Welcome! I’m Yankee Gospel Girl (formerly Southern Gospel Yankee), but you can call me Esther O’Reilly. I’m an old soul with many interests, and I promote southern gospel music along with everything else good, true and beautiful. If you’re a first-time visitor, thanks for reading! Check out my “About” page, follow me on Youtube, and browse around in the filing cabinet for my musings on all genres of music, movies, faith & culture, and old stuff. Whether you’re a fan of gospel music or just another old soul like me, I hope you like what you find! God bless.
Recently, I re-watched a small Christian movie called The Second Chance (2006), directed by Steve Taylor and starring Michael W. Smith as a yuppie music pastor who spends some time serving in an inner-city church. Naturally, the film uses Smith’s musical talents for more than one set piece. Guess who I spotted in the choir on a couple of them? Todd Suttles, now singing baritone/bass for the Gaither Vocal Band. Here’s my favorite number, “Follow Me.” Michael’s character has wandered into a church choir practice, and the lady director enthusiastically encourages him to sit down and play something with them. You can see Todd in the orange shirt on the far right. He has a step-out around 2:10.
You might be wondering if the movie itself is any good, and the answer is that parts of it are very good, but it’s a mixed bag. Michael W. does a surprisingly good acting job, and the black pastor he works with is even more impressive. The writers are clearly very familiar with inner city church ministry in Nashville and fill the story with memorable small moments and characters. A subplot involving a pregnant prostitute is particularly sad and powerful. My main problem with the film is its excessive wallowing in white guilt. Granted, it could have been even worse, and it tries to present an equal array of black and white antagonists (including a corrupt black city official and a cruel black gangster). It also acknowledges that the black pastor is prideful and cynical, and he needs to give Michael W.’s wide-eyed character a fair chance. But in my opinion, it doesn’t come down hard enough on some of his spewing, and the closing scene has him getting choked up at a Malcolm X quote. Yes, both pastors are presented as having lessons to learn, but it seems like in the end, the white guy has learned more.
Then again, it seemed pretty mild compared to what I found when I looked up the actor who plays the black pastor, Jeff Obafemi Carr. The guy is a total nutcase. He’s a black liberation activist with his own cult down in Nashville that, if I have this right, combines Pentecostalism with African tribal paganism with Freemasonry. Nope, not making this up. But hey, he can act. Soooo, ANYway. Enjoy the music!
While I’m on a political roll, I’ll take a post to look back at the fateful SCOTUS decision on gay “marriage,” which I didn’t get around to writing about at the time it was actually handed down. In particular, I want to critique some of the more unhelpful reactions I saw from allegedly conservative Christians, who took it upon themselves to lecture other conservative Christians about how they should or shouldn’t react to the decision.
One theme that folks like Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore and others kept harping on was the unhelpfulness of “panic” or “outrage.” Stetzer’s Christianity Today article contained subtly downplaying language like this: “As Christians, this is just another step as Christians are losing long-held cultural clout in the West. The focus must not be panic… or anger… or fear… or disdain.” (As if Christians who express alarm at the profound social ramifications of this decision are merely pouting over their loss of “cultural clout!”) Russell Moore wrote two pieces, one for the Gospel Coalition that was more constructive, and one for the Washington Post that included lines like this: “Some Christians will be tempted to anger, lashing out at the world around us with a narrative of decline. That temptation is wrong.” And a few lines later, “This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing.”
I wonder whether the work of somebody like Ryan Anderson, who immediately responded to the decision with five practical actions Christians could take, would count as “politicizing” or “lashing out” by Moore’s standards. I’m also at a loss as to where Moore gets this idea that it’s “wrong” and unbiblical to be angry, outraged or even fearful at the moral decline of a nation. There is most certainly a place for outrage in the wake of this decision, and it presents a false dichotomy to divide it necessarily from evangelistic compassion.
The truth is, I don’t think Stetzer, Moore, and their ilk have really thought through all these finger-wagging soundbites. I think they feel compelled to put them in there as part of a knee-jerk reaction against anything that might be perceived as blunt, or harsh, or rough around the edges. As proof of my hunch, I’d like to offer an incident I actually observed for myself when I recently sat in on an interview taping with Sean McDowell. (Yes, THAT McDowell. Sean is the son of Josh and has his own writing/speaking ministry, including a recent book with Breakpoint’s John Stonestreet on same-sex “marriage.”)
In the wake of the disgusting revelation that Planned Parenthood has been trafficking the remains of its victims, and apropos of some thinking and listening I’ve been doing lately on the subject of abortion, a few words seem appropriate.
On this breaking news, there’s not much more to be said that Matt Walsh hasn’t already said volubly and elegantly, so everyone, just go read his columns at The Blaze and thank me later. However, one paragraph of his in particular caught my attention and did seem worth expanding on (emphasis added):
I am incredibly angry as I write this. I try not to be, usually. Writing angry is often like going to the grocery store hungry; you’re bound to make choices you’ll regret later. But I anticipate that much of the media will ignore this story, so I have to write about it. And if I’m going to write about Planned Parenthood selling dead children, or Planned Parenthood doing anything else, it’s impossible to be anything but angry in the process. This is the most wretched and contemptible organization in the world, and I don’t think I ever want to get to the point where they don’t make me angry when I think about them.
It’s unfortunate that some pro-life activists, even wonderful representatives for the cause who are doing great work and saving lives, will distance themselves from the idea of feeling anger at abortion. Without naming names, I recently heard one make an inspiring pitch for his organization in which he still felt a need to explain that grief as opposed to anger is what really saves lives. He described anger as a temptation to resist, something that’s not constructive and not helpful.
I beg to differ. I think Matt gets it exactly right. And so does a friend of mine, who’s a little bit famous (is that a thing?) and very polarizing, so in the interests of avoiding google trolls, I’ll just call him Mike (‘cuz that’s his name).
“[It’s about] growing up, and about inner conflict, and about dealing with yourself, and all that stuff.” — Littlest Sister on Inside Out
Littlest Sister and I had another adventure in the theater recently. Since our interview/review format worked so well for the faith-based movie Beyond the Mask, I decided to use her precociously articulate charm for my own ends once again and get her take on Pixar’s latest smash hit, Inside Out. The simple premise is that a little girl’s emotions are personified, and we get to go on a journey with them inside her own mind, as she deals with a tough family move and the pressures of growing up.
As before, the format for this interview was record, conversate, transcribe and publish. No splicing and dicing! We realize we’re about a month late to this party, so as a result, there will be a few spoilers (albeit understated spoilers, considering the unique nature of the story). If you’ve already seen the film or don’t mind having it mildly spoiled for you, we hope you enjoy our joint insights on it! It certainly had both of us wishing we had brought tissues.
Loneliness is woven into the fabric of the human condition. Lifelong companionship is a gift not everyone is given, and even when they are, it still doesn’t magically make the problem of loneliness go away.
One song that deals with loneliness in an especially poignant, painful way is Edie Brickell’s “Remember Me This Way.” Written with Steve Martin and released on their joint album Love Has Come For You, it asks a painter to paint the speaker’s portrait for her. The request is almost child-like as she thinks of things to add to the picture. There’s “a happy family,” surrounded by “kids and dogs and babies.” And then, for no particular reason, “put horses and a house in the background.” By listening to what she wistfully tells the painter to put in the picture, we learn about all the things she doesn’t have: home, family, someone to love her, someone to love.
As I listen to the lyrics, I think about how many of us have met women like this. Just ordinary women, getting a little on in years, the days slipping past one by one, and nobody to share them with. “Make me look like I’m somebody. Make me a little younger than I am now. Will you please remember me? Remember me this way?”
The most heart-breaking part is the bridge. The speaker is very concerned that this not be just any painting. “Make it a work of art,” she urges, “a real sight to see.” Not just a painting, but “a real masterpiece.” Of course, not realizing that she herself is the masterpiece. The masterpiece of a human soul.
One thing more. “Don’t forget my dear companion. Put someone who loves me by my side.” And again, the refrain: “Will you please remember me? I want to be remembered this way.” Perhaps this painter is the only person who will remember her in any way.
And this is where the song leaves us, with no happy ending and no easy answers. This is because the answers aren’t easy. Life isn’t easy. Even for the Christian, life is quite often not easy. Jesus offers something different. He offers himself. We may not experience his presence in the immediate, tangible way that we would experience the presence of a loved one, but the knowledge that he knows and loves us is enough to provide hope. It is enough to provide that measure of grace, never measured in excess. It is enough to know that in the end, we may have nobody else, but we will have God. This is not a small matter.
As Audrey Assad writes in her song “Known,”
From the fall of my heart to the resurrection of my soul
You know me, God, and You know my ways
In my rising and my sitting down
You see me as I am. Oh, see me as I am.
As I am. Not as I imagine myself to be, but as I am. This is how God sees us. This is how God remembers us. This is how we are known.
Another classic performance from the Booth Brothers. I learned something interesting from my blogging friend Brian Fuson about some numbers like this which I had thought were simply one-offs for this concert. He told me that some of the songs actually were going to be recorded in the studio and put on an album, but the project was scrapped. I wonder if they included this Wayne Watson tune. The harmonies are certainly haunting. (Note Michael’s wife Vicki getting misty-eyed toward the end!)
The Browns have gone through a few lineup shifts, beginning with two sisters and two brothers, then down-sizing to four voices after the older sister got married, then enjoying her return along with her husband, Nick Trammell. But for their last couple projects, it’s back to just mother Shelly, daughter Michaela, and brothers Adam and Andrew. The three younger siblings enjoy a strong blend, and they also please crowds with their dynamic violin trios. Aim Higher is the family’s second release with Stowtown Records, set for official release this Friday.
The other week I was listening to Rush Limbaugh, and I heard a very sad call-in from a 60-year-old southern gentleman. He was talking about loss of faith in the Republican party, in the judicial system, in the military—all these institutions that as conservative Americans we would love to throw our support behind. He talked about current and possible future erosion of liberties like speech and gun ownership. What was there left for him to believe in and defend as a patriotic American? Rush had no pat answers. All he could do was empathize.
By coincidence, I was listening in on the same day SCOTUS upheld Obamacare 6-3. Once again, the allegedly conservative Justice Roberts co-authored the majority opinion. (It’s enough to make one wonder if someone has incriminating photos of the guy, but that’s neither here nor there.) Meanwhile, Justice Scalia added yet another gem to a long line of eloquent dissents. Read a few choice quotes here. “Interpretive jiggery-pokery,” indeed. And of course, the day after that, SCOTUS miraculously “found” the “right” to redefine marriage in our Constitution by a 5-4 majority. Kennedy wrote this opinion, in a style “as pretentious as its content was egotistic.” (Scalia again. How I love that guy).
In these times, the southern gentleman’s question is a fair one. When even the most conservative justices in our highest court can’t always agree on a matter of basic interpretive integrity, where do we place our hope? What does it even mean anymore to say “God bless America”? Continue reading
You might know that the Akins are one of my favorite groups in southern gospel today. I’ve raved a bit about them before, but I think if I could boil it down to one word, it would be “musicianship.” They’re completely self-taught, yet they play, sing, and write all of their own material and give completely live concerts. They make it all look deceptively easy, but it takes a special talent to wear that many hats and produce quality work. The Akins do it with style. For this entry in “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World,” I picked country band Diamond Rio to spar with the Akins. The two bands have similar country-rooted styles with a rocky kick. Both bands are also accomplished jammers, and to top it off, both bands specialize in rich vocal harmonies.
Diamond Rio enjoyed huge mainstream success throughout the 90s, but with surprise hit “In God We Still Trust,” they gained fans in the Christian market as well. They’ve dipped their toe in a variety of musical styles, mixing in everything from pop to bluegrass, but all with the signature tight blend of lead singer Marty Roe, baritone Dana Williams, and tenor Gene Johnson. One of their best albums and one of my favorite Christmas projects is The Star Still Shines, which shows off all their talents across a great cross-section of music (my review here).
To be fair, I’ll try to compare like and like tracks from both artists. Unfortunately, I can’t find studio versions of the Akins’ acapella arrangements on Youtube. Fortunately, there are a couple of good live videos out there. When it comes to instrumental/jamming skill, I would say Diamond Rio’s greater experience tips in their favor. Their licks are simply more varied and advanced. However, I think the Akins can give them a run for their money in the acapella department. And when you consider that I’m comparing a group of seasoned veterans with a band of 20-something youngsters at all, the Akins’ relative skill and polish becomes even more impressive.