I'm reading Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas in order to write a review for The Banner and I'm really enjoying it. This is probably as close to a memoir as we're going to get out of Bono for quite some time and it's absolutely fascinating. If there is still anyone out there wondering if Bono is serious about his faith (and could there still be those people after those last two albums????) this book will wipe out any doubts. There are many good quotes and I'll probably be posting some of them soon when I realize that my 100-word review will have room for none of them. Here's my favorite so far: "if I"m studying the scriptures, they become alive in an odd way, and they make sense in the moment I'm in, they're no longer a historical document."
I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I saw the first one (Episode IV) way back in 1977. I remember being blown away by the new state-of-the-art effects and the fact that here, finally, was a science fiction movie that was fun, exciting and the worked on many different levels. It took the world by storm, of course, back then and the next two films were worthy sequels. They stand out as, perhaps, one of the best trilogies of all time – three solid films with no clear weak spot.
Then came Episode I and, with it, a certain amount of disappointment. It’s hard to say what the problem was, however. Was it that the film was noticeably worse than it’s predecessors or was it just that it was no longer the 70’s and our expectations had changed?
I’ve re-watched Episode II just this week and I’m now most of the way through Episode I (Circuit City had the DVD for $9.99 which I found irresistible even though I already had it on VHS). They’re enjoyable enough and I love the crystal clear DVD transfer and the extras on the discs but find myself wondering why they seem so different from the first three films. So, in preparation for the theatrical release of Episode III, here are a few random thoughts about Episodes I and II.
1. Hayden Christiansen was a poor choice for Anniken Skywalker. His acting is wooden. 2. Natalie Portman almost makes up for it. 3. The decision to make Jar Jar Binks a minor character in Episode II (instead of a major one) was exactly right. 4. The decision to make Jar Jar Binks a major character in Episode I was exactly wrong. 5. I am getting a real charge out of watching George Lucas connect the dots on the way to the situation we know in Episode IV. That puts us in an interesting situation – we know where the Episode III has to go but the question is “how will it get there?” 6. Darth Maul’s dual lightsaber was very cool. 7. A concept for the people of Naboo to consider – railings around walkways.
Comments are, in some way, the coin of the realm in blogland. I know that I read a number of blogs and almost never comment – not because I don’t value the post that I read but either because I have nothing constructive to say or, to be honest, because I’m too lazy to leave a comment. So I tried yesterday to leave a few comments on some of the blogs I frequent but it’s hard to keep it up. Bethany and I talked about it and she suggested that no comments are better than mindless ones. She occasionally gets comments (on her Xanga blog) like “congrads (sic) on having a great day!” from people she doesn’t know and she suggests that this is more annoying than helpful. On the other hand, blogging without feedback does make one wonder if anyone cares.
This might seem like a shameless plug for comments – and it sort of is – but not just for me. I think that many of us ought to make more comments than we do. If we value the fact that others blog we should support it in the best way possible, with comments. I’m going to try to do better.
Since I’ve written about television so much lately I figured I better prove that I actually read too so here are a few thoughts about the last book I’ve finished, The Volunteer Revolution by Bill Hybels. Spoiler alert! If you want to be surprised, read no further. OK – you’ve been warned – I’m giving away the ending. Volunteering is good.
Seriously, that’s the point of much of the book. I was ready to not like it after chapter one because Hybels seems to be saying that in order for your life to have meaning you have to do work for the church (and he’s willing to define church very broadly here). So, for example, people who run a business get no satisfaction and aren’t serving God until they put on a pair of work gloves and tend to the garden on the church grounds. Really – this is a reasonable summary of chapter one. Now I’ll admit that things got better as the book went on (although, from that point on it became “here’s another way to volunteer or to get people to volunteer”.) But still, it’s amazing that he could get a whole book out of this. There really isn’t much to it.
This book does show some of the ideas that have come out of the massive Willow Creek ministry in Chicago so, for example, it tells about the car repair ministry, which is a pretty cool idea. So, if you’re on a church staff and part of your job is to line up volunteers to do things this book may inspire you to keep at it and it may remind you that asking people to clean the nursery is just as important as asking them to read scripture in or lead singing. Otherwise, I don't think there is much here.
A week or so ago I wrote about West Wing and ended by saying "Now, if only Alias would get back to first/second season form I'd be even happier." Well, I finally watched this week’s episode (4.15) and I’m happy to report that we may be seeing the beginning of a very good set of episodes. One of the things that made seasons one and two so good was the idea that there was always something going on that we didn’t know about – somebody had a plan (usually nefarious) that was complex and we eventually found out that this plan was really what was driving the plot – usually it was Arvin Sloan who was manipulating people. There was a reveal and a “oh, wow – that’s cool” realization that all was not as it appeared. That is what made the show so wonderful. In season three it lost that – there was some mystery but not the kind of gripping plot twists that made me not want to miss a single episode (and – I haven’t).
This new season (Season Four) had promise as Sydney and Jack and all the other great people got reassigned to a new black-ops division of the CIA. But that promise seemed to have been squandered on self-contained episodes that had no compelling arc that made me want to keep watching. In fact, I even toyed with the idea that maybe the show had lost its appeal for me.
Then, this week’s episode hit and I saw that spark that had been missing for so long. It could be that Alias is back! With seven more episodes left in the season I think we might be heading towards a finale that will be lots of fun.
Dean pointed to this site which reports on a company which will market talking Jesus and Moses dolls. They intend to have a Mary and David too. That people are trying to make money off of Jesus is nothing new but this strikes me as a particularly egregious attempt. Moses recites the ten commandments when you push the button on his back.
What I really wonder, though, is ... who buys this stuff?
Here's my favorite line (emphasis added): The company has hired a marketing firm with expertise reaching out to churches and church schools to generate sales, Livingston said. "In the beginning we don't feel it'd be right to put it in Toys R Us and be next to a Barbie or a Bratz," he said.
You think maybe the marketing expert would have said "if you're going to make a Jesus doll, don't have his partner say thou shalt not make any graven images."
This post about seeing U2 is pretty good. I got there by following a link from Beth at U2 Sermons (who often sends me to pretty good places) and I enjoyed the effusive praise that Brad Hightower heaps on U2. I feel the same way except I have to wait until September to see them. He went to the concert with his church's worship band, which just goes to show you that ministry takes many different forms.
My favorite line in the blog entry, though, is at the end: "I hope all you worship leaders out there are listening. Excellence and craft is vital to moving and inspiring a congregation toward positive and productive moral action." Yeah. Good stuff.
As long as I’m saying nice things about television, let me say some nice things about the Simpsons. I was never much of a Simpsons watcher until this year. A couple of years ago I was listening to a lot of Phish and heard via the internet that Phish was going to be on an episode of the Simpsons so I watched it. It was funny. Really funny. I realized then that I’d been missing out on some pretty good stuff. Lot’s of social comment, movie and television references and some pretty on-target lampoons of many things we hold dear.
This past summer, in preparation for a drive to Denver I bought a portable DVD player so “the kids could watch in the car” and also the first two seasons of The Simpsons for “the same reason.” And that’s when I really got hooked. Hooked enough on the crystal clear quality and commentaries, in fact, that I still don’t watch the Simpsons when they’re broadcast. I just can’t deal with commercials.
So anyway, now I’m part way through Season Five (yeah – I’ve gone a little overboard) and I have decided to list some of my favorite episodes:
1. Life on the Fast Lane – Marge Takes up Bowling – Season 1 2. The Way We Was – How Homer and Marge met – Season 2 3. Homer the Heretic – Homer skips church and meets God – my all time favorite – season 4 4. Homer's Barbershop Quartet – not a fabulous episode but it’s really about the Beatles and it features George Harrison – season 5 5. One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish – Homer eats poison food and has 24 hours to live. – Season 2 6. Bart vs. Thanksgiving – features my all-time favorite line from Marge’s mother: “I have laryngitis. It hurts to talk. So I'll just say one thing... You never do anything right.” – Season 2 7. Homer Loves Flanders - Ned and Homer become best friends. Includes many great lines like when Homer yells "Hey, Flanders, over here! I got us some kick-ass seats." The funny part is that they're IN CHURCH. - Season 5
I have loved West Wing since the first episode - sort of. I thought that it was one of the most well-written and well directed shows on television for the first four seasons. Then Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme left and the tone changed. The snappy dialogue was gone, the direction was "jumpy" and my dear show had changed to the point where I didn't care nearly as much anymore.
There even came a point last season where I stopped watching. It was sad.
Then, near the end of last season I happen to watch the season finale (in which Leo fell in the woods) and I was intrigued. Some of the old fire was still left in the show. They appointed CJ as chief of staff and there were some interesting things starting to happen. It felt like the show was being reinvented instead of just trying to hang on for one more season.
Most people I know assumed that the show would have to quit when Jed Bartlett's second term ended. After all, the prospect of The West Wing, the Library Years doesn't have a lot of excitement to it. But, much to my surprise they added a bunch of good new characters and kept the focus shifting between the election process and the White House and they won me back. I think this show can survive and even thrive with a new President.
Then, last night, for the season finale they put it all together into an episode that ranks as one of the best episodes of this season, if not the entire series. It had a great twist at the end and set up the next season really well. It was great!
Now, if only Alias would get back to first/second season form I'd be even happier.
Kent would like to hear a bit about the new Jars of Clay album so I'll write a little. JoC came out of the box with a first album that knocked everyone's socks off. They had a unique sound, one that was not an obvious rip-off of a mainstream sound. In fact, their first album had huge mainstream success. They never again had that kind of success in the mainstream, however. Perhaps it was the position they found themselves in with respect to Christian radio. Christian radio requires a certain number of JPMs (Jesus per minute) or the stuff doesn't get played. My perspective is that this has gotten worse over the last half-decade, not better.
This emphasis on textual homogeneity has been one of the factors that I believe has fueled the current worship music boom - partly. I think there were a couple of factors at work here - maybe even the Holy Spirit although I think marketing was also a big part of it.
Two things were happening at the same time in CCM. First of all, artists (by which I really mean artists) were starting to chafe at the restrictions being placed on them by the industry. Charlie Peacock, Phil Keaggy, Wes King and others all either left or were released by their labels because of artistic issues. Some of which are that unless a song is an obvious song-about-Jesus it won't get played on CCM radio. Sometimes, it appears, Christians want to write and sing about other things too. Imagine that.
Secondly, Martin Smith and Michael W. Smith both released albums of worship music (Cutting Edge and Exodus) - music designed to be used in worship settings - which had decent pop and rock sensibilities. Remember, previous to this there was basically one type of praise and worship sound and it was, frankly, pretty bland. Out of the blue comes this new worship music which energizes people and coincidently solves the textual problem. Artists can sing worship music and feel like they're doing something authentic - after all, the text ought to be about God if it's music designed for worship. No more of this "how do I turn a song about riding my bike into a metaphor about God" stuff to worry about! Artists jumped on the bandwagon in droves because they could feel completely good about the music and, to be frank, it sold well.
In fact, it sold so well, that artists who were pretty content singing about whatever they felt like (like Jars of Clay) were badgered by their record companies to make a worship album. Jars resisted this for a while and then did it their own way - which is not to say that they took 12 of the same 30 worship songs that everyone else is doing and recorded it their way. They followed the lead of their friend and pastor Kevin Twit and did their own Indelible Grace album.
This album, Redemption Songs, is pretty good - not great in the way some of their others are but it sure has it's moments - like "Nothing But the Blood". It has some of the same strengths and weaknesses of the IG albums but has a much higher profile so maybe it will get noticed. The Passion group did some hymn settings but, I don't care much for that album at all.
The bigger question, though, is whether CCM can continue to survive if the artists can't find artistic satisfaction doing the only stuff that sells.
What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me? I'll lift high the cup of salvation -- A toast to God! I'll pray in the name of God; I'll complete what I promised God I'd do, And I'll do it together with his people
I finally bought the U2 Elevation Tour 2001 DVD and heard Bono recite this at the beginning of "Where the Streets Have No Name." This is from Eugene Peterson's translation of Psalm 116:12-14 in The Message. The last phrase has a different emphasis than the NIV - "I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people" - but I really like the sense of community in the Peterson version.
This is a great passage for the time just after Easter, isn't it?