Jesus at 45 as a Prelude

January 23, 2010

I’ll get where I’m going with this soon, but give me a moment to describe a hypothetical situation.

We’ll use Jesus as the example here. Thinking about the historical Jesus and what we can know, think we know and surmise in probability about what his character, values and actions were like, let’s imagine him living longer than he had and drastically shifting his ideology.

What if Jesus hadn’t been executed by the Roman Empire at age 33, but had instead married Mary Magdalene, had children, settled in Galilee and became what we in the modern American world would call a “conservative” with strong “family values.”

Would he have changed his mind about the coat parable and instead said “If you have two coats, keep them both, because you may need them.”

Would he have decided that temple authorities were right in limiting access to the temple and excuse it on safety reasons or traditional ones?

Would he decide that the political empire waging an expansive war and enforcing rule violently was no longer a bad thing, because it kept his family and his nation safe?

Would he say something like, “Maybe we should be careful before helping Samaritans. They aren’t exactly the same as us, we should take care of our own nation and people first.”

Maybe he would go back into the carpentry business, expand it and do very well. When the local government began to consider restructuring the tax system, proposing that people in Jesus’ income level would have to pay 5 percent more in taxes which would then be redistributed to the widows, orphans and sick, maybe Jesus would vote against it and say, “I’ve got to think about my own family. We’re considering adding a room or two onto the house next year and I need to save for the material.”

Maybe Jesus would fully and truly dull down his message of radical compassion, self-sacrifice and justice for fear that it would attract negative attention from his government and church. Maybe he would think his safety was too important to risk in any type of work to make things better for others.

*

I don’t think any of the above is likely. I’m using it as an example of refuting some arguments I heard recently and have heard in the past, ones that talk about how as you get older you become more conservative; if you are married and have a family you are more likely to be that as well, and that if you are married and conservative you are less likely to divorce than if you are married and liberal. Supposedly these speculations are based on US Census information and Gallup polls. It is true (or at least reported as true) that every state has more self-avowed “conservatives” than liberals, and I don’t doubt that more self-avowed conservatives stay married than liberals in some situations– I think there are many factors for this and it’s important to remember that remaining married despite the situation isn’t always good and admirable in itself (such as in situations of abuse). I’m truly not trying to fan the flames of the old “was Jesus liberal or conservative” argument–honestly, both sides would crucify him again were he preaching and teaching today. I’m not here to say liberals are better than conservatives either–I know plenty of both that are good, bad and in-between. The current political landscape in America is practically garbage right now anyway. As much as I like Obama and respect much of the progress he has made in many areas, I am still disappointed by all that he can’t do for whatever reasons–corporate control of political decisions (hurt even more by this weeks Supreme Court ruling that removes all caps from campaign contributions from corporations, removing what little voice the poor had in elections to begin with), exploitation of the public’s ignorance by state leaders, back-biting and one-upping each other on the senate and house floor, etc. I look around and I don’t even see a real liberal with a prominent voice in the situation at all– No Nader, Chomsky, Cornel West, etc. with any bit of sway in government. As for conservatives, as much as I dislike the policies and attitudes of Regan and his earlier predecessors, I don’t see anything like that either. I see a lot of talking heads controlled by money and playing off the fears and insecurities of the American public.

So what was I trying to get at? I guess the courage of convictions and the maintenance of belief. I could have invoked Dr. King, Gandhi, Harvey Milk, Maya Angelou and any number of people to get this point across but played the card so many run to with Jesus. The point is, powerful, life-affirming, world-changing convictions shouldn’t damper and disappear out of fear, selfishness or age and income level changes. I can recognize the conservative stand-by interests of respect for the constitution, integrity of the family and society, protection of the people by necessary measures as understandable and desirable goals although I won’t always support their interpretation of what those things mean and how they should be attained. But can conservatives recognize liberals for wanting to work for true equality for all people regardless of their gender, race, national origin and sexual orientation? How about our desire to work for pacifism and peace as much as humanly possible? I could go on with talking points but won’t. I used to have a teacher in high school who constantly said, “when you’re young and you’re republican you don’t have a heart but if you’re older and a democrat you don’t have a brain.” He said this even though he was supposed to be teaching Biology, but whatever. My point is that it’s wrong to change your ideology because you suddenly have a family and you seek to protect them by doing things that hurt others even though it’s not really protecting your family any better in the first place or changing because you suddenly have a lot more money and you want to hold onto all of it. There doesn’t have to be a choice between brain and heart.

Advertisements

Prayers and an Earthquake

January 14, 2010

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time–waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God– it changes me.” – C.S. Lewis

So goes the quote from Lewis I recently heard recounted in the biopic of his life, “Shadowlands.” Everyone in the Christian world has tried to claim him as their own at different times, the right and the left, yet I think he remains where he is, wholly himself. I’m not trying to claim him for my thoughts here either; I just was sparked by the “prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes me” idea because it sits close to where I am in my thoughts. It also came to me today and yesterday in light of the earthquake that devastated Haiti and took so many lives.

I mean no offense to anyone who uttered the line “I’ll pray for Haiti” or urged their friends to follow suit and “keep Haiti in your prayers” recently, but I couldn’t help from thinking about all the times we say we’ll pray for something and we stop at that feeling as if we’ve done our part. I don’t see the value in that type of prayer. In fact, I don’t see the value in any prayer that doesn’t lead to some sort of action or change. The change may be simple– it may bring us peace, comfort or confidence–or it may be large–it may lead us to donate time, money and action to a difficult or dangerous cause. Yet that change must be something we’re trying to get at or we’re wasting our time.

I realize that by remaining Christian I interact with, work with and befriend many with strong beliefs that I might not always agree with. I remain Christian because within it’s dimensions I find the vocabulary, customs, liturgies and actions that best enable me to envision and interact with God. I find my connection to God, God is (S)He who is present and manifest in spirit that runs through all, God is Spirit which I find fully tapped into and transformed in the historical person of Jesus as I understand and as much as I can know. My faith is one that always holds a great deal of doubt, suspicion and confusion but one that also taps into hope, compassion, altruism and a thirst for justice. My faith is also one that respects and learns from the texts, traditions and customs of all enduring world religions and philosophies yet hasn’t found it’s best expression in those other ways to God, probably because my roots remain in Christianity. Yet in my faith I have less and less room for an interventionist, controlling God who manifests in literal miraculous ways to change the course of history and life so that I can remain silent and inactive, praying all will be well. No, I find God more and more to be one who sparks us to do what we should do to make this world as it should be. I try to worry less and less about historicity, proof or explanation for my or any faith. I am constantly fascinated by the history of faith and religion and see in them all numerous examples of individuals who have given all they have, above and beyond all reason, to their world and their fellow human and in their faith I see the only way they could have felt the call to do so much.

Why do I believe in a God that doesn’t intervene to fix the complete screwed-up-edness of all that surrounds me? I just take it for what it is. Rather than point a finger at God for not fixing things I assume (S)He is pointing that finger at me and giving me the resources and strength to do something about it myself, with that bit of God inside me that is inside all of us. Most of us tramp it down and forget about it, and when we do discover it we feel drawn to either give all and follow it or shut it off and enjoy every last minute of living to the fullest as we can– both reactions are understandable. I always find myself stuck between the two and unsure where to go.

So pray for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Pray so that your compassion grows and your knowledge of all that can happen is ever-present in you so that you make the most of the time that you have on this potentially glorious planet. Pray so that you see them as your neighbors and so that if this brings them to our country seeking placement as refugees you will support, work for and understand policies that admit them and place them in our country. Then text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross for relief efforts or text “Yele” to 501501 to contribute $5 to a relief assistance program set up by musician and Haiti native Wyclef Jean. There are numerous other ways to donate help and money to relief efforts right now, but be careful because like always, nothing brings out those trying to exploit quite like human need– the FBI is already issuing warnings to be wary of false e-mails circulating to scam folks out of money in false relief drives.

Giving my small donation felt like pissing in the wind, to be honest. It still felt like doing the least you can do. But if everyone who says they are praying for the survivors in Haiti also donate 5 or 10 bucks, we can make a dent in this tragedy.

So pray…then do something about it.

This is the last “Best of” list I will post for awhile, I promise! Finally getting around to throwing on the last “decade list.” As a reminder, when I move to singles I exclude any tracks from albums that make the best of album list on the site so as to broaden the focus of the music being looked at. Most of these songs were in fact “singles” in the traditional sense, but a few were album cuts off of albums I didn’t get to showcase on the other lists. Thanks for reading.

50) New York, New York – Ryan Adams

49) This Tornado Loves You – Neko Case

48) Get By – Talib Kweli

47) Rock and Roll – Jerry Lee Lewis featuring Jimmy Page

46) We Came to Dance – The Gaslight Anthem

45) Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – Daft Punk

44) Unity – Trevor Hall

43) Go With the Flow – Queens of the Stone Age

42) Before the Money Came – Betty LaVette

41) A Sorta Fairytale – Tori Amos

40) The Fixer – Pearl Jam

39) Everywhere – Michelle Branch

38) The Last DJ – Tom Petty

37) Stronger – Kanye West

36) Thrash Unreal – Against Me!

35) Blame the Vain – Dwight Yoakam

34) Furr – Blitzen Trapper

33) Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ – Bob Dylan

32) Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand

31) Keep the Car Runnin’ – Arcade Fire

30) Constructive Summer – The Hold Steady

28) 99 Problems – Jay Z

27) Lollipop – Lil Wayne

26) Never Gonna Change – Drive By Truckers

25) Ain’t No Other Man – Christina Aguilera

24) This Could Be Love – Alkaline Trio

23) Mass Romantic – The New Pornographers

22) God’s Gonna Cut You Down – Johnny Cash

21) Miami – Taking Back Sunday

20) Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie

19) I Believe in a Thing Called Love – The Darkness

18) By the Way – Red Hot Chilli Peppers

17) French Navy – Camera Obscura

16) Jesus Was an Only Son – Bruce Springsteen

15) Hell Yeah – Dead Prez

14) Hip Hop is Dead – Nas

13) Not Ready to Make Nice – Dixie Chicks

12) Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes

11) Your Touch – The Black Keys

10) Give it to Me – Timbaland featuring Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake

9) My Girls – Animal Collective

8 ) My President – Young Jeezy

7) Feel Good, Inc. – Gorillaz

6) Paper Planes – MIA

5) Beautiful Day – U2

4) Re Education Through Labor – Rise Against

3) Crazy – Gnarls Barkley

2) Bite The Hand That Feeds – Nine Inch Nails

1) Hey Ya – Outkast

50) The Killers: Hot Fuss

49) Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things

48) Prince – 3121 (2006)

47) Metallica – St Anger (2003)

46) Weezer – (Green Album) (2001)

45) George Harrison – Brainwashed (2002)

44) Interpol – Antics  (2004)

43) Rufus Wainwright – Poses (2001)

42) Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004)

41) Paul McCartney – Memory Almost Full  (2007)

40) Martha Wainwright – Martha Wainwright (2005)

39) Cat Power – The Greatest (2006)

38) TV on the Radio – Dear Science, (2008)

37) Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (2006)

36) Anthony Hamilton – Comin’ Where I’m From (2003)

35) Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

34) Nas – Nas      (2008)

33) My Morning Jacket – Z (2005)

32) Al Green – Lay it Down (2008)

31) Common – Like Water for Chocolate  (2000)

30) JJ Cale and Eric Clapton – Road to Endencino (2006)

29) Kings of Leon – Only By the Night (2008)

28) Cee Lo – Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (2002)

27) Bob Dylan – Love and Theft (2001)

26) Tom Petty – Highway Companion (2006)

25) Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

24) Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning  (2005)

23) Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac  (2006)

22) Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)

21) Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000)

20) John Coltrane and Theonious Monk at Carnegie Hall (2005)

19) Outkast – Stankonia (2000)

18) Johnny Cash – My Mother’s Hymn Book (2004)

17) Suffjan Stevens – Illinoise (2005)

16) Jay Z – The Blueprint (2001)

15) Matisyahu – Live at Stubb’s (2005)

14) Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

13 ) U2 – No Line on the Horizon (2009)

12) The National – Boxer (2007)

11) Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat (2006)

10) Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King (2009)

9) The Gaslight Anthem – The ‘59 Sound (2008)

8 ) Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero (2007)

7) Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002)

6) Death Cab For Cutie – Plans (2005)

5) Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

4) Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)

3) The Drive by Truckers – Brighter Than Creations Dark (2008)

2) Lupe Fiasco – The Cool (2007)

1) The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America (2006)

“Boys and Girls in America” is my pick for best album of the first decade of the new millennium. It doesn’t try to be more than it is and it’s not epic in the stereotypical sense. It’s just great rock and roll. I hate to quote another rock critic in a review of my own, but a line from Thom Jurek writing for AMG sticks with me about this album: “It exposes in the first and third person what it means to grow up right now in the midst of suburban waste.” That’s as much as I’ll borrow from anyone else in this description, but it’s apt. Released in 2006 this album is teenage and twenty-something life for a bunch of different people in post-9/11 pre-financial collapse America. It’s music that works for listening value for anyone 15 to 65, because it hits the high points of pure rock without copping from them. If you like punk, Dylan, Springsteen, The Replacements or pretty much any other great rock and roll, you’ll like this album.  As everyone knows, ranking, filing and critiquing music is a bit arbitrary and always reflects personal taste. Really, the top 3 albums on this list hold equal treasure in my listening experience, and a pick like this always says as much about the reviewer and the person picking it as it does the art itself. I wrote awhile back that Paste magazine’s pick of the decade sums up who they are as a publication– Sufjan Steven’s “Illinoise” album is great and it also made my list, but “Paste” are the only critics I saw use it as their number one pick, and it shows you right where they are. This is the case with everyone’s “number one,” so “Boys and Girls in America” is the RATDOTL blogspots  defining album– it’s druggy, woozy, fired up, nerdy, religion-obsessed, doubt-plagued , girl-crazy, earnest, tongue-in-cheek, cruising around aimlessly and trekking to the perfect rock show.


Movies

There were some great contenders within an inch of the best; “Invictus” was a wonderful film and Morgan Freeman played Nelson Mandela as convincingly as you would have imagined. The only fault for me was there really wasn’t enough of his character in the film– I would’ve liked to have seen Morgan bring Mandela’s inner self out onto the screen, to see where he came from and what drives him. I understand that this picture wasn’t a Mandela biopic meant to encapsulate his whole life– it was about the Rugby Cup, the unification of the country through a shared  (though labored for) passion. All in all, it was a good picture a bit shy of being a great movie.
“Sherlock Holmes” is an excellent action movie; I saw it after I posted my list, and had I caught it first it may have been in consideration– all in all, I think I would have kept my original list though as it was just beaten by the fierce competition this year. Last year it would have made it.
The best blockbuster of the summer was “Star Trek.” Unlike “Transformers 2,” it had smarts, good acting and just-as-good effects. The first Star Trek movie that levels the playing field and works for more than just a core fan base, this one was fun for anyone remotely interested in science fiction or smart action movies.

Then there were just a lot of fun genre movies that wouldn’t make a best of list because they’re understandably not “great” movies, just really fun ones that work for their target audience. There was a trilogy of great, ‘80s style horror movies– the “Friday the 13th” remake was an amped-up and entertaining hour-and-a-half mash-up of the original first 3 F13 movies, trimmed of the fat and void of any pretense, it actually improved on the originals (which let’s face it, weren’t sacred cinema to begin with). Then there was the “Evil Dead” cult-fave director Sam Raimi’s return to form with “Drag Me to Hell.” Raimi’s been mainstream with the “Spider Man” movies the past few years, so it was nice to see he could still deliver the laughs, thrills and B-movie schlock that he does so well in a really fun fright-fest. Last in this batch, there was “Jennifer’s Body.” The writer of “Juno” out of nowhere decided to pen an over-the-top, could-it-be feminist horror movie (well, to a point– we do have a sex-glowing airbrushed-looking Megan Fox prancing around playing the vapid hateful slaughter machine). “Jennifer’s Body” was more fun, intentionally laugh-provoking and exciting than anyone would have ever believed and was the best horror movie of the year.
The two funniest movies this year (high on laughs with no real concern for plot) were “The Hangover” and “Bruno.” Grossing more money than a Nicholas Spark adaptation, “The Hangover” delivered almost non-stop laughs. Not quite as relevant and important as “Bruno,” but more envelope-pushing and more proof of Sacha Boren Cohen’s relentless cajones in exposing hypocrisy and ludicrousness, “Bruno” did things on the big screen that were truly unmentionable (yet funny).

Comics


Only one mainstream work made my list of best comics and graphic novels this year (“Amazing Spider Man”). DC had all the runner-ups, though. “Batman and Robin,” though best in its first few issues when Gary Frank’s art was complimenting Grant Morrison’s prose, every issue has been fun even with the follow-up pencilers. Every Batman book has been a lot of fun this year that Bruce Wayne has been “dead.” JH William III drew an impressive pallet of experimentalism in the core Batwoman story in “Detective Comics,” Tim Drake’s journey around the globe in “Red Robin” was good, the return of a new “Batgirl” was fun (and not even campy). Outside of the Batverse (but still in DC), Gail Simone has hit her stride in what could become her best run on any book with “Secret Six.” Although every Superman book is currently tied up in the “new Krypton” affair, the Geoff Johns written Gary Frank penciled “Secret Origin” is amazing so far. Away from DC, “Boom Studios” produced Mark Waid’s terrific “The Unknown – The Devil Made Flesh,” some creepy horror fun. The CBLDF fundraising books “Liberty Comics” issues 1 and 2 featured every notable artist and writer in some fun, censorship baiting one-offs. Vertigo’s next big hit might by “Sweet Tooth,” which was building to a big moment as the year wrapped up.

Music


There were some great music items that seemed to have been polished and released out of nowhere. The Tom Petty Live Anthology, a whopping 4 discs of remastered, unreleased alternate takes came out for less than 20 bucks, and it contained about 5 hours of excellent rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame released (through Time Life) some great DVDs featuring the best speeches, inductions and performances of the past 25 years. Paul McCartney’s 2 disc (and 1 DVD) “Good Evening New York City” was a nice live review. To top it all off, the entire Beatles catalogue was finally remastered and sold out in retail stores across the country at a time when people seem to have stopped buying music in that manner.
As for albums that came close to making the cut (and didn’t get a mention on any of the music lists here this year), Morrissey’s “Years of Refusal” is his best work since The Smiths and was the one album that made it the closest to the cut. “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” almost made the singles list but didn’t– there are really 6 or so other songs on the album equally as good though. “The Promise Land,” a song by Mike Dunn and the Kings of New England, was on the singles list until the last minute. It’s the best song off of a promising album by a New England old-school bar band.

That’s it, I’ve said enough about 2009. I’m going to try and get my “Best of the 2000s” lists posted within the week, then that’ll be it for the pop culture commentary for awhile. I’ll be played out on it, moving on to something different.