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Blog Archive/April 2006

April 28, 2006

A Saint Slut

Chances are, even those most devoted to the saints haven’t heard of Saint Dirty Martini, the “fairy godmother & patron saint of wish granting.” Unless, that is, they also happen to be fans of Josh Gosfield’s very cool Saint of the Month Club, which went online just last month and describes its mission as: “To transform Madmen, Lusty Ladies, Innocents & Others into Saints and disperse them into the Digital Cosmos.”

Dirty Martini, it turns out, is a Lusty Lady—an “international burlesque sensation” who was named Miss Exotic World 2004. “What a gal?!” writes Gosfield at his site. “What a work of art?! What a creation without equal?! Ever since I set eyes on that lovely face and fabulous physique at a roller derby game in the Bronx, I’ve wanted her to be a Saint of the Month.”  

Gosfield beatified Dirty this past January, creating an elaborate tribute involving photography, computer animation, music, and words. The result really must be experienced to be understood and appreciated. Other saints in the club include: Hopscotch McGee, a “crabby, old, unshaven bum”; Saint H, “a leather-clad gun-toting, Black Panther-y female Huey P. Newton”; and, one of my favorites, Saint Sweeney 64627—Camille Sweeney, aka Crazy Cammie, aka C’weeney, wanted by the FBI for “attempted manslaughter, unlawful flight, grand theft auto, fraud and assault.”

There’s also Saint Pat, a yoga-practicing fireman who lost his life at the twin towers on 9/11.

Gosfield, an illustrator, filmmaker, and former art director of New York Magazine, began transforming friends and strangers into holy figures on a lark, when a friend dropped by his studio five years ago. Suddenly, he felt compelled to photograph her “for no good reason,” he said in a 2003 New York Times profile. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. Or why.” Then he toyed with the image, surrounding his friend’s face with radiating graphics resembling stained glass, and thus a saint was born: Santa Isabella, “patron saint of Mexican revolutionaries, cab drivers, dog walkers, and zoo keepers.”

Times writer Andy Young described Gosfield’s influences. “He combines references to the kitschy, high-gloss work of the French photographers Pierre et Gilles (without their overt homoeroticism), Barbara Kruger’s text-based collages, Russian constructivist collages, and the Latin American religious iconography that so inspired him,” Young wrote. “At the same time, they suggest the graphic style of greeting cards, with a cheery, art-of-the-people sensibility.”

One thing’s for sure, Gosfield loves the saints he creates. “I kind of have crushes on them for that month,” he told the Times. “I’m a saint slut.”

For a good time, don’t miss this Gosfield piece, “The Artistic Process.” And thanks to friend Greg Brandenburgh for sending me a link to this site.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 27, 2006

Finally, Good News About Gas Prices!

Could gas prices soon drop from an average of $2.92 per gallon for regular unleaded to $2.50, or even $2.25 per gallon? Well, I’ll go out on a limb and predict gas will fall below $2—by the weekend. Why the insanely high hopes, o ye of little faith? Because a group of Christian clergy descended on a Washington, DC, gas station at noon today and prayed for lower prices at the pumps.

Organized by Pray Live, the rally was intended to send a message to God, and humanity, said Wenda Royster, the group's founder, in a UPI report. "It is our hope that seeing and hearing some of the nation's most powerful preachers gathered around a gas station and the United States capital as a backdrop, will remind everyone who is really in charge of our world—God," Royster said. She also noted that many people are "overlooking the power of prayer when it comes to resolving this energy crisis."

God, however, did not respond to SoMA’s requests for a comment. (Hmmm. Perhaps God is like my old youth pastor and disapproves of hanging around gas stations.)

Pray Live established a live Internet site and toll-free prayer line (888-PRAYLIVE) for those unable to attend the rally.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 26, 2006

Our “God or the Girl” Windup

How much do we at SoMA love to hate A&E’s reality series “God or the Girl”? So much that we couldn’t resist bashing it not one but two more times. Plus, when Mary Beth Crain wrote her first review (Showboating for the Lord), she’d only seen the first two episodes. Maybe the following shows were better; maybe the whole series didn’t stink like the unboiled, rotten Easter egg I stepped on in my backyard this morning. There was only one way to find out, so on Sunday Mary Beth stocked up on Pepto Bismol and turned on the boob tube. It stank, all right, but I’ll let her tell you about it here.

We also realized what’s been missing from our discussions about the show—the reality aspect. Sure, we’ve commented on whether or not the four wannabe priests have thought and acted genuinely, uninfluenced in their spiritual deliberations by the presence of cameras and lights, but the Big Question is: How accurately does the show reflect the actual process by which one enters the Catholic priesthood? Are those steps faithfully represented in “God or the Girl”? If not, bid farewell to reality. Father David Nuss, the director of vocations for the diocese of Toledo, Ohio, addresses this issue for us here.

Now, you don’t think for one second he’s going to say the show even comes close to getting it right, do you?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 25, 2006

Maxim at 100...Issues

I wasn't always the editor of a respectable magazine of religion and culture.

Once upon a time, when I was preoccupied with things like paying the bills and clothing myself, I was a regular contributor to Maxim, the magazine that calls itself "the best thing to happen to men since women." Although Maxim is infamous for, among other things, its bikini-clad cover girls, I was grateful for the opportunity to write for them. I received several assignments a month and the pay was great. Plus, I knew that more than two million people would see my work, and it didn't bother me too much that many of them were idiot manchildren between the ages of 18 and 34.

I led sort of a double life back then. During the day I wrote for publications such as Beliefnet and The Christian Century and did Publishers Weekly religion reviews for $50 a pop. At night, I put my literary/spiritual persona on the shelf and donned my Maxim uniform, interviewing porn stars, fashion experts and counter-terrorism experts, super-max prison wardens and New York City coroners. I even interviewed astronaut Gordon Cooper about what it's like to reenter the earthýs atmosphere...

Continue reading Maxim's 100th Issue.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 25, 2006

Laurel Snyder: Human Dynamo

My pal Laurel Snyder gets so much done in a day that I swear she has cloned herself. Or at least I hope she has, otherwise I’d have to be ashamed of my own meager accomplishments, and Lord knows I live with enough shame as it is (Thanks, mom. Just kidding!).

What all does Laurel do? Let’s see. She edits KillingtheBuddha and runs JewishyIrishy. She’s the author of a wonderful new book, Half/Life, and another wonderful book, Daphne and Jim, a “choose-your-own adventure biography in verse.” She writes poetry, essays, op-ed pieces, and she’s an NPR commentator. She’s writing a children’s book, and she guest blogs at Haaretz. She’s got an essay coming out in, of all things, an anthology of writing inspired by Johnny Cash. Oh, and she’s also a stay-at-home mom.

Well, Laurel now wears yet another hat. She has been named Associate Publisher for VERB magazine, and one of her first responsibilities is to launch their “First Annual Fiction Contest.” She sent me the submissions guidelines, which I'll post below for all you shortstoryists out there:  

SUBMIT to the FIRST ANNUAL VERB FICTION CONTEST!!!

Any unpublished story (up to 5,000 words) is eligible. Winner will receive $1000.00 and publication* in VERB!! All finalists will be considered for publication. Submissions must be postmarked on or before July 1. Manuscripts will not be returned. Winners will be announced in October 2006.

For each entry, submit the following:

A check for $15, made payable to VERB. Two cover sheets. The first should include only the title of your story. The second should include the title of the work, your name, phone number, mailing address, and email. A self-addressed stamped envelope.

OR SUBMIT ONLINE @ VERB.ORG

Mail to:
VERB FICTION CONTEST
PO Box 2684
Decatur GA 30031

*VERB is the first AUDIOQUARTERLY, which means that you'll be recording your story for distribution through AUDIBLE.com, and to subscribers on a CD!!! If you would prefer, an actor may record in your stead. Past contributors include Robert Olen Butler, Stuart Dybek, Peter Case, Julianna Baggott, Ha Jin, and many others...

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 21, 2006

Mary Beth's Haute Dog Easter Parade Report

"I’ve always had a secret desire to judge a dog show. I watch the Eukanuba Contest of Champions, and the Oscars of dogdom, Westminster, and marvel at how anyone could choose the best from among those breathtakingly gorgeous canines. I look at the judges, all of them ancient and noble, the women in their long, glittering gowns, the men in their tuxes, and think what a marvelous life they must lead. Filthy rich, with the rest of the filthy rich bowing and scraping before them as they decide the destinies of the world’s most elegant dogs.

"Well, on Easter Sunday my dream finally came true. To my astonishment and joy, I was asked to be one of the judges of the Haute Dog Easter Parade in Long Beach, California..."

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain's An Easter Parade for the Dogs.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 21, 2006

A Religious Sex Shop

"For the Love of Agape Sex Shop, co-owned and operated by The Sons of Solomon’s Sales and the Daughters of Mary Magdalene Mercantile, provides Agape-approved accessories for exclusive use by religious couples who:

• Desire knowledge about intimacy before accepting the bonds of holy matrimony.
• Wish to approach marriage with holiness as well as heat.
• Wish to balance the passion for multiplication with the information necessary for successful completion of the task.

"For the Love of Agape is for married couples (heterosexual couples married to each other) and those with serious intentions of getting married. Proof of engagement is required for browsing; recommendation from a parent or religious professional preferred. Marriage license required for some purchases. Common law and same-sex arrangements not accepted. Remember, 'IF IT’S AGAPE, IT’S GOT TO BE GOOD.'”

Continue reading Robert Flynn's For the Love of Agape.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 17, 2006

"God or the Girl"

Alas, I missed the premiere of “God or the Girl” last night. A&E’s new reality series features four aspiring priests who are “about to make the most difficult decision of their lives”—whether or not to sacrifice their sexuality and enter the Catholic priesthood—a show that sounds absolutely, deliriously, horrible. Fortunately, however, Mary Beth Crain, SoMA’s contributing editor and Vatican watchdog, caught the first episode and stayed up till the wee hours working on her fine, fine report.

The four young men—Joe, Mike, Steve, and Daniel—are all drama queens and attention hogs but, writes Mary Beth:

“…the most blatant display of unbridled egomania comes, of course, from Daniel, who simply cannot control his ecstasy when his spiritual advisor, Fr. Jeff, suggests that he build a cross just like Jesus’ and carry it on his back 20 miles through the Ohio hinterlands, in order to really know Our Lord through and through.

“Now, I’m not at all sure I would take the advice of a spiritual advisor who looks like a hybrid of Jesse Ventura and Uncle Fester, and who, with his big, fat stomach, couldn’t carry Jesus’ cross 20 feet. But Daniel doesn’t need to be told twice.

“He and his buddies have lots of fun at the lumberyard, finding the appropriate cuts of wood. They clown around in the hardware store, looking for nails and tools. They laugh as they hammer the cross together, and Daniel has a real ball trying it out on the floor, joking around with the guys as he lies in cruciform position.

“And then, the journey to Calvary! The cross is loaded onto the boys’ SUV. At the starting point, Daniel hoists a daunting hundred pounds of wood onto his shoulders and starts walking, the guys and Fr. Jeff solemnly accompanying him like Christ’s disciples. Pretty soon Daniel is groaning and grunting, but when, after a few miles, Fr. Jeff insists that he allow them to share his burden, Daniel refuses. ‘I love it!’ he says. ‘I love the sacrifice!’ Translation: I love the ATTENTION I’m getting, not just from you guys and everybody who’s staring at me as they drive by, but from MILLIONS OF VIEWERS!’

“And that’s what it’s all about. Let’s face it: ‘God or the Girl’ is staged drama, just like every other ‘reality’ show. Posed twaddle descends into spiritual commercialism…’”

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain’s review, Showboating for the Lord.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 15, 2006

The Story of Holy Week

Untold millions know the story of Holy Week—from Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his resurrection on Easter. And yet, since the dawn of Christianity, people have disagreed about the events of Jesus' last days and what they mean. Even the gospels vary in details and emphases. And as two new books demonstrate, how believers understand that story matters greatly to their faith.

In "The Last Week," biblical scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan credit Mel Gibson for reinforcing a "much too narrow understanding of the 'passion' of Jesus." Embraced as a powerful evangelical tool by Christians the world over, "The Passion of the Christ" focused on Jesus' last 12 hours—his arrest, torture and execution—reducing the meaning of his life to his suffering (Latin, passio). Missing from the film, the authors insist, was Jesus' true "passion"—the Kingdom of God, for which he gave his life.

Based on their reading of Mark, the earliest gospel, Borg and Crossan attempt to set the record straight. The first Palm Sunday, they tell us, began not with one procession, but two...

Continue reading Pictures of Jesus.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 13, 2006

Cross Examination

"We get all kinds of catalogs in the mail at the church where I serve, but one of the oddest was the Christian toy catalog that came during last year’s Lent. It was full of Christian kitsch, like 'I Am the Light of the World' Jesus night-lights and pencil erasers proclaiming how 'Jesus Rubbed Out Sin.' There was even a plastic, cross-shaped sponge shooter that spewed out cross sponges. Funny, maybe, if it weren’t so disturbing..."

Continue reading Kenneth E. Kovacs' Cross Purposes.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 11, 2006

Contemporary Christian Music: “Praise Jesus” or “Jesus H. Christ!”?

I learned much of what I know about Christian rock by osmosis. Literally. In my senior year at college, I lived next door to two members of a fledgling Christian rock group that wanted very badly to be the next Stryper. For those who didn’t attend an evangelical college in the mid-80s, Stryper was a Christian hair metal band a lot like Poison or Ratt, except that they loved Jesus, so they sang songs such as “To Hell With the Devil” and didn’t do drugs or bang groupies.

The guys next door played lead guitar and keyboards, and they sang. Naturally, the boys wore red spandex everywhere and spent hours in the dorm bathroom trying to make their huge hair look twice as big as it was. When they weren’t in the bathroom, or in class or at a Bible study, they were in their room, either practicing their instruments or listening to recordings of themselves and the Christian “artists” they were emulating. I spent most of that year in the library.

Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of contemporary Christian music. Oh, when I was in elementary school, I listened to tapes of Christian groups over and over, hoping that somehow the message of salvation they conveyed would assure me I was going to heaven when I died. But by high school, I had little interest in Christian music. Not that I didn’t attend concerts with my youth group; I just found the music derivative and the words forced and empty. I’d have taken The Clash or Pink Floyd over the Resurrection Band or Jerusalem any day.

All this is to say that Katherine E. Willis Pershey’s and Dave Nantais’ new SoMA essays about Christian music have, like Proust’s madeleine, brought back memories from my youth. Contemporary Christian music was all the rage at my Christian college, where weekly chapel attendance was mandatory and dorm Bible studies were expected. On-campus Christian concerts were a huge draw, featuring performers like Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Mylon LeFevre, Farrell & Farrell, and DeGarmo & Key. My school was just outside Boston, so when Amy Grant came to the Centrum, everyone piled into their cars and drove out to Worcester.

Not me. I skipped these shows, preferring to hop the T into town with friends and hang out at some club like the Rathskeller in Kenmore Square, Bunratty’s in Allston, or T.T. the Bear’s in Cambridge. Which was a huge no-no. The biggest concert at my school one year was Kenny Livgren, formerly of the “secular” band Kansas, and his Christian group AD. Performing with them was a local band called Robin Lane and the Chartbusters whose “appearance on campus,” my 1985 yearbook noted, “drew some questioning as this band often appears in Boston clubs and bars.” Oooh, Robin. You baaad girl!

While in college I questioned my faith to its core, exploring all the hard questions about God and belief I’d always had but was afraid to ask. And the more I questioned the more I realized that the Christian music I’d long considered shallow was, actually, a very accurate reflection of the faith I’d been struggling with for years—inauthentic, simplistic, disconnected from real life as I knew it.

In my last year at college, I was one of several seniors asked to give a talk at chapel. I thought I was an odd choice, not only because I wasn’t a religion major, like most of the other speakers, but because the subject was about how our faith had deepened over four years. I was tempted by the offer because I thought it would be…interesting…to share the inconclusive, doubt-plagued story of my faith with the entire school.

But what sealed my decision to speak was who I learned was scheduled to perform in chapel that day: my head-banging dorm neighbors. To my knowledge, no Christian metal band had ever performed in chapel before, and I got a kick out of those guys. One of them, the lead singer, was tall and loud, and had light hair. The other was short and quiet, with dark hair, and was a little spacey. They reminded me of Michael McKean’s and Christopher Guest’s characters in “This Is Spinal Tap.” How much more fun for me, I thought, to get up and talk after a performance by the Christian Spinal Tap than some  future pastor’s wife butchering “Amazing Grace.”

The boys gave an impassioned performance that day, flipping their hair and wailing on their guitars and pounding the keyboards as they sang an original tribute to their friend Jesus. “Puzzled” doesn’t begin to describe the look on the college president’s face. It was, of course, a song I’d heard through the wall of my room all year long, and as I sat behind the pulpit watching the boys perform, I thought about how my beliefs had changed while at school. When I arrived as a freshman, I clung to the kind of faith these guys were singing about. Despite my reservations, I wanted it to work. But by my junior year, I realized I couldn’t make it work, and I no longer wanted to.

These Stryper imitators could have it—a faith that goes well with spandex.

Anyway, be sure to read Katherine’s and Dave’s wonderful essays. She highlights the good in CCM, and Dave underscores the bad. You’ll find their pieces listed in separate blog entries below. These will allow you to comment on each essay; without them, you can’t post comments (don’t ask).

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 11, 2006

CCM: Thumbs Up

I never thought I’d give another dime to the purveyor of many a WWJD bracelet, the source for Max Lucado greeting cards, the haven for lovers of all things Thomas Kincaid. But I recently reactivated my frequent shopper card at my local Christian bookstore, and for a reason I never would have foreseen a few short months ago—their Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) section.

Continue reading Katherine E. Willis Pershey's Power in the Roots.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 11, 2006

CCM: Thumbs Down

I am about to make a big confession. I am a Christian. I am a rock lover. And I hate Christian rock!

My aversion for this dubious musical genre goes back to April of 1992, when I attended a live performance by the classic American progressive rock band, Kansas...

Continue reading Dave Nantais' essay I Hate Christian Rock.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 5, 2006

Gifts That Keep on Giving

"Jesus taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and part of growing up is learning the art of giving, as well as that of receiving. If we fail to learn this art, we will live unfulfilled lives, and in the end, chains of bondage will replace the bonds that keep our communities together. If we just keep taking or even trading, we will squander ourselves. If we give, we will regain ourselves as fulfilled individuals and flourishing communities..."

Read Miroslav Volf's "The Art of Giving" here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 3, 2006

Oh, to Be a Megachurch

Not long ago I was at a party talking with another husband about religion. ýThe thing about these megachurches,ý he said, tossing a peanut in his mouth, ýis, like ýem or not, theyýre great businesses.ý He went on about the marketing genius required to draw tens of thousands of worshippers a week.

ýYeah, but whatýs the message?ý I asked.

He shrugged. ýAll I know is,ý he said, ýI see these huge, packed services on TV, and I think, 'They must be doing something right.'ý   

ýI know,ý I said. ýI see TV ads for those hugely popular WrestlingMania events, and I think the same thing.ý

What else could I say? Iýve visited a couple megachurches, and Iým not a fan. For one thing, crowds make me dizzy. I canýt think straight in them. Thatýs why I avoid malls. The last time I went to a mall for some last-minute Christmas shopping, I spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly, pushed from throng to throng, up one side of the mall and down the other, until a current of shoppers finally deposited me, empty handed, in the parking lot. If I canýt find a gift for my brother in a massive crowd, how can I find God in one?

Granted, I might think differently about megachurches if I were a pastor. As William Whitehead, the pastor of a small church in New Jersey, says in a new essay at SoMA, large, thriving congregations have resources the smaller churches canýt help but covet.

ýBig churches have new stuff,ý he writes. ýSmall churches, wellýnew is not a word I am familiar with. What I wouldnýt give for a furnace that doesnýt send SOS messages by smoke signal. Our sanctuary boiler was dredged up from the Titanic and donated to the church as ýslightly used.ý Furniture is generally acquired the same way. People think to themselves, ýI have this 30-year-old couch with broken springs and no more stuffing. Now what can I do with it? I know, Iýll give it to the church!ýý

Read William Whiteheadýs ýBig Church Envyý here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

 
 
             
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