Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why is Good Religion so important?

"Like art, religion is an attempt to construct meaning in the face of 
relentless pain and injustice of life." 
Karen Armstrong
While in charge of the spiritual care department at a large hospice, a meeting was called by one of the nurses to discuss the agitation of one of her patients. This patient, an avowed Atheist, had refused the presence of the chaplain earlier in the care cycle. However, his Catholic family had requested the presence of a chaplain. This was not an unusual occurrence  There was often conflict between the family and the patient, especially concerning religious services.

However, this had gotten complicated because the patient was no longer verbally responding and in an agitated state. The proper drugs had been administered but no one could figure out the reason for the agitation. In a serendipitous moment, we decided to ask the patient, who could respond to simple commands, if he now wanted a chaplain. He "said" yes. We then asked if he wanted the chaplain to give the Sacrament of the Sick (similar to Last Rites).  The patient responded positively, was administered the sacrament and died within the hour.

Now, any hospice worker can give many examples just like this. It is common at the end of life for a person to want/need to reengage with a disavowed religious system, one they had left behind years or even decades before. I saw this with Wiccans needing to discuss forgiveness of a higher power, Buddhists needing to discuss heaven and hell or those with no religion becoming vulnerable and discussing a religious upbringing not thought of for 50 years. There are a number of reasons, but as Quiz Kid Donnie Smith says in the film Magnolia, "we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us." 

As one looks at their own religious or spiritual understanding, that person can mentally assent to a better form of religion, or no religion at all. However, the past is not done with that person. Knowing this gives me pause. Why? Because I have left behind many damaging theological conceptions of my childhood behind. Or have I?

It is my desire, as a "pastor to the irreligious, the non-adherents and the post (or never) believers" to help others navigate their own bad religion, whether recent or long past and embrace a Good Religion, one that gives meaning to life, is life affirming, sustainable, healthy and good for the world around them, whether that religion is the one I embrace or another (this is classic CPE or chaplain speak, in case you were wondering).

It can take years, but dealing with our religious pasts, so we can look forward to the future, and prepare ourselves for eventual crises, is worth the hard work of creating new practices and a new way of life.

As those that journey with me to look at ways we can create a Good Religion in a world in which Bad Religion resides, I leave with another movie quote... well, one that I have slightly changed for my own selfish desires.

In the book/ film Perks of Being a Wallflower, it is said, "we accept the love we think we deserve." To which I would change it, "we accept the God (or religion) we think we deserve."

*while some of my theological friends may find there posts pedestrian, my intended audience is real people that are walking through life with bad religion, not those predisposed towards big theological arguments. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Give Up Bad Religion for Lent (and beyond)

Warning, this is about religion.
Warning, this is not about a specific religion.
Oh, and I am trying to convert you.

I write this as one that has not blogged in many a day, and even longer if I ignore my satirical and music posts. So, what could bring me back?

Would you believe Lent? Would you believe Grammy nominated artist Frank Ocean? How about a friend and former pastor that came out of the closet as an atheist? Well, if you add the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh to the mix you will realize it takes a lot to get me back in the game.

While I am not sure if I will continue this writing endeavor here or move it to another blog (Patheos, give me a call), I am going to attempt over the coming days/ weeks/ months to write about my experiments with something I am calling Good Religion. What is it? Well, it is the opposite of what many of us practice… bad religion. It is the what the movement I have been part of for 15 years, led by names like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Diana Butler Bass and the good folks at the Wild Goose Fest, has been trying to journey into. As I have journeyed in and out of traditional Christian faith, agnosticism and emerging Christianity during the past decade plus, I have come to realize that many of those that have embraced Emerging Christianity, found a new belief system, left Christianity all together or embraced atheism have all been on the same journey out of Bad Religion.

There are many good folks out there documenting Bad Religion, folks like Matthew Paul Turner, Zach Hunt and Stephanie Drury. Each is doing yeoman’s work documenting the type of behavior that leads people of religion, and Christianity in particular by holding a light to the darkness of some parts of Evangelicalism and fundamentalism. However, to say that these groups have the market on bad religion is preposterous. There are very bad forms of mainline and progressive Christianity. There are bad forms of Islam (easily documented), Scientology, Hinduism, Judaism and yes, even Buddhism. This post and this blog over the next few months is not going to be another documentation of such.

However, it needs to be acknowledged that Bad Religion (no matter what tribe it is in) is killing us. It is what millions of people have left behind, including a huge swath of my friends. It is what I have been fighting since I was an eleven year old being told my baptism from the year before wasn't good enough because it was in a different Christian tradition and therefore I had to be re-baptized to join a Southern Baptist Church. It is what I tried to steer people clear of as a youth minister, pastor and church planter. Sadly, as I was trying to steer them to good religion, it was still part of an oppressive system and only technically better. This bad religion is what my friend who is now an atheist is fighting against, now on the outside looking back at the harm it did to him and his family.

And it is the religion I thought of when listening to Frank Ocean’s album a few days ago. I am a fan of Ocean’s music, even if I think his previous album was better than “Channel Orange.” That album, nominated for many Grammys, had a leadoff single called “Bad Religion,” a profoundly sad song by a gay man realizing that it’s a “bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you.” He is not talking about another man, but about God who, according to his understanding of Christianity, cannot love him. Now some would say this is not true, but one cannot ignore his experience in the church, the church of Bad Religion.

So, as Lent begins, I am asking those that read this to spend this 40 days leaving behind Bad Religion, even if they are not part of organized religion at all. Most of us would say that we don’t embrace bad religion. We are smart. We are emerging. We are open-minded. We live in grace. We practice the opposite of bad religion. We practice good religion. Why else would we be reading this?

But, during the Lenten season (or whenever you want), I ask you to give up bad religion, or give up your notion of religion. In the past, during lent I have given up alcohol, chocolate, caffeine and cokes. I have even given up reading the Bible, the Bible itself, church and Christianity during lent, spending the time in the desert, trying to understand what I leaned upon and what I needed. But, at this time, I am evaluating my own beliefs, practices and understandings of the world around me during this time. Even though I am a fairly progressive person with an open mind and a view of religion that would scare the heck out of those that grew up with me (and not willing to share exactly what I believe, lest anyone write what I am saying off), I need to evaluate it in light of its impact on me, others and the world around me.

In fact, this is how I think we should evaluate. I am not going to give you a formula. I am not going to complicate this, even though it is terribly complex. I am merely going to ask all of us to evaluate our religion in simple ways:
  1. Does it make us better human beings, or as a friend says (more human humans)? We may need to ask others to evaluate this (and please do), but it matters. I remember sitting in a Sunday School class at my parents’ church years ago. It was filled with a bunch of angry, scared 60-somethings, made bitter by life and scared of the world around them by talk radio. I remember thinking, if this is what I have to look forward to, I want out… NOW. Whatever I believe, does it move me forward towards love, acceptance, friendship, hospitality, etc?
  2. Does it make those we are in regular contact with better humans? I was once asked if my friend Brian McLaren was a real Christian, based upon some of his perceived writings. I told the person, Brian makes me a better human being. He makes me want to be more like Jesus. To me, that was all that mattered. I need to practice something that gives hope/ freedom, but never the possibility of oppression. No matter your religious views, or lack of views, does your system make those around you better, more complete humans? Again, you may need to ask your friends and family.
  3. Speaking of oppression, does it oppress anyone, whether its adherents (like Scientology has been accused, as well as forms of Christianity that have hurt women), its innocents (like a number of Christian groups) or those outside its walls (like many churches have done to those outside their faith or groups they shun)?
  4. Does it make the world around you a better place? I believe spirituality and religion should make us better and the world better. Does your system make the world better, or curse the world that isn't perfect? I know plenty of angry progressives and Buddhists that embrace a dark religion of hatred (of those closed minded fundamentalists), that never make the world better. They just complain about the world in which they live. As the sociologist Dallas Willard says, “in a pluralistic world, a religion will be judged by how it treats its non-adherents.” Does your system welcome, love, embrace, and care for the other (even when the other is closed minded)?
Over the coming weeks or months, I will try to unpack some of this, along with some other ideas regarding what makes religion good or bad (and I will try to convert all of us to the notion of good religion). I will be discussing some of my other thoughts on a different way of expressing religion, one that takes on the ideas of Thich Nhat Hanh’s engaged Buddhism, which I believe can be translated well into Christianity  or any other belief system (a religion beyond belief, but not against belief).  I will think about Bad Religion and the potential for Good Religion (something I have been obsessed with for a long time) and I hope a few of you will journey with me and discuss.

For now, I leave you with a song.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mark Driscoll supports Chick-ified Chicken Sandwich

In an about face from previous pronouncements on the issue, Pastor Mark Driscoll has come out in support of Chick-fil-A. In an interview with this satirist, a spokesman for Mars Hill Church said that Driscoll would like to throw his considerable weight behind the fast food chain.

Driscoll, who has made waves before with his statements regarding the manliness of food (sushi is notoriously off limits because it is used to catch meals, not eat) had previously been in the anti-Chick-fil-A    movement, not due to politics, but due to the name and cuisine.

Pastor Mark, as he is known, has felt for some time that chicken, is in fact, a feminine meat-like product and not true meat (close supporters say he calls is "girly meat"), the kind Jesus and other men of Biblical times, would have eaten. In fact, there is no mention of Jesus or other prominent figures of the Bible, within the Old or New Testament. Pastor Mark does not eat pork, due the biblical injunction against it (besides bacon), nor does he eat poultry unless it is all that is available. Pastor Mark's prohibitions also include raw fish, like sushi and all shellfish. As Pastor Mark said from the pulpit, "Men do not eat anything that has not been cooked on a open fire. They also do not eat any fish or meat that could not put up a fight, besides cow."

When asked about his public change, the spokesman indicated, while it is unfortunate that word "Chick" is used by this fast food restaurant, making it difficult for any real man to eat there, the fact that this chick has taken a stance against chickified men has caused Driscoll to rethink his stance.

Since there is no Chick-Fil-A for Driscoll to eat at in Seattle, he and his family will be taking an elder's private jet to Georgia on August 1, to eat at Chick-fil-A as part of Mike Huckabee's "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day." He will then post pictures of the dinner, as well as his meeting with Dan Cathy, to whom he will speak about serving sandwiches of a more Christian persuasion, like hamburger.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top Albums of 2011

So, I am cheating a bit by creating a list of musical discoveries and then a list of other top albums. So, take these lists and make one huge one for yourself. There was too much really good music for me to make a list of 10-20 albums that stood out, especially since no 1 or 2 albums were head and shoulders above the rest. In fact, it was a sub par year for extraordinary albums. However, it was a great year for really good music.

You will notice many bands that made year end lists not on this one. Iron and Wine reminded me too much of the Dan Fogelberg Yacht Rock of the 70s. I felt the same regarding the over-hyped Bon Iver. His album was very solid, but his new Christopher Cross direction did not excite me. I am hoping that we stop encouraging these bearded guys before they become Kenny Loggins. That said, Holocene by Bon Iver is a great song.

You will also notice that Fleet Foxes is not on this list. They do not write good songs. There, I said it. It is pretentious, overly serious and on par with poetry that stays under a mattress. Civil Wars is nice, but ultimately makes me wish I was listening to Over the Rhine.

Enough ranting. Here is the list.

* Not ranked because it may be the best thing of the year, but I will not realize it until later because it was so out of left field award goes to King of Limbs by Radiohead. Listen on Spotify.

Honorable Mentions:
by Elbow, Strange Negotiations by David Bazan, Within and Without by Washed Out, Portamento by The Drums, Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li, Cults by Cults and Only in Dreams by Dum Dum Girls.

25. The Black Keys- El Camino

Not their best, but still a blast to listen to.

24. Devotchka- 100 Lovers

This album got no love this year, which saddens me. If you have never heard their World pop, do yourself a favor and check them out. Listen on Spotify.

23. Deep Dark Woods-The Place I Left Behind

The kind of alternative country that fans of Fleet Foxes think they play. Listen to what they would sound like if they actually had the songs. Listen on Spotify.

22. Blind Pilot- Half Moon

Nobody writes prettier songs and if you are going to attempt to rewrite the soft rock of the 70s, it is better to focus on the actual song writing than the atmospherics (are you listening Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver?). Listen on Spotify.

21. Raphael Saadiq- Stone Rollin'

He's come a long way since his Prince wannabe days, and this exemplifies why he is the keeper of the mantle for a long gone Motown sound. He is a national treasure. Listen on Spotify.

There is the exact point in between Radiohead and Coldplay. Elbow lives and plays there. Listen on Spotify.

19. Demdike Stare- Tryptych

The deejay and composer practicing the dark arts as Demdike Stare are mis-classified as ambient. It is entirely too challenging and hard work to listen to for this classification. An album that makes you want to groove at times and sit contemplatively at others, it is the least predictable and third most interesting album I heard this year. Listen here.

18. The Roots- Undun

Not as accessible as the last few albums due to its difficult subject matter, the musicianship is still unparalleled. It would have been higher had it come out sooner and I had more time to digest it. Listen on Spotify.

17. Destroyer- Kaputt

Sexier and more soulful than his old stuff. But, just as eccentric. Thankfully. Listen on Spotify.

16. Gillian Welch- The Harrow and the Harvest

It took forever, but the wait is worth it. Listen on Spotify.

15. TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light

A little mellower than previous releases, this is a surprisingly pretty album, especially Second Song, the lead single. Less Bowie and Talking Heads fixated, they are truly original now.

listen on Spotify

14. Frank Turner- England Keep my Bones

A praise and worship album to the saving power of rock 'n roll, personal responsibility and a life without God, this is an easy to enjoy album with lyrics that will confront those that claim Christianity as their lens. An exceptionally simple album along the lines of those by Ted Leo.

listen on Spotify

13. We Are Augustines- Rise Ye Sunken Ships

From the ashes of the great underground band Pela and the darkness of family tragedy comes this redemptive song cycle dedicated to the singer's dead brother. Beauty can come from ashes and that redemption is born of pain. If you do not believe it, I recommend a listen to this album while reading its back story. For fans of The National (like me).

listen on Spotify

12. St. Vincent- Strange Mercy

If you have never experienced the wonder to behold that is St. Vincent, today is a good time to start. She is Kate Bush for a new generation, with a bit of Fiona Apple's quirk. I could go on and on, but just enjoy the eccentric loveliness.

listen on Spotify

Perfect companion piece for my #6 album, Vile's music is heavily influenced by the low-fi movement led by Pavement, Dinosaur Jr and Elliot Smith. While the Vile's singing and playing are so laid back and unaffected that they border laconic, it works in this context, especially on Jesus Fever. If I ever get sick, I hope it is from the Jesus Fever that Vile is spreading.

listen on Spotify

10. PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

I should tell you that when I saw her open for U2 in 2001, I was not happy. I acknowledge the talent, but she has never worked for me. Until now. Infinitely more focused and interesting than any of her so called "Angry Girl" albums, she has matured into a deeply political songwriter. No protest music out of America last year reached these heights. This is early-sixties protest movement for a disaffected England.

listen on Spotify

9. The Joy Formidable- The Big Roar

If you like thunderous music, full of swirling guitars and swagger, coupled with girl power, this perfectly named band is what you need. The Foo Fighters asked this band to open for them and will probably be embarrassed by how much better the crowd responds to these British dynamos. If you don't like this, you need to check your pulse and stop listening to so much sensitive guitar music before you die of musical boredom.

listen on Spotify

8. F---ed Up- David Comes to Life

Apparently a punk band will come out with an epic concept album each year that blows away people not predisposed to love their music. Last year, Titus Andronicus gave us the best album of the year, while this year, the Canadian post-punk/ post-hardcore with a name I cannot print due to the fact some people read this blog at church gives us an album that hearkens back to the classic hardcore of Black Flag, Husker Du and Fugazi, but with intricate instrumentation and melody coupled with the aggression. If you want to get your blood pumping, play this... LOUD.

listen on Spotify

7. Tom Waits- Bad as Me

While most artists in their 60s are playing the Oldies' circuits, making Boomers happy while reliving their old glories and reminding people how irrelevant they are, Tom Waits is making some of the best music of his long and storied career. While not his strangest album, this is not safe music. I dream of being this cool one day.

listen on Spotify

6. The War on Drugs- Slave Ambient

Sting once said that all artists steal. He just happens to steal from the best sources. Well, these guys steal from the best sources in rock history, Springsteen, U2, Neil Young and Dylan, yet sound like none of them individually. At once a mellow listen, yet driving and intense, I can think of very few bands that can pull off that combination. You can tell Kurt Vile was once in this band. If you like one, you will like both.

listen on Spotify

The soundtrack to a John Hughes movie that sadly never existed, this album will transport its listeners back to 1986 and OMD or Echo and the Bunnymen with the most joyous album of the year. Midnight City is by far the best song of the year and makes me want to break out the International News jacket and put on some Polo cologne. They've changed direction more than most bands during the past decade, but stayed interesting.

listen on Spotify

4. The Antlers- Burst Apart

I guess this album is a disappointment since it does not top my list like their album Hospice did in 2009. Not really though. A natural baritone that dances on the edge with one of the best falsettos in rock music, lead singer Peter Silberman learned a lot from the Jeff Buckleys and Thom Yorkes of the world before venturing into his own direction, releasing an album of dramatic heights without the depressive elements of their last album. After their last 2 releases, I am declaring these guys one of the best bands in America.

listen on Spotify

3. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins- Diamond Mine

I am never sure what people mean when they say something is "mood music." All music is mood music in my estimation. If I'm in the mood to dance, I won't listen to Metallica. However, I think this album is what people mean when they use the term. Unfathomably moody and simply beautiful, retaining classical form, but infused with electronica. Sad. But in a very good way.

listen to Spotify

2. Wye Oak- Civilian

Ambiguously spiritual lyrics of Biblical imagery with ethereal female pop vocals and the most feedback and distortion of the year. Sounds like a recipe for an A+ in the Rick Bennett music class. This is a special album full of worshipful music, the kind I wish churches played. Like many of the top albums on this list, it transports the listener to another place (and sounds particularly good with earphones on).

listen on Spotify

That is correct. The best album of the year for my highly personal list is by a bass saxophonist (and no one else). Stetson has played with Arcade Fire, the National and Bon Iver, among others. It is truly like nothing else I have ever heard and pretty much incapable of explaining. That said, I return to the album all the time. It is not jazz, ambient or rock. However, it is all of the above and not as challenging as my words imply.

listen on Spotify

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favorite Musical Discoveries of 2011

While 2011 was not the banner year for music that 2010 was (Arcade Fire, The National, Kanye West, LCD Soundsystem, Titus Andronicus, Deerhunter, Janelle Monae, Black Keys, Mumford, Frightened Rabbit, Sleigh Bells, The Walkmen and Anais Mitchell would each top this year's list), it was a better year for new artists and discoveries of unknown artists that have been around a while.

I will release my list of top albums Sunday. However, here is my list of the top musical discovery albums of the year. The numbers and rankings are somewhat arbitrary and could change tomorrow.

Worth mentioning, but not on the list officially because they did not release full albums, only EPs:
Alabama Shakes- Alabama Shakes (spend $4 now)

Imagine Janis Joplin's multi-ethnic granddaughter fronting early Kings of Leon, but influenced by soul, gospel and the dirt around Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The 4 songs they have given us so far are more exciting than anything I have heard this year (and pretty uplifting).

4 songs that tell me they are the best young cacophonous Indie- Folk band coming out with a CD in 2012. Imagine a young Arcade Fire with even more complex orchestration.

Listen on Spotify

Just missing the cut:

The Ghost of Tom Joad, Saigon, Megafaun, Bahamas, East River Pipe, Sin Fang, Childish Gambino, Shafer James, David Wax Museum

15. Foster the People- Torches

Yes, there is a lot of hype and they could travel down the road of Maroon 5 and Coldplay. But, as of yet, this is a great young band. Pumped Up Kicks is merely the 3rd or 4th best song on the album. Houdini is one of the best songs of the year.

14. Shabazz Palaces- Black Up

For once, a Pitchfork review is spot on. Read it. Innovative, highly complex hip hop from a masterful rapper. If you've heard of math rock, think of this as Math Rap.

listen on Spotify

13. Caveman- Coco Beware

You have probably heard similar bands before, but very nice, complex, Indie Rock that is pretty to listen to while transporting you to a very pleasant field someplace is something you need. They remind me of buzz bands like Local Natives from last year.

listen on Spotify

12. The Poison tree- The Poison Tree

My friend Steve thinks this is the best album of the year. He may be right, but I haven't sat with this album as much as he has. Still, this is great music, hearkening back to eras that are long past, yet modern. I think my parents would love the tin pan alley feel while I'm interested in the moodiness.

listen on Spotify

11. The Mountaineering Club Orchestra- A Start on Such a Night is Full of Promise

The soundtrack for a movie I wish existed. This classically infused beaut is my favorite ambient album of the year (followed closely by Demdike Stare). If you are looking for something to play while working or in the background, buy it (I think it would be great for church also).

You can listen and buy it at Bandcamp and name your price.

10. Frank Ocean- Nostalgia, Ultra

Another free album, Frank is bringing back 70's soul stylings for a hip-hop generation. the lyrics are a little beyond my comfort level at times, but the music is what I imagine Al Green or Marvin Gaye would be playing if they were coming out after Jay-Z and Kanye West changed the landscape so radically.

listen here

Hard to describe band from England that classifies itself as Heavy Pop. Messy music consisting of passionate vocals, smart lyrics, swirling guitars. Not for everyone, but I like it.

listen on Spotify

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- It's a Corporate World

Goofy, but great named project from Detroit that Paste magazine coins "indie-alt-digital-folk-garage-rock-pop." There is a kitchen sink vibe to their music which reminds me of the smoothness of Earlimart or Granddaddy.

listen on Spotify

7. Youth Lagoon- The Year of Hibernation

One kid from Idaho making the kind of music I would make if I was alone in Idaho: melancholy. This is the best of the new bands making music straddling the fence between Sigur Ros and Arcade Fire (although the mellowest example). If you like this kind of music, but want a little more oomph, I recommend Of Monsters and Men, which is not on the list because their album is not officially available in the US (or they would be in the top 3).

listen to Spotify

She calls it Noise Folk and I am grateful to find someone that has the edge of mid-career Hole. It is angry, raw, emotional and definitely noisy. I thought the supergroup Wild Flag would make this list, but listening to this album I realized that, while there are a couple of great songs on the Wild Flag album, I was including it on the list because I wanted to like it as much as I liked this album.

listen on Spotify

5. Diego Garcia- Laura

The most painfully gorgeous album of the year, my wife thinks I listen to it when I want to get depressed. Garcia was the lead singer of the band Elephant before deciding he would embrace his Argentinian heritage and create a masterful paean to his ex-wife full of sad flamenco touches over the kind of crooning the guys on American idol wish they were capable of. If you love Iron and Wine or Bon Iver, check him out. He is more interesting and reminds me of a young, Spanish Leonard Cohen.

listen on Spotify

4. tUnE-yArDs- WHOKILL

People are justifiably nuts over this album. Imagine the spot where Sleigh Bells meets St. Vincent... especially if the Dirty Projectors were behind it and you will see why every hipster and Indie critic thinks they have heard the musical equivalent of the Second Coming. OK, the hype is out of hand, but its a band with serious potential. If these songs were on Just Dance 3, I would be there with a Wii remote in my hand.

listen on Spotify

My favorite album of the year when I want to rock and roll. If bands like The Hives, The Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys bore you, then stay away from this band of snotty fans of U2 and The Ramones. In a world in which people know what rock and roll is supposed to sound like, these guys would be HUGE.

listen on Spotify

2. The Head and the Heart- The Head and the Heart

For fans of Mumford and Sons, Civil Wars, The Avett Brothers and other neo-folk bands, these guys have the songwriting down. While none of their songs will blow you away with their originality, you will find yourself returning to this album continually. I expected this album to blow up like Coldplay and Mumford, and it will if people find out about them. Pitchfork hates them, which is always a good sign.

Trust me and listen on Spotify

1. The Weeknd- Echos of Silence

Echos is the 3rd of 3 free mix tapes released by this Canadian soul singer in 2011. All 3 are wonderful and free on his website. While lyrically, as a 40 year white guy dad, I can get a bit prudish when all a guy seems to talk about is sex; I have to admit he does it well. He channels Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye simultaneously, so I recommend any youth ministers that believe in the True Love Waits program should keep their kids very far away from this album. I call his music Indie Soul, so check it out. He is gonna be huge.

Listen and download

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Faith Based Albums of 2011

I don't listen to a lot of so called "Christian" music. I could go into my typical rant, but it is old hat and bores even me. That said, I found a few albums that come from a Christian worldview that are marketing specifically to Christian audiences (one is more mainstream) that I liked quite a lot.

While they are not making my list of top albums, coming out in the next couple of days, I want to emphasize their inherent quality, especially for those that listen to such music.

5) Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets- Go and Sell All of Your Things
A beer soaked folk rock album full of praise songs for drunken revelry and open questioning of faith. You have heard it all before, but that doesn't make it any less fun... or thought provoking. Suomi stands in a long line of deeply afflicted, yet strongly Christian musicians, including Larry Norman, The 77's and Bill Mallonee. Here is a good review from Paste Magazine.

listen on Spotify

The opposite of beer soaked, this honest and quite beautiful endeavor is Michael Gungor's best set yet. Mis-classified as a worship artist, most of Gungor's songs are too complex for the average church setting desiring Chris Tomlin's last copy of every Coldplay trope in the book. Gungor's lyrics are refreshingly honest and the music is definitely in the Sufjan Stevens meets Sigur Ros at an Arcade Fire concert hymnal presently employed by most "Indie-Rock." I love his voice, mostly because it reminds me of one of my best friends, Michael Johnston of the criminally underrated Smalltown Poets.

listen on Spotify

3) John Mark McMillan- Economy

Hopefully, this is what worship music will sound like in the coming years in churches, as people grow tired of the same old sanitized lyrics and melodies of Tomlin, Redmon and Crowder. In fact, this is what Crowder should sound like (even if he changes the lyrics of McMillan songs to refine and popularize them, robbing them of their power in the process). McMillan obviously genuflects before Bruce Springsteen, like some of the best young bands in America, owing as much to Gaslight Anthem and Brit Rock as to the Boss. While the melodies stand out, it is the lyrics that I would love to hear in church, deeply embracing grace while flirting with darkness and depression. It is rock and roll and it is refreshing, to say the least.

listen on Spotify

First of all, just click the link above and get this album for free. While the previous albums are best appreciated by those that share some faith interest with the musicians, this stands out as an albums I recommend to anyone that likes soulful indie-folk. While in the ultra-serious vein of Ray Lamontagne and Iron and Wine, Garrels stands out from the crowd with his arrangements. He is the best mainstream artist operating in the Christian marketplace at this time. I could go on, but since it is a free album, I see no reason. Just get the darn thing.

1) Aaron Strumpel- Birds

As I said when it was initially released, if there is anyone more compelling and original in the so called "Christian" market, I have yet to hear it. Wondrously off-kilter, Birds reminds me of the best Indie films, at once oft-putting and impossible to resist without the obvious narrative we expect from Hollywood (or Nashville). While this album and Garrels' are equally good, Birds gets the nod due to its originality.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What Rob Bell's next step really is

After much soul searching, I have decided to end this blog’s primary function as outlet for my weirdness. Instead, I realize there is a much needed service to the Church. While Christianity Today and other outlets report on the facts, what we need now is a rumor, innuendo and gossip blog. Of course, that is unacceptable, so officially this will be a

PRAYER and CONCERN for Church Leadership blog.

First order of business is getting to the bottom of the “Rob Bell leaves resigns from his church” media storm (ok, not a storm, since the Christian world is pretty small).

Christianity Today shared the resignation letter:

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God's love with a broader audience.
It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob's voice and the message of God's tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.
Of course, this is the official story. I have been on the phone all day and can report on some of the possibilities, rumors and gossip that a publication like Christianity Today is too scared to print. Here are the possibilities, followed by the thoughts of your fearless reporter.

1. According to his personal trainer, Rob Bell has resigned from Mars Hill Church to become a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. After one too many insults from the likes of Mark Driscoll and his manly minions, Rob has chosen to take the time he has used for Bible Study in the past to take his body to new heights, preparing for a late Spring date with Mark Driscoll on the Church Channel’s new reality show, UFP (Ultimate Fighting Pastor). He plans to take down Dirscoll, followed in short order by Perry Noble, before taking down the entire Acts 29 leadership in a cage match.

Upon winning, Bell will take control of Mars Hill, Seattle and return to the pastorate as leader of the new multi-site congregation, Mars Hill, America. “I am planning on showing Driscoll what Hell on Earth feels like,” is what he told his trainer.

There is no verification of this by independent sources.

2. I spoke earlier today with a realtor in the tony Naples island suburb of Marco Island, home to Bell’s hero and mentor, Brian McLaren. He told me that a bespectacled man from Michigan is hoping to by a large home in McLaren’s neighborhood. According to other sources, Bell is moving closer to McLaren to learn how to make a living as a supposedly heretical Evangelical writer.

3. There is no truth to the rumor that Rob Bell is behind the recent break up of R.E.M., even though Stipe was seen boarding a flight to Grand Rapids the same day as the announcement. Bell continually brings up the fact that he was a great musician and possible rock star in interviews. Although, he has expressed interest in starting a band after retirement, there is no independent verification that he is actually any good at music.

4. A spokesman at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN has told this reporter that Bell stepped down to become a member of BBC under the leadership of John Piper. “Piper reached out to Bell after the Love Wins controversy. Upon seeing the error of his ways, Bell decided to step down from the pulpit and come under the tutelage of a real theologian and pastor.

Again, no independent verification.

5. Wanting to study the doctrine of hell more closely and get a handle on what hell is really like, Bell has decided to run for Congress and move to D.C.

6. There is no truth to the rumor that he will be taking over Apple. This was of great concern to the Calvinists that use Macs.

7. CT's Andy Crouch tells me that Rob has left Mars Hill to focus on his new full-time endeavor, ignoring controversy and not responding. Crouch says, "Rob felt the church took his focus off ignoring outside opinion. It is a fulltime job to not listen to the criticism by haters."

8. One rumor that has been verified is this: Grand Rapids is a cultural backwater and miserable place to live that sucks in the winter. Bell is rich enough to get out of the dying city and state before his congregants figure out that they hate living in Grand Rapids as much as he does.

Vegas odds on where he moves are:

2-1 New York City
3-1 Los Angeles
6-1 Arizona in a trade to take over new pastor Shane Hipps’ former church
25-1 Seattle to live next door to Mark Driscoll
Even- the outskirts of Chicago in 2 years to take over Willow Creek
10-1 Florida

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mark Driscoll admits to Injecting Bible with Steroids

I wrote this a year and a half ago. It seems appropriate today.

I have just intercepted this press release from 2015.

Statement to Members of the Press

From Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington. (January 12, 2015).

Due to rumors surrounding the use of performance enhancing drugs among pastors during the past 2 decades, the elders of Mars Hill Church, including Pastor Emeritus Mark Driscoll, have chosen to address this issue at this time.

From Pastor Mark:

“Now that I have retired from the pastorate to become Commissioner of Ultimate Christian Fighting®, an organization I started with the leaders of Acts 29 in 2011 to introduce young men to a more muscular version of Christianity, I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do a few years ago.

I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come. It's time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. I used steroids during my preaching career and I apologize. Now, understand, I never used steroids personally and never consumed them in my body. My body is the product of good genes, hours in a gym, beer and naturally high levels of testosterone (I have stated before and will continue to state that Jesus had the highest levels of testosterone in human history). The steroids I used were injected directly into 3 areas; 1) My Bible, 2) The Gospel itself, 3) My preaching and writing.

I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1996 church planting assessments in my preaching only and then after I saw how disturbingly wimpy emerging Christianity was becoming in 1999, I used steroids again, this time directly infusing my Bible with them. I used them on regularly throughout the Aughts, including during the days surrounding controversies with other preachers when I questioned their sexuality. My statement surrounding the fact that I could not follow a Jesus I could beat up was influenced by a steroid influenced Gospel, as was my preaching, teaching and commentary related to sex, sexuality and women’s issues. My Bible was completely addicted to these unnaturally high levels of testosterone.

While steroids have been rumored in the areas of my preaching directly related to my usage of harsh language and profanity before my repentance of such childishness, I would like to remind readers of this statement I am Irish and I did watch a lot of Chris Rock.

I wish I had never preached a steroid influenced Gospel. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never pastored during the steroid era. I watched as many good pastors and theologians decided to emasculate Jesus and turn him into our sissified best friend. I saw liberal theology seeping into the pores of our schools and the young men becoming preachers. I saw God turned into a servant for our desires and a Gospel that no longer took sin seriously. Because of that, I turned to steroids. I am embarrassed for what I did, but my heart was as pure as the heart of a reformed person, sinful at birth and dead in that sin, although saved by grace alone can be (TULIP still rocks!).

Preaching is really different now -- it's been cleaned up. God and the theological unions implemented testing and they cracked down, and I'm glad they did. I'm grateful to the elders of Mars Hill and the board of directors at Ultimate Christian Fighting® for testing my Gospel and Biblical understanding, as well as my old sermon streams (can you believe people still use youtube?) before confronting me. Yes, there was outside pressure, which I usually ignore. But, my mentors would not let it go. It is nice, as I get older to walk into a church and not need to worry about the language of the pastor, whether or not he will goop (so much better than tweeting, hah) in 25 characters some insult towards others, and not have the ladies of my life insulted.

I do need to apologize to many of the young men that followed me on twitter, watched and listened to my sermons, came to Acts 29 events and worshiped my church and its teachings. They decided that they could do everything that I did. I truly believe that many people were hurt by their reckless usage of a steroid influenced gospel. In fact, I did not know that these followers were so immature that they would merely copy me without using their own brains. I should have been a better role model. They should have not been working their own anger issues out in front of their churches. This morning via conference tweet I spoke to many of those young men I have influenced throughout the years through my preaching and teaching of a steroid influenced Gospel. They were noticeably upset. As they are tested, please be gentler on them than they were on their congregations.

I want to say thank you to John Piper for always giving me a hard time about my Gospel testosterone levels, to my children (girls included), wife, and to my Acts 29 teammates. I want to make sure wives know that they do not need to be hot and keep up to magazine standards to keep their husbands from straying (although it does help) and you don’t have to do absolutely anything your husband wants you to do sexually. I also want people to know Jesus does have a sensitive side also. However, it is still a sin to drink lite beer.

After all this time, I want to come clean. I was not in a position to do that five years ago in my interviews with Christianity Today, but now I feel an obligation to discuss this and to answer questions about it.

I'll do that, and then I just want to help my team."




Date of release: January 12, 2015

Caveat: note to followers of Mark Driscoll and others that take themselves and their fiefdoms way too seriously, please note that I just made fun of your enemy (the Emerging Church). I make fun of things. It is what I do. I know Mark. We have had good times together in the past, usually surrounding mutual loves of Jesus, baseball, cigars and beer. I doubt he would be offended by my gentle poking.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

John Piper Clarifies Tweets regarding Rob Bell

Late Breaking News from Minneapolis

Rob Bell was not the only Christian celebrity speaking to his followers via streaming online video on Monday evening. John Piper, in a hastily thrown together video chat on his website (, answered reporters questions regarding his previous tweet which had created the firestorm of blogs postings, tweets and facebook rants on the supposed content of Rob Bell's newest book, Love Wins.

In an opening statement, an unnamed twenty-something spokesman for Piper declared that the controversy was entirely overblown and without merit. Piper was disappointed that his words had been taken out of context and that so much buzz had been created for a book by a pastor with a mere Master of Divinity and no advanced theological training. Said the statement, "While I am sure Rob is a wonderful guy, his books should not be selling as well as mine due to the fact his followers are not as well educated and he is lacking the proper credentials, credentials that would put his theological ramblings in proper alignment."

Asked why his press conference/ web chat was happening at the same time as a Rob Bell event in New York City, the spokesman explained that "Reformed Christians, or should I say, Christians, need to have their focus on the truth of the Gospel and Hell, not be distracted by a rock star talking about love. Who does he think he is, Bono?"

At this time, Dr. Piper came to the podium to explain his tweet. Piper explained that the tweet in question, in which he said "Farewell, Rob Bell" before sharing the link to a review of the book by a Conservative blogger with no actual knowledge of the contents of the book, was out of context.

"Actually I said, Fare Well, Rob Bell," which is a completely different sentiment. For one thing, it flows poetically. That anyone would think that I would create such an awkward couplet as the actual tweet is preposterous. I have modeled my use of language after the Puritan poet/ theologians like Jonathan Edwards. Secondly, I realized that much controversy would arise surrounding his book, so I wanted to offer a word of encouragement and hope that he fares well with this. Lastly, as any reader of Old English understands, 'fare-thee-well' is a statement of hope for perfection."

When asked about the actual tweet, Piper answered, "Dang autocorrect. I don't know what kind of Communists they have running Apple, but their Big Brother attitude towards typing is ridiculous."

At this time, Piper left the podium, abruptly ending the news conference/ chat. His spokesman told those gathered that Piper would be retreating to his home to read Jonathan Edwards' responses to bad press before reading tweets about the Rob Bell event in New York City.

Later that evening, after watching a bit of Rob Bell's stream, John Piper's twitter account shared this tweet, "Farewell, Rob Bell, You I tell, There is a Hell." A spokesman asserted the veracity of the tweet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Musicians I want the Wild Goose Festival to Bring!

The Wild Good Fest, a new American progressive Christian festival announced its lineup of speakers a couple of days ago. It is littered with friends of mine and my wife, so we are thinking of heading to the woods of North Carolina to hook up with old friends and new at this Americanized version of Greenbelt, the English Festival I have never attended.

Earlier today it released its musician list, which is of more interest to me. They had already announced two artists, Denison Witmer and the incomparable T-Bone Burnett. While I know they are trying to make it diverse, I was sure lineup would lean heavily towards the folkie/ singer songwriter genre. It always happens. Its what progressively minded intellectuals usually listen to. I was right. With a few notable exceptions, it is heavily earnest guy or girl with guitar.

I created my list before they announced, so I am happy some including Sarah Mason, Over the Rhine and Bill Mallonee were included. Some, such as Bajah and the Dry-Eye Crew and Michelle Shocked, are inspired (I missed her on my list).

That said, I am announcing the lineup I was wishing for. Since I used to be a concert promoter, have written critically about music and been considered an expert on the subject for 20 plus years, I thought someone out there may want to know my opinion. However, Wild Goose hasn't asked me for my opinion. They probably know better than asking a music snob.

So here we go.

First of all we have the No Brainers and the people I am sure they have asked (I am guessing most of these artists were out of their price range or too busy). If they haven't asked these people, I am very surprised. These musicians have shown that they stand for what the WGF is about. I have starred the musts, in my eyes. Some of these are among my faves, but many are a little mainstream for my tastes:

Jennifer Knapp, The Psalters, mewithoutYou* (in whatever incarnation), Sarah Mason*, Glenn Phillips* (formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket), Derek Webb, Bill Mallonee of Vigilantes of Love*, the Flobots*, Damien Jurado, David Bazan*, Danielson (probably too big in their own eyes), David Vendervelde, Sam Phillips (probably uninterested due to inclusion of ex-husband), Cobalt Season*, Julie and Buddy Miller, Tom Conlon, Maeve, Bruce Cockburn, Indigo Girls (although too big probably), John Austin*, Michael knott, Sixpence none the Richer, the Choir.

Lovedrug (not a big fan), Jars of Clay, Mutemath and Switchfoot would be very smart choices and give a nice buzz. In fact, I would try to get Jon Foreman of Switchfoot to come solo or with his other side projects. I would also try to get Glen Phillips side project called Works Progress Administration.

The Civil Wars would be a coup, but should be asked.

Speaking of coups:

These artists are probably too big, but worth a looksy. One might say yes, especially in the future (or one of the members of a band could come solo). Some are serious home runs and dreams only, while others may say yes and still be a coup.

Moby*, Sufjan Stevens, Owl City, Ben Folds, Lauryn Hill, Arcade Fire:), Avett Brothers (live right down the street), Mumford and Sons (of course), Nick Cave*, Mindy Smith, Patty Griffin, Joseph Arthur (solo or with his band Fistful of Mercy), Elvis Perkins, Frightened Rabbit, BRMC (doable)*, Social Distortion, Local Natives, Joy Formidable, Gaslight Anthem and The Hold Steady.

All of these artists embody a similar spiritual side, whatever their professed belief system.

Hip Hop Artists to Ask:

Gift of Gab* (and his band Blackalicious), Pigeon John, K'naan, Lateef, Prodigal Son, Emmanuel Jal**, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, Chuck Rite (singer).

Electronic Music or DJs:

I don't listen to many that have any expressed spirituality. However, Andy Hunter and Todd Edwards are interesting to some. And Son Lux would be a wonderful addition!

Interesting worship leaders:

Gungor or Shawn Aaron Thomas. Both fit in their ethos.

Since they are connected to Greenbelt in some ways, these former Greenbelt musicians could be interesting:

Iain Archer, Maria McKee* (I cannot imagine. This would blow me away), Sixpence none the Richer, Michael Franti and Spearhead* (coup), ryoksopp.

Special Music:

Sacred harp sing-a-long, led by an expert (I know one). This would fit with the mountains of NC and tie it to our religious heritage.

Smart Choices (look these musicians up):

Ani Moss and the Unfortunate, Songs of Water* (from NC), Lauren Mann, 10 Centuries, Timbre*, Exebelle and Rusted Calvacade (smart alt country from Virginia), Damion Suomi**, Sharon Van Etten, Lost in the Trees (NC band), Charlie Sexton, Manchester Orchestra, Page France, Alexander and the Grapes, The OaKs, Bryant Park Quartet/ ACME.

Any of those would be inspired choices. Most of the musicians have very little following (except Lost in the Trees, Manchester Orchestra, Sharon Van Etten and Charlie Sexton) but the value-add would be huge.

Lastly, here is my Top 10 of who I wanted to see at Wild Goose Festival and Why:

1. Hey Rosetta!- Canadian band with the same spiritual flavor as Mumford and Sons or Coldplay, they are passionate orchestral pop that have much in common with Coldplay, Mumford, Ra Ra Riot, Arcade Fire and Sigur Ros. Check out the video to Yer Spring to see what I mean. I like them much better than Coldplay or Mumford.

2. Aradhna- Hindi lyrics and music with Christian themes.

3. Jim White- a former Pentacostal with interesting views on Christianity and spirituality, he has created a spot where electronica and alt country meet.

4. The Mountain Goats- no one talks about Christianity and the Bible quite like these guys.

5. Jeff Mangum- he is touring and he is the most important musician of the last 20 years most people don't know. His band Neutral Milk Hotel influenced everyone Indie before breaking up. All the hip young Indie hipster Christian kids know that he sings about Jesus in a way most people could never get away with.

6. The Cave Singers- interesting Americana band from Seattle of indeterminate Spirituality. Check out the video to Dancing on Our Graves.

7. Peter Himmelman-Conservative Jew from Minneapolis and the best performer I have ever seen. He is known as Bob Dylan's son-in-law, but he is on par with Dylan lyrically.

8. K'naan- the Somali/ Canadian rapper would blow the roof off the joint and fit in well with the theme of social justice. He is the closest thing to Bob Marley alive right now.

9. Todd Snider-great performer and masterful songwriter, Todd is also serious about speaking out on Christianity and politics.

10. Asthmatic Kitty night- Pick who could come from Sufjan Steven's label. DM Stith would bring a great mood to the proceedings and the Welcome Wagon would help people wishing they could see Sufjan Stevens. Fol Chen, My Brightest Diamond and Julianna Barwick would be interesting selections. Heck just bring one of these performers or their partner in crime, St. Vincent (so she could sing, Jesus Saves, I spend).

There you have it. My perfect lineup for such a festival. maybe next year:)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Song of the Year, 2010- Why We Build The Wall

I am not sure I will start blogging again. However, a few (very few) people want to know my music selections for 2010. Since I am not employed by a newspaper with a deadline, I know I can take my time (plus I wanted to wait to hear everything I could in 2010).

Over the next few days I will offer my Top Albums (yes, I still listen to fully developed albums, not just mp3s of a single song), my playlist of the best songs/ my favorites of the year (I will put a mix tape on drop box for anyone interested) and today's entry:

Song of the Year

By declaring song of the year, I am not saying this is the best song in 2010. In fact, it was not. However, this song fully captures the spirit of 2010. It is a haunting track off Anais Mitchell's powerful Folk Opera based upon the myth of Orpheus, Hadestown (an easy top 10 album). This albums has guests like Ani DiFranco and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), but the highlight of the album is this song which captures that 2010 spirit, espeically in light of Tea Parties, Immigration reform, mosque battles, recession and people in need and the response many of us have to those we consider "other", "different," or "outsider."

There is no real video, but here it is on youtube coupled with another song. Listen to Why We Build the Wall by Anais Mitchell and Greg Brown:

Here are the lyrics:

Why do we build the wall?
My children, my children
Why do we build the wall?

Why do we build the wall?
We build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

How does the wall keep us free?
My children, my children
How does the wall keep us free?

How does the wall keep us free?
The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

Who do we call the enemy?
My children, my children
Who do we call the enemy?

Who do we call the enemy?
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

Because we have and they have not!
My children, my children
Because they want what we have got!

Because we have and they have not!
Because they want what we have got!
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

What do we have that they should want?
My children, my children
What do we have that they should want?

What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none
And our work is never done
My children, my children
And the war is never won
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free
We build the wall to keep us free

feel free to share your thoughts

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Save the Blue Like Jazz Movie

About a year an a half ago a dear friend , one of the producers of the Blue Like Jazz film project sent me the script to read and evaluate. He also wanted me to share my thoughts with the world. I did in May of 2009. Things were progressing well and my friend was raising funds for the film. Casting looked strong and their was good buzz. However, there were financial humps that could not be overcome, mostly due to the fact that those with the money (older, more conservative Christians) did not like the script and those that would like the script and film (younger, more open-minded Christians and spiritually minded persons) do not have deep pockets.

It was announced not too long ago that the project was dead. However some enterprising young me, probably wanting to be producers in their own rights have come up with an ingenious plan, obvious int eh world of Radiohead's pay-what-you-want, but still new to the film world. They have devised a plan for people to help save the film by giving money to the project and becoming, in effect, producers of a piece of art they want to see. As a former concert promoter that spent much of his own money on bands I wanted to see, I love the idea and want to support it.

So, here is my little way of helping. Please go to their site if you are a fan of the book and want to see it made into a film. If you are unsure, read my analysis of the script. The script has been changed since I evaluated it (and I have heard, some of the changes are reflective of my ideas- they were ideas by many readers, not just me).

So, here is the site to save the movie. Follow them on twitter. Give money for good art and spread the word.

Here is my reprinted analysis:

There is no other reason that a person of my stature with only a few hundred readers would get his hands on the screenplay that many are talking about. The only other thing I have read is from Gabe Lyons, and I am not Gabe Lyons. He produces big conferences and writes books. I write a blog and have better hair and music taste. Plus, I did not love the book. I merely liked the book, but I was not its main audience (too old and cynical).

To be Hollywood-y, I will tell you to think The Graduate meets Fight Club, without the sex, violence and multiple personalities. It is not your preacher's Christian film. In fact, it is light years away from and ahead of what normally passes for "Christian" entertainment (Fireproof, etc). The reason for this is a different agenda. Imagine getting a bunch of talented people together (that just happen to be Christians). Imagine that they have one goal and that goal is not to make a Christian film, or evangelize. Imagine that goal is simply to make a very good film that entertains, but the main character happens to have a Christian background which he is struggling with.

This friend wanted my honest assessment and I can tell you this… it is quite good. It is funny, edgy (but not too edgy- I wish it were more so, but I hate edge just to be edgy- see garden State), honest, brash and humble. Yes, the comparisons to Garden State, Good Will Hunting, All the Real Girls, Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, and any other coming of age story are warranted. It is a Christian Indie flick, and it works. It is reasonably Sundance-y and will be embraced by a similar audience, unless the audience is prejudiced.

They have started with the thing any film must have to be good... a very good script. Now it is up to the filmmakers to make the movie the screenplay deserves.

It is not as witty as Juno (which is not a bad thing- Juno may have been too witty), but is much more realistic than Garden State and its ending does not make you suspend any disbelief (unlike GS), which you have to do in Elizabethtown and any other hackneyed romantic dramedy masquerading as a personal growth flicks. No airport reunions here. Thank God. I start with the ending because it has broken many good movies in the past (you know, guy gets resolution to all his problems and the girl in the last 5 minutes).

Luckily, this ending gives you just what you need to be satisfied (and maybe shed a real tear) without resorting to the tricks of most Hollywood films. That is a credit to the filmmakers. In fact, the ending of this film is its strength. It is nice to see such a strong pay off and I hope the filmmakers keep it. Test audiences be damned if they don’t like it! Plus, the redemptive spirit of the final act is powerful and I connected with it because of similar experiences in college, mostly due to the grace of friends after I was broken by my own stupidity. I connected with that and the writer's disdain for Christianeze like "Bro" which I also despise.

Don't get me wrong, the screenplay is not perfect. There are a few flourishes I appreciate, but am skeptical of seeing done on screen. However, seldom have I seen a screenplay (or film for that matter) which does make me say, "I may have done that differently," or "is that really the best option?"

That said, Blue Like Jazz will be a Rorschach test for its viewers, with each of their own prejudices brought to bear. It mines Christian and secular Left stereotypes (both of which I find in myself), finding something in each to laugh at, but moves beyond these to find the humanity in "the other" each audience member has dismissed in the past. This happens if that audience member chooses to let go and become enraptured by this painfully funny tale based upon Don Miller’s own life, but fictionalized. It is not for the closed minded, no matter what their stripe, but neither was the book. The first scenes will find audiences not embracing the “Christian” label squirming because of the insider church language. However, the setup is needed and without this the pathos of the central character would be unexplained and the growth would be non-existent. And trust me, Christians will find plenty to make them squirm after the insider beginning.

My only concern for the film project is that an audience will be hard to find. Too many conservative Christians will find the reality, the honesty and the rawness disconcerting, realizing they are more comfortable laughing at those they disagree with instead of embracing them as friends and truth-tellers, while some of the more reasonable and progressive critics will come with their own agendas, looking for an evil proselytizer under the director’s slate board, not realizing that every protagonist in a coming of age film has a “born again” or epiphany moment, whether it is Zach Braff discontinuing the use of psychotropic drugs in Garden State or Seth Rogan realizing that he must find gainful employment in Knocked Up. It is basic to the plot of such a film. Just because Jesus is in the midst, does not change the basic arch of a story. I hope the “open minded” see that, unlike the writers of Pitchfork which dismiss most albums by religious musicians (see reviews of Cold War Kids and Manchester Orchestra). Of course, Miller’s books have found a large audience, so I think it has a very good chance.

I am very impressed and cannot wait for the soundtrack, if they get the rights. Hopefully it will be filled with Coltrane, Monk, Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Ani DiFranco, Cold War Kids, Welcome Wagon and other Indie Rockers from Asthmatic Kitty and Kill Rock Stars.

So, spread the word. Get the buzz started. This movie has the potential to make you proud. It has the potential to be the film most of us have been waiting for, an entertaining and truthful story with Christian and redemptive themes that makes us laugh and we can show our friends without embarrassment. It is about time.

btw, the filmmakers are looking for funding right now. If you are interested, or know others interested in investing in such a project with a very good business plan, let me know. I will put you in touch with the right people (and I have nothing to personally gain from any of this, beyond a movie I can proudly own- and maybe they will send me a nice t-shirt).