Friday, May 29, 2009

The Worst Christian Music Video Ever?

Christianity has inspired some of the best and worst music in the world. Among the best are Derek Webb, mewithoutYou, Brooke Fraser, U2 (okay, they're more Christian-ish), and Sufjan Stevens. Among the worst, well, just take a look at the video below:

This has all the qualifications of an awesomely bad Christian music video: a faux-ska rhythm, matching outfits, back up singers (nice beard!), and goofy lyrics. But "Jesus is My Friend" sounds like Bach compared to Jim Blackmon's "Jesus Christ is Coming:"


Think you can top that?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

I'm enjoying the holiday with my wife. I'll return with something new next week...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Strange But True

Sometimes I'll come across a story so surreal and bizarre, I can't really think of anything witty to say. The jokes sort of just write themselves. Consider The Wall Street Journal Online:

Bible-Quoting Defense Memos and Holy War

Did those Bible verses at the top of the intelligence briefings make us less safe?

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put Bible verses on the top of the "Worldwide Intelligence Update" presented to President George W. Bush, Robert Draper reports in GQ. Flip through this gallery of these extraordinary memos.

Each cover page features inspiring color photographs -- soldiers praying, a young man preparing for battle, Saddam's statue falling. With them are biblical quotes, some related to providing strength to the soldiers but some about the godliness of the cause.

Next to a picture of an American tank is the quote: "Open the gates that the righteous nations may enter, The nation that keeps faith. Isaiah 26.2"

A photo of two soldiers in prayer is accompanied by the quote, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us. Here I am Lord, send me! Isaiah 6:8"

A photo of an American tank at sunset has superimposed on it, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13"

Mr. Draper writes that these were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense.

"At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout--as one Pentagon staffer would later say--'would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.'

But the Pentagon's top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush's public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because "my seniors"--JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself--appreciated the cover pages."

The leaders of our war effort apparently didn't understand how much American security would be endangered if the Muslim world thought this was a war for Christianity against Islam.

Some might say that they didn't expect them to become public. That's naive. Everything eventually becomes public. But beyond that, anyone who has run an organization knows you can't have a disjunction between the internal and external messaging. The internal messaging will affect the policies you adopt. If the folks at the top believed this was a holy war, it's extremely unlikely they'd do what needed to be done to win the hearts of Muslims.

For instance, if policymakers were truly sensitive to this point, they would have immediately fired General William Boykin as soon as he made his famous comments that his God was the "a real God" and that of Islam "was an idol." Gen. Boykin was not fired and, indeed, was involved in torture policy.

One has to wonder: why did President Bush tolerate -- or even "appreciate" -- these messages? The most benign interpretation is that seeing Bible passages brought comfort to the president during difficult times. But these passages weren't just about inner strength, they were about righteousness -- showing our efforts to be divinely-backed.

During the 2004 election, the Bush campaign implied that God had put George Bush in the White House. I figured this was shameless pandering to religious voters. But obviously Bush allowed it. Gen. Boykin once explained about Bush, "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of America did not vote for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."

Is it possible that the military top brass felt they'd gain more sway if they reinforced an incipient sense by Bush that the Iraq war had God's favor?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Wise Blood: A Movie Review

2001 was the year I discovered Flannery O'Connor. I was a college senior doing an independent study on post-WWII Christian literature. My advisor suggested that I add O'Connor's "Wise Blood" to my growing list of semester reads.

It was one of those books that went on to change my life--the one that made me say, "I've never seen the world in this light before."

For the past four years in college, I had been intrigued by the idea of the sacred and profane; the idea that even in the most sacred places of the world were always broken vessel, more polluted and shameful then those who followed them.

I have been curious to see John Huston's adaptation of the movie ever sense I put the book down; unfortunately, it was one of those classic movies long out of print in any format.

Earlier this month, Criterion restored and rereleased the film on DVD; for obvious reason, I put my order in when I first found out, and got the chance to watch it this past weekend.

The film, like the book, follows Hazel Motes--a young soldier returning home to the South, who discovers just about everything, but the religion, has changed. Hazel is a changed man, and wants to forget that God ever existed; he's so convicted in his ways that he intends to start his own church called, "The Church of Christ without Christ" (which, Hazel later clarifies is a Protestant denomination!)--for those who have not read the book, Hazel actually called this "The Church Without Christ," and then another man started a church called "The Church of Christ without Christ" to rival his.

You would think people would just pass up Hazel as a crazy war veteran, but they don't; they are intrigued by his church, and that lies the power of both the film and the book--we all have a void inside us that we try and fill in some way; if we try to strip away religion from our hearts we still are searching for something to replace it. Every character in the movie has something that's not God which they cling to as a form of God--from a gorilla to a historic artifact. Hazel tries to believe that you don't need God if you have a car, and even uses that vessel to play the part of God and take someone’s life by running them over.

<<<--------S P O I L E R A L E R T---------->>>

The tragedy of the movie is Hazel never can replace God; when a police officer’s pushes his car into a lake, he takes away the one thing that Hazel thought could replace God, and it crushes his soul. He inflects bodily torture on himself to try and redeem himself, but none of it works because only God is capable of giving this kind of redemption, and Hazel refuses to accept God, and is left empty.

<<<--------E N D O F S P O I L E R---------->>>

No film can ever match O’Connor’s, wit, or gothic charm; and it would be impossible to capture the idea of free will and redemption that O'Connor thematically, and perfectly, captures in her novel--but that's not to say it's not a worthy viewing; however it is you that you get your movies: rent, own, or illegally download--get this movie, watch it, and tell all of your friends to do the same.

And if you have never read the book, then it's about time you did so...

Friday, May 15, 2009

How Many Christians Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Today I'm at the Maryland Library Association's annual conference, so I'm unable to write a real blog entry. Instead, here are some Christian lightbulb jokes I found online. Enjoy!

Q: How many charismatics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One, since his hands are in the air anyway.
A: Three, one to cast it out and two to catch it when it falls!
A: Twenty one, one to change it, and twenty to share the experience!

Q: How many Calvinists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. God has predestined when the lights will be on.

Q: How many liberals does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: 10, as they need to hold a debate into whether or not the lightbulb exists. Even if they can agree upon the existence of the lightbulb they may not go ahead and change it for fear of alienating those who use fluorescent tubes.

Q: How many Anglo-Catholics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. They always use candles instead.

Q: How many evangelicals does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Evangelicals do not change lightbulbs. They simply read out the instructions and hope the lightbulb will decide to change itself.

Q: How many Atheists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One. But they are still in darkness.

Q: How many Brethren does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Change?????

Q: How many Pentecostals does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: 10, one to change it and 9 others to pray against the spirit of darkness.

Q: How many TV evangelists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One. But for the message of hope to continue to go forth, send in your donation today.

Q: How many campfire worship leaders does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One. But soon all thoses around can warm up to its glowing.

Q: How many independent baptist's does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Only one, anymore than that would be considered ecumenical.

Q: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: 10. One to actually change the bulb and 9 to say how much they like the old one.

Q: How many Pentecostals does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: 25. One to screw in the new lamp. Two dozen to bind the powers of darkness.

Q: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Well, it should require about five committees to review the idea first. If each is staffed with half a dozen members, that's what ... 30?

Q: How many members of the church of Christ does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: 5. One to change the bulb, 4 to serve refreshments.

Q: How many conservative Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Three. One to change it and two to storm out in protest if the person changing it is a woman.!

Q: How many Calvinists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. If God wants the lightbulb changed He will do it Himself!

Q: How many missionaries does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: 10. Five to determine how many can be changed by the year 2000, four to raise the necessary funds, one to go find a national to do the job!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Christian Women Are SO Crazy!

Okay, so are Christian men, but Christian men just don't put the same kind of fear in me...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Why I Love The Last Temptation of Christ

I must admit that I cringed a few times while watching Martin Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ. But in the end I thought it was beautiful, emotional, and thought-provoking. The movie is not based upon the Gospels (as the disclaimer in the beginning says), but on the fictional novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Both use Jesus as a metaphor for the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, which is where most of the controversy comes from.

The Last Temptation of Christ paints a different portrait of Jesus. As the film opens, Jesus (played brilliantly by Willem DaFoe) knows that God is calling him, but he's afraid to respond. He tries to spite God by making crosses for the Romans, but after a spiritual experience in a dessert commune, Jesus accepts his mission. From there the movie follows the traditional Gospel story--Jesus turns water into wine, raises Lazarus from the dead, heals the sick, etc--but there's still a hint of that struggle inside him. When he learns that he must be crucified, he begs Judas (Harvey Keitel) to betray him. Judas refuses at first, but eventually agrees*. So Jesus is arrested and crucified, but this is when the major controversy starts.


While on the cross, Jesus sees a little girl who says she is his guardian angel. She says that God does not want Jesus to die on the cross, but to live the life of a man. So she takes the nails out of his hands and feet, Jesus marries Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), and they make sweet honeymoon love. She becomes pregnant, but dies without any explanation. Jesus then marries Lazarus' sister Mary, and they have a family. Jesus grows old, and on his death bed Judas visits him and calls him a traitor. Judas is heartbroken because Jesus begged Judas to betray him so he can bring salvation to the world, but instead he got off from the cross. Jesus also learns that the guardian angel is really Satan in disguise. In an emotional scene, Jesus begs God for forgiveness and says that he wants to be His son. We then see Jesus back on the cross. It was all just a dream. Finally at peace, Jesus smiles and says, "It is accomplished! It is accomplished." As he dies, there is a flash of colors (apparently the film was accidentally exposed) and the screen fades to white.


Technically using Jesus as a metaphor for man's internal struggle is blasphemous. Even though Jesus was both fully human and fully God (you do the math), the Bible says that Jesus never sinned. That's not the say, however, that Jesus wasn't tempted. Satan tempted Jesus in the dessert, and in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked God if there could be another way. So I'm sure that Jesus struggled, but he was still perfectly obedient to God.

Even though it's debatable how much the real life Jesus felt that inner struggle, I'm certainly no stranger to it. Like Jesus in the movie, I, too, have tried to push God away. I, too, have struggled with choosing between pleasing God and pleasing myself. And sometimes it is really hard to know the difference. Sometimes when I think I'm doing God's will, it turns out I'm not.

So in the end, The Last Temptation of Christ is one of my favorite movies not because of what it says about Christ, but because of what it says about myself.

*The so-called Gospel of Judas, which many Biblical scholars dismiss, makes similar claims. I wonder if Kazantzakis was familiar with this text.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What's Your Four Year Plan?

They say for any business to succeed they have to have a business model, and even then few will survive five years--actually almost all will fail in their first year.

As I read the Bible a few days ago, I started thinking about this--about planning--and about how as Christians we really have no model. Most people get up every day and they just live by the moment; whatever happens, happens. Those who are organized might be of calendar mindset, and regularly plan their weeks out, but for the most part we have no idea where we will be by this time next year.

Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow--he didn't say not to plan for it.

 God had a strategic plan when he sent Jesus, and it worked--in just four years he changed the entire course of history as we know it. It doesn't matter what philosophy you subscribe could be an atheist or Buddhist--whatever you are, your life was changed by Christ, because the day he died a religion was born that changed everything. Believe in that religion or don't--it doesn't matter--belief in the existence in God doesn't change the fact that history changed because some people did.

Four years. That's the timeframe between the start of Christ's ministry to his death. Four years to change the world. If those four years wouldn't have happened life as we know it would have been altered.

God has a plan for each of us, but we don’t always have a plan for ourselves; I can’t help but wonder what the world would look like if every Christian sat down and wrote out a four year plan of what they wanted to accomplish and how they intended to do it. The trouble is too often we have a list of things we’d like to accomplish, but no timeframe or model to do so.

What's your four year plan?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wasn't Jesus Tortured?

Before I begin, let me say one thing. Lately we've been seeing a lot of comments saying, "Come look at my blog!" While we love getting to know our readers, PLEASE DON'T OUTRIGHT TELL US TO LOOK AT YOUR BLOGS!!!

When Sean Hannity said that he had no problem waterboarding a terrorist suspect to obtain information, and then added that he's a Christian*, I thought it was just typical far-right-winged jargon that people like Hannity and Rush Limbaugh spout out just to get some attention. But according to this recent article on the Pew Forum, an alarming majority of Evangelicals believe that using torture against suspected terrorists can sometimes be justified.

Here are the results:

Here's my question: wasn't Jesus tortured?

Maybe I have a different Bible, but I distinctly remember something about Jesus being beaten and whipped. I think there was also something involving some nails and a t-shaped piece of wood. Maybe I'm wrong, though.

*And he said this in front of Meghan McCain, whose father is strongly against waterboarding!