All right, No. 1 can't-miss tip: Make sure it's about love. Don't go political, okay? Make it anything that has to do with love. Love falls in a couple of categories - I want you, I need you, I lost you, you know? No. 2: Somewhere in the line, use the word forever. That's No. 2. Forever is a great word, right? And then thirdly, make sure it can apply to a wedding or an engagement or something like that. Got it? Now, you got those three down, you're at least going to have something that's going to last for a while. For example, don't do a title with "2014" in it. Because it's dead. As soon as 2015 comes, you're over.Free advice from a living legend. Take it to heart, all you songwriters. It'll take you a lot further than anything you'll get out of Paris Hilton, Brooke Hogan or Taylor Hicks, I can tell you that. TWEET THIS: Make sure it's about love. @LionelRichie
Friday, May 30, 2014
This year's summer double issue of Entertainment Weekly (or EW) includes an interview with Lionel Richie, who's about to launch a North American tour to showcase all of his many hit songs. He'll be stopping, among other places, at the Bonnaroo Festival, one of the bellwethers of hipness in the new millennium. Not bad for a 64-year-old. The interviewer, Dan Snierson, was a little too cheeky for my tastes; Richie is the winner of the Gershwin Award, America's top honor for a musician, and he's half the way there to an EGOT. He cowrote "We Are the World," for the love of Pete. So maybe rein it in on the puns, buddy. During the interview Snierson asked Richie for advice on writing a number-one single - an appropriate question, given that Richie is a record holder for the most number-one hits in a row, and given that he's sold 100 million records in his career, and that he once had chart success for three different musical genres simultaneously - adult contemporary, R&B and country - for the same song: "Stuck on You" (1983). So when Lionel Richie offers tips for songwriting, you'd be wise to pay attention. Here's what he said:
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
When Richard Nixon set off on his quest to become President of the United States in 1968, he campaigned on a vision of "law and order." It worked well for him; he won by a wide margin and settled into the first of his two (albeit incomplete) terms as President.
"Anti-War March," by David Wilson, Flickr, Creative CommonsChicago Mayor and political kingmaker Richard Daley defended the actions of the police during the convention with a now-famous slip of the tongue: "Gentlemen, let's get this thing straight, once and for all. The policeman is not here to create disorder. The policeman is here to preserve disorder." He meant, we presume, "to preserve order." There is, I'd like to propose, a distinction between "law" and "order" as significant as the distinction between "order" and "disorder." They are fundamentally different things, law and order. A law is a codification of the rights of people; it provides a means by which to assert and protect our rights, and to punish those who violate those rights. A law, for example, makes it possible to punish a person for assault, and simultaneously to prevent future assaults out of fear of punishment. A law is judged on its merits: if its enforcement supports people's basic rights, it is just; if a law serves to inhibit people in the exercise of their rights, it is unjust. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it in his letter from a Birmingham jail:
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.Unlike a legal code, "order" is ambiguous. It is established and secured at the discretion of those in power. Crowd control, for example, is not a matter of law but of order, and it is most efficiently executed by people with the demonstrable power of the state behind it. Police control crowds much more effectively than librarians, for example, because police have badges and flak jackets and guns and the full authority of the state. There is a place for order; we all benefit from the administration of order. But because it is discretionary, it is subject to mishandling and even abuse. And when it is artificially codified into law, it can become a tool of of suppression, of oppression, and ultimately of tyranny.
"Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement," by Dawn Pennington, Flickr, Creative CommonsWe want an orderly world, by any means necessary, and if we have the wherewithal to impose order, we will. This conflation makes the notion of legitimate protest more ambiguous; because protests can be disruptive to the normal flow of a day, it is tempting to restore order by any means necessary. The worst, most tragic outcomes of such a mindset are the deaths of people like Jordan Davis, shot to death because his music was too loud for Michael Dunn's taste and because he looked somehow menacing in his car. Michael Dunn wanted the world to be ordered according to his preferences; the "Stand Your Ground" law that gave Dunn's sense of order legal force ironically legalized the death of Jordan Davis. TWEET THIS: We want an orderly world, by any means necessary. http://ctt.ec/yetjb+ Law and order are tricky subjects, and we are fortunate to have a system of government that is committed to both the rule of law and the value of order. It's up to us, however, to regularly and rightly differentiate between the two: sometimes laws are enacted and enforced to privilege order over basic human rights; sometimes disorder actually serves the cause of justice. Sometimes we're so eager for order that we violate the law to achieve it; sometimes a good law upsets our equilibrium, and it's up to us to adjust to the new reality it creates. Nothing in the news really precipitated this post for me. Just a general sense of category confusion, and a perennial concern that we not lose sight of how easily we can be manipulated, by appeals to nice-sounding concepts like law and order, into accepting acts and systems of injustice and oppression. So, yeah, just a casual post today.
Friday, May 16, 2014
In principle, I love this: I love it because I love flash mobs - those seemingly spontaneous but actually choreographed public demonstrations. Some of them are violent or criminal, but most of them are enormously creative, a bit subversive and even, when the stars align just right, redemptive. So in principle, I love the idea of a "mass mob," in which the liturgy of the church is presented to a far larger congregation than is normally the case. And yet the more I think about it, the more I think the organizers missed the point almost entirely. Here's a description of the movement by Clarissa Aljentera, coordinator of adult faith formation and social media resources for the Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Mass mobs were created to intentionally invite strangers to attend Mass at a designated church. ... Some may have attended elementary school there. Others have relatives who were married in that parish. A few are drawn to church architecture that marks a different era when some Catholic churches were constructed in the Gothic style. Mass mobs might be encouragement for former neighborhood residents or even former parishioners to make a visit to a place they once considered home.It's a nice sentiment, but it strikes me as a bit ... sentimental. It's not so much a flash mob applied to church as it is an e-vite that assumes everyone is a lapsed Catholic. (I suppose, in a sense, everyone is.) The mass becomes something we don't participate in but merely observe - an artifact we pass by, take note of and move on from. It's a nostalgic experience, even a melancholy one, as we remember auld acquaintances we forgot when we took our leave of this old place, as we return to a neighborhood that's seen better days, as we reinforce our mild suspicion that the church is an institution of a bygone era rather than a living, breathing and culture-shaping movement of today. Mass mobs, as they're currently conceived, remind me of "cash mobs," another thing I like. Some friends of mine and I cash-mobbed our way through the Christmas season last year. I blogged about it here. Cash mobs are organized outings to places of business that have suffered the move of the economy into virtual space or that have been shoved to the margins by franchises and mega-malls. There's a nostalgia to cash mobs as well, but the act of participating at least maintains some subversiveness: with at least this transaction, with at least these few dollars, we'll stand with the little guy against the big guy. We will privilege the real world over the virtual one. We will link our fate to that of our local place. Mass mobs, at least as currently conceived, lack this stand-taking. Participants will likely throw a few shekels in the offering basket, but that's not what church is about, is it? What I would like to see is a priest, an altar boy or girl, some lectors, some ministers of the eucharist and a healthy bunch of pew-sitters take to the streets. I'd like to see the body and blood of Christ blessed and distributed outside the walls of the church. I'd like to see confessionals on the corner, the sign of the cross next to the stop sign. I'd like to see peace passed to passers by. I'd like to see a mass mob in reverse.
Do you miss passing the peace? I do. Read why here.The thing about the church is that it's not dying; it's living, because it follows in the footsteps of the living God. The mass is the visualization of Jesus' empowering mandate given to his followers:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.If all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, then all ground is sacred, the domain of the mass. As such, the mass has always had a subversive, mobby quality to it - at least in theory. It is the public declaration that Jesus is Lord and Caesar, or Napoleon, or the President, or whoever, is not. Somewhere along the way this mob took their mass inside, and they, and it, got just a wee bit domesticated. And now they have to beg people to mob them. It's sad in the way most nostalgia is sad. It's a look behind by people who have to be reminded to care. It's mass backwards, as my sainted grandmother might have put it. TWEET THIS: The church is not dying; it's living, because it follows in the footsteps of the living God. http://ctt.ec/vA85V+ If a mass mob comes anywhere near me, I may go, simply because I'm as nostalgic as the next guy, and in principle I like stuff like this. But a mass mob so conceived is a missed opportunity, and I hope someone somewhere has the eyes to see it and the moxie to flip it around. A mass mob so conceived will be creative, subversive, even redemptive; it will be worth the name and worth the God out in front of it.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I'm reading Bob Ekblad's 2005 book Reading the Bible with the Damned, a chronicle of his ministry of Bible study with inmates, immigrants and the impoverished. I've wanted to read this book since I first heard about it, but I finally picked it up in the bookstore at the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology during this year's Inhabit Conference, put on by the Parish Collective. That conference primes you for books like these; when we focus not on the physical plant of a church building but the work of God in a particular geographical context, we see everyone and everything differently.
"The voice of the Satan, accuser and tempter, too often sounds louder and more powerfully than that of the Paraclete - advocate and comforter."The voice of the Satan in this context confronts the men taking part in these studies with their alcoholism, their drug use, their criminal acts that have landed them in jail - basically, whatever personal shortcomings preoccupy their minds about themselves. The voice of the Satan tells them they have failed too many times to merit the love and concern of good people like God, like those in authority over them, like those well-intended Bible study leaders who visit them in their distress. The voice of the Satan tells them that they may as well enjoy their vices - they will feel better for indulging them. The life available to them is not worth staying good for. The voice of the Satan is exactly what it sounds like: evil, vindictive, subversive and wrong. In contrast is the voice of the Paraclete, which is how the Scriptures refer to the Holy Spirit. This voice of God is understood to be for those who hear it, comforting in tone even as its authority is directed toward the good of the person who hears it. The Paraclete advocates for us even and especially when we are found to be in the wrong; the Paraclete defends the defenseless and champions the cause of the lost and forgotten. The Paraclete comforts the afflicted and intercedes for them, making a better future for them. The Paraclete advocates for us even and especially when we are found to be in the wrong. http://ctt.ec/gZERj+ It strikes me that as we take our faith into the lives of other people - an audacious act to be sure - we ought to make a concerted effort to sound less like the Satan and more like the Paraclete. It also strikes me that, often, this is not the case. Picture, if you will, someone engaged in the act of evangelism. Depending on your life experience, you may be picturing a bold, noble, steel-jawed champion of the faith, or you may be picturing an oily TV preacher picking someone's pocket. Or maybe your mental image lies somewhere between the two. In any case, you're probably not picturing an act of advocacy - a material effort to secure the good of another person. You're probably not picturing an act of comfort - words or actions that convey consolation and empathy. You're probably picturing one of two common strains of evangelism: * Accusation, in which the object of the evangelist's ministry (the "evangelee") is made to appreciate the full weight of his or her sinfulness, that it results in eternal separation from God and consignment to the eternal flames of hell. * Temptation, in which the evangelist describes heaven as the best place on earth, and entices the object of evangelism to do whatever it takes to get there. Accusation. Temptation. These are the tools of the Satan. I'm just saying. I don't mean in this little rant to suggest that hell is not bad and heaven is not good. Nor do I mean to suggest that we would not each be well served by coming to terms with the various ways we've failed ourselves, our loved ones, our world and our God. Nor do I mean to suggest that every evangelist, every act of evangelism, is under the control of the Satan. Most evangelists are well-intended, good people, and they're doing what they think is best for everyone. What I mean to suggest is that there are ways we can give witness to the God we have come to know as good - ways that don't rely on the ways of the wicked. We can notice the ways in which our neighbors have been failed by the world, and we can, in the name of God, seek ways to improve their situation. We can notice where despair and shame have taken root in people's lives, and we can replace it for them with hope and consolation. We can, in short, be good neighbors to our neighbors, and we can see what God does with that.
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
I get it. I really do. Ever since I was a kid I've heard the arguments about Hollywood's fetishizing of violence and the desensitization it may wreak in young, impressionable (typically male) minds. I've read some of the works of the great champions of non-violence. I've opposed state-sanctioned torture and covert acts of aggression. Some of my best friends are peace-loving hippies. I get it. I really do. But I still like 24. A lot. TWEET THIS: When the clock doesn't stop, when every second counts, there's no time to point and laugh. http://ctt.ec/jsb9f+ #JackIsBack 4. No one is safe. Long before Game of Thrones started offing every character that kept you watching, 24 was killing everyone you care about. Even Jack dies at least once. 5. No one can be trusted, but you trust them anyway. Jack doesn't have the luxury of not trusting his allies, even though he's been betrayed over and over again. 6. The system works. I've written about this elsewhere. As much as 24 makes an ubermensch out of Jack Bauer, it also celebrates the effectiveness of collaboration and the power of a well-run organization. 7. The system always breaks down. Nevertheless, the institutions and structures we come to trust in 24 are vulnerable to breakdown - sometimes laughably so, sometimes shockingly so. 8. There is room for renegades. In fact, it's the power of the system, coupled with its vulnerability, that demonstrates the logic of a renegade like Jack. Jack knows the ins and outs of the Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) as well as anyone, so he knows when it serves the purposes of securing peace and order, and when it gets in the way. He respects the system even when he subverts it. And the system respects him even as it penalizes him for operating outside of it.
What does 24 teach us about checks and balances? Read more here.9. There are some lines Jack won't cross, but you're never sure this is one of them. The very first scene of 24 I ever saw was in the opening episode of season two, in which Jack shoots a prisoner dead in his boss's office and then cuts off his head. So, that's a line Jack will cross. But will he execute a terrorist's son in order to get information? You just have to wait to find out. Remember to breathe along the way. 10. People are incredibly good at their jobs. Field agents, data analysts, division directors, White House chiefs of staff - the world of 24 is a meritocracy without question. 11. They're still people, which means they still screw up. Jack gets addicted to heroin while on undercover assignment. His colleague Tony Almeda loses his way and becomes an alcoholic who is abusive toward his live-in girlfriend. Nobody's perfect on 24. 12. Love is important. We see the value of each relationship, whether romantic or platonic. 13. Love is hard. We see how difficult it is to maintain a relationship under pressure, how challenging it is to hold our vocation and our relationships in healthy tension.
The gospel according to 24? Read the tongue-in-cheek "Devotional Journey of Jack Bauer" here.14. Villains are people too. They have families. They have passions and convictions. They have backstories that must be respected. 15. Presidents have hard jobs. Half of each season of 24 takes place in the middle of the night. And the presidents are as wide awake as the field agents with a gun pointed at their heads. They make life-and-death decisions about other people, and they have to live with those decisions forever - and I mean forever; the weight of history as the ultimate judge of presidents is on display in each season. 16. Sometimes presidents are their own worst enemies. On this third pass through 24 I'm realizing how embarrassingly bad these presidents are at their personal lives, how much politics mucks stuff up. 17. Jack is too busy to indulge drama. Jack has as much in his personal life to deal with as anyone else - an estranged daughter, failed and failing romantic relationships, drug addiction, et cetera - but he manages to defer his problems till the crisis at hand is averted. He'll deal with it, but he'll deal with it later.
Is 24 racist? Read "24 Red Shirts" here.18. Nerds can be heroes. Chloe and Edgar literally save the day over and over and over again, usually from their keyboard. Edgar stops a nuclear meltdown with the backspace key, for Pete's sake. 19. Nerds can be annoying. Some people are socially awkward. Those people are front and center in the universe of 24. Case in point: Chloe O'Brien, who was told by Division Director Bill Buchanan, "We don't have time for your personality disorder." Now in its ninth season, apparently 24 does have time for her. 20. There are real consequences to our actions. Presidents are run out of office. Agents are arrested and even killed. International conflicts are exacerbated. Loved ones are lost. Jack Bauer is never not aware that his decisions have real costs, to himself and others. 21. Conviction is important. Given how actions have consequences in 24, decisions are made quickly and with conviction. There's no looking back from any decision; the clock always ticks forward, never in reverse. 22. Conviction can be dangerous. Some of those decisions, however, are bad decisions. And when people cannot or will not step back from bad decisions, bad things happen. People die, sometimes a lot of them. 23. Everyone's story is complicated. Jack is a complicated character, but he's only one of a palette full of complicated characters. People whose motives are mixed and whose loyalties are divided. People who have secrets they wished they didn't have to keep. People who wrestle with regrets on a daily basis. These are the people who surround Jack, the people who surround each of us. 24. Life carries on and on and on. Eight seasons have come and gone. Including this new, ninth season, eighteen years have passed. Every crisis chronicled in 24 has come and gone, every character has passed from life experience to life experience. Each story told in each season is only one episode of each character's personal epic. We're reminded of mortality in 24, yes, but we're also reminded of life. There you have it: 24 is about life. And that, above all, is why I love 24. I trust you'll let me know either why you love it, or why I'm wrong.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Today is May 1. Happy May Day! Workers of the world, unite! Today is also the National Day of Prayer. Happy Pray Day! Americans, grab a hand and let's go!
I hear that prayer and praying Will change this world around I fold my hands I bow my head I kneel down on the ground I prayed and prayed by nite & day And then I prayed some more I prayed till my tongue was dry as dust I prayed till my knees had sores. Will prayer change shacks to decent homes? Will prayer change sickness into health? Will prayer change hate to works of love? Will prayer get me my right to vote? Will prayer give jobs at honest pay? Will prayer bring stomach full of food? Will prayer make rich treat poor folks right? Will prayer take out the Ku Klux Klan? Will prayer cut down the hoodlum bands? Will prayer stop the lynchbug hands? If all of these things my prayers can do, I’ll pray till I am black and blue. If prayer will bring us union love, I’ll pray and pray and pray some more. I’ll pray all day from door to door And fall at nite to pray some more My prayer with a union label.