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Top Ten Albums of 2012

January 31, 2013

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Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)…

The 2nd Law by Muse

Babel by Mumford & Sons

Blunderbuss by Jack White

Born to Sing: No Plan B by Van Morrison

Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird

The Carpenter by The Avett Brothers

Enjoy the Company by The Whigs

Fallen Empires by Snow Patrol

Give Us Rest by David Crowder*Band

Glad All Over by The Wallflowers

Go Fly a Kite by Ben Kweller

Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut by Andrew Osenga

Love This Giant by David Byrne & St. Vincent

Mirage Rock by Band of Horses

North by Matchbox Twenty

A Sleep & a Forgetting by Islands

Strangeland by Keane

Synthetica by Metric

Tempest by Bob Dylan

That’s Why God Made the Radio by The Beach Boys

A Thing Called Divine Fits by Divine Fits

This Machine by The Dandy Warhols

A Wasteland Companion by M. Ward

Before the top ten, I would be remiss not to mention…

Song Reader

Song Reader by Beck

I very easily could have placed Beck’s newest “album” at the very top of the top ten based on its ingenuity alone (and it helps that I’ve loved every one of his albums already). Song Reader is one of the freshest, coolest ideas to come out of popular music in decades. Beck has taken all the music he wrote for a new album and, well, didn’t record one. Instead he fashioned sheet music, each with a colorful, diverse, and beautiful cover, and created Song Reader as a way for his fans to experience his music in a completely different way. He’s invited anyone to purchase the music and record it themselves–whether with a full band, one instrument, or simply a computer at their disposal. Beck continues to be a pioneer of modern music and how an audience can experience and participate within the playground he creates.

THE TOP TEN

System Preferences

10.) System Preferences by Earlimart

Earlimart is one of those bands that constantly reinvents itself. Back after a four-year absence, they’ve done it again–this time harboring their melodic songwriting within a multi-instrumental cocoon. It’s one of their most beautiful albums yet. Standout tracks include, “U&Me,” “10 Years,” and “A Goodbye.”

Former Lives

09.) Former Lives by Benjamin Gibbard

Benjamin Gibbard is the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie but it only takes one listen to his past solo work (mostly filed under the name All-Time Quarterback) to see that Death Cab is a sum of a lot more parts than Gibbard himself. His stripped-down, playful, and at times, meditative sound is more akin to Death Cab’s earlier work than the present pop-tinged act. When compared with his first solo project, Former Lives shows the ways in which Gibbard has matured as a songwriter–including his willingness to scale down the grandiosity of his lyrics. The songs hop all over the map from genre to genre, the only constant being Gibbard’s voice and craftsmanship. His collaboration with Aimee Mann is a nice fit–two earnest performers who have a gift for words and wit. It’s just nice to see Gibbard have a place to showcase the kinds of songs that are even a little too quirky for his other band. Standout tracks include “Dream Song,” “Teardrop Windows,” “Bigger Than Love,” “A Hard One to Know,” and “Lady Adelaide.”

Rhythm and Repose

08.) Rhythm and Repose by Glen Hansard

Believe it or not, Glen Hansard has never released a solo album until now. Whether with the Frames or his Once counterpart Marketa Irglova, Hansard’s best attribute is his lone passion-filled waling–and it is definitely on display here. He’s like the combined heart of Cat Stevens and soul of Van Morrison. It’s a much more mood-setting record than his recent work. He lulls you into a very specific place before beginning his tales. And when those tales begin, you don’t want them to end. Standout tracks include “Maybe Not Tonight,” “High Hope,” and “Bird of Sorrow.”

Negotiations

07.) Negotiations by The Helio Sequence

The Helio Sequence sometimes remind me of what Radiohead might have ended up becoming had they stayed on the path The Bends was leading them down. Thankfully, we have both alternate-universe versions of Radiohead–one of them just named something different. Negotiations is full of what makes the Helio Sequence so special–atmospheric and melancholic pop rock perfect for late-night meditations. They are one of my favorite album-artists. They’re not interested in making singles. They’re interested in taking you along on a series of confessionals that add up to a larger whole. Standout tracks include “One More Time,” “October,” “Open Letter,” “When the Shadow Falls,” and “Silence on Silence.”

Wrecking Ball

06.) Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen’s latest has a lot of things going for it. First, he’s always at his best when he really has something to say. Wrecking Ball is mostly a direct response to the financial crisis and the kind of dealings that got us where we are as a nation. He doesn’t pull his punches when he talks about the loose and greedy dealings of big banks and major corporations. This is Springsteen with a rekindled fire under his belly. At the same time, this is the last Springsteen album to feature Clarence Clemons and couldn’t have been handled better. It’s a perfectly executed album of hope amongst decay. Standout tracks include “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and “We Are Alive.”

Battle Born

05.) Battle Born by The Killers

The Killers rightly channel the modern feel of glam rock better than anyone else. But they do it through a foundation of some of the greats in rock and roll from Bruce Springsteen to Queen. The pop sensibilities are often neutered by the driving rock. They’re a band that knows what they’re about and what they want to be–no false faces. Battle Born features Brandon Flowers at his most raw, both musically and lyrically. Neither the melancholy or the hopefulness pulls any punches from track to track. Standout tracks include “Runaways,” “The Way It Was,” “A Matter of Time,” “From Here on Out,” and “Be Still.”

Old World Romance

04.) Old World Romance by Sea Wolf

With each Sea Wolf album, I’ve looked forward to it more and more. With Old World Romance, Alex Brown Church has delved a little bit more inward than on past records. Each song is a little more subdued and quietly evokes a pervading mood. Just by lowering the levels a little, these simple folk pop songs become incredibly dynamic and bombastic in their own way. Church isn’t trying to storm your soul here, his aims are much more sneaky–he’s attempting to lull you into his own head. And it works. Standout tracks include “Old Friend,” “Priscilla,” “Kasper,” “Changing Seasons,” and “Whirlpool.”

The North

03.) The North by Stars

Stars are one of those indie pop bands that I admire greatly. Acts like themselves, The New Pornographers, and Tegan & Sara have been fashioning unique and catchy pop songs for years that reveal the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry for what they truly are–over-produced commercial jingles. Stars, especially, loves to toy with pop genres and utilize its own conventions somewhat like Sufjan Stevens did on Age of Adz. Despite all the shifts in tone, The North glides along perfectly. The music wears its heart on its sleeve and oftentimes feels like something pulled out of a postmodern musical. There’s a little bit more hop in their step here than has been evident in previous albums and it’s them hitting their stride. Standout tracks include “The Theory of Relativity,” “The North,” “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It,” “The Loose Ends Will Make Knots,” and “A Song Is a Weapon.”

Ctrl

02.) Ctrl by Derek Webb

Derek Webb is nothing if not audacious. His newest album is a concept album featuring an impressionistic story about a man coming in and out of waking life, battling with personal demons which include an unnamed “lover” that pervades his every thought and suffocating him without him even realizing it. No two Derek Webb albums are the same and this is certainly no exception. It’s almost as if he traded in his examination of the world for an examination of himself. The album speaks to a songwriter peaking into the deepest parts of himself and giving voice to what he finds there. The music is some of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces he’s ever given us and is completely fitted to the story he’s telling. If all this weren’t audacious enough, Webb quietly released another album called SOLA-MI about six months prior to the release of Ctrl. He touted it as a soundtrack for a forthcoming movie but in reality, it is an album which has a place right in the middle of Ctrl. There is a point in the track listing where if you drop SOLA-MI, it continues a suspended note from the previous track and gives us a whole middle section to the story before it loops back into Ctrl. It’s a brilliant little easter egg from one of music’s best thinkers. Standout tracks include “A City with No Name,” “Pressing On the Bruise,” “I Feel Everything,” “A Real Ghost,” and “Around Every Corner.”

Port of Morrow

01.) Port of Morrow by The Shins

Port of Morrow is simply the best album The Shins have made yet. It took awhile and James Mercer had to do some major reshuffling of his particular musical outfit but the end result is an album full of gems that echo all the best moments of previous albums. It’s one of those albums you have to play over and over like it’s some kind of high you’re chasing. It was the perfect summer record for 2012. The songwriting is still undeniably Mercer but there is a certain newness to everything whether a result of the new lineup or Mercer’s time with Danger Mouse working on the Broken Bells project. There’s a crispness and confidence to each song that stays with you long after the song is over. The influences are fully on display. It’s like a radio tuned into our past, present, and future playing the best songs never heard from each era. Standout tracks include “Simple Song,” “It’s Only Life,” “September,” “No Way Down,” and “40 Mark Strasse.”

James Dobson’s Imaginary God

December 19, 2012

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In the wake of the unspeakable violence that occurred in Connecticut, both James Dobson and Mike Huckabee have released statements “informing” us all that God was the real perpetrator on that day. Mike Huckabee’s reasoning? Because we’ve taken God out of schools. James Dobson’s reasoning? Because of gays and abortion. Huckabee was met with appropriate backlash and attempted to backpedal his comments but the damage was done.

At the same time, Fred Phelps’ infamous Westboro Baptist Church have made it known that they intend to picket the funeral of principal Dawn Hochsprung with their “God Hates Fags” signs in tow. You see, Westboro believes that America is evil because of the acceptance of gays and that what happened in Newtown is God’s judgment. They plan to go to the memorial and “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”

Here’s my question–what makes James Dobson so different from Westboro Baptist Church? They apparently both believe in a vengeful God who kills children out of spite. Should Dobson be praised simply because he’s not happy about it? I think we can all agree that Fred Phelps and his followers will have a lot to answer for when they stand before God. But what about James Dobson?

The God I’ve come to know revealed in Jesus Christ is not a God who kills children. Jesus delighted in children and I couldn’t fathom a moment where Jesus would harm a single hair on their head simply to prove some point. The God I believe in was devastated on Friday. So what happens when James Dobson has to stand before God and explain why he spread the message to a nation that it was God who killed those children?

What will James Dobson say when he has to explain to God why he put forth the “logic” that God was showing America that killing unborn babies was wrong by killing little children?

I sure wouldn’t want to be in those shoes. (I’ll have enough to deal with standing before the throne.)

The “God” that people like James Dobson and Mike Huckabee seem to believe in is a far, far cry from the revelation we see in Jesus Christ. It’s a “God” that seems to only exist in order to be used as a crutch for their own political beliefs. It is an imaginary God.

I believe in a God of restoration, not retribution.

I believe in a God of love, not hate.

I believe in a God who came to Earth to show us what God is like.

I believe in a God who sat with little children and outcasts, delighting in who they are for their own sake.

I believe in a God who is everywhere and with everyone.

And on Friday, my hope lied in a God who weeps with the weeping.

The Kingdom established by Jesus Christ is not only threatened by terrible violence in the world but by how we respond to that violence and our understanding of God’s role in violence and peace. I don’t recognize the “God” of James Dobson and Fred Phelps. I recognize the God I see in Jesus Christ. Let us not be lead astray by a vision of God colored with prejudice and hate. That God simply doesn’t exist.

Thank God.

A Note to Christians After a Presidential Election

November 9, 2012

Now that Facebook and Twitter are such a big part of our lives, I am now conditioned to expect outright hysteria the day after election night. Fear perpetuates fear and you only need a spark to create a fire. Whichever candidate won, I knew I would be seeing a plethora of tweets and status updates about how America is certainly doomed. Sure enough, these social networks did not fail me. However, I was surprised by something that happened in the aftermath of the initial outrage–Christians started turning to God.

At first, I saw this as a good sign–people letting go of their fears and embracing God. But the more and more I saw people clutching on to God in despair and posting completely out-of-context bible verses in order to comfort themselves, the more I saw beneath the actions to a much scarier reality–the reality of where so many Christians’ allegiances lie in this country. If it takes a nominee from a political party losing an election for so many of us to turn to God and reaffirm Him as the leader of our lives, we are in serious trouble as the Church. We are showing where we put our hope and trust–in a political party, not Jesus Christ.

I pray that we can remove the blinders from our eyes. The blinders of this world–whether it be our politics, our jobs, our family, our country, even our religion–can slowly but surely invade our faith. We cease to fashion our politics based on the spirit of Christ and begin to fashion a Christ in the spirit of our politics. We put all these things above Christ whether we realize it or not. Jesus came not to affirm your world, but to turn it completely upside down. If we are not living our lives ever vigilant, making sure that we are walking Christ’s way–not our way, or a political party’s way, or our culture’s way–then we are simply not walking with Christ at all.

It’s not an easy road, the way of Christ. It is a narrow road filled with shiny objects that lead us away into the woods while we remain steadfastly certain that we are still on the right path. Jesus knew what this kind of over-arching worldview could do to us. He asks that we transcend that worldview and rise to His–a world of redemption, of sacrifice, of loving the unloved, of helping those who can’t help themselves.

I pray that we can trade in that political bumper sticker for the mark of Christ–a savior that no political party can claim as their own. There are ideals in both major parties that fall in line with the spirit of Christ and there are ideals in both major parties that are abhorrent to the spirit of Christ. The democracy we participate in is simply another tool we have as Christians to further the love of Christ–it is not meant to establish order and secure the culture we believe is the right one. If Jesus had wanted a theocracy, He would have given us one. But when He was asked about the Empire of His time he simply said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” In other words, “This Empire you all put so much importance in–it is meaningless. Follow me, not it.”

So in four years, by all means, vote. Vote with the conviction of the spirit of Christ we see in the Gospels. But understand that you are walking into a booth to place a vote for an imperfect candidate of an imperfect country–not a savior. That position is already filled. Whether you voted for Him or not.

Amazing or Just Okay?: Peter Rollins on Grace

August 7, 2012

This is a short parable from Peter Rollins’ book of parables, The Orthodox Heretic. It’s a meditation on Jesus’ own command to the disciples that states, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:41) It’s still a staggeringly relative message to Christ’s followers today…

“One day a small group of disciples who had embraced the way of Jesus early in his ministry heard him preaching by the side of a dusty road. As they crowded round they heard Jesus say, ‘The law requires that you carry a pack for one mile, but I say carry it freely for two.’

The disciples were deeply impressed by these words, for at that time a Roman solider had the legal right to demand that a citizen carry his pack for a mile as a service to the Empire. This teaching not only allowed the disciples to turn this oppressive law into an opportunity to demonstrate ‘kingdom’ values, but also presented them with an opportunity to suffer in some small way for their faith.

As it was common for soldiers to evoke this law, the small band of believers soon developed a reputation for their actions. Roman soldiers would often hope that the citizens they asked to carry their packs would be among these disciples, and often a small bond of friendship would develop between a soldier and these followers of the Way.

After a year had passed this custom had become so established in the group that it became a defining characteristic of their shared life. The leaders would frequently refer to the teaching of Jesus and emphasize the need to carry a pack of the Roman soldier for two miles as a sign of one’s faith and commitment to God.

It so happened that Jesus heard about this community’s work, and, on his way to Jerusalem, took time to visit them. The leaders eagerly gathered all the members of the group to hear what Jesus would say. Once everyone had gathered, Jesus addressed them:

‘Dear brothers and sisters, you are faithful and honest, but I have come to you with a second message, for you failed to understand the first. Your law says that you must carry a pack for two miles. My law says ‘carry it for three.’”

Have we lost the point of grace? The grace, love, compassion, and mercy of Christ is scandalous. It knows no bounds. It’s always meant to push further and further than we are ever willing to go ourselves. It’s amazing grace, not just okay grace. In the past week, I’ve seen a throng of Christians flood to Chick-Fil-A for different reasons–some say it was in support of free speech (which, curiously, Jesus never had one thing to say about), some in opposition to gay marriage, and even some because they just simply hate gay people and love a national opportunity to rub it in their face. But no matter what the reasoning, most LGBT people (some who could care less what the CEO of Chick-Fil-A said) were deeply hurt by so many rallying against them. No matter what we believe about gay marriage, this is not how Christ taught us to love and show grace.

A couple days ago, I heard a sermon that preached the “good news?” of capital punishment. Basically stating that there are some people even God can’t redeem. This is a lie that goes completely against not only the Gospel of Christ but the amazing grace He showed when he gave His life for all. When you sentence to death someone Christ died for, you are spitting in the face of His sacrifice. This is not how Christ taught us to love and show grace.

Christ taught that living in the Kingdom of God required a kind of love the world has never seen. A love that constantly challenges itself to go further than we feel we are willing to go. This means showing everyone that unbelievable, scandalous grace–even murderers and rapists. This means showing the LGBT community that we love them first and foremost and nothing is more important than that because nothing was more important to our Savior. Certainly not politics.

So go that third mile. And then a fourth mile. And then a fifth mile. Until our bodies can love no more and our bones turn into dust.

The Dark Knight, the Aurora Shooting, and Why We Don’t Have to Be Afraid

July 31, 2012

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SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen all three films in The Dark Knight Trilogy, they are about to be spoiled for you. Proceed at your own risk.

The recent shooting in Aurora is one of those tragedies that is difficult to quantify and is compounded by its own sadness. There are natural reactions to events like these–some helpful, some hurtful. Outside of the 14 lives lost, America can easily become perforated with fear by such an event. One of the sad ironies of the tragedy involves the film with which it will forever be intrinsically linked, The Dark Knight Rises–ironic because of the underlying themes of the trilogy as a whole. What happened in that theater is the exact kind of thing the films are commenting on. In essence, the films are asking, “How do we react to fear, chaos, and pain in this world without allowing it to consume us?” Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is unlike any superhero story yet told. It introduces us to a costumed vigilante who is constantly questioning his own actions in relation to the evil he fights. The entire trilogy itself is one long examination of how Bruce Wayne deals with his own personal trauma and comes out on the other side with a better understanding of how one can rise above fear (Batman Begins), chaos (The Dark Knight), and pain (The Dark Knight Rises).

Fear is the central conceit of the first film in the trilogy, Batman Begins. The characters are constantly talking about it or acting on it. Bruce Wayne himself becomes what he fears on an ideological level in order to throw the same fear right back in the faces of the criminals he’s out to get. The problem is one of, “Should Batman even exist in the first place?” There’s a reason most of the characters who love Bruce say, “No.” His childhood friend, Rachel, chastises him–”Justice is about harmony. Revenge is just to make yourself feel better.” Bruce’s obsession with this form of justice is supported when he meets Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul (who ultimately becomes the villain of the film).

When Bruces father and mother are shot down right in front of him, his father’s last words to him are “do not be afraid.” However, Ra’s al Ghul manipulates Bruce’s fear into what he believes is “justice.” He tells Bruce that the death of his parents was Bruce’s own father’s fault because he wasn’t “prepared” to protect them. It’s true, Thomas Wayne wasn’t able to protect them but that is the price he paid to live a life unafraid. This echoes a lot of some people’s reactions to the Aurora shootings–they believe the only proper response to this kind of thing is to always make sure you have a handgun at the ready in order to “protect” yourself. But Thomas Wayne had the right idea about how life is to be lived. Those who want to arm themselves, ready for a fight that may or may not be coming are simply cowards reacting to fear–slowly they will be ruled by that fear. Later, Bruce confides in Rachel his error on the day he attempted to shoot the man who shot his parents despite being spared his own actions when a mob boss does the job before he can. Bruce tells Rachel that on that day he was just “a coward with a gun.”

Fear is powerful and can and will take over a life if we let it. Gotham mob boss Carmine Falcone understands this when he tells Bruce, “That’s the power you can’t buy. That’s the power of fear.” At the climax of the film, Ra’s al Ghul literally uses a fear gas that is meant to make everyone in Gotham kill each other out of fear. In this way, Gotham is a representation of what happens if America suddenly becomes so afraid of everything that we all start reacting or preparing to react violently. Ra’s believes in violence being the path to justice. Bruce stands up against this idea and by the end of the film, slowly begins a positive process of unlearning.

The second installment, The Dark Knight, is all about chaos. As Gordon puts it to Batman, his existence has created “a problem of escalation.” In a direct response to Batman, the villains are becoming bolder. This is a direct comment on the trilogy’s theme of cycles of violence–violence perpetuates itself and only leads to more and more violence, even when it’s the “good guys” doing it. In turn, new vigilantes are popping up dressed like Batman only armed with guns, which Bruce finds harmful and despicable. The foreshadowing of a tragedy like the one involving George Zimmerman is startlingly evident. This is not the way to go about justice.

The Joker himself is chaos. He has no motive and no code. He worships at the ground of senseless violence. Bruce rightly fears what might have to happen in order to stop the Joker when he says, “I see now what I would have to become to stop men like him.” At one point, the Joker grabs Batman and squeals, “You complete me.” Bruce realizes that this is a true statement and is unnerved by what it could mean for his own soul. Joker’s endgame is to show the world that chaos rules it. We tend to fear what we can’t control, so Joker just attempts to supersede it. Once again, we have another villain who puts Gotham’s own fear to the test against each other when he wires two boats to explode and gives both boats an opportunity to blow the other one up first and save themselves. In the end, they don’t do it. Gotham shows the Joker a glimpse of what he deeply fears–that there is good still in the world. In the end, Bruce takes a step toward self-sacrifice when he sacrifices his own reputation as Batman for what he believes is for the good of Gotham. As Gordon says, “He’s not being a hero. He’s being something more.”

The final film, The Dark Knight Rises, is a meditation of pain. The villain, Bane, is ruled by pain and once again seeks to help Gotham destroy itself by manipulating the city’s own pain through class warfare. Victimization is a major theme as everyone is motivated by some past hurt in their life that they won’t let go. Bruce finds himself broken and in a bottomless pit. His only way out is to climb a massive wall. He fails until he realizes what he needs to do–let go of his fear. In this case, everyone who attempts to climb the wall always uses a rope because they fear the fall. Bruce embarks on the climb without the rope, letting go of his fear in order to succeed. And he does. The final battle for Gotham is fruitless. A bomb is set to go off but there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. No matter how many people are fought or killed, nothing can stop the bomb. Except for the exact opposite of fear–self-sacrifice. Bruce finally learns how to really combat evil in this world–by dying for it. And yes, Bruce doesn’t really die but that’s not the point–Batman dies. The vigilante in him dies. He realizes that a life lived in fear, chaos, and pain is no life at all. He dies to it all so he can finally live.

If this isn’t one massive aspect to the Gospel of Christ, I don’t know what is. We are not meant to be ruled by fear, but selflessness and love. Jesus commanded us to “not repay evil with evil,” not because it was just some meaningless commandment but because Jesus knew what that could do to the soul. When the Roman soldiers come to take Jesus away, Peter takes out his sword and slices one of the officer’s ears off. If there was ever a time for violence, surely this would be it when the son of God is being taken away to be executed, right? But, no. Even here, at a time where we all understand Peter’s actions, Jesus rebukes Peter, heals the Roman soldier’s ear and declares, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”

Thomas Wayne taught his son one very important lesson once–”Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” This is also why we can be so afraid sometimes–because it gives us an opportunity to rise above it, to not give into chaos, to not give into pain. A life lived in fear is not a life at all. Violent retribution against those who mean to hurt us makes us no better than them. Instead, pick yourself up and live in the fulness of Christ. A way of love, of peacemaking, of making sure that those less fortunate are able to have the same quality of life that we do. So that these same people aren’t brought up in a world that irrevocably hurts them and turns them into villains themselves. Believe in power of Christ’s non-violence. He showed us it’s power when he defeated sin not by fighting, but by dying.

So go out into this world. Not with a concealed handgun while suspiciously eyeing everyone you encounter, but with the life that Christ has granted you and a mission of love.

Live your life. And do not be afraid.

Blue Like Jazz and How Christians Relate

April 16, 2012

Blue Like Jazz could have failed as a feature film in many, many ways. Based on the memoir by Donald Miller which basically just consists of anecdotes mixed with his sparkling commentary, it wasn’t a book just screaming to be made into a movie. However, the film is not only a solid coming-of-age story with a unique perspective but the proceedings feel very humble and honest where it could have easily not been. This movie doesn’t feel like a “Christian movie” as much as simply a movie about a Christian.

The film doesn’t talk down to non-Christians, in fact it agrees with the same critiques many have with Christianity in general and builds from there. Great care was obviously taken to not construct a story which would leave non-Christians out in the dark or beaten down by spiritual doctrine that they simply would have no interest in. Marshall Allman (of True Blood) does a fantastic job of grounding Don and making him feel like a living, breathing person and not just a stereotypical Christian. He’s a guy who walks away from religion only to find God instead.

And this is what I find so interesting about the difference between this movie and many “Christian” movies to come before it. Blue Like Jazz presents the kind of Christians that I am used to seeing and, sadly, many feel the need to hide from the world. A lot of Christians cuss. A lot of Christians make dirty jokes. A lot of Christians drink. But most importantly, all Christians struggle with the bullshit inherent in institutionalized religion. So why are we afraid to share that with the “outside” world? Why are we afraid to present ourselves exactly as we are? Human beings with a whole lot of questions.

I’ve seen movies like Facing the Giants and I watched about half of Fireproof before I just had to give up. Why do so many Christians believe the only way to engage the world is to present stories with squeaky-clean characters with no moral ambiguity? Even when a moral decision comes up in these films, it’s presented in a very hardline black and white way. In other words, these films are enjoyed by the tribe in which they are made for, but what about those who don’t subscribe to this brand of thinking? People have hard-hitting questions about Christianity. When we ignore them in our attempts to connect, we completely disrespect those we are trying to reach.

Recently, Blue Like Jazz has gotten a lot of backlash from… you guessed it… Christians! In fact, some of the biggest detractors are the very people who make those movies I mentioned. Christianity Today gave the film a bad review because the reviewer didn’t believe the film did enough to explain the theology of doctrine of sin and salvation. And this is the problem. These “Christian” movies are made with one specific purpose–to convince non-believers that “we are right and you are wrong. So get in line.”

Blue Like Jazz seeks to build a bridge between believers and non-believers by doing the one thing we all should do when initially sharing our faith–admitting that there is a lot of bullshit in Christianity that has nothing to do with Christ. Convincing people they are wrong is not “sharing,” it’s “shoving.” The film’s bridge may not be a perfect one, but it’s the best one to come along in “Christian” cinema yet. And what do so many Christians do but try and burn down that bridge because it’s not made to the exact specifications they would choose.

The climax in the film does not come from some melodramatic fantasy scene where Don makes Christians of the whole world. It’s a very simple, but powerful scene in which a simple act of contrition is issued. It again reflects the inherent problem with so many Christians who seek to evangelize by telling someone they need to ask for forgiveness first and foremost. We live in a world where Christianity, because of it’s imperfect leadership, has deeply scarred and irrevocably hurt many non-believers. That is our legacy. Firstly, we need to be the ones apologizing for what has been done in the name of Christ.

I pray this film can help us understand a better, honest way of engaging with people of different faiths and those who claim no particular faith. We’re all in the same boat. The same kind of heart pumps in our bodies. No one can claim righteousness over another. We are all broken and the cross of Christ is not meant to empower us with a holier-than-thou attitude. The cross not only brings us into new and abundant life, but it is meant to humble us–showing us that we are no different than any person beside us. And humbleness starts with an apology.

It’s not our job to be the Christian police. People don’t save people. Jesus saves people. The rest is bullshit. And you know it.

This Is Dorothy

March 17, 2012

These are three shorts I made for Grace Community Church in Auburn, WA telling the story of the unlikely friendship between my sister, Mary Michele, and Dorothy, a beautiful and broken soul from the inner-city streets of Houston.

This is a glimpse of what Kingdom-living looks like and the sacrificial nature of both loving others as well as ourselves…


 

 

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