Ted Cruz and The Diabolical Enemy

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz made a somewhat uncomfortable appearance on the Stephen Colbert show this past week. I say “uncomfortable” not because Cruz was caught off guard or unsure of himself, but because the studio audience was pretty loudly, audibly hostile to him. In fairness, Colbert asked them to stop actually saying “Boo” at one point, but his own sympathies are in fact pretty liberal, so he tried to get in his share of cutesy zingers during questioning (some of which actually fell embarrassingly flat, not that the audience would have admitted it).

Still, Cruz handled himself in a relaxed, gracious manner that I think came off well. The biggest “joke’s on you” moment for Colbert came when Cruz was laying out a list of principles he stands for, like economic stewardship and respect for the constitution. Colbert interjected, “And no gay marriage.” Cruz decided to say that he believed according to the Constitution, marriage should be left to the states, whereupon Colbert showed his ignorance of the 10th Amendment by interrupting again, “Yeah, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about gay marriage.” “Exactly,” replied Cruz. See Amendment 10. Oops.

But I confess that I came away a little bit disappointed with Cruz overall, which surprised me. While Colbert eventually asked him point-blank on the marriage issue, “I’m asking what you want,” he didn’t really answer the question directly. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Cruz to state plainly that marriage is between a man and a woman and that it would in fact be disastrous even on a state level to re-define it. He chose instead to focus on the “5 robed men in Washington can’t make fiat law” angle, which is certainly a good and important point to make, but it’s not sufficient to address the whole issue.

This rhetorical reserve is connected to another little exchange, where Colbert questioned him about political civility. He asked whether Cruz would agree that it’s important not to call his political opponents “the devil” or “diabolical,” in the interests of bi-partisan collaboration. “Absolutely. There’s nothing diabolical about you,” said Cruz equably. He also agreed that his Democratic opponents aren’t “diabolical.”

I realize this was the rhetorically suave path to take, but I would have liked to see Cruz give some push-back on this point as well, especially in the aftermath of this ongoing Planned Parenthood scandal. The evil on display in these videos truly is diabolical, and yet every Democrat in the House and Senate has voted against a bill to cut funding for the organization. I’m sorry to say Rand Paul voted against it too, though he said it was because some other aspect of the bill would create more debt, not because he disagreed that Planned Parenthood should be shut down. I’m still disappointed. However, it’s safe to say that the Democrats are pretty much universally pro-abortion. And at this point, I think it’s also safe to say that they are doing the devil’s work by banding together in support of Planned Parenthood. I think it’s been safe to say it for decades, but all the more so now that the light is being shone on even deeper layers of evil, lies and corruption.

What Cruz should have said is this: “Well, Stephen, I don’t know. Why don’t you give me an example, and I’ll tell you if I agree or not?” Instead, he talked about not responding to “insults” in kind, which isn’t even the same thing. It’s one thing to make an inappropriate, petty attack on somebody’s person, as has doubtless happened to Cruz. It’s another thing to make a pointed, accurate accusation of evil.

If there was ever a time to take the kid gloves off and put the boxing gloves on when it comes to the rhetoric of political discourse, this is it. Yes, I realize Colbert framed these questions by asking Cruz to make the case for why non-conservative voters should consider him, and a truly hardball answer like what I’ve sketched out would most likely alienate such voters. But so what? Non-conservative voters will never consider a conservative candidate anyway, no matter how much his policies align with what’s actually in their own best interests morally, economically, etc. Pigs will fly before that happens. So why bother being suave?

I’m still happy with the idea of a Cruz primary win, and I have hopes that he might still go all the way. But this is the wrong socio-political moment for him to pull his punches. It’s okay Ted, you can say it out loud: The enemy is diabolical.

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The Definitive Hymns: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

I love reading about how the great hymns came to be. For some hymns, one writer sat down and composed lyrics and music. Others were collaborative, like the work of Fanny Crosby and Philip Bliss (wouldn’t it have been something to sit in on one of their songwriting sessions?) But some, like today’s hymn, came together more slowly. Originally, it was written as a poem by a young Methodist preacher named Robert Robinson, in the year 1757. But it wasn’t set to music until roughly 1813, when the tune is commonly attributed to John Wyeth. It also appears that he tweaked a couple of the lyrics to make them flow more smoothly with the music. Even today, you can encounter several lyrical variants depending on which hymnal you’re using.

The story of the hymn is fascinating, and I hadn’t heard it before looking up its provenance. Robinson was apparently a rather delinquent lad, but he was much struck by a George Whitefield sermon at the age of 17. Three years later, he sobered up and set out to become a Methodist preacher. A couple years after that, at 22, he penned “Come Thou Fount.” A helpful hymn collector has created sheet music with the closest thing to the original lyrics he could find.

Sadly, it appears that Robinson “wandered” from orthodoxy in later years, ultimately straying into Unitarianism. It was said that towards the end of his life, a lady riding with him in a stagecoach starting humming it and asked him what he thought of the hymn. He answered that he had written it, but he no longer felt the passion in his own words, though he “would give a thousand worlds” to feel as he did then. The obvious problem with this story is that there wouldn’t have been a tune for the lady to “hum,” since the melody wasn’t written until after Robinson’s death. So, there is good reason to believe that it’s apocryphal. Certainly, it would be a tragic ending indeed to the story of one of hymnody’s finest.

The version I’ve selected comes from Fernando Ortega, who can always be counted on to deliver a classy take on an old hymn. The way he starts quietly and builds the dynamics with the cello is excellent. Take a listen:


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American Tragedy: The Donald Trump Phenomenon

I must say that I am equal parts shocked and disgusted with the inexplicable surge of popularity that Donald Trump has been enjoying among alleged conservatives. And not only conservatives, but Christian conservatives no less. A recent NPR story had a photo of an Alabama rally that drew 30,000 fans, some of whom held a banner saying, “Thank You, Lord Jesus, for President Trump.” You think I’m making this up? Click here. The letters were hand-drawn in red and blue marker on a white background. If you look at the faces of the people in that photo, you can see they’re ecstatic, overwhelmed, overjoyed.

Why? Conservative America, Christian America, why? I can’t hope to write more eloquently on this topic than Matt Walsh already has in several articles for The Blaze, but I must still add my voice to the chorus of “Whys.”

People say, “Well, he tells it like it is!” Or “He won’t take junk from Iran!” Or “He’s not afraid to criticize other Republicans?” Okay, who else can we think of in the current Republican field who might fit that bill? Bonus points if he’s been married to the same woman and didn’t bribe Hillary Clinton to come to the wedding. Extra bonus points if he actually understands the gospel. This, by the way, is not the gospel, just so we’re all clear: “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” Oh, one more thing, if he can take criticism without whining like a 3-year-old and lobbing crude insults at women like a 13-year-old, that would be really terrific.

What’s that you say? There are several candidates who make the cut? Well then what in the red, white and blue blazes are people thinking?

But “He says his favorite book is the Bible”! And one guy “heard” he was going to make America a Christian country again! “Thank you Lord Jesus,” for men who tickle the ears of gullible people with just the words they want to hear.

The saddest part about all of this is that even if Donald Trump doesn’t manage to win the nomination, there is no way he will not keep riding that attention train on a third party ticket. And he will know full well that he is essentially handing the keys to the Democratic party once again by doing so. But then, beating the Democrats has never been his real goal. Being the center of attention is. And if he can’t be the absolute center of attention, he’ll be as distracting a sideshow as possible. This is a man who can compare himself to Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham while keeping a straight face.

Christian conservatives ought to be ashamed of themselves. This whole farce is nothing less than a national tragedy.

America, please, get behind a real man. I’m not even going to dictate which man you should get behind instead. You have options. You have one of the best Republican fields we’ve seen in years, and you have nearly a whole half-year to get to know them before the primary. You have half a year to straighten out your priorities.

If you still don’t have it together come election season, the only advice I have left for you is to be careful what you wish for.


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Southern Gospel Lookalikes, Part 2

Last year, I did a post on southern gospel singers with doppelgangers in the entertainment world. It was quite popular and prompted a number of great suggestions from my readers. Since then, I’ve collected a few more myself. Enjoy!

Kirk Talley and young Ron Howard:

Kirk Talley and Ron Howard collage

Val Kilmer and Dean Hopper:


Michael Keaton and Wayne Haun:

Wayne Haun Michael Keaton collage

Paula Deen and Gloria Gaither:


And, my personal favorite of the suggestions from last time, Pastor John Hagee and gospel pianist/journalist David Bruce Murray. (Wait, is Pastor Hagee in the entertainment world? Better not answer that question…)



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Do War Room and Sherwood Pictures Present a False Gospel?

Many of you are probably familiar with the Christian movie productions of Sherwood Pictures. They’ve had great success with limited budgets on films like Facing the GiantsFireproof, and Courageous. Each of their films covers a particular theme, like faith, marriage, or fatherhood. The other week, they released a new project entitled War Room, focused on prayer. It was a box office smash, vying with hot Hollywood releases like Straight Outta Compton. However, like the church’s other projects, it’s come under criticism for being poor quality and perhaps even presenting a distorted view of Christianity.

These criticisms are sometimes coming from other Christians, not just jaded mainstream reviewers. I recently read one article by John Mark Reynolds that was particularly unsparing. He called it “Genie Jesus and the War Room Problem.” He argues that all the Kendricks’ movies have the same theological flaw: They give Christians the impression that any problem a Christian has can be solved by the appropriate amount of faith and prayer. In other words, he’s accusing them of presenting a prosperity gospel. He points out that for many people, living out the Christian faith will involve unanswered prayers, suffering, and sad endings.  In War Room, a wife is urged to remain in a bad marriage and pray for her nasty, philandering husband, who ultimately repents. Reynolds cites the examples of many women like her who will pray fervently and see no change.

Okay, so we know happy endings aren’t universal, but is it fair to accuse Sherwood’s films of generally presenting a false gospel? Do they really preach a “genie Jesus”? Will Christians walk away with a false idea of what faith, prayer and provision really mean? I think a more careful look reveals that while Reynolds raises interesting concerns, he’s being disproportionately harsh. (Full disclosure though: I haven’t seen War Room yet, just previous Sherwood movies.)

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Monday Morning Humor: The Odd Couple

Apologies for my lack of contentful columns in the past week or so as I ramp up for a hectic semester. Several posts are brewing, including some thoughts on the Kendrick Brothers’ latest movie and a new Glen Campbell documentary. But for now, enjoy a little slice of comedic gold from everyone’s favorite Odd Couple. In this episode, Oscar is trying to cure Felix of agoraphobia. The results are, shall we say, less than optimal.

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Doug Anderson, Taranda Greene Debut New Trio

Well, this is a nice surprise. Apparently Doug Anderson and Taranda Greene both still feel the group harmony itch, so they’ve teamed up with tenor Jody McBrayer (formerly of Avalon) to do a record with very limited tour dates. While this particular 90s Truth tune isn’t my favorite (“No untold facts, no mysteries, it’s all so cut and dried” *CLUNK* *cringe*), it does show off their ranges once the climax kicks in. All three are powerhouse vocalists in their own right, but when you bring them together, their blend recalls the great CCM harmony groups of yester-year. As critic David Bruce Murray remarked, all this trio has to do is sing old songs and make them sound new. Since they’re not (currently) planning extended tour dates, they likely won’t be searching for a lot of new material. What bait to dangle in front of a songwriter’s nose though! It’s probably safe to say that somebody’s saving them a spot on mainstage at NQC as we speak. I can’t wait to hear them test their chops on some better writing.

One of the nicest things to watch in this video is how sincerely Doug Anderson seems to enjoy standing back and listening to Taranda and Jody take the spotlight. Ever the perfect group gentleman.

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Introducing Tyler Vestal with Signature Sound

Ernie Haase has announced that with Wayne Haun’s ever-growing producer schedule, he will no longer be able to form a regular part of the Signature Sound band in live shows. So, they’re introducing pianist Tyler Vestal to share the load. Here’s a brand new music video with Tyler, set to a studio track of “Redemption Draweth Nigh.” This song, which features new lead singer Dustin Doyle, will be released on the deluxe edition of Happy People later this year. I admit, I find it a bit odd that they chose to introduce Vestal by simply having him “play” for a pre-recorded track which may or may not have had his keyboard work on it. I was expecting a live video performance. But it’s still nice to hear the studio version of Dustin’s take on this classic.

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Farewell to Gus Gaches

One of my favorite tenor singers is coming off the road due to vocal fatigue. Gus Gaches first joined Legacy Five in 2009 and has contributed immeasurably to their music, not only as a singer but as a producer. I’ve always loved the purity of his tone, and I respect the fact that he never pushed his range to the point where it became irritating just for the sake of showing off. He is far and away my favorite Legacy Five tenor and one of the best in the business as a whole. Here is his take on their signature song “I Stand Redeemed,” which I’ve always preferred to the original. I believe this was the first time he performed it live with the group:


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Unpublished Hymns of Fanny Crosby to Be Released, Recorded

It’s probably safe to say that Fanny Crosby was the most prolific American hymn-writer, perhaps the most prolific of all hymn-writers. She wrote so many thousands of hymns that her publishers literally couldn’t read them all. I’ve always wondered whatever happened to all those unpublished hymns.

Just recently, I was pointed to a radio podcast that answers my question. Those unpublished hymns were, quite literally, stuffed into a box and forgotten. That box was eventually donated to Wheaton College, where it continued to collect dust and be forgotten.

Until now.

In that broadcast, which you can stream here Nashville producer Bobby Blazier explains the remarkable process whereby these hymns were discovered and have now been set to music by some of the best artists in the industry. But it almost never happened. As Blazier recalls, “They [Wheaton] didn’t know what to do with it. Who cares about Fanny Crosby?” A friend of Blazier’s found out that the box was there and lobbied for permission to get into it. At first, Wheaton discouraged him, saying on the one hand, “They’re fragile, and we wouldn’t want anything to happen to them,” and on the other hand, “Who cares anyway?” which I find amusing.  So his friend undertook the cost of copying every one of the forgotten hymns, then preserving them in print and on a backup drive.

Blazier then took them to Integrity Music, who agreed to publish a compilation album of the poems set to new music. Artists ranging from Michael W. Smith to Ricky Skaggs to southern gospel’s own Ernie Haase & Signature Sound were invited to participate in the project. The Blind Boys of Alabama, appropriately enough, were also among the artists invited to participate, and Blazier describes how moving it was for them to be involved. You can hear preview snippets of them exclusively on the Public Square interview. At around 47:00, they play a minute-long clip of Ricky Skaggs’s contribution, a haunting minor-key setting of one called “All is Well.” I’m already noticing that her signature of including explicit or implied references to sight runs through these unpublished works, as it did through her well-loved standards:

All is well, for thou art near

Gracious Lord, thy voice I hear

Though the clouds may veil the sky

My steps are led by your sweet light

All is well, all is well

For thy peace within me dwells

In your presence, fears dispelled

Loving Savior, all is well

At the very end of the interview (around 53:00), Blazier mentions another poignant discovery from the box: thank-you notes to her publishers, when they would give her a little extra money over and above what was agreed on for her songs. “I will be able to feed so many people with this ten dollars,” one note reads. She was so broke near the end of her life that she and her husband came close to being evicted. But ten dollars would show up on the doorstep, allowing her to pay the rent.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for some of these like-new hymns to bump some worship pabulum off the music rosters of churches everywhere. The album will be released in October, but you can see a track-listing here. Signature Sound will be featured on one called “I Have Found a Priceless Treasure.”


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