Square Peg Alliance

The Square Peg Alliance now has a website! If you are not familiar with this group of Nashville songwriters, I highly recommend checking them out. The website includes a short bio of each of the 13, with them writing each other’s bios. You can also hear one song from each of them, and find links to their full websites.

I went to a great concert last week featuring the Sqaure Pegs Andrew Osenga (his CD release party) and Matthew Perryman Jones (opener). Andrew Peterson (another Square Peg) joined them on the last song to finish up an enjoyable evening. And then Thursday I had the chance to hear Randall Goodgame play a short set at an art show debuting a local artist, Sarah Landolt.

There are talks of a future Square Peg concert tour (besides Andrew Peterson’s Christmas Tour, which involves many of them). Here’s to hoping that happens soon!

God is Dead

“God is dead”, declared Friedrich Nietzsche more than 100 years ago, and people today are still trying to convince themselves of that fact. Woody Allan, an avowed atheist, has made a number of films over the years pondering that statement and its implications. A nihilistic worldview, the only possible end result of Nietzsche’s reasoning, is central to many of his stories.

Allan’s newest film, Match Point, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, and Matthew Goode, is another entry into his canon of nihilistic films. There are strong similarities to what many consider Allan’s greatest work, the 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors, although ultimately Match Point ends up being a darker film. One big difference between the two is the lack of traditional Woody Allan humor in Match Point, leading many movie critics to suggest he wanted to give more attention to the questions that have been haunting him, without using humor as a distraction. The protagonists in both films want desperately to believe there is something, or Someone, greater than themselves, some standard to which they are held accountable, while at the same time hoping there truly is not.

Roger Ebert described Crimes and Misdemeanors as “a complaint against God for turning a blind eye on evil.” If we are honest with ourselves, we complain about the same thing. We complain that God ignores evil, we complain that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust” because we think they don’t deserve it, we complain that “life isn’t fair”. So what do we do about it? We can either decide that God does not then exist, that everything happens according to luck with no “higher power” in the picture (the hypothesis behind Match Point), or we can admit that “His ways are higher than our ways”.

Woody Allan once said “If my film makes one more person miserable, I’ll feel I’ve done my job.” In my opinion, we are left with one unavoidable question at the end of Match Point: If God is dead, as Woody Allan wants to believe, what is behind his making of this film? Is he spitting in God’s face? Or is he crying over His grave?

Watch Match Point, pay careful attention to the final scene, and then let me know what you think.

Three Cheers for the Damned

In my previous post, I mentioned in passing that one important and telling event at the SBC was cheering that the damned are damned. I recently came across the following post by Baptist Blogger that illustrates some of the problems in the SBC today by contrasting the resolution on alcohol with the Nationalistic fervor present at the convention:

What frustrated me is not that the resolution mischaracterized the position of those who acknowledge the whole counsel of God in formulating their position on alcohol. Neither was I upset that the convention messengers, having just elected Frank Page on a platform of ending the narrowing trends, chose to adopt a very narrow and poorly worded resolution. What angered me was that a reasonable discussion about the nature and extent of Christian liberty in the Gospel seems impossible among brethren who affirm the inerrancy of biblical authority. We do not seem to understand what Christian liberty is all about, and we certainly do not seem willing to recognize or appropriate the scriptural latitude for the sake of fellowship and peace. When presented with an option to affirm Christian liberty in the Gospel, four-fifths of the messengers raised there ballots to refuse a hearing.

The incredulity I was experiencing at that moment was compounded within the next hour. I stood at the back of the convention floor listening to Condoleeza Rice, a woman who drinks alcohol and approves of abortion and was praised and prayed for as a true Christian sister by the SBC President. Every time Condi struck a note of political liberty or patriotic freedom, the crowd thundered in applause and rose to their feet in ovation upon ovations.

The Southern Baptist Convention has relegated Christian liberty in Christ to confessional oblivion and those who are willing to engage seriously in a discussion of its meaning and limit are characterized as an ungodly, immoral, unholy, and impure bunch of bootleggers peddling liquid licentiousness. Yet when the stars and stripes are waved, or “God Bless America” is sung, tears roll down cheeks and hands are lifted high.

We are, it seems, no different that the German Church at the close of the Weimar Republic. Nationalism is our religion. The Gospel is now emptied of its power to set the captives free. This disturbs me more than the resolution itself. In fact, I could have stomached two years of the runner-up much easier than to stand in the convention hall and watch my fellow messengers rise to their feet when the death of Al-Zarquawi is announced. A soul is sent to hell, and we do not grieve. We cheer.

Read the rest of the post here.

The Supremacy of Traditions (and you thought I was going to say Christ)

The Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting the beginning of this week in North Carolina, with a couple of things worth mentioning coming out of it. Probably the best thing that happened is the election of Frank Page as the new President. The biggest reason that is good is that he was not endorsed by any of the ‘big wigs’ in the convention, and the success of his campaign can be partly attributed to blogs, meaning that people knew what was really happening. Hopefully we will start to see some changes in the direction of the convention, although it remains to be seen if he will actually do anything different.

Among the other things that were occured, besides cheering that the damned are damned and for the spread of war, this important motion was proposed:
— that the SBC “refrain from using the word ‘gay’ when referring to homosexuals in sermons, publications and in the media” and that Baptist pastors and those in other denominations be asked to do the same, submitted by William I. Gay Jr. of Winterville (N.C.) Baptist Church. (Anybody catch the submitter’s last name?)

And just in case anyone mistakenly thought the SBC might be turning back to Biblical truths instead of their traditions, they reaffirmed their belief in the ultimate authority of church regulations over biblical truths and their belief that man does not have a free will by passing another resolution on alcohol. I could go on and on about this, but the first thing to point out is the need for the drafter of this proposal to go back to school. They apparently failed grammar and don’t know the difference between the words ‘use’ and ‘abuse’.

To read the proposal, along with a commentary by Steve McCoy, go here, and then click here to read Wade Burleson’s well written take on this subject.

Here is my question: How is it possible for a group of individuals to read this passage of scripture:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?
These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Colossians 3:8-10, 16-23

and then write this in their church constitution:

Every pastoral staff and official board member of this church must not misuse drugs or use intoxicating liquor or tobacco in any form or belong to a secret society or bring disrespect upon his or her office through worldly practice and associations.

Article VIII – Ordination, Page 13:
The following persons shall not be considered [for ordination]:
(2) One who partakes in the use of intoxicating liquor, illegal drugs, or tobacco in any form, or who belongs to a secret society, or one who brings disrepute upon his ministry through worldly practices and associations.

Music City

Nashville is called Music City for a reason.

Last Friday I went to a 7:30 concert at Exit/In featuring HEM and Over the Rhine. I’ve heard a lot about Over the Rhine, so I really enjoyed hearing them live. The fact that I was standing two feet from the stage didn’t hurt, either.

After that concert finished, I went over to 3rd and Lindsley where the Jeff Coffin Mutet and Futureman were just getting started. They played until 1:00 AM, even though they had to leave at 6:30 for a concert in N.C. Jeff and Roy (Futureman) make up half of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, one of my favorite groups. Talk about an amazing performance!

On Sunday evening, I saw David Wilcox performing at the Belcourt Theatre. I was introduced to his music by Michael Card who brought him up when we were talking about great singer/songwriters. I have a couple of his CD’s, but this is the first time I’d seen him in concert. He performed several of his classic songs like ‘Eye of the Hurricane’ and ‘Rusty Old American Dream’ as well as several from his newest release, ‘Vista’. (He is streaming all of ‘Vista’ on his website here.)

Then on Tuesday evening, I went to my first Square Peg Alliance concert here in Nashville. Matthew Perryman Jones and Sandra McCracken were performing at the Radio Cafe, and they completely packed the place out. They both used the same backing band (which included members of Caedmon’s Call), with the exception of Andrew Osenga playing Electric Guitar for Matthew and Derek Webb playing Electric for his wife, Sandra. (Read summaries of the concert written by Randall Goodgame and Andrew Osenga.) I’m looking forward to attending many more concerts from members of the Square Peg Alliance.

Finally, tonight I went to a Songwriters ‘In the Round’ at the Bluebird Cafe featuring Allen Shamblin, Rob Crosby, Phil Keaggy and Randy Stonehill. If you don’t know what happens at a ’round’, the songwriters sit in a circle and take turns playing their songs. Since Phil Keaggy is, well, Phil Keaggy, he also played along with the others’ songs. The house was packed, and I was one of the last people let in. They played for about two hours. Phil and Randy sang several songs together since they have been playing together since the early ’70’s. One of Phil’s bandmates from Glass Harp was also there playing percussion and singing along on a couple songs. It was a very cool concert.

Why do some people still think that Nashville is just Country music?

Happy Baptists and Holy Grins

One of the books I’m reading now is Calvin Miller’s The Sermon Maker – Tales of a Transformed Preacher.

On page 49, he writes: “Sam realized that most churches were bewildered by preachers who devoted themselves to long talks on nonessential subjects. The world was more desperate than it knew.”

He adds this footnote to that paragraph:

Howard Macy makes it quite clear that the megachurch addiction to user-friendly methodology may be too congenial to venture into the world of severe honesty. The sermon was not intended to be a smiley mask over the face of a requiring God. Macy puts it this way:

From the Cathedral of the Perpetual Smile to First Happy Baptist, there are plenty of people who would mistakenly have us believe that the life of faith is basically one long joyride. To sustain this illusion and the quest for the Holy Grin, they transform the church program into a religious amusement park hawking a thrill-a-minute, fun-filled experience, complete with emotional roller coasters, religious variety shows, verbal trick mirrors, and more. Such teaching is a half-truth at best, a shoddy imitation of authentic joy in faith.

Why I Don’t Read Christian Fiction

Here is another excerpt from the Stephen King book I read recently, On Writing.

In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.
You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable e precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can—I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). If you can see things going this way (or at least try to), we can work together comfortably. If on the other hand, you decide I’m crazy, that’s fine. You won’t be the first.

When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, so long as he believed that I believed it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.
No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm-pick, perhaps even a toothbrush. Plot is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer. You can liberate a fossil from hard ground with a jackhammer, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is going to break almost as much stuff as it liberates. It’s clumsy, mechanical, anticreative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.

Now contrast that to christian fiction. Most of it is written with one specific purpose in mind, one ‘virtue’ or ‘promise’ they want to emphasize. And so it ends up being trite and clichéd. Here is an example:

Guy and girl fall in love, get married, have two kids. After getting bored with his wife, the husband decides to have an affair with one of his college students. He leaves his wife and moves in with college student. The wife suddenly reconnects with her highschool boyfriend, and finds out that the reason she left him all those years ago, thinking he had another girlfriend, was just a misunderstanding. So there was no reason for them to have split up, especially since he’s the one she’s really loved all this time. They become emotionally involved, but don’t sleep together (because she’s the ‘good guy’ in this story). After the girl decides not to pursue her old boyfriend anymore, she starts praying for her husband to come back. So, after getting bored with his affair, he asks her to take him back. She does, albeit a little reluctantly because she has realized she really loves the other guy more. They try to work things out, but it’s hard going. Then one day, the husband suddenly remembers that he left some things over at his girlfriend’s apartment that he needs back, so he heads over there. It just so happens that his girlfriend’s former boyfriend was jealous of him sleeping with her, and did not know yet that they had broken things off. So when the professor goes to the apartment to get his things, the jilted lover runs up behind him and fires several shots, killing him. So what happens next? Of course the bereaved wife now needs someone to comfort her; how convenient that her highschool boyfriend has moved back to town and is more than willing to step up. The end result is that she gets to marry the guy she really loved all along, and they live happily ever after. And the clincher? The reason everything worked out was because she did things in God’s timing and prayed about everything. So He, of course wanting her to be happy, worked things out for her.

And that is why I don’t read ‘christian’ fiction.

This plot refers to the Karen Kingsbury / Gary Smalley effort “Redemption Series”, a part of Kingsbury’s trademarked (yes, I did say trademarked) “Life Changing Fiction” brand.

Tomorrow’s Assignment

When was the last time you saw a great movie? A movie that gave you reason to stop and ‘consider the lilies’, a movie that made you think and rethink your life, a movie that challenged you to change, maybe just to spend more time being thankful?

Here’s a recommendation: Go watch one of these movies (ones I’ve seen recently) and then reflect on them, discuss them, read about them. Try doing so while listening to Phillip Glass’s first string quartet or George Crumb’s “Black Angels” quartet.

Let me know what happens.

Bin-jip (3-iron)


Winter Passing

Joyeux Noël

Fight Club

De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)


El Crimen del padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro)

The Red Witch

Tilda Swinton (the White Witch from the Narnia movie) gave a “State of the Cinema” address recently.

In talking about why she is a communist and how she interprets C.S. Lewis’ writings, she says:

“But I love the idea of goose-stepping old Walt D. making over $700 million dollars with the help of a Red Witch. He is more than welcome. At least we made her whiter than white, the ultimate white supremacist.”

She also talks about what she wants from films, and in this I agree with her:

“Can I be alone in my longing for inarticulacy, for a cinema that refuses to join all the dots? For an arrhythmia in gesture, for a dissonance in shape? For the context of cinematic frame, a frame that in the end only cinema can provide, for the full view, the long shot, the space between, the gaps, the pause, the lull, the grace of living.”

“How I long for documentary, in resistance. For unpowdered faces and unmeasured tread. For the emotionally undemonstrative family scene. For a struggle for unreachable words. For the open or even unhappy ending? The occasionally dropped shoe off the heel, the jiggle to readjust, the occasionally cracked egg, the mess of milk spilled. The concept of loss for words.”

The Divine Peppermint Stick

I reread Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 last week, the first time I’ve read it in about ten years. It’s hard to believe that it was written in 1953, so accurately does Bradbury describe today’s culture.

For instance, when Faber is given a Bible by Montag, the central character, he says:

“It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But it’s been a long time.” Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. “It’s as good as I remember. Lord how they’ve changed it in our ‘parlors’ these days. Christ is one of the ‘family’ now. I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.”