The Common Good

Culture Watch

The God of Rap

On the opening night of the Yeezus Tour, multi-platinum, Grammy award-winning rapper Kanye West brought out an actor to portray Jesus during his concert in Seattle. Most of the time when I see "White Jesus" depicted, I don't get offended because I don't find it to be historically accurate. But between this and the title and theme of Kanye's last album, Yeezus, I was initially fed up. His antics were disrespectful, offensive, and just plain unnecessary.

Before I began to write this post I searched for concert footage of the event, but I stumbled upon an interview Kanye had with Wild 94, a hit music station in San Francisco. During the interview, which was done a few days after his Seattle performance, he was given the opportunity to explain his motives behind bringing out Jesus.

"We do plays all the time. People play Jesus,” West said. “You know what’s awesome about Christianity is we’re allowed to portray God. It’s a painting, it’s a sculpture, it’s a moving opera, it’s a play, it’s a message. God knows where my heart is at.”

Then came the comment that changed the entire direction of this post:

“One of the things that I really wanted to get across is that you can have a relationship with Jesus. That you can talk to Jesus. This is the way I express it.”

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Noah and the Whale: Simple but Delightful Rock n' Roll

 “I’ve always believed that there’s an amazing number of things you can do through a rock ‘n’ roll song,” Lou Reed, who just this past week passed away, once told the journalist Kristine McKenna.

English band Noah and the Whale take that observation and run with it. I had the opportunity of seeing the band live last week, and the show — and their sound — was simple, as nearly every rock song is, yet cathartic and delightful. It mixes elements of Reed and his sixties and seventies peers with Springsteen and sprinkles on touches of indie-folk that’s flourished over the last decade. And the results are marvelous.

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No Turning Away, or Back, After Seeing '12 Years a Slave'

Before I saw the new film 12 Years A Slave, I knew nothing about Solomon Northrop or his astounding story of courage, forbearance, and faith.

I’d never heard of Northrop, an African-American freeman, who was born and reared in upstate New York in the early 1800s, well before the abolition of slavery in the rest of the nation. I’d not known of the historical practice of kidnapping freeborn black Americans in the North and selling them into slavery in the South.

I’d never heard about how Northrop, an accomplished violinist, was bamboozled into traveling from his farm in Hebron, N.Y., where he lived a prosperous life with his wife and three children, to Washington, D.C., for work, but was drugged, kidnapped, and sold in Louisiana. I’d never heard how he remained for a dozen years before heroically regaining his freedom in 1853 — one of a very few kidnapped freemen and freewomen ever to regain their freedom.

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D.C. Clergy Join Push to 'Change the Mascot'

The Oneida Indian Nation’s campaign against the Washington pro football club’s team name picked up new supporters this week when more than two dozen clergy in the Washington region committed to taking the fight to their pulpits.

“Black clergy have been the conscience of America,” Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said to a gathering of roughly 40 people on folding chairs in the basement of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. “This is not a fight we could do by ourselves, or should do by ourselves.”

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth, asked for a show of hands Wednesday to indicate which clergy members in attendance would be willing to preach against what he termed the “R word.” More than a dozen raised their hands. Hagler said that a different dozen committed to the cause at a clergy breakfast meeting Wednesday and that, all told, he has commitments from roughly 100 clergy members to talk to their congregations in coming weeks.

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Hollywood Looks to the Bible for Screenplay Potential

Studios and filmmakers are rediscovering a classic text as source material for upcoming mainstream films: the Bible.

Nearly 10 years after the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which earned $611.9 million worldwide, studios are looking to the Good Book for good material.

Alongside the string of upcoming Bible-related films, producers from the History channel’s “The Bible” miniseries just announced that the series’ film adaptation “Son of God” will be released in theaters nationwide in February with 20th Century Fox.

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ICYMI: Heavy Hearts on The Head and the Heart's Sophomore Release

Life is riddled with a smorgasbord of emotional highs, lows, tragedies, triumphs, and what might feel like monotony to fill in the gaps.

On the newest album from Seattle folk and Americana band The Head and the Heart, you can feel the wear and tear of a group who have simply experienced a lot and probably had little time to rest and reflect.

“When I think about the two records together, the first one feels like we all wanted to fulfill this dream we’d had about playing music, meeting people and traveling around,” drummer Tyler Williams told Sub Pop. “This one feels like the consequences of doing that — what relationships did you ruin? What other things did you miss? You always think it will all be perfect once you just do ‘this.’ And that’s not always the case.”

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The Pope Francis Effect: ‘Francesco’ Now Italy’s Most Popular Baby Name

Moved by the election of Pope Francis seven months ago, the name “Francesco” has leapfrogged to No. 1 on the list of the most popular baby names in Italy, according to a study.

The study, conducted by Enzo Caffarelli, who researches the origins of names at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, along with telephone directory publisher Seat PG Italia, also showed a trend toward re-naming streets, town squares, and parks for St. Francis of Assisi, the pontiff’s namesake.

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Stephen Colbert on Pope Francis, Cardinal Dolan and (of Course) Stephen Colbert

The great and the good — and lots of politicians and TV pundits, too — gathered Thursday to hear comedian Stephen Colbert roast and toast everyone from Pope Francis to his host for the evening, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The 68th annual Al Smith Dinner, named for the first Catholic presidential candidate in American history, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel raised $3 million for New York’s neediest children.

Colbert is a lifelong Catholic, a man who is, as Alfred E. Smith IV said in introducing him, “serious about both his craft and his Catholic faith.” The cardinal — who is also pretty funny — and the comedian first met last fall, and Colbert had Dolan on his show last month. So the archbishop of New York returned the favor by having Colbert headline the dinner.

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'The Fifth Estate:' Is WikiLeaks Good for America?

Am I the only one who finds it deliciously ironic that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange objects stridently to how he is portrayed in the new movie, The Fifth Estate? The film, which hits theaters in wide release today, turns its attention to the organization best known for publicly sharing otherwise confidential information of various governments, including our own.

Assange is clearly a study in eccentricity. From his tow-headed locks to his lock-down work environment, he fascinates as often as he infuriates. To demonstrate their displeasure about the coming film, WikiLeaks actually leaked the screenplay to the public ahead of the movie release and has published numerous corrections they deem necessary to more accurately reflect history. They have also labeled the movie "irresponsible, counterproductive and harmful,” adjectives made that much more poignant, given that similar epithets have been leveled at WikiLeaks for their own work.

But despite this latest round of drama revolving around WikiLeaks and its lightning rod of a front man, the question still remains:

Is WikiLeaks good for America?

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Hollywood’s Depiction of Nuns a Case of ‘Veiled Desires’

From Julie Andrews’ performance as Maria in the 1965 film “The Sound of Music” to Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Sister Aloysius Beauvier in “Doubt” (2008), many Hollywood actresses are particularly conspicuous for their habits. But although habits or veils are thought to symbolize purity – and especially chastity — some films presented a more complicated portrait of nuns.

The title of Maureen Sabine’s new book, “Veiled Desires: Intimate Portrayals of Nuns in Postwar Anglo-American Film” (Fordham University Press), refers to the paradox of having charismatic and photogenic actresses playing chaste nuns and, in the process, drawing attention to the desires their habits were thought to stifle.

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