priests & paramedics

“Ivan Illich was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society. Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. ‘Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story.” • Tim Costello

23 July 2008

The Greatest Song Ever

OK, forgive the hyperbole.

It's not the greatest song ever written; it's simply my favorite of the moment. The song in question is "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" from Weezer's latest eponymous record (known affectionately as The Red Album). And it's the undisputed heavyweight champion of my summer playlist.

Now I'm not claiming that Weezer have achieved the pinnacle of songwriting, or that the song is even quasi-intellectual... in fact, since their inception, Weezer have succeeded in producing some of the smartest dumb rock music of the last 15 or so years (Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer and chief songwriter, is a Harvard grad, mind you). It's not brainless dreck, mind you – the album was produced by Rick Rubin (the guy who discovered the Beastie Boys, helped an all-but-dead Johnny Cash find his voice, and created the Red Hot Chili Peppers' masterpiece Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic).

The song is six minutes of pure, unadulterated fun. Like the subtitle suggests, it's all based on the melody of the old Shaker hymn that starts the song. From there, it explores hip-hop, pop, battle march, heavy metal, Gregorian chant, spoken word, punk and Queen-style bombast. It's a mini rock opera in the theme of The Who's Tommy and Green Day's American Idiot, compressed down into a taut five minutes and fifty-two seconds. Good luck trying to cram those disparate styles into a whole record, let alone one song.

Weezer's brand of nerd-core is the perfect summer album. With the Greatest Song of the Summer. If you're a fan of ridiculous, over-top-braggadocio (sample lyric: "After the havoc that I'm gonna wreak / No more words will critics have to speak), you won't want to miss this song. It may change your life. As Weezer say, "I am the greatest man that ever lived / I was born to give."

So give I do. Enjoy.

04 April 2008

Come and Die

Early morning; April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last!
They took your life
They could not take your pride

Today marks the anniversary of a dark chapter in our nation's history. 40 years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on the balcony of a Memphis motel.

Looking back as we remember King's legacy, and his gospel-informed, peaceful approach to societal change, we are compelled to remember the ones who went before us and sacrificed their livelihood and sometimes even their lives.

King was a modern-day martyr who embodied the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."

26 January 2008

"I Know It When I See It"

By the way, Rumplestiltskin says hello. I ran into him during my vacation from the blogosphere. He's well, but I had to bring that up to explain my absence. Forgive me, I'm back. For now, at least.

Read on.

If you're not already aware, I am the pastor of a church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (CityChurch) which seeks to be a church that desires cultural engagement rather than cultural retreat.

I relay that little tidbit because I received an email this morning from someone who had attended a recent event that our church had sponsored. CityChurch hosts a monthly series called Cinema Vérité where we show an important film on the big screen at our local art house theatre, and hold a discussion. The person who wrote the email is from another local church, and wanted to know why a church would show a film like Magnolia – not an invalid question, if you've ever seen it.

What follows is part of my response to him (edited in order to make sense to you, dearest blog-reader):

CityChurch desires to be a people who encounter regular, normal people who don't know Jesus, or who have never even heard the gospel in the first place. We don't expect people to come to us, rather we go to them in the form of our people developing relationships that they have through their neighborhood, their family, their work, their local coffee shop, etc. We believe that the church is about people and that people must be very gracious and winsome in any relationship when it comes to engaging someone with the gospel.

The reason I say that, is because that's one of the reasons we sponsor Cinema Vérité. Other than the fact that it gives us the opportunity to show great films, it is simply a way to enter into the discussion about humanity, life, God, death, morality, purpose... the list goes on.

We leave the "safe" confines of our church, and enter into a public art house, show good films and open up the floor for discussion. Furthermore, while I enjoy seeing these films, the purpose of Cinema Vérité is not to show movies with our Christian friends and have a good time. We're wasting a lot of time, money and energy if that's the purpose. It is intentionally a forum that is a safe place for non-Christians – together with Christians – to discuss this stuff. Usually for the first time.

Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), the proprietors of Cinema Paradiso (the theatre) are on board with what we're doing. They were originally nervous about Christians coming in and doing what Christians normally do (preaching at, seeking to convert, judging), but they have seen that we have been gracious in our discussions... raising more questions than we answer... prodding people to seek God as he is revealed in the Scriptures.

And that's why we showed Magnolia. When you watch the film in its entirety, you have the opportunity to see that it was far and away the most "Christian" film we have shown, and will show for some time now – the discussion that followed gave proof to that as well.

At CityChurch, we believe there is more humanity, depravity, redemption and grace in a film like Magnolia than in other "Christian" films such as Omega Code, Facing the Giants, etc. Some of the most graphic, gothic and vulgar (not in the usual sense, but rather, as Flannery O'Connor defined – "common," "raw," "real") works of art are by those who have professed genuine faith in Jesus. Artists like U2, Walker Percy, Johnny Cash, David Bazan, Anne Lamott and even O'Connor herself. Sadly, Christian art for so long has been safe, tame and... not very real.

And again, that's why we chose Magnolia. We believe that this film shows the flawed, fallen, broken, destructive side of the human soul. It shows what happens when people isolate themselves from one another, when people destroy one another for their own foolish gain, when people don't seek reconciliation, and much, much more. It's possible that no film we will ever show again will expose our deep-seated need for redemption quite as well as Magnolia does.

Yes, there are some sex scenes at the beginning, and I don't want to downplay them. But those scenes, while graphic, are not pornographic. Those scenes (as part of the montage that sets up the tragic lives of nine interconnected people) are instrumental in establishing two of the central characters: a victim, and a victimizer... both of whom are in need of the grace that they will taste at the end of the film. They are hard to watch, ugly to look at, brutal to experience. But here's where they differentiate from pornography: they are not gratuitous... they are not intended to glorify the act... they are not intended to titillate. They are there to show – dare I say – need.

Need for hope.

Need for deliverance.

Need for God.

There is no way to keep everything that happens in and around the church pure. Simply put, as long as I am the pastor of CityChurch this will never be the case. I am an impure, needy, sinful and broken man who is constantly reminded that I need the gospel.

If I didn't, there would be no reason for Jesus to have lived, died and conquered the grave. For me.


13 August 2007

King of Kings

Hank and family shop for a new church. No explanation necessary.

27 June 2007

Christian Clown Training

I know I haven't posted in something like 4 months, but this should make up for it.

This video might be the creepiest thing on the internet. When I am old and in a nursing home, if clowns are allowed to roam the halls freely, consider yourself the defendant in a malpractice suit.

28 February 2007

Church-Growth Strategy

This is just too good to be true.

It seems as though some guy named Rev. Craig Rubin has started a new "church" in Hollywood, California called Temple 420.

To some of you, the name will immediately clue you in as to what goes on at this "church," but for those less informed (the ones with all their brain cells remaining), read on.

This "church" welcomes people of any and every religious persuasion, which isn't necessarily unusual... what is unusual is the fact that they are the the target of a criminal investigation.

This criminal investigation was due to fact that the Reverend Rubin uses marijuana smoke to carry the prayers of the congregation up to God. The pot is smoked, apparently, in some kind of censer in front of the congregation (imagine an old Catholic priest... but he's really mellow. And smells like burning rope).

Apparently, members can also purchase some of this burning bush for a small "donation" for use in the home. New members must sign an agreement professing, among other things, that "the God of the Bible created cannabis for the healing of all nations."

That's quite a doctrinal statement.

The comment by the investigating officer is priceless: "They were trying to set it up under the guise of a religious right and then be able to sidestep marijuana laws. The deal was for a $100 initiation fee and $100 annual fee, you could buy all the pot you wanted for quote-unquote 'religious purposes.' That's bull$#!%."

I thought I'd heard it all.

Apparently not.

27 February 2007

College Sports

If you need a reason as to why college athletics are better than those offered by professional jocks, the argument is now officially over.

Spare me the "I want to watch the best athletes in the world" argument.

I'm watching the Tennessee / Florida men's basketball game, and sitting in the stands is former UT quarterback and Superbowl XLI MVP Peyton Manning.

And UT Football coach Philip Fulmer.

But if that's not enough, Pat Summit (the UT Lady Vols Basketball coach) is dressed in full cheerleader regalia (I mean real cheerleader uniform, not sideline-tramp getup). This is in response to Bruce Pearl's (the UT men's coach) chest-painting at a nationally-televised Lady Vols Basketball game.

Two other coaches.

A campus legend.

If you want pure spectacle... pure entertainment... pure fan-experience, you gotta go with the college game. You like passion? You like athletes playing every game as though something were on the line? You like to watch a football game and hear the sound of a marching band, rather than some jackass pushing the button for Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, part 2?"

The college game is where it's at.