Saturday, September 29, 2007

2008 Hall of Fame nominees

Yesterday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its nominees for induction in 2008. Note that these artists are not sure things, but 5 of these will be inducted next year. The final inductees will be announced in January, appropriately, on the birthday of Elvis Presley, the first and greatest rock and roll star and the most influential human being of the twentieth century. My definitive analysis follows.

The nominees are:

* Madonna - This is a lock, the most important of the nominees by far. Madonna is one of the most important and influential women in rock and roll history, proudly sitting alongside Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, and Tina Turner. She's also arguably the biggest female rock star of all-time, in terms of pure celebrity. Madonna's been very controversial through the years, so let me say this up front: I'm a fan. Why? Because throughout all of the controversy - all of it silly, much of it stupid - the music stands up. Sure, her earliest hits ("Holiday", "Lucky Star") were inane, but she ended up producing some of the absolute best songs of the past 25 years. "Like A Prayer" is great, one of the best pop songs of the 1980s; "Vogue" is one of the best dance songs ever recorded, as well as one of history's greatest videos; "Ray of Light" is a great technopop record, maybe the best ever (and made at a time when the great U2 were failing miserably in the same genre, with their Pop album). At least two of her albums, Like A Prayer and Bedtime Stories are great. Say what you will about Madonna...the music stands up. She's a lock for induction and deserves to be.

* The Beastie Boys - This hip hop-punk trio ended up transcending their silly debut by becoming the undisputed masters of creative sampling. Their Paul's Boutique album has been called the "Pet Sounds of hip hop" small praise, that. They also became one of the most politically-driven artists in rock and roll, and have really put their money where their mouths are in that regard, earning great respect. While I appreciate their work, I'm not a huge fan (though my friend Matt loves them). They will make it into the Hall at some point, maybe this year. Incidentally, they were "discovered" by Madonna, and gained their first national exposure opening for her on tour.

* Afrika Bambaataa - The first great hip hop DJ, in many ways he "invented" what we now call "sampling". He was responsible for many of the earliest hip hop records that were actually worth something. If he makes it in, that's OK, though I'm not a big hip hop guy. You could make the case that without Afrika Bambaata, there would be no Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Public Enemy, or NWA, all of whom deserve to be in the Hall someday, so I guess that means he ought to be inducted sooner rather than later.

* Chic - This disco-funk-jazz band from the 1970s are responsible for the classic dance records "Le Freak" and "Good Times", and went on to produce as a band or as individuals big hits for artists like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Madonna, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, and Sister Sledge. They had excellent musicians, including guitarist Nile Rodgers, bassist Bernard Edwards, and drummer Tony Thompson. Edwards and Thompson, who are both deceased, were among the best ever at their particular instruments. I'd like to see this artist inducted, but I'm not holding my breath.

* Leonard Cohen - He's known as the Canadian Bob Dylan, a comparison I think is unfair (to Cohen). Critically acclaimed but virtually unknown in the United States, I don't know enough of his work to judge its worth. That tells me he can wait.

* The Dave Clark Five - This is a British Invasion band from the 1960s best known for good pop rock hits like "Glad All Over", "Because", and "Over and Over". They really had no shot until last year. They were nominated for induction in 2007 but, rumor has it, the voting was rigged by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, which prevented this band's induction. That revelation makes them a lock this year.

* Donna Summer - The queen of disco has, shockingly, not been nominated before this year. Disco itself has largely been snubbed by the Hall, for understandable reasons. But, Summer has a string of big hits and has been a key infulence on many contemporary R&B singers. I have to believe she'll make it.

* John Mellencamp - He'll make it at some point, but I'm not sure if now is the time; he's been nominated before. My gut tells me that this is his year. His albums Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee are among the best of the 1980s. I'm a fan of this champion of the American heartland, and would be happy with his induction this year.

* The Ventures - This 1960s surf rock band had big fans in folks like George Harrison, Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, and Aerosmith. Hard to believe they aren't in yet.

The following artists were eligible for induction this year but failed to be nominated:

* Metallica, Run DMC - These two oversights are unforgivable. Both should be inducted in their first year of eligibility. Shame on the Hall of Fame.

* Little Anthony and the Imperials - "Tears on My Pillow", "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop", "Goin' Out Of My Head"...what's a guy have to do to get some respect?

* Patsy Cline, Pat Benatar, Heart - More women should be inducted. Patsy Cline, one of the greatest singers who ever lived, is a glaring oversight.

* The Stooges - No love for Iggy?

* Gram Parsons - This country rock pioneer deserves to be considered.

* The Cure, 10,000 Maniacs, Violent Femmes - No love for 1980s alternative music outside of U2 and R.E. M., I guess. The Cure will make it in eventually, so I'm not sure what the Hall is waiting on.

* Culture Club, Duran Duran - No love for 1980s New Romantics. That's understandable. Duran Duran is a longshot, but I think Culture Club deserves more consideration. Say what you will about him, Boy George had one of the best pop-R&B voices of his era, and they put out some solid hits.

* Sting, Men at Work, Wham! - Sting's already in with the Police, so I guess he's covered, though I still think he'll make it in for his solo work eventually. Men at Work are a longshot, but who doesn't love "Who Can It Be Now?", "Down Under", "Overkill", and, my personal favorite, "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive"? As far as Wham!, what do we do about George Michael, one of the greatest voices in rock and roll history? Induct him as a solo? We'll see.

* Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rush - Once again, "art rock" / "progressive rock" has been ignored. That's OK, as I'm not a big fan, but I wish they'd give some love to the boys in Genesis. Hard to imagine a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.

* Carol Kaye - As a (very) amateur bass player, my favorite bassists are - in order - Paul McCartney, Chip Douglas, Carol Kaye, Jack Bruce, and Sting. Kaye was a member of Phil Spector's session band called "the Wrecking Crew". She played on such great records as "Good Vibrations" (Beach Boys), Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), "I'm A Believer" (Monkees), "River Deep, Mountain High" (Phil Spector/Tina Turner), "Sixteen Tons" (Tennessee Ernie Ford), "Someday, We'll Be Together" (Supremes), Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (Simon & Garfunkel), "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (Nancy Sinatra), "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis Presley), "Then He Kissed Me" (Phil Spector/Crystals), "Danke Schoen" (Wayne Newton), "La Bamba" (Ritchie Valens), "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (Phil Spector/Righteous Brothers) , "Light My Fire" (Doors), "I Can't Help Myself" (Four Tops), and "I Was Made to Love Her" (Stevie Wonder). Why is she not in the Hall of Fame as one of history's greatest session muiscians?

* The Monkees - Arguably the most successful artist not to be in the Hall. My prayer is that they make it in before they start dying off.

Also, where are ABBA, the B-52s, the Cars, Chubby Checker, Joe Cocker, the Commodores, Dire Straits, the Doobie Brothers, the Go-Gos, Tommy James and the Shondells, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Ben E. King, the Moody Blues, Willie Nelson, the Pointer Sisters, Billy Preston, the Small Faces, Cat Stevens, T. Rex, Three Dog Night, the Tokens, War, Mary Wells, Larry Williams, Weird Al Yankovic...not to mention Bad Company, Badfinger, Chicago, Donovan, Electric Light Orchestra, the Guess Who, Herman's Hermits, Huey Lewis and the News, Judas Priest, REO Speedwagon, Sonny and Cher, Split Enz, Squeeze, Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend, the Turtles, XTC, and the Zombies?

I also hope that this is the year that Elvis Presley's drummer D.J. Fontana is inducted as a sideman, songwriter Bernie Taupin is inducted as a non-performer (if Leonard Cohen is being considred, surely Bernie, who is Elton John's lyricist, deserves something), and that Beatles manager Brian Epstein gets some respect.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Always Something There to Remind Me...

"There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

"The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom.

"And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.'

"But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'

"So the rich man said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'

"But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'

"The rich man said, 'No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'

"And Abraham said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'"
(Luke 16:19-31, RSV, adapt.)

As Jesus does so often, he painfully helps us to refocus on one of his great passions: ministry to, for, and with the poor. This time, in the midst of a conversation about financial stewardship and keeping the law, he proclaims in brilliant parabolic form that serving the poor can have an impact on our eternal destiny.

This is not simply a parable about heaven and hell; it's a terrifying parable about sins of omission.

Jesus doesn't tell us that the rich man deliberately mistreated Lazarus; he teaches us that the rich man simply went about his life while poor Lazarus suffered. The rich man's failure to help Lazarus landed him in Hades.

I am convinced that the Church is represented in this parable by the rich man. We are so preoccupied with so many things...good things...and we simply go about our lives...while Lazarus suffers. How many people in need did you drive past or near this week? What gives us the right to simply drive by while someone is suffering? I ask these questions as a guilty sinner.

We talk about growing churches...through evangelistic services, additional worship opportunities, new Bible studies, added technology...and I am guilty as charged. What if I could engage myself in ministry with the poor with the same vigor and passion I have for other aspects of ministry?

This passage, from the lectionary selections for the week, reminds me that Jesus never addressed building projects, technology, or additional worship opportunities. He never seemed to care how many people showed up for an event. But he was passionate about helping the poor, and in compelling those who would be his disciples to do the same.

Heavenly Father, I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit you would gift me, Jefferson church, and Western PA Conference with the same compulsion your Son had for helping the poor, that we would be known not as people with open hearts, minds or doors, not as people on the cutting edge of technology, but as people who are passionate about serving those to whom the Messiah referred as "the least of these" in our world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where the Past Comes Alive..., I was watching a program on the History Channel (about the development of the doctrine of Hell), and in the corner of the screen a little ad appeared saying, "Find out about the Scriptures of Christianity...only at". Wow.

Now, I don't want to eisegete what I saw; there's already too much eisegesis in our pulpits, in our books, and in the blogosphere. But...what a wonderfully loaded phrase!

First, there's the implication that we can only find out about the Scriptures on that particular website...a secular site devoted to history from a particular historiographic perspective. Don't get me wrong...I love the History Channel, watch it occasionally (though not regularly), and generally enjoy its programming. While I haven't investigated its website, I'm sure it has some nice info on the Bible and is probably correct much of the time. But, the notion that their website is the "only" place to find out about the Bible is interesting. (Again, I know the little ad was written from a marketing perspective, not a theological perspective, but, are many sermons preached each week!)

Second, there's an additional implication that the Bible is strictly "history". The ad wasn't on the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel; it was on the History Channel. There are many devoted Christians who view the Bible as strict history...both liberals and fundamentalists...but that doesn't make it so. The Bible is, theologically speaking, our story, transcending history even while sharing some space with history, and we are fully expected to continue the narrative. It's more than history; it's alive, in a very special, unique way. The best place for a program on the Bible isn't the History Channel, it's ESPN!

Despite the wonderful nature of this divine and human book, we can make it so boring. Few things are as painful to sit through as a boring sermon. The material doesn't need "dressed up" or "modernized" or "made relevant" (it already is relevant) as much as it needs faithful passion and a desire to be used of the Spirit to show the life of the pulpits, in coffee shops, in hospitals, at the Eucharistic Table, in living rooms, in workplaces, wherever.

So, what are you doing to help the Bible to come alive to the people in your life? To yourself?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

N.T. Wright on the Bible & Narrative theology

"It's not, for a start, a list of rules, thought it contains many commandments of various sorts and in various contexts. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though of course many parts of the Bible declare great truths about God, Jesus, the world and ourselves in no uncertain terms. Most of its constituent parts, and all of it when put together (whether in the Jewish canonical form or the Christian one), can best be described as story. This is a complicated and much-discussed theme, but there is nothing to be gained by ignoring it.

"The question is, How can a story be authoritative? If the commanding officer walks into the barrack-room and begins 'Once upon a time,' the soldiers are likely to be puzzled. If the secretary of the cycling club pins up a notice which, instead of listing times for outings, offers a short story, the members will not know when to turn up. At first sight, what we think of as 'authority' and what we know as 'story' do not readily fit together.

"But a moment's thought suggests that, at deeper levels, there is more to it than that. For a start, the commanding officer might well need to brief the soldiers about what has been going on over the past few weeks, so that they will understand the sensitivities and internal dynamics of the peace-keeping task they are now to undertake. The narrative will bring them up to date; now it will be their task to act out the next chapter in the ongoing saga. Or supposing the secretary of the club, having attempted unsuccessfully to make the members more conscious of safety procedures, decides to try a different tack, and puts up a notice consisting simply of a tragic story, without further comment, of a cyclist who ignored the rules and came to grief. In both cases we would understand that some kind of 'authority' was being exercised, and probably all the more effectively than through a simple list of commands.

"There are other ways, too, in which stories can wield the power to change the way people think and behave - in other words, can exercise power and/or authority...A familiar story told with a new twist in the tail jolts people into thinking differently about themselves and the world. A story told with pathos, humor or drama opens the imagination and invites readers and hearers to imagine themselves in similar situations, offering new insights about God an human beings which enable them then to order their own lives more wisely.

"All of these examples, and many more besides which one might easily think of, are ways in which the Bible does in fact work, does in fact exercise authority. This strongly suggests that for the Bible to have the effect it seems to be designed to have it will be necessary for the church to hear it as it is, not to chop it up in an effort to make it something else..."

- Bishop N.T. Wright, from The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (Harper San Francisco, 2005), pp.25-27.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Patriot Games

How the mighty have least in part.

One of the top news stories this week has been the scandal stemming from the fact that Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, apparently cheated during last week's game against the New York Jets. Belichick, the most successful coach of the 21st century (to date), is a three time Super Bowl champion as a head coach (with two more rings as a defensive coach under Bill Parcells) and is widely considered to be the best coach in football today. His Patriots are favored by many to win their fourth world championship this season, which would make Belichick only the second head coach to win four rings (the great Chuck Noll, of course, being the first).

Upon hearing the cheating allegations, my first thought was, "Why?" The Patriots are already so loaded with talent and with solid coaching that they are worlds ahead of almost every other team in the NFL. Why cheat when you can win convincingly without cheating?

My next thought, though, was theological. I agree with most theologians and leadership gurus that the first quality of a leader is character...personal integrity. Belichick is obviously a gifted leader, destined for the Hall of Fame. Yet, he violated "rule #1" of leadership. This will tarnish his legacy for decades to come. He may still win many games and even more Super Bowls, but his legacy will always include the fact that he was punished by the NFL for cheating.
"You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain..."
- Exodus 18:21 (NRSV)

In the post-Clinton era, we often hear about character and integrity issues connected with sex. I don't want to diminish that; much is revealed about our character in how we enjoy the God-given gift of human sexuality, and whether or not we are steadfast regarding our most important vow this side of heaven...the vow to be faithful to our spouse.

But there are other things which testify to our character. Honesty is very important. One of the most disturbing parts of our Annual Conference gathering each year is when we ask colleagues, "How's it going with your church?" The answer is almost always the same: "Great! We're doing new things, taking in new members, and growing tremendously!" Sadly, one look at our Conference statistics demonstrates that most congregations are not growing; whether or not they're trying new things may be a moot point. I've always appreciated a particular brother (whose name I shall withhold) who is usually painfully honest: "Things are horrible. The people don't want to be discipled or to make disciples. They're content to watch their ministry die." He is a man of character in his honesty.

In ministry, we don't have "Super Bowls". We don't compete against one another for rings and championships. Or do we?

The notion of "dishonest gain" is one which continually plagues me. I have no desire to grow JUMC by "sheep stealing", or taking folks from other area parishes; I'm more interested in Kingdom-building than building up "my own" numbers.

When folks have left another area church for "mine", quite without my help, it pains me. I always encourage people to return to their own congregations, and usually let them know that it will be months before I get around to transferring their membership...if I get to it at all. They've taken vows in and to another congregation; that should mean something.

To target members of another congregation is "dishonest gain", and demostrates one's integrity and character. One's ministry may continue to grow, just as Belichick may continue to win, but character speaks for itself, and the quality of leadership can be called into question.

At any rate, this "cheating" is what Bill Belichick's problems brought to my mind. I pray that by the Spirit's power I will be vigilant, and be more interested in my own integrity than in the numbers games and "dishonest gain".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It was 41 years ago today...

"The Monkees" TV show debuted on NBC. After its first season, the show won the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series.

I'm a big Monkees fan; I love the show and the music, and I've seen them in concert several times. It's a dream of mine to see them inducted someday into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

NFL Kick-off!

The 2007 season starts tonight! Hallelujah! The New Orleans Saints play the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts this evening, and it could be a great game!

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Hell itself to play the Cleveland Browns, arguably the worst team in the league. This game is, I think, more important for the Steelers than the Browns. People expect the Browns to lose, but if the Steelers lose in Mike Tomlin's regular season debut, questions will abound.

I hope, of course, that the Steelers go all the way, but I think that's unlikely. My guess is that they go 10-6 and win the AFC North. Cincy is not as good as advertized and Baltimore won't be as surprisingly good as last season.

As of today, I'm picking the New Orleans Saints over the Chicago Bears in the NFC title game, and the New England Patriots over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC title game. My pick for the Super Bowl is New England over New Orleans, with Tom Brady gaining another Super Bowl MVP title and his fourth ring, putting him alongside Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana in very elite company.

Thank God for football!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Feasting at His Heavenly Banquet

On Sunday, we were blessed to celebrate the Lord's Supper at JUMC. Following morning worship, I drove to our local hospital to share the sacrament with a patient and his wife who are part of our congregational family. It was a blessed time.

As I shared with these precious souls, I was reminded of the power of liturgy. Typically, I use a "Great Thanksgiving" from our Book of Worship, or one I've written or adapted, and the laity follow along with the printed liturgy found on pages 15-16 in our Hymnal. When sharing the sacrament in a hospital or nursing home, as an extension of our congregational celebration, I usually use the service found on pages 7-10 of the "pocket edition" of our Book of Worship.

As I led the man and his wife in the liturgy, the power of the ritual took on a significance far greater than my own eloquence (or lack thereof) could provide. Early in my ministry, I often simply uttered informal words of institution as I shared in "out of sanctuary" settings, but I've learned that disciples who are sick, suffering, or feeling isolated are reassured and comforted through the familiar words of a more formal liturgy. Liturgy, in great measure, forms our discipleship. In times of need, we will likely not remember what the pastor preached about six months earlier, but we may well remember such oft repeated phrases as...

"Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again" or
"Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen."
Certainly, the two souls I shared with in the hospital on Sunday could relate to and draw strength from these words, which, because of liturgical repetition, they know so well.

I sometimes fear that in our efforts to be "current" or "contemporary", we too quickly reject the important liturgical practices which have formed God's people for centuries. As Pope Paul VI wrote, "Liturgy is like a strong tree whose beauty is derived from the continuous renewal of its leaves, but whose strength comes from the old trunk, with solid roots in the ground." A balance is needed between the depth of traditional liturgy and 21st century notions of worship and practice.

At any rate, Sunday's excursion was a good reminder for me, for which I thank God.

What are your practices regarding Eucharistic celebration? When you celebrate the sacrament with dear folks in hospitals or personal care homes, how do you do it? How can I be more faithful in my own pastoral journey?