He's a Christian, too? I didn't know that.

A couple of weeks ago I pointed you to an article in Relevant Magazine about Chuck star Zac Levi and his faith.  The cover article of the latest issue is about Bear Grylls, the star of Man vs. Wild.  It’s a great article, in which he talks about his faith and his life.  You can click here to read it.  Be warned, Relevant uses a digital format for their current issue that isn’t very user friendly.  They do it so you can read the entire magazine as it appears in print.  If you want to read the Grylls article, you can just click on his name on the cover.  It will take you directly there. Here some of the quotes I just loved:
What does [faith] mean?  It’s about being strengthened.  It’s about having a backbone run through you from the Person who made you.  It’s about being able to climb the biggest mountains in the world with the Person who made them.
I remember having one moment when some really good friends turned their back on me in a really nasty way…And I remember praying a simple prayer up a tree one evening and saying, “God, if you’re like I knew you as a kid, would you be that friend again?” And it was no more complicated than that.
Jesus never said, “I’ve come so you can feel smart and proper and smiley and religious…[Faith] is about finding life and joy and peace, I am not at church a lot because I’m away a lot, so I kind of cling to the simple things, like, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
It’s worth trying to read the whole article.  He talks about the parachuting accident he had when he was a member of the British SAS that left him with a broken back.  He talks about rehab and his quest to become the youngest Briton to climb Mt. Everest.  He also talks about his family and their domicile of choice (a houseboat on the Thames).  I love the section about how his wife came to faith in Christ. It makes sense the guy’s a Christian.  You’d have to have some crazy faith to eat some of the stuff he eats.  But what do I know?  Is it really that much worse than what they serve at 7-eleven?

He's a Christian? I didn't know that.

I'm a subscriber to Relevant Magazine, even though you can read a lot of their stuff online.  Sometimes I feel a little too old for it.  The same way I feel when I go to a rock show at the Norva.  I realize I've become that old guy who stands in the back and just kind of nods his head to the music. Anyway.  Thought you might be interested in this article about Zac Levi, star of the the NBC comedy ChuckClick here to read it.  I don't watch this show regularly but I'm told by a lot friends that I should.  Check out this description of Levi's house:
“Zac’s home is like a fraternity house,” explains Jeremy Boreing, Levi’s business partner, “home church” pastor and close friend. “You can’t walk in without meeting someone you don’t know. Two of the bedrooms are always used by someone who needs a place to stay while they’re struggling financially. Saturdays are open for barbecues and Sundays are for home church.”
Sounds like someone is living out their faith.  The article goes on to describe the church that gathers in Levi's house and how it provides a helpful anchor as he seeks to live as a Christian in Hollywood.  I hope you're taking the Good News about Jesus wherever you're going today.

People Get Ready

12From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing…(Matthew 11) Sometimes American pop culture is able to transcend itself.  Last night’s episode of American Idol is an excellent example.  The evening’s theme was “Inspirational Songs.”  Crystal Bowersox, held by most to be the frontrunner for season 9, put down her guitar and served up this cover of “People Get Ready.”  More after the jump: I never stopped to listen to this song or consider how it will preach.  Had Jesus preached in a modern setting, it wouldn’t have been surprising to hear him use this train metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  Check out some of the lyrics:
People get ready, there's a train a comin' You don't need no baggage, you just get on board All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin' Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
How many of us are still struggling to understand that last sentence?  Still trying to buy a ticket, and all we have to do is jump on with a thankful heart. But be warned.  This message does have a bit of a sharp edge:
There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner For there's no hiding place against the Kingdom's throne
I think the key word here is hopeless.  Hopeless, not because God refuses to help, but hopeless because we refuse to be comforted.  That’s what’s behind Jesus’ invitation: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” It’s also behind his exasperation: 37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing (Matthew 23).” Today, let’s be willing.  Let’s stop searching our pockets for a ticket we can’t buy anyway and just jump on… I would be remiss if I didn’t throw in a link to Curtis Mayfield singing this one, too.  After all, it was his song first. A more qualified historian could speak to this song’s importance to the Civil Rights Movement.  Since Mayfield, dozens of artists have done their own versions. (I’ll spare you the Bob Dylan cover.  You’re welcome.)

The Biggest Loser

Rachel finally had a chance to watch this week’s episode of The Biggest Loser last night.  I acted like I wasn’t watching it, but I was.  If you are inclined to watch it and you haven’t yet, go do so and then come back, because there are some big-time spoilers ahead. This week was Sean Algaier’s swan song.  He and his partner, Antoine, fell prey to some truly “Survivor”-style game play by one of the other contestants.  It would be easy to vilify her, but I think she’s got real issues.  (At least that’s the way the show’s editing makes it look.)  Some of you will remember that Sean and the rest of the worship group, “Watershed,” performed at NCOC some time ago, so I was rooting for him, and I was sorry to see him leave. But if anyone had to go out like that, I’m glad it was him.  He and Antoine basically sacrificed themselves and asked to be sent home rather than another contestant.  The way it works is the show sends them home, but provides a personal trainer so that they can keep working and then come back for the live finale sometime around the holidays.  S & A argued that they would stand a better chance than this other contestant, because they both had a good support network at home.  It appears that they were right, because they both look great.  If I remember right, Sean’s already lost over 100 lbs. Sean acted like we would hope a Christian would act.  After being thrown under the bus by this other contestant, he and his partner took care of someone else rather than look after their own interests.  And THEN, Sean was able to treat this person who had essentially caused his elimination with decency and compassion. You know me, and you know I’m not one to rail against the biases of “our liberal media.”  But I can’t help but wonder if anyone will comment on the fact that a self-confessed Christian managed to go on a “reality” show and actually behave like a follower of Jesus.   We sure hear about it when they’re jerks.  And, unfortunately, they sometimes are. But no matter.  It was nice to see someone go on the Biggest Loser and act like “The Biggest Loser.”

Mad Men (and women)

My new favorite show is Mad Men.  It also gets my award for favorite opening sequence, but more on that in a minute.  Set in the world of an early sixties Madison Avenue ad agency, the show follows the lives of Sterling & Cooper’s various employees. The central characters are Don Draper, a junior partner in the agency, and his wife Betsy.  Don has a lot of secrets.  Raised somewhere in the Depression era Midwest by an abusive father and a mean stepmother, his real name is Dick.  He has stolen the identity of his Lieutenant, Don Draper, after the latter was killed in Korea.  Now “Don” is living multiple lives.  He has a wife and two kids, but he is a notorious philanderer.  Meanwhile, Betsy is suffering from depression or anxiety (I can’t tell for sure) and can only talk about it to her therapist. Then there is Peggy Olson, the young woman who started as a secretary, but who has worked her way into the world of copywriting.  Peggy has had a child out of wedlock that no one (except perhaps Don) knows about.  The boy is being raised as her nephew. Given just this description, the show sounds like a soap opera, and it sort of is, but it’s a very intelligent one.  The characters couldn’t be more real.  Each one is complex and flawed—capable of both kindness and cruelty.  And the dialogue is wonderful. The show makes good use of the era in which it is set.  Taking place in the sixties, it has its feet in two different worlds.  It holds on to the stiff propriety of the early 20th century.  The characters work hard to keep up appearances.  It is still a world where white men are in charge, at least on the face of it.  Everyone smokes everywhere: at work, at the breakfast table, in the office, on planes, etc.  And everyone drinks excessively.  But we can see that the façade is wearing thin, and the modern era is approaching. The prosperity and propriety of the fifties are about to give way to the chaos and upheaval of the sixties.  This world that everyone has constructed for themselves is not going to hold together.  The serenity of everyone’s outward demeanor cannot be maintained.  Their inner lives are too tumultuous. Nothing represents this dynamic as well as the credits.  (You can watch them by clicking here.)  A man appears to have “arrived,” and then the ground gives way beneath him.  He falls past all these images--illusions of happiness and perfection created by the advertising industry.  Then, just when his doom seems inevitable, he lands in an oversized chair, confidently smoking a cigarette and giving no indication of the turmoil that he is experiencing.  It’s all about appearances—both in advertising and in real life. So what does all this have to do with church stuff?  I’ll let you think about it a little bit.  And then I’ll come back and give you my two cents a little later.  Here’s a hint though.  There’s a brilliant little exchange between two of the characters that takes place.  A young account executive named Peter is talking to Peggy.  He’s bemoaning how dysfunctional his family is.  When Peggy admits that she doesn’t understand what he’s talking about and suggests that he should just go home, Peter makes this very self-centered (and false) observation.  Peggy’s response could not be more insightful:
Peter: Everything’s so easy for you. Peggy: It’s not easy for anyone, Pete.
And that right there is a message that will preach.  But it will have to preach later, because I’m done for the afternoon.

Susan Boyle

In Sunday's message I referenced the Susan Boyle video (now viewed nearly 40 million times on YouTube).  Some of you said that you still have not seen it.  You can watch it by clicking here.  I can't embed it.  You can also click here to read an interesting commentary by a Catholic priest named James Martin on the world's fascination with her.  There's also this take on it from our local paper. The two views aren't mutually exclusive.  It's probably a little bit of both.  It got me to wondering why I enjoyed seeing Mrs. Boyle do so well.  Part of it is the relief I feel at seeing disaster averted.  My son occasionally hides his eyes when he sees a character on TV about to get in trouble or be embarrassed.  That's how we feel when someone like Susan Boyle comes on stage.  It's like there's a voice that says, "Stop her before she makes a fool of herself!" Imagine our surprise, our relief, our elation, when she's not pathetic but glorious.  It's the surprise that gets our attention. I agree with Fr. Martin.  Perhaps we are drawn to this performance because it is a reminder of God's power to do the same.  To see the glorious in the mundane.  It's the great reversal that Jesus delights in pointing out, where the least of society (lepers, "sinners," tax collectors, Samaritans) end up being the heroes. Do we not have the same hope for ourselves?  What do you think?

Kings, part 2

Aland left a comment following my last entry about the NBC show Kings. He makes a good case for why it’s NOT worth watching. Take a moment and read it. Aland’s frustration makes sense. Kings co-opts the biblical account and twists it to its own ends. It turns the story into a reflection of 21st Century moral values and abandons those that are inconvenient or uncool. If I’m not misreading, I think Aland is lamenting a very real truth: Film and TV don’t understand evangelical Christianity. (There are possible exceptions to this--Walden Media and the “Tyler Perry Empire” among them.) I’ll be watching with interest to see what they do with the “Jack” character. It’s possible that they’re not going to bother making him anything like the biblical Jonathan. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see what looks like a rivalry turn into a friendship between David and Jack. Characters develop. Here’s why I’m going to keep watching Kings: It’s entertaining. It would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge that it’s just fun. It’s beautifully filmed. It’s dramatic. And there are some great cast members (Ian McShane as King Silas and Susanna Thompson as Queen Rose). I continue to love the scenes with the prophet, Reverend Samuel. After watching episode 2, I’m actually thinking it’s more like Shakespeare than anything else--complete with two palace guards for clowns and a very King Lear-like scene where Silas stands on the palace roof while the rain pours down. It’s (somewhat) biblical. While it will pick and choose, Kings does reflect some of the Bible’s ethics. The most prominent is the issue of power and what it does to us humans. The story of Silas/Saul is of a man who is corrupted by power. He takes what he wants by any means necessary. And once he has ascended to power, he will do anything to maintain his position. He refuses to acknowledge his dependence on God. He acts as though everything he has, he has gotten on his own. And, therefore, he is not to be bothered with what is right or wrong. I’m assuming the same thing will happen with David Shepherd on the TV show. At least that’s what happens to the biblical David. He is just as good at abusing power as Saul is. The Bathsheba incident is the most prominent example. In addition, his family becomes a train wreck. Even his final words are of vengeance rather than of devotion to God. In the TV show there's this quote from David Shepherd's mother that I love. She's explaining to the King's daughter why she hopes that David doesn't stay in Shiloh. She says that she knows that David has a destiny. Then she says:
“People with destinies, things don't go well for them. They die old and unhappy, or young and unfinished."
There is good evidence that the David of the Bible dies old and unhappy. I have to say, I’m no longer sure that David is supposed to be a role model for us--at least not in any carte blanche way. I love how his relationship with God endures his flaws. I love his honesty in confession. I love his ability to maintain his respect for a corrupt king. But let’s be honest, the guy can be a real stinker. I actually love him less as a hero and more as a reminder of myself. Maybe we make too much of this “man after God’s own heart” idea. Unless I’m missing some other example, this statement is made about David early on in his life and only as a comparison to the corruption of Saul. I wonder if the same thing can be said about him at the end of his life. It seems like, if you do, you have to qualify it significantly. Which is what ends up happening. After all, he may be a “man after God’s own heart,” but he’s not fit to build the temple, a house for that same God. Whenever David is mentioned in the Christian scriptures, he is mentioned off-handedly as the author of a Psalm, or to make Jesus’ identity legitimate to the Jewish people, or (most importantly) as a foil for Jesus. The most common statement about him goes something like: “David was fine and everything, but he’s just rotting away in a tomb right now. Now let us show you how a real man/real King does it.” And then they point to Jesus. It’s worth repeating. The true hero of scripture is God. All the rest have feet of clay. But that’s why I like Kings. Hopefully (at least until NBC drops it), we’ll get to see our own humanity reflected back to us, for better and for worse. And, hopefully, they’ll continue to do it in a quality way. What do you think? Leave a comment.


He asked, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." Ezekiel 37:3 Can this Blog live? We’ll see. It’s worth taking another crack at it. And what could possibly cause me to break my silence? What else but television! Yay, television! Anybody else catch the season premiere of Kings last Sunday? If the over all numbers are any indication, it’s not likely. I’m sure NBC was pretty disappointed. Which, in this age of network impatience, means the show probably won’t be around for long. If you’re going to, you’d better catch it while you can. You can watch it at the NBC website or on Hulu. For those of you who have read your Bible, it’s more than worth it. Kings is a modern day take on the stories found in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. It’s the story of David and Goliath, King Saul, Jonathan, Michal, and the prophet Samuel. Besides, anything with Ian McShane (King Silas) is worth consideration. The story is set in Shiloh, a booming metropolis and the capital of King Silas’ domain. Young David Shepherd (get it, “shepherd”?) is discovered on a remote farm by the Reverend Samuel, who anoints him by giving him a watch that’s engraved with the royal seal. Cut to a battlefield where David singlehandedly destroys a tank (called a Goliath) and rescues the King’s son, Jack, from behind enemy lines. David returns to Shiloh as a national hero and is given a reputable position in the King’s court. There are numerous parallels to the Biblical account. Too many to name here. My favorite scenes involve the Rev. Samuel, especially the scene in which he comes to King Silas to inform him that the Lord’s favor no longer rests with him and that another king will be taking his place. There are also places where the show differs from the Biblical narrative. (One such example involves the King's son, Jack.) Some critics are calling it a soap opera. Others are calling it Shakespearean. Both descriptions are accurate. For my part, I’d just call it Biblical. It’s not for the kids. But, technically, neither are the stories of the Old Testament--at least not the uncensored versions. The characters are appropriately sketchy, as were the people of Ancient Israel. Remember, the only real hero in scripture is God. The rest are prone to weaknesses of all kinds: violence, lust, fear, jealousy, deceit. It’s all there in the Bible, and it makes for pretty good drama. I doubt it will be around for long, which is a shame, because I’d really like to see the drama unfold. Most intriguing [and tragic] would be getting to watch David, the young, charismatic farm boy, become the deeply flawed king. Equally amazing would be the opportunity to see his redemption. There’s enough source material to keep this thing going for a long time. There just doesn’t seem to be enough viewers. Oh well, I guess I could just read my Bible.