Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Compassion + Art = A Demurment Of Royalties

Those old enough to remember hunger projects like Live Aid, the 1980's We Are The World and Hear 'N Aid outreaches may appreciate the contrast of this. While no one can begrudge a philanthropic cause itself, the wheedling, transparent and egotistical divas that stand between a cure and its intended target can many times nullify the audience outright.

Such is why projects like CompassionArt are comparatively wonderful. In a world where the famous and talented spend more time being lauded for their charity work than actually doing charity work, it's refreshing to see a few household names (at least in Christendom) allowing the inertia of their notoriety propel the work and then get out of the way.

Delerious' frontman Martin Smith decided that he's had enough--and pushed his chair away from the tables of the fat and insular:

Always striving to be someone who practiced what he preached, Smith couldn’t help but wrestle with a troubling dichotomy in his quest to be a history maker. While he was nestled comfortably in the confines of five-star accommodations, many of those he was reaching out to, particularly in his international travels, were living in slums. If that wasn’t a shocking-enough reality check for the father of six, he also met an abundance of mothers and their young children, caught up in the horrifying, dangerous life of sex trade in India. And in Phnom Penh, a poverty-ravaged locale Smith visited in Cambodia, children were routinely digging through rubbish dumps just to find anything resembling food to make it through another day.

Unable to reconcile his comfortable life with that of “the least of these,” Smith knew something truly unique,something life-changing, needed to be done to start “creating freedom from poverty.” So Smith decided to giveback with what he’s been given—a platform, a microphone and a knack for writing songs that connect with the heart—and boldly asked 11 of his fellow musician friends to do the same.

Thus, CompassionArt was born. With a rather impressive roster--all agreeing to siphon any and all funds to the project itself--the only stipulation being that a percentage would also be irrigated to legitimate charities already championed by the artists themsleves:

Then in what Smith described as a “truly pinch-myself moment,” the artists, which included Paul Baloche, Steven Curtis Chapman, Delirious bandmate Stu G, Israel Houghton, Tim Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Andy Park, Matt Redman, Michael W. Smith and Darlene Zschech, began arriving in Scotland with a slew of great song ideas in tow. Later on sessions at the famed Abbey Road studio in London and the recording studios of Music City F 2 (Nashville) would feature fruitful collaborations with Chris Tomlin and a slew of genre-defining guest artists including Kirk Franklin, Amy Grant, Joel Houston, Leeland Mooring, Christy Nockels, tobyMac and CeCeWinans.

To top it off, they waxed the project at Abbey Road studios, which should reverberate with a few visually. The recap is here:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Disney Dumps Narnia

After a promising start with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe , the Narnia series did not, it seems, generate enough excitement to keep the Mouse's money.  Disney has announced that they will not be co-financing the third movie in the series--originally planned for seven films--with Walden Films.  Although the first film did well, grossing $745 million, the second floundered in its attempt to match such success.  Some experts have attributed this to the disapproving review by Kevin Crispo published in 90&9 when it was released.  Because of the difficult economic times, several studios are being very selective with which movies they chose to finance.  Disney has decided that the money required for this particular film, $100-$150 million, is just not worth the risk.


josh r

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rick Warren, And The Convenience-Driven Web Page.

Frankly, the whole "Controversial, creationist to give invocation at Obama inauguration" thing bored me. I mean, I guess the polemical side of me enjoyed watching the toxic underbelly of the gay lobby take time out from vandalizing Mormon churches in California to stage a new insurrection was . . . I guess a bit fun, but . . .

I didn't really get it. Sure, Proposition 8 made for the only interesting political fodder out here, as the same constituency that delivered all 54 of our electoral votes to Mr. Obama also voted to rid the state of definitional marital oblivion. Mr. Warren was far more tepid on the matter than many to his ideological left who voted to oppose gay marriage. Mr. Obama graciously appeared with Warren, on stage, in his church at Saddleback. It stands to reason that Mr. Obama would also reward this gracious treatment with an above-board, quid pro quo, if you will.

So anyway, the fact that Mr. Obama asked this high-profile evangelical to say a prayer at the inauguration is something I found far less intriguing than many. That was, until, I discovered that Saddleback's website has now expunged the Q&A section that includes their positions on homosexuality, creation and dinosaurs.

Really. I wouldn't be surprised a bit if Mr. Warren accepts a position as so kind of ad hoc, White House clergy, who suddenly finds definitional wiggle room between salvation and gay theological upstart ministries.

Thankfully, Jesus wasn't a web page, or in any way a personality or character that bore all the spiritual, two dimensional hallmarks of the Saddleback web page--or it's founder. The very fact that He didn't delete his cache-file is the only reason any of us can escape the recycle bin--and ultimate deletion ourselves:

Pilate: "Art thou the King of the Jews?"

Jesus: "Thou sayest."

Compared to:

The World: "Is the Bible the inspired, infallible word of God?"

Rick Warren: "Error 404. Page Not Found."

Lastly, in a turn-the-world-on-its-head twist of the lens, High-profile atheist and bad-boy Las vegas magician, Penn Gillette, posted this holiday message on YouTube, where he, quite frankly, says that despite his complete and total non-belief in a God of any kind, says that anyone convinced of the actual existence of a Hell has something inherently wrong with them if that belief does not tranlate into a sincere effort to save others from it:

I know. Seems like the world is upside down. Oh . . . wait. It is.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Narnia, C.S. Lewis & Christmas

I'll be blogging over at Month for the rest of December, but thought this cultural commentary somehow fit over here.

Laura Miller discusses reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe every Christmas season, then offers some interesting (non-Christian) insights into the literary Narnia and how its theme of love is what best epitomizes Christmas. Hmmm. Anyone see a pattern here?

"The unifying principle of Narnia, unlike the vast complex of invented history behind Middle-earth, isn’t an illusion of authenticity or purity. Rather, what binds all the elements of Lewis’s fantasy together is something more like love. Narnia consists of every story, legend, myth or image — pagan or Christian — that moved the author over the course of his life. Our contemporary, semi-secular Christmas is similarly a collection of everything yearned for: warmth, plenty, peace, family, conviviality."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Life's Less Fair Than Usual Department

It's not enough that you're not beautiful enough to star in movies. It's not enough that you don't starve yourself into a moving skeleton just to be skinny. It's not enough that you haven't stumbled into a big break that allows you a shot at fame and riches. No, you're just an ordinary looking female trying to make a difference in the world today.

That's where the media lies. Jessica Alba just happens to be beautiful, skinny, and famous enough to be tracked by the media everywhere. Yet, when she's just had a baby, they'll make sure she's made more beautiful and skinnier if they need to. (Hey! They weren't even happy with the pool and changed that, too!)

It's not easy being a female in America today. I feel for you. Just remember, much of the pictures you see aren't real - even if the people in them are.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Just in Time for Christmas Shopping!

Heads up internet shoppers!  A major security flaw has been discovered in Internet Explorer that seems to affect all versions of the browser.  Microsoft is trying to engineer a patch for the flaw.  Users are encouraged to download another internet browser, at least for the now.  So far, the flaw has only been used to steal gaming passwords , but it could be used to steal things important to normal people too, like financial information. 


josh r

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Iraqi Correspondent Auditions For Keith Olberman's Show

By now, you've at least heard about this. Not one, but two shots from the Bruno Magli gallery in the Baghdad press pool. Two things to note, one is the cat-like duck Bush does to avoid the first ordinance, which the MSNBC correspondent on the video says "sailed right over his head," and the fact that Maliki gets props for the attempted block on the second one. Gotta love the way he just carries on. I couldn't say I'd do the same, but kudos to President Bush for taking it all in stride.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

10 Silver Stars Issued For A Single Battle

This--simply stunning:

After jumping out of helicopters at daybreak onto jagged, ice-covered rocks and into water at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the 12-man Special Forces team scrambled up the steep mountainside toward its target -- an insurgent stronghold in northeast Afghanistan. "Our plan," Capt. Kyle M. Walton recalled in an interview, "was to fight downhill."

But as the soldiers maneuvered toward a cluster of thick-walled mud buildings constructed layer upon layer about 1,000 feet farther up the mountain, insurgents quickly manned fighting positions, readying a barrage of fire for the exposed Green Berets.

A harrowing, nearly seven-hour battle unfolded on that mountainside in Afghanistan's Nuristan province on April 6, as Walton, his team and a few dozen Afghan commandos they had trained took fire from all directions. Outnumbered, the Green Berets fought on even after half of them were wounded -- four critically -- and managed to subdue an estimated 150 to 200 insurgents, according to interviews with several team members and official citations.

Literally the stuff that usually only happens in movies. Not sure exactly what the term "subdued" in that last sentence is meant to imply, unless the terms "rout" ""annihilate" or Heaven forbid "defeat" were just not deemed palatable by the Washington Post readership. I simply have my doubts that twelve green Berets took a hundred prisoners. Perhaps the Post should do a focus group study on the term "rendered the insurgents carbon neutral" and see how it plays.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paging PT Barnum

Unless you are building heating units with the Amish, you might have noticed that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested yesterday, for attempting to sell the senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. It's that simple. Corruption at its most reprobate within the public spectrum.

Now, I have to admit that I battle with simultaneously being repulsed at the sheer reptilian coldness Chicago politics ushers in while also looking forward to the next four years giving us the most colorful, arrhythmic circus national politics has ever seen. And unless the world's most tenacious prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, comes down with a sudden case of "Fatwa Syndrome," then the next president is already going to be laying his hand on the Bible on a politically overcast day with no sign of clearing.

Public spotlight on some episodes Obama thought he had put behind him, including his ties to Antoin Rezko, a convicted Chicago real-estate developer who was accused in a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit Tuesday of scheming with Blagojevich. Rezko raised campaign funds for both men, and was one of Obama's earliest supporters as he was climbing the political ladder in Illinois.
Man. Talk about baggage so overloaded that it's begun spilling out on the tarmac as you're boarding Air Force One for the first time.

I've got my popcorn. Too bad the circus is four years long. But at least the clowns are entertaining.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Vatican Fails to Cave to Political Correctness--Cue the Protests

France and the European union are presenting a declaration on gay rights to the United Nations on December 18th in an effort to curb the violent oppression and "the deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights" of gays worldwide.  Fearing that it may be used as a weapon to pressure countries into accepting homosexual marriages, the Vatican has opposed this declaration--not exactly what you would call a surprising move after 2,000 of holding the same stance against homosexuality.  Still, because this particular sin has become so widely accepted, a simple refusal to support it has led to a dramatic reaction against the church.


The real issue is one of polarization.  Either you completely support homosexuality, gay marriages, and full "economic, social, and cultural rights," or you support killing all homosexuals.  There can be no middle ground.  Obviously the Catholic Church is not issuing a Crusade against homosexuals here.  They are simply opposing a document that will be used as a means to a political end that they do not agree with.  The odd thing is that the Catholic Church does not even have any official say in the United Nations' acceptance or rejection of this declaration.  And yet they are being vehemently attacked for not putting their stamp of approval on it.


You have to have some respect for them for standing up for what they believe.  Only time will tell how many others will have the strength to a stand with them.


God, I pray that you would continue to give these Catholic leaders the strength to stand for Your Word.  I pray that you would be at work in the hearts of all those who feel threatened by a false polarization of an emotional issue.  I pray that You would be with those who are imprisoned right now for being homosexual in countries where it is illegal.  And I pray that you would help those in the LGBT community to find the purest form of love in You, even in the face of hatred from those who call themselves Your followers.  Amen.


josh r

George Bush and Oprah Spiritual Bedfellows?

The Bible is probably not literally true.  Different religions worship the same God.  The latest clips from Oprah's religious melting pot?  No, actually the religious beliefs of President Bush.  In a Monday night interview on ABC's "Nightline" our current president made declarations of faith that many Americans would identify with, but seem strangely dissonant with the beliefs of many of his evangelical supporters. 



Asked by Cynthia McFadden if he thought the Bible were literally true, he answered "You know.  Probably not. ... No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament for example is ... has got ... You know, the important lesson is 'God sent a son." '  ...a wonderfully vague message that can be defined or applied in whatever way suits you best.


But the God of the Bible is the one true God, right?  Maybe not.  "I do believe there is an almighty that is broad and big enough and loving enough that can encompass a lot of people," he said.  In other words, people of many faiths are worshipping the same God.  In a very diplomatic expression of faith, he bases everything on his own personal experience.  "All I can just tell you is that I got back into religion and I quit drinking shortly thereafter and I asked for help...


These kinds of faith statements work wonderfully in a postmodern society that cannot accept the Bible as the Word of God or one religion as the only way.  But they will undoubtedly leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many Evangelicals who thought they had a president who believed exactly like them.  I am keeping my eyes open for Ron's outraged deprecation of the religious liberalism of Bush and the Republicans.


josh r

Monday, December 08, 2008

Another Apostolic Reality Star

This story intrigues me on two levels. First, I still get a little excited when I see Apostolics making news in a positive way. My view is that we are to be a light in the world, and a lighthouse doesn't have to shoot a canon off to let people know it's a lighthouse. It simply shines. In other words, I like to see people doing "ordinary" things in a Christian-like manner without having to declare their spirituality. Daniel Jens, while competing on America's Got Talent, sings well, plays well, and has an authentic, if not polished, stage presence (Check out the clip here). I think he's a great witness for his Father, even if he didn't manage to squeeze Acts 2:38 into his speech. His love for God and his wife shine throughout, and he certainly wowed the judges. That performance earned him a trip to Las Vegas, where he ultimately placed 11th. His ranking would have been higher, but he forgot the lyrics to part of his song there. Still, it was another excellent performance.

Second, I am happy to see a member of our American armed forces doing well. As a veteran who has not had to be away from my family for 15-months, I tip my hat to Daniel. It sounds like he used his talent to minister to his fellow soldiers while overseas. I'm glad he got he's home with his wife now, and got the opportunity to play on a national stage.

I guess the bottom line is that we, as Apostolics, have no excuse to hide inside our church walls. Why let televangelists be the only face of Christianity that the mass media transmits over the electrons?

The Bible Illuminated

Even for people who don't believe in it, the Bible is a very important part of Western society.  Unfortunately, too many people in our society do very little reading outside of Vogue and Cosmo.  Trying to convince them to take a serious look at the Bible is similar to trying to convince them to let you practice your dental skills on them.  In an effort to change that, Dag Soderberg is publishing a repackaged version of God's Word in the format of popular magazines.  And it seems to be working.  In Sweden, where Bible Illuminated: The Book was originally published, there was a nearly 50% rise in the sale of Bibles following its release!


Dag Soderberg has decided to repackage the bible in the style of Vogue


Featuring captivating images that resonate with many postmoderns, Soderberg's coffee table book demands attention from even the most ardent atheist.  Angelina Jolie, Bono, Ghandi, and other familiar faces make the reader feel as if they are nestled snugly within pop culture, even while they are being exposed to timeless truths from the Word of God. 


Soderberg, himself, is not particularly religious, but he does hold a deep respect for the Bible and wanted to make it more accessible to others.  He wanted "to make a version of the Bible that people want to pick up, instead of hide away or just place on a bookshelf."


"Most people have issues with the Bible," he explains.  "They have never gotten into it.  They don't find it accessible.  But it's our history, our heritage.  And for most of us, we relate to it more than we think.  Religious or not, it shapes much of our moral codes."


I can't wait to put one on my coffee table and see what kinds of conversations it sparks with my non-Christian friends.


josh r

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Just Try . . .

. . . watching this without being profoundly moved. Perhaps it's just me, being the daddy to little girls:

Naw. It's not just me.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Which Brands Do College Students Trust the Most??

According to the Anderson Analytics fall survey Nike, Apple and Time Magazine top the list. For the first time since the survey started in 2005 Time has moved above Cosmo and People. It is possible that this move was precipitated by the election year and President elect Obama's appeal to younger voters who found themselves interested in politics for the first time and who were looking for a reliable source of new coverage. This seems to be backed by's appearance in the top 10 for the first time ever as well.

But as the authors of the survey also point out,

But before you conclude that the Obama effect has led college students to become more high-minded than ever, consider this: The fondest wish of some 7.2% of respondents (and the No. 6 response, two slots below world peace) was the ability to fly.

Ahh, it's so nice to see that the entire world hasn't tilted off its axis. In fact that I'd be willing to say that the results next year, especially in the face of the economic crisis, will probably see a return of Cosmo, People and Perez Hilton to the top of the survey. College students have notoriously short attention spans and when facing stressful situations enjoy their escapisms (and this doesn't apply only to college students, ever wonder why viewership of soap operas increase during recession and while overall stocks plumment alcohol and tobacco companies see their stocks soar??).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Three Simple Steps to a Merrier Christmas

Christmas is getting crazier each year.  This year they started with the decorations and music the day after Halloween in some stores!  With the tough economic times stores are doing all they can to get you to uphold the tradition and buy, buy, buy.  If it seems like Christmas is becoming too commercialized and losing it's focus allow me to make a couple of suggestions to help us get back on track (and, no, watching It's A Wonderful Life isn't one of them).


1) Read the Christmas story again.  And not just the first section of Luke 2 that Charlie Brown reads every year.  Read the entire first two chapters of Luke.  Maybe even take a look at Matthew as well.  Try to read them as if you didn't know the end of the story.  What would it have been like to be a teenage girl trying to convince people that you were still righteous when all of the evidence pointed to the contrary?  What would it have been like to be a young man offering to raise a child who wasn't his based on a dream about an angel?  What would it have been like to be a redneck sheep farmer surrounded by angels inviting you to the birth of a king?  Before it was the Greatest Story Ever Told, Christmas was something experienced by normal people.


2) Do some research.  Ok, so I'm a theology nerd, but a little bit of reading goes a long way toward making sense out of a world completely different than our own.  Two books I would reccomend are The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey and  The Jesus Conspiracy by Gordon Thomas.  Both of these do an excellent job of introducing 21st Century Americans to 1st Century Palestine.  Additionally, the prose of the first and the prose/narrative combination of the second draw the reader in almost like a novel.  Challenge yourself to discover the additional dimensions of a story that you think you already know well.


3) Live the story.  If the problem is that we have lost focus of the "reason for the season" in our capitalistic furor, perhaps the best solution is to refocus ourselves personally.  In an effort to redefine Christmas, there is a movement to move away from commercialism by encouraging people to donate to charity instead.  On the first Christmas God gave of Himself to people who could in no way pay him back.  Mary's Song celebrated the fact that God would care for the poor and the hungry would be fed.  Too often we think about the three rich guys in the story who gave the fancy gifts and forget about all of the poor and disenfranchised who make up practically every other character.  This Christmas let's do more to remember them.


josh r.