The Future of Christianity is Punk

Here are a few noteworthy paragraphs behind the thesis of the provocatively titled New York Times opinion essay from Dr. Tara Isabella Burton.

* More and more young Christians, disillusioned by the political binaries, economic uncertainties and spiritual emptiness that have come to define modern America, are finding solace in a decidedly anti-modern vision of faith. As the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns throw the failures of the current social order into stark relief, old forms of religiosity offer a glimpse of the transcendent beyond the present.

Many of us call ourselves “Weird Christians,” albeit partly in jest. What we have in common is that we see a return to old-school forms of worship as a way of escaping from the crisis of modernity and the liberal-capitalist faith in individualism.

Weird Christians reject as overly accommodationist those churches, primarily Mainline Protestant denominations like Episcopalianism and Lutheranism, that have watered down the stranger and more supernatural elements of the faith (like miracles, say, or the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ). But they reject, too, the fusion of ethnonationalism, unfettered capitalism and Republican Party politics that has come to define the modern white evangelical movement.

Weird Christianity is equal parts traditionalism and, well, punk: Christianity as transgressive alternative to contemporary secular capitalist culture. Like punk, Weird Christianity has its own, clearly defined aesthetic. Many Weird Christians across the denominational and political spectrum express fondness for older, more liturgically elaborate practices — like the Episcopal Rite I, a form of worship that draws on Elizabethan-era language, say, or the Latin Mass, or the wearing of veils to church.

* The Weird Christian movement, loose and fledgling though it is, isn’t just about its punk-traditionalist aesthetic, a valorization of a half-imagined past. It is at its most potent when it challenges the present, and reimagines the future. Its adherents are, like so many young Americans of all religious persuasions, characterized by their hunger for something more than contemporary American culture can offer, something transcendent, politically meaningful, personally challenging. Like the hipster obsession with “authenticity” that marked the mid-2010s, the rise of Weird Christianity reflects America’s unfulfilled desire for, well, something real.

Read the entire piece HERE.


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Mermaids returning to Montana tiki bar as it reopens

Addie Jardee, one of the mermaids at the Sip ‘n Dip. Photo: Rich Addicks for The New York Times

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — For patrons at a Montana tiki bar that has a back wall of a window into a motel swimming pool, it’s typical to see mermaids in the water five nights a week.

So as the owner of the O’Haire Motor Inn and the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge in Great Falls began preparing to reopen the bar after eights weeks of coronavirus-related restrictions, she wanted things to be as close to normal as possible — and that included the underwater entertainment. Sandra Thares said she emailed regulators for guidance on whether mermaid shows could resume.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s office said yes. The Cascade County health department said no, believing pools couldn’t reopen until the third phase of the gradual reopening of the state’s economy. After some back-and-forth in which the governor’s office noted hotel pools could reopen for registered guests with social distancing guidelines, the county OK’d the mermaid entertainment as long as only one mermaid was in the pool at a time, Thares said. There’s usually two.

“We were not trying to step on anyone’s toes, we were just trying to put people back to work,” Thares said Wednesday.

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Tenor’s Prayer

Andrea Bocelli in Milan Cathedral. Photo by LUCA ROSSETTI, COURTESY SUGAR SRL, DECCA RECORDS.jpg

By Steve Beard

Perhaps no singular image better captured Easter under the treacherous cruelty of the coronavirus than Andrea Bocelli performing a solitary sacred concert in the spectacularly cavernous Duomo di Milano, the cathedral in Milan, Italy.

By the time the sun had risen on Easter morning, more than 108,000 deaths had occurred around the globe because of COVID-19. According to Johns Hopkins University, there were more than 1.7 million cases worldwide and the virus was detected in 177 countries. At that time, more than 400,000 people had recovered internationally. By the time you read this, all those statistics will be woefully outdated.

“Zoomed” out and stir crazy, legions of sequestered souls were craving relief – something of substance, a dash of beauty, a sliver of hope. There would be no ostentatious Easter bonnets at church this year. There would be no large family feasts – including Aunt Judy’s deviled eggs on the most sacred day of the year. There would be no neighborhood Easter egg hunts for the children. For many, the Sunday morning service included singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” in pajamas and house slippers while live-streaming and praying for the speedy and joyous return of congregational worship – even surrounded by those bellowing off-key. Continue reading

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Wendell Berry: The Poet of Place

PHOTO: GUY MENDES. Berry at home on Lanes Landing Farm in Port Royal, Kentucky.

Wendell Berry in Garden & Gun

When I was young, I picked up some expert’s advice that a writer needed to write facing a bare wall so as not to be distracted. And so I tried writing in a library carrel, in which I was constantly distracted by the suspicion that I was missing something interesting that was probably taking place elsewhere. For me, that didn’t work. To write I’ve always needed at least a big window, in warm weather a porch, on a day that is warm and dry a good sitting place in the woods. I suppose I’ve needed something of interest to look up at.

But I think my work also has benefited from distractions. There are times when my writing has had to come second to my family or my neighbors or my horses or my sheep. These reminders of things more important than writing have kept my writing firmly placed in the workaday world, where it belongs.

To read entire interview, click HERE

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The world’s a mess, and X is back

X just released its first album with its original lineup in 35 years. From left: drummer D.J. Bonebrake, guitarist Billy Zoom, vocalist Exene Cervenka and vocalist-bassist John Doe.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Excerpt from Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times (April 22, 2020):

“Exene and I talked about writing some songs five to seven years ago together, but we weren’t sure where it would go,” Doe, 67, said of collaborating with his ex-wife and longtime writing partner. (The two were married from 1980 to 1985.) “We were doing other creative stuff, and whatever creative force you have goes into whatever’s in place, right? Whether it’s building a car, making a garden or writing a song.”

Now an Austinite, Doe was wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans, a Western-style button-up shirt and a bolo tie. “So Exene and I just kind of got busy and said, ‘OK, we’ve got a place to put it.’”

When Doe finished speaking, Cervenka, 64, who was lounging on her side of the couch with her eyes half-shut, lifted her head: “Actually, I’ve been writing X songs for 10 years, and finally everybody decided to make a record. That’s the real story.”

“Alphabetland” arrived out of the blue on Wednesday. Landing months sooner than the band had originally planned, it was recorded with producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck, Joyce Manor) during two sessions in the fall of 2018 and January 2020.

Doe‘s and Cervenka’s competing narratives on X’s creative return mirror the call-and-response tension that has powered their work since “Los Angeles” came out.  …

“It sounds like an X album,” said the oft-stoic Zoom, 72, on the couch beside Cervenka.

“People ask, ‘How can you be playing rock ’n’ roll for so long?’ ” Doe said. “Well, because that’s what we do. It’s a thing.”

Across a furious five-year period, X recorded five essential rock ’n’ roll albums: “Los Angeles,” “Wild Gift,” “Under the Big Black Sun,” “More Fun in the New World” and “Ain’t Love Grand.” Through songs including “The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss,” “White Girl,” “The Once Over Twice,” “We’re Desperate,” “The Hungry Wolf” and “The New World,” the band was a crucible for the Hollywood scene of the late ’70s and helped draw the blueprint for West Coast punk.

Click HERE to read the whole story.

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Happy Birthday Bettie Page!

Ah, those jet-black Bettie Page bangs. Sixty years after they were immortalized on a pin-up icon, you still see them on the pale hipster lovelies with the cat-eyed glasses. That is just one of the lasting manifestations of Bettie Page’s industrious and enigmatic seven-year modeling career. She was a splash of rockabilly, a dash of Goth, and an extra helping of sass.

Today would have been her birthday! She died on December 11, 2008 at the age of 85.

According to Bettieophiles, she had more magazine appearances than Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford combined. In 1957, however, she suddenly disappeared and never again appeared for any photo shoot. At an altar in Florida, she dedicated her life to God, attended three different Bible colleges, was a counselor at a Billy Graham crusade in Chicago, and attempted to become a missionary. She applied to various mission boards but was rejected—not because she had been a pin-up, but because she had been divorced.

She spent the rest of her life living quietly and happily in obscurity, working as a secretary, a teacher, and then eventually living modestly off of Social Security. She had no idea that the world was intrigued by her whereabouts.
She never changed her name, or her famous hairstyle. When she was asked if she was Bettie Page, she would playfully reply, “Who’s that?”

Bettie Page was a full-fledged original. She considered Billy Graham a hero and Hugh Hefner a friend. She followed Jesus and loved to skinny dip. “I was not trying to be shocking, or to be a pioneer,” she once wrote. “I wasn’t trying to change society, or to be ahead of my time. I didn’t think of myself as liberated, and I don’t believe that I did anything important. I was just myself. I didn’t know any other way to be, or any other way to live.”

Happy Birthday Bettie Page!

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I miss singing in church

A Sunday service without parishioners, last month in New York.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

By Tish Harrison Warren

Excerpt from New York Times: For Christians, the most holy thing on earth — more than communion, the Sistine Chapel, the Holy Grail or the Rocky Mountains — is the human body. This is, in part, why a vast majority of churches in America are setting aside our sacred vessels, bread and wine, and our gathering together to protect vulnerable human bodies. The church itself is called — what else? — the body of Christ.

The story of creation in the Bible reminds us that we humans are bodies. We are not simply brains on a stick or souls trapped in a mortal prison. We believe bodies and souls are inseparably entwined (which is why Christians and other religious groups care so much about eating, drinking and sex, not because we think the body is bad or dirty, but because we think it is mysteriously connected to our very soul, but that may be for another essay).

And we believe that God came not as a book or a codex of laws or as a hologram or a creed or an idea, but as a person in a body, Jesus. In assuming a body, God redeems embodiment itself. Therefore, we believe in the resurrection not merely of the soul, floating away to some ephemeral mist, but also of the body.

Before two weeks ago, it was pretty easy to ignore the brute fact of our embodiment. … This virus has exposed that we have whole segments of society that do not have paid sick leave, and human resource policies and cultures that depend upon overlooking the pesky reality that any worker has a limited and needy body that deserves care.

We must embrace social distancing, for as long is as needed, to protect our health care system and the very real, fleshy bodies of millions of people. But we also need to collectively notice that something profound is lost by having to interact with the world and our neighbors in mostly disembodied, digital ways. This is something to lament and to grieve. And like all grief, it exposes the value and glory of the thing that was lost.

When social distancing is over, however many weeks or months that may take, I hope we each go get a strong coffee with a friend, go on a walk together and notice what a complete gift it is to do so — the remarkable grace of having a body alongside other bodies, on an ordinary day. What a quotidian, overlooked wonder we find in the textured tangibility of the physical world. And I hope that I, for one, never again take these ordinary gifts for granted.

Read her entire column HERE.

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The Cross

I was in elementary school when I first grasped that the death of Jesus was a big deal. On Good Friday, my mom and dad signed me out of class in time for the noon church service. It was somber and stiff and formal – but I was out of school for the rest of the day. It got my attention.

“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross,” we sang. “The emblem of suffering and shame / And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best / For a world of lost sinners was slain.”

Modern day hipsters may roll their eyes at the sentimental lyrics, but they stuck with me. It was a sing-a-long song about the most brutal injustice in human history and it became a well-known gospel chorus for an entire generation. Johnny Cash recorded four different versions. It was also recorded by Al Green, Ella Fitzgerald, Merle Haggard, Mahalia Jackson, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn.

“The Old Rugged Cross” was written in 1913 by a Methodist preacher named George Bennard (1873-1958) who was converted to faith as a young man after walking five miles to a Salvation Army meeting. At age 15, he had lost his father in a mining accident. Bennard found new life and inspiration in giving his heart to a Savior riddled with nail scars who had conquered death. Continue reading

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Where is God in a pandemic?

By James Martin

… The sheer horror of this fast-moving infection is coupled with the almost physical shock from its sudden onset. As a priest, I’ve heard an avalanche of feelings in the last month: panic, fear, anger, sadness, confusion and despair. More and more I feel like I’m living in a horror movie, but the kind that I instinctively turn off because it’s too disturbing. And even the most religious people ask me: Why is this happening? And: Where is God in all of this?

The question is essentially the same that people ask when a hurricane wipes out hundreds of lives or when a single child dies from cancer. It is called the “problem of suffering,” “the mystery of evil” or the “theodicy,” and it’s a question that saints and theologians have grappled with for millenniums. The question of “natural” suffering (from illnesses or natural disasters) differs from that of “moral evil” (in which suffering flows from the actions of individuals — think Hitler and Stalin). But leaving aside theological distinctions, the question now consumes the minds of millions of believers, who quail at steadily rising death tolls, struggle with stories of physicians forced to triage patients and recoil at photos of rows of coffins: Why?

***** Continue reading

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Dropkick Murphy’s saves quarantined St. Patrick’s Day

To throw even more abnormality into this St. Patrick’s Day, the Dropkick Murphys were unable to play their traditional show in front of their home town crowd of friends and family in Bston. Thankfully, the punk rock/Celtic folk band turned their misfortune into a live-streamed show for fans living in quarantine.

One fan wrote on Twitter: “Got a little emotional watching the #dropkickmurphys live stream while browsing the hashtag reactions on social: folks toasting with a Guinness, kids dancing in front of the TV etc. Felt just that little bit more connected and human during this quarantine.”

The two hour show featured the band playing hits such as “Shipping Up To Boston,” as well as a cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – dedicated to the people of Italy.

“Stick together out there, take care of one another. We’re all in this together,” said singer Ken Casey.

Announcing the show, they wrote to fans: “For the first time in 24 years, we are not playing on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The current world situation is the ONLY thing that would ever stop us from doing so… The show must go on.”

And, yes, that is the great writer G.K. Chesterton on the drum skins.

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