Archive for January 2013

True fidelity probably isn't about never being in a position to say "yes" to a temptation. Don't get me wrong, that's a smart way to live. Fidelity means a bit more, though, when you've summoned the strength to say "no" to such a temptation. I can speak to this from experience, and I'll refer to three specific occasions. One story I've never mentioned before on Inappropriate Conversations. Another is a follow-up to a story a partially relayed in #IC 107 "Eulogy For Homophobia." Even further back, the last story refers to characters (in every sense of the word) that I introduced in #IC 52 "First Person Comedy." There is a sense in which the words "I didn't" are just as important as the words "I do."

Different Drummer: James Joyce

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Should we tax adultery into oblivion or merely minister to its casualties? No, I don't really believe that using taxation as a punitive fine will stamp out infidelity in marriage, but it would stand a better chance of succeeding than other methods of "legislating morality." When I was a child, a wise man in our church taught me that the real answer to divorce is setting aside the urge to cast judgment and surrounding those dealing with the consequence of shattered relationships with the love of Christ. I wish the church today was filled with such wise people.

Different Drummer: John Hughes

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Album reviews are not a regular part of Inappropriate Conversations, despite the large number of musicians I've identified as Different Drummers, so this is unusual. Then again, so is the album: "Demonic! The Residents Live in Oslo!"

"Demons Dance Alone" is my favorite work by the experimental/alternative band The Residents. Written in the aftermath of 9/11/2001, it is almost less experimental in a way that makes it stand out from their catalog. In fact, when I saw the DVD for the first time (before I heard the album), it seemed obvious that the disorienting visual style was far more experimental than the music itself. The performances on that DVD led me to the studio album, but even the combination seemed insufficient. For a work as important as "Eskimo" or "The Mole Trilogy" (enter the joke about 4+ parts here) or "Gingerbread Man" (CD-R), something was missing.

With "Demonic!" released last year, The Residents have given this material the second look and second listen that it deserves.

First, the negatives. The 2 CD version that I purchased has track listings that don't line up well on disc 1. The first track is actually an overture of sorts, even before the band is introduced to the live audience, and that throws off all the other song names. For a new listener, the last thing you need is for the relationship between track number and song title to be off. Also, one of the highlights of the live experience is their remake of the Snakefinger song "Golden Goat" but here is it buried with two other songs in a single track as if the song was the centerpiece of a medley. Each of those songs stands alone, though, and deserved individual tracks on the CD.

What's missing? Since the concert is a live performance of the "Demons Dance Alone" opus, it makes sense that there are very few additions from other albums. "Make Me Moo" is the only track from the studio album that could have been added.  I suspect the studio version would be superior, all the same.

Now, the good news and an answer to the obvious question. If I have all of these songs in an excellent studio album, why such enthusiasm for the live version? There are two answers.

  1. With the exception of "Weather Man" these live versions equal or surpass the originals. This new release, together with individual downloads of "The Weatherman" and "Make Me Moo" from the 2002 release would cover the complete experience.
  2. The 2 CD set, as any live album will, provides slightly different takes on each song including more direct storytelling. More importantly, this set includes a couple of songs that were only available via video before. They are also among the best of the band's weird and wonderful catalog.

Randy's lead vocals are both a distinctive and derided trademark. Many of their songs wouldn't be the same without his swampy redneck drawl. While many of The Residents' legendary works function largely as instrumentals or sound collages, others like "Gingerbread Man" or "God In Three Persons" depend heavily on his voice.

All the same, the inclusion of female voices is crucial to my favorite songs by the band. "How To Get A Head" (Wormwood) needs a young girl to relate John The Baptist's fate from Salome's perspective. Even friends who despise The Residents have to admit that "Harry The Head" (Freak Show) is a love song told by a woman who is emotionally committed to a disembodied head.

In this performance, the crucial tracks are "Golden Goat" and "Wonderful 2." The latter was identified as "Mrs. Wonderful" on the original DVD. The same childish mixture of excitement and fear that drives "How To Get A Head" makes "Golden Goat" such in interesting interpretation of the song written by both Snakefinger and The Residents. "Mrs. Wonderful" has some of the most heartbreakingly harsh yet subtle lyrics I've ever heard.

"If the father of the baby that I know I'll never have wasn't married to the lady whose house I cleaned when I was fat, life would be wonderful ... life would be wonderful ... life would be wonderful."

I suppose the impact of the entire "Life Would Be Wonderful" suite depends entirely on your tolerance for the intentional inconsistency in their sound. "Demonic!" is dreamlike and disturbing for a reason. It is also far more melodic than most of The Residents' previous output. Lyrically, though, the band is as bizarre as ever. Like most of their albums, this one is produced by The Cryptic Corporation. Nothing ironic about that.

"Demonic!" is a limited release. One pressing is available with a supplemental DVD, but I cannot imagine it would replace the original DVD release based on the songs mentioned in descriptions I have seen. When I first saw the original video, I dismissed it completely with an "I guess you had to be there" shrug. It haunted me, though, and called for a second look. I had the same response to the studio album, which features the "female resident" on several tracks but omits "Mrs. Wonderful."

"I have seen the Golden Goat, and he would like to lick my throat. I know his mane. I know his spoor. I know he waits outside my door." Haunting.

With this 2012 offering, The Residents have made things right. Life may be wonderful after all.

I suppose I am not alone in being offended by the controversy over whether Louie Giglio or someone else is going to pray at the ceremony for President Barack Obama's second term as president.  My reasons, though, probably put me in a very small minority.

I respect Giglio, and I respect his decision.  In that, I've just separated myself from those who vehemently wanted him removed from that role, but I've also separated myself from most Christians who seem to have missed everything Giglio did not say when he declined.  His statement, "Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago..." is a far cry from stridently defending the sanctity of his current beliefs against any (insert numerous complaints from religious conservatives) abomination.

This shouldn't be particularly confusing. Most politically active Christians struggle to comprehend things Jesus did not say or do either.  They would be just as quick to presume their favorite words of condemnation fit just as nicely into Giglio's mouth, too.

I am not offended by what Giglio did or didn't say.  I'm disappointed, but not offended, by those who made the call for Obama to rescind the invitation which Giglio preemptively declined.  My views have changed as information has grown over the past 15-20 years.  I have asked God for wisdom as well, which implies a desire for growth that cannot happen without development and often change.  Perhaps the same can be said about Giglio.

No, I'm offended by some of the Christian responses, including this one by Randy Alcorn:

We redefine sin, and minimize it in a misguided attempt to win people by saying what they’d rather hear. What bothered me most as I read dozens and dozens of comments was seeing professing Christians distance themselves from Louie Giglio. These new kind of “Christians” are a mirror image of this culture, craving popularity and acceptance. If that’s you, please understand—and I am trying to be honest, not cruel—that you bear no resemblance to what it has meant for two thousand years to be a true follower of Christ. Believe what you choose to, but please, in the interests of accuracy, stop calling yourself a Christian.

Stop right there.  Being a true follower of Christ is not about maintaining the mantle of empire bestowed upon Christianity by Emperor Constantine centuries ago.  Throughout those years, many Christians have called for the church to correct its course.  Martin Luther alone is proof that this notion of Christian understandings of both scripture and science being unchanged for 2,000 years is false.  More to the point, Jesus doesn't command us to believe anywhere near as often as he commands us to do:

  • Go and do likewise
  • Feed the hungry
  • Care for widows and orphans
  • Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me
  • Go and make disciples

Those of us who do the things that Jesus commanded -- and, to be honest, a great many Christians are much more accomplished than I am -- bear a much better resemblance to the true followers of Christ than anyone who is so committed to a political position that he or she would deny evidence, scientific research, and testimony even from believers who understand homosexuality in a way that I, frankly, never will.

If we are to love God with all of our hearts and souls and strengths and minds, as Christ commanded, then we need to stop attacking other Christians who are using their minds.  If there is to be a litmus test for "true Christianity" after all, Jesus tells us that his followers will love God this completely and love their neighbors selflessly.  Who is your neighbor?  Of course, that question was asked and answered in Luke 10.  Jesus was answering the same question in Matthew 25 when he spoke of "the least of these."

Giglio's speech from decades ago and Alcorn's defense of that viewpoint today clearly speak about "the least of these."  The problem is that you cannot identify a group of people with such dismissive terminology and ignore the fact that denying they exist (it's "just a choice" or there is "no such thing" as a non-heterosexual identity) also denies the existence of Christ in the hearts of those who presume to call themselves the only true believers.

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me," Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 25:45, New International Version)

I am a Christ Follower, a Christian, a man who has faith in Jesus in part because of the role the Holy Spirit has played in my life.  I have asked some (certainly not all) tough questions of my Lord and I've been blessed to have heard answers.  I do not presume that every thought that enters into my head is "of God."  Likewise, though, I don't presume that God has nothing to tell me, that he is done answering prayer, and that God has nothing more to reveal through his Spirit even though we know much more is being revealed through the light of conscience and nature, as Paul described in his letters.

I'm more than willing to believe Giglio has taken such an ambivalent stance toward this controversy because he knows that God isn't finished with him yet. I hope the same can be said of me.  I'm not unaware of what has been called "Christian" for the past 2,000 years, but I'm also alert for what the Lord is doing around us at this very moment.  It's possible that 2,000 years from now, how we behave today as Christians -- what we "do" as opposed to what we "believe" -- will be part of the tapestry of faith that our distant ancestors will refer to  homogeneously as what "Christianity has meant for the past four thousand years."

May this be the moment when we decided that calling on people to lie to and about themselves "for the sake of Christ" is an abomination.  May this be the day that what we've been led to believe about our neighbors stops having any relevance to our ministry compared to what we go and do ... as Jesus commanded.

In challenging emotional and ethical decisions related to the end of life, we are often told that no one can make that decision.  "These matters belong to God," for example.  Regardless of your religious beliefs, there is something false in such statements.  By taking the ownership and responsibility for a life away from the person living that life, the control doesn't disappear completely; instead, it goes elsewhere and typically to those who neither know nor love the person facing the dilemma.  The answer to the "whose life is it?" question simply cannot be the government, insurance agencies, hospitals, or politically active strangers.

Different Drummer: Reba McEntire

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