April 28, 2008

Good songs are good no matter what...

Of all the songs that are considered great (i.e., "My Girl" by the Temptations, "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, "Losing my Religion" by R.E.M.,...er, "Humpty Dance" by Digital Underground...but I digress), I often wonder if those songs would be as well received regardless of the time period in which they were released. Of course, recording technology and technique progresses, but I'm talking about the song at its core...chords, melody and lyrics.

In 2003, the song "Hey Ya" by Outkast was everywhere. The two reasons I knew it was in a different class: 1) My 60 year old dad saw Andre 3000 do this song on Saturday Night Live...and loved it, and 2) My 40-something year-old aunt-in-law had this as her cell phone ringtone...yikes. Once the old folks start to "dig it" you know it's crossed into pop super stardom. Even Andre 3000 at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards seemed tired of doing it when right before it he claimed, "Alright, for the last #%@$ time...".

Now, I'm no Top 40 fan...believe me...but this is a really good song with surprisingly insightful lyrics. Of course, the ridonkulous video and dance beat wouldn't exactly make this obvious, but the take on modern relationships is dead on. When you take the song out of its natural habitat (i.e., the beat and video) and listen to it's simple melody and lyrics, it's a pretty interesting song.

Mat Weddel of Obadiah Parker did this acoustic version of the song...giving some credence to what I'm talking about:

He proves one of two things: 1) I'm right, or 2) any song done slow enough, in a minor key, and sung with your eyes closed sounds good. Oddly enough, Howard Stern agrees with me on this one.

April 09, 2008

Barack Obama: The Quintessential Postmodern Candidate

The point of this post is neither to endorse nor discredit Barack Obama as the Democratic party's candidate, but rather, to point out why I think he is the natural choice for American postmoderns. Much has been made over how he has energized the youth vote in America, and I think that there is a direct correlation between his young supporters who have come to age and are increasingly influenced by a postmodern worldview and his success as a candidate.

Postmodernism is sort of a moving target, and it is hard to create concrete categories that show exactly what sets it apart from modernism, though many have tried. For the sake of this blog, I will use the unofficial categories first proposed by Emergent church leader and author, Brian McLaren (who happens to swoon over Obama, himself...he officially endorses him, also). In his 2001 book, A New Kind of Christian, a fictional character named Neo gives a talk at a local college meeting about the differences between modernism and postmodernism, using seven categories to draw his conclusions. My effort is not to show that all modern values are better or that all postmodern values are better. There are values to each one. Again, the point is to show how Obama fits the postmodern values much better.

1. Modern Value--Rational vs. Postmodern Value--Experiential. The rational world was summed up in Decartes' "Cogito ergo sum"..."I think therefore I am. The rational world looks for proof in concrete evidence where facts outweigh feeling. On the other hand, postmoderns value what they experience over what is rational. So...a personal experience is a high value for postmoderns. Many have compared Obama's political rallies as "cult-like" replete with girls fainting on several occasions. More than one commentator has referred to these rallies as "worship services." Oddly enough, it's hard for many of his supporters to nail down exactly what his plans for our country are...they just like the way he makes them feel. See here how Dave Matthews completely dodges the question about Obama's "empty rhetoric". One more description of "the experience" worth reading here, too.

2. Modern Value--Scientific vs. Postmodern Value: Spiritual. A little more detailed than the first comparison...proof verses faith. Again, see the previous examples that hearken Obama to a preacher of sorts, even a/the Messiah: click here and here and here for some examples, and here for a blog that chronicles the Messianic language used about him. A group has even started a "Barack Obama is my Homeboy" t-shirt, which we first saw as "Jesus is my Homeboy." Even his beliefs as a Christian have been defended against claims that he is Muslim, especially in the wake of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory sermon clips (which Diana Butler Bass grotesquely defends here). Obama has definitely been portrayed as not just a religious man, but a deeply spiritual man offering hope of Biblical proportion. His book, Audacity of Hope was inspired by a sermon he heard. Update: (Newsweek does an in-depth article on the multiple facets of Obama's religion).

3. Modern Value--Homogeneous vs. Postmodern Value--Pluralistic. How much more pluralistic can you get than a man from both African-American and Caucasian descent, who has a Muslim name and a Christian faith? Growing up he spend time in both Muslim and Catholic schools. He is also a wealthy, Harvard-trained lawyer who is somehow able to provide the image of working with the poor and downtrodden. He is his own, personal melting pot, unlike your standard "homogeneous" Clinton or McCain. Update: In the Newsweek article mentioned previously, the multiple sources of Obama's religion alone are astounding.

4. Modern Value--Exclusive Truth vs. Postmodern Value--Relative Truth. Admittedly, this is the hardest category to fit Obama into. All politicians who operate on such a national scale use relative truth in their campaigning and their attacks on their opponents. This is more of a pragmatic move than one of philosophy. Update (08/05/08): USA Today contributor Jonah Goldberg picked up on this same topic. More proof that Humanivy is ahead of the curve...

5. Modern Value--Individualistic vs. Postmodern Value--Communal. "Community" is a major stress point of the Obama campaign, down to his YouTube video about getting a "community" organized for him. His main slogan is "Yes WE can!" as opposed to "Yes I can!" On Super Tuesday, he declared "WE are the ones WE've been waiting for. WE are the change that WE seek." Obama's basic political beliefs that the government has the responsibility to provide entitlements like health care for all are rooted in the idea of community. The community, not each individual, is charged with the care of each other, instead of the individual first.
Author Toni Morrison (the woman who called Bill Clinton the "first black president") says that he "truly thinks of his country's citizens as 'we' and not 'they.'"

6. Modern Value--Functional vs. Postmodern Value--Creative: Obama is a man running on the idea that he's an outsider to Washington with a fresh way of doing things. In Morrison's endorsement of his candidacy, she said that he is "creative imagination coupled with brilliance" to equal wisdom. On Obama's homepage, there is a community blog where guests can write their thoughts on his candidacy. One author lists his/her understanding on the qualifications of a president, one of them being an "innovative, creative solution seeker." "This is Obama's strenghth [misspelling left intact]," he or she writes. No one else is playing the "fresh and new ideas" card like Obama is...nor really can they.

7. Modern Value--Industrial vs. Postmodern Value--Environmental: The Democratic party certainly has the perception of being the more "green" party, and Obama has the image of being the most environmentally-friendly candidate. Even back in 2004, the environmentalist webzine The Grist stated "as if we need one more reason to love Barack Obama." This "Barack Star" apparently has "got green cred." Obama is not a johnny-come-lately to environmental issues, either. As early as 1985 he was pushing for asbestos removal from Chicago housing projects. In 1996 he worked in Harlem getting minority students at City College to understand the value of recycling. According to the League of Conservation Voters (the self described "political voice for the environment") he earned a score of 86% for his first three years in the Senate. He earned a 96% rating for the 109th Congressional session, compared to Clinton's 89% and McCain's 41%.

One more category that I'll add is a belief, stated or unstated, in some form of postmillenialism (which is the belief that Jesus will return to an earth that has gotten increasingly better and better resulting in a overwhelmingly Christian world). Obama is on record saying that he doesn't know if there is life beyond earth (an odd thing for a Christian to say), but that he'd rather focus on life here on earth. Postmoderns in the church enjoy the idea that our job is to make the world a better and better place so that Christian (or post-Christian) culture will replace that of the world. In Rob Bell's book, Velvet Elvis, he ends it with the idea of a good world that God created, and how it is still good. "The Bible ends with God coming here," he says. He describes Christians' "gift to world around us" as "hope." Hope is a key theme of Obama's campaign, and the language he uses to describe the country his presidency will create is quite similar to the language postmoderns in the church use to describe the world they'd like to create. At a church in South Carolina in fall 2007, Obama said, "I am confident we can create a Kingdom on earth." His postmillennial language will further win the hearts of postmoderns as the election nears.

No other candidate fits the mold like Obama.

April 08, 2008

The Religion of The Oprah

Over the last few days, several people have sent me the link to this video, and I felt that it was worth people viewing:

I'm not trying to get in on the "bash The Oprah" bandwagon, but this deserves a second look. As you can see in the older clip from Oprah's show, it is nothing new for her to deny that Jesus is the only way to heaven...she's been doing that for years. What is new is her mass media efforts to spread the teachings of New Age writer Eckhart Tolle. His latest book, The New Earth is an effort to move humanity to a new state of consciousness that is more loving and kind than the current state. It is essentially Buddism and "the power of ME" mixed together with a nod towards Christianity. Each Monday night, The Oprah and Guru Tolle provide a webcast of his teachings...and her excitement about his teachings.

In this video, Oprah speaks in a derogative way towards an 8:00 AM worship service that she attended in her Baptist (shudder!) past that involved having to get there early because there so many people there (um...doesn't their weekly webcast bring in about 3 million viewers?), the pastor was a charismatic leader (sort of like...The Oprah!), and that she liked the teaching about God's love (the same things The Oprah likes about Tolle's teachings). Only when the pastor spoke of God's jealous love did The Oprah walk away from it.

Oddly enough, The Oprah says that it was when the pastor said that "God was jealous OF me" that she became disinterested. God, of course, is not jealous OF you The Oprah (although, of all people, your wealth may be closest to His)...He is jealous FOR you. He wants your attention, not because He's some cosmic killjoy, but ultimately because He knows that He is the best thing for you...not yourself! Why is it that they very things that you didn't like about the service you went to are the very things that you have now become? Do you see the irony?

Tolle goes on to say that "God is a feeling experience...not a believing experience" and "a belief is not truly God." He espouses that it is our "belief in God" that is the worst thing possible, because we should focus on feeling God. And do you really think that when Jesus said, "I am the light of the world", he was talking about a "new consciousness"...something totally foreign to 1st Century Palestine?

The sad part is that, like the young mom in the video, there are tons of people who will be taken in by this...sadly, even those proclaiming to know Christ. Those who love The Oprah for her charity work, her giving away cars, and her "getting to the bottom of celebrites' love lives" will follow her right off the cliff in this one too. This video makes it tough to explain her theology away, when it so clearly lines up as opposite to Scripture. I hate to see this self-centered, "I'm my own god", me-powered, "god is whatever you feel he is" malarkey coming from a (er...fellow) Mississippian, and I hate even more that it's being pumped into millions of homes.

I guess when you're a billionaire who's accomplished everything you've ever wanted to do by age 50, the only thing left to do is to convince people that you are a god to be worshiped.

April 07, 2008

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...(Part 3)

The finale my "Lost" spoof from my previous church's Disciple Now 2007. Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

April 04, 2008

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of my "Lost" spoof from my previous church's Disciple Now in 2007. Click here to see Part 1:

April 02, 2008

Evidence of Evil

Center Elementary School in Waycross, GA

Earlier this week, nine children ages eight to ten were caught in a plot to try and kill their third grade teacher. They had the whole thing planned out, including who would cover the outside windows and who would wipe up the blood. This is coming on the heels of a sermon series that our church is doing called "Twisted". This sermon series discusses the theology of evil.

This is one of those times when everyone will wring their hands and wonder how this could happen. These are just children...what would cause them to do such a thing...what factors led to this...did they understand the reality of what they would be doing by stabbing their teacher.

Since we were kids, we have been told that in life, you just "have to look for the good in people." Sounds great, but it's an impossibility.

In Romans 3:10-12, the apostle Paul quotes Psalm 14 and 53 saying, "there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks God...there is none who does good, there is not even one."

So there are no inherently "good" people. Romans 5:10 refers to us as "enemies of God". Therefore, the question is not, "how could this have happened?", but rather, "why does this not happen more often?" The answer lies in God's grace.

April 01, 2008

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

Now that you know I am anti-soccer, I should tell you that I am pro-Lost (the TV show, that is). In my own quest to show how "relevant" to teenagers I was as a youth minister, each year at our Disciple Now events, I would make short feature films. Every year, the theme was identical: trying to invite people to come to our event. As the never-ending pop culture wheel turns, I never had trouble finding material:

Part 1

Part 2