focused more and more on political humor with books such as Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Obviously these offerings would appeal to some people and not to others.

At any rate, there is a brief chapter in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them entitled "Our National Dialogue on Terrorism." All of a page long, Franken imagines--some may say recreates--a typical conversation between two Americans not too long after the events of 9/11. One begins the conversation simply by asking, "Why do they hate us?" The other participant doesn't take kindly to this question, and talk quickly devolves into the asker being accused of hating America, despite the innocuous nature of the first person's tone and his or her seemingly well-meaning effort to understand the other side. Being right, unquestioning support for one's own cause, and a desire for an enemy's destruction is all that matters to the second imagined conversation partner, which is meant to call attention to similar attitudes present in a large amount of the American population.

It is perhaps a familiar experience for many of Franken's readers, and maybe for at least a few who are reading this. As Aaron Taylor reflected on the encounter that inspired his book, he found that it was his experience as well.

Alone With a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War begins with Taylor agreeing to meet with Khalid, a radical Islamist. Taylor briefly recounts his being raised in a conservative evangelical strand of Christianity that eventually led him to pursue missionary work, particularly to Muslim regions, with dedication and zeal. Documentary filmmaker Stephen Marshall eventually contacted him to take part in a project called Holy Wars, which would feature conversations between Taylor and Khalid.

Content from this meeting is sparse and largely relegated to the first chapter, where Khalid confronts Taylor about whether Jesus sought to overtake government with his own version of holy law. Try as Taylor might to use his best apologetic tactics, Khalid is persistent, citing what he sees as American debauchery and its lack of a moral center firmly grounded in religious reasoning. "I'm going to pin you down," Khalid says repeatedly, as he touts his understanding of Islam as being superior particularly for the way it emphasizes a strict government-regulated rule of law.

Taylor's meeting with Khalid leaves him shaken, perhaps in part because he wasn't fully prepared, but moreso because he saw certain uncomfortable truths about his own Christian tradition mirrored back at him. It is this realization that drives the book's content: an analysis of Christian just war theory to see whether it stands up to Biblical, theological, and practical scrutiny and how well it matches up with the Kingdom ethic of Jesus.

This probably isn't much of a spoiler: Taylor concludes that it doesn't. In a fairly extensive tour through the Bible--particularly the New Testament--Taylor argues that what Jesus taught can in no way be used to justify war, advocate the killing of one's enemies, or establish a religion-based form of government. Taylor gives extra treatment to passages that are used traditionally to argue otherwise, particularly Romans 13:1-4, which he argues is neither a call to link politics and faith nor a justification for violence, but rather part of a ribbon that he sees running through the New Testament advocating the adherence to an alternative kingdom while peaceably living in earthly kingdoms. In studying many of these passages, Taylor has done his homework: he delves into the cultural factors involved in the text to attempt to arrive at a more faithful rendering.

In his Biblical analyses, I think that Taylor does have a few misfires. He comes from a more conservative tradition that sees Jesus even in Old Testament passages, and this occasionally gets in the way more than it helps. In his final chapter, for example, he states rather matter-of-factly that God's original establishment of Israel was an object lesson in the failure of nation-states' ability to uphold an adequate moral standard, including God's slaughtering of the Canaanites to teach the Israelites a lesson about how bad violence is. Why would God who liberated the Israelites to begin with take them on this educational path at the fatal expense of others? In Taylor's view, Jesus came to correct this sort of thinking anyway (a traditional understanding that applies to the Mosaic law as well), although he doesn't cover why violence was an acceptable teaching tool for God in the Old Testament, but Jesus took a more direct approach in denouncing it. This is symptomatic of the theological worldview out of which he operates, although he transcends it in many other areas of the book.

Perhaps the parts of Alone With a Jihadist that struck me the most were Taylor's recounting of personal experiences of how Biblical justifications of violence play out in real time. Among others, Taylor shares what he saw and heard on a recent visit to the Palestinian territory, most of which I wasn't aware of, and I'm sure most other Americans aren't either: Palestinians needing to pass through checkpoint after checkpoint resulting in a trip of a few miles taking several hours, homes randomly seized or demolished by Israeli soldiers while families are at work, waste dumped down the hill from Israeli homes into Palestinian neighborhoods, and generally hateful remarks and gestures from Israelis to Palestinians. Taylor shares all of this chiefly for two reasons: first, because we tend to hear more about the other side of the story and to show that the story is much more complicated than "us" vs. "them," and second to note that many American Christians tend to support this behavior--and worse--toward the Palestinian people, many of whom are brothers and sisters in Christ. Taylor presents this as yet another instance of how Christians support and even condone violence and hatred despite what Jesus teaches.

Taylor tackles many other topics related to Christian justification for violence, attempts to establish religious grounds for government, and the counterintuitive nature of these types of activities and ideas relative to Jesus' model and teaching. His conclusion is that such actions are nothing like the Kingdom of God that Jesus preaches and nothing like the way of the cross. As you might expect, Taylor ends up presenting a case for Christian pacifism, although that particular term is absent from his writing.

You may be disappointed, as I was, that this book didn't really feature more of Taylor's conversation with Khalid, as the title may lead one to believe. Instead, that meeting serves more as a jumping-off point as Taylor realizes just how many similarities there are between Khalid's worldview and that of many Christians. It is this realization that causes him to explore and question the themes that he does. Some may pick up his book and have a reaction very similar to the second person in Franken's imagined conversation. Taylor's goal seems to be to get people beyond those knee-jerk reactions toward a more serious evaluation of why Christians believe and support what they do regarding war and violence, and how well those views line up with Jesus, if at all.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)