Category Archives: Entertainment & Pop Culture

Stare down your fears

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” – Flannery O’Connor 

Daryl Geffken

A wise person once shared with me that looking in the mirror is a good place to start when hoping for change. Why do we see a world  comprised of an “us” and a “them?” I know at least one reason is because I have sequestered myself to my own portion of life. It’s irrational, I know, but there is a fear in me to truly seek God’s desire and power because I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know the cost.

As I have poured over letters written to me over the past 20 years and journals I have written, many themes have surfaced. At first I was not sure if there was anything that emerged as a common thread. But over time I have come to this: I care for the outsider. A conversation once held with God crystallizes this point. I clearly understood God to be telling me, “Never forget what it was like before you met me.” This is not so I may manipulate others to some sort of faith that I hold, but in order that I can appreciate their value and perspective. I have worked with middle school students. I have had multiple forays into the lives of the urban poor. I have traveled to Japan, Europe and Africa and have been deeply affected by the great disparity that exists in the world. I am to be a messenger for the disenfranchised. But a prophet must have a call. And if I discover this call, will I have the courage to follow it? I care about the poor, but enough to join them in life? Will I be able to live more sacrificially in order to live with integrity as I ask people to level out the chasm of disparity we face? An unlikely source of encouragement in this process of tackling disparity comes from Disneyland.

My son, Tyler, is 2 years old and 35 inches tall. In our household this is called “Matterhorn height” as it’s the vertical requirement for riding the world’s first tubular steel roller coaster: Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. With a trip to the happiest place on earth planned, Tyler approached this lofty milestone of stature. Excitement grew with each measurement and finally the mark on the wall confirmed he would be eligible to ride. Our first day in the park was reason to celebrate. We started easily with Peter Pan, the carousel and Dumbo, building some anticipation each time we caught a glimpse of the mountain. Ramping up the energy, we went onto the Teacups, with Tyler screaming with glee as he went around and around and around. The moment had finally come. We asked him if he wanted to go on the roller coaster and he sounded an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Having waited in line, we climbed into the bobsled and entered the base of the mountain, into pitch black. We started clicking up the tracks. Then we were off! Down the mountainside, around bends, splashing through water until at last we were unbuckling and jumping out. I had forgotten how jerky the ride was and had some concern as to whether or not he would have enjoyed all that motion. “How was it, buddy?” I asked. “Good,” came the reply. Alright, not too bad. He survived and wasn’t crying. Maybe he’ll warm up to it a bit.

The next day came and we asked if he wanted to go on the Matterhorn again, he said he would and this time rode with his mother. She held his head over the jerky spots of the course and we all made it down alive. But at the bottom he was looking pretty reserved and was quick to ask to go on a different ride. I was starting to wonder what was going on. We went to a different part of the park, and there he discovered another roller coaster: Mickey’s Gadget Coaster. A new, smooth ride that traveled a little quicker than the 1965 behemoth we’d been riding previously. He loved this thing. He would run down the cue, jump into our arms, point to the back seat and plead with the cast member to let him ride there. On the ride itself, he would throw his hands up in the air and squeal with delight as we went up, down and all around. Back at the station house, he would jump up, high-five the attendant and run out to the front of the cue again, yelling, “Do it again? Do it again!” We went on this thing easily 15 times during the course of three days.

On our last morning there, Tyler asked if we could go to the Matterhorn. A little surprised, we took him to the line, where he commenced crying. When asked why, he finally confessed, “Matterhorn is scary. It has eyes and a roar!” Everything became clear. As the cart goes up the initial slope in the dark, a set of red eyes peer out from the left, followed immediately by a loud roar. Later in the ride you pass a large abominable snowman, reaching out to grab you. Tyler was just fine with the speed and bumps. He was terrified of the story! Certainly not wanting to further traumatize our child, we let him know he needn’t go on the ride at all, and went on our merry way across the park and all the rest it had to offer.

Later that night, we’re back at Dumbo. Tyler looks at me and says, “I want to go to the Matterhorn.” I thought he was mistaken in his roller coasters and asked for clarification. He repeated his request and added, “I need to roar at the silly bears.” Astounded, I looked at my wife, asking her if she had put this thought into his head. She looked at me with an expression of wonderment, confirming that he had come up with this on his own.

When we walked over, we discovered the ride was temporarily down. When Tyler realized this, he lost it; sobbing and repeating, “I roar at the silly bears!” We tried to calm him down and brought him over to the other coaster, saying we’d come back in a bit to see if it was back in service. Upon our return, the ride had just begun to function again. The line wrapped around almost the entire mountain. It would be an hour to get on, and we had a flight to catch the next day. I bent down, explained this as best I could to my 2-year-old son, and asked, “If there was one last ride you could go on in Disneyland for a long time, what would it be?” He thought for a while, and looked up at me with confidence. “The Matterhorn.” All right. We’ll do it.

The Matthorn at Disney/Wikipedia

The cue moved surprisingly fast. All the while, Tyler was building his confidence like a prizefighter about to enter the ring. He kept practicing his roar, louder and louder. The crowd around us became enamored with this little wonder of a boy and his desire to conquer the silly bears. Finally strapped in and about to enter the cave, I turned around to see his face. He looked at me and roared. Click, click, click, we started going , “Tyler, here come the eyes!” “Roar!” Great job. “Tyler, here comes the roar!” “ROAR!” Amazing! We careened down the mountain. Over hill, under dale, past the grabbing yetis. All the while, my son is roaring at the top of his lungs. We turned the corner and I heard him yell, “Splash!” right before we hit the water that slows the cart down. We squeeze to a halt. Silence. I get out of the bobsled, and turn to grab him from my wife to assess any damage. I set him on the ground and knelt down next to him. “Tyler, was it fun?” I asked. “Yeah. Matterhorn is scary,” he replied. And after a short pause finished with, “But I roared at the silly bears!” My 2-year-old son somehow seemed to realize that his fear might prevent him from acting out a portion of his life. He has become my mentor.

What now? What if I roared at my fear? What if when I looked into a mirror, I didn’t see myself? What if I saw my family and a whole huge community of people? Having expressed such a hope, I’m not sure of the route. I would suggest grabbing coffee with some associates, maybe ones that don’t think the same way as you; that have differing experiences and presuppositions, and talking. Deeply engaging each other about how to take the next step. Listen to them, listen to yourself. Talk until you must act. Take a risk and put your thought into action. Then reflect. When this has occurred, maybe several times, we might gain some understanding. George Bernard Shaw said, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.” We must not allow our fear of pain, suffering or life numb us to the point of inhumanity. We cannot ignore the lives of others.

This is the final in a three-part series.

What Would Jesus Brew? Lots, beer makers say

By Amanda Greene
WilmingtonFAVS.com

Assistant brewer Christopher McGarvey lectures on the history of beer in ancient Samaria to a crowd of about 90 people at Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, N.C. RNS photo by Amanda Greene

All this talk of beer was making the former seminarian thirsty.

“Cheers,” said assistant brewer Christopher McGarvey, taking a sip from his pint of golden ale. Then he continued his lecture on the history of beer in ancient Samaria to a crowd of about 90 on the third floor of this city’s Front Street Brewery.

McGarvey is a recent seminary graduate, a cantor at St. Basil the Great Orthodox Church and the brains behind the “What Would Jesus Brew” class each Tuesday evening in March.

The class is part of a yearlong Heavenly Homebrew Competition of Churches for Charity. It will culminate in church teams brewing individual beers for a fall event benefiting Lower Cape Fear Hospice & Lifecare Center in Wilmington.

McGarvey said the competition is about learning how to brew beer in the context of how the drink was used historically in the church. All in moderation, of course.

Officials at Hospice said it’s the first time any group has held a beer brewing competition as a benefit for them, and the charity is grateful for the donations.

Church teams have witty names such as “The Hopostles” and “Brew Unto Others,” said Jeffrey Hughes, a team leader for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. McGarvey picked clever scriptural references for the title of each class such as “Treasure Hidden in a Field: Barley, Hops and Brewing Basics” or “In the Beginning Was the Wort: How to Start Brewing in Your Kitchen.”

Teaching about the importance of grain to early beer makers, McGarvey said, “It became clear early on that God gave us barley to make beer with.”

Though competition organizers extended the invitation to a wide variety of denominations, you won’t find any local Baptists or Methodists — many of who abstain from alcohol. The 10 church teams so far are Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran or Unitarian.

Religious groups don’t have to view alcohol as 100 percent negative, said the Rev. Richard Elliott of St. Andrew’s On-the-Sound Episcopal Church.

“It’s like a joke I once heard about when some western parts of the state were voting on liquor by the drink,” Elliott said. “A man says to this woman: ‘Well, you know Jesus turned water into wine.’ And she said, ‘Yes, and I’ve always thought the less of him for it.’ We believe that all God’s gifts are good in their proper place and used properly.”

The brewery is marketing the class as teaching participants how to “brew great beer and raise money for Hospice, while embodying a historical Christian attitude towards the moderate use of alcohol as a blessing from God.”

As McGarvey talked, team members from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wilmington sniffed plastic ramekins on their table of toasted grains labeled Pilsner, Munich, Carafa, Caramel, Cascade, EKG and Saaz.

McGarvey quoted St. Boniface telling villagers to drink beer instead of water for hygiene reasons in sixth-century Germany, “which might be shocking if someone in the clergy started saying that today.”

From a pastoral perspective, Elliott’s one critique was the timing of the class — smack in the middle of Lent.

“It seemed a little odd to me because Lent is supposed to be a lean time,” he said. “You’re learning about brewing of the beer and Christian history. They say you should take something on for Lent, but we are in a fairly fatty and rich environment while we’re learning about it.”

After a pause, he added: “I guess we’re taking on beer for Lent.”

Pastor finds community in local coffee shops

By Contributor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

The Shop’ is one of my most favorite neighborhood hangouts and it’s undergoing another transformation due to the new owners re-imagining the space. I’ve been visiting off and on over the last few weeks, anxiously awaiting the ‘shoe to drop’ and see what they do with the space. Granted, it wasn’t the most artistically or aesthetically loved spot before, had more of a guy living in his mom’s basement feel, but it had a certain post-garage band vibe to it that I could manage. I love this business so much, I actually painted this picture and gave it as a gift to the previous owner, capturing it forever in colorful memory (see below).

Painting by Eric Blauer

I’ve spent more money than I dare examine at The Shop over the last six years and a lot of living has taken place in this small den of delight. When I moved out of my suburban ministry role and moved into this part of town, I left the church-as my-office rhythm,  bought a laptop and married my ministry life to my day-to-day life in various third places around town.

To the chagrin of a few business owners I’ve ended up hijacking The Shop and other coffee caves and made them my office, counseling couch, writer’s desk, telecommunications center and often needed urban recreational reprieves. These days, I’ve made friends with people who in my old pastoral context, I wouldn’t of been able to meet because of this change. I’ve realized that I had allowed a ‘come and see me’ method of mission to dominate my ministry mind instead of a ‘go and meet them’ missional ethos. Now with my iPhone and my secretary Siri, I am fully capable of living a business life out and among the very people God has called me to be in relationship with in my community, and the coffee is way better too.

Rockwood Bakery/by Eric Blauer

Earlier this week was judgement day. I walked into The Shop and the apocalypse fell upon my man-mind as I gazed upon the old lady purple colored walls and the mauve high back grandma chairs and a piano crammed into an overcrowded space, an assorted menagerie of mix-matched tables and chairs. I turned around and walked out. I couldn’t do it, it was too much. It felt like my best friend had showed up in drag. I left with an odd goodbye to my buddy behind the counter, his puzzled farewell matched my disoriented thoughts as I pondered the fearful possibility that we might be breaking up.

I ended up at my better looking, but far more boisterous and never a smile, third choice: The Rockwood Bakery. This is a ‘no-sweatpants’ kinda coffee bar; pretty good coffee, get lost in the noise hunker-downability and  beautiful, but like the supermodel in a magazine, not the girl next door kind. I did my work, drowned my sorrow in drip and contemplated my coffee shop future. I was productive but persnickety.
I hope that The Shop is in a phase and will work out it’s wardrobe issues. My serenity depends on it. I dare not think of the possible tragic loss of yet another favorite barrista. I barely survived the dismissal of my last frothy foam fairy.

But whatever happens, I now know in this day place matters and that’s a gift I am grateful to have rediscovered through local coffeeshops.
As for tomorrow, Indaba, here I come, you better not be wearing any bauble jewelry.

‘Blue Like Jazz’ film aims to be Christian, not ‘cheesy’

By Rebecca Cusey
Religion News Service

Author Donald Miller, who wrote the hugely popular "Blue Like Jazz," has just finished a national tour for his new book, "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years." RNS file photo courtesy Jeremy Coward Photography.

Do not confuse the upcoming film “Blue Like Jazz” with Christian market movies like “Fireproof” or “Courageous.”

“A Christian movie genre has formed. Our first goal with this movie is that we didn’t fit into this genre,” said director Steve Taylor.

Author Donald Miller, who wrote the 2003 best-selling book “Blue Like Jazz,” from which the movie was adapted, agrees.

“We wanted to show that movies about the faith struggle that millions of Americans deal with don’t have to be cheesy,” he said. “They don’t have to have bad actors. They don’t have to be low budget production. They can compete with other films at the box office.”

“Most Christian artists if we’re really honest with ourselves, we want to be accepted by other creatives who are not people of faith, just general market folks.”

If it’s acceptance they are looking for, Taylor, 54, and Miller, 41, have found a measure of it in the secular world. The film will be distributed by Roadside Attractions, which markets such decidedly non-religious films as “Winter’s Bone” and “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” an unusual endorsement for a faith-based product.

“Blue Like Jazz” premiered March 13 to respectful reviews at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, an increasingly important venue for independent films. The film hits theaters April 13.

Loosely adapted from Miller’s autobiography, the film follows a young Texan teen as he leaves his conservative church and enrolls in the aggressively secular and whimsically liberal Reed College near Portland, Ore. His faith is tried as much by the hypocrisy of his home church as by the new ideas around him.

Taylor, well known in contemporary Christian music circles, has made a career out of addressing church hypocrisy.

“I think it always comes better when it’s from the inside than from the outside,” he said. “So many of our critics think we are too blind or dumb to know (hypocrisy).”

That — in addition to the film’s swearing, drinking, and a lesbian character — is why Miller expects more pushback from the evangelical world than from secular critics.

“The average Christian wants clean answers, clean characters — ‘I was bad then Jesus happened to me, now I became good.’ Not, ‘I grew up in church and I saw a lot of hypocrisy and I walked away and I realized God exists outside of church.'”

Selling over a million copies and spending months on bestseller lists, “Blue Like Jazz” revolutionized the evangelical world when it was released in 2003.

At one point, a chain of Southern Baptist bookstores flagged Miller’s book — and several others — with a special warning to readers that the contents “could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.”

“I remember thinking that this guy understood the Jesus I worshipped,” said Mike Kruger, 36, of Washington, D.C. “He got the type of Christianity I was seeking. I didn’t need the sanitized Jesus that the evangelical church of the 1990s and early 2000s was pedaling. I wanted a real Jesus. One who was messy and could deal with the messiness of my world.”

Like thousands of others, Kruger donated to help fund the movie after an appeal on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.com. More than 4,000 people donated more than $350,000 dollars, the highest response Kickstarter has seen to date.

Eugene Cho, 41, the lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, understands the appeal.

“Even if you might not agree with everything, there’s something about how the author, Donald Miller, is really welcoming people into conversation and thought that really appeals to people,” he said.

Miller hopes the movie has similar impact as the book, showing people they aren’t alone in difficult spiritual struggles.

“There are other people who deal with these things: the space between the church and the world, the pulls from either side,” he said. “Not just the church and the world, between a mom and dad, between love and sex, between faith and doubt. All those places. More people than we know live in those spaces.”

Cho sees another message encouraging all Americans, not just religious people, to interact with groups different than themselves.

“We tend to live in this very polarized world and we’re seeing this more so in this election season,” he said. “Particularly from a religious point of view, we tend to eventually gather with those who think like us, look like us, feel like us. It doesn’t do us any good.”

Porn business not something to be proud of

By Contributor Diane Kipp

Diane Kipp

Rick Santorum is concerned about pornography and its affects on Americans. His website states he, “believes that federal obscenity laws should be vigorously enforced,” and, if he is elected president,  he vows to appoint an attorney general who will do just that.

According to Chris Moody, in an article on Yahoo’s “The Ticket” some of the main producers of American pornography claim not to be concerned about Santorum’s ability to impact their industry. Indeed, they seem to strongly disapprove of  Santorum’s plans, apparently based on their deeply held philosophical beliefs.

One Porn Titan (a title used in the headline of the article), obviously an earnest student of American political history who possibly minored in psychology, offers this insight, “This is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned. This is what Rick Santorum envisions. And I think the guy is crazy.” Does the Porn Titan think anything he produces is what the Founding Fathers envisioned? Does he imagine any of the Founding Fathers would feel satisfaction in knowing pornographers  appropriate the freedoms and protections of the United States Constitution to further their industry?

Another Porn Titan believes that even if Santorum wins the election and directs prosecutions of those in the pornography industry, the industry will prevail because, “People are more comfortable with hardcore pornography than ever before.” (Yay for us!  And yes, I’m being sarcastic.) An attorney for the pornography industry agrees, “Fortunately, we become a more tolerant society over time . . . we don’t want others telling us what we can and can’t do.”

Has our prevailing characteristic as a people become “neener neener, you can’t make me?” We will tolerate an epidemic of filth wallowing and all its subsequent consequences, we will look at the addictive, misogynistic face of pornography and say, “that’s ok, it can stay,” rather than have someone else “tell us what to do”?!  Is that the price we are willing to pay in order to have the satisfaction of stamping our little feet, sticking out our tongues, and yelling “you can’t make me”?  Of all the values I associate with the American people, that is not one I would choose to define us or to be a determiner in where we are headed as a nation and as a people. Would you?

Calling for weather photos

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By Tracy Simmons
Religion News Spokane

Radar image of Spokane at 8 a.m./National Weather Service

Forecasters are expecting the white stuff to fall all day. And all night. And all day tomorrow and tomorrow night. According to the National Weather Service, the snow may or may not let up for the weekend.

So, if you’re playing out in the snow with your kids snap a photo and send it to me. If you have scenic photos of your snow-covered yard or home, send me a pic! Or, if your clergy and had to go to work today, send me a photo of your church.

My hope is to gather your photos and put them into a slideshow on the blog. Who doesn’t like to look at snow photos, right?

Thanks everyone!

You can email them to me at tracy.simmons@religionnews.com

Companies pull ads from Muslim reality TV show

By Omar Sacirbey

(RNS) Lowe’s, the national hardware chain, has pulled commercials from future episodes of “All-American Muslim,” a TLC reality-TV show, after protests by Christian groups.

The Florida Family Association, a Tampa Bay group, has led a campaign urging companies to pull ads on “All-American Muslim.” The FFA contends that 65 of 67 companies it has targeted have pulled their ads, including Bank of America, the Campbell Soup Co., Dell, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Goodyear, Green Mountain Coffee, McDonalds, Sears, and Wal-Mart.

The group’s list of withdrawn companies could not be immediately independently verified.

“‘All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law,” the Florida group asserts in a letter it asks members to send to TLC advertisers.

“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish,” the FFA’s letter continues.

It was not clear whether the companies cited by the Florida Family Association, which has also targeted shows like MTV’s “Degrassi,” stopped advertising on “All-American Muslim” because of pressure or for other reasons.

Emails from Home Depot and Sweet’N Low posted on the Florida Family Association’s website suggest the companies had simply bought one commercial spot, and didn’t cancel any commercials.

A spokeswoman for Amway, also cited by the Florida group, denied the company pulled advertising from “All-American Muslim,” and said those reports were “misleading” and “falsely named” Amway.

Lowe’s acknowledged pulling commercials from “All-American Muslim” following consumer complaints, but denied they came from one group.

“We understand the program raised concerns, complaints, or issues from multiple sides of the viewer spectrum, which we found after doing research of news articles and blogs covering the show,” said Katie Cody, a Lowe’s spokeswoman.

Cody declined to specify whether the complaints were anti-Muslim, and whether Lowe’s advertises on shows with Christian, Jewish, or other religious characters or themes. “It is certainly never Lowe’s intent to alienate anyone,” Cody said.

“Shame on Lowe’s, and shame on every one of these companies if they really did cave in to such bigotry and hatred,” wrote Sheila Musaji, who blogs at theamericanmuslim.org. If the Florida Family Association and other reports are misrepresenting these companies, she added, “then they need to speak up.”

The first of eight weekly episodes of “All-American Muslim,” which follows five Lebanese families in Dearborn, Mich., premiered on Nov. 13.

A TLC spokeswoman, Laurie Goldberg, said the network could not comment about the alleged advertising defections, but that the show maintained “strong” advertising. “There are no plans to pull the show. The show is going to continue as planned,” said Goldberg.