Welcome to Yankee Gospel Girl! You can call me Esther O’Reilly. I’m an old soul with many interests, and these are a few of my favorite things: great art (including music, film and literature), conservative politics, and stuff that’s been around since before I was born. 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 and culture, and old stuff. I hope you like what you find! God bless.
As the numbing reality has set in that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, many conservatives are frantically casting about for a third choice. Google searches for libertarian party candidates have sky-rocketed, and one name in particular has been generating a lot of buzz: Austin Petersen. Like other libertarian candidates, Petersen had about zero name recognition a month ago. Now, none other than Glenn Beck has officially endorsed him (after having campaigned hard for Ted Cruz).
Historically, libertarian candidates haven’t excited social conservatives, and with good reason: The libertarian party platform is officially liberal on core issues such as abortion and marriage. Indeed, Gary Johnson, the last libertarian candidate, “supports a woman’s right to choose up to the point of viability” (translation: believes it should be legal to murder babies). So how is Petersen different? The answer is that he’s pro-life. Well, at least, more pro-life than the average libertarian.
That’s an important caveat, one that can be lost in the headlines.
Last month, The Message author Eugene Peterson filmed a short conversation with Irish rocker Bono to discuss the Psalms. I know, it sounds like a Christian satire headline, but yes, this really happened. For younger readers who may be drawing a blank on “The Message,” it’s a Bible paraphrase that uses self-consciously casual language/colloquialisms. To give a sample of what this sounds like, here’s Peterson’s paraphrase of a repeated refrain of David’s from the Psalms: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?”
The Message also softens and subtly re-glosses some Bible passages that are harsher on sexual sin, which is not a coincidence given Peterson’s leftist leanings. Similarly, while Bono often talks about his Christian faith and has made Christian news as a result, he’s planted his flag very firmly with the left on issues such as gay “marriage.”
All of this is to say that neither Bono nor Peterson is exactly the most authoritative voice when it comes to sound exegesis, which makes me kind of amused that this video created such a stir in Christian circles. I simply fail to see what special insight they’re supposed to be offering that makes their conversation newsworthy.
But, newsworthy it apparently was, and one comment of Bono’s in particular prompted a number of responses. Reflecting on the range of passions and emotions that the Psalms express, Bono criticized Christian music, by contrast, for its “dishonesty.” Instead of settling for worship tunes, he wished Christians would write songs about their bad marriages or social injustice (as Bono put it, “being p**sed off at the government” — somehow I doubt an anti-Obama song would count).
In response, a number of people, including singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson (no relation to Eugene), protested that there’s plenty of honest Christian art out there, it’s just not on the radio. This could be called push-back, but it’s not the kind of push-back I would give. I would be much more blunt. I would tell Bono that he doesn’t understand what makes great Christian art. And I say that as someone who is almost invariably bored by CCM Top 40 and finds my attention wandering during most worship songs.
Fanny Crosby is the most prolific hymn-writer in church history—so prolific that no matter what sort of hymns project an artist records, one or more of her tunes is bound to find its way onto it. So, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound reasoned, why not go all the way and just devote a whole album to nothing but Fanny Crosby tunes? This is a natural choice after they were included on a project putting some of her unpublished lyrics to new music (which I did not review, but you can hear samples from here). Haase also announced in a press release yesterday that they are planning to dig even further into her unpublished catalogue to write future tunes. This comes as welcome news to me, since, quite frankly, a lot of the music from other artists on the New Hymns project struck me as flat and uninspired. Haase, together with Wayne Haun, were a couple of the only people who seemed to “get it.”
But, for now, we have this project of old favorites to enjoy, and it’s a nice treat to tide us over while we wait for new tunes. Not content with by-the-numbers treatments, Signature Sound has worked hard to offer some original musical ideas, while still respecting these classic hymns. Here are my quick takes on each arrangement:
1. Blessed Assurance: Perhaps Crosby’s most covered tune, but Haase & Co. are up to the challenge of injecting some fresh life into it. The pace is slowed down for a deep southern-fried, bluesy take, anchored by Paul Harkey’s rumbling bass. Grandma might not be quite sure what to make of it, but as for me, “There’s a dobro and lots of B-3 Hammond” is all I need to know.
2. He Hideth My Soul: Oh good, somebody heard that I ordered more B-3 Hammond! But even without all the wonderful little touches from the full band, this arrangement could easily be an acoustic live number that brings the house down with nothing but four voices and a piano.
3. I Am Thine O Lord/Draw Me Nearer: This arrangement is mellow, but it keeps a steady beat going in the background. Devin McGlamery takes the lead, but I would have advised him to keep the vocal a bit simpler. The gentle accordion and guitar behind him don’t quite mesh with the runs he’s trying to do.
4. Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross: This beautiful lyric gets an almost lullaby-like treatment. I especially like the use of the pennywhistle. However, I’m less drawn to the use of spoken-word recitation for one of the verses. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that unless your name is George Younce or Hank Williams, I will most likely tune out when the singing turns to talking.
5. Pass Me Not: I can’t fault this arrangement, though from a pacing perspective, it may have been better to break the slowness with an upbeat number here. Once again, the accordion is used to subtle, tasteful effect behind close harmony. Newcomer Dustin Doyle gets a silky-smooth step-out.
6. Praise Him! Praise Him! After dropping some Celtic hints earlier in the project, this arrangement gives Miss Crosby a full bells-and-whistles Irish makeover. Well done, lads! Is it wrong to imagine the boys singing this lustily in a pub with foaming drinks in hand?
7. Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim Him: This fast-paced, nu-folk arrangement offers a foot-stomping, banjo-plucking good time (complete with “Heys!” in the background). It might remind younger listeners of Imagine Dragons in a rootsy moment. Older folks will just be clapping along and having a good time. Something for everyone!
8. Tell Me the Story of Jesus: This track continues the nu-folk flavor (again, if you follow some newer music, think OneRepublic’s “I Lived”), bringing the project to a close. Lyrically, it’s a nice touch to place this at the end of the album.
Eight tracks is a curious length for an album. I’m sure Signature Sound had their reasons for not including more, but I would have been interested in hearing more of their ideas, perhaps on a couple more vigorous tunes like “Redeemed.” As it is, this project is heavily skewed towards slower songs, which is not a bad thing, it just makes it a less than balanced full-album experience. But it’s more creative than the average hymns album, and it will offer some excellent live moments.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Prime cuts: “He Hideth My Soul,” “Redeemed,” “Praise Him! Praise Him!”
As you might have noticed, I haven’t even tried to keep up with the latest crop of Christian films, the most recent being God’s Not Dead 2. (Alas, if you were waiting with bated breath for my review of that one, y’all are on your own.) But it has gotten me to thinking: If I were to create a list of five films every Christian should see, what would it look like? Apparently, Summit Ministries was interested to know what it would look like as well, and you can read what I came up with here. The list I finally narrowed it down to was
It’s a Wonderful Life
Fiddler On the Roof
A Man For All Seasons
On the Waterfront
Chariots of Fire
This wasn’t planned, but I noticed that there’s a nice balance of film eras represented here. Each movie on the list represents a different decade. Also, all of them either won or were nominated for Oscars, including Best Picture: proof positive that there are natural, artistically excellent ways to meld faith and film-making.
Naturally, there are many other films I could have put on the shortlist that would also be well worthwhile for the Christian viewer. However, I wanted to keep it restricted to films that I knew would not pose any kind of problem for viewers with tight standards for language, violence and the like. (Hence the “every” in “every Christian.”) This includes films like Schindler’s List, which are certainly powerful but difficult for some people to watch. Far it be from me to guilt-trip anyone for not forcing themselves to see something they feel a check about. However, I can confidently say that all five of the films that did make the cut will reward the patience and interest of any Christian viewer. I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts on them over at Summit. So, what would your list look like?
Greetings, dear readers. This little blog hiatus turned out to be longer than I intended, but as it happens, the timing of this post seems rather apt when juxtaposed with the last one. As I write this, Ted Cruz has just suspended his presidential campaign, essentially guaranteeing Donald Trump the Republican nomination. Even a pessimist like myself must confess that as bad as I thought tonight would be, I didn’t think it would be this bad.
I could say that a lot has changed since my last post, and in one sense that would be accurate. But there is another sense in which nothing has changed. This night marks the end of many things. But for principled conservatives, it is only the beginning of the long, last battle.
It was one thing to say “Never Trump” when there was a slender but definite chance that Trump would actually fail. It’s another thing to keep saying it when half the people who were standing with you a second ago are now urging you to give in. When politicians you thought you could trust cross, one by one, to the other side. When firebrands you thought you could count on to speak the truth begin speaking for Trump instead. When perhaps some of your own friends and family scream at you for “dividing the party.” When they accuse you of handing the election to Hillary Clinton, even though they have only themselves to blame for finding the one candidate in history’s brightest Republican field that could give her a run for her money… as the worst candidate for President ever.
When all this happens, as it was already beginning to happen, it is not the time to concede. It is the time to stand. For what good is a declaration of principle when it is abandoned at the first sign of defeat? What good is a flag planted one minute only to be uprooted the next?
The Bible assures us that just when things seem to be at their darkest and most bleak, we can be certain of one thing: that it will get even darker and even bleaker. That doesn’t make a very good bumper sticker, but it’s the truth we must face in the coming days.
And yet, though the republic may fall, and our country be plunged into an abyss of corruption and despair, there is a remnant. There will always be a remnant. There will always be children to raise up, and gardens to tend, and flocks to feed. There will always be vows of holy love to take, and innocent lovers to take them. There will always be ageless saints with wrinkled hands folded in prayer, rocking wordlessly in the day’s last light.
Let us pray as they pray, as we are taught to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Despite the fact that Donald Trump is poised to sweep his home state of New York and plausibly several other New England states in its wake, the surge of Texas senator Ted Cruz has given actual conservatives reason to be cautiously optimistic. His well-oiled delegate collection machine has been cleaning Trump’s clock in recent non-primary states like Colorado and North Dakota. Furthermore, if Trump fails to clinch the nomination outright, Cruz’s team has loaded The Donald’s delegate slate with double agents who will turn on him in a contested convention once they are unbound. That Cruz, he has a very good brain. Meanwhile, Trump’s response has been the usual: Trumpertantrums and more Trumpertantrums.
Riding this wave of hope, some are daring to wonder out loud if Cruz might pull off not only the Republican nomination, but a general election victory as well. With an increasingly unpopular Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee, the Democrat party could be in for an upset. Is it possible? Could Cruz usher in a new golden age of conservatism?
As usual, in typical Puddleglum fashion, I feel compelled to throw a wet blanket on things and remind everyone that most recent polls still show Hillary beating Cruz, sometimes outside the margin of error. Moreover, this is not a bad reflection of the country’s electoral and demographic makeup, which is becoming bluer by the year. That’s just a fact. And the liberal media is already projecting their image of Cruz to the public: a creepy, crazy guy with a weird face that nobody likes. The nastiness will only intensify if he becomes the nominee. And, sad but true, it will sway far more people than any policy position.
But it doesn’t matter, because this election is not about beating Hillary Clinton. It never was.
A couple of months ago, I was inspired to dig into Ronald Reagan’s personal diary, which he kept almost daily during all eight years of his presidency. It’s a fascinating chronicle of the great and small, dull and momentous moments that make up the life of a president. It also gives real insight into Reagan’s character and personality. We get a vivid sense of his quick wit, his canniness, and his utterly sincere love for the American people. We also get a sense of his faith, sometimes in quiet, small ways that would never make it onto a Wikipedia page.
By coincidence, Summit Ministries told me they were thinking about putting together some profiles of Christian leaders. So, I’ve kicked it off with this article, which you can now read here. In it, I share some stories about Reagan’s faith and character that you might not have heard before. I hope you enjoy it!
…[A]nd then, suddenly, we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earth-bound, it’s so unworthy of the universe. — Richard Dawkins
Easter Sunday is the Christian’s yearly reminder that our faith is unlike any other. Where other religions traffic in the elusive and the intangible, Christianity is planted firmly in the concrete. No other religion places the stakes so high. The Apostle Paul wrote that if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is vain. If this physical event did not take place at this physical moment in time, when Caiaphas was the high priest, Pilate was the governor, and Tiberius was the emperor, then we are of all men most miserable.
The mundane particularity of it all must not be lost. It marks the place where our faith is anchored. We trust not in a comforting notion or a platitude, but in the most real and solid of occurrences: a man dead, and that same man alive again.
We human beings are creatures of the tangible. We invest ourselves emotionally in what we can see, touch, and embrace. When those bonds are broken, whether through betrayal, loss, or simple loneliness, maintaining faith in things beyond our grasp does not come easily to us. This is why it’s not enough to encourage a doubting friend by saying, “You just need to believe harder.” We must be prepared to answer the question, “Why should I?” Yet we have the answer. Indeed, we have the best possible answer. The gospel is a record of a real moment in real time, preserved and handed down from generation to generation. On some days we feel like believing it. Other days, we may not. It doesn’t matter. The record remains, an ever-fixed mark.
Christian, ask yourself not what you feel, but what you know. Perhaps your pastor had a profound moral failing, and perhaps the church board turned a blind eye. You feel betrayed, but what do you know? Perhaps you are caught in a vicious cycle of temptation. You feel despairing, but what do you know? Perhaps you simply can’t sense God’s presence like you used to. You feel isolated, but what do you know?
This is where our hope is found: It is found in the still-empty tomb of the One who who did not leave himself without witness. In the words of the Apostle John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
This Easter week, let us encourage ourselves and each other with this great good news: that while in this world we will have trouble, Christ has overcome the world.
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
— T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth? — Sherlock Holmes
After hearing good things about the new Christian film Risen, I finally got the chance to see it for myself this week. Offering a fresh twist on the Easter story, it walks through the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection from the perspective of a Roman tribune named Clavius. Clavius is tasked by Pilate to find Jesus’ missing corpse and quash pesky resurrection rumors, preferably before Tiberius Caesar arrives for a check-up. The result feels like a 1st century crime procedural, as Clavius examines the scene, collects witness testimony, and weighs multiple explanations of the evidence he gathers. The closer he gets to unraveling the mystery, the more uneasy he becomes.
Before diving into what I thought of Risen, I want to say a few words about Christian movies in general. As the market for Christian films has grown, my attitude towards them has run the gamut from *CRINGE* to “Hey, this is actually okay.” I am reluctant to bash the Christian film industry writ large, because I am reluctant to come off as a snide, self-important critic of Christian culture writ large. (But that’s a topic for another day. I think I’ll call it “How I Somehow Avoided Becoming a Christian Culture Snob.”) I even challenged John Mark Reynolds when he put out a scathing critique of the Kendrick Brothers’ War Room, despite the fact that I didn’t see the film and frankly still don’t have a burning desire to do so. I did it because I want to be fair, and I want to give Christian filmmakers their due.
And yet… I still love movies. And the movie-lover in me can’t deny that too many Christian films are simply not that well put together, by any objective standard of film-making.
So, it gives me great pleasure to report that Risen is not just a good Christian movie. It’s a good movie, full stop.