Joshua Witchger 3-30-2012

Last month I had the privilege of interviewing Denison Witmer as he passed through Washington, D.C. in support of his newest album The Ones Who Wait.

This week, Witmer’s manager was kind enough to send us some additional videos from Denison's tour as he returned home to play before friends and family at the World Café in Philadelphia. The audio and video are top notch; and in the spirit of creating a space for truth and beauty, we’re premiering three new videos for you to enjoy.

Duane Shank 3-29-2012
Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written.

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest.

Joshua Witchger 3-29-2012

Nothing quite welcomes the spring-time like a Girl Scout cookie milkshake. In Washington D.C. Batman is making his rounds to childrens hospitals, and the Supreme Court is debating where to order take out from. Yesterday, Will Ferrell announced a sequal to Anchorman on Conan, and Earl Scruggs is remembered for popularizing the finger-picked banjo. Musical instruments are made out of jelly, Chicago travelers enjoy beer on the train, Law and Order's Christopher Meloni is the "Kony Hunter," and more... Click to read today's Links of Awesomeness...

Max Dannenbaum, Getty Images

Max Dannenbaum, Getty Images

Word to the wise: don't get on a cruise ship in a year ending in the number 12. Especially if the captain feels a little too sure of himself.

Earlier this year the world was captivated by images of the Costa Concordia capsized off the Italian coast. The captain allegedly ignored the navigation maps, ran aground and at least 30 people died as a result.

April 12 marks the 100th anniversary of the disaster of the Titanic, which sank about 360 miles from Newfoundland when the famously "unsinkable" ship hit an ice berg. Three hours later, it was an underwater grave two miles below the frigid surface of the North Atlantic.

Sandi Villarreal 3-29-2012
Bully movie poster

Bully movie poster

Tyler Long, 17, hanged himself more than two years ago after being teased and bullied. He joined countless others and more since who have been pushed to the limit and taken their own lives. Bully, which premieres Friday, chronicles the lives of Long’s family, along with five other children tormented on a daily basis.

Bully shows students who are mocked for their sexual orientation both by peers and teachers; they endure beatings on school buses; they have profanities hurled at them—which earned the movie an “R” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.

MPAA’s decision sparked protests and petitions from anti-bullying groups and eventually made the Weinstein Company, which produced the documentary, release the film unrated.

I watched the film. Bully disturbs me on a basic human level—but not because of the profanity (which is probably fairly mild to the average teen). Bully disturbs me because it is real life. It disturbs me because I have younger brothers the same age as some of the students in the film. It disturbs me because it’s happening in the lives of our children all around the country.

the Web Editors 3-29-2012
Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

Hosts Kelly Ripa and Anderson Cooper attend screening of 'Bully.' Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

Celebs are showing their support for the movie Bully, released Friday.

A Twitter post made the rounds all week, grabbing endorsements for the film from the likes of Justin Bieber, Diddy, Maria Shriver, Ellen DeGeneres, Ricky Martin, Russell Simmons, Ryan Seacrest, Channing Tatum, Randy Jackson, Jimmy Fallon, Zooey Deschanel, Katy Perry, Jonah Hill, Kristen Bell, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Hugh Jackman, Paula Abdul and Jessica Simpson.

Carrie Adams 3-29-2012
Bullying word cloud, kentoh/

Bullying word cloud, kentoh/

We’ve talked about bullying on this blog before. We’ve highlighted Christians who are standing with gays and lesbians, exposed racial bullying, discussed religious bullying, bullying of every stripe. We’ve tried to tell meaningful stories about support, healing and prevention.

But there’s more to say.

Christian Piatt 3-29-2012
Photo by Jasjeet Plaha/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Author Richard Dawkins attends the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival. Photo by Jasjeet Plaha/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

As further evidence that atheists are as diverse as their faithful counterpart, Alain De Botton has penned a controversial new book called Religion for Atheists. And not surprising, he’s gotten no small amount of push- back from the atheist community for his work.

He’s hardly the first to write a book examining the value of religion for an atheist perspective, but his is the most recent. Bruce Sheiman wrote a book in 2009 called An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off with Religion Than Without It. I’m sure you can imagine the subject matter didn’t thrill all of his fellow nonbelievers. Botton’s book goes a step further, however. Rather than just looking at the merits of organized religion from arm’s-length, he proposes actual practices that atheists could employ in daily life that reflect religious practice, only without God as the focus.

Christian Piatt 3-28-2012
Cover of Blue Like Jazz movie guide

Cover of Blue Like Jazz movie guide

I should recognize up front that I can hardly be considered a neutral party with respect to the Blue Like Jazz movie. First, I got to see a screening of a rough cut a few months ago, and then sit in on a podcast interview with Steve Taylor, the film’s director. I also got to meet Taylor, Don Miller and Marshall Allman at a screening in Colorado Springs, and I was invited with my wife, Amy, to write up the study guide that I posted earlier today.

When you get that close to a project, it’s hard to be objective. But people have been interested in my opinions both about the book and the film, so I thought I’d reflect on both a little bit.

Joshua Witchger 3-28-2012

A surname map of the United States, the uproar over Michael Bay's remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the world's first 3 rpm music record, Spirograph inspired art, lessons from game Oregon Trail, and ordering pizza from a refrigerator magnet. Continue reading today's Links of Awesomeness for these and other links...  

the Web Editors 3-28-2012
Blue Like Jazz film cover

Blue Like Jazz film cover

Christian Piatt, who recently interviewed the creators behind the upcoming film Blue Like Jazz, was asked to write a discussion guide for the movie. The e-book will be distributed to anyone who wants a copy for free.

From Christian:

We’re excited and honored to be a part of this, and it’s my hope that the e-book will help individuals and small groups who see the movie to go a little deeper with it and come away with something meaningful.

Tom Ehrich 3-27-2012
Latte photo, Dubova,

Latte photo, Dubova,

Nowadays, "values" is no longer just a code word for the religious right's assault on cultural trends they don't like. "Values" are cropping up in all political and cultural camps. The acquisitive life simply isn't sustainable. Consumerism becomes dull, and non-stop partying seems shallow.

Interesting people read books, play challenging games (Scrabble is surprisingly hot), and enjoy long meals in quiet places. Even in colleges — the last bastion of anything-goes — poetry readings, bike treks and mission work are encroaching on beer blasts. Canning your own vegetables is suddenly en vogue.

The dynamics are similar to our growing distaste for religious extremism and the politics of hatred. We have seen ourselves up close and decided we can do better. Pouring a lifetime of earnings into showy living becomes embarrassing. Turning religion into shouting matches and rampant bigotry doesn't pass any gospel sniff test.

Joshua Witchger 3-27-2012

The Seattle Space Needle is transformed into an Angry Birds slingshot, horror characters imagined in their old age, mashups of classic art with pop culture figures, Facebook's new headquarters and QR code roof, a 45 foot paper airplane, a bald eagle, a fox and two cats hang out on a porch in Alaska, and Hall & Oates are covered in a moving vehicle. See these and more links on today's Links of Awesomeness...

Jack Star/PhotoLink

Jack Star/PhotoLink

Stripped of its supernatural elements, does religion have anything to offer atheists? What can nonbelievers borrow from the organizations, practices and rituals of believers -- without borrowing a belief in God?

According to Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, a lot.

In his new book, Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion he outlines an array of things he contends religions get right and that atheists can adopt to create a better, richer secular society.

Kevin Manahan 3-26-2012
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Quarterback Tim Tebow addresses the media as he is introduced as a New York Jet March 26. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

NEWARK, N.J. —Tim Tebow is Howdy Doody in a helmet. No, he is Opie Taylor running for touchdowns — while reciting Bible verses, stopping to find a lost dog, visiting sick children in a hospital and helping a little old lady across the street, all before he reaches the end zone.

Now that Tebow has been traded to the Jets, New Jersey is about to experience a dose of wholesomeness it hasn't seen since milk trucks stopped delivering to your door.

Tebow is the God-fearing, All-American evangelical hero — born to missionaries and delivered during a miraculous birth — who pledged his life to Jesus at 6 years old.

His priorities? "Faith, family, football." He has overcome obstacle after obstacle to become the most popular athlete in the nation's most popular sport, all while waging a personal battle against sin, temptation and the American way.

Sandi Villarreal 3-26-2012
The three stars of The Hunger Games at its LA premeire. Joe Seer, Shutterstock.

The three stars of The Hunger Games at its LA premeire. Joe Seer,

Editor’s Note: This review may include spoilers if you have not seen the movie or read the book.

I really didn’t want to read The Hunger Games. I had resisted the time sucks that were the Harry Potter and Twilight series. I’m too old for such nonsense.

But about two months ago, my friends settled on the trilogy for our next book club pick. After some initial whining, I gave in. Our last selection was Cutting for Stone—I could use a mental break. Of course, the inevitable happened. I was engrossed so completely that I flew back to Minneapolis for opening weekend and book club.

Our group of seven twentysomethings settled in with our themed cocktails among the hordes of fans, ready to be wowed. Later at our debrief in the rented-out sky club at my old apartment building—we were serious about this—we settled on a resounding “eh.”

Anna Broadway 3-26-2012
Photo by Getty Images.

Photo by Getty Images.

It’s been a mind-boggling fortnight at the Internet water cooler. Kony 2012. Mike Daisey’s dubious portrayal of Apple’s manufacturing practices abroad. Questions of whether the “Christian Movie Establishment” is “out to get” Blue Like Jazz … and an Amazon petition to let Rachel Held Evans use the word “vagina” in her forthcoming book, The Year of Biblical Womanhood.

Running through each of these stories and the surrounding debate are similar themes: truth, storytelling, power, persuasion. The online conversation is often vicious and acrimonious, reflecting a trend that’s spurred some writers to leave reader comments unread.

Adding to the intensity of the discussions is that almost each of these controversies involves an effort to change something: the Ugandan geo-political scene; unethical manufacturing practices; ways of talking about religious experience; “Christian” expectations for women. That’s not to say these creators set out with those ends as their foremost goal, but their projects were certainly meant to be more than beautiful or useful.

Joshua Witchger 3-23-2012

Experience the Hunger Games... a history of dystopian literature, tips for surviving the environmental apocalypse, a spoof Coca-Cola ad, soundtrack music from Arcade Fire, fans of the games depicted in charts, American voices respond to the film, and a longer, slightly more accurate book title.


Christian Piatt 3-22-2012
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW

Director Steve Taylor attends 'Blue Like Jazz' at SXSW. Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW

It’s no surprise that some Christians and the organizations they represent are less than enthused about the forthcoming Blue Like Jazz movie. But Steve Taylor, the film’s director, claimed today on Donald Miller’s Blog that certain prominent Christian filmmakers “issued what amounts to a fatwa against Blue Like Jazz.”

One of the concerns involves a movie being released this month called October Baby, which is being distributed by Provident Films. Taylor says he received word that Provident had ordered exhibitors not to show trailers of the Blue Like Jazz movie at October Baby showings.

Taylor also shared this excerpt from an email forwarded to him, which reportedly came from the Vice President of Provident Films (text is verbatim from Taylor’s post):

 i think exhibitors  are going to try to play the Blue Like Jazz trailer with october baby

 this can not happen – the trailer actually has the words “I hate Jesus” in the voiceover along with a number of images that will be very offensive to catholics

 it is in the best interest of theaters to not run the trailer because they are going to have a lot of angry patrons if they do

 thanks for your help here

Joshua Witchger 3-22-2012

The Dr. Suess alphabet, World Pizza Games, Mad Men the 8-bit video game, The Tutu Project, Daily Show exclusives, Origami Animals, and a family of ducks crossing Pennsylvania Avenue stops traffic. Take a look at today's Links of Awesomeness...