Monthly Archives: June 2008

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Entertain? Sure. But Be Accountable. (Yes, Deadspin, Yes, Jim Rome — I’m Talking to You.)

That seems to be the message that I’ve distilled from the saga of H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, Will Leitch, and the snarkiest sports blog ever, Deadspin.

(By the way, I’ve grown weary of hyperlinking to all of the wikipedia entries of all of these entities. If you want to know more, it’s called Google. Click away.)

If these names don’t mean anything to you, then I quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride:

“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

Buzz Bissinger is an acclaimed sports writer, who wrote the seminal small-town football chronicle Friday Night Lights, which much later spawned a feature film, and then a hit TV show.

Will Leitch is the former (then current) editor of Deadspin, a sports blog in the Gawker media family, that doesn’t pull any punches in exposing the folly of modern athletes and their sometimes just-as-ridiculous sports media counterparts. Deadspin’s motto is “Sports Without Access, Favor, or Discretion.”

Now recently, both Bissinger and Leitch appeared on an HBO sports panel with Bob Costas, and the topic of internet media came up. During this segment Bissinger blew up at Leitch, making a fool of himself in the process. (R-rated language in the clip… after all, this is HBO.)

Recently, Bissinger had a series of email exchanges with Leitch to clear the air, presumably because Leitch is leaving Deadspin to work for New York Magazine and doesn’t want the legacy of the blog that he built remembered by an HBO segment gone horribly awry.

The whole conversation is a fascinating read. And there are some great lessons to be mined from it, which of course, is why I’m writing about it. These lessons are the tale of the tape, so to speak.

So let the tape roll…

First lesson:

The blogosphere is NOT kind to cranky old men, even if they’re speaking truth.

Ironically, I score this for a point FOR Bissinger and AGAINST Deadspin.

See, this is a classic case of style over substance, of the medium becoming the message. Bissinger later admitted regret over the tenor of his remarks during his HBO appearance, because he was clearly angry and clearly venting all of his frustration on sports blogs in general on Leitch and Deadspin specifically. This made him look out of touch and somewhat senile (see: Cosby, Bill).

But I read a lot of the comments after the initial Deadspin post that covered the controversy, and most of them were exactly as Bissinger described: sophomoric, cheap T&A jokes with the occasional decent point thrown in.

Yet, the only thing most of the commenters took from Bissinger’s appearance was “hey look, some angry old man made an arse of himself on TV,” only they were all much nastier about it.

This, to me, speaks not only about the lack of civility in our public discourse, but specifically to our lack of honor for elders in American sports culture. And that’s jacked, because there’s so much that we can learn from our elders. And Leitch even said so himself, that he felt bad that seemed to be what most of his readers were getting out of the exchange. That’s mostly his fault, in my opinion, even though toward the end he tried to compensate. Too little, too late; the damage was done.

There’s a hilarious Old Testament story that illustrates the inherent danger of mocking your elders. Let that be an object lesson… bloggers, snark at thy own risk.

Bissinger, 1
Deadspin, 0

Lesson two:
If you’re going to talk about something, know what you’re talking about.

This is where Deadspin evens the score, because it was immediately clear that Bissinger had not spent any significant amount of time reading any sports blogs, trying to get a feel for the nuance of the genre.

My evidence of this was that neither he nor Costas himself had a clear understanding of the differences between posts and comments. This confusion is partially due to the lack of standardization in terminology across the web, but mostly due to people who haven’t taken the time to figure out what the words mean before they use them.

So allow me to just set the record straight, in case anyone reading this is still confused.

Mixin’ It Up is the name of my blog (short for weblog). The whole thing is the blog. Most websites have blog components to them — as a matter of fact, with the proliferation of Blogger and WordPress and Typepad, I would venture to say that most websites are blogs.

A blog is not the same as a post. A post is a post. This long body of text and links — with maybe a picture for good measure — is a post. (I blame Myspace for this confusion, because they refer to posts as blogs. As in, ‘click here to write a new blog.’) One can choose to “blog” as a verb, but the output of such blogging is blog posts.

Comments are what come after the posts. They are the feedback. The blogger writes the posts (or posts posts, or even blogs posts, or blogs blog-posts) and then random netizens get the option and/or freedom to comment on whatever was said. These are comments.

Got it?

Blogs, posts, comments.

All separate concepts.

Being a fifty year old man and not being “hip” to all of the latest trends does not absolve Buzz Bissinger of his ignorance. You would think common sense would’ve required that he figure this out before he run his mouth on national television.

But you, like Buzz, would be wrong.

Bissinger, 1
Deadspin, 1

Lesson three:

The rise of Deadspin proves that A) impartiality is overrated, and B) access doesn’t ensure good writing.

I loved the clip of Leitch they showed to open the Costas Now segment, because he challenged the assertion that being a good sports journalist requires you to abandon any sense of fandom… isn’t that how you got into sports in the first place?

The few times I’ve read Deadspin, I have been genuinely entertained, by both the posts and the comments. Even if the crass nature of the language gets to me from time to time, there is insight to be mined in the assailing of the establishment that is Deadspin’s essential raison d’être.

And being so anti-establishment would lend itself, certainly, to a healthy amount of distance from the subjects in the crosshairs. This is Leitch’s comeback to the typical sportswriter’s knee-jerk disdain for bloggers — what do you guys know, you don’t get the inside access that we do.

Leitch has said repeatedly that, in his view, the elite sportswriters that get to hang out with famous people all the time tend to write from a perspective that is alien to the average sports fan. Thus, the success of Deadspin frames in stark contrast the insular nature of the unofficial sportswriter’s fraternity.

Leitch and his cronies (well, now former cronies) don’t care that they’re not in the club. They’ve started their own club, and instead of needing a journalism degree and a press pass, you just need a computer, a camera phone, and a willingness to shine a spotlight on bad behavior at any time, for any reason, using any language, so long as it’s entertaining and promotes traffic to the site.

Which is pretty much what the big boys do, anyway. That’s why Leitch is being picked up to write for a “real” magazine.

Bissinger 1,
Deadspin 2

Lesson four:

The difference between a good body of work and a great body of work is accountability.

This, to me, is the fundamental error that many bloggers miss, and it’s part of the point that I think Bissinger was trying — and failing badly — to articulate.

While it’s true that inside access doesn’t automatically make for good writing, the best writers translate the inner sanctum of their sports beat, in an accessible format, to the average guy reading at home. They write with the fan in mind, but with the insight and nuance that you can’t get just by reading box scores and watching highlights. And most importantly, they have the privilege — or, in some cases, the burden — of talking to their subjects face to face about the things that they write.

(Well, except for Jay Mariotti and Ozzie Guillen, but that’s another story altgother.)

This is where Deadspin gets it wrong. Because Will Leitch wants the big boys of media to respect the form of sports blogging, but by avoiding insider access, Leitch avoids the accountability he needs to really sharpen his craft.

Which is ironic, because only a blogger as good and as dedicated as Leitch would warrant enough attention from the big boys in the first place. The imitators (they know who they are) don’t normally incite responses from the likes of Bob Costas, because, well… who the hell are they?

You have to write well to really irritate the likes of Bissinger and Costas. And whether or not he knows it, part of the reason why they’re reaching out (I’m using that term loosely) to Leitch is because they sense that sites like Deadspin are the future of sports journalism, and they’re trying to get Leitch and others to step their game up — by preserving a modicum of respect in the public arena. This is why Buzz kept hammering away at his idea that the comments influence the posts:

We are simply never going to come to common ground on the issue of comments versus posts. I sincerely believe that the comments do guide the posts, and the whole tone of Deadspin sets up [comments] that are with virtually no exception a collection of one-liners that are malicious, stupid, profane, sexually pathetic, and I will agree with you here, about a hundred times nastier than the posts themselves. But still, you and the other commentators set the tone, in effect giving people a license to kill under the cowardly cloak of anonymity. I have said several times that I behaved like the worst kind of blogger on Costas, but with one major difference—I did not hide behind some silly-sounding pseudonym. People knew exactly who I was. And the apology I made to you was sincere—you should never have been treated that way.

I edited his word “posts” to “comments” because it’s clear from the context which he meant. And I agree with him, mostly. The extent to which I disagree is the extent to which I find many of both the posts and the comments to be hilarious. In unquestionably bad taste sometimes, but funny nonetheless. Maybe that’s indicative of my own conformity to the culture, I don’t know.

But I understand where Bissinger is coming from. Which is why, in the title of this epic post, I referenced Jim Rome.

Rome has the same problem that Leitch has with Deadspin. He wants to provide a forum for his fans — many of whom behave like boorish frat boys — to express themselves, but he distances himself from his fans, so as to avoid being accountable for the times when those fans cross the line.

If you listen to the show, you know what I’m talking about… Rome will read an email or text message, or take a call, and then spend all this time detailing just how unfunny or immature or dumb that person’s idea was. But clearly he must have found something good about it — otherwise, it wouldn’t have made it on the air.

Rome wants to have it both ways; he wants to be able to enjoy the sophomoric humor inherent in the many cheap shots that his fans take, but he wants to be able to stand above the fray and adopt a posture of vague disapproval, like a third grade teacher trying to rein in a trio of class clowns.

All of this is, in my opinion, a way of avoiding accountability. Anonymity is the great allure of today’s media age. When people comment on blogs, or when call in to radio shows, they mostly use pseudonyms. You’re Jason in Modesto, or LickMyBalls345. Nobody knows if you’re the guy who is posting on Deadspin on company time while working as a manager for Corporation X, or the guy talking on his cell phone while driving like a maniac on the freeway.

I like to write satire, and my last three fake stories have gotten a little attention from folks. But I also sent links to representatives of my targets, because I want them to feel free to talk to me about it directly. I’m not hiding behind the shield of anonymity. Anything I say on this blog I would say in person.

And I’m hoping that will help me to become a better writer.

More importantly, it’s part of what God requires of me. I can’t talk to people at my church about honesty and dealing with division in the body of Christ (as I just did last Sunday) if I’m sowing division with my blog and hiding behind a low profile.

So for understanding this truth — even though he looked like an idiot trying to communicate it — I give Buzz Bissinger the nod. With two points for the money ball, the final score becomes:

Bissinger 3,
Deadspin 2

Speaking as someone who always acted like an old person even when I was in my early twenties, it’s nice to chalk one up for the old school.

But the next time some Myspacer asks me when I’m going to write a new “blog” for my site… I’m gonna punch somebody.

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

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Blazers’ Edge Dave: Draft Analyst and … Youth Pastor?


So now Dave is my favorite columnist.

Okay, fine. He’s not a columnist, he’s a blogger. But he should be a columnist, because he is very insightful.

And now I can see part of the reason why I’ve been drawn to his writing. Because he thinks like I do… as a budding young minister of the gospel.

Consider a recent post, where, amidst the trade talk surrounding talented young Blazers players Jarrett Jack, Martell Webster, and Channing Frye, he gives a great analogy about the role of a young minister having to trust God and make decisions regarding his future:

I am not slighting the players’ loyalty here, nor their love for, passion for, or commitment to their team. But the reality is their perspective is different–and has to be different–than ours. To us the Blazers equal basketball. Our loyalty, love, and tunnel vision will last as long as we and the team occupy the same planet. The time scale is different for the players. Their experience of basketball at this level lasts ten, maybe fifteen years at most. They don’t have the luxury of thinking in terms of a lifetime commitment. They were not in the same relationship with the Blazers before they came here. They will not be after they leave either. For them, basketball goes beyond just Portland. They can play for the Blazers, love the Blazers, and give their all for the Blazers, but the Blazers are still part of their professional career arc. It’s their job to be prepared to play for, love, and give their all to another team if that ends up being their path. In the context of their brief careers they have to do what’s best for their success when they have the chance–even if that’s playing for another team–just as the organization will do what’s best for it’s success…including trading them if advantageous.

I am not an NBA player by any means, but I think I understand a little bit of this from my own non-blogging profession. As a pastor I end up being a prominent, visible, integral part of a community-based organization which has a long history, with which people identify strongly, and about which people are very passionate. At the same time I come from outside that organization. I have not grown up in the area. I have not spent multiple decades in the organization itself. My church experience is not localized in the same way theirs is. In many ways I am more deeply immersed than even the most seasoned community member, just as a player is more involved in the team than even the longest-term fan. In other ways I belong the least of anybody, as I will never have the same roots or all-encompassing relationship with the organization that the community does.

What this ends up looking like is me throwing my entire heart and soul into the community for as long as I am there. In this way I am very much like the community members. On the other hand when it’s time for me to go then I can rightfully, and with a clear conscience, move along to do the same in another community. This doesn’t mean I love the first less or that I am disloyal. Rather it means I am being called elsewhere in order to do other good things. The measure of my success and integrity isn’t really staying in one place my whole life, it’s how much and how fully I give in each place to which I am called.

And then he goes on to describe his impending free agency (if you can call it that). Very insightful.

For his sake, I hope God gives him the wisdom and revelation to go where he is called, and that wherever that is he’ll have enough flexibility to continue blogging like this. What a witness to believer and non-believers alike. Propers to Blazer Dave.

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Cross Movement Mandates All Emcees Rhyme in Greek


Not satisfied with being an industry leader in theologically orthodox rap music, John Wells recently made what some may consider a rather unorthodox decision.

Wells, known as The Tonic, but more broadly known as the president of Cross Movement Records, recently enacted a sweeping policy for all of the hip-hop groups under his label. Effective immediately, all emcees rhyming for Cross Movement Records must rap exclusively in Greek.

“In order to be true to the God of the Bible,” explained Wells at a recent press conference, “you have to speak the language of the Bible. So for us, that means speaking koine Greek, the language of the people. Although, I guess if you’re doing old-school hip-hop, then Hebrew would be an acceptable alternative.”

Up and down the roster, CMR artists are taking the news in stride.

“It just seems like the next logical step,” according to William “Duce” Branch, a.k.a. The Ambassador. “The beats will still be bangin’ like they always are, we’ll just be diggin’ deeper into the original language. Same message, same music, different form.

“The Bible says we’re called to be a peculiar people,” continued Branch. “Anybody can rap about God in English.

While all CMR artists are adapting their craft to fit the rule, it’s unclear whether the mew mandate will apply to cameo appearances from other rappers as well.

“My man Shabach wants to get down on another joint with me,” says Brady Goodwin, a.k.a. the Phanatik. “But I don’t know, he might have to change his name to ‘Aineo’ or something.”

Emanuel Lambert (“Da Truth”) was particularly excited when he heard the news, sensing an opportunity to raise the standard for other emcees.

“Some folks act like you gotta have a Bible degree if you want to be a part of our ministry. Obviously, that’s not true. All you really need are the first two semesters.”

The biggest concern for the CMR staff is how their legion of fans will react.

“We know this will be a big adjustment to many of the fans who have supported us faithfully since day one,” admits Wells. “But for those willing to join us on our journey, we’ve made available a CM starter kit.”

Wells is referring to the Official Cross Movement Super Fan Pak, a bundled product designed by their marketing consultants. It consists of an expanded “HIStory” boxed set of greatest hits, a new CM T-shirt emblazoned with “IXOYE” in graffiti typeface, a New American Standard Bible, and a copy of Strong’s Concordance.

“If critics want to say our music isn’t weighty enough, the Fan Pak alone weighs like 15 pounds, fam.”

At this, he received several fist-pounds from members of the appreciative crowd, some of whom were in line to pre-order their own Fan Paks.

“See,” said Wells. “They know the signature.”

Third-coast native Lecrae is cautiously optimistic about the new lyrical focus, though he is asking for patience from his fans.

“Some ask Lecrae, ‘when you gon’ rhyme again?’ and I’m like, ‘hold up gimme time, my man.’ Because I’m still trynna learn my Greek tenses, you know?”

While Cross Movement artists and staff are preparing for a backlash from folks who feel their Greek-only stance is too drastic, they’ve also received criticism that they haven’t gone far enough.

“Greek is for transliterations, ” says Lampmode Recordings emcee Shai Linne. “If you really want to speak the language of the New Testament, you gotta do what I do — rhyme in Aramaic.”

While it’s way too early to gauge the response from consumers, industry experts say that rapping in Greek will polarize their wider fan base of urban Christians and their supportive suburban and rural counterparts.

At many Christian bookstores, however, patrons greeted the news with indifference.

“I don’t think I would notice either way,” said Janice Stephens, avid shopper and figurine enthusiast.

“When it comes to rap, it’s all Greek to me anyhow.”

[I really shouldn’t have to say this, but just so there’s no confusion … this is a joke. It’s called satire. Don’t leave me angry comments about how I’m being disrespectful to the CM. On second thought, please… leave me angry comments. I need the comments.]

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Israel Houghton Signs Endorsement Deal With New Seasons Markets


New Seasons Market

 

Israel and New Breed, New Seasons



PORTLAND, OR. — Citing both his desire to reach a severely unchurched population bloc and his appreciation for organic fruits and vegetables, singer/songwriter Israel Houghton has entered into a commercial agreement with New Seasons Markets, a grocery chain in the Portland area.

Terms of the agreement have not been officially disclosed, but Houghton’s distinctive tenor can be heard singing the newest jingle for the high-end, specialty grocer, a remake of his first radio hit “New Season”:

It’s at New Seasons / They have it today / fresh cilantro / for your soufflé / At New Seasons there’s flour / and red and green tea / It’s at New Seasons / Come in with me

Fans of Houghton, frontman of the Grammy-winning powerhouse ensemble Israel and New Breed, were taken aback by the unusual career move, so Houghton recently took the step to explain himself.

“It actually started when we did a worship concert a few years back in the Portland area. I had just finished rehearsing, and was on my way to the hotel for a few hours of rest. And while I was in the car, I was just sensing this deep thirst inside of me. It was like an incredible longing for something that would satisfy, something to help me through this dry spell that I was in.

“Right then, the Spirit of God spoke to me,” Houghton said. “He told me, ‘take a left at the light.’ And there it was.”

Houghton claims it was divine appointment that led him into a New Seasons market that day, where they had just slashed prices on bottled water with echinacea.

“A 4-pack for $3.99? That stuff saved my voice. Do you know how high I sing?”

Ever since his great experience with the cheerful, friendly staffers — who also pointed out a new breed of hybrid apple-pears — he made it a point to return during every tour through the Pacific Northwest.

“Everybody else, on their downtime, was like ‘let me catch a movie’ or something. Aaron tried to get me to go to Powell’s — I guess there’s this bookstore everybody’s into — but I was like, ‘Naw, I gotta get back to New Seasons!'”

Now that Houghton has taken such a bold step, he’s hoping the unconventional alliance will spark a revolution among Christians in the supermarket aisle.

“There’s a new generation of believers out there, who are taking a stand. They are not satisfied with oranges with no flavor that sit on trucks for weeks at a time. And they are looking to take back their grocery stores for God.

I’m telling you, they’re taking it back, they’re taking it back.”

In lieu of payment, Houghton has requested sales floor space for his latest book, A Deeper Level of Food, a cookbook/devotional title.

So far, most of his fans have greeted the move with enthusiasm.

“My pastor wanted me to do a Daniel fast, where you eat only fruits and vegetables,” said Janice Hansbrough, a mother of three. “I wasn’t really into it until my husband bought me Israel’s new book. Now my favorite snack is snap peas with mint leaves.

“Even my husband eats it,” she added.

Even local New Seasons employees are pleased with the new arrangement. Cashier Grace McKay has noticed a difference in the checkout line. “Since we started playing that ‘With Long Life’ song, I’m pretty sure our geriatric vitamins have gone through the roof.”

Not everyone is happy with the arrangement, however.

“We’re running out of space as it is, shoot,” complained general manager Elaine Simpson. “If Israel wants a deeper level, he’s gonna have to renovate the basement.”

* * *

(In case you couldn’t figure this out… this is a joke, folks. It’s satire. Just like this post about a gospel workout instructor. I’m actually a fan of Israel Houghton and his music. I’m just a sucker for a parody song, and I made up the “It’s At New Seasons” song the first time I saw these markets open up in the Portland area.)

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Canton Jones Launches His Own Line of Christian Rims

ATLANTA, GA. — Devout Christian and hip-hop/R&B crooner Canton Jones held a press conference from inside his luxury SUV to announce the establishment of a new frontier in the CAJO International empire: CAJO Automotive, dealing exclusively high-end custom automotive accessories, including designer rims festooned with Christian symbols.

“Kingdom Rim-Ness is about taking the time to show off what you got,” said Jones, referring to his new line of rims slated to reach dealers later this month. “Provided, of course, that you point them back to the Source.”

When pressed to elaborate, Jones clarified his stance.

“I mean God, not the magazine.”

“Though they did give my album three stars, though,” he added.

Resplendent in a tailored suit and a diamond-encrusted Bluetooth earpiece, Jones held court for nearly an hour from the driver’s seat of his black H2 Hummer, answering questions and blasting music from his latest album, Matthew 22’s.

The five points represent the Trinity, CJ, and, uh, his wife. Or maybe the Five Horsemen. Definitely something Christian, though.

CAJO Automotive also has reached a tentative partnership with the Georgia Department of Driver Services, marketing license plates and covers with bling-friendly slogans like “ROLLWJC,” “ICY XIAN,” and “RIMS4HIM.”

Not only will such automotive products be available to consumers worldwide, but through a work-release program at World Changers Church International, former drug offenders will be allowed to assist in their manufacture, provided that they meet all of the customary parole requirements and promise to bump that new CaJo joint whenever possible.

Though critics have assailed his flamboyant style, Jones seems to be taking his success in stride.

“The Bible says the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Well I guarantee you, if you’re sittin’ on these every day, you gon’ have some folks try to take ’em by force.”

When later asked to clarify his comments, Jones backtracked.

“Of course I would never advocate that kind of behavior. I’m just saying, brothas like the rims, nah mean? You know what, let me just quit now. I’m gonna stay saved on that one.”

* * *

[The previous article was a work of satire. You know, a joke. Because I think Canton Jones talks about rims too much. But just because I’m a good sport, here’s the video to my favorite song of his, “Stay Saved.”]

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Love it? Hate it? Above all, learn and discern.


I am convinced that discernment is one of the most important skills we as Christians (especially “professional Christians” as I call those of us in vocational ministry) need in our toolkit.

Because every critical flashpoint in our overall evangelical culture is a learning opportunity, but I fear that most of us are missing out because we’re too busy taking sides.

First, let me define what I’m talking about.

When I talk about a flashpoint, I’m talking about any meme, person, project, or event that sparks either a large following, significant controversy, or both. Where anytime you mention it, either in small conversation, in a blog, or from the pulpit, you’re guaranteed to get a response. In the broader American pop culture, there are too many to even mention.

They can be TV shows (“Lost,” “The Office,” “24,” “Sex in the City”).
Or celebrities (Hannah Montana, Britney Spears, Kanye West).
Or movies (“Juno,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “The Matrix”).
Or funny websites (The Onion, Homestar Runner, StuffWhitePeopleLike).
Or politicians (Dubya, Hillary, Obama).

Even a simple catchphrase like “I drink your milkshake!” can provoke either laughs or jeers, depending on the audience.

(Or the year… like, is anyone still saying “jump the shark“?)

But for Christians, these critical flashpoints also exist in our evangelical culture. Brian McLaren, Mark Driscoll, Donald Miller, or anything related to the emerging/Emergent church. Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring. Megachurches and their charismatic leaders.

Often the question that I find myself both asking and answering in my conversations about these is, “what do you think about it?”

And this question, I’m sad to say, is often a probing question, designed to get the respondent to reveal their position on the subject of controversy. Do you like it? Do you hate it? Are you for it or against it?

Even when I’m not trying to do this, I do this. Like last week, when I asked my mentor what he thought of The Shack, by William P. Young. We got into a discussion, and he forwarded me a review by a prominent conservative blogger, one that he agrees with, by and large. The review, in a nutshell, says that The Shack is an interesting story and it says some good things, but poor theology makes it not worth reading.

And this got me thinking.

Assuming, just for the sake of discussion, that Tim Challies is right, and that The Shack does have a strain of universalism running through it, why should that automatically disqualify it from being read by Christians and nonbelievers alike?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not a proponent of universalism. I think those ideas are dangerous and wrong. But most Christians are comfortable using their discernment to watch (and evaluate) movies that don’t have the best theology. Why not books, too? Even if you think it might be wrong, why not see for yourself and find out?

We do ourselves a disservice by focusing only on whether something is simply right or wrong. Not because there is no right or wrong — there definitely is — but because most critical flashpoints receive attention precisely because there is right mixed with wrong, a combination of the orthodox and the profane.

Show me a cult classic, and I’ll show you an opportunity learn something.

People are drawn to The Shack because of the emotional arc of the main character, whose transformation is prompted by an encounter with a triune God that he initially regarded as distant but who turns out to be anything but.

And that reflects a truth about God, that in addition to being holy and omnipotent, he is a personal God. He wants not merely our compliance, but a relationship with Him. That The Shack is a runaway commercial success testifies to the need for people in our culture to connect with God in this way. And even if Young veers into errancy in his depiction of God’s relationship with himself (claiming, for example, that there is no hierarchy in the holy trinity) that doesn’t necessarily negate the parts that are true.

I think what happens more often is that people are confronted with ideas that run counter to their preconceived notions, so they reject those ideas outright without taking the time and energy to find out how much truth exists therein.

This was definitely the case with the controversy surrounding Senator Barack Obama and Dr. Jeremiah Wright. The firestorm of controversy over his greatest hits on Youtube stemmed, in my opinion, largely from two factors:

1.) Christians were shocked by his hyperbolic use of the phrase “God d@mn” in reference to The United States of America. (Because, you know, good pastors don’t cuss.)

2.) White people were shocked — shocked! — that racism is still an issue in this country.

As a result, what could’ve been a catalyst for honest discussion about race, faith, and politics became conflated into a whirlwind of accusations and name-calling.

This is why so many of Wright’s allies were mortified by his treatment by “the media” (a ridiculous but convenient term), because it was obvious from the beginning that certain news-gathering entities were more interested in framing the story to fit their ideas rather than trying to examine both sides of the controversy. (See this clip of a Fox News reporter trying to get a quote from Father Michael Pfleger of Chicago.)

Now again, hear me out here. I do think Wright has been out of line as of late, and I definitely don’t advocate droppin’ the G-D bomb from the pulpit. But demonizing Wright for his rough edges and lack of diplomacy is taking the easy way out. Stephen L. Carter, in his book Integrity, defines the virtue in three steps: a) doing the work of determining what is right, b) taking a stance on the matter, and c) communicating that stance and living with the consequences. You don’t have integrity if you skip the first step in favor of the latter two.

So I’m hoping that as Christians, we’ll walk with integrity when it comes to evaluating the work of our leaders and peers.

I’m thinking now of a controversy that hasn’t really happened yet, but probably will in the next few years.

I’m thinking of Israel Houghton and his group, loosely known as “Israel and New Breed.”

I’ve been a huge fan of his since I first heard New Season in 2001. I use a lot of his music at the church where I lead worship. I have been influenced by his songwriting and the musicianship of his longtime music director, Aaron Lindsey.

But I was having a conversation with a young church planter recently, and he revealed that he does not use Houghton’s music, in part because of his being on staff at Joel Osteen’s church. Osteen is known to be a proponent of what is known as the prosperity gospel, which tends to be self-centered and disproportionately focused around material wealth.

I think it’s true that there is a theological imbalance in a lot of the messages in Israel’s music, but that doesn’t mean that it’s therefore bad and shouldn’t be heard. There is a lot to celebrate in Houghton’s music — a commitment to cultural diversity, a groundbreaking sense of musicality, and an emphasis on the holiness of God, to name three. For someone to exclude all of the great music by Israel and New Breed just because of Joel Osteen strikes me as overly simplistic and reactionary.

What ever happened to using your discernment on a case by case basis?

Because it’s worth repeating, I’ll say it again:

Show me a cultural flashpoint, and I’ll show you an opportunity to learn something.

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“Jesus Walks.” And Now, So Does R. Kelly. Will You?


Pardon me if the headline is a tad too bitter, but I was given a rude awakening today as I walked out of the movie theater.

I was turning my phone ringer back on, and I noticed a text message from a friend of mine:

did u hear about r kelly?

I had to immediately hit the Google news aggregator and find out for myself. Standing right next to the double-door exit at the Lloyd Center cinemas, I was trolling for headlines on my HTC Mogul. I don’t know why, but I just had to know.

Now it’s bad enough that the dude was acquitted. I mean, it’s like the one time where you want the brotha to be found guilty, and somehow, he skates.

(I can hear the Fox News talking heads already: “First O.J., now this! What is this world coming to?!”)

But what I found to be most disconcerting was that buried somewhere in almost every news service carrying the verdict, Kelly is quoted saying “thank you Jesus” over and over.

I know that while He was on the earth, Jesus made a habit of associating himself with the outcasts of society, but how exactly did we end up in a situation where the name of Jesus has become the rallying cry for not only the biggest ego in hip-hop, but an R&B superstar acquitted of child pornography charges?

When exactly did we (and by we I don’t just mean Americans, I mean specifically Black people) reach the point of such low expectations that a child porn accusation not only doesn’t kill the remains of an entertainer’s career, but ostensibly enhances it?

I’m just imagining some storefront church on Chicago’s South Side:

“I got a praise report, y’all!”

*organ swell*

“A lot of folks said that it, huh…. wouldn’t happen, but…”

“Preach!”

“But I come to tell you today, that, huh… R. Kelly was acquitted! THANK ya JEEEZUS!!!”

Okay, maybe that was mean spirited.

As a matter of fact, if a White person had written that, it’s possible that I might have been offended.

But that, in my mind, is part of the problem.

Look, I’m not here to throw stones. I know, as Pastor Pops is known to say, that all of us have our own personal hall of shame, and most of us don’t have to read about it in the papers. Robert Kelly is no more or less worthy of forgiveness and redemption than any of us.

I also know that from a legal standpoint, the jury very good reasons for returning the verdict that it did, just as the Simi Valley jury did with Mark Fuhrman and the L.A. cops who beat Rodney King.

But I can’t shake the feeling that’s been coming on for awhile.

That the pride that I used to have in having roots in African-American culture, that pride is dwindling. That what once felt like my people’s firm commitment to Godliness turned out to be nothing more than religious naivete. And that our stubborn sense of loyalty in defending our pop culture heroes is compromising our ability to see the truth, especially when it relates to music and sexuality.

Lest you think I’m blowing this out of proportion, consider that in the Sun-Times reporter’s blog post that I linked to, there is mention of one of Kelly’s defense attorneys quoting Scripture in an effort to curry favor with certain jurors. When Aaron McGruder predicted this outcome two years ago, it was funny. Now, it’s just sad.

Maybe it’s a good thing that this sense of pride has been eroded. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so proud to be connected to a people with such a rich heritage of church life that engages community and helps to fight the status quo. Maybe these small irritations are God’s way of reminding me that He doesn’t play favorites, that churched Black people are just as needy of redemption as unchurched White people. Like with Peter and Cornelius, God can and often does use unusual circumstances to communicate his desire to see all people come to him.

Maybe I’m just feeling especially embarrassed by the misbehaving African-American youth in my own area, several of whom were arrested for brutalizing a White woman riding the light rail train through my neighborhood.

But either way, I can’t just tsk-tsk and move on with my life.

If you can, and you feel led to, then go right ahead. This is not meant to be a guilt trip. If this whole thing is too overwhelming, or if it honestly doesn’t impact you at all, then just walk on, do your thing, and I won’t be too upset.

But I can’t do that.

I don’t know why, but this acquittal has just affected me in ways that I don’t even completely understand. And I have to do something.

So lacking the PR connections to do anything more grandiose, I offer a few observations that, hopefully, will leave us all a bit wiser and more edified. If you so desire, feel free to quote me. You don’t even have to give attribution. I feel that strongly about this.

  • We should remember R. Kelly the next time our favorite celebrity is accused of something unseemly.

Not because their money and influence can and probably will help them resolve the situation and most likely avoid jail time, but because this is the most obvious example of blind infatuation clouding the collective judgment of a fanbase (in this case, African-Americans between 15 and 32). The irony of this is that Black people are often the best at seeing this pattern among White people, especially White fans of Black celebrities (see: Michael Jackson). I had a similar reaction many years ago when Bill Cosby was being blackmailed over paternity results. Not good old Cliff Huxtable… what would Sandra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy think?

  • Concerned parents, mentors and citizens must do everything possible to invest a sense of worth in our young girls, particularly our young Black girls, because society will not do it for them.

I hope this point will not get lost amidst plaintive cries from the political right for personal accountability. Because obviously both parties, R. Kelly and the underage girl, bear some level of personal responsibility for their actions. I do not wish to obfuscate this point. Nevertheless, the identity of the girl on the tape is, for the most part, irrelevant, because obviously R. Kelly had underage sex with some underage girl. And it’s likely that he did it more than once, considering how many times he settled out of court in response to previous accusations. What this says to me is that little girls need the love of a father in their life, and if they don’t get it at home from their real fathers, they’ll get it any way they can, even if that “love” ends up being immoral, grotesque, embarrassing, and illegal.

  • Loyalists to any particular cause need to be careful about who they choose to rally around, lest they lose credibility in the eyes of the broader public.

Nowhere is this more clear than with R. Kelly, the man who was honored with an NCAAP Image award two years after being indicted on child porn charges. If nothing else, I hope this will help my people to avoid the temptation to cry wolf when it comes to racism in America.

Because R. Kelly, of all people, got off.

And it’s not like you can use the excuse that a lot of us used for O.J. or M.J., which was, “well of course he got off… he’s a sell-out!” By just about any racial or cultural definition, R. Kelly is not a sell-out. R. Kelly is not beloved by White people in the same way that, say, Michael Jackson was (and in some cases, still is). Robert Kelly is not Barack Obama. He’s R-freaking-Kelly. The man who immortalized the phrase “you remind me of my Jeep” — and guess what, he wasn’t talking about superior craftsmanship, either.

However, he had the best legal team money can buy, and they did their jobs. For him, this is obviously a good thing. But when Black people blindly rush to Kelly’s defense, there is a hidden cost, a trickle down effect, an erosion of public confidence. Eventually, people lose their ability to understand or recognize actual racism. Eventually, complex situations rife with real injustice that is connected to racialized behavior, get shrugged off as just the ramblings a few Blacks with an ax to grind, “playing the race card” again.

This, to me, was the real tragedy of the Don Imus /Rutgers women’s basketball team furor. The lesson that many White people walked out of that situation with was that Black rappers can call Black women hoes all day long, but a White man will lose his job over it.

This, friends, should not be.

Now that Kelly has been exonerated, Slick Rick has been pardoned, and Tookie Williams is gone, maybe my people will stop looking to celebrities for causes to champion. Because no matter how much we think we’re doing our part to support justice, there is always a backlash of opposition. The less credible the celebrity, the louder the backlash. And if you think I’m barking in the wind, check out this website, which purports to refute certain facts concerning the legacy of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.

(For the record, I don’t know if Carter is guilty or not, and I don’t so much care, but the fact that there are those devoted to upholding the idea of his guilt speaks volumes.)

In the end it will be Kelly, like the rest of us, who will have to live with the consequences of his actions. And say what you will about R. Kelly, but at least his conduct has proven that he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk, too. Maybe that’s the one shred of positivity we can glean from his public persona.

So if you want to find a good example of White people using fear and guilt to engineer a wholesale character assassination and bring a Black man down, there are numerous examples of that very thing happening to Senator Barack Obama. (His campaign just introduced fightthesmears.com to counter the rumors that he’s a Muslim and other untruths.) By all means, speak up about it. Be passionate. Stand firm in your convictions.

But leave R. Kelly out of it. Because the last thing Robert Kelly needs is the enabling of more adoring fans.

Since he’s walking, let him walk.

Maybe after his walk, he can take a nice cold shower.

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

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Media fasting: an explanation, a decision… a lifestyle?


For the last few weeks, I’ve been perilously close to a state of crisis, emotionally speaking. A series of conditions surrounding my life, some of them I’ve spoken about, and many too private to blog about (yes, such things still exist in my world) have contributed to my being short-tempered, overly volatile, and generally living without much faith or hope. Which is a sad state for any human being, much less a worship-leading professional Christian like myself.

So I took a step recently, one which seemed rather drastic at first, but by the time I finished I wondered why it had taken me so long to try it.

I went on a media fast.

Three days without any television, radio, movies, video games, or non-essential internet usage (email mostly).

Now I realize that the true Biblical standard of fasting is to go without food, and so there are some who might read this and scoff. Going without food is a much more serious act of denial, a particularly visceral kind of longing that has especially transformational effects, the most profound of which have been discussed by many people more knowledgable than I.

But considering that, for awhile now, I’ve put much more thought, energy, and intentionality into the various forms of media that I consume than the food that I eat, I thought this move would suit me well, that is, if I had the cojones to actually try it. If nothing else, it would help me to slow down and pay attention to what I’m eating, since half the time I’m eating while I’m reading/watching/listening/playing.

(Not that I’m bragging about this… I want you to hear my heart here… this is definitely not something I’m proud of, but I realized I had a problem when I found myself wolfing down spoonfuls of cereal during a round of Halo 3. And doing pretty well, actually.)

I chose an interval of three days, because, well, it sounded sorta spiritual and my mentor Dan said three days sounded good. And I have to say, that the hardest part was that first Monday morning, when I got off the pillow, went downstairs to fix Holly some tea, and sat down to check my email.

And that was it. No checking headlines at the Tribune. No TrueHoop. No Slate.

Nothing but me and the Lord.

I read the daily Scripture email that comes into my inbox, which took me to the book of Isaiah. I read that verse, and the accompanying chapter, and then I just sat and thought for awhile. Which is not new, of course.

What was new was that I was aware of my thoughts. I could, for the first time in awhile, actually hear myself thinking.

And it made it much easier to pray, because then all I was doing was redirecting those thoughts toward God in prayer.

Now, I take no pride in my prayer life. Not that I don’t pray a lot — I pray all the time. It’s just that my prayer life sucks, because most of the time I’m only thinking of myself. If somehow my everyday, sitting-at-the-computer, laying-on-my-bed, behind-the-wheel prayers were to be recorded, I would be ashamed to play them back, because they would mostly consist of halfhearted commitments, worrying, complaining, and self-centered requests.

The good thing about removing all of the mental noise from my life is that I can actually listen to myself pray. And that is motivating, because the more I do it, the more I can hear how pathetic I sound, and then the more I can instead choose to focus on God and His glory, His plan, His desire for my day.

Now that I’m off of my media fast, I’ve sort of gorged myself. NBA Finals Game 4 last night, Ed Norton in The Incredible Hulk this afternoon, and a rousing round of Halo 3 with friends tonight. I hope I’m not overdoing it, I’m just taking the time to do things that I enjoy with people that I enjoy hanging with (the homies at church, my brother Jomo, and my buddy John, respectively).

Which brings me to another benefit of media fasting… it helps me to prioritize my media consumption, which helps me to differentiate between things that are Truly Important and things that are just Distractions. Which is tricky, because often things that are generally important (paying bills online, listening to gospel music, staying up on local and national news) can distract me from the thing that God may want me to do in the moment.

But not only that, sometimes I get distracted from things that are actually fun and enjoyable just because something else popped up in front of me and it’s taking up my attention. So there’s something good about being able to know that on a Sunday evening I can watch a movie or I can play a video game, but chances are I won’t be able to do both. Whichever one is more appealing and/or important to me, I’ll do — and the other one I’ll also get to do — later.

It’s called delayed gratification, folks. And right now I’m not so good at it.

But if I keep this up, hopefully I will be. Which is what I’m planning to do. I’m going to do it again next week. And maybe the week after that, I don’t know.

I’m hoping that eventually this will become part of my life rhythm. Some days it’s okay to get swept away in fantastic action sequences and heartrending drama. On the other hand, some days you just gotta embrace the real life that’s happening right in front of you.

And if fasting from food can be even more beneficial, then I should try it. I was about to type, “I can’t wait to try it” but then I remembered — fasting means you don’t eat.

Yeah, so it might be awhile before I’m ready to do that.

Umm… I mean… not my will, Lord, but thine.

Don’t take the cup from me just yet, God.

Especially if it has a smoothie in it.

I’m just sayin.’

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Chris Bosh: NBA Correspondent, At Your Service


Chris Bosh is a funny dude. In three years, he and G.O. could both be chasing a title and vying for the Shaquille O’Neal Memorial Funniest Cat in the NBA Award.

Which is why the Tonight Show grabbed him and asked him to serve as their Finals correspondent. For once, the Tonight Show actually delivered some real authentic laughs.