When progressive David Gushee sent out his warning to Christian higher ed that no bargains could be struck with the gay agenda, I couldn’t help noticing the ironic timing of the piece, because The Atlantic had just published something arguing exactly that. In my latest for The Stream, I analyze Professor Alan Noble’s proposition for a compromise and explain why its flimsiness cannot hold up under the coming onslaught that Gushee accurately predicts. Click here to read more.
[Note: If you were genuinely moved by the new Ben-Hur movie, chances are good you’ll be offended by this post. I wish to offend no man needlessly, so if you fit this description, you’ve been warned.]
“Why do they need to re-make Ben-Hur?” My sister asked this question the other day. It’s a good question. I’ll let you decide the answer.
Me, I wasn’t even going to bother seeing if it was as bad as I’d heard. But then, I got this idea that I could sell a free-lance piece including some discussion of the Jesus scenes, which had been very hyped up in the movie’s marketing. Supposedly, this re-make was going to improve on the Heston classic by giving Jesus top billing. That seemed interesting, but then early reviews started coming in. If they were to be trusted, Ben-Hur 2016 Jesus was about as deep as Joel Osteen’s Twitter feed. But, understandably, I couldn’t get paid to write anything about it unless I could say I’d seen the movie.
So, I saw it, only to discover that this new and improved, ostensibly beefed-up Jesus was so over-hyped, every single scene of his had already been put on YouTube or mentioned in the two reviews I saw. There was literally nothing else there. Fortune-cookie Joel Osteen Jesus was it.
But hey, I thought, at least I can have a little fun panning the whole thing for my blog, and that will make me feel like my $6.50 wasn’t entirely wasted. So, herewith, seven things I hated about the new Ben-Hur movie.
A few years ago, I discovered that former Oak Ridge Boy Chris Golden had launched a solo career with his project Sunday Shoes. A country-gospel mix of forgotten tunes and new songs, some contributed by Chris’s songwriting brother Rusty, the album didn’t garner a whole lot of attention. But I kept it in rotation for a long time and still return to my favorite cuts from it. (The best one, “On Jordan’s Banks,” would later be covered by Alabama on their project Angels Among Us.) Most of the songs were new to me, and the arrangements had a spark to them that kept my attention. I was especially impressed by the fact that Chris did his own production and recorded most of his own instrumentals. Not only that, but he recorded these very polished-sounding tracks on the fly, recording in hotel rooms and on stages in between concert appearances. That’s the kind of talent that can’t be taught.
Since then, Chris has released several more projects, and he was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his newest album, Less of Me, for review. While I have found my attention drifting from the gospel music scene in recent months, I knew anything by Chris was worth a listen.
When Steve Green did an interview for his project Woven in Time, he laughed when asked what type of music it contained, replying “It contains all the music I like!” This seems to be Chris’s guiding principle with Less of Me. While the album is light on fresh material, it offers engaging takes on a selection of some of Golden’s personal favorite standards, including several ORB chestnuts. With a performance background comprising gospel, country and rock, Golden brings an eclectic sensibility to his musicianship that injects new life into old songs. “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” is a particularly entertaining, Hammond-and-electric-guitar-drenched shuffle. Once again, he did his own arranging and most of his own recording for this album, so that gives me an even deeper appreciation for the richness of arrangements like this:
The ORB tunes that Golden is blowing the dust off of include Dottie Rambo-penned tunes like “On the Sunny Banks” and “When I Lift Up My Head,” plus the Glen Campbell-penned title track and the feel-good fave “Thank God for Kids.” Golden makes the latter a family affair, allowing his dad to relive the glory days with a solo and bringing in his own kids on backup. His kids also contribute to a wistfully poignant arrangement of “Nothing But the Blood.” I particularly like the way this arrangement begins quietly and proceeds to a stirring climax, falling away to just an acappella breakdown.
Three tunes will be less familiar to listeners. The ballad “Show Me the Way to Go” was recorded on a newer Oak Ridge Boys project. Here, Chris opts to strip back the production to just piano and vocal, to tasteful effect. He also offers a low-key take on Russ Lee’s 2003 hit “Love is a Cross” and revives the Booth Brothers’ reflectively bluesy deep cut “What Salvation’s Done For Me.” I had forgotten about the latter and was reminded how much I liked it. This fun little tune was co-written by Rusty Golden and Dianne Wilkinson (one of several successful collaborations).
Although the song selection for this project isn’t quite as strong or original as some of his other work, it’s a fun walk down musical memory lane for Golden, and curious listeners should seek out his other projects. This versatile artist truly has something for everyone.
I’m back, with a vengeance! Well, actually, I’m just back with a new article, which the folks at The Stream are graciously hosting. In it, I discuss the ways in which Trump and Co. have hijacked the phrase “politically incorrect,” and I propose that as conservatives, we collectively put it to bed as a phrase that has lost its meaning. Click here to read it.
If we can’t make the case to the American people that voting for our party’s nominee is consistent with voting your conscience, is consistent with defending freedom and being faithful to the Constitution, then we are not going to win, and we don’t deserve to win. — Ted Cruz
I am uncharacteristically left speechless after the sad, sad events in Cleveland this past week. As Matt Walsh said, “not my circus, not my elephants,” but it’s still hard not to cry a little cry over the final bullet in the head of the Republican party. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye to all that social/fiscal conservatism… stuff, I guess. I mean, minor details really. Not like we’re gutting the soul of the party or anything. Move along folks.
The only bright spot, of course, was Ted Cruz’s perfect balance of principle and savvy, reminding us of what Republicanism used to stand for and reminding us that far more hangs in the balance this election than the presidency. One of the most devastating potential consequences of Trump’s nomination is that discouraged Never Trumpers will not mobilize to keep Congress in the red, as dozens of seats are up for grabs. Cruz’s reminder to vote our consciences “up and down the ballot” was not just a subtle dig at Trump. It was a useful word of advice to real conservatives that there are still worthy senators and representatives out there who need their vote. By the way, I’ve seen a number of people condescendingly wag their fingers at Cruz for “breaking his pledge” by not explicitly endorsing Trump. (And how interesting that even Trump’s own supporters know good and well that “vote your conscience” doesn’t mean their guy.) What a lot of sanctimonious hoo-ha. I won’t even try to respond to all that better than the man himself.
But anyway, I thought about writing a little eulogy, until I read around and realized it’s all been said more eloquently than I can match. So, I refer my gentle readers to the following gems of wisdom. Take up and read:
Maggie Gallagher on where the Republican party is going from here (spoiler, it’s leftward ho!)
Matt Walsh on what true conservative unity should look like (and why uniting around Trump isn’t it)
They call me Mister Tibbs.
In light of the last couple weeks of turmoil, what better way to revive this flagging column of mine than by looking back at a film where a white cop and a black detective are forced to get along? Winning multiple awards, including Best Picture, Actor (Rod Steiger), and Adapted Screenplay, it became a defining film for Sidney Poitier and marked a shift in Hollywood’s portrayal of black characters. As a fan of crime drama and Rod Steiger, I had this film on my to-watch list for a while before I got around to seeing it. Knowing it was a 60s movie and that it was considered significant in the political landscape of the Civil Rights movement, I was worried that it might be heavy-handed or on-the-nose. Were all the white characters going to be idiots? Was it going to be a bait-and-switch affair that purports to be a crime flick but is really About Race in a super pompous, 60s way?
Thank goodness, no! I mean okay yes, it is about race, and yes, we’ll talk about That Scene where Poitier has a slap-off with a plantation owner. And yes, the mystery is ultimately a little flimsy and takes a back seat to the character drama. But really, it’s not so much About Race as it is About Male Bonding. In fact, an alternate title was considered—Machismo: The Movie.
What can I say about this past week that hasn’t already been said? First, we got two murky black civilian shootings in a row, which appear to have been dissimilar in some key respects but were naturally spun together as “Policemen hunting down teh blacks!!!” As with Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile became equally worthy mascots of a movement that tramples individuality.
Then, the thing every smart policeman could have told you was coming, if you were willing to listen: Slaughter of white cops on a mass scale. An outpouring of vicious bile from gleeful, racist black Twitter users, of whose existence President Obama was apparently blissfully unaware when he said he believed he “spoke for every single American citizen” as he offered his obligatory phoned-in condemnation of the shootings. But remember, nobody really knows the motivations of the shooter. I mean it’s not like he said in so many words that he wanted to kill white cops or something. Oh wait. And I won’t even touch Dear Leader’s latest comment that it’s become easier for kids to get their hands on a gun than a computer or even a book, seeing as how Matt Walsh has already won the Internet on that front.
But enough about our bloviating, passive-aggressive president. Let’s talk about passive-aggressive Southern Baptists instead! Yes Russell Moore, I am looking at you.
Little Sister returns, and today we’re here to review Pixar’s latest smash hit, Finding Dory! We got to see what all the fuss was about last week and are pleased to bring you our thoughts on the film’s treatment of adoption and disability, Pixar’s slump into “sequelitis,” and more. And yes, I realize I say “Okay, so…” way too much. Also, #spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Words fail to express how tragic it has been to watch the complete capitulation of old-guard evangelicalism to the giant con that is Donald Trump’s candidacy. Words do not fail me when I think about how disgusting it is that Trump doesn’t even have to pretend to give a damn about the things evangelicals hold dear. But I’m trying to keep this PG-rated here. (Meanwhile, I notice that he finally paused to acknowledge SCOTUS’s disastrous abortion ruling with the astute observation that if Scalia were still alive, the vote would have been 5-3 “the opposite way.” Oh, wait, actually, we would still have lost 5-4, never mind. But don’t worry, I’m sure Trump will hire the best people to do math for him once he’s elected President.)
The latest and most painful development in this slow-motion train-wreck is James Dobson’s choice to join Trump’s religious “advisory” board, while simultaneously spreading what he later clarified was only a second-hand rumor that Trump had “accepted Christ.” The real kicker? The person who some people say they heard from their cousin’s sister-in-law’s aunt might have led Trump to Christ is (drumroll please) Paula White.
So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be under all my blankets sobbing in a fetal curl. Wake me up when Jesus comes back.
What’s that you say? I can’t just hide in bed until the apocalypse? What, are you gonna tell me the death of the religious right does not equal the death of the church, or something?
I should have known.
Grant us grace always to live in such a state that we may never be afraid to die, so that, living and dying, we may be thine… — The Book of Common Prayer
I was sad to read the other day that bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley (sometimes called Dr. Ralph Stanley, for his honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University) had died. I’ve never studied his catalogue in depth, but like everyone else, I knew his performance of “O Death” from Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Originally, it wasn’t meant to be a bare-bones acappella number, but Stanley convinced the producers to let him sing it Primitive Baptist style, like the church where he grew up: no banjo, no guitar, no nothin’. Just Ralph’s reedy, old man voice, asking death to spare him over ’til another year.
When I first heard “O Death,” I thought it was one of the most remarkable songs I’d ever heard. Though virtually tuneless, it is arresting, even riveting, in Dr. Stanley’s able hands. It has the primal quality of so many early American folk songs—the kind of songs that are unerringly in tune with all that we know, and love, and fear. There is no cheap sentiment here, no sanctimony or pious platitude to cover the naked truth.
If you look closely at the lyrics, you can tell that the speaker is meant to be a younger man who is not yet ready to die. He’s being tended by his mother, and he asks the ice-cold specter to “please consider his age.” This makes it all the more striking for Stanley to cover it as an old man full of years. The phrase “please consider my age” takes on a different meaning, almost like a private joke between Old Ralph and Old Death.
It’s welcome news that Stanley remained implacably Christian to the last. This adds yet another layer to this, his most haunting performance. It is a reminder that Death is merely the means of separating soul from body. It summons us to heaven or to hell, but God alone decides which. I close my eyes and try to picture Stanley as he must be now: as C. S. Lewis said, a creature of surpassing brightness which, if you could see it, you would be strongly tempted to worship.
Well what is this that I can’t see,
With ice cold hands takin’ hold of me?
Well I am death, none can excel,
I’ll open the door to heaven or hell.