Emergency! 2 million people in jeopardy!!
June 11, 2009, 9:14 am
Filed under: culture, media, technology

A recent survey revealed a frightening level of lack of preparation.  As a result, more than 2 million USAmerican households are in danger of losing their television signals.  These are people without a digital converter box for their TV, and won’t be able to receive the over-the-air broadcasts from TV stations.  Have you noticed the frenzy that TV channels are going through to make sure everyone is prepared.  It’s like there’s some impending natural disaster or something. It sure does reveal something about the centrality of our idolatry.  I’m completely and totally guilty of this form of idolatry myself, so I don’t mean to make some elitist, moralist stand here.

Whatever the case, I hope that they do some follow up surveys with these 2 million households.  Something along the lines of tracking increased levels of literacy, quality of family relationships, community involvement, and physical health among those who got left behind in the shift to digital TV.


Our church sucks 16% less than the sucky church you go to
June 3, 2009, 9:25 pm
Filed under: denomination, media

<unfair rant warning>

I know I’m not alone in having received tons of church marketing pieces in my mailbox over the years.  Sometimes, they’re simple and elegant invitations to their Easter services, sometimes they’re loud and obnoxious and clearly trying too hard to be cool.  There’s a church in my area that sends out full color, 8×10 pieces about once every two months, with a design that looks like a magazine cover.  Pretty predictable stuff, really.  Unfortunately, these marketing pieces are almost always dishonest in some significant ways.  For example, if the marketing piece has pretty people from a number of ethnic backgrounds pictured, you can almost universally guarantee that the church is full of white people, most of whome are not photogenic.

The marketing piece I’ve seen a number of times is the one I love to hate the most.  It’s the one that says, “You should check out our church, even though you think church sucks.  Because we’re not like those other churches you’ve been to.  We don’t suck.  We rock.  You’ll love our <insert musical style>, your kids will love our <insert program name>, and we promise our preacher won’t bore you.  We’re different than the rest!”  A variation on this theme is the ad that says “We’re a church for people that don’t like church.”

There are some real problems with this approach to marketing.  First, it’s lazy.  I’ve been getting the same “Our church doesn’t suck” postcards in my mailbox for a lot of years by now.  Try some originality, some creativity.  Especially the churches that try so stinking hard to convince you they’re relevant through their timely sermon topics.  If you’re creative enough to have a sermon series riffing on the latest reality TV craze, you’re creative enough to say something other than “those guys suck, and we don’t.”

Second, it shows the church’s hand – they know full well that church isn’t working for people.  In fact, that may be the precise reason they started their new church – so it wouldn’t suck.  But they’re trashing the other churches in their area by doing this – in a cowardly, backhanded way.  If they think other churches suck, they should say it straight up, instead of trying to sneak it in the back door by saying “We don’t suck.”  The subtext is there, that they think the other churches do.

Third, like I said above, it’s almost always false advertising.  O.k., I get it, there are boring, stiff, culturally stuck churches out there, and the people in our communities have had negative experiences there.  But if you’re going to be audacious enough to say that you’re different, you’d better deliver the goods.  I’ve been to a number of churches in which they’ve promised that they wouldn’t be what I’m expecting in a church.  You know where I’m going . . . but wait for it . . . Almost universally, I find exactly what I’m expecting: a church that meets in an elementary school auditorium, a band that plays the worship top 40 with skill, PowerPoint lyrics with snazzy video backgrounds, a white dude on stage preaching, and a lot of awesome programs for the kids and youth.  Hear me out, please – I don’t necessarily have a problem with any of those elements.  (In fact, there’s one near my home that has most of those elements, but they’re the real deal, and have their missional heads screwed on pretty darn well).  Just don’t try to convince me that you’re different than the other new churches in town that meet in elementary school auditoriums and do all the same stuff you do.  You’re really all very similar – again, not necessarily a horrible thing . . . just not a different thing.

Finally, a fairly blunt one.  When a church tries so hard to convince me they don’t suck, my instinctive first reaction is to think, “Wow, I bet they suck.”  It may not be true.  It’s just that when they try so hard to convince me of something, I have to wonder if they’re not really just trying to convince themselves.  I have a very similar reaction when I hear someone try to convince me of how “relevant” their ministry/magazine/podcast/worship service is.  It’s o.k., people.  I’m sure you’re warm, welcoming, caring, genuine, and love God.  Feel free to just leave it at that.  Just be who you are . . . and please, if you’re going to have photos of people in your marketing pieces, make sure they actually go to your church.


I am so not cool
June 2, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: culture, media, music

Working with a bunch of college students gives me the frequent opportunity to realize that I’m out of touch.  Whether it’s the movies I haven’t seen, or the music I haven’t heard, I know I’m behind the curve.  That’s o.k., though.  I think God gave me a gift of grace when I was in high school, and actually cared a lot about being cool.  At some point, the heavens parted, and I had a rare moment of clarity in which I realized that even in my small, private school, there were several different sub-groups that each had their own distinct version of what it meant to be cool, and they were seemingly only concerned about living up to their own groups’ versions of cool.  The punk kids didn’t try to be cool by surfers’ terms, and the preppies didn’t try to score style points with the band geeks.  In that moment of understanding, I saw that no matter how hard I tried, I’d never be cool with more than one or two of those sub-groups – being esteemed by everyone wasn’t going to be an option, so I might as well just pick a group to identify with, and be o.k. with that.

O.k., so that was a bit more soul-searching than I intended when I first started this post.  My main point is to give you, my friends, a glimpse into the depths of the uncoolness that is Steve.  Mock me at will for the following list.  I will return to the list periodically to add to my shame.  If you would like to join pathetic little me and admit to some of your coolness shortcomings, I promise not to tease you too badly . . . until I take this list viral on one of those Facebook meme thingies.  O.k., begin:

Books I’ve never read: Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn, anything by Steinbeck, Blue Like Jazz, anything by Ann Lamott, anything by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, any of the Harry Potter books.

Movies I’ve never seen: Ummm, practically anything in the past five years.  But beyond that: Cassablanca, Scarface, any of the Rocky movies, Driving Miss Daisy, Zoolander, Reality Bites, The Color Purple, anything with Miley Cyrus, Dirty Harry, When Harry Met Sally.

TV shows I’ve never seen an entire episode of: South Park, Desperate Housewives, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: Miami, Anderson Cooper 360, Arrested Development, Walker Texas Ranger.

Apparently famous people I wouldn’t be able to pick out of a police lineup: Carmello Anthony, last year’s American Idol winner (I don’t even know who won), Soulja Boy (did I even spell that right?), R. Kelly, anyone in Pantera, Slayer, or Boyz II Men; Kanye West, Kate Hudson.

Musicians I wouldn’t be able to identify if I heard their songs (I’ve heard their names, and maybe their music, but not necessarily in the same place at the same time): Rascal Flatts, John Legend, Sigur Ros, Taylor Swift, Iron and Wine, Ciara, Diana Krall.

Hopefully you can tell that I’ve tried to be eclectic in my lameness.  I’d be happy to respond to pop quizzes, if you would like to further my embarrassment.  Go ahead, fire away!

Movie Review: Slumdog (Untouchable) Millionaire
March 2, 2009, 8:26 am
Filed under: culture, globalization, India, media, travel

Note: This isn’t really a movie review per-se.  It’s more of a reflection from a guy who doesn’t watch many movies, and is, therefore, unqualified for such a task.

This weekend I followed the masses and went to a theater to watch the recent Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.  I had heard from a wide variety of people how good the movie was.  I had heard a couple of radio interviews with the director as well.  The fact that the film told the story of extreme poverty in India, which I was able to witness first-hand last summer, was all the motivation I needed to see it.

The movie was as good as advertised.  It tells a compelling story of survival, love, and faithfulness.  It does so while giving a glimpse of the complex changes taking place in India – the extreme disparity between the super-wealthy and the slums.  The framing device – a television quiz show – actually hides one of the remarkable truths about the economic rise of India in the past decade.  What I mean by this is that while it is extraordinary that a “slumdog” would become unimaginably wealthy via the game show, it is really quite impressive that this same character would have had the opportunity to get a job fetching chai in a call center.

My main response to the film, though, is that I’m very disappointed that in all of the hoopla, in all of the critical praise, in all of the attention this has brought to the issue of global poverty, there’s a word I’ve literally not heard mentioned until I Googled it this morning: caste.  When I did so, I found an excellent article (written prior to the Academy Awards) that deals squarely with the truth that’s left unmentioned by the film.  The destructiveness of the caste system is in full view, but it is explained away as exploitive organized crime, religious extremism, or the birth pains of a new economy.  The truth is, caste is hugely responsible for India’s poverty – a massive majority of the poor are Dalits, or “Untouchables.”  This is the system that locks people into lives of digging through trash heaps, living in houses made of mud, begging.

I don’t want to be cranky – I’m glad the film has brought attention to the issues being widely discussed.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I definitely encourage you to do so.  It just would have been nice if it told a little bit of the rest of the story.  Go read that article, as well as the lengthy discussion in the comments section – it’ll give you a better glimpse of what’s really going on.

It’s Sunday, so I guess I won’t be (fill in the blank)
March 1, 2009, 9:17 am
Filed under: Christendom, culture, media, spiritual formation

According to a research study published in an online article in New Scientist, conservatives would appear to be hypocrites when it comes to practicing what they preach (HT: boingboing).  <pause to allow readers to overcome their shock>  The study has to do with online pornography consumption, and finds that states that are the biggest consumers tend to be more conservative and more religious.  8 of the 10 states that consumed the most went for John McCain in last November’s election.  How people voted doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but here’s something that does:

Church-goers bought less online porn on Sundays – a 1% increase in a postal code’s religious attendance was associated with a 0.1% drop in subscriptions that day. However, expenditures on other days of the week brought them in line with the rest of the country, Edelman finds.

Did you get that?  Church folks consume as much porn as everyone else . . . but they do it all with one less day per week.  Further,

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don’t explicitly restrict gay marriage.

There are a number of different directions I could take with this.  The most prominent things that come to my mind, though, are the question of whether churches are really being effective at life transformation, and the fact that moral/religious conservatives lack the high ground to be dictating to others what should or should not be allowed.  Regular readers of this blog can probably figure out where I’d go with those two things, so I’ll save it (anyone who doesn’t know, but cares anyway can feel free to drop off a comment, and I’ll explain myself a little more).

I’m not noting this stuff as a way of pointing fingers of blame.  Let me assure you, I am a Jesus-follower, who commits acts of hypocrisy all the time.  I run my mouth, and then contradict what I’ve said through the things I do.  It’s just that this makes me want to guard my heart in judging others, in taking pride in my own righteousness, in making my life accessible to people who are less than perfect.  I need grace in heaping helpings – these days more than at any other time in my life, trust me on that.

So what’s your favorite vice that you won’t indulge on Sundays?  And given that it’s Lent and all, I’m wondering how many people have secretly committed to “giving up porn” for this season.  Probably a lot (most in hopes that they won’t return to it after Easter).

I suppose I should be ashamed to admit this . . .
July 23, 2008, 8:29 am
Filed under: media

. . . but I watched this show last night for the first time.  Laughed uncontrollably.  It’s totally not the kind of show I’d normally enjoy – not usually into slapstick humor.  I need to never watch the show again . . . but I just might get suckered in.

Unwatchable actor/actress meme
May 3, 2008, 10:31 am
Filed under: culture, media

I’ve been tagged by Eliacin, and have nothing better to blog about today, so I’ll just suck it up and do it.  I’m supposed to list five actors or actresses that would make me run from any movie they appear in.  As a necessary disclaimer, I frustrate many many people when talking about movies, because, well, I actually don’t see a ton of them.  They’re all, “Hey Steve, so remember in xyz movie, so and so did this and said that?”  And I’m like, “Uh, well, how about no . . . haven’t seen xyz, or its sequel.”  And they go, “What???  Everyone has seen that movie.”  And I usually end up saying something like, “My list of no-brainer-everyone-has-seen-it-except-for-me movies is impressive.”  So, then, here’s my list, in no particular order:

Matthew McConaughey – I know, every woman alive thinks he’s so hot that his acting chops don’t matter . . . Apparently, I mean what I say – I just checked his page on IMDB, and of his 33 movies in release, I’ve seen only two.

Demi Moore – I just tried to think of something clever to write, but the images and music from Ghost are wrecking the moment for me.

Ben Stiller – There, I said it.  For silly, goofy, character acting, Will Ferrell has him beat by far.  I liked him in The Royal Tenenbaums, but I would have to receive major compensation for psychological trauma if forced to watch Dodgeball or Zoolander.

Tom Cruise – Oh, that one was just way to easy.  For my list that’s in no particular order, I think he’s the winner.

Sarah Jessica Parker – I’m not buying the hype. 

As I thought about this, I was amazed at the number of honorable mention candidates, but in many cases on or two solid performances were enough to keep them off my list.

I’ll try to come back later and tag some others for the meme.  For now I will try to cleanse my thoughts from having spent these minutes bathing in this disgusting stew of bad art.