Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Paris - Sonic Jihad
David Bazan - Fewer Moving Parts
Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere - Heartbreak and Duct Tape
Starflyer 59 - Leave Here a Stranger
Mustard - Eureka Grande
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Location: Illinois, United States

The peaches, apples, plums and pears are guarded by ferocious bears.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling
My Secret - Frank Warren
Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

28 February 2005

Random Soundbites

"All empires eventually expire and when they finally do it's never pretty. So just sit back and wait for the attacks, especially in the major cities.

Please hold my hand Sweetheart. Daddy's got you. Momma's out in the car, and she packed your favorite blue shoes.

Here they come exploding like the sun, ringing in my ears like independence. I agree this doesn't favor me. Still bullies ought to get what's coming."
--Headphones, "Major Cities"

"I think first of all we’ve got to try to realize the effect television has had on our ability to retain information and to have our attention be held on a particular topic. It’s shortened our attention by quite a lot, and the way that we interact with politics has really, it’s just been demolished completely. A couple of things that we need to keep in mind when we’re watching TV and listening to the radio is that the people who run TV and radio are trying to sell us to advertisers, and that impacts directly what kind of programming we hear. If we want to change politics, we’re going to have to change the way that we interact with advertisers, and we’re going to have to change the way that we interact with the consumer world in general. We can’t help but be consumers, but we can be smart about what we do. And I’m not talking about boycotts and stuff like that, although that is appropriate from time to time. It’s just being aware. We’re not obviously in a vacuum here, and the reason why big business runs the country is because we buy so much shit that we don’t need."
--David Bazan of Pedro the Lion

"I think Bush is a genius. Bush did some things this year nobody in this room could do. No one in this room could pull off. Bush basically reapplied for his job this year. Now can you imagine applying for a job, and while you’re applying for that job, there is a movie in every theatre in the country that shows how much you suck at that job? It’d be hard to get hired, wouldn’t it? I watched Fahrenheit, and I learned some stuff man. Bush did something that you could never get away with at your job, never, ever, ever. You know, when Bush got into office, there was a surplus of money. Now there is like a 70 trillion dollar deficit. Now, just imagine that you work at the Gap. You're closing out your register and you’re 70 trillion dollars short. The average person would get in trouble for something like that, right? Not Bush. No.

Then he started a war. That’s cool. Support the troops. He started a war. Now, just imagine that you worked at the Gap. You’re 70 trillion behind on your register and then you start a war with Banana Republic. Cause you say they got toxic tank tops over there. You have the war, people are dying, a thousand Gap employees are dead. That’s right. Bleeding all over the khakis. You finally take over Banana Republic and you find out they never made tanks tops in the first place."
--Chris Rock's opening Oscar monologue

"As a Christian, if you are not pro-rich, pro-war, then you’re just not a Christian. And I think that we’ve got to blow all that apart, we’ve got to break all that, we’ve got to open that up and find out what the hell is going on. None of that makes any sense. It’s not even a consistent Christian worldview. There’s a lot of work to do in the way Christians think about politics and issues of social justice in this country and internationally. I think we’ve got to be people who know what’s happening in the world, who can apply Scripture to all of it."
--Musician Derek Webb paraphrasing Jim Wallis and explaining why his next album may explore American politics

"Who's the one to blame for the strain of the vocal chords?
Who can pen hateful threats but can't hold a sword?
It's the same who complain about the global war,
But can't overthrow the local joker that they voted for.

They call the shots, but they're not in the line fire.
I'd call the cops, but they break in the line of duty.
Let’s call a stop to the abuse of authority.
The truth keeps calling me, and I’m a live to tell the story.

So look for truth. Quit seeking forgiveness.
You need to cut the noose, but you don't believe in scissors.
You support the troops by wearing yellow ribbons?
Just bring home my motherfuckin’ brothers and sisters."
--Rapper Sage Francis, "Slow Down Ghandi"

26 February 2005

SpongeBob Revisited

So I'm really late to the Jeff Gannon controversy. Late enough that I'm not going to rehash what you should already know about a man using an alias who had no journalism experience or credibility being issued a daily visitor's pass to White House press briefings and issuing right wing talking points as questions. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read a couple of weeks worth of AMERICAblog and you'll be up to speed.

Instead I'm going to wonder why James Dobson is concerned about SpongeBob, but not the White House using a gay male prostitute as a means to disseminate propaganda.

Notes Bill Berkowitz:

As of February 24, there wasn't any news about the Gannon Affair available on the Web sites of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, or the Traditional Values Coalition. As best as I could determine, no special alerts about the Gannon Affair have been issued; and no campaigns have been launched to get to the bottom of the matter.

Curious about this wall of silence, I phoned several Christian right groups on Tuesday, February 22, hoping to find someone who could comment on the Gannon Affair. This is what I found:

Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family: I filled out an interview form and waited to hear back. Several hours later, a FotF administrative assistant called me to say that no one there could answer my questions about Gannon. She said a lot of folks were out sick and no one was available. "Would someone be available tomorrow or Thursday," I asked. She pointed out that no one would be available the following day or the day after to talk about this issue. "Next week?" "No."

I Can't Stop Eating

Recently Brandon at Bad Christian has been attempting a diet. He’s not doing so hot. I feel for him. I’m constantly trying to give up a) caffeine b) fast food c) junk food and d) soda. I’m constantly failing, too. Right now fast food and soda are going well. I gave them up for Lent. Caffeine isn’t so bad when all you’ve got to work with is coffee and tea. Junk food? I’m struggling. I’m addicted. I keep telling myself that tomorrow I’ll eat healthier, but tomorrow predictably always becomes today.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about. Lately I’ve been thinking about food as it relates to Christianity, specifically the conservative Baptist brand from which I’ve come. I grew up in a pretty typical East Tennessee Baptist church. Where I went to church, it was a sin to drink alcohol, have premarital sex, work on Sundays, be gay, swear, watch R-rated movies, smoke, wear shorts in the sanctuary, and, for a lot of folks, listen to rock and roll. You know, the basic stuff.

But overeating? That was cool. Eating was a something we did a lot of at church. There were pot luck dinners once a month on Wednesday nights. Sometimes there were lunches after church on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes there were finger foods after church on Sunday nights. There was a consistent pattern of dining out, both after Sunday morning and Sunday evening services (while it was a sin to work on Sundays, apparently it wasn’t a sin to directly contribute to other people working on Sundays). I’d say I had a meal at my church two or three times a month.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Meals build community. The gospels show Jesus and his disciples eating together rather frequently. Eating a real meal as a community is a far better depiction of the Last Supper than nibbling a cracker and throwing back a thimble of grape juice.

Nonetheless, judging by the size of the waistlines in that church, food was more than a communal bonding experience. It was also an obsession. Which begs the question: why wasn’t gluttony a sin in my church? Is it because gluttony is a “little sin,” one that pales in comparison to murder or theft? Or is it because it’s a sin that the church is committing, so it’s one of which we cannot speak?

As I’ve noted here before, I feel like the church does pick on the sins it isn’t committing, which is partially why abortion and homosexuality are singled out. I know it’s more complicated than that. But it does at least partially account for why there can be massively overweight pastors, but not homosexual ones.

24 February 2005

Breaking the Camel's Back

Back when I was in high school, I occasionally listened to a nationally syndicated radio program called The Tom Leykis Show. Hopelessly crude and misogynistic, Leykis nonetheless was interesting when he got around to talking about serious issues. I can only remember two of these topics at the moment. One was a two hour discussion on banning smoking in public. The other concerned whether or not Susan Smith should receive the death penalty. (For those who don’t recall, Smith was the South Carolina woman who told police she had been carjacked by a black man, but who in fact had drowned her children in a lake. I still pride myself on knowing she was full of it from the very beginning.)

Leykis raised an interesting question during the Smith discussion. Though he himself was opposed to the death penalty, Leykis essentially asked, “If Smith doesn’t deserve the death penalty, well then, who does?” (Keep in mind, this was pre-Oklahoma City.) If you kill your small children, use the public’s racist mindset to distract from the truth, and if the judge and jury feel you don’t deserve death for your crimes, then who does deserve to be executed? What’s worse than that? What’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

I wonder the same thing about the public’s perception of George W. Bush. I really just don’t understand. Here is a guy who would be despised by most people in most circumstances. If George W. Bush were your co-worker, neighbor or second-cousin, you would hate his guts. Here’s a guy who spent his time in college as a drunken C-student frat boy. After graduating college, he didn’t have a real job until he was, what, nearly 40-years old? Before that, his daddy got him whatever he wanted or needed. Now he’s a smug, self-righteous man who does what he wants. To hell with consequences or logic. Sure, I’ve heard the I’d-rather-have-a-beer-with-George-Bush-than-John-Kerry rationale. But, seriously, is have-beer-worthyism really a leadership quality? If it is, this country is in more trouble than I thought.

What really gets to me, though, is the sheer scale of scandal and corruption found in the Bush White House. Let’s face it. Bush was dirty before he even got to the White House. Now his closet has more skeletons than you find in most graveyards. And it’s not just Bush. This Republican-controlled one party state of ours is wallowing in scandal.

Notes Salon’s Peter Dizikes:

Consider the raw materials of scandal that this administration has produced: False claims about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. Torture in Abu Ghraib. The virtually treasonous exposure of a CIA agent by White House officials. And those are just the best-known examples.

After all, how many citizens can name all the ongoing investigations of Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm? Who remembers that the administration illicitly diverted $700 million from Afghanistan to Iraq? Or that, on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans stole strategy memos from Democrats, while a House Republican said he was offered a bribe during a crucial vote? Even a conscientious citizen cannot be expected to keep score, so Salon has compiled a list.

If the next four years of Bush and the GOP running the federal government are anything like the previous four, however, potential scandals will lead to few political consequences for the Republicans. Bush opponents will likely be disappointed if they are waiting for a renewal of the supposed "second-term scandal jinx" dogging Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Clinton.

Indeed, Dizikes has compiled a list of 34 scandals that can be laid directly at the feed of Republicans. Some are specific to the Bush White House. Others are more general. But it’s a pretty damning list, one which should be examined thoroughly.

So what have we got? American soldiers sodomizing prisoners with lightbulbs? Yup. White House officials disclosing the identity of a CIA operative, an act of treason? Yup. A war based on false pretenses, an act which is both a felony and an impeachable offense? Yup. Bush shirking his National Guard duties? Yup. Indeed, Bush being eligible for the National Guard at all? Yup. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s conflicts of interest regarding Dick Cheney’s energy task force? Yup. John Ashcroft’s illegal campaign contributions? Blatant lies about unclean air at Ground Zero? Conservative commentators paid to promote Bush policies? Wiretapping the United Nations? Halliburton business dealings with Iran while Dick Cheney was CEO? No-bid Halliburton contracts in Iraq? Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup.

And that’s just, for the most part, the past four years. What about Bush getting off the hook for insider trading with a little help from daddy? What about Bush ties to the Bin Laden family? What about those 90,000+ Florida voters (half of them African Americans) who were illegally removed from voter rolls?

If this sort of stuff happened in other countries, what do you think would happen? I’m no expert on world politics, but I suspect it would involve leaders swinging from trees and cars being overturned in streets. I suspect it would involve society voluntarily shutting itself down until the despots were removed from power. Are we really this self-medicated on the Ritalin of American Idol and Desperate Housewives? Where is the outrage? Clinton was impeached for, what was it again, oral sex?

So I guess my question, then, is the same one Leykis posed. At what point is this camel’s back going to break? How much more straw can this poor dromedary hold? What else can BushCo possibly get away with? What will it take for us to stop calling this spade a paintbrush? Will we have to wait until AMERICAblog finds photos of Bush buggering Jeff Gannon? Are we really that apathetic?

21 February 2005

The Grand Inquisitor

It has become rather fashionable to criticize the Bush administration by way of George Orwell’s 1984. The parallel certainly rings true in a number of ways. Like Big Brother, the Bush administration always seems be watching. There have been numerous reports of U.S. citizens being threatened, censored, spied on and interrogated, both by the FBI and Secret Service. Citizens are also snitching on one another. Some have been fired. This for often what are innocent acts of free speech. The Bush administration is likewise famous for its doublethink, in which, for example, the Clear Skies initiative means everything but. Perhaps more chilling is the way the Bush administration seeks to recreate reality. Former justifications for war have been retroactively changed. Government websites have been purged. Reality is recreated each day. The past is irrelevant.

But Orwell isn’t the only author to which we can look for help in understanding BushCo. There’s also Dostoevsky. Take The Grand Inquisitor chapter of The Brothers Karamazov.

The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s final novel, is a complex story about God, murder and family. It’s a tale of four sons, each with his own stark motivation for patricide. Embedded within this novel is perhaps the most famous single chapter in all of literature. A story within a story, The Grand Inquisitor is a parable of Jesus of Nazareth’s return to earth, in the sixteenth century, to the Spanish town of Seville. The following summary is courtesy of Spark Notes:

(Jesus) begins to heal the sick, but his ministrations are interrupted by the arrival of a powerful cardinal who orders his guards to arrest Christ. Late that night, this cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, visits Christ’s cell and explains why he has taken him prisoner and why he cannot allow Christ to perform his works. Throughout the Grand Inquisitor’s lecture, Christ listens silently.

The Grand Inquisitor tells Christ that he cannot allow him to do his work on Earth, because his work is at odds with the work of the Church. The Inquisitor reminds Christ of the time, recorded in the Bible, when the Devil presented him with three temptations, each of which he rejected. The Grand Inquisitor says that by rejecting these three temptations, he guaranteed that human beings would have free will. Free will, he says, is a devastating, impossible burden for mankind. Christ gave humanity the freedom to choose whether or not to follow him, but almost no one is strong enough to be faithful, and those who are not will be damned forever. The Grand Inquisitor says that Christ should have given people no choice, and instead taken power and given people security instead of freedom. That way, the same people who were too weak to follow Christ to begin with would still be damned, but at least they could have happiness and security on Earth, rather than the impossible burden of moral freedom. The Grand Inquisitor says that the Church has now undertaken to correct Christ’s mistake. The Church is taking away freedom of choice and replacing it with security.

In today’s world, the Bush Administration is the church and George Bush the Grand Inquisitor. Bush has given us security in exchange for our freedom. He has given us happiness in exchange for knowledge of the truth. He has given us peace in exchange for slavery. We have been given the sweet, mind-numbing nectar of contentment. In exchange, we have given him authority, authority to take away our liberty. We are drones and chattel, and we must never question why.

16 February 2005

The Soundtrack of My Life

Bad Christian has thrown down the gauntlet. He has a poignant post on his blog about the musical soundtrack of his life. Then he went and invited other people to do the same. Streak did. Now it’s my turn.

I’ve been listening to music all my life. I grew up in church after all. Hymns come with the territory. More important, though, is the way in which music winds its way through the map of my life. Music has always been in the background, making the journey all the more emotive and interesting. But it’s also been a main character.

Junior high and high school were standard stuff. I started with hip-hop, moved to top 40 and ended up at CCM. Like a lot of youth group kids, I decided that the best way to show my Christian witness was to give up “secular” music for “Christian” music. For a while I had the best of both worlds. If you can call any CCM best. But finally I got rid of all my “secular” CDs and started listening to DC Talk, Third Day, Jars of Clay and anything else that was “Christian.”

During my transition from high school to college, I started getting frustrated with Christianity. Well, not so much Christianity. But the church. I questioned all the assumptions I had, all the lies I had been taught growing up. It was around that time that I discovered a 60s/70s musician named Larry Norman. He shook my world. Over a musical tapestry of rock, folk, gospel and blues, Norman encouraged me to rethink this thing.

Norman was, and still is, loaded with contradictions. He openly criticized the CCM world. But, as one of the first Christians to lace rock music with lyrics about Jesus, he’s pretty much responsible for the genre. Yet the genre wanted nothing to do with him. In his songs, Norman openly denounced the war in Vietnam, the space program and racism. He sang about environmental issues and sexually transmitted diseases. And Jesus, too. His lyrics were clever and his music was actually, you know, good. In the 90s, he was still at it, leveling charges at the Pope for sitting on immense wealth, the Aryans for making Jesus white and the first Bush administration for invading Iraq for oil. The guy is still doing his thing today. He’s in poor health, but he’s a tremendous influence.

The other band that has radically changed my life is an independent band from Seattle called Pedro the Lion. I discovered them in college. Actually, at least back then, “them” was mostly a guy named David Bazan. Today T.W. Walsh is a permanent fixture, too. Anyway, Bazan’s stuff initially attracted me due to its sheer honesty. The music was simple and the vocals mumblish. But this was a guy crooning lines like “Then there’s your girlfriend/ She opens her legs and gives you life meaning/ Is that what you love her for?” and “Could someone please tell me the story of sinners ransomed from the fall?/ I still have never seen You and some days I don't love You at all.” Dissatisfied with himself, Christianity and the state of the arts, Bazan’s lyrical prowess and humble delivery hit me hard. Today Bazan’s songs are populated with cheating husbands, murderous wives, faithless priests and lonely alcoholics. Sad, beautiful and depressing as hell, this is what music should sound like.

Those are the two biggest musical influences on my life thus far. There are so many others. I love the abrasive hip-hop poetry of Sage Francis, the exploratory brooding of The Accident Experiment and the revolutionary mentality of Paris. I love the playful creativity of L.A. Symphony, the Sunday School on speed quirkiness of Half-Handed Cloud and the hallucinogenic soundscapes of Starflyer 59.

What about you? Who rocks your world?

15 February 2005

The Wrongs of the "Christian" Right

So I already knew that multi-millionaire televangelist Pat Robertson used his Operation Blessing outreach as a front for diamond mining with late African dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Allegedly, of course. But it wasn't until this week that I learned about Jerry "Blow Them Away in the Name of the Lord" Falwell being in bed with Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon. Allegedly, of course.

Rigorous Intuition explains:

Many of America's conservative Christians may be surprised to learn their Christian Right isn't so Christian anymore. Over the past 15 years, it's been largely bought, borrowed, compromised and blackmailed by Reverend Sun Myung Moon. And what Moon represents is yet another hub in the fascist/intelligence/criminal nexus of money laundering, drug trafficking and arms dealing we frequently see behind the thinning veil of America.

In my last post I speculated that Moon may have dangled unsavoury details of the White House call boy scandal over the head of George HW Bush in order to gain influence. It's certainly true that, just a few years before, Moon was either an embarrassment or a pariah to Republicans and evangelicals alike. (That was when they were merely alike, and not, effectively, one and the same.) In 1978, Jerry Falwell told Esquire that "Reverend Sun Myung Moon is like the plague: he exploits boys and girls, and he should be exported [sic]." Then, in 1994, one of Moon's many front organizations gifted Falwell's Liberty Baptist University $3.5 million, and otherwise forgave tens of millions of dollars in debt. Falwell's college was saved, by Moon, and surprise: Falwell changed his tune.

Moon is the same fellow behind American Clergy Leadership Conference, a George W. Bush-supported organization dedicated to removing the cross from, no, not courtrooms and high school classes. Nope. From churches. Particularly African American ones.


14 February 2005

Donnie Darko: Director's Cut

Posted by Hello

One of my three favorite movies is being released on DVD tomorrow. Donnie Darko: Director's Cut is a sadly beautiful film about a borderline-schizophrenic teenager who sees visions of a six-foot tall demonic rabbit. A genre-bending film if ever there were one, Darko is equal parts science fiction, teen comedy, superhero romance, family drama, mystery, horror, 80s retro and scathing satire. It's also a quirky tale of educational failure, teen angst, deux ex machina, apocalyptic woe and salvation. The Director's Cut version adds 20 minutes back into the film, giving it both more nuance and complexity. Plus it stars Jena Malone, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle and Patrick Swayze.

Incidentally, Darko director Richard Kelly also has a new film coming out called Southland Tales. I expect it to be just as amazing.

More on Film

In response to my musings about film, Nicole asks:

How do we combat the asinine standards of the public? For example, my being in children's mental health means that my hands are effectively tied when it come to showing R rated movies, no matter how effective a lesson such a film might be. I cannot show such films to clients without parental consent. (Mind you, I can show all sorts of shallow, damaging non R rated films.)...how do we act on this?

I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes its best to work from within a system in hopes of making a difference. Sometimes its best to drive out the moneychangers with a whip.

In the case of working in a mental health facility, your hands really are tied (unless you want to start your own hospital or lose your job). Likewise, my mother-in-law is a youth pastor. There's a certain set of expectations that comes with that territory. Showing her youth group Requiem for a Dream probably isn't one of them (although, again, it's hypocritical to show The Passion of the Christ, but not other R-rated films).

So what to do? My suggestion would be to screen quality G, PG and PG-13 films, instead of shitty G, PG and PG-13 films. There are many such films worth viewing. There are many that contain beauty, grace and truth, and from which young people could learn much. Just off the top of my head there's The Apartment, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Edward Scissorhands, Harold and Maude, The Village, The Incredibles, The Karate Kid, The Prince of Egypt, It's a Wonderful Life, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Remember the Titans, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Monsters, Inc., Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 and The Truman Show. Those are the sort of "safe," non-shallow, non-damaging films for which you're looking.

13 February 2005

Revisiting "The Passion of the Christ" part 2

In my last Passion post, I never got around to saying what I don’t like about the Passion. It’s this: I feel that Passion is gratuitously violent.

As I hinted earlier, I’m all for sex and violence in the arts if it’s warranted, if it serves a purpose. Gibson’s film, however, feels like bloodbath for bloodbath’s sake. It doesn’t make me appreciate that Christ died for my sins. It makes me wince, duck down in my seat and look at my watch. Passion feels like it was made by a guy whose parents never let him watch any Friday the 13th movies, so he decided to make his own. Only about Jesus.

I’m also becoming more skeptical of Gibson’s intentions. As Jeffrey Overstreet notes, Gibson is re-releasing a special edition of Passion, minus five minutes of gore:

My real question: Which five minutes? Is the crow eating the thief's eyes gone? The barbed whip to the gut? The nail-pounding? The "flip the cross over" maneuver? The crown of thorn pressing? A few of the many stumbles along the path? I thought the whole point was to "put us there" for every drop of blood along the way?

As I've said before, I admire the film in some ways, but I'm disappointed by it in other ways. There are many films that bring me to a rewarding meditation on the sufferings of Christ without bludgeoning me so intensely that I can't think straight.

And after hearing so many come to the defense of the film's extreme violence, I wonder... why back-pedal now? Is this an admission that it was too violent to begin with?

I'm sure Gibson's intentions have nothing to do with profit. But, as Overstreet also points out, according to tabloid-rag New York Daily News, Gibson has apparently bought himself an island. Yeah, that’s what every good Christian needs.

Meanwhile, in New York, a camel was spotted trying to ram its way through Cleopatra's Needle.

12 February 2005

Revisiting "The Passion of the Christ"

Not long after Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ came out, I was talking on the phone with a woman who is a friend of my wife’s family. She asked if my wife and I had seen the film. I told her that we had. She then talked for a bit about how much she enjoyed Gibson’s movie. Most of her appreciation was couched in the idea that Passion is a beautiful and moving portrayal of Christ’s love for the world. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but, touching on the film’s intense violence, she basically said, “He did all that for me.”

I have mixed feelings about Gibson’s film. From an artistic standpoint, it’s well done. Gibson is a competent director who knows how to tell a story cinematically. Of the movies I’ve seen about the life of Jesus, Passion is the best (unless you consider Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the wonderful Jesus of Montreal to be “about the life of Jesus,” in which case it’s a tossup. Perhaps most interesting to me, though, is how Passion points to the hypocrisy of the church in this country.

The church’s attitude towards cinema, in particular, and the arts, in general, is changing a bit. Some Christians try to create beautiful art, in the belief that art reflects God’s creativity. Others view art as a new language with which to communicate the gospel. Then there are those who try to do both.

But many Christians still view cinema with suspicion. I’m generalizing here, of course, but many Christians are afraid of the movies. The church I grew up in, for instance, was filled with parents who wouldn’t allow their children to watch R-rated films. And I’m talking high school students here, not fourth graders. Our pastor, who never denounced racism from the pulpit or preached a sermon about feeding the poor, would make us change the channel on youth group outings whenever a swear word popped up on television (boxing, however, was OK). This brand of film viewer considers a film “good” if it doesn’t contain violence, sex, drug use, swearing or hostility towards Christianity. A film is “bad” if it does contain these things. The context of this violence, sex, drug use, swearing or hostility towards Christianity is irrelevant.

Of course, the Bible is chock full of these things (except maybe the drug use). The Bible contains gang rapes, brutal executions, murder plots, incest, seduction, sex slavery, forced foreskin removal, genocide, prophets who marry prostitutes and who walk about naked, violent poetic imagery rivaling anything you’ve ever heard in a gangster rap song, and even a lengthy erotic poem. The King James version has quasi-swear words (whore, prick, piss). Some scholars will tell you that the original biblical text features words that could be translated as “shit” and “fuck.” As Franky Schaeffer once noted, if the Bible were made into a movie, as it’s written, it would be rated R. Parts would be rated NC-17.

Gibson’s movie proves this. And Christians flocked to it in droves.

Of course, there are dozens of R-rated films that deserve to be seen. Films that are filled with truth, hope, grace, love and redemption. Films that are important and that need to be seen. Films that are violent and sexual without being gratuitous. Films that are violent and sexual because real life is violent and sexual.

The Thin Red Line. Donnie Darko. Pulp Fiction. A Clockwork Orange. Sling Blade. Magnolia. Requiem for a Dream. Rushmore. Se7en. Fight Club. The Ice Storm. Terminator 2. Saving Private Ryan. Saved! The Rapture. Punch Drunk Love. Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her. Good Will Hunting. Bowling for Columbine. Fargo. Chasing Amy. These are films Christians should be watching. But some Christians won’t. For them, these films are either too explicit or too dangerous. For some reason, though, the Bible they read is not.

11 February 2005


On Wednesday, Memoryblog reported that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has a new policy related to the public release and online posting of reports and Commission documents. The Commission’s homepage notes that “to comply with that new policy, the website has been updated and several draft reports that failed to receive a majority of Commissioners' votes have been removed.”

When you read between the lines, what that means is that the Republican majority of the Commission has made it much harder for you to read reports that are either A) embarrassing to the Bush Administration (particularly a September 2004 report entitled Redefining Rights in America: The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration) or B) politically inconvenient for the Republican Party.

Here’s a list of the missing reports:

* Briefing on Boundaries of Justice: Immigration Policies Post-September 11 (October 2001)

* Briefing on Civil Rights Issues Facing Muslims and Arab Americans in Ohio Post-September 11 (November 2001)

* Briefing on Civil Rights Issues Facing Muslims and Arab Americans in Minnesota Post-September 11 (February 2002)

* Briefing on Civil Rights Issues Facing Muslims and Arab Americans in Wisconsin Post-September 11 (April 2002)

* Briefing on Civil Rights Issues Facing Muslims and Arab Americans in Indiana Post-September 11 (May 2002)

* Briefing on the Consequences of Government Race Data Collection Bans on Civil Rights (May 2002)

* Briefing on Civil Rights Issues Facing Muslims and Arab Americans in North Dakota Post-September 11 (May 2002)

* Haitian Asylum Seekers and U.S. Immigration Policy (June 2002)

* Voting Rights in Florida 2002: Briefing Summary (August 2002)

* Briefing on Tragedy Along the Arizona-Mexico Border: Undocumented Immigrants Face Death in the Desert (August 2002)

* Beyond Percentage Plans: The Challenge of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (November 2002)

* Crossing Borders: The Administration of Justice and Civil Rights Protections in the Immigration and Asylum Context (January 2003)

* Education Accountability and High-Stakes Testing in the Carolinas (February 2003)

* The Supreme Court Revisits Affirmative Action: Will Grutter and Gratz Mean the End of Bakke? (April 2003)

* The U.S. Department of Education’s Race-Neutral Alternatives in Postsecondary Education: Innovative Approaches to Diversity-Are They Viable Substitutes for Affirmative Action? (May 2003)

* Anniversary Update on Commission Activities Related to September 11 (September 2003)

* Native American Health Care Disparities Briefing Summary (February 2004)

* Is America Ready to Vote? Election Readiness Briefing Paper (July 2004)

* Closing the Achievement Gap: The Impact of Standards Based Education Reform (July 2004)

* Redefining Rights in America: The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration (September 2004)

Lucky for you, The Memory Hole has obtained copies of 17 of these 20 reports. These unflattering documents can now be read online. Go get ‘em.

09 February 2005

Speaking of Homeless Vets...

There's an article up at Alternet that is very much worth reading.

One in Three American Homeless Men is a Military Veteran

Yes, you read that correctly. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (via Russ Kick's latest book, 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know Volume 2), one in three homeless men in the United States is a military vet. This is stunning.

But it's also hopeful. Why? Well, because knowing a statistic like that puts a face on a problem. It also shatters stereotypes that we'd just as soon have stick around. We'd all love to believe that the homeless people we ignore are just lazy. We'd love to believe that they choose this "lifestyle." We'd love to believe that they could get a job if they really wanted one. We'd love to believe that they're all alcoholics and drug addicts who are getting what they deserve. We'd love to believe that somehow these men, women and, increasingly, children are subhuman. That gets us off the hook. In this era of yellow ribbons, a statistic like this one hits dangerously close to home. It makes us uncomfortable. It might actually make us do something. Something other than staring at the ground or pretending to be engaged in conversation when we "pass by to the other side of the road."

There's more good news. If you live in the Chicagoland area, there's at least one tangible way you can help the homeless very soon. On Saturday, February 19th, and Sunday, February 20th, a group of students from across the Midwest is getting together for a "sleep out."

Right on Michigan Avenue, the heart of Chicago consumerism, these students will be raising awareness of issues of homelessness, hunger and poverty. They'll do that by spending a 24-hour period as a mass group of "homeless" people. This grassroots coalition will also be calling on local, state and national governmental leaders to make changes that improve the lives of those living in poverty.

Confirmed participants include the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the National Coalition for the Homeless, Call to Renewal, Protestants for the Common Good, students from North Park University, Moody Bible Institute, Judson College, Illinois State University, University of Illinois Champagne Urbana, Marquette University, Muskegan College and Washington University in St. Louis. And, from what I understand, students from Wheaton College will also be on hand. You can find out more at To the Streets.

Anyways, I'll be there. And so should you.

05 February 2005

On Language, Thoughts, Behavior, and an Excellent Way to Snag a Husband

Recently, the always insightful Natalie raised questions about the relationship between language, thought and behavior. Specifically, Natalie wondered how we can ever understand a book like the Bible, given that we are separated from its writers both by thousands of years and by what often seem to be insurmountable cultural and anthropological barriers. What can we make of a book written by and to a culture that is so very different from our own? It’s a great question and has direct implications in how the Bible is interpreted.

A perfect example comes from the book of Ruth, the eighth book in the Protestant Christian Bible. Ruth was a Moabite woman whose father-in-law, Elimelech, had settled in a land called Moab. Elimelech died there, and his two sons married, Mahlon taking Ruth for his wife, and Chilion taking Orpah. Both women were from Moab; both sons likewise died.

Naomi, Elimelech's bereaved wife, heard that a famine in the land of Judah had passed, and decided to return there. Ruth accompanied her mother-in-law to Bethlehem, at the beginning of barley harvest, in a state of poverty. Elimelech had had an inheritance of land among his people, but, unless a redeemer could be found, Naomi would be compelled to sell the property. Elimelech had a prosperous relative in Bethlehem whose name was Boaz. Naomi sent Ruth to glean grain in his fields, and, after Boaz had acted kindly towards her, she, acting on the advice of her mother-in-law, approached him. Eventually Ruth became the wife of Boaz and gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David.

That’s the shortened, sanitized for Sunday School version. In that version, Ruth is a compassionate daughter-in-law who fights to save herself and her mother-in-law from poverty. However, to fully appreciate the tale of Ruth, it helps to understand a particular Hebrew euphemism.

Victor Shepherd, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, explains:

Ruth, we should note, wasn't "Miss Goody-Goody Two Shoes." She was calculating, manipulative, devious. We mustn't sentimentalize her. She knew she needed a husband. A widow, in those days, was marginalized on all fronts at once. To be sure, Ruth had been allowed to glean in the field belonging to Boaz as a way of fending off dire poverty. To glean was to pick up stalks of grain that had fallen out of harvesters' arms, as well as to cut the grain left standing at the fringe of the field. It was hard work for little food. It would avert starvation, but no more than this. Ruth wanted more. She wanted a husband. And she snared one, really "snared" him, since she used the shabbiest entrapment to get him.

Now this is where the story of Ruth gets earthy, so earthy, in fact, that one commentator has written that preachers ought not to tell their congregations of Ruth's "indelicacy." I disagree. To withhold scripture from people is to falsify the gospel, and therefore I am going to plunge ahead and tell you where and how Ruth was "indelicate."

Here's what happened. At the conclusion of the day's harvesting Boaz was thirsty. He drank some wine. He drank more wine, and more still. Now he was deep into the "twilight zone." In fact he was beyond the twilight zone. Whereupon, we read in Holy Scripture, "Ruth came softy and uncovered his feet and lay down." Now to "uncover one's feet" in Hebrew idiom means to expose one's genitals. Ruth exposed Boaz. Next verse in our story: "At midnight Boaz was startled, turned over, and behold a woman lay at his feet." "Who are you?" Boaz asked, and she replied, "I am Ruth, your maidservant. Spread your skirt over your maidservant." Whereupon Boaz flipped his cloak over Ruth and covered himself up as well.

What had happened was this. Ruth had "uncovered the feet of Boaz," exposed him. He had drunk too much wine to be aware of this. When finally he did wake up, he saw that he was exposed, and Ruth as well. Plainly she had exposed herself as well; that's why she had said, "Cover up your maidservant." But because Boaz had drunk so much wine, he couldn't remember what had happened; specifically he couldn't remember whether you-know-what had happened. He only knew that he had awakened, naked, with a naked woman beside him. It would certainly appear that something had happened, and so he thought that the only proper thing left him to do was to marry Ruth. He did.

In other words, Ruth blackmailed Boaz. She falsified herself and trapped him.

Now, you've probably not heard the story of Ruth told quite that way. Largely that's because many Christians don't know that "uncovered feet" really means "exposed genitals." It's amazing that the meaning of a narrative can change so much based on such a seemingly inconsequential phrase.

03 February 2005

Alternative Media Matters

Hang out here long enough and you’re going to discover that I don’t like the American media very much. That’s putting it mildly. The state of journalism in this country is an absolute shambles. There are a variety of reasons for this, ones that I’m not going to get into now. Suffice it to say, if all you do is watch the news on television and read the daily newspaper, you’re not learning what you need to know.

It’s been encouraging over the last couple of years to see alternative media sources become more popular. Blogs, alternative weeklies, documentary films, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, books, these are all good things. I hope that in the long run these rebel forms of media do inform, instead of becoming catch alls for people who agree with one another.

I’m particularly excited about blogging. The mainstream media has openly criticized blogging. Those who called the 2004 election results into question were called “Internet conspiracy theorists,” I guess it’s easier for journalists to denounce blogging than for them to, say, do their jobs. Investigating things is a lot of work and costs a lot of money. No wonder newspaper reporters spend their time rewriting press releases instead.

At any rate, the blitz of summer political documentaries isn’t quite over yet. There’s a new film coming out that examines the media’s compliance in this war in Iraq business. View the trailer here if you’ve got broadband and here if you don't.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Controversy

There's a Christian bookstore near me that sells Harry Potter books. One of 31 Logos Bookstores in the United States, Canada and the Bahamas, this establishment is courting controversy because it believes Christians ought to know what's going on in that big ol' scary world out there. I respect that philosophy very much. In fact, I'm apt to make a trip to Oak Brook to see it for myself.

The reason for this sales decision (besides profit margins and generating controversy, the oldest and best marketing campaign) is to spark dialogue. I'm all for that. I hope this generates discussion, both within Christianity and betwixt the flock and unbelievers. What annoys me is this overarching idea that these Potter books are somehow anti-Christian. As National Review columnist Dave Kopel notes in his review of The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, this notion is patently false.

Lewis and Tolkien (for the most part) were able to get away with having heroes who were sorcerers and who conjured powerful magic. Why can’t Rowling? Because she’s a successful woman? Because she’s a working mother? Because she’s a capable writer? Because her religious critics haven’t read her books? Because American Christians would rather hate on fantasy novels than feed the poor, as Jesus commanded? I dunno.

I’m also baffled as to why Rowling’s Presbyterianism is not a factor here. American Christians believe George Bush when he says that he’s one of them. I’m not sure why. He produces little, if any, fruit. He doesn’t obey Jesus’ commands. He doesn’t reflect the character of the shepherd. All he can seem to come up with is to “pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” Nice work if you can get it.

Nonetheless, this is a step in the right direction. Now I know of two Christian bookstores in this world (both in Illinois) that provide their customers with more than theologically impotent smut like Left Behind.

01 February 2005

Picture Pages, Picture Pages...

You're probably unfamilar with Russ Kick. Even so, chances are you've seen his work. Kick is the man directly responsible for you seeing all those flag-draped military coffins returning from Iraq last year. In April 2004, he posted 288 of these photos at The Memory Hole, setting off a worldwide media frenzy. If Kick hadn't posted those photos, you might never have seen them.

Kick runs the aforementioned Memory Hole. This site publishes and preserves material that is in danger of being lost or fading into obscurity, including, but not limited to, government files, corporate memos, court documents, photographs, maps, patents and web pages. Basically, if there's a document that powerful people would rather you not see, you'll probably find it here.

Yesterday Kick posted some photographs of our government cuddling up with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. Who?

Here's what Guardian Reporter Nick Paton Walsh had to say about the situation back in 2003:

Independent human rights groups estimate that there are more than 600 politically motivated arrests a year in Uzbekistan, and 6,500 political prisoners, some tortured to death. According to a forensic report commissioned by the British embassy, in August two prisoners were even boiled to death.

The US condemned this repression for many years. But since September 11 rewrote America's strategic interests in central Asia, the government of President Islam Karimov has become Washington's new best friend in the region.

The U.S. supporting and giving aid to butchers, terrorists and madmen? Nope. We've never done that before. Oh wait, except with some guys named Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Things That Annoyed Me Today

1) I lost a glove. How annoying is that? I got a new pair of gloves for Christmas and took them back for a refund, partially because they were too big, and partially because they were from Wal-Mart (I haven't purchased anything from Wal-Mart in more than a year). So then the wife got me a new pair. So then I lost half the set.

It's funny. Down South you always see shoes on the side of the road. I'm not sure how people in Tennessee keep losing their shoes. Up North, people lose gloves. I know, I know. It's because they fall out of pockets. But why did it have to be me? I'm so ashamed.

2) The IRS is going to kick some ass at our place this year. The wife worked for most of the year for a dentist in Glen Ellyn. That's a suburb of Chicago. I worked there for a little while over the summer, part time. Easy gig. Free hot chocolate. Lots of tedious paperwork.

Anyways, somehow neither of us noticed that this family-owned business didn't bother to withdraw any federal income tax from our pay before giving it to us. Um, yeah. Not one damn dime. WTF!? How incompetant can you possibly be? Why would we want to pay all these taxes in one lump sum at the end of the year?

Now, obviously this is partially our fault for not paying attention. But the wife worked at this establishment in 2003 and in 2003 she had federal income tax deducted.

So, yeah, I'm annoyed.

Oh, and it would be really mean (and probably illegal) of me to name names. But I will say that if you're reading this and your dentist is a Christian of Indian decent who works in Glen Ellyn, you should really think about switching oral health care providers. If I can't trust the guy to pay us correctly, you probably don't want him in your mouth with a drill. You've been warned.