Culture

Brandon Hook 10-31-2013
Photo by Peter Larson

Lucius' debut album, Wildewoman, was released earlier this month. Photo by Peter Larson

It seems rare these days to find an album where each song is valuable both individually and as part of the collective whole that makes up the record. Musicians are always telling us that they “don’t want to make just a few good singles with filler,” but few are able to fulfill those lofty intentions. Wilco did it on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, where the songs were different from themselves and anything Wilco had ever done in the past, and Animal Collective did it more recently on the 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion with the opposite approach: each song was unified by a cohesive and consistent sonic palette. Many point to Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album Rumours as another example, and there are surely others depending on one’s musical tastes.

But I think a newer, much lesser known group has entered that conversation, and they’ve done it on their first studio release, nonetheless. Brooklyn-based Lucius have managed to craft an album with diverse songs, catchy hooks, and really powerful vocals and harmonies stick in your head for days. There isn’t a song on their debut, Wildewoman, I want to skip through. Bob Boilen of NPR’s ‘All Songs Considered’ perhaps says it best when describing their EP: “If it were possible to wear out a digital file, then my copy of Lucius' self-titled 2012 EP would now be scattered digital bits.”

Ryan Herring 10-30-2013
Photo: Via Twitter/ @DailyLoud (pic.twitter.com/l5GjOx5zu5)

Rapper Kanye West and “white Jesus” on stage at his Seattle concert. Photo: Via Twitter/ @DailyLoud (pic.twitter.com/l5GjOx5zu5)

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.”

Rebecca Kraybill 10-30-2013

Photo provided by Ruth Bibby, via Liberty Champion.

Can you be scared into salvation?

For the past 41 years, Liberty University’s “Scaremare” has attracted thousands to its haunted attraction, where students in costumes deliver thrills and screams throughout a guided tour.

The university’s Center for Youth Ministries sponsors the annual October event, boasting to be one of the largest of its kind in the Southeast.

LaVonne Neff 10-29-2013

Experienced as the Butlers were in suffering and loss, they were not prepared for the technologically enhanced torments of old age.

Knocking on Heaven's Door tells what can happen when a person's mind and body endure a series of shocks that would naturally lead to decline and death — except that, through various technological interventions, the body is not allowed to decline along with the mind.

In Professor Butler's case, a major stroke wiped out most of his ability to function independently and set him on the road to dementia. At the same time, his heart was slowing down. A year after his stroke, over the opposition of his primary care physician, Butler was fitted with a pacemaker. His cardiologist strongly recommended it. He needed hernia surgery, the doctor said, and his heart was not likely strong enough to survive the operation. So he had the pacemaker installed, he had the surgery, and he was rewarded with another six years of increasingly hellish existence — not only for himself, but also for his wife and his daughter. His mind was shot. His body would not do what he wanted it to do. But his artificially assisted heart kept relentlessly ticking away.

Diogo Morgaldo (center) plays Jesus in a scene of “Son of God.” Photo via RNS/courtesy Lightworkers Media

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.

Brandon Hook 10-23-2013
Photo by Curtis Wave Millard

The Head and the Heart released their sophomore album last week. Photo by Curtis Wave Millard

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.”

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan (right) and Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. RNS photo by David Gibson.

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.

Christian Piatt 10-18-2013
 via The Fifth Estate Facebook Page: facebook.com/TheFifthEstateMovie

Still from 'The Fifth Estate' via The Fifth Estate Facebook Page: facebook.com/TheFifthEstateMovie

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?

Kathy Khang 10-14-2013
Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun / Shutterstock.com

Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun / Shutterstock.com

There are few things as exhausting, draining, and disheartening as family drama. I’m not talking low-level sibling rivalry over who gets shotgun all the time. I’m talking deep-rooted family issues that go generations back. That kind of family drama shows up in the most inopportune times in the most inappropriate places — at someone’s wedding or funeral, at the family reunion, or while grocery shopping.

But when family drama shows up in the church, it grieves me. It riles me up like nothing else does because it is in my identity as a Christian and Jesus-follower where I am all of who God created me to be and has called me to be — Asian and American, Korean, female, friend, daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, writer, manager, advocate, activist. The church is the place where I and everyone else SHOULD be able to get real and raw and honest to work out the kinks and twists, to name the places of pain and hurt, and to find both healing and full restoration and  redemption.

So when the church uses bits and pieces of “my” culture — the way my parents speak English (or the way majority culture people interpret the way my parents speak English) or the way I look (or the way the majority culture would reproduce what they think I look like) – for laughs and giggles, it’s not simply a weak attempt at humor. It’s wrong. It’s hurtful. It’s not honoring. It can start out as “an honest mistake” with “good intentions,” but ignored, it can lead to sin.

Fortunately, there is room for mistakes, apologies, dialogue, learning, and forgiveness.

Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 conference. Photo via RNS/courtesy Kris Krüg via Wikimedia Commons

Author Malcolm Gladwell may not be known for writing on religion. His New York Times best-selling books “The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” “Blink” and “What the Dog Saw” deal with the unexpected twists in social science research. But his newest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” also includes underlying faith-related themes, and not just in the title.

Gladwell said that while researching the book, he began rediscovering his own faith after having drifted away. Here, he speaks with RNS about his Mennonite family, how Jesus perfectly illustrates the point in his new book and how Gladwell’s return to faith changed the way he wrote the book. 

Jeffrey Weiss 10-07-2013
Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in  'Gravity.' Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in 'Gravity.' Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Reviews of the new hit movie Gravity note that it’s an unusually fine science fiction film. What they don’t mention is that the main character represents an increasingly common theme in American religion: The spiritual “none of the above.”

Yes, the special effects are splendid. And I’ll take the word of astronauts who say the visuals capture amazingly well what it’s like to work in the microgravity of near-Earth orbit.

But there are moments where spiritual and philosophical themes take center stage.

(Spoiler alert: I’ll give no more away than I’ve seen in most reviews, but if you really want to know nothing about the movie, see it first.)

Jim Rice 10-04-2013
Tom Clancy novels, cdrummbks / Flickr.com

Tom Clancy novels, cdrummbks / Flickr.com

The books of Tom Clancy, who passed away this week, contain some of the most detailed description of military weaponry and procedures the public is likely to see. And people want to believe it: Clancy’s world is one in which technology can provide security and the so-called experts can be trusted to protect us. He takes a complex world and doesn’t merely simplify it, but rather creates super humans and super machines that can manage the world’s complexities.

Robert Manaster 10-02-2013

Be the pulse driven from a broken shell.

Ed Spivey Jr. 10-02-2013

Illustration by Ken Davis

Domestic space flight is an idea whose time has come.

Andrea Ferich 10-02-2013

Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. Simon & Schuster.

Duane Shank 10-02-2013

Baseball as a Road to God. Gotham Books.

Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and its Relevance Today. Strategic Book Publishing.

Gareth Higgins 10-02-2013

The makers of The Butler have told a kind of truth about the struggle for "beloved community" that has rarely been seen so clearly on multiplex screens.

Danny Duncan Collum 10-02-2013

Lone gunman? President and Jacqueline Kennedy minutes before the assassination.

JFK's assasination provides us with lessons about the dangers of secret wars and unaccountable power.

Julie Polter 10-02-2013

Breaking the Line by Simon & Schuster / Moved by the Spirit by USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture / The Adventists 2 by Journey Films / A Maryknoll Liturgical Year by Judy Coode and Kathy McNeely

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