Pop Culture Fridays (Sat. edition): T/F, Day 1

The crown jewel of cultural experiences here in Columbia, MO---the True/False Film Festival---kicked off its sixth installment Thursday night. My first films were both yesterday; here are a few quick impressions/observations:

1. Reporter: Here, Eric Daniel Metzgar catalogues the trials and travels of NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof as he leads contest winners on a journalistic expedition, the goal to document the suffering of people in the eastern Congo and produce a report that will both inform and motivate his readers back in the States. This film provides the best articulation I've witnessed of the two questions that I wrestled with upon entering journalism school (and with which I wrestle daily):

First, how do you motivate people to care about vast amounts of suffering when, as the film reminds us, we see "one death as a tragedy, a million deaths as a statistic?" Centering around the notion that "compassion is an unstable emotion," we see Kristof earnestly grapple with the psychological, ethical and journalistic questions that complicate the job of the reporter.

Secondly, what is the future of journalism? Kristof and Metzgar examine the precipitous decline of print journalism and what an online-only world means for investigative reporting and advocacy journalism.

The film provides no easy answers but asks the right questions and asks of us that we consider our own culpability and our own conviction relative to the great suffering incurred by the world's peoples.

2. Sounds Like Teen Spirit: And, now...for something completely different...UK director Jamie Jay Johnson captures the ups and downs of Europe's biggest little singing competition in charming and cheeky fashion. Johnson provides an insider's look into the world of Junior Eurovision contestants, each seeking to make their countries proud and their voices heard. This film was a delight and a nice change of pace from the heaviness of Reporter. A wonderful film that deserves a wide audience.

1 movie already down today (No Impact Man) and 2 more to go (Burma VJ and Food, Inc.). More on those tomorrow...



Had a great opportunity to hear Matthew Smith play last night; in light of my post yesterday, I thought the following John Newton lyrics (which Smith has reset to fresh, new music) were appropriate. May this be the Church's attitude throughout the economic crisis and future storms to come:

The Lord Will Provide
Though troubles assail and dangers affright,
Though friends should all fail and foes all unite;
Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide,
The scripture assures us, the Lord will provide.
The birds without barn or storehouse are fed,
From them let us learn to trust for our bread:
His saints, what is fitting, shall ne’er be denied,
So long as it’s written, the Lord will provide.

We may, like the ships, by tempest be tossed
On perilous deeps, but cannot be lost.
Though Satan enrages the wind and the tide,
The promise engages, the Lord will provide.
His call we obey like Abram of old,
Not knowing our way, but faith makes us bold;
For though we are strangers we have a good Guide,
And trust in all dangers, the Lord will provide.

When Satan appears to stop up our path,
And fill us with fears, we triumph by faith;
He cannot take from us, though oft he has tried,
This heart–cheering promise, the Lord will provide.
He tells us we’re weak, our hope is in vain,
The good that we seek we ne’er shall obtain,
But when such suggestions our spirits have plied,
This answers all questions, the Lord will provide.

No strength of our own, or goodness we claim,
Yet since we have known the Savior’s great name;
In this our strong tower for safety we hide,
The Lord is our power, the Lord will provide.
When life sinks apace and death is in view,
This word of his grace shall comfort us through:
No fearing or doubting with Christ on our side,
We hope to die shouting, the Lord will provide.


What does the Church have to say about saving/spending?

I won't be blogging much the first half of this week...much to be done on my thesis + I plan to blog frequently at week's end about the Ryan Adams & the Cardinals concert and the True/False Film Festival. I did want to share an article which absolutely expresses my heart when it comes to Christian engagement with the economy. Good stuff from Collin Hansen at Christianity Today whose work is always solid. Here's just one passage of many which stood out:

When what's good for Americans is bad for the economy, then you know something is wrong. This is the church's opportunity to help our neighbors and reform our own behavior. We can model for our neighbors a lifestyle that shows more isn't always better. We can respond in faith to this latest crisis, displaying trust in the God who fortifies us against the stock market's ups and downs. We can follow the example of the Acts church, whose members with financial means cared for those less fortunate.


Rounding out the week: February 15-21

One of my favorite bloggers, Ezra Klein, often posts a set of links under the title "TAB Dump" in order to draw attention to stories/topics he may not have time to blog about/analyze. That's kind of what I'm doing here...below are a few of the things that caught my eye this week:
  • First, a post I wrote for Faith In Public Life's blog entitled "Visiting the "least of these."" Check out FPL's newly redesigned website---it looks great!
  • A Christian Post article about the website invisiblepeople.tv which uses raw footage and video interviews to give a voice to America's truly voiceless---the homeless. This is what mainstream journalism should be doing.
  • Finally, here's a terrific article by Sasha Abramsky over at Mother Jones. Read this piece "America on $195 a Week" and tell me that, in this economic crisis, we can't finally debunk the dangerous myths which tell us the "invisible hand" of the market works for everyone and that the only people who can't achieve the American Dream are those who are too lazy or dishonest to hold down a job. Read as Abramsky profiles Aubretia Edick, a 58-year-old Walmart employee in NY state who "often skimps on food, some weeks spending little more than $10 on groceries, about one-quarter what the federal food stamp program calculates is needed for three "thrifty meals" a day" yet "hasn't resorted to handouts." Heartbreaking stuff.

Pop Culture Fridays: U2-{Please}

As a massive fan of U2, I would be reticent to rank their album Pop as one of their best. Yet (in my excitement over their impending new album) I've returned to it recently and forgotten how many songs from that record still stand on their own.

Goofing around on YouTube the other day, I came across a great live performance of my favorite song from Pop, "Please." I remember watching this performance on TV as a high school student; though it's marked as being live from Rotterdam...this is actually from the U.S. version of the MTV Video Music Awards. I love the song's slow build/slow burn (best evidenced live) and I love how understated Bono's stage presence is here...standing in place, wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up. That's especially notable because, at the time, they were in their "golden lemon/PopMart" phase, doing shows at the scale of the image above.


This makes me sad...

This Christian Post article is a great reminder that, as evangelicals, we have some long strides to take in reaching our culture. I can see Columbia's Islamic Center from where I go to school; it should inspire me to seek out friendships with those of other faiths. I think Carl Nelson puts it best in his quote below...We must demonstrate the love for all people that our God has while being willing to have tough, challenging conversations that point to the Gospel:

A surprisingly small portion of evangelical leaders in America have had contact with Muslims in the past year, a new survey revealed.

Only 33 percent of leaders on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest evangelical body, said they have had a serious conversation with a Muslim in the past year, according to the February issue of the NAE’s Evangelical Leaders Survey.

An even a smaller number, 27 percent, of the evangelical respondents said they live or work near a mosque.

The vast majority have had no close contact with an Islamic institution (73 percent) or individual Muslims (67 percent).

“Several who said they have not talked with Muslims expressed regret and want to have conversations,” commented Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

“The large majority of Evangelical leaders who have not experienced Islam first-hand are either ignorant of Islam or are getting their information from secondary sources,” he said. “I assume that the reverse is also true; that a majority of Muslims are neither connected to nor informed about the faith of Evangelical Christians.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, Muslims make up 0.6 percent of the U.S. population. In comparison, Protestant Christians account for 51.3 percent of the population in America. Among those that reported having serious discussions with Muslims, some indicated that the talks were through formal interfaith dialogues, professional ministry or international travel rather than personal friendships.

One denominational executive admitted that “except from a distance at an airport, I have not even seen a Muslim with which to have a conversation,” according to the NAE. Some evangelical leaders, however, reported positive personal interactions with their Muslim neighbors.

An evangelical leader from Minneapolis said he lives within blocks of two mosques. He shared that during Easter he had discussions with a “kind, hard working young [Muslim] family man” about the two religions’ beliefs concerning the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“We honestly knew very little about each other’s religious beliefs, but learning about Islam first-hand from a kind, hard-working young family man was very helpful,” said Carl H. Nelson, president of Minnesota Association of Evangelicals. “My convictions did not change, but I realized how important it is to understand and engage the belief system of someone who does not yet know Jesus as the Son of God.”

Another evangelical leader, from a Hispanic church in California, recalled that a Muslim meeting place in his neighborhood was vandalized last year. Members of his church had helped clean up the meeting place and had sent them an offering.

The NAE survey questioned 100 members of the NAE board of directors that includes heads of evangelical denominations with about 45,000 local churches, executives of para-church organizations and colleges. The NAE claims to represent over 50 denominations and about 30 million constituents.

Jennifer Riley
Christian Post Reporter

We Are All Tax Cheats Now

Given my fellow journalists' unsettling curiosity about all things Palin, this story about the Alaska Governor and some unpaid taxes seems a bit undercirculated. It seems the great "reformer" has been extra-mavericky when it comes to the taxes on "nearly $18,000 in expenses she charged the state for living in her home outside Anchorage instead of at the state capital..."

It will be interesting to see how the GOP spins the latest news about their down-to-earth darling, especially in light of their eagerness, of late, to pounce on the Geithners and Daschles of the world.

I don't bring this story up to tag Palin (while it appears she made a definite mistake, it's not of the magnitude we saw with some of the Cabinet nominees), nor do I mention it to let Daschle or Geithner off the hook (seriously, guys). In fact, I wish to make the opposite point. It's time to lift the partisan wool from over our eyes when we look at ethics violations and abuses of power.

Without fail, when a member of the majority party commits an error, the minority party is quick to label them the party of corruption. Dems do it when the Republicans are in power; the GOP is all too happy to reciprocate. Each group is happy to create a narrative utilizing their opponent's past five or so scandals to deem them inherently corrupt, failing to note that their own closet is manned by a skeleton crew.

Issues of ethics and power should not send us red-faced or blue-faced into our respective corners and, they should not send us scrambling to play a home version of the Shift-The-Blame Game (I think Parker Bros. has a patent pending). Instead, they should unite us around the causes of justice and transparency. If each of us have, in some small, partisan way, felt the sting of scandal, we should be all the more vigilant about rooting out scandal, no matter what capital letter sits next to a politician's name.