Here is your open thread for January 16, 2020.
It’s the 59th birthday of Jill Sobule, who sang about kissing a girl 13 years before Katy Perry did. To the extent she’s known at all, it’s for wry novelty songs like that or “Supermodel,” but Sobule also wrote a whole bunch of heartfelt, earnest songs like this one:
That’s called “Nostalgia Kills,” which is a particularly timely observation in 2020 America. Sobule is singing about relationships, not politics, but when she warns of the paralyzing effects of wallowing in the imagined glories of the past and sings “We have to keep moving or die,” well, that’s pretty much where we are politically too.
January 16 is also National Religious Freedom Day (about which more later). Related to that, today also marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of the Eric Liddell, as well as the 55th birthday of Maxine Jones of En Vogue.
Liddell was the Olympic athlete whose story was told in the Academy Award-winning 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. (I saw this, in the theater, because it was the one movie that members of my fundamentalist Baptist church were explicitly allowed — and encouraged — to see in the theater.) Liddell was a sprinter and was favored to medal in the 100-meter race at the Paris Olympics of 1924, but refused to compete in that event because the preliminary heats were on Sundays and, as a devout Christian missionary, he would not race on the Christian Sabbath. Instead, he trained for and ran in the 400 meters, a distance he’d never excelled at, and went on to set a new world record and win a gold medal.
It’s not clear if the Flying Scotsman’s refusal to race would have constituted the kind of “protest” barred by the IOC’s new rules for this year’s summer Olympics. I’d guess not since that rule will probably be enforced in a similar fashion to the NFL’s rules regarding Christian athletes who kneel as a demonstration of their faith, which is to say based on whether the demonstration is punching up or punching down, which is to say based on whether the quarterback kneeling to express the mandates of his Christian faith is black or white.Liddell’s sort of strict Sabbath-keeping is no longer an important religious or subcultural signified for most Protestant Christians. Christy Mathewson never pitched on Sundays — not even when he pitched three shutouts in the 1905 World Series — but Liddell and Mathewson were among the last of the Sabbath-keeping Christian athletes. The most outspoken evangelical Christian athletes of my lifetime have played in the NFL, where most of their games have been on Sundays.
In the 20th Century, American evangelicals adopted other religious and cultural markers to set themselves apart. Such as, for example, forbidding dancing. That’s what brings us back to Ms. Jones and En Vogue, whose 1992 banger “Free Your Mind,” provides the soundtrack for this 2003 post about Wheaton College’s first school dance. Here’s the end of that:
Wheaton — the alma mater of Billy Graham and Wes Craven — is a flagship institution in the little world of evangelicaldom. What happens at Wheaton will have a ripple effect, spurring change at places like Messiah and dozens of other such colleges across the country.
“It makes us seem less like a subculture in our own little world,” sophomore Julia Stampfl said of the new policy.
Exactly. Which is a Good Thing. And dancing is, itself, a Good Thing, so I encourage Julia and the rest of the folks there at Wheaton to get out on the dance floor and shake that student body.
A wise philosopher (George Clinton) once said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow.” Here’s hoping that works the other way around as well.
I think it does work both ways. And that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.
Today is also the 77th birthday of composer Gavin Bryars, whose “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is one of my Favorite Things. The song is built around an unused bit of audio recorded for a 1971 documentary about people living homeless in London. The full recording linked above includes Tom Waits’ accompaniment, but I also love this concert video for the way it lets us watch the full orchestra oh-so-gradually join and lift the voice of this anonymous man.
Future EGOT Lin-Manuel Miranda turns 40 today. He shares a birthday with Broadway legend Ethel Merman, the brassiest belter that ever was. Her cameo in Airplane! was one for the ages:
Talk amongst yourselves.