What Hath Jerusalem to do with Johnny Cash?


By Russell Moore

Excerpt: What’s attracted me to country music throughout the years is its rootedness and distinctiveness. There’s a Nashville sound to county and western that has been lost in much of American life. The intimate connections between the music and the places it comes from are part of the DNA of country music.

More than this, though, country music is a narrative music. It tells a story, and in many ways, that story is a gospel story.

Country music recognizes sin and redemption even from people who are lost. Whereas in some other genres of music you can have sin consistently glorified with no consequences, country music rarely does that. Of course, there is much singing about sin–but it is almost always sin that has some hope of redemption or some recognition of judgment, the sowing and reaping and consequences. Country music tends to bypass self-justification by recognizing that something is wrong with the heart.

I remember being asked one day, “How can you listen to people singing who you know use drugs and participate in drunkenness?” And my answer is that real people use drugs and get drunk, and country music, with some exceptions, is recognizing the full reality and complicatedness of sin. Think of Johnny Cash’s song “Ring of Fire,” for instance, a song about adultery that was written on the front end of real life adultery. But “Ring of Fire” isn’t a celebration or a reveling. It’s an honest recognition that adultery feels a certain way – “bound by wild desire, love is a burning thing.” That’s an authentic account.

To read the rest of Russell Moore’s article, click HERE.

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Happy Birthday Wanda Jackson

By Steve Beard

At the age of 78, the righteous Queen of Rockabilly is still tearing it up with 60 to 80 concerts per year. Considered to be one of the first women to record rock and roll, Jackson is a sassy music legend who toured with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and, most recently, Adele. It was her boyfriend, Elvis Presley, who convinced Jackson to migrate from country music to rockabilly.

Wanda Jackson

In the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson growled out hits such as “My Big Iron Skillet,” “Tears Will Be the Chaser for your Wine,” and “Fujiyama Mama.” Ten years after their marriage, Wanda and her husband Wendall began attending church and dedicated their lives to Christianity in 1971. “We were headed down a pretty rocky road,” she told Smithsonian Magazine. “The main thing that God does for you when you really sell out to him and want to live for him is he sets your priorities up right.” Over the next decade, she recorded half a dozen gospel albums and devoted their talents to churches and revival meetings.

When the rockabilly revival of the 1980s was launched, Jackson was recruited to tour all over Europe. With her legendary status as a rock pioneer, she was periodically invited to play at music festivals and to collaborate with other artists such as Rosie Flores and The Cramps.

“People want to pigeonhole God and say if you’re serving God, you have to do it through the church or gospel music,” she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But it really isn’t that way at all. God uses you and your talents wherever you are.”

Sparked by the lobbying efforts of Elvis Costello, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. “For girls with guitars, myself included, Wanda was the beginning of rock and roll,” Rosanna Cash said during the induction ceremony. “Everyone who cares about roots music and rock ‘n’ roll reveres Wanda. But in particular, every young woman I know, musician or otherwise, worships her as the prototype, the first female rock star, as she so modestly acknowledges herself.”

To this day, Jackson continues to perform live shows and recording albums to highlight her love for Americana, gospel, country, and rockabilly. Her last two albums were produced by critically-acclaimed recording gurus Jack White (“The Party Ain’t Over”) and Justin Townes Earle (“Unfinished Business” – her 31st studio album).


churchland“Despite all the great things I had happening in my life, for many years I was missing Jesus,” observes Wanda Jackson in the forward to Dan Kimball’s 2012 book Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion. Jackson performed on Easter Sunday this year at Kimball’s Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California.

“I have learned that you can never really have the abundant and happy life you want until you know Jesus personally,” she writes. “But unlike what you might think, you don’t have to give up a thing or change who you are to come to Jesus. You can come to him with all your hang-ups, confusion, and questions. And then, if there are changes that need to be made in your life, he will help you to make them. He will give you the strength you need to make the change. You don’t have to do it before you come to him, and you don’t have to do it alone.

“My life was changed forever when I gave my heart and life to the Lord Jesus Christ,” Jackson concludes. “And that’s what I can promise you: that when you know Jesus personally and decide to follow him, your life will never be the same.”

Steve Beard is the founder and creative director of Thunderstruck.

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You Have To Learn To Love the Bomb

colbert-04GQ Magazine recently published a nearly 6,000 word profile by Joel Lovell on Stephen Colbert, formerly of The Colbert Report and soon to be hosting The Late Show. The entire essay is worth reading but special attention should be paid to how he dealt with the death of his father and two brothers when he was 10 years old and how he views his role in the world: “I am here to know God, love God, serve God…” Here are a few highlights.


[Colbert] used to have a note taped to his computer that read, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.”

It’s hard to imagine any comedian meditating every day on so sincere a message. It’s even harder when you know his life story, which bears mentioning here—that he is the youngest of eleven kids and that his father and two of his brothers, Peter and Paul, the two closest to him in age, were killed in a plane crash when he was 10. His elder siblings were all off to school or on with their lives by then, and so it was just him and his mother at home together for years.


After his sophomore year he transferred to Northwestern’s theater program, where he was purely focused on drama. … And then he met Del Close, the legendary improv teacher and mentor and champion of the idea that improvisational comedy, when performed purely, was in fact high expressive art….He was part of the same Second City class that included Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello and Chris Farley. “Our first night professionally onstage,” he said, the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”

“It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.” (You’re welcome, Dune nerds.)

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In Brooklyn, How a Bombshell Trains for Roller Derby

BN-JW084_0817wo_J_20150814134206The captain of a team in the Gotham Girls league breaks down her hard-core exercise routine on wheels

Eva McCloskey often tells people she has two careers. During the week, the 35-year-old is the director of talent strategy at the New York City consulting firm DDG. On weekends, she trades her high heels for roller skates. She is the captain of the Brooklyn Bombshells. Her team remains undefeated this season in the all-women Gotham Girls Roller Derby league.

Ms. McCloskey recalls watching roller derby on TV as a child. “I thought the girls looked so tough and cool,” she recalls.

In 2009 she tried out for a position on the Brooklyn Bombshells, one of the teams in New York’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby league. “At first I was scared to put roller skates on again, but as an athlete, you can’t second-guess yourself,” she says.

Ms. McCloskey has since helped the team to a league title. They will attempt to secure a second title at the league championship Aug. 29 against the Queens of Pain.

Read the rest of the Wall Street Journal article HERE.

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Why The Church Needs Art – Part three

Check out the lessons Scott Erickson learned while he was the artist in residence at Ecclesia Church in Houston, Texas. Click HERE

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Kenny Stabler, RIP


By Steve Beard

Kenny Stabler, RIP. I became a life-long Raiders fan during my childhood because my dad won a Kenny “The Snake” Stabler autographed football at a raffle. It is one of half a dozen items that I deeply regret no longer having in my possession (also Wilt Chamberlain’s and Tommy John’s autographs). He was my childhood hero and his jersey hangs in my closet. Others loved Staubauch, Montana, Marino, and Young. Fair enough. But the shifty and crafty Snake was my man.

I feel sad to have lost a magical maverick from the field. I know that Raiders fans and the Crimson Tide share that loss. There will never be another Kenny Stabler.

“I was head coach of the Raiders the entire time Kenny was there and he led us to a whole bunch of victories including one in Super Bowl XI,” John Madden said. “I’ve often said, If I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny. Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider.

“When you think about the Raiders you think about Ken Stabler. Kenny loved life. It is a sad day for all Raiders.”


“You look at what Stabler was able to accomplish — an MVP season and a Super Bowl title with the Raiders — and look at his clutch ability — 15 fourth-quarter comebacks and 20 game-winning drives in 10 years with the Raiders — and you can understand why Madden would let his bias take over here,” observed Will Brinson, football analyst.

“Stabler had this innate ability to put himself near historical moments in football history too,” continued Brinson. “You look at the guy, a grizzled, tough, bearded Southerner son of a gun who was all substance and no style, and it’s hard not to agree with Madden. He might’ve been the perfect Raider.”

The entire article at CBS Sports can be found HERE.

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Free Speech Under Fire

By Steve Beard

As a budding young journalist and editor, my thoughts on the First Amendment and free speech — even outrageously offensive speech — were shaped by Nat Hentoff, columnist for the left-wing Village Voice. Hentoff was a prolific contrarian, jazz critic, pro-lifer, and self-proclaimed “member of the Proud and Ancient Order of Stiff-Necked Jewish Atheists.” His book Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee, a polemic against censorship, has been on my bookshelf for more than 20 years as a reminder of the dangers and virtues of the free marketplace of ideas.

The-Silencing-Powers-CVR-v10-PERS“Consider what would happen,” Hentoff asked, “if … the First Amendment were placed on the ballot in every town, city and state. The choices: affirm, reject, or amend. I would bet there is no place in the United States where the First Amendment would survive intact.” That observation is justifiably haunting — and still true today.

As a USA Today columnist, Fox News analyst, and life-long liberal Democrat, Kirsten Powers has picked up where Hentoff left off. In her new book, The Silencing, Powers launches a noble war on the vindictive shaming and censorship spawned by what she dubs the “illiberal left.” “These are the self-appointed overlords — activists, university administrators, journalists, and politicians — who have determined what views are acceptable to express,” Powers observes.

“Liberals are supposed to believe in diversity, which should include diversity of thought and belief. Instead, an alarming level of intolerance emanates from the left side of the political spectrum toward people who express views that don’t hew to the ‘settled’ liberal worldview,” Powers said.

Although Powers is an outspoken supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage, she is appalled by what happened to Brendan Eich, co-founder of the Internet company Mozilla. When it was announced last year that he was going to become CEO, gay rights activists bombarded social media with the news that Eich had made a $1,000 personal contribution to the “Yes on 8” initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008.

“It’s OK to be angry about Eich’s donation,” Powers said. “Screaming for Eich’s head on a pike for his failure to conform to Mozilla’s majority view on same-sex marriage is not. Liberals are supposed to believe in protecting minority views, even when they disapprove of those views.” She reminded readers that this was the “same year that Senator Barack Obama sat in Rick Warren’s church to explain his religious based opposition to same-sex marriage.”

Despite his publicly stated commitment to making sure Mozilla would remain a “place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity,” nearly 70,000 signed a petition calling for Eich to renounce his beliefs or resign as Mozilla’s CEO. One week later, the activists triumphed and Eich stepped down.

“It’s not necessary to support Eich’s donation to recognize something deeply disturbing occurred here,” Powers wrote. “When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line,” observed writer Andrew Sullivan — who is gay and a same-sex marriage advocate — about the Eich situation. “This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance.”

“This intolerance is not a passive matter of opinion,” pointed out Powers. “It’s an aggressive, illiberal impulse to silence people. This conduct has become an existential threat to those who hold orthodox religious beliefs. But increasingly I hear from people across the political spectrum who are fearful not only of expressing their views, but also as to where all this heading.”

The Eich debacle is only one example of dozens that Powers grapples with in The Silencing. She is a tireless advocate for everyone having the opportunity to defend their own position in the public square.

Powers startled a lot of political observers by sharing her conversion testimony in the pages of Christianity Today. Although she does not share the political agenda of all conservative Christians, she will be the first to defend the sincerity and authenticity of their perspective.

The Silencing is a jarring trumpet blast to those who treasure the First Amendment, religion, and freedom of speech. All one has to do is read Powers’ Twitter feed to read the vicious way the illiberal left has made her a target — and single-handedly reinforced the point of her book.

Steve Beard is the creator and editor of Thunderstruck Media Syndicate. He is a pop culture writer, theological editor, and roller derby photographer. 

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The Brawlers square off against the Psych Ward Sirens during Houston Roller Derby’s most recent bout last month at Bayou Music Center. Photo by Steve Beard

By Sean McManus
Houston Press

Not too long ago, local bad-ass and onetime Houston Press writer John Nova Lomax postulated a very good argument that Houston might very well be America’s Most Miserable Sports City. Surely we have our highs, like the Rockets’ recent so-close-we-can-almost-taste-it run this spring or the Astros playing the improbable role of pace-setters for the AL West all season long. But mostly our sports history is a series of euphoric glimpses of potential mixed with embarrassing crash-and-burn lows. That is, unless you count the Houston Comets.

Formed in 1997, the Comets were one of the WNBA’s original eight teams, and won the first four league championships. Before folding in 2008 when no one would buy them, they were WNBA’s first dynasty. What I’m getting at is, anything our teams do, they did better. Today, gone are Comets stars Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes, who have given way to names like Slayer Moon and Sprint Eastwood.

Leave it up to the ladies of Houston to fill in the gap with some ingenuity and furious action of a much-missed sport. That’s exactly what gave me the courage to drive downtown recently and try to find a parking spot on a weekend – to witness some Houston Roller Derby action. The matches are held at Bayou Music Center, the downtown live-music venue in Bayou Place I’ve been coming to for concerts since it was known as the Aerial Theater. Except here the general-admission, standing-room-only floor has been converted into a flat-track derby arena with ladies flying by on skates. They are preparing for the evening’s doubleheader; tonight is extra-special because it’s homecoming for previous players.

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Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of Children, RIP

By Steve Beard

02wintonobit3-master675For 50 years, Nicholas Winton kept an explosive and dramatic secret from his wife. It was only after she found an old scrapbook in the attic of their home – names, documents, photographs – that he first told her about his secretive work in organizing the escape of more than 650 mostly Jewish children out of Czechoslovakia during World War II.

Many of us have heard the heroic stories of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg. Like those men, Nicholas Winton courageously risked his life to save young children from the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. He died this week in Maidenhead, England, at the age of 106.

The gripping obituary written by Robert D. McFadden in the New York Times is well worth reading and tells his story at greater length. Read it HERE.

 “It involved dangers, bribes, forgery, secret contacts with the Gestapo, nine railroad trains, an avalanche of paperwork and a lot of money,” reported the Times. “Nazi agents started following him. In his Prague hotel room, he met terrified parents desperate to get their children to safety, although it meant surrendering them to strangers in a foreign land.”

There is a dark – and yet glorious – legacy to his wartime humanitarian work. “Nearly all the saved children were orphans by war’s end, their parents killed at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Theresienstadt.” This era marks such a dark stain on human history. At the same time, the survivors – in their 70s and 80s – still call themselves “Winton’s Children.”

“After finding his long-hidden scrapbook – crammed with names, pictures, letters from families, travel documents and notes crediting his colleagues – his wife asked for an explanation,” reported the Times. “He gave her a general idea, but said he thought the papers had no value and suggested discarding them.”

“You can’t throw those papers away,” she responded. “They are children’s lives.”

His long silent story was eventually told and he was justly honored for his righteous deeds. “One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that,” he once offered for his rationale. “Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.”

Nicolas Winton lived as if the risks were worth taking. More than 650 children escaped Nazi torture because of the pivotal decisions he made. Their families mark his passing with great gratitude – as should we.

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He’s Jesus Christ

28KRISTOF1-master675“If you subscribe to the caricature of devout religious believers as mostly sanctimonious hypocrites, the kind who rake in cash and care about human life only when it is unborn, come visit the doctor here,” observed New York Times columnist Nickolas Kristof from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

Dr. Tom Catena, 51, a Catholic missionary from Amsterdam, N.Y., is the only doctor at the 435-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital nestled in the Nuba Mountains in the far south of Sudan,” reports Kristoff. “For that matter, he’s the only doctor permanently based in the Nuba Mountains for a population of more than half a million people.

“Just about every day, the Sudanese government drops bombs or shells on civilians in the Nuba Mountains, part of a scorched-earth strategy to defeat an armed rebellion here. The United States and other major powers have averted their eyes, so it is left to “Dr. Tom,” as he is universally known here, to pry out shrapnel from women’s flesh and amputate limbs of children, even as he also delivers babies and removes appendixes.

“He does all this off the electrical grid, without running water, a telephone or so much as an X-ray machine — while under constant threat of bombing, for Sudan has dropped 11 bombs on his hospital grounds. The first time, Dr. Tom sheltered, terrified, in a newly dug pit for an outhouse, but the hospital is now surrounded by foxholes in which patients and the staff crouch when military aircraft approach. “We’re in a place where the government is not trying to help us,” he says. “It’s trying to kill us.”


Certainly the Nubans (who include Muslims and Christians alike) seem to revere Dr. Tom. “People in the Nuba Mountains will never forget his name,” said Lt. Col. Aburass Albino Kuku of the rebel military force. “People are praying that he never dies.”

A Muslim paramount chief named Hussein Nalukuri Cuppi offered an even more unusual tribute. “He’s Jesus Christ,” he said.

Er, pardon? The chief explained that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see and helped the lame walk — and that is what Dr. Tom does every day. You needn’t be a conservative Catholic or evangelical Christian to celebrate that kind of selflessness. Just human.

Read Nicholas Kristof’s entire column HERE

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