Monthly Archives: April 2008

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Jesus, These People Are Scary


Umm. Yeah… wow.

So there are times when I feel like I’m starting to progress in my artistic and leadership development, times when I’m starting to get a handle on what it means to be an independent businessman and a worship artist at the same time.

It’s for times like these, and for people like me… (no, not Black people… you know… professional Christians) that these videos were made.


You thought the Lark News was cutting edge? Then apparently you haven’t seen any of the “Jesus People,” a web-based mockumentary about a Christian pop group called … wait for it… Cross My Heart. (They’ve even got a tongue-in-cheek myspace page.)

Available on various websites (a brief Googling popped up hits on Youtube and FunnyOrDie), this series, the brainchild of Dan Ewald & Rajeev Sigamoney, is the most brutally spot-on send-up of evangelical Christian subculture since “Saved!” hit the big screen in 2004.

Upon stumbling onto the first video, I was at first pretty reluctant to give it a chance. I assumed it would be rigid, inaccurate, and mean-spirited, all traits that prevented me from enjoying “Saved!” more thoroughly. (The Onion’s AV Club review of “Saved!” essentially called it just as self-righteous and condescending as its intended target.)

And it certainly looked that way to me, at first glance. But having watched a few episodes, I think it was just hitting a little too close to home. Because, like “Saved,” Jesus People manages to get many of the details right. The fading 90’s crooner derailed by a sex scandal. The overly judgmental hard-ass (I’m sorry, I spent 30 seconds trying to think up a better term but I couldn’t). The token Black guy, trying in vain to inject a modicum of street cred into the proceedings.

I’m telling you, the longer I watched this, the scarier it got for me. Because I grew up around these people. I went to summer camps and college with these people. I worked in a Christian bookstore with these people. And, sadly, sometimes I am these people.

(Lord Jesus, did I really act like this? Have mercy.)

Which is why I wasn’t surprised to find that Dan Ewald has a few bylines in the archives of ChristianityToday.com, because I think only a true believer in Christ — or someone who grew up around believers in Christ — would be able to come up with this.

It’s a little like the first time I saw the series of GEICO cavemen commercials. They worked so well at depicting twentysomething yuppie/slacker archetypes, it came as little surprise that they were created by recent twentysomething yuppie slackers.

But to laud the writing too much would be damning the actors with faint praise, because these folks are funny. Most (if not all) of them have backgrounds in comedy, and many of the cameo appearances are actors in other, more popular comedies (including “The Office” and “MADTV”).

But don’t take my words for it. Watch my favorite episode so far:

Jesus People Episode 3 on FunnyOrDie.com

If that didn’t do it for you, check out their myspace page and play their horrendously bad single, “Snatched Up.” If you’ve ever worked in a Christian bookstore, you’ve probably heard something that bad. At least this time it’s a joke.

If you still want some great entertainment value, and you have any friends who are Christians and like music, find the one with the snobbiest tastes, the one who can’t resist an opportunity to bash Christian music at any opportunity… and play your new favorite song for them.

UPDATE: The time stamping on the myspace page is from May of 07… why didn’t I hear about this sooner? (First “Lazy Sunday“, now this.) I guess I’m losing my hipness quotient, or I’m too far out of the loop on what’s funny these days. Maybe I’m becoming immune to viral video… ?

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DIY Dilbert

Scott Adams has done it again. His brilliant idea not only finds a way to recycle old material, but guarantees himself a few more years of relevance with a brand that was starting to get stale.

Over at Dilbert.com, his entire catalog dating back to 2001 is available for public use, all completely free. Not only that, but users are encouraged to create their own “mashups” — taking old strips and creating new punch lines.

(He does lose a few cool points for misusing the word “mashup” but hey, it was probably some editor’s idea.)

Lets hope Aaron McGruder follows suit, because I could do a whole routine with his stuff.

By the way, here is my latest entry… feel free to vote for it here:

UPDATE: Okay, so apparently the “embed” option doesn’t work that well because it’s only including the last panel. Just click the link I included to vote with and you can see the whole thing.

This site requires Adobe Flash, please click here to get it.

var Vars = { BasePath: ‘http://dilbert.com/xml/widget.660’, QueryString: ‘?StripID%3D6357’ }; swfobject.embedSWF(‘http://dilbert.com/swf/v1/mashup.viewer.swf’, ‘MSH_MashupViewer_6357’, ‘400’, ‘121’, ‘8’, ‘http://dilbert.com/swf/v1/express_install.swf’, Vars);

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Eugene Robinson: Wright Has No Monopoly On Black Church

Meet my new favorite columnist.

That’s the title I confer on anyone who manages to articulate my thoughts so clearly without me knowing them personally.

I’m talking about his latest piece in today’s Washington Post, entitled Where Wright Went Wrong.

By now, if you’ve been following the national news, Dr. Jeremiah Wright has spoken publicly for the first time since the furor of his out-of-context remarks have been looped on Youtube for all to see.

I’ve attended Dr. Wright’s former church, Trinity United Church of Christ. And I lept to his defense when many in the mainstream media were trying to castigate him as a hateful bigot.

But I do think he’s wearing out his welcome, irritating his allies, and further threatening Senator Obama’s candidacy.

Here’s the closing from Robinson’s column:

I point all this out not to say that one tradition is better than another; as Wright said, different doesn’t mean deficient. But what Wright did was to try to frame the issue in such a way that to question him or anything he has ever said was to question the long, storied tradition of African American religion.

Historically and theologically, he was inflating his importance in a pride-goeth-before-the-fall kind of way. Politically, by surfacing now, he was throwing Barack Obama under the bus.

Sadly, it’s time for Obama to return the favor.

As hard as it is for me to say this, being the son of a high profile pastor… I kind of agree. Yikes.

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Fragging Towards Gomorrah: The Slippery Slope of Video Games and Pop Culture Morality


You know, with such an inflated post title, one familiar with my writing style would think that this would be an 8,000 word sprawling behemoth of an essay, whereby I systematically explain in meticulous detail the failings of the ethical and moral compass in today’s vanguard of popular culture, a region of artistic real estate most commonly held by video games.

But I don’t have time for all of that, because I have a life.

On the off chance, however, that this is a subject that you find yourself drawn to, then I implore you, first check out this piece on sex, violence and video games by blogger Mitch Krpata. His blog Insult Swordfighting is a great place to gather both intel and insight on the latest video games, but more importantly, it’s a great primer on the recent (and not-so-recent) history of video game controversy, specifically as it relates to sex and violence.

Because then you’ll be able to digest what I’m about to say.

Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest in the celebrated series of Rockstar Games’ gritty-underworld-of-crime titles, is looking like one of the coolest things ever to hit the shelves in years. The hype machine is cranking like crazy, and for good reason.

Released today, the latest GTA entry sits at the top of the wish list for many adult gamers looking to immerse themselves in the realistic (albeit fictional) portrayal of New York’s criminal element. And, as I’ve been told, GTA IV expands upon its trademark, open-ended gameplay with an even larger myriad of missions and characters. It appears to have most of what I tend to look for in a video game title: eye-popping visuals, an intuitive yet powerful gameplay mechanic, and an intriguing storyline (an eastern European immigrant finds himself disillusioned with America as he provides the muscle to protect his cousin’s undeground business).

Nevertheless, I just can’t bring myself to play it.

The biggest reason, of course, is that I’ve already spent most of my “fun stuff” budget money on other video game titles and other forms of recreation. But even if I had $60 ready to burn a hole in my pocket, I would much rather stick it under the mattress and hope it hasn’t already run away by the time Splinter Cell: Conviction is released.

Why?

For a couple reasons, actually.

The first is actually a little vain and pretentious, but I’m just gonna put it out there. I’ve been generally against the GTA series from the beginning, and relinquishing my moral high ground on the basis of what is admittedly a very cool game would make me look like a hypocritical John Kerry flip-flopper. And I do not desire to be swift-boated into submission.

More substantially, though, there’s a slippery slope when it comes to video game characters and their ethical gray areas. Regardless of how much Rockstar president and GTAIV writer Dan Houser wants to endow his protagonist Niko Bellic with a sense of gravitas and inner conflict over his criminal actions, it’s all still too morally relativistic for my taste.

Or more simply put, doing bad things for a good reason cannot, over time, make you a good person.

This truth was hammered home to me, as I watched episode nine of this season of Lost (season 4).

I won’t reveal any spoilers here, except to say that by this point in the dramatic arc, many of the character polarities have become reversed. Several people that we were conditioned to think of as “bad guys” earlier on in the series have now been fully examined in a more sympathetic light. Conversely, several other characters who were seen as paragons of virtue have veered off course by the commission of many morally repugnant acts, including murder.

Lost is a very popular show, in part because of its refusal to cast its characters into stock TV archetypes. Most characters are three-dimensional, with conflicts and inner motivations and crises of belief and difficult choices to make.

Lauding this show might also also look hypocritical, especially in light of how I’ve also previously praised the Splinter Cell franchise. So I’m going to beat my critics to the punch. What’s the difference between the moral relativism in Lost and Splinter Cell as compared to Grand Theft Auto?

Well, I think it boils down to the “sandbox” style of open-ended gameplay. Many GTA fans love the series precisely because it combines a sense of weaponized and vehicular aggression with total autonomy. Each Grand Theft Auto universe is a detailed, fully rendered world where violence and mayhem can commence without much in the way of repercussion. Sure, doing some dirt is going to increase the heat from the police, but in this hyper-masculine environment there appears to be no accompanying ethical weight to your actions other than getting caught. There are no funerals, no shots of grieving mothers, no diseases contracted from prostitutes, not even a reprimand from other mob bosses for mixing it up with innocent bystanders. With GTA, there are no innocent bystanders. Anyone and anything is fair play.

And within certain limited contexts, I don’t so much mind that. I love a good cops-and-robbers style chase as much as the next guy, which is why I’ve been such a fan of the Need for Speed series, especially NFS: Most Wanted and its sequel NFS: Carbon. These games are all about illegal street racing, and they provide plenty of wish-fulfillment for armchair wheel-jockeys who resent speed limits and law enforcement. But at the end of the day, all the trouble you’re causing is damage to other cars and property. No one is shown being killed, even if the manner of racing
would, in real life, result in vehicular homicide charges.

This manner of fantasy is, in my book at least, mostly harmless.

But the way in which most of the GTA fanboys rave about its open-ended style is indicative of how much they dig the fact that they can pretty much ignore the plot and just run amok in their own stylized playground of guns and vehicles, where nothing is sacred or out-of-bounds.

I take issue with that, because some things are sacred, and some things should be out of bounds. Generally speaking, I think Bungie gets that with its Halo trilogy. I think BioWare gets that (mostly) with Mass Effect. And I think EA wants to look like it gets that, although the fact that they’ve been trying to initiate a hostile takover with Rockstar makes me think otherwise. (As Dennis McCauley points out, there are other reasons to be against the EA-Take Two buyout; the GTA morality tack is just one of many.)

So if you’re a GTA fan and you think I’m wrong, I’m open to discussion about it. Please don’t think I’m some Jack Thompson clone who is only out to generate publicity by trashing the latest hit. I honestly do want to play GTA IV… it’s just that there’s this other nagging voice besides the irritable Jack Thompson.

It’s my conscience.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Stay Tuned for the Sequel, Brown like Bluegrass


I’m way too busy to pontificate like normal, but I am majorly excited that Don Miller’s indie memoir classic, Blue Like Jazz, is being adapted into a feature film.

With a title taken from his idea that sometimes beauty can be found in ideas that don’t resolve, Miller’s work is slated to begin shooting in my hometown of Portland later this year, with a release sometime in 2009.

At once an art-house favorite and emergent icon, Miller is, in my book anyway, one more person doing his part to keep Portland weird.

(Someone get Channing Frye‘s agent on the phone! I smell a cameo…)

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Live from Newberg, It’s Monday at Lunchtime!


Just wanted to send a quick shout-out to all the folks who came to listen to my lunchtime concert at George Fox University today. I’m fairly certain that the music that I was able to present is not indicative of normal sit-down fare at a Christian school, even one known to have progressive thinkers. If you were there for the whole thing then you witnessed how I tend to borrow from many musical idioms and experiences, which some people find unusual. (Me, it’s just how I tend to live.) However, it also means that, having pulled material from a wide repertoire, I tend to not remember all of the songs that I may perform on a particular date. I lead worship on a regular basis, and I’ve done special music at different conferences and events, and the older I get the more it all starts to blur. So if you really enjoyed one of the songs I performed and you want to know more about the songs (or, in some cases, who wrote and/or popularized them if they’re not original pieces) then you are in the right place. Who knows, I may even make some of the originals available for download. Today’s setlist consisted of the following…
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Walk-in music:

“Peg”

My favorite tune by alt-jazz-rockers Steely Dan. I got on their bandwagon (the Danwagon?) late in life, but the first time I heard this tune, I was on my way to go get a Christmas tree with my post-college roommates in Chicago. I was thinking… this is a fun little song… I like this… who is it??? Mine is the only arrangement I know of with a sequenced drum solo in the middle. Email me for an mp3 copy, and check for the original version here.

“Linus and Lucy”

This song should need no explanation to anyone over the age of 21. My arrangement is funkier than the normal one you hear, but that’s the main difference. Well, that, and I threw in a reference to a mid-80’s sitcom theme. Did anyone catch what it was? It happened in the beginning. If you wanna hear it again, email me and I’ll send you an mp3. As for the original, you can find it here.
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Introductory Praise & Worship Music:

“You’re Worthy of My Praise” / “Holy Holy Holy” “One Pure and Holy Passion”
“Here I Am to Worship”

These are popular modern praise and worship songs, most of which have spent a long time (and may still sit) on the list of 25 most popular Christian praise and worship songs, according to CCLI. (I say “Christian” praise and worship because most pop songs are praising and worshiping something… a hot girl, a hip car, a cool pair of jeans… or even just love itself.)
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Unplugged Number:

“The Shelter of God”

I wish I could tell you who wrote that song, because technically, it wasn’t me. At least not the words, anyway. One of my wife’s friends gave her a book of illustrated poetry once, and while perusing this book I found a poem entitled “The Shelter of God.” I was so moved by this poem, I decided to set it to music.

And then Holly and I moved to Portland from Chicago and I lost the book somewhere in the shuffle. *shrug*

I probably altered the lyrics a little to fit them to the melody, so if anyone has seen this book and knows the poem, forgive my taking artistic license. Here are the lyrics, evocative of Psalm 91:

Lord, you are my hiding place
A shelter from the storm
Protection from the heat and the cold
I rest under the cover of your wing

Your love is all around me
Your love is all around me
Your love is all around me

Above me to uplift me
Beneath me to support me
Behind me to protect me
Before me to guide me
Around me to shield me
And within me to strengthen me

Lord, You are my hiding place
This day, and forever,
Lord, You are my hiding place

This tune has yet to be recorded, because of licensing/copyright issues.
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Instrumental/Smooth Jazz:
“Redemption”

This song was born from a season of frustration for me, when I was trying to do the right thing and failing miserably. (I’ve had many seasons of life like that.) Something about the acoustic guitar arpeggiator on the keyboard workstation was very soothing to me, so I started messing around, created a groove, and then plucked out a melody for it. I’m in the process of putting words to it now, but it’s taking awhile. So right now it’s just an instrumental.

Inspired Cover:

“What A Heart Is Beating For”

This is a song by singer/songwriter Chris Rice. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of his overall, but I heard the song for the first time last year, and I was smitten by its marriage of simple melody and heartfelt emotion. As someone who often prides himself on being relatively calm and detached, I need songs like these to be the antidote for my perfectionist inertia. The message of the song: Just get out there and love already, geez. That’s what a heart is beating for. You can find the original recording here, and you can also find Chris Rice’s blog, entitled That’s What A Heart is Blogging For, here.
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Original holy hip-hop:

“That’s What I’m Standin’ On”

This was a tune I wrote for a worship conference a few years back, where the speaker was talking about standing on the rock that is Christ Jesus. I tried to capture this idea my own way. Here’s the chorus, in case you missed it:

It’s not the skills that I possess or the connections I have
It’s not the grades that I achieved in English or math
Not that way that I approach navigating my path
But the fact that when I stand I never stand alone

It’s His Spirit inside, always workin’ in me
Reminding me that He’ll provide everything that I need
In the places where He leads, I’ve struggled indeed
But He’s the solid rock in me, that’s what I’m standin’ on


“The Lord Giveth”

What I dropped today is actually a remix. The original track I used here, which was written as a companion piece for a sermon at the former Axis ministry of Willow Creek Community Church. One of their producers called me and asked me if I had any original spoken word or hip-hop material related to the story of Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17. I told them no… but I would pray about it and write one if the Lord gave me the lyrics.

And then He did, so they came out to my north Chicago neighborhood and shot a little video for it:

“Cereal”

“Kingdom Livin’ (I Go to Work)”

As I’ve no doubt mentioned, my friend Sahaan McKelvey and I started a hip-hop duo way back in the day (like 8 years ago), and we call ourselves The Iccsters. (Mostly because when we got started in our church, we didn’t want anyone to call us the Irvington Covenant Rappers.) These two songs have been two of our our biggest hits. You can listen to “Cereal” and a few other tracks on our myspace page.

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In Memphis, Dream Deferred Again



Knowledgeable fans of the great Langston Hughes, I apologize for my title. I’ve always been struck by the language of dreams deferred. It probably rankles poetry aficionados when great works are aped just to make a headline.

(Especially since, according to his Wikipedia bio, Hughes spent most of his childhood in Lawrence, Kansas. If not for his father, he might’ve had a Rock Chalk Renaissance.)

But I digress, for if Memphis would’ve won last night’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I had my post written already in my head. I was planning on waxing eloquent about the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, and I was sure to imply that the spirits of the Tiger faithful were elevated not only by the stellar play of phenom point guard Derrick Rose, but by examining how far the city has come in erasing the pain of its past.

But, as they say… that’s why they play the game.

Instead, the Memphis Tigers couldn’t make their freethrows, Mario Chalmers stepped up with a big-time three to force overtime, and the Kansas Jayhawks rolled into overtime with all the momentum.

Ballgame.

So now I get to write instead about how the people of Memphis are, once again, in mourning, wondering what could have been.

Because losing a once-in-a-generation leader who has profoundly affected us all during one of the most tumultuous times in nation’s history is pretty much the same thing as losing a six-point lead in a national title game.

(For the uninitiated, it’s called sarcasm. I almost let that comment stand by itself, but I didn’t want humorless historians to fill my inbox with comments.)

What’s interesting to me, though, is how the Memphis fans are and will respond to this loss. At the pub where I watched the last seconds of the game, the one Tigers fan I saw was bitter and disgruntled. “Kansas didn’t take it, Memphis gave it away!” he yelled. I’m sure he’s still denouncing the team as chokers today, even though they were the number one seed and trounced a very talented UCLA team.

I’m sure some someone will find a way to blame Sen. Obama for the loss, maybe because he was in Indiana on the anniversary of Dr. King’s death instead of being in Memphis, where it all went down. You think I’m joking. I wish that I was.

Which is why I wonder if, in our efforts to cheer on these (let’s remember) amateur basketball squads, we’re all putting too much pressure on them and reading too much into their success or failure. It seems like when March Madness starts, it’s all about healthy competition and passion and kids playing for the love of the game. But after all the cute little-guy stories are over (see: Davidson, George Mason, Gonzaga, etc.) the powerhouse teams take over, and it seems like everybody is all business from there on out.

And woe to the team who doesn’t make it all the way to the mountaintop. Like Ricky Bobby always said, if you ain’t first, you’re last. There may be 64 teams when the tournament starts, but the way our society scores things, the final score reads:

Winner: Kansas Jayhawks
Losers: Everyone Else.

Which was why I was piqued by the column I read today by the Chicago Tribune’s cultural critic Julia Keller, who chronicles the demise of what was once a staple of collegiate athletics — the consolation game. Of the Final Four, the two teams who lost their semifinal games would engage in one last scrimmage to determine their ranking — either third of fourth.

Nowadays, it seems rather ludicrous to imagine grown men — or at least grown teenagers — laying it all on the line for the sake of being third. Because who cares about coming in third? Many kids today will tell you they’d rather come in last than come in second or third.

But that’s unhealthy. That bottom-line, win-at-all-costs mentality may help drive the best competitors to higher heights, but it can also driver lesser competitors to lower lows. Rather than “strive to be the best,” their motto becomes, “if I can’t be the best, I’ll take you down with me.”

So I say commend Derrick Rose for taking the Memphis Tigers as far as he did. Commend them for their toughness, for their resilience. And commend the Kansas Jayhawks for doing what it takes to reach the top. Keep the wins and losses in perspective. Memphis was a good team this year, they just got beat by a team who played better down the stretch.

Besides, employing the language of gagging and choking is lazy, ambiguous… and popular. It’s also just another way of saying you can’t explain how they lost. Well guess what? Half the time, they can’t explain it either.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Jelani Greenidge, Live at George Fox University

For all the homies who might want to make the trek down to Newberg at lunchtime (and both of you know who you are), you might wanna know about this. (And in case you’re having a browser problem with the embedded flyer, the details are as follows: Monday April 14th, 1pm, Cap & Gown A-B.)

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Read this doc on Scribd: Jelani Greenidge – Live at George Fox
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What If Dr. King’s Sniper Had Missed?



Like any responsible journalist or blogger, I feel that it is my duty to call your attention to the fact that 40 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on a hotel balcony in Memphis.

There are countless columns, editorials and news stories reflecting this truth. I’m not even going to link to any. I’m sure you’ve already seen or heard some already.

I’d just like to draw your attention to the work of the brilliant, if sometimes vindictive, animateur Aaron McGruder. In the first season of his animated series, “The Boondocks,” McGruder attempts to answer the question of how Dr. King might respond to our society were he alive today, in the Peabody award-winning episode, “Return of the King.”

Here’s a clip (WARNING — R-rated language), interspersed with commentary from another Youtube fan: