The Common Good

Culture Watch

Should a Christian Watch 'Game of Thrones?'

Is there anything morally redeeming about Game of Thrones? Does the hit HBO series even have a moral vision?

The show is certainly entertaining, almost addictively so, and as Game of Thrones wraps up its third season on Sunday, the ratings reflect that popularity: a record of more than 5.5 million viewers have followed the ruthless struggles for power among the teeming clans of Westeros, the medieval-looking world created by fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin.

That success has also guaranteed that the show will be back for a fourth year of mayhem and passion, swords and sorcery, despite this season’s many violent endings. Or, as one tweet put it after the bloody penultimate episode: “Why doesn’t George R.R. Martin use twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters.”

But therein lies the moral problem for some: The appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances.

That, in turn, has prompted intense debates about whether Christians should watch Games of Thrones at all, or whether the show’s only possible virtue is depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born – or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.

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Is Scientology Unwatchable?

The news is not good for the new movie “After Earth,” which means the news is not good for Sony Pictures, or Will Smith … or, it seems, Scientology, whose sci-fi inflected religious system inspired what was to be a summer blockbuster. Now it’s looking like a summer bust.

As the NYTimes reports, “After Earth” took in 18 percent less than the lowest of prerelease expectations and may have ended Smith’s reputation as a surefire action-adventure box office draw — not to mention hurting the budding career of son Jaden, his co-star. Oh, and how much further off track could M. Night Shyamalan’s career go? He used to pose big questions in intriguing ways, but he directed and co-wrote this movie, yet another flop for him.

The movie has been ripped in reviews, and may well add to the narrative of decline and crisis that has been surrounding Scientology: an exodus of members, tell-all books, lawsuits, celebrity scandals. Well, maybe Scientology IS like a real religion after all.

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Mumford and Sons: A Festival of Devotion

Mumford and Sons opened with a little introit called "Sigh No More" then a call to worship, "Roll Away Your Stone" and so we did. Understated and, dare I say it, reverent. Polished and yet still "honest" (this is a hipster liturgy, after all), the boys did a great job offering their work to us. They spoke with the audience. Marcus jumped off stage to give a beer to a woman celebrating her 21st birthday and then led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to her. Welcome to a living room that seats 8,500.

The band played most of their published stuff, took a bow, and walked off stage. The encore set is what took it home for me. The stepped away from their usual set-up, unplugged their instruments, stood around a condenser mic and then sang. They dragged us back into devotion. Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" followed by "Sister" sung a cappella did me in. A benediction? Perhaps I'm reaching. 

They closed the night with "The Cave" which had people jumping and singing along. You can find a set list here.

After the concert, my Facebook feed lit up with "it was just like church" or "that was church" by several people including some ordained church types in attendance last night. The Vineyard background has not been wasted, not by any stretch. It has been given a new venue, a new form, a venue where the truth can be sung in quiet tones, where no name is taken in vain or otherwise, where wild passion is replaced with festal devotion.

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The Stories We All Could Tell

Polley’s theater family has kept a rumor for years that Sarah’s dad may not be her biological father. Nagged by persistent jokes about her striking non-resemblance to the rest of the family, and unable to ask her long-since deceased mother, Polley sets out to put the record, and her family’s memories, straight.  

There’s much to love here, and what immediately distinguishes Stories is the openness — both uncomfortable and endearing — with which Polley invites the audience to see the intimate process of art-making.

In short, we see a family — recognizable, ordinary, and still very much in the process of living — grappling with what it means to be suddenly be subjects in an intimate story no longer their own.

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Ultimate Passion: Q&A With Ultimate Frisbee Star Brodie Smith

It’s almost impossible to talk about Christians in sports without talking about Tim Tebow (case in point). But there’s another University of Florida grad who has gained attention from another sport — Ultimate Frisbee.

Unlike mainstream sports like baseball and football (and futbol), Ultimate is a relatively new sport. In fact, it is not much older than Sojourners, as it was reportedly invented in 1968 (Sojourners was founded in ’71). And like Sojourners, it has gained momentum through word of mouth to the point that it is a nationally recognized sport.

Even with the infiltration of high school sports, college teams, and semi-professional clubs, Ultimate is, for the most part, faceless, with the exception of one man: Brodie Smith. Smith grew to be a nationally recognized Ultimate player through his Youtube trick shot videos.

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Gay Mormon Characters Step Out of the Shadows

 

Twenty years ago, a gay Mormon character stepped onstage for the first time. His name was Joe Pitt, and he was in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.

Pitt lived in New York with a good reputation and a bad marriage to a woman addicted to Valium. As colleagues dealt with the devastation and uncertainty of AIDS — it was the 1980s — he grappled with openly acknowledging his sexuality. He was Mormon. And gay. And the two didn’t mix.

Before Pitt, there was a gay Mormon character in a novel: Brigham Anderson, in Allan Drury’s Advise and Consent, published in 1959. But words like “gay” and “homosexual” weren’t used; it was all innuendo.

Now, the scene has changed: Gay Mormon characters and themes have a growing role in theater and literature.

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Catholic Rocker Matt Maher Finds Cross-Over Appeal Among Evangelicals

Growing up Roman Catholic in Newfoundland, Matt Maher never imagined that his childhood interest in music would lead to a career as a Grammy-nominated, chart-topping Christian rocker — let alone a crossover artist featured on Christian radio and in evangelical worship.

After he stopped going to Mass as a freshman in high school, Maher wasn’t even sure about his own faith. The idea of maintaining a personal relationship to God seemed a foreign concept.

“Where I grew up, evangelical Christianity really hadn’t made any strides,” said Maher, now 38, describing the mainline religious culture of his wind-swept Canadian homeland.

Listen to any of his catchy, guitar-driven pop-rock anthems, such as his new single, “Lord, I Need You,” and it’s clear God is never far from Maher’s mind these days.

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Five Questions with Author of 'The Invisible Girls'

Sarah Thebarge is the author of The Invisible Girlsa new memoir from Jericho Books. I was fortunate to get a few minutes to ask her a few questions about her touching, funny, compelling new piece of work.

Q:  Your book is about Somali Refugees and also about your survival of breast cancer.  How do you write one book about both things?

A:  When I met the Somali mom and her girls on the MAX the first time, we had a lot of differences – different religions, ethnicities, skin color, and language. But as I developed a relationship with them, I realized that we had a lot in common at the core. Because I’d been a little girl growing up in a fundamentalist culture, where men buried you under yards of fabric and lists of rules and taught you that women were supposed to be silent.  And I knew what it was like to be a refugee of sorts, because after I nearly died of cancer in my 20s, I sold everything I had and got on a plane with a suitcase of clothes and flew from the east coast to Portland, Ore., and started over. And so even though the narrative lines of the Somali refugee family and my cancer experiences seem disparate, they actually weave together well, because all this time, I’d been an Invisible Girl, too.

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The 2013 Sweetlife Festival: At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose

Passion and purpose.

Sounds familiar, huh? Those two words are at the heart of activism and social justice. I could have safely assumed that almost every young Christian activist at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia back in February was passionate about a particular purposeful cause. I’m surprised a Christian conference hasn’t already picked up on the whole passion and purpose thing for slogan or tag line.

Christian conferences aside, I never thought those two words would be the foundation of a cutting-edge music and food festival at Merriwewather Post Pavilion, and certainly not one where 18,000 people were jamming to some of their favorite artists and scurrying over to local food trucks for healthy, delicious food in between sets. Heck, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a festival that focuses on both music and food.

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Candida Moss Debunks the ‘Myth’ of Christian Persecution

Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.

Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.

Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”

We asked Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, to talk about the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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