Have you READ "Revenge of the Sith" yet?

Doesn’t it take some of the fun out of OPENING DAY to know that the novelization of Star Wars, Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith is already available at your local bookstore?

By the way, for those keeping track, I’ve made it this far without hearing any spoilers (beyond the obvious central character transformation). I’m getting closer and closer to having this be my first experience seeing a Star Wars movie without knowing the whole story ahead of time…

There was so much buzz when Return of the King came out about how the Academy was going to finally reward Peter Jackson for his overwhelming effort. And they did. You have to wonder if George Lucas is wondering whether or not the Academy will make a similar gesture to him for his trilogy. And of course they won’t, for one simple reason: Peter Jackson can do everything Lucas can do, AND all of the things he can’t–like direct actors and film a scene with a real New Zealand backdrop instead of just a blue screen.

Still, I am looking forward to this.

  • Facebook
About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • eucharisto

    This will probably never be seen, but I thought I’d post it anyway, as it seems very relevant.
    My thought is a direct answer to Adam’s question,
    Why are most Christians I come across afraid to think?
    My answer to you is, I don’t know who you hang out with, but the Christians I spend time with think with impressive clarity, and have a firm grasp on the Gospel. Maybe your problem is you want Christians to understand the Gospel on a ‘deeper’ level. Maybe you think that the message of Christ should be understood on a more intellectual level than most Christians do. Unfortunately, the most direct verse on the subject that I can find defies the idea of being intellectual about the Gospel alltogether. This is an exerpt taken from 2 Corinthians 11: 3-6 (The Message and then NASB):
    And now I’m afraid that exactly as the Snake seduced Eve with his smooth patter, you are being lured away from the simple purity of your love for Christ.
    It seems that if someone show up preaching quite another Jesus than we preached-different spirit, different message-you put up with him quite nicely. But if you put up with these big-shot “apostles,” why can’t you put up with simple me? I’m as good as they are. It’s true that I don’t have their voice, haven’t mastered that smooth eloquence that impresses you so much. But when I do open my mouth I at least know what I’m talking about. We haven’t kept anything back. We let you in on everything.

    NASB:
    But I am afraid that, as the serpent decieved Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
    For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.
    But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.

    Paul constantly talks about the foolish shaming the wise, and the weak shaming the strong. Don’t you think that Christ is big enough to work through broken vessels?
    Don’t be mistaken, I believe in a Christian that progresses mentally with scripture. I think Sufjan Stevens, Sam Phillips, Over the Rhine, etc., great stuff! I love that kind of work, it’s a testimony in a way to Christ’s work through us as well. But I’m not so high and mighty as to appreciate simple truth sung by a worship band on a Christian radio station. And I have to say, I’m surprised at the depth that some CCM artists have, musically and lyrically. It’s obvious that they are seeking a better understanding of Christ, that, admittedly, doesn’t happen much in CCM. And I think it is these artists that you demean and mock when you call them ‘music fit for youth groups’ (and personally, music written for youth groups ministers to kids at their level. It would be irresponsible to give an average kid in YG an Over the Rhine CD and tell them that’s what Christianity is all about. They wouldn’t have an idea of what you or OTR is talking about! Everyone should be met at the level they are on).
    I would say that the kind of thinking that you represent is a thinking that limits God. God isn’t a hard to understand, idealistic, abstract personality, difficult for the common man to associate with. No, God is a straight forward God, He doesn’t hide His Gospel with subtle hints. It very simple. Devotion to Christ (i.e. praising Him through our works of art), is, as the BIBLE says, ,simple and pure. Mabye you should look and see if you are reading too much into the Word of God. Take it for what is says at the base level. Sure, be encouraged by those who have the ability to delve into more intellectual issues, but praise God for those who give the Gospel message in a way that everyone can understand.

  • Adam Walter

    Gabe Syme wrote:

    Could it be that they are not as educated, or as mature, or as insightful as you, and they don’t want to be condemned for what they happen to like or believe? Could it be that they are simpler, less sophisticated, less idealistic than you and they don’t feel competent to contend with your convictions and opinions about what you believe they should enjoy or how you believe they should think? Could it be that Jesus loves them just the way they are, “inferior” tastes and all, and is more concerned about your condescending attitude toward these brothers than He is about their taste in praise music?

    Sorry, but none of these questions answers the question you are responding to. Interesting tactic, though–answering a question with other questions. However, putting words in my mouth simply won’t wash, brother. I’ll say it again: why are most Christians I come across afraid to think?

    Gabe also wrote:

    Since you obviously believe in judging one another, let me act as your judge for a moment and suggest that your attitude borders on being elitist and unbiblical. I’m sure you don’t like being judged by another brother, but since you have declared it to be “biblical” then it shouldn’t bother you.

    I’m glad you agree with the thought enough to return judgment–I assume your agree with the biblical nature of such judgments, since you are indulging in them with me. Let us not forget that Christ himself judged the leading religious leaders of his day, often referring to the as a “brood of vipers.” (Top that one!)

    Gabe also wrote:

    Gatto is great. He offers a very intelligent and right-on analysis of the American educational system. And yes, our youth groups and Sunday Schools have, sadly, been influenced by the school system they serve (which is why we home school).

    I’m glad you agree with my main points, including the negative relationship existing between the American school system dynamic and the youth group dynamic found in many of our churches.

    Gabe also wrote:

    But contrary to your statement, we are NOT commanded by Scripture to judge issues of taste and competence—only issues of sin and righteousness. Rather than condemning (ie, judging) churches and godly Christian brothers and sisters that aren’t as good as you think they should be, or don’t share your ideals, the biblical solution is for you to offer a better alternative by your own life. Start your own church that does it right (according to you) and let God bless it. Then you can call others to a higher place of service, worship, ideals, and better musical taste. You can all “think” alike until someone else condemns you for your taste and style. Don’t judge!

    But I thought you agreed to judge. I’m confused as to your true standing here. Also, you continue to put words in my mouth–is this not worse than a loving judgment?

    Furthermore, perhaps you recall Christ’s word’s to fathers about giving good gifts to their children? From the tone of this remark, I have to believe it applies just as well to the church and its “spiritual children.” Now, maybe this isn’t your experience–but I have witnessed firsthand the attempts of many churches to raise up its spiritual charges almost entirely on a diet of spiritual Big Macs. And we wonder why our young people are falling away from the churches. It’s not just a cliche that you become what you consume.

    Gabe said:

    This is a complete misreading of the Scriptures, especially in regards to this issue of musical taste and preference. It just invites (demands) a response.

    I welcome you to show me where I mentioned “musical taste.” You seem to have missed the point that this discussion moved from the particular to the general.

  • Geof F. Morris

    Well, I’d say that the critical reviews are worth it. I’ve been listening to this today and am really digging it. It’s my first Sufjan Stevens experience, but it won’t be my last.

    I even picked this up on your tip, Jeffrey. I thank you, sir.

  • jasdye

    Ricky,

    First off, let me just say, I think it was quite funny that you would link to a review on your blog when it is nearly verbatim what you wrote in this reply, with some omissions.

    Secondly, I think most people who visit this site may have problems also with organized religion, but yet we seem to love Christ deeply and madly and seemingly, most of us are also intimately involved in our local churches.

    My curiosity is stemmed from this curious phrase, ‘my guilt concerning the inevitability of a vengeful creator.’ You also seem to indicate that everyone who is a thoughtful beleiver not only wrestles with such topics (the vengeful creator, the con artistry of organized religion), but should then pursue their conscience and abandon organized religion altogether.

    Am I correct in these assumptions? Am I leaving something out? Do you honestly feel that we are either too stupid or too arrogant to not have come to grips (or, rather, coming to grips) with concepts such as eternal damnation, the justice and subsequent judgement of God, priestly and pastoral duties and rights.

    What also troubles me, I can assure you, is a confusion of rightful lived-out artistry and proselytizing. Proselytizing is the selling of a belief system and involves the things that you would do in order to sell a given product. Namely, ignoring or short-selling the negative aspects while focusing solely on positive aspects that may or may not have grounding in truth.

    I do not know – although I’ve not heard the album – how someone who has an album about a serial killer and then redirects the lens to himself and society can possibly be trying to sell a merciful, sovereign God.

    Can you reply to these questions? Is this a proper forum for you, on visiting ground? Or should we bring this back onto your soil? How does that suit you, honestly?

  • Ricky Gomez

    Here is my review posted on my blog–Of Some Significance.

    Musically, Sufjan Stevens is very gifted. Lyrically, he is just as gifted. But his music has an ulterior motive; to spread the Christian message. Does he mean to do this overtly or covertly? I do not know. I suspect he, like a majority of us in the United States, are steeped in Christianity. I, like most, grew up immersed in it. It took me a long time to come to grips with fact that organized religion was a scam—and even longer to admit it. When I was Sufjan’s age, I was still battling with the guilt of questioning the inevitability of a vengeful creator. I do not think Sufjan is anywhere close to that point.

    Sufjan Stevens’ music is very attractive. Offbeat, unique and introspective but, at its heart, a subtle attempt to proselytize. In spite of his ability, he hearkens to a place that is comfortable—what he knows and knows deeply.

    Should you avoid this album (and Greetings from Michigan and Seven Swans) because it carries a subtle Christian message? No. He makes good music. Should you accept his message because it reaffirms what you have been taught? Definitely not.

    Illinoise (like his other albums) is safe although it seems “edgy”. It tries to subvert the instinct of a thinking person. Do not be fooled

  • jasdye

    Anonymous,

    Let me first say that I’m a big fan of your work. Especially enamored of the classics.

    Thanks for the interview links. I read a couple of them today. Nice. I had never heard of gapersblock before, even though they are based here, in my hometown. Of course, I wonder if a gapersblock is related to a gaper’s delay.

    In all reality, the way an artist handles him or herself in front of a tape recorder has little-to-nothing to do with how they handle themselves in front of a mic or an amp, but I still like to hear their theories on life and their art, such as in the case of Over the Rhine, Terry Taylor and, yes, the late, great Mark Heard. Which brings me to…

    Bryan,

    Also, thanks for the interview links. I remember reading passages from Heard’s journal shortly after he died when it was published in the Harvest Rock Syndicate. Wow, some dozen plus years later.

    However, the passage of Stevens that you quoted, mostly led by the interviewer, was maybe a bit troubling. I don’t think that mainstream America has embraced Black Gospel music, except possibly as an idea, much like the blues. And much like the blues, it is considered a relic and a form of folk music. Although Chicago’s annual Gospel Fest draws a fair-sized crowd, it would hardly be described as mainstream (i.e., White). Black Gospel music is embraced by black culture (notice the embrace of any plethora of contemporary Gospel artists/choirs) because its roots are indelible to black American culture. White gospel music (whether CCM or Southern Gospel) is hardly a part of White culture(s).

    But I guess that wasn’t the point you were trying to emphasize with that quote.

    Gabe,

    I knew you weren’t referring to me. I didn’t take it personally. And, generally speaking, I agree with you. But, just between us two, you have a tendency to open up your arguments ad hominem and in a very sarcastic manner. As a fellow traveler and brother in Christ, I hope you understand why that can be troubling to the Body.

    The general rule of thumb, as far as I’m concerned: Do ALL to the glory of God.

    And I’m out,
    Peace.

  • Gabe Syme

    Jeffrey,

    Thanks for those good biblical examples. I will certainly tuck those away as a good verses on doing things well. I think the example of God’s detail in the tabernacle is the best one for encouraging believers to pursue their best in their craft.

    However, can we agree that those biblical examples are anecdotal–descriptive, but not prescriptive? My point is that God does not define or demand in Scripture an external standard of “excellence” to which artists, or anyone, must attain. The NT terms translated as “excellent” or “excellence” ALL have to do with moral excellence and God’s excellence. I think I’m on safe ground saying that God has one standard of excellence for Christians–maturity (Eph. 4:11-16). That’s it.

    Now, as a mature Christian, I will undoubtedly want to do things well because doing my best glorifies God. But that is an internal standard of wanting to please God, and honor Him in what I do in His name. I’m a seasoned songwriter and performer, but if I was judged against Stevens, I feel pretty sure you would probably say my music did not rise to your own standard of “excellence.” But you would make that judgment by your subjective standards of what you have decided defines “excellent” music, not by any biblical standard. By God’s standards, I believe my music is excellent because as a mature Christian I sing to glorify God, I do it in faith, and I do it to the very best of my ability. If I were more talented lyrically or musically, perhaps someone would consider my performance as “excellent,” but it would have nothing to do with what God thought, and you might disagree entirely. So who would be right, and how would you know?

    I’m rambling, but I hope you can catch the gist of what I’m trying to get at. It’s all connected with what I said about judgment. Sure, it’s fine to set your own standard of what defines “excellent” musicianship. I, too, have and voice my own opinions about which Christian artists I like and don’t like, and why, but I don’t claim biblical standards for my opinions, and I know others would disagree with me. My point is I think we need to be very cautious about elevating our subjective personal standards into some kind of objective standards and call them biblical. That’s where the danger lies.

    Hope that makes sense.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Let us also not forget the painstaking details God set down to ensure that his tabernacle was an extraordinarily excellent piece of design. He didn’t just call for the most virtuous craftsman. He called for the BEST craftsman.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    When Christ turned water into wine, and the host declared that the wine was “the best” that had been served all day, I don’t think that was a reference to Christ’s virtue. We are to follow Christ’s example. Excellence… as a performance standard… matters to God. As does virtue. So there’s a scriptural example for you.

    The first chapter of Daniel stresses God’s instructions to his servants to present themselves as not merely virtuous, but the most excellent, disciplined, strong and healthy sons-of-guns in the place. It glorified him that they pursued excellence.

    Eric Liddell isn’t a scriptural hero of the faith… but he is a hero of the faith, nevertheless, for demonstrating that by running with excellence… not merely enthusiasm… he could glorify God. As his father says in the film “Chariots of Fire”… “You can glorify God by peeling a potato if you peel it to perfection.”

  • Gabe Syme

    Adam,

    Since your comments were tied to mine by secondary association, I really have no option other than to respond to your conclusions, and to your mis-application of Scripture to these issues of musical taste and style.

    Adam says: “…so why are most Christians I come across afraid to think?”

    Could it be that they are not as educated, or as mature, or as insightful as you, and they don’t want to be condemned for what they happen to like or believe? Could it be that they are simpler, less sophisticated, less idealistic than you and they don’t feel competent to contend with your convictions and opinions about what you believe they should enjoy or how you believe they should think? Could it be that Jesus loves them just the way they are, “inferior” tastes and all, and is more concerned about your condescending attitude toward these brothers than He is about their taste in praise music? Since you obviously believe in judging one another, let me act as your judge for a moment and suggest that your attitude borders on being elitist and unbiblical. I’m sure you don’t like being judged by another brother, but since you have declared it to be “biblical” then it shouldn’t bother you.

    Gatto is great. He offers a very intelligent and right-on analysis of the American educational system. And yes, our youth groups and Sunday Schools have, sadly, been influenced by the school system they serve (which is why we home school). But contrary to your statement, we are NOT commanded by Scripture to judge issues of taste and competence—only issues of sin and righteousness. Rather than condemning (ie, judging) churches and godly Christian brothers and sisters that aren’t as good as you think they should be, or don’t share your ideals, the biblical solution is for you to offer a better alternative by your own life. Start your own church that does it right (according to you) and let God bless it. Then you can call others to a higher place of service, worship, ideals, and better musical taste. You can all “think” alike until someone else condemns you for your taste and style. Don’t judge!

    Adam says: “The fact is, Christians have been commanded to judge each other…”

    This is a complete misreading of the Scriptures, especially in regards to this issue of musical taste and preference. It just invites (demands) a response. Here are the best Scriptures on what we cannot and can judge:

    WHEN WE CANNOT JUDGE:
    MT 7:1-5, LK 6:37-38—Contrary to other opinions expressed in this post, Jesus clearly commands his followers not to judge one another, but rather to forgive.
    RO 2:1-3—Paul admonishes the Roman believers that by judging others’ sins they are themselves condemned.
    RO 14:1-18—(see below)
    1CO 4:3-5—Paul basically tells the believers in Corinth that they may not judge him, since even he could not adequately judge himself.
    1CO 5:12-13—Paul instructs that we are not to judge non-believers, but the context is only about judging them concerning their lack of a relationship with Jesus.
    COL 2:16-17—The direct implication here is that Christians are NOT to act as judge regarding spiritual practices and preferences of other believers. Forced conformity is not Christian freedom.
    JAS 4:11-12—Straightshooting James is pretty blunt, “who are you to judge your neighbor (a brother)?”

    WHEN WE CAN JUDGE:
    RO 13:1-7—Government is given the power to judge by God.
    1CO 2:15—We can judge (or, appraise, NASB) our own thoughts, attitudes and convictions.
    1CO 5:12-13—The church judges other Christians’ testimony of salvation to determine whether one claiming fellowship with the church is really a believer.
    1CO 6:2-5—Paul admonishes the immature Corinthian believers to settle trivial issues among themselves, not through the courts.
    1CO 10:15, 11:13—“Judge for yourselves” simply means to discern whether what Paul was saying made sense.

    As to the issue of musical tastes and preferences, I think Paul gives the clearest instruction in Romans 14:1-18. If I could, I would love to exegete and apply the entire passage, but that’s another post. This passage is not just about legalism, but is about issues of taste and preference, of what is considered acceptable or non-acceptable, good (approvable) or not. Let me just quote a few passages:
    10—“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?”
    19—“So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
    22—“The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”

    The conclusion is: We are not to judge a brother on issues of taste, preference or opinion. If it is not an issue of sin, Paul’s model and instruction is to allow other believers, especially if they are weak in faith, to live by their own convictions before God. The biblical method for calling others to higher standards (such as in music) is to provide an example of Christ-like maturity that others will want to follow.

    One last thought. It seems this idea of “excellence” gets bandied about as a biblical ideal for Christian music. Could someone please give me some (any) biblical justification for that claim! Every NT reference to “excellence” refers either to moral excellence or virtue, or to God. Not one reference that I can find calls Christians to be “excellent” in what they actually do. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be as good as our gifts allow, but please don’t claim some kind of biblical standard for it—it isn’t there. God’s standard of excellence is an internal motivation to virtue, not an external standard of performance.

    It is not my desire to be simply argumentative, but one of my hot buttons is the misuse and misapplication of Scripture. Call it being judgmental if you want, but I cannot let what I see as poor exegesis and interpretation stand unchallenged, especially when it is used in an ad hominem and prooftext sort of way.

    Someone else can have the last words. I think this blogletting is becoming pathological. I’m exhausted.

  • Adam Walter

    Jeff wrote: I grew up in the church, in youth groups, at Christian schools, etc, and learned quickly that most Christian music was more concerned with being “safe,” accessible, and emotional than with being honest, challenging, or groundbreaking.

    Steering slightly off topic, I have to recommend the writings of John Taylor Gatto–once a highly awarded educator in the public school system who has become a leading critic of that system. His history of American education here is excellent:

    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/historytour/history1.htm

    I bring Gatto up to introduce to the discussion his idea that modern education methods are founded on a system for cultivating consumers in mass populations. My experience, growing up in a few different church youth groups and Christian schools, is that many youth groups (to say nothing of many churches themselves) are organized around a similiar system–that is, a system for “growing” consumers who buy into cheap, easy, sentimentalized spirituality and graze on Christian merchandizing, buying their “milk from a Christian cow.”

    Jeff also said: We’ve taken the “judge not, lest ye be judged” to a ridiculous extreme….

    Not only that, we’ve taken this exhortation out of context. The fact is, Christians have been commanded to judge each other (in a spirit of love and humility), making sure the “bride” is spotless for her bridegroom; in fact, it is the world that we are told not to judge (I Cor 5 & 6). Funny how most churches get that turned around. Also, we’re supposed to be “wise as serpents,” so why are most Christians I come across afraid to think?

  • Gabe Syme

    My previous short post was to Jeffrey. This one is for Bryan.

    I was not saying, Bryan, that Paul would not think about getting “better” as a speaker, which is what any mature Christian would do. He went before the Aeropagus (Acts 17) because he was invited to come, not because it would improve his “craft.” He went there out of obedience, both knowing his gifts and knowing that God was the ultimate source of his authority. Certainly, he prepared his thoughts and knew about the inscription which he used as oratorical device. In the end, though, he was uniquely gifted to argue there–he didn’t have to run down to town to buy a copy of “Defending Christ to the Aeropagus for Dummies.” His “excellence” was in using faithfully and fearlessly the gifts God had given to him.

    As to your view of Phil. 2:12f, that verse exegetically has nothing to do with “craft work” of an artist–it is about becoming like Jesus in our relationships, humble and pure of mind. The idea of “work out” has to do with becoming mature in faith, not becoming better at a skill (which, nonetheless, should come with maturity).

    I would simply argue that the biblical concept of “excellence” is not about external standards of performance, and especially not with trying to attain to any standards set by the prevailing culture (“worldly” or “man defined” standards). Biblical excellence is about using the gifts God has given you faithfully, and to the extent of your ability, at every point of development in your Christian maturity. If the extent of your ability at some point is less than what the world would say is “excellent,” in God’s eyes and biblically your actions are no less excellent if your motives are pure, you’re using that gift “in faith,” and you are using your gift “with all your heart.” If biblical excellence is some external standard, rather than an internal standard, then I’d say none of us could ever attain to excellence as Christians. I would wonder, “Who gets to decide when something is truly excellent, and when it is not?” What Scriptural standard would you apply to say, “That artist’s music just isn’t biblically excellent”? It seems to me that applying the concept of biblical excellence to external performance of gifts or talents is a short path to judgmentalism and legalism.

    I appreciate your comments, but there is a difference in how we view what biblical “excellence” is. FTR, we agree that every artist should strive to be as good as he or she can be, and to excell in their craft or artistry. However, biblical excellence is about their internal motivation, not their external performance. That, apparently, is where we disagree.

    This is the post that never ends…it just goes on and on my friend…

  • Bryan Zug

    BTW — As of this AM, Illinois is #4 on iTunes album listright between Coldplay, Missy Elliot, the White Stripes, and Jack Johnson.

    Man this is cool to watch.

    Many of us have put in decades of work and prayer into setting the stage for stuff like this — and, when I watch this, it sure feels like the Spirit is moving.

  • Gabe Syme

    Sorry, no feint intended there. I was just reflecting late at night. I have read quite a few of your reviews and, as I said, admire your spiritual passion and insight. Keep writing, and I’ll be looking for your book (I’m an author, too).

  • Bryan Zug

    >>
    Concerning Paul, he could speak before the Areopagus because it was his gifting from God, not because he set some goal of being an “excellent” speaker and attained to it.
    >>

    Simply not true. It is both gift and craft.

    When Paul tells us “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you…” in Phil 2, he emphasizes this combination of gift&craft / spirit&obedience.

    So is it God or us? ‘Yes!’ is the only answer that makes exegetical sense — a mysterious incarnation, that, through the poetic language of scripture, becomes approachable.

    Too often we neglect craft in lieu of “things created in the name of God” and then wonder why the Gospel of Christ seems so irrelevant in this age.

    The two equally true answers to this are 1) that the Gospel is foolishness to men and 2) that we are not very good at being the feet of those who bring Good News (Rom 10).

    One of the best articles I have ever read on the subject is this one by the late Mark Heard from one of the early editions of Image Journal.

    In the section “On Tour, January, 1979”, Heard wrote of a promoter who prayed for one of his concerts before the event –

    >>
    After a ten minute prayer, the gist of which was, “Oh Lord, just sing through Mark tonight and keep him out of the picture altogether,” I considered the prospect of lining up a great number of such concerts, then staying at home and sending a cardboard likeness of myself for God to sing through.

    I felt like, “Why even bother writing songs?” Why consult your heart and soul in order to expose it, why subject yourself to the gristmill of life and then try to bleed through a pen when it is all so easily reduced?
    >>

    That story always comes to mind when I am privy to conversations like this because it is such a funny anecdote by someone who worked so hard at making his craft captive to the Gospel in this spiritually barren age.

    All I’m saying in all of this is that craft is one of the high spiritual disciplines and that we, as the Church, need to continually teach it as such.

    Suffice it to say that we’ll probably need to agree to disagree on this ;)

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >> it’s not just about the “artistry.” It’s also about the “Spirit” of the music. The older I have gotten, the more I want to hear music that turns my heart and mind to God, or that challenges me to go deeper, or to reach farther.<<

    I think if you go read any of my music reviews, you’ll see this is essential for me as well.

  • Gabe Syme

    Jeffrey:

    There is much I would like to interact with in your post, but I’m trying to break my blog habit (I’ve started and deleted this post twice now). I just want to affirm your obvious passion for excellence. Our tastes in music would probably not always coincide (it is not, after all, an objective issue), but we could probably always agree on what is “authentic” music, Christian or otherwise. My ears are always open for quality music, whether it is coming from CCM, a secular label, or the Christian Indie movement, but it’s not just about the “artistry.” It’s also about the “Spirit” of the music. The older I have gotten, the more I want to hear music that turns my heart and mind to God, or that challenges me to go deeper, or to reach farther. I’m not that interested in music that just impresses me with its lyric, or its musicality, or even with its “originality” (personally, I think ALL music is “derivative,” which is a much-abused term these days). I want music that moves me, and touches me, and has emotive power. But then, sometimes, I just listen to mindless Christian music that entertains me. So, there you go.

    Bryan:

    Just some thoughts in response to your comments. Paul does not use “excellence” in Phil 4:8 to suggest an undefined external standard to which we need to aspire in our actions, but rather to define an internal, personal, spiritual standard of what we should allow our minds to dwell on or think about. That said, any biblical idea of excellence must be more about motivation than performance. Concerning Paul, he could speak before the Areopagus because it was his gifting from God, not because he set some goal of being an “excellent” speaker and attained to it. Peter would not have been able to do the same, but he was no less “excellent” in his speaking because his gifts were different than Paul’s.

    Opus:

    Very thoughtful insights. I appreciate your spirit of finding the good in what I was trying to say. I am, after all, just a visitor here, and I recognize it is Jeffrey’s blog and his views should hold the high ground, so I appreciate the attempt to show common ground. Well done.

  • Nicholas

    Since I just found two pennies in my pocket, I gotta say I agree with Opus on the Gabe/Overstreet discussion.
    And now I have no money.

  • opus

    Also, forgot to mention that “Casimir Pulaski Day” absolutely kills me everytime I hear it. It’s probably the most spiritually devastating song I’ve heard all year, all the moreso because of its simplicity.

    “And He takes and He takes and He takes…”

  • opus

    “The Lord God Bird”, the song Stevens recorded for NPR, is quite excellent – especially considering it was a “one off” project.

    I’ve been a fan of Sufjan for years, ever since “Enjoy Your Rabbit”, and it’s so great to see him getting the acclaim that he is. I interviewed him a few years ago, right before “Michigan” came out, and he’s a very thoughtful, understated person.

    In some ways, I think Gabe and Jeffrey are “arguing” two sides of the same coin. From Gabe, I’m hearing that it’s the heart that matters, that we are called to use our gifts to the best of our God-given abilities. That we shouldn’t be concerned “crossing” over. And he’s absolutely right. From Jeffrey, I’m hearing that, as a “market”, Christians don’t do this. Rather, they do settle for mawkish sentimentality, churning out the equivalent of really bad love songs and passing them off as worship.

    I think Gabe is urging Christians to make sure that our hearts and motives are right. I think Jeffrey is arguing that Christians need to be more discerning in just what, exactly, constitutes “excellence”. In my mind, there’s a symbiosis between the two. In some ways, we can’t create “excellent” art with impure motives, and “excellent” art will always move and inspire people, regardless of whether it’s recorded for a church, a club, a bar, for Christians, non-Christians, whatever.

    Then again, I could be completely offbase.

  • Anonymous
  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >> One thing I am sure of, I would never want to share my own music with you.<<

    Gabe, I am not condemning people for not composing works of genius. I am condemning the attitude within Christian culture that just because something is “Christian” means it’s “excellent.” I’m against the dynamic that encourages us to believe that “familiar” equals “good” and “different” equals “bad.” I’m sickened to see things like the Dove Awards rewarding what sells, and calling *that* excellent, rather than attending to what is artful. That makes Christian community just another variation of The Oscars. (Sure, there are exceptions, but rarely.)

    I apologize for not being clear in my definitions. I am always being introduced to the music of new musicians and young talent, and I am always pleased to note new creative expressions. What bugs me is that so much of the *published* music in the Christian music industry is just the opposite–it speaks more of a company or a committee listening for what will *sell* or for what is supposedly “uplifting” rather than listening for a distinct voice, an honest human expression. So many Christian artists I know have avoided recording for Christian labels, or even playing for Christian audiences, because they have found that the audiences don’t want to hear about their trials or their questions unless there’s a clear happy ending tacked onto the song, or unless Jesus name gets mentioned frequently, or a few hallelujahs are thrown in. I wish I was exaggerating, but I hear this all the time. Christian music has become a *style* in popular circles, far more than it is really about an authenticity or brave honesty or creative expression.

    So again, please forgive my tone in that has come across as attacking anyone who isn’t an artistic genius. Far be it from me to do that. Soon I’ll be putting my own amateur fiction out on the market… and I will welcome criticism and complaint, to urge me on to better work. (A fool shuns discipline, right?) I’ve learned, in Christian circles, that… more often than not… criticism offered in love and humility is often seen as judgmentalism and condemnation, and as a result, mediocrity becomes the norm and is often celebrated as excellence. (This is just like in “The Incredibles,” when Mr. Incredible is upset that his son is getting a graduation ceremony merely for completing the fourth grade.)

    I’m not saying all Christian music is garbage. I’m saying that the tendency is toward celebrating things that don’t deserve it, shun things that challenge us and help us grow, and avoid healthy criticism for fear of offending people who could use a word or two of guidance.

  • Bryan Zug

    Was able to pick this up at Easy Street records in West Seattle on its release date. Read that it was pulled the next day because of copyright issue with the art.

    Have to say its an amazing album — I’ve been enthralled with it all week.

    It was also spotlighted on the iTunes store mainpage this week.

    As for interviews — Pitchfork as one here that is very good. One quote quote that caught my eye was –

    “I know what you’re saying about the stereotypes and the prejudices against certain kinds of Christian music. And the criticism is often just against the aesthetic, the artistry, the lack of substance in a lot of Christian pop music. That’s really easy to deconstruct. Why is black gospel music accepted and enjoyed by people of all religions? I don’t know. There might be a little bit of racism inherent in that. I don’t know– you’d have to be a cultural theorist. But I do have to reckon with the material I’m singing about. And I want to be responsible for what I’m singing about. But I can’t be responsible for an entire culture, or an entire church. I can’t be responsible for Christendom, and all of its messes and all of its destruction and all of its mistakes. That’s not my burden to bear.”

    On another note — Gabe — when you say –

    >>
    What I hear in your tone and manner is a disdain for those in the church who consume the music you find to be “garbage.”
    >>

    I gotta disagree. Jeffrey’s point is not disdain, but encouragement toward excellence in craft — a very basic Biblical value.

    It is good to take heart in your gift and how God is using it in your current context, but it is not good to shelve further excellence in craft in the name of “well God uses it”.

    Had Paul done that, I doubt he’d ever have been able to walk into philosopher’s circle in Athens (Acts 17) and hold his own in persuasion and beauty.

    Seems to me this example from Paul is less an example of an anointed cultural “priest” and more of an example of how we are all called to relate to the world around us.

  • Gabe Syme

    Jeffrey,

    Well, obviously I cannot respond to 10 years of hardened opinion, and I won’t try. I’ve been around music and in ministry for 30 years so, although I don’t have articles to link to, I hope you will take these thoughts as just as considered and seasoned as your own.

    Much of what you say is undoubtedly true, but the reality is that the really “great” music of any genre is never more than just a small percentage of the whole, whether you’re referring to Pop, Country, CCM, or whatever. There simply aren’t that many great artists, and they are usually there because they have honed their craft to reach their audience. If a Christian artist chooses to try to reach a non-Christian market, good for them! But the reality is that they will then not be as known to the Christian marketplace. This is not rocket science.

    Most believers in the church are obviously not as sophisticated, educated or erudite as you are. They are simpler and less complex in their tastes. You seem to suggest that they less mature because they prefer to consume music that you consider to be “garbage.” You seem to imply that they are like the “weak” Christians Paul speaks of in Romans 14-15, unable to discern what is really good. Whether or not it is true that “most Christians” don’t like to “think” about their music, it may also be true that they just don’t prefer the music you prefer.

    What I hear in your tone and manner is a disdain for those in the church who consume the music you find to be “garbage.” I really don’t think that was the attitude of either Jesus or Paul toward those who may have been less mature. You are a good reviewer and you have an ability to capture insights and nuances that others might miss. I would just encourage you to not let your high standards and your personal ideals separate you from those who could benefit from your insights. That is what I was responding to in my initial post. I was fine with your review, but it was the attitude that put me off.

    One thing I am sure of, I would never want to share my own music with you. Although I have written some good songs, I am not among the “great” artists you admire. I am not as poetic, and though I try, I cannot communicate “astonishing truth” as well as others. But, the few who hear my songs respond, and I offer them out of obedience to the talents God has given me. If I felt I had to live up to your standards as a musician, I would just quit. My heart is right, my spirit is right, and I strive with every song for the excellence I can attain to. Having been such a musician, I can listen to, appreciate, and enjoy other “lesser” musicians like myself that you would probably disdain. I also listen to great musicians on both sides of the spiritual divide that make me envious of their skills. I don’t know if you are a musician, or just a music consumer and critic, but it’s not as black and white as you make it out to be.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Gabe,

    I’ve written for more than 10 years about the way that the Christian music industry… more often than not… merely recycles familiar “spiritual” sentiments and platitudes with mediocre music that is often merely a feeble clone of stuff that’s already been recorded with more quality by mainstream artists. I grew up in the church, in youth groups, at Christian schools, etc, and learned quickly that most Christian music was more concerned with being “safe,” accessible, and emotional than with being honest, challenging, or groundbreaking. I saw artists who wanted to explore their doubts, or wrestle with questions, or sing about how God works in the activity of everyday life, being ignored or criticized or abandoned entirely. The Psalmist’s exhortation for us to “Sing a new song!” seemed to go ignored. Randy Stonehill recorded a parody of a Christian praise song, and the Christian music audience was so blind and naive that they made it a number one hit without realizing it was supposed to be funny. I’m not saying there’s never any good Christian music. But the vast majority is lukewarm or awful, lacking in vision, courage, skill, and poetry.

    I’ve posted other comments on this subject here:

    http://lookingcloser.blogspot.com/2004/05/josh-hurst-calls-for-closing-doors-on.html

    http://lookingcloser.org/music/favorites2004.htm

    I’ve also written a great deal about it in my overview of Sam Phillips’ career:
    http://lookingcloser.org/samphillipsinterviewSept2004.htm

    Suffice it to say that if I sound “judgmental” about Christian music… then so be it. We serve a God who spits what is lukewarm out of his mouth. We serve a God who cares about excellence, and who honored as the giants of faith those men who wrestled, who weren’t overly cautious in their pursuit of him, who were bold. We’ve taken the “judge not, lest ye be judged” to a ridiculous extreme, so that we are afraid of pointing out the weaknesses in things, so that we ignore 1 Thessalonians exhortation to “Examine all things and hold fast to what is good.” Philippians 4:8 tells us to dwell on what is “excellent… worthy of praise… of good repute.” If we aren’t allowed to distinguish between excellence and garbage, I don’t know how we’ll be able to obey those verses.

    There’s nothing wrong with writing music for Christians. And you can find good Christian music out there, yes. But it’s not outrageous to make the generalization that most of the stuff that wins “the Dove Awards” and gets celebrated at Creation Fest and elsewhere as the best Christian music has to offer is, about 75% of the time, trite, derivative, and telling us what we like to hear rather than the kind of astonishing truth that will truly transform and humble us with its scandal. There was a reason crowds gathered around to hear Christ speak. And yet, I’d be willing to be they rarely went away with the feel-good buzz most Christian music is trying to inspire.

    Perhaps the most revealing trend of all: Whenever a Christian artist achieves a level of musical excellence in poetry and songcraft to earn attention beyond the walls of the Christian community, it is almost always the case that that particular artist is unsuccessful with Christian audiences. Why? Because most Christians don’t like to *think* about their music, and poetry requires concentrated listening. Because most Christians aren’t interested in singular expressions… they have a certain style they like, and that’s all they listen to. The strongest talents amongst Christians writing and recording songs today, if you mention their name in the circles of those who really pursue music… who read Paste or No Depression or who frequent clubs and festivals, who visit record stores regularly… they’ve HEARD of these artists. But if you go to the Christian music store, not only will the customers never have heard of these artists, but the store won’t even carry them because the record’s on a “secular” label, or the lyrics touch on subjects other than familiar worship themes.

    This *is* changing. The distinctions are becoming blurred. But we still have a long way to go.

  • Gabe Syme

    Jasdye,

    FTR, I was responding to Jeffrey’s post (which I quoted), not yours which I had not seen until I previewed and posted.

    That said, my point is still that Jeffrey’s “just church youth groups” and “the way Christ would have wanted it” comments were unnecessary, in my mind judgmental, and added absolutely nothing to his review of Stevens and other music. Frankly, I think it’s very dangerous to suggest that one is speaking for Jesus on music reviews, or any kind of reviews (will we be privvy to which movies Jesus likes best next?). My point still stands that I’m pretty sure Jesus would be happy with any kind of music created by a Christian artist whose spirit was to serve and glorify God with his or her artistic skills, and to do it to the very best of his or her artistic talents. To suggest, even a little, that CCM artists are somehow lesser artists if their audience is “just church youth groups” is what I object to.

    Now, once more, I am glad for music that is excellent and praiseworthy, whoever makes it and wherever it is marketed. If Stevens fits that bill, that’s great, and it’s a good thing, and I said that quite clearly in my previous post. My “standard” for any “Christian artist,” whether playing to secular or church audiences, is: does the music glorify God and testify of the Spirit? If it doesn’t, then who cares?! It’s great when a Christian artist gets secular recognition and they are able to give honor to God as result of that recognition. Hooray for them. Just don’t turn it into some reason to criticize Christian artists building up the body with their artistic skills.

    Nuff said.

  • Anonymous

    Sufjan’s previous album Seven Swans is even simpler than Illinois in it’s frank talk of faith and God. It’s one of my favorite albums in my Library. Got really great write ups on pitchforkmedia.com.
    I’m quite anxious to buy Illinois, but I want the full CD and the record label has pulled the CD due to artwork issues. this is one album where having the liner notes really matters

  • jasdye

    Gabe,

    Alright. I’m tired. So, I’m not gonna get into it too much on this one. But beyond the salt metaphor we had discussed earlier…

    A lot of CCM is expressly made for and marketed to that same market. Is there something inately wrong with that? No. But, honestly, the standards are lowered precisely because the expectations are lowered. And does such a large percentage of music made by the church have to hit only the church? Shouldn’t we have impact on our surrounding also?

    Yes, inward development is good. But so is outreach. Evangelism music is not cutting it. But groups like Over the Rhine, et al. are shining as testimonies to God and his ways in ways that Audio Adrenaline can only (and should) aspire to.

  • Gabe Syme

    I was tracking great with your comments and looking forward to hearing Stevens, until the ellipsis and last sentence. I think Jesus would be just fine with ALL music created by true disciples, whether directed to the Gentiles or directed to the Synagogue, as long as the Spirit was right. You seem to imply that Jesus disapproves of music that inspires “just church youth groups.” Don’t you think that’s just a bit judgmental? I think it’s great that some Christians have found success as artists in the secular market with good, intelligent music. Hooray for them, and all the better if they can communicate convicting spiritual truth through their craft, and have an unashamed personal testimony for Jesus to a secular audience. I praise God for those artists. However, I also praise God for Christian artists (who are no less artists than those you mentioned) who create good, intelligent music that edifies and motivates believers in a craftful way. I think that is a good thing, not something to damn with faint praise.

  • jasdye

    Anybody read any good interviews with him? I’d like to read some stuff by him. Sounds like an interesting cat.

    And Chagall Guevera. I know that Rolling Stone has passed irrelevancy stage 20 or more years ago (you forget Source, which I don’t read, but it’s got its fingers on what’s hot), but they were right, CG rocked (what other word can you use to put it so succinctly?). I still love that album.

  • W.A.S.

    I’m an unabashed Star Wars ubergeek (as if you couldn’t tell), but I’ve got to agree with Jeff on this one. The directing on Episodes I & II could have been better. Heresy you say? Don’t get me wrong. I consider George Lucas a friggin’ genius, but I think that he should have allowed someone else to helm the filming. I mean, that formula worked great with Kershner on Empire and Kasdan on Jedi. There are a few scenes that will always make me cringe…some of those with Jake Lloyd in Phantom Menace, and the romance segments in Attack of the Clones. Word has it that Spielberg helped his buddy out with this one, which would be fantastic. I’ve got high expectations.

    As for me, I’m currently reading the novels that lead up to Revenge of the Sith.

  • Justin

    I bought the book the other day, and I got the “making of” book as well. Havent read either. I am curious why everyone loves to trash on Lucas for his films. He is shooting 1930′s style movies. He admits this. It’s not that he cannot direct actors, it’s just he uses a different style. If Bogart was an actor today his performances would have been considered “wooden”, just because of the evolution of film. I love Peter Jackson’s work, I think he is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. However, I do not think you can really compare him to Lucas, they make totally different films. I also feel like the Academy should recognize Lucas, obviously not for best picture, but for what he has contributed to the art of film making. I could go on and on about what Lucas has done to make film making better, but I will digress. I just think people should quit talking badly about him, just because they don;t like his films.

  • Polka Dotted Pickles

    Yeah, I’m looking forward to the movie! Can’t wait to see what happens. I haven’t read the book though. Admittedly, I haven’t read any of the books. *Sigh*


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X