You almost didn’t get to hear this week’s episode.
About halfway through recording, Joe had to take a break. I paused the recorder and, when he returned, I suggested that maybe we junk what we’d recorded and start something new. I just wasn’t feeling it.
But that wasn’t really the truth. The truth is that the episode had revealed an internal prejudice and I wasn’t feeling comfortable with my motives anymore. What I had thought would be a funny riff on Christian culture took a bit of a turn where Joe was discussing past regrets and I was confronting my cynicism. It’s not bracing, raw stuff, but it is a conversation that took a total turn from where I intended. Joe convinced me that what we had was pretty good so far, and we brought it back in for a landing, resulting in what I think is one our realest and most engaging episodes yet.
The subject is Christian masculinity, and it was based around a video promo I saw for a Christian men’s conference happening this weekend.
I’ll ‘fess up: I went into this episode with a chip on my shoulder toward the whole idea of masculine Christianity. It’s been an annoyance of mine for over a decade, for reasons I explain in the episode. Joe, however, zigged when I was hoping he would zag into joining my ridicule, and the result is something a bit more thoughtful than I expected. It’s one of the benefits of doing this show with a co-host who doesn’t look at life the same way I do and, as we near the podcast’s one-year anniversary in a few months, shows me how much fun it’s been to do this show.
Next week is another good episode. A bit less introspective and much nerdier.
Five for Friday
As always, here are my picks to keep you entertained this weekend.
The Greatest Showman: Last Christmas’ surprise hit is now available to rent and purchase on digital platforms, and the Blu-Ray/DVD comes out next week. I showed it to my kids recently, and they went crazy for it. I’ll admit that the script is banal and glosses over the very problematic aspects of P.T. Barnum’s life; it’s hagiography that feels more like the movie Barnum would have made about himself. But Hugh Jackman is so charismatic, the colors so lush and the musical sequences so entertaining that there’s a lot to love. It’s a pop album as a movie; it may not be great, but you’re going to tap your toes and dance along.
It’s My Favorite!: It might be bad form to plug one of my podcasts while plugging my other podcast, but oh well. For three years, I’ve co-hosted this pop culture and life-related podcast with my friends Matt and Beth, and it’s always a highlight of my month. “It’s My Favorite” puts out two episodes a month (most of the time), with one focused on our favorite pop culture and the other — our “Scoop Du Jour” — focused on whatever topics we’re interested in at the moment. This week, our latest “Scoop Du Jour” posted, and we talk about the return of “Roseanne,” some critter problems and political engagement. We’re actually recording again really soon, so subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it.
“Good News” by Rend Collective: I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music anymore, unless I’m in nostalgic mood or doing research for my Sacred Cows pieces (a new one is coming before the month’s end!). But certain groups still catch my interest. One of those is Rend Collective, an Irish folk music worship team that gets better each time out. Their latest album, “Good News,” is an upbeat, fun listen, and a nice change of pace from typical worship fare that depends on one guy and a guitar. Fans of solid theological lyrics and some clap-worthy folk sounds will appreciate this. I’m actually seeing the group in concert this Saturday, which put this album on my mind again.
Muppet Guys Talking: I’m a Muppet fanatic, a firm believer that Jim Henson’s creations are one of the purely good things in pop culture. But it’s easy to forget that Henson wasn’t the only creative force behind Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the others. Director Frank Oz, who was also one of Henson’s chief collaborators, gathered several of his fellow puppeteers — including Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta and the late Jerry Nelson (the documentary was filmed shortly before Nelson’s death in 2012) — to talk about their work bringing these iconic characters to life, the comedic anarchy that fueled “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street,” and working with Henson. It’s mostly just five people sitting on couches talking, with some behind-the-scenes videos spliced in, but it’s heaven for any Muppet fans, and a reminder of what gave these characters their souls (and why it’s so difficult to replicate). At only 65 minutes long, my only complaint is that I wanted more. Available for $10 here.
The Heretic: Available for rent and purchase on most digital platforms, director Andrew Morgan’s documentary about author, philosopher and former pastor Rob Bell won’t likely change your mind about the controversial figure. The title is tongue-in-cheek, a reference to how Bell was branded after his book “Love Wins” came out (the film would make an interesting double feature with Netflix’s “Come Sunday.”) Bell has always been great at presenting questions about what he believes, but never offering concrete answers; he’s J.J. Abrams’ mystery box, but as a person, and my guess is that your view on him will likely stay the same after seeing this film. Bell participates in interviews and always seems “on,” never candid; there’s also a smugness to him when discussing those who hold more traditional beliefs that rubs me the wrong way. As a spiritual leader, Bell has problems. As a philosopher and thought-leader, though, I often find him engaging and fascinating, and the film’s portrait of an America where Christianity is divided, even as spiritual search increases, is fascinating. It’s worth a look, but don’t expect to come away with any more insight about the man himself.