Ben Zobrist and the Inflation of Christian Celebrity

ben-zobrist-points-to-the-sky

So here I was, grimly resigned to the fact that I should probably write something or other about the election but really wishing I could write about something else instead. Something timely that wasn’t soul-crushingly depressing, about which I could muster the time and energy to say something moderately original and intelligent.

Enter Ben Zobrist and the Chicago Cubs. I don’t care if you’re the nerdiest of nerds to walk the earth. I don’t care if you wander around with 15 pens in your pocket, or if you think the SuperBowl is a moderately important tennis tournament. If you were breathing air and had red American blood in your veins early last Thursday morning, you were in front of some screen, somewhere, just to see if they would really do it this time. Yes, you. You know who you are.

I’ll leave the gloriously sentimental victory songs to Chicago sports journalism’s finest. Meanwhile, I took great interest in another story that emerged this weekend about Ben Zobrist, the Cubs’ freshly minted MVP. While this was known before, many people are just now discovering that Zobrist is a devout evangelical Christian. (And just for those of you who do not have red American blood in your veins and therefore are oblivious as to what Zobrist’s contributions were this series, he scored multiple key runs, including a clutch RB in Game 7’s nail-biting 10th inning that paved the way for Cubs defense to shut it down.)

Now, I know what some of you may have thought when you first saw the headline: “Oh great, another celebrity who said something positive about Jesus once and is now being hyped as a CHRISTIAAAAAAAN celebrity because everyone happens to be talking about him right now.” I can understand why that thought might have crossed your mind. It crossed my mind as well, I confess, cynical kill-joy that I am. But I’m glad I didn’t stop at the headline, because it appears that I drastically underestimated Mr. Ben Zobrist.

Continue reading “Ben Zobrist and the Inflation of Christian Celebrity”

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Christians in Entertainment: Denzel Washington

‘Tis the season for pretentious, overly long commencement speeches. But one commencement speech has been getting particular attention in the media recently: Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington’s address to the graduates of Dillard University. Dillard is a small, private school for black students in New Orleans. When Washington stepped to the podium, he announced that he was going to “keep it short,” unlike his commencement speaker, who “went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” (Yes, this is pretty much spot-on. I speak from experience.)

Here is the short, simple message Washington wanted to convey: “Number one: Put. God. First. In everything you do, put God first. Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have (and I have a few things), everything that I have is by the grace of God.”

The speech has gone viral. There’s some unfortunate prosperity gospel business towards the end, but on the whole it’s pretty great, and you can read more quotes here, or watch it in full here if you don’t mind handheld video. The passion and conviction of Washington’s delivery is disarming, considering his stature in Hollywood. But then, Washington has never been one to shy away from talking about what he believes.

Continue reading “Christians in Entertainment: Denzel Washington”

Christians In Entertainment: Eduardo Verastegui

Eduardo Verastegui

To the right is a face many of my readers might not recognize, but you’re probably familiar with his work in Christian film-making. Remember the pro-life film Bella? This is Eduardo Verastegui, the guy who produced and starred in it. Verastegui has been on the front lines of Catholic anti-abortion activism for years, regularly speaking out against the Obama administration and founding his own LA-based outreach organization “Manto de Guadalupe” (Mantle of Faith). Meanwhile, he’s continued to work in faith-based shorts and feature-length films. Most recently, he holds an executive producer credit on the Spanish version of Son of God, a theatrical adaptation of The Bible mini-series.

But the story of the winding road that led him to this place is fascinating. His testimony provides a perfect spotlight for the purposes of this series. Continue reading “Christians In Entertainment: Eduardo Verastegui”

In, Not Of: Christians in Entertainment, Part II

Harry Connick Jr., Blue Light Red Light cover image

I was initially inspired to explore the topic of Christians in entertainment by Harry Connick, Jr. So of course, Part I was about somebody else. But now I’m back with Part II, and this one is all about Harry. Whether or not you’re a fan, I hope you’ll enjoy this post, because it explores important questions about what changes and what stays the same when someone who’s serious about his faith becomes a mega-star in mainstream entertainment. (Preemptive side note: Catholicism vs. Protestantism is relevant to this post, but please don’t turn the thread into a discussion of whether Catholics are Christians at all. Thanks!)

There are those who can perform. There are those who can write. There are those who can play. Then there are those who can do all three with aplomb. Yes, boys and girls, before there was Michael Buble, there was Harry Connick, Jr. And yes, I died a little just putting Michael Buble in the same sentence with Harry Connick, Jr. Continue reading “In, Not Of: Christians in Entertainment, Part II”

In Not Of: Christians in Entertainment, Part I

Last week I promised some posts on Christians who are currently navigating the larger entertainment world. Here is the first installment. I’m going to begin with two incidents, involving two female Christian singers, that caused some kerfuffle around the 2014 Grammy Awards. First of all,  as some of you may have picked up on the interwebs, there were several performances in particular that were especially offensive this year. One was an obscenely sexualized number by celebrity couple Jay-Z and Beyonce. Another was a so-called “wedding ceremony,” including same-sex couples, officiated by a female celebrity with a temp license and blasphemously set against the stained-glass backdrop of a church service.

Natalie Grant and Mandisa are two of the most popular female vocalists in contemporary Christian music. Some of you are probably already familiar with Grant’s work on a couple of Gaither videos. Mandisa may be less familiar, but she was a stand-out on American Idol s0me years back and has since enjoyed a successful career on the CCM circuit. What else do these ladies have in common? Both were nominated for Grammys in categories for the best Christian song/record of the year. Also, both chose to make a public gesture distancing themselves from the culture of the Grammys.

In Mandisa’s case, she had already chosen not even to attend the ceremony. Here is an excerpt from what she had to say on her Facebook wall:

I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently. Continue reading “In Not Of: Christians in Entertainment, Part I”