Friday, March 28, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. People may be less familiar with Haw than Claiborne, the author of The Irresistible Revolution and advocate for a radical return to the roots of the Christian message and life. This new book is basically a timeline of sorts chronicling the various ways in which people of faith, from Moses through the present day, have conceptualized the interaction between God and secular government. So we get the transition from a more decentralized Israel to the monarchy, to Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God over and against Caesar, to Constantine and Theodosis becoming much more friendly to Christianity, and so on. It's an excellent summation, if not for me somewhat of a repeat of most mainline Biblical and historical scholarship. Claiborne and Co. add their own editorial license to the proceedings as well, frequently mentioning more current problems such as Iraq and sweatshops, as well as digs at some current church trends (not that there's anything wrong with that). The layout is creative, if somewhat irritating: pages are made to look as if the book is written on compiled pieces of scrap paper; one page has a "mustard stain" on it (when they analyze the mustard seed parable); others have "typewritten" sidebars that even have crossed-out words; one page will be against a white or grey background, and then the next will be black words against a dark brown background. I get what they're going for, but trying to read parts of it can be quite a workout for the eyes. Anyway, the best way to describe Claiborne and Shaw's overarching point is to quote from page 165: "Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful." That should surprise no one familiar with Claiborne. It's a good point besides.

I watched Brooklyn Rules this past week, a mob movie in the spirit of Goodfellas. It centers around three guys played by Freddie Prinze, Jr., Scott Caan, and Jerry Ferrara, and the friendship they enjoy while growing up in a rough New York neighborhood. Prinze's character has aspirations of becoming a lawyer and also provides the voiceover for the film (which is what gives it its strong Goodfellas feel), while Caan's character is trying to break into the Gambino crime family. The film is set in the mid 80s against the backdrop of actual mob-related events, including the murder of boss Paul Castellano, which sets off a huge war for control and eventually affects the three of them. It's not the greatest of its genre, but it contains a lot more subtlety and development than most.

We also watched The Illusionist this week. However I'd come to believe that this movie was similar to The Prestige beyond the fact that they're both about magicians is beyond me. There is, in fact, only one magician in The Illusionist, played by Edward Norton. There is no rivalry between magicians, as I'd somehow come to believe. Instead, Norton's character is at odds with the crown prince of Austria circa 1900 after finding that the woman betrothed to him is a childhood love whom he never really got over. The two rekindle their romance, which makes the prince (a borish power-hungry troll of a human being) angry. The plot twist is much more telegraphed than in The Prestige, but since this isn't really that much like The Prestige, it isn't really a fair comparison. It was a good movie, but I did like the "other magician movie" better.

I've dug out some of my Five Iron Frenzy CDs this past week, particularly Quantity is Job 1, which I think I can call my favorite. FIF was one of the Big Three Christian ska bands of the late 90s (the others being The Supertones and The Insyderz), and I think the one that stood out as having the deepest lyrics and the most creativity. They weren't a band who felt the need to mention God in every song in overt, forced ways, and they weren't your garden-variety three-chords-and-a-pretty-face outfit that the CCM industry tries to pass off as worth your time and money. This was a band that at times got very political, at other times criticized its own industry, and always exuded a certain integrity in its image, songwriting, and musical quality that is otherwise vastly lacking in the CCM world. Sadly, FIF broke up in 2004. They were one of the few remaining Christian artists that I made a point to keep up with. But I still greatly enjoy their catalogue and am thankful for how they've contributed to my faith journey.

Around the web, I was so thankful for the conversation that I had this week with John from Verum Serum that I added the blog to my list (Edit: I noticed that he returned the gesture...rock on). I find that having blogs with differing opinions helps keep me honest, and I've been looking for a more "conservative" voice ever since Wesley Blog called it quits. There's a full post about blogs with differing opinions that I've been meaning to write, so look for it before too much longer.