Time: McConaughey’s ‘confounding’ speech at Oscars

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Did you hear that awkward sound at the Oscars last night, the one right after Matthew McConaughey offered his thoughts on the meaning of life, family and, perhaps, Pilgrim’s Progress? Here’s the quote that is getting so much cyber-ink today:

“First off I want to thank God, because he’s the one I look up to, he’s graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late (British actor) Charlie Laughton, who said, ‘When you got God, you got a friend and that friend is you.’”

The only really mysterious part of that is the “and that friend is you” part at the end of that section of the speech where McConaughey pointed out toward, but slightly above, the rather shocked audience. Was the actor — previously known more for his ripped torso than his theological views — saying that individuals in Hollywood, if they embrace God, can finally come to peace with their complicated relationships with, well, themselves?

The confounded editorial team at the Time entertainment section tried to sum up the mini-sermon this way. Here’s the headline:

Explaining Matthew McConaughey’s Confounding Acceptance Speech

We parse it all for you — “Amen and Alright Alright Alright”

And then:

After winning for his role as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Matthew McConaughey launched into a semi-bizarre tale about his inner life. Here is what we learned:

1. He needs someone to look up to, something to look forward to and someone to chase.

2. He wants to thank God, who he looks up to. God is all about gratitude.

3. He wants to thank his family, who he looks forward to. His deceased father, he believes, is celebrating with a big pot of gumbo and a can of Miller Lite. His mother, still with us, taught him how to respect himself.

4. The person he chases is himself, 10 years into the future. He knows he will never catch up, but he wants to find out who that guy will turn out to be.

5. To all of that, he says “Amen,” ”Alright, Alright, Alright” and “Keep on Livin’.”

Now, if you watch the whole speech — which I urge you to do — it seems that the Time entertainment team was hearing most of his words, but failed to grasp the meaning of this particular meditation. For example, what’s up with the “God is all about gratitude” part, unless Time is saying that the “all about” reference is slang noting that God is pro-gratitude.

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Half-naked dancers and public prayers in Oklahoma City

“Gonna wear my Thunderwear in Times Square.”

My friend Randy Roper, the preaching minister for my home congregation in Oklahoma, came up with that winning slogan in a 2009 contest sponsored by the Oklahoma City Thunder. As a result, Roper earned a free trip to New York for the NBA Draft Lottery. (That was, of course, before the Thunder emerged as one of the league’s top teams.)

At least once a season since then, the Thunder have asked Roper to lead the public prayer that precedes each home game.

I thought of my friend when I read a New York Times sports feature this week headlined “Praying for the Home Team in Oklahoma City.” The top of the 2,000-word story by NBA writer Andrew Keh:

OKLAHOMA CITY — Before the plumes of smoke and the shimmering pyrotechnics and the two dozen or so dancers gyrating in microscopic shorts and the hip-hop and the hairy mascot on stilts and the sponsorships — “Tonight’s free throws are brought to you by Hooters!” – there is prayer.

Chesapeake Energy Arena, home to the N.B.A.’s Oklahoma City Thunder, so fully incorporates the complete assortment of flashy sports entertainment tropes that the building has been called Loud City.

But amid the cacophony here, there is one significant difference: preceding each game is a stadiumwide prayer of invocation that on most nights briefly turns a raucous sports event into something resembling a megachurch gathering.

“We feel people’s faith is important to them,” said Dan Mahoney, the Thunder’s vice president for corporate communications and community relations, who noted that the prayers are nondenominational and that those offering them have ranged from Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy to Jewish rabbis to Native American spiritual leaders. “Gathering to support our team, we feel it’s appropriate to build in a time of reflection.”

Actually, I think Keh’s lede nails it.

I’m in the minority in Oklahoma City in that I have not become a devoted Thunder fan. My allegiance remains with baseball and my beloved Texas Rangers, three hours south of the Sooner State’s capital city. But I attend a Thunder game or two a year — usually when I can find a cheap seat up high.

And I can attest to the irony that the Times writer captures: a spiritual leader asking for God’s blessings followed by half-naked dancers gyrating all over the big screen, as this father does his best not to blush with his teenage son and daughter standing on each side of him.

But back to the journalism: Keh does an excellent job of explaining the history behind Oklahoma City’s prayer. In addition, he puts the tradition into the larger context of both the community and the NBA and sports world:

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere: hymns and happy hour?

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“Beer with Jesus” might have fallen off the country music charts, but the trend has legs — er, foam — apparently.

You may remember the other half of our resident husband-wife team, GetReligionista Bobby Ross Jr., writing a post in November on the subject.  In summary, he looked at reports on churches offering services in pubs and bars and the successes and failures in each.

We have a new twist to the story now, and it comes to us from the country music capital of the world, Nashville Tenn. It also involves music, but not of the hometown variety.

The Tennessean invites us to pull up a barstool and join the Beer and Hymn Sing Group in this report:

They don’t talk doctrine. There’s no prayer or Bible study.

Once a quarter, they pack the dark upstairs bar at MadDonna’s in East Nashville to sing centuries-old favorites. The last one kicked off with “Amazing Grace,” ended with “Go Now in Peace” and featured classics such as “How Great Thou Art” in between.

The organizer, Geoff Little, said he got the idea from seeing soccer fans in London and Dublin pubs switch seamlessly from singing fight songs to singing “Be Thou My Vision.” He believed it would be a way to draw Generation X and Y friends to a religious gathering outside the classic venues for those.

“Why was Christ’s first miracle to be the ultimate bartender? Jesus was interested in celebration,” said Little, a member of Downtown Presbyterian Church. “We separate being human from being spiritual all too easily in Nashville.”

This story isn’t just throwing one back with the regulars. It does justice to all sides, including religious experts, historians and visitors who drink nothing stronger than Diet Coke. We’re also invited to explore the Bible for Scripture related to drinking and consider the temptations of excess imbibing.

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Got news? The one and only Caesar of Jewish humor

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Remember all of those nasty charges by anti-Semites through the years that The New York Times is controlled by Jews and that it’s pages have been dominated by Jewish concerns?

Yes, I know about the Sulzberger family.

But if the Times team views the world through some kind of Jewish prism, then explain the following passage from the newspaper’s lengthy obituary for the truly great American comedian Sid Caesar:

Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.

Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.

And that’s that?

What about the fiery post-Holocaust rage of Caesar and his brilliant writers Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Mel Tolkin, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbert and, later on, a young Woody Allen? Oh for some bull-session YouTubes out of that room!

So his work left an “indelible mark” on American humor?

What about his role in mainstreaming a sharp-edged Jewish sensibility right into the heart of the emerging, coast-to-cast mainstream television culture? Talk about a religion, or at least religious culture, ghost in a story!

The Times obit does include this one tiny nod to the obvious:

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Hollywood’s ‘Noah’ wars: Why not quote the Bible?

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Let’s face it. That Noah character in Genesis 9 is one pretty wired, complex fellow. I don’t know about you, but I can see the volatile actor Russell Crowe digging into some of this stuff:

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded [a] to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

Cursed be Canaan!
the lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers
.”

In other words, whatever was going on with Noah in the events leading up to the flood and in the flood itself didn’t exactly turn him into a living ray of sunshine and light. This man had issues.

Some of that is soaked into the Hollywood drama covered in a new Hollywood Reporter piece that ran under this headline: “Rough Seas on ‘Noah’: Darren Aronofsky Opens Up on the Biblical Battle to Woo Christians (and Everyone Else).”

Now, on one level, this tale centers on one of the Holy Grails of modern Hollywood, which is the quest to latch onto the massive faith-based audience that lined up over and over for Mel Gibson’s blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.” Hollywood big shots want that market share, but it’s clear that they are not sure how to woo said audience while continuing to do that edgy Hollywood thing that they want to do.

The Hollywood Reporter piece is all over that story. Here’s a sample:

The making of Noah, with Russell Crowe as the lead, turned into a head-on collision between an auteur filmmaker coming off a career-defining success in Black Swan ($330 million global, five Oscar nominations) and a studio working to protect a major investment that is intended to appeal to believers of every religion as well as those without any faith. Paramount Pictures, in partnership with New Regency Productions, is shouldering a budget on the March 28 release of more than $125 million, by far the costliest movie Aronofsky has made. (His previous high was $35 million for The Fountain, which foundered for Warner Bros. in 2006. Black Swan was independently financed and cost just $13 million.)

The trouble began when Paramount, nervous about how audiences would respond to Aronofsky’s fantastical world and his deeply conflicted Noah, insisted on conducting test screenings over the director’s vehement objections while the film was a work in progress.

Friction grew when a segment of the recruited Christian viewers, among whom the studio had hoped to find Noah’s most enthusiastic fans, questioned the film’s adherence to the Bible story and reacted negatively to the intensity and darkness of the lead character. Aronofsky’s Noah gets drunk, for example, and considers taking drastic measures to eradicate mankind from the planet.

The finances and Hollywood politics of all of this are quite Byzantine. Check out this material, care of Paramount Vice Chair Rob Moore:

Moore says Aronofsky’s Noah is not in the more literal vein of the blockbuster Bible series produced for the History channel by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. “They’ve been very effective in terms of communicating to and being embraced by a Christian audience,” says Moore. “This movie has a lot more creativity to it. And therefore, if you want to put it on the spectrum, it probably is more accurate to say this movie is inspired by the story of Noah.”

At the same time, he says the film reflects “the key themes of the Noah story in Genesis — of faith and hope and God’s promise to mankind.” The studio is aware that a vocal segment of Christian viewers might reject the film over accuracy. Still, Moore says, “Our anticipation is that the vast majority of the Christian community will embrace it.”

And so forth and so on. So here is what I — literally — don’t understand:

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Baring their souls: Seeking more coverage on naked church

Strip down this post to its bare essentials, and here’s the naked truth: Sometimes the Godbeat is more interesting than other news beats. Honest.

Take, for example, the story by WWBT — an NBC affiliate in Richmond, Va. — that skinny-dipped all over social media this week.

Before you click that link, though, heed the warning from one Twitter user:

 
Yes, this is a story about a church that worships in the, um, original attire of Adam and Eve:

SOUTHAMPTON, VA (WWBT) - About an hour’s drive south of Richmond, there’s a small congregation that doesn’t care about “material” things. They worship the same way we were all brought into this world, naked.

Even in February, when temperatures can average in the 20s, members show up in various forms: some fully clothed, others topless, many still completely nude.

Pastor Allen Parker says it’s not about the clothes, or lack thereof. He says it’s about baring his soul to Christ and leading his flock down that path of righteousness, no matter what they’re wearing.

As Jim Davis, our newest GetReligionista, put it, “Gotta admit, they save a lot on vestments and Easter hats.” (With comments like that, I’m afraid Jim is going to fit right in at GetReligion.)

Later in the WWBT report, we read:

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Got news? Can Christian and atheist swap lives for a month?

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Half a world away from my Oklahoma home, an experiment just concluded in Australia.

An atheist and a Christian who are friends agreed to trade places for a month and document the experience, with the summary promised later this week.

According to a brief in online news’ The Blaze, believer Bentley Browning and non-believer Simon Capes gave up their respective belief systems for the other’s in January, “in the hopes of coming to understand one another’s views more fully.” They’re calling it Faith Swap.

To be specific, each adopted the other’s daily rituals, or lack thereof, including prayer, Bible reading, worship, sacraments or any other related activities.

Color me intrigued.

Faith Swap also has been quasi written up in the Huffington Post after a brief PR piece appeared in the Christian Today Australia. So the concept is kind of out there, but without a good story.

So what am I critiquing exactly? The possibility. I’m still hopeful a GodBeat pro might latch onto it in and give us a proper feature.

Why? I’d like to see it go deeper. While Christians don’t always walk the walk, so to speak, can one completely erase all contact with or dependence upon God for a month and adopt the lifestyle of an individual completely without faith? Conversely, can someone with no belief in God conform to the daily discipline of contact with Him and extract spiritual meaning in the rituals of worship?

The possibilities for a true piece of reporting vs. a quick publicity rehash keep popping into my head.

For starters, Capes’ non-belief is categorized as that of an atheist without test or question. In a setting like this, why not educate readers about the differences between agnostics and atheists?

From there, how did Browning cope? Did he find a substitute for prayer? How did erasing God from his life affect his approach to money or reading?

For further background, the pair has been updating on Facebook, and some of Browning’s posts are genuinely descriptive of what I would envision a day without prayer might feel like to me. It is tough to make out which man is which, however, because both post under one user name.

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Rolling Stone thinks it <3′s this pope (plus, Mark signs out)

For reasons probably more associated with my age than anything else, the old Dr. Hook song, “(On the) Cover of the Rolling Stone,” which equated placement on the front of rock’s top magazine with true accomplishment in life, ran through my mind when I first learned that Pope Francis would get pride-of-place in the magazine’s Feb. 13 issue. The comparisons with Dr. Hook (who eventually got their cover) end there, however. This piece is pretty much an early Valentine to its subject.

Mark Binelli, a “novelist and contributing editor to Rolling Stone,” as his bio notes, got the nod to proffer a pontifical profile, and as might be expected from a truly non-conservative publication, Francis comes off closer to Dorothy Day than to George Weigel:

Up close, Pope Francis, the 266th vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, a man whose obvious humility, empathy and, above all, devotion to the economically disenfranchised has come to feel perfectly suited to our times, looks stouter than on television. Having famously dispensed with the more flamboyant pontifical accessories, he’s also surprisingly stylish, today wearing a double-breasted white overcoat, white scarf and slightly creamier cassock, all impeccably tailored.

The topic of Francis’ catechesis, or teaching, is Judgment Day, though, true to form, he does not try to conjure images of fire and brimstone. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, speaking on the topic, once said, “Today we are used to thinking: ‘What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be good toward all.’ It’s a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame.”

Francis, 77, by contrast, implores the crowd to think of the prospect of meeting one’s maker as something to look forward to, like a wedding, where Jesus and all of the saints in heaven will be waiting with open arms. He looks up from his script twice to repeat key lines: avanti senza paura (“go without fear”) and che quel giudizio finale è già in atto (“the final judgment is already happening”). Coming from this pope, the latter point sounds more like a friendly reminder. His voice is disarmingly gentle, even when amplified over a vast public square.,

Yes, sports fans, time for another long, slobbering kiss from a media outlet inclined to see Papa Francesco as their own theological Rorschach test, an ideological ink-blot that shows what they want to see.

There are, approximately, 7,600 words in this account — I knocked off about 125 words from what Microsoft Word tallied because of links and other bits Rolling Stone inserted in the text — and it would take a post of almost the same length to diagram and dissect the article fully. For starters, suffice it to say that Binelli wasn’t a fan of Francis’ predecessor:

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