The Second Coming of Russell Brand

By Jesse Carey, Relevant Magazine

“My personal feeling is the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.”

If you have even a surface-level knowledge of comedian, actor, writer and all- around provocateur Russell Brand, this is a shocking statement. Though in recent years he’s become more and more vocal about social justice issues, for much of his career, Brand has been known for his uniquely raunchy brand of shock comedy.
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“I say the Lord’s Prayer every day. I try to connect to what those words mean. I connect to what the Father means. I connect to what wholeness means to me. I think about the relationship between forgiveness and being forgiven and the impossibility of redemption until you are willing to forgive and let go.”
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One of these ways is, in his words, seeking “Christ consciousness”—a concept that Paul refers to as, and many Christians would call, achieving “the mind of Christ.” Essentially, becoming more Christ-like ourselves.

“If Christ consciousness is not accessible to us, then what is the point of the story of Jesus, you know?” he asks rhetorically. “He’s just a sort of a scriptural rock star, just an icon. Unless Christ is right here, right now, in your heart, in your consciousness, then what is Christ?”

To Brand, this is key to not only changing a person struggling with addictions, but also to recovering a culture. It must be a spiritual change; a change of values.

“I do think a spiritual and transcendent change is required for people to be free from addiction,” he says. “And by spiritual change, I mean the transition from one’s life being predicated on self-fulfillment to a life predicated on service, which for me is a moment-to-moment struggle.”

Read entire article by Jesse Carey HERE

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Pixar’s ‘Coco’ strikes a chord in Mexico guitar town

March 21,2014 – master guitar maker in Paracho, Michoacan, Mexico testing the sound of his instrument made of fine rosewood.

By Josue Gonzales

PARACHO, Mexico — Pixar’s hit film “Coco” has struck all the right notes in the tiny Mexican hamlet of Paracho, home to the traditional Mexican guitar made famous in the movie. Nestled in the western central highlands of the Sierra Madre, Paracho is seeing a boom in guitar sales following the worldwide success of “Coco.”

The film follows a boy who accidentally finds himself in the land of the dead during the Mexican celebrations for the Dia de los Muertos. Central to the plot is the boy’s trusty Paracho-style guitar.

The 16th century-style guitars have been a way of life in the town of 30,000 for centuries. According to legend, a priest with the original Spanish conquerors decided locals in the village should be taught a craft to support their economy. Paracho soon gained fame as Mexico’s capital for the manufacture of stringed instruments, and “Coco” has now brought its craftsmen global fame and booming sales, artisans said.

The film, released by Walt Disney Co’s Pixar, has grossed more than $550 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. It ranks as the highest grossing movie in Mexico ever.

Costs for the hand-made guitars range from around 2,000 Mexican pesos ($104 dollars) to those made with fine wood that fetch up to 20,000 pesos ($1,042 dollars).

Due to popular request, local artisans have given the traditionally black guitar a Day-Of-The-Dead twist by painting the instrument white and adding a cartoon of the traditional Mexican skull on its front. – Reuters

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The nones — and nuns — are alright in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’

(Photo by Scott Gries/Invision/AP)

Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service: You’ve described this movie as a “love letter to Sacramento,” your hometown. But is it also a love letter to Catholic schools?

Greta Gerwig: Definitely. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I loved Catholic high school, and I loved myCatholic high school, St. Francis.

I was actually very different than Lady Bird. I wasn’t a rebel. I never made anybody call me by a different name or dyed my hair bright red. I never challenged authority. I was a very rule-following kid. But I encountered so many adults there who really impacted my life so positively. There were priests and nuns who were just compassionate and funny and empathetic and thoughtful, and they really engaged with the students as people, not figureheads. And that was also true of the lay people who were teachers — theology teachers or choir teachers and all these different parts of the school.

I felt, as a moviegoer, kind of making fun of Catholic school has been covered. There’s lots of movies that have this idea of making it into kind of a joke, and I wanted to do something that reflected more like the genuine guidance and interest and compassion I found in those people, and I didn’t want it to feel like they were just a nun with a ruler or something.

To read more of the interview, click HERE.

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Greta Gerwig’s Radical Confidence

Actor Saoirse Ronan, left and director Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird.

By Christine Smallwood

Greta Gerwig has acted in 25 films and co-written five, but “Lady Bird,” her first solo directorial project, is the most unadulterated distillation of her sensibility to date. The title character is a high-school senior, played with winning naturalness by Saoirse Ronan, who lives in Sacramento and attends an all-girls Catholic school. She was born Christine, but demands to be called by the name she has given herself — as if she were a pop star, or being constantly confirmed in the faith.

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“Lady Bird” is remarkable for what doesn’t happen. No one dies. No one overdoses. Conflicts are reconciled. The film is ostensibly about a young girl’s ambition, but the mood is one of poignant loss. “There is a certain vividness in worlds that are coming to an end,” Gerwig wrote in the production notes. “It is something beautiful that you never appreciated and ends just as you come to understand it.” Her characters are always preternaturally nostalgic, able to look back on recent hurts with the bittersweet regard that it takes more rancorous humans a lifetime to achieve.

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There are no jerks or bullies in “Lady Bird,” no one who intentionally manipulates or abuses, no one who hates or is hateable, no one who holds a grudge. All the characters are doing their best — it’s just nice to know them. You can’t accuse Gerwig of a lack of seriousness; her conversation is peppered with references to George Eliot, Elena Ferrante, Maggie Nelson, Simone Weil, Milton and Kierkegaard. But the way she distributes sympathy has an undeniably magical effect. The result is delightful and a little bit romantic — delightful, perhaps, because it is romantic, showing life as it should be, or could be.

“I have a deep need to take care of my characters,” she said to me at breakfast. “It’s not that I don’t want to go down the dark avenues — I want to hold their hands down the dark avenues. I want to walk with them while they go there and give them the dignity of representing it honestly, and finding the thing that is grace-filled.”

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Still, only a person who liked high school could have written this movie. And Gerwig liked high school. There were the usual cliques and hierarchies, but because it was a Catholic school, the focus was on being a good citizen of the community and using your talents for a higher purpose. She refers to the nuns who taught her as “really groovy.” She admits to “some teenage anger” and says that her fights with her mother were “epic,” but “for me, epic fighting never spelled lack of love.”

To read full New York Times article, click HERE

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Yellow Coat and Pink Cadillac

“After the radio appearance Elvis and I headed out to the parking lot and said our goodbyes. I told him I’d see him at the show later and headed across the parking lot. I slid into the passenger seat of our Pontiac where Daddy was waiting. I pulled the door shut, but Daddy didn’t say anything. He was staring straight through the windshield shaking his head from side to side. “I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that,” he clucked as I followed his gaze and spotted Elvis with his yellow coat and funny hair sliding behind the wheel of a bright pink Cadillac. A man driving a pink Cadillac in 1955? This was before there was such a thing as Mary Kay Cosmetics, and nobody had ever so much as heard of a pink Cadillac. Elvis might as well have been getting into a rocket ship! Daddy just about drew the line there. “You might should stay away from that one, Wanda,” he said flatly. “I think this Elvis character could be a nut!”

– Wanda Jackson, Every Night is Saturday Night

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Wanda Jackson Helped Put the Growl in Rockabilly

Wanda Jackson, 80, is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who was one of the first female rockabilly recording artists. She is the author, with Scott B. Bomar, of the memoir “Every Night Is Saturday Night” (BMG). She spoke with Marc Myers of The Wall Street Journal. Here are a few excerpts from their conversation. 

• I always had a beautiful relationship with my parents. I know that sounds strange for someone who toured with Elvis Presley in 1955 and ’56 and recorded rock ’n’ roll. But I really didn’t have a rebellious streak.

• Whenever my parents went out to hear country music and to dance, they took me along. Babysitters didn’t exist then. They loved Western swing, and I saw artists like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and Tex Williams.

Western swing combined country with jazz and big-band swing. It was pretty popular in L.A. then, especially among people like us—Okies who had moved there from the Southwest.

Daddy played guitar and fiddle. While mother cleaned up after dinner, we played and sang together. I was crazy about rhythm, and horns and fiddles. When I was 6, daddy bought me a little Kay guitar from the Sears catalog and taught me basic chords. As soon as I held that Kay, I knew what I wanted to be—a girl singer. I never did plan for anything else. Continue reading

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A Snake in the Manger

By Steve Beard

One of the memorable scenes in the quirky 2003 British romantic comedy Love Actually is a dialogue about a school Christmas play. Actress Emma Thompson plays Karen and her daughter Daisy (played by Lulu Popplewell) proudly announces her upcoming role in the nativity story.

Daisy: I’m the lobster.

Karen: The lobster?

Daisy: Yeah.

Karen: In the nativity play?

Daisy: Yeah, “first” lobster.

Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?

Daisy: Duh!

The nativity play ends up being the climactic conclusion to the film. Not only is the lobster on stage, but she is joined by an octopus, a few penguins, Spiderman, and an assortment of other peculiar creatures.

That surreal scene came to mind a few years later while I was visiting the set of The Nativity Story, a charming film about the birth of Christ filmed in Matera, Italy ­– 120 miles east of Naples. As we were checking out the cave-like location for the manger scene, a five-foot black snake slithered through as though he owned the place.

As alarming as it seemed, it should not have been terribly shocking. Matera is an ancient city known for its neighborhoods that are literally carved out of rock. It is an ideal home for slinky, slithering, and creepy animals of all varieties — perhaps a little like Bethlehem.

Along with a lobster and Spiderman, a snake is an unlikely character for a nativity scene. We are far more comfortable with cattle lowing and sheep curling up and hens laying eggs in the manger. Nevertheless, the serpent’s appearance seemed strangely fitting to the incarnational reality of Christmas. After all, at the precipice of hope and redemption, evil lingers and looks for a way to corrupt. Sometimes we lose sight of that reality when we watch our cute Christmas pageants with shepherds wearing bathrobes, the Three Wisemen draped in silk kimonos, and the Virgin Mary lugging around a retro Cabbage Patch doll.

In reality, it is difficult to downplay the seemingly raw scandal involved with the birth of Christ; but somehow we have managed. Perhaps we have anesthetized the story’s sting, since it took place long ago and far away. Continue reading

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Five reasons Sister Rosetta Tharpe should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been around long enough to honor a long list of the artists whose music fed into the genre’s roots. Now that we’ve entered an era in which the rock stars of the ’90s have become eligible for induction, it can be all too easy to assume that the most important names of the past have already been honored. That’s a faulty assumption, however — and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the pioneering singer, songwriter, and guitarist listed among this year’s potential honorees, is a perfect example of a rock ‘n’ roll forbear who definitely deserves to be enshrined in the Hall.

She’s far from a household name, particularly among younger generations of rock fans, and you aren’t likely to find any of her recordings on the radio dial — on rock stations or otherwise. But even if she’s never really received her commercial or cultural due, there’s no escaping Sister Tharpe’s fundamental influence on generations of artists who came after her, and any institution dedicated to honoring rock history is incomplete without a space reserved for honoring her legacy.

To read entire article, click HERE.

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Better sense of history: Billy Zoom’s list of required listening

“The Ramones, Elvis Presley’s Sun sessions, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, something done in Owen Bradley’s studio like Patsy Cline or Brenda Lee, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry … how long is this supposed to be? This could go on for a long time. I have a long list of required listening. I think people should have a better sense of history so they would have a better understanding of how things got to be the way they are. Just in general, because I think if people understood how things got to be the way they are, things would be different..”

-Billy Zoom, guitarist from X (According to Billy, this is only a partial list)

King Oliver, King Oliver Stomp

Bix Beiderbecke—anything with Frankie Trumbauer

Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France (Django)—all 1930’s sessions

Benny Goodman Orchestra, Sing, Sing, Sing

Glen Miller, Greatest Hits

Andrews Sisters, Greatest Hits, but make sure it’s the original recordings.

Johnnie Ray—anything about crying

Hank Williams—everything

Elvis Presley—Sun Sessions, and first RCA album with the cover the Clash copied

Jerry Lee Lewis—EVERYTHING!!!!

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How a skull on your desk will change your life

By Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

The practice of remembering that you will die helps you to keep in mind that your life will end, and that it has a goal: heaven.

Visual reminders — often called memento mori, the Latin phrase for “Remember that you will die” — are one way we can keep our impending death in mind. Saints Jerome, Aloysius, and Mary Magdalene, among others, are often depicted in classic paintings with skulls. Saint Francis of Assisi once signed a blessing to Brother Leo with the tau cross and a small drawing of a skull. Pope Alexander VII commissioned Italian artist Bernini to make a coffin that he kept in his bedroom along with a marble skull for his desk to remind him of the brevity of life. Blessed James Alberione, the founder of the Daughters of Saint Paul, also kept a skull on his desk.

Inspired by this Christian tradition of memento mori, I recently acquired a ceramic skull for my desk. I have been chronicling my spiritual journey for over a month on Twitter. And it has changed my life.

To read Sister Theresa’s entire article, click HERE.

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