You might wonder how opera diva Kathleen Battle, the best-selling computer game MYST, and TV shopping networks all work into a conversation about Christianity.
Through the delicious intimacy of radio, Ken Myers, host of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, gently steers his listeners through these conversations, as well as hundreds of others that touch on nearly every aspect of God's creation: Leonard Bernstein's views of religion and music; the culture of therapy; technology and community; mystery writer P.D. James on why evil characters are easier to depict than good ones; "attitude" and violence in pop culture; the Christian conviction of poet Christina Rossetti; the deeper meaning of eating; how valuing choice hurts community; Brahms's German Requiem; a biblical view of language and literature; the theological depth of the civil rights movement; the nature of cities and urban experience; and nudity in art and advertising.
Myers, a former editor for National Public Radio, launched the Audio Journal—"a bimonthly audio magazine of contemporary culture and Christian conviction"—eight years ago to encourage greater reflection on culture, how it's formed, and how it shapes our belief. Each 90-minute tape or CD contains six to nine interviews with critics, professors, authors, and cultural observers on a particular topic and comes with a listener's guide for more information. Yearly subscriptions are $36.
"The gospel is not a message about escaping from our humanity or from culture," Myers writes in an introduction to the Journal, "but of recovering our humanity and reconsecrating culture, of ordering our embodied experience in forms that are worthy and delightful offerings in which we participate fully and heartily, body and spirit."
Mars Hill Audio—no association with the magazine Mars Hill Review—also produces what it calls "Conversations," "Reports," and "Anthologies," the first being longer versions of original Journal interviews that center on a particular theme. Anthologies are collections of printed essays (read aloud) on a single topic, such as "Place, Community, and Memory." Reports include original interviews on a subject, such as "Uncharted Waters: Dockside Gambling in Tunica, Mississippi."
THESE INTELLIGENT discussions are refreshing, especially in a culture where Christianity often seems implausible—even to believers.
For example, in Volume 37 Myers interviews Donald McCullough, president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, on his view of the theological basis of courtesy. McCullough believes that the increasing informality of church services has contributed to a reduction in manners and our lack of respect for others. Perhaps we don't treat each other with as much reverence because we don't approach God with the same. "We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is worship?'" McCullough says. "We must take the focus off ourselves and put it onto God."
Volume 37 also includes an interview with Wheaton College professor Jill Peláez Baumgaertner, author of Flannery O'Connor: A Proper Scaring. Baumgaertner recalled the reaction a reader had toward O'Connor's grotesque characters and their violent actions. "She could find nothing appealing about a single one of Flannery O'Connor's characters," Baumgaertner said. "She ended by saying none of them deserve grace." Baumgaertner had to smile; this is exactly where O'Connor wanted to take her readers—to the edge of the searing, brutal truth that grace has been extended to everyone, whether we like it or not.
The conversations average about 10 minutes, which is a frustratingly short time to settle into a good discussion. Some are even shorter. That's good news if you don't like the subject, or—because the conversations are cast at a high level—you become tired of phrases like "ecclesiastical disestablishment." If you're a beginner to some of the more cerebral topics, it will be hard to enter the conversation. And the producers need to even-up their gender ratio: The majority of guests are male.
The Journal's discussions help inform not a specific response to a specific ill, such as globalization or our culture of violence. Rather, they contribute to a specific posture toward what is swirling around in our culture—that of an informed, thoughtful Christian heartily engaged with culture and committed to living out genuine conversion.
Molly Marsh is an assistant editor at Sojourners. Contact www.marshillaudio. org; 1-800-331-6407.