Book Review: The Stories We Tell, by Mike Cosper

If you’ve been reading my writing for any length of time, you know that I love good art and good storytelling through art, whether it’s a song, a movie or a novel. My “Marriage in the Movies” series is one example of my attempts to analyze story through a gospel lens. So when I saw everybody and his uncle recommending Pastor Mike Cosper’s book on storytelling in movies and TV, from Tim Keller to Russell Moore to Ed Stetzer to Matt Chandler… I figured, “What the heck, I’ll buy it on Kindle, write a review, and hope there’s a way to return ebooks if it turns out to be shallow and underwhelming.”

Luckily for me, there is a way, because yeah… it’s pretty shallow and underwhelming. But, I’m glad I took the time to read it and review it, because I like the idea of this book. Cosper explains, “I’ve intentionally tried to view the stories in this book in the light of the gospel, treating their characters, plots, and images as signposts for a truth that the writers, directors, and actors might not even be aware of, but that we all, nonetheless, long for.”

In general, I agree. We do need more Christians engaging with film art in a well-rounded, biblical way. We need Christians who can walk that fine line between “Wait, did he just say the d-word?” on the one hand and “All things are lawful for me, wheeeee!” on the other, sifting wheat from chaff and finding value even when the art isn’t coming from a Christian perspective. For parts of this book, I think Cosper does a relatively decent job of that. But for many reasons, it’s ultimately a poor execution of a good idea. Still, I think it’s important to examine why the execution fails and hopefully suggest a more excellent way to engage the stories our culture tells.

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CD Review: Still, by the Booth Brothers

From Southern Gospel’s most popular trio comes their first major release in several years. While this album isn’t available at digital outlets like Amazon or iTunes, the balance of original to cover material qualifies it as more than a table project. (Pick up your own copy at their website here.) It also offers listeners a first look at new baritone singer Paul Lancaster since long-time member Jim Brady took his leave. So without further ado, let’s see what I thought of it!

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Dear Christian Performers: Please Retire the Homeschooling Jokes

Picture the scene: Your favorite gospel singers are up on stage doing their between-song schtick. One unfortunate group member is the butt of some jokes aimed at his intelligence. All in good fun, of course. Then another member helpfully offers an explanation for his comrade’s denseness: “Oh, that’s right, so-and-so was homeschooled!” The crowd guffaws obligingly.

Before going further, I want to clarify that I’ve seen more than one example of this, so I’m not intentionally singling out any group in particular. However, to give just one instance, I’ll mention that Bill Gaither used to give guitarist Kevin Williams this punchline in his banter with Rory the soundman. Rory, as Gaither fans may recall, was famous for staring blankly into space while Kevin and the others reeled off clever one-liners at his expense.

Full disclosure: I was homeschooled all the way through high school. My mother taught me most of what I know about good writing and good literature. Suffice it to say that by the time I was doing Shakespeare, Dante and the rest in college, half of it was review. And that’s not even either of my majors.

However, I’m truthfully not the least bit hurt or offended by this particular punchline. You see, we homeschoolers have a pretty thick skin. We learned long ago not to pay too much attention to how the rest of the world might view us. Instead of getting our knickers in a knot and throwing a hissy fit, our preferred strategy is to smile winsomely and collect all the spelling bee/geography bee/moot court trophies in the country.

The real reason I’m criticizing this stock joke is that it makes talented artists whom I like and respect look silly. And out of touch. Whenever I wince at yet another homeschooling joke, believe me when I say that I’m not wincing for myself. I’m wincing for them. Continue reading

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CD Review: A New Chapter, by the Jim Brady Trio

Image2The Jim Brady Trio is one of the hottest new acts in southern gospel, and with good reason: Jim comes off a staggering twelve-year run with the Booth Brothers besides being a prolific songwriter for other groups, his wife Melissa is also a prolific writer and vocal coach, and Tim Parton is well-known for his tenure as Legacy Five’s pianist/producer. With so much experience and talent in one place, good things are bound to happen. The release of their debut album is especially poignant in the wake of Lari Goss’s death, since this was one of the last projects he worked on. Today marks its official drop date, and you can head over to iTunes for your own copy. But first, have a gander at what I thought of it. Continue reading

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Monday Morning Humor: Save Cancer From the Jews!

Or, as the left calls them, “The Jewwwwz!”

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When the Republican Party Leaves Me

In case you didn’t notice this week, some cowardly women and a few cowardly men in the Republican party conspired to kill a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Of course, it would have barely alighted on our Dear Leader’s desk before being vetoed, but it’s the thought that would have counted.

I hope you’re watching the slow but steady decay of the Republican party very closely, my dear conservative readers. Don’t be like the frog in the pot. Recognize that the party you’ve loyally stood behind for lo these many years simply doesn’t care as much about things like life and marriage as you do anymore. The marriage issue bears special attention. (Don’t be too shocked if come 2016, the Republicans’ anointed candidate refuses to take a stand on the definition of marriage at all.) But this week’s decision shows they can’t even get their act together when it comes to babies being killed. Campaign strategists are pressing, on both issues, and they are pressing in a leftward direction.

You cannot allow yourself to be endlessly shanghaied into voting for the lesser of two evils. You cannot hold your nose at the ballot box forever. You need to let yourself smell the rot that’s setting in.

You have a right to vote, it’s true. You also have a right not to.

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Answering Your Questions About “American Sniper” [UPDATED]

American Sniper Kyle and Cooper collage

Top: SEAL sniper Chris Kyle ; Bottom: Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

[UPDATE: 1/25/15 Since first writing this post, I’ve found more information on one of the slanderous claims that’s going around about Kyle, and I’ve updated it accordingly.]

Whether or not you’re the movie-going type, you’ve been hearing an awful lot about this one movie lately. It’s breaking box office records, FOX news is promoting it like crazy, and wild-eyed leftists are feverishly tweet-blogging their hatred for it and its subject. I’m talking about Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, based on the best-selling book by Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.

With over 150 confirmed kills, Chris Kyle is the most lethal sniper in American history. After ten years of putting country before family, he resigned from the Navy to recover from post-traumatic stress, save his marriage and get to know his own children. He chose to put his story in book form to give people a candid look at the Iraq conflicts and the sacrifices made by military families. A compelling war memoir and a painfully honest love story, it shot to the top of the charts, and Kyle’s public profile soared. But he took the most pride in the organizations he founded to help other struggling veterans cope with the transition back to civilian life. These included veterans with PTSD. On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle was shot and killed by one of those veterans at a gun range. All of Texas mourned.

Those who knew Chris Kyle well remember him as a war hero, a loving husband and father, and a humble man who shied from the spotlight and never stopped pouring himself into the military community. But as always, the left-wing media knows best. Meanwhile, you, a fairly pro-military conservative Christian (if previous surveys of my readership are a clue) are watching it all unfold and getting curious. If you’re like me, you may not have even heard of Chris Kyle until this movie came out. You now have conservative friends who are raving about the movie, and you’re wondering if you should see it too, just to find out what all the fuss is about. You’re probably wondering how much of it is Hollywood and how much of it is Kyle’s true story. You wonder if it’s really as conservative as Fox News says. You wonder if it’s any good. And you wonder if there’s anyone out there discussing Chris Kyle’s story from a Christian perspective, as distinguished from a purely conservative perspective.

Wonder no more, because [Larryboy voice] I. Am. That. Hero. Having seen the movie, read the book, and listened to every interview with Kyle that I could find, I’m here today to answer all your questions about American Sniper. Continue reading

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A Statler Brother’s Thoughts On the Performer’s Vocation

I’m preparing an article on the Statler Brothers, the most popular country music group of all time, for my sorely neglected series on Christians in Entertainment. I was inspired to write about them by their thoroughly enjoyable book Random Memories, which is indeed a walk down random memory lane. It’s full of great anecdotes and wisdom, and for a variety of reasons, I’d say it’s pretty clear they did it without a ghost writer. I was struck by the great balance of humor and honesty they brought to their reflections on the stardom they achieved. Here Harold Reid shares some candid thoughts on what it was like to balance their dream job as country music stars with the mundane rhythm and hum of home life. The parts about getting stopped in Wal-Mart for an autograph are uniquely applicable to those who “make it” at the level the Statlers did, but I’m sure a lot of this rings true for anyone who performs for a living:

“Life is like Halloween; you can be anything you want if you wear your costume well.” That quote pretty much sums up most people’s lives. We all have to change “hats” from one part of our life to another. Everyone wears their “work hat,” but on the way home each day you change to your “home hat.” We’re no different than the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker. It’s just that some day sit’s easier to change that hat than others. If you don’t change when you’re supposed to, you’re as out of place as a corduroy tuxedo.

Entertainers tend to become what their public wants them to be: carefree, fun-loving, and always ‘up’ and in a good mood. That’s great! It’s the way it should be, but when you get home it’s time to take out the trash, drive the kids to school and mow the grass. That’s great, too. But it’s an adjustment.

There’s a little secret I’ll share. There have been nights on stage when we sang two complete songs and I didn’t even remember what they were. I was thinking about one of the kids back home who had gone to the doctor that day or a piano recital I was missing at that very hour or even a fight I’d had that afternoon on the phone with someone I loved. Right place—wrong hat.

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“It’s Our Baby. I Gotta Kiss Our Baby.”

Happy Sanctity of Human Life Day! Today I’m choosing to post an appropriate scene from a movie, on the principle that storytellers and story actors often speak more truly than they themselves may recognize. This is not a recommendation of the movie as a whole, but I believe this particular scene is very apt today. To explain the context, a young couple is winding down for bedtime when the husband, a would-be novelist, starts ranting frustratedly about his lack of popularity. His wife then cheers him up with some surprise news:

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My Definitive Andrae Crouch Mix

Here’s the post I was going to publish this Monday, before the death of Lari Goss shoved it down in urgency.

Last week, the great gospel music legend Andrae Crouch went on to his reward. Overcoming the handicap of severe dyslexia, Crouch wrote many classic songs and also became a sought-after arranger/producer across genres. Perhaps his best-loved song is “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” which he wrote in a white heat of inspiration at the age of 14. Few of us can hope to write one great song in our lives. Practically none of us can claim to have written our greatest before finishing high school. I was fortunate to stumble across this great home video of Crouch sharing with an old friend a little bit about how the song was written. It was taken a few years ago when his voice had already been ravaged by various illnesses, so you might have to prick your ears up to catch what he’s saying:

I greatly enjoyed spending some time with the music of Andrae Crouch over the last weekend, and I thought it only fitting to make a little playlist of some of my favorite versions of some of his best songs. From Andrae himself to Selah, to the Jessy Dixon Singers, to Gordon Mote, to Kim Collingsworth, to Cece Winans, these artists give some definitive renditions.

Another version of “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” that I also love is this one, from a Gaither Homecoming. Cece Winans is featured again. I think Selah is still my favorite, but this version had both me and Andrae wondering who was cutting onions in the room.

 

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