On Hatmaker on Marriage

Being critical of popular writer and speaker Jen Hatmaker feels a bit like kicking puppies. If you are unfamiliar with Hatmaker, she is a blogging, self-depreciating, too-much-info sharing pastor’s wife and author of Seven and Interrupted. She manages to be funny and heartfelt all the while sharing her clear desire to see the Gospel impact the world around her. She also has a great collection of oversized earrings that I confess to greatly envy.

Since setting off on my journey to become a published writer, Jen Hatmaker has served as a model for what I would like to achieve; walking that razor-thin line of approachable yet substantive. She is authentic and real but without making excuses or compromising her convictions. Do you sense the giant “but” approaching? Here it comes…

BUT, having enjoyed and been inspired by her writing so much, I was that much more disappointed when I read Hatmaker’s recent blog post regarding World Vision and it’s since reversed decision to allow for the hiring of married gay employees.

www.fellowshipwomenonline.com
www.fellowshipwomenonline.com

It isn’t Hatmaker’s position on gay marriage that disappoints me since her position is unclear. (She has clarified her position in her latest post if you care to know.) What I find so disturbing is her dangerous mischaracterization of the nature of biblical truth and our ability to discern that truth, all in the name of peacemaking.

Hatmaker says “…the Christian community is not going to reach consensus on gay marriage.” I actually disagree with this view since the church has historically been in agreement on this issue for thousands of years. But putting that aside, supposing that we will never agree, in her opinion, mean that we should throw in the towel and just agree to disagree?

What if the early church fathers had taken this approach regarding the biblical canon or heresies that plagued the early church? Should they have simply thrown up their hands and agreed to disagree? Despite her claims that there was a significant lack of agreement among the early church regarding major aspects of the faith, we have hard won creeds and doctrines that have been passed down to us that say differently.

Speaking of the early church fathers, this brings me to my second beef with Hatmaker’s assertions that “we” will never agree. When it comes to the church—and I mean the church beyond 21st century evangelical protestant America—and its view of same-sex marriage, there is actually a larger consensus than she is willing to admit. When one takes into account the whole of the church, through history and across continents, the overwhelming majority comes down on the side of traditional marriage. I find it ironic that too often those who claim to speak for the open-minded crowd neglect the opinions and perspectives of literally billions of believers.

Hatmaker asserts that “Thousands of churches and millions of Christ-followers faithfully read the Scriptures and with thoughtful and academic work come to different conclusions on homosexuality (and countless others). Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is absolutely not unanimity on its interpretation. There never has been.” This is simply not true. It isn’t true of homosexuality and it isn’t true of any of the major tenets of the Christian faith. If it were, we wouldn’t be a single religion but rather a collection of sects.

Has there been disagreement among certain traditions regarding issues such as baptism, predestination, and more culturally relevant issues such as slavery and the role of women? Absolutely. But there is also a rich history of common ground that as Christians we all enjoy and should fight, yes fight, to defend.

I absolutely agree with Jen Hatmaker that the world needs to see the Church work through these issues with love and respect. I just don’t want to see us sacrifice what is true in the name of let’s-all-just-get-alongitus. For then, if we allow the truth to slip away while we are too busy making nice with one another, what will we have to offer a lost and dying world? What Good News will there be left to tell?

We must wrestle with the truth and with one another not in order to prove we’re right or win points for our side. We must preserve it in order to give it to those who so desperately need it. The truth is there to be discovered and in the end it will set us all free.


From Christianity to Atheism?

When reading or hearing the stories of atheists, certain patterns tend to emerge.  One standard account goes like this:  I was a devout Christian but along the way became dissatisfied with certain aspects of my faith.  As I learned more about the Bible I realized that it is loaded with problems.  After examining it more closely, I concluded that it is horribly unreliable and really just a bunch of made up stories, essentially religious fairy-tales.  This realization, combined with all of the hypocrisy I witnessed among Christians, essentially spelled the end of my faith.  So now I’m a completely fulfilled atheist.  Examples of this basic story abound on the Internet, such as here and here.

Now there are a few things about this journey to un-faith paradigm that bother me and that from a rational standpoint don’t add up.  For one thing, it strikes me as odd that so many atheists moved directly from giving up Christianity to giving up theism.  The Christian faith is just one of three major brands of theism (along with Judaism and Islam).  To falsify one form of this general religious perspective is not to falsify it in all of its forms.  After rejecting Christianity, why not look into one of the other major versions of theism?  Perhaps such atheists will insist that in discovering the Bible is a book of fairy tales they have basically discovered that all religions “of the book” (in this case, all three including the Old Testament) are baseless.  But, then, we may ask, why limit one’s theistic alternatives to these three traditions?  Why not consider generic theism or a non-religious philosophical theism such as that espoused by the likes of Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle?—at least until one has thoroughly reviewed the evidences for God.  Some thinkers, such as Antony Flew late in his career, have done just this, all the while keeping an open mind about the possibility that the world creator had revealed himself in some special way.

The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt
The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt

Another unsettling fact about many atheists is their rejection of Jesus Christ, not just as a religious figure or, more specifically, the God-incarnate savior of humankind, but in toto.  That is, in rejecting Jesus Christ as Christians believe in him, one need not also reject his teachings.  One can deny that Jesus is “Lord” but still recognize his wisdom, even philosophical genius, as evident in his many brilliant discourses and parables.  One might even reasonably say that Jesus is a great philosopher.  As Doug Groothuis shows in his fascinating little book On Jesus, the itinerant Nazarene is undeniably a profound and innovative philosophical mind, whatever else he might be.

Suppose a religious tradition emerged which had as a core teaching the notion that Immanuel Kant was divine and somehow God’s envoy to save humanity from our moral faults, such as by assiduously following the Categorical Imperative, praying in Kant’s name, and so on.  Now if I decided, as I think we all should, that Kant is not the savior, would it make sense to also completely disregard him as a philosopher or otherwise ignore his many valuable insights about ultimate questions?  The same might be said of many other great thinkers, from Plato and Aristotle to Augustine, Aquinas, Locke, Hume, and Plantinga.  The fact that none of these thinkers is divine is no excuse to completely ignore them as philosophers and sources of great wisdom.  In fact, we should study their teachings closely regardless of how they might be misconstrued from a religious standpoint.  Other people’s overestimation of their ultimate identity or moral goodness is no reason to ignore their philosophical genius.  Yet, this is what most atheists and other non-Christians do when it comes to Jesus.  They seem to assume that rejection of him as God-incarnate and/or savior of humanity is tantamount to rejecting him as wise or even as a significant ethicist or philosopher of religion.  But these two things are far from equivalent.

For this reason I often implore Christians-turned-atheists to return to Jesus, if only as a student of the man’s philosophical acumen.  Jesus’ logical skill, ethical teachings, anthropological insights, and cultural criticism (usually aimed at religious leaders, which should please any atheist)—not to mention his rhetorical genius and unparalleled influence on world history—all merit close study.  For these reasons we can all benefit from a better understanding of Jesus, whether we call him Lord or merely a great human thinker.


Celebrating Lent

Happy Fat Tuesday! (a.k.a. the day everyone in our house scrambles to come up with something to give up for Lent and then spends the day doing/eating/watching that thing as much as possible). It’s funny to see each of our personalities come out in how we go about this process. Jim? Knows himself and gives up the same thing nearly every year—sweets. The kids’ strategy? Try to think of something that will sound impressive to their friends but they won’t actually miss all that much (e.g, “Mom, can I give up brushing my teeth for Lent?”) I will give Sam credit for having given up sugary cereal a few year back, given that cereal is just below oxygen and water on his list of life’s necessities.

I usually start thinking about Lent well in advance of its arrival. I know I have found a winner when I think of something and then immediately panic. This, of course, is a good indicator that this is the very thing I should choose, but I will spend the next few weeks saying, “I am not really going to give up that, am I?” Then Lent rolls around and I spend the next 40 days saying, “Whose dumb idea was it to give this up? Oh, wait…it was mine.” This year? My beloved iPad in all it’s app glory will be hitting the shelf ‘til Easter morning at which point I will gorge myself on back episodes of Castle and Antiques Roadshow.

Recently I read a book about life in England during the year 1000, appropriately entitled The Year 1000. The book walks the reader through the calendar year and I found its discussion of Easter particularly fascinating. The people of this time “had encountered the reality of famine.” Their deep connection and dependence on the land made hunger an ever-present specter that haunted their lives. But during Lent, the author says, “Fasting was the church’s way of harnessing hunger to spiritual purposes…Occurring when it did, in the final months of winter when the barns and granaries were getting bare, there was a sense in which Lent made a virtue of necessity.”

I don’t know the physical hunger of my medieval brothers and sisters, but as I survey our country’s, and my own, moral landscape, I see a land plagued by drought and pestilence. I see a land of plenty starving for want of nourishment.

Ironically, in Lent, in this time of abstinence and voluntarily deprivation I find the very nourishment I need. Lent is the time to shake off the covers, take inventory and do some spring cleaning. In the absence of distraction, I feel the glow of God’s presence.

In that sense, Lent isn’t a time of fasting at all. It is an exchange of one food for another; the food which poisons and numbs for the food which nourishes and awakens. My heart’s barn is empty but God is ready and waiting to give me my fill. May you and I be prepared to work for and receive the harvest He has prepared.


Hodgepodge

1. What is love?  Here is a fascinating compendium of kids’ definitions of love that will make you laugh, reflect, and maybe even cry.

2. Check out this film short entitled Sight which portends where Augmented Reality Technology is leading (some of?) us.  Where have you gone, Neil Postman?  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you . . .

3. Here’s a bold and insightful reflection on something that the author, Anthony Esolen, calls “temptation mysticism.”

4. Finally, from the Don’t-Put-The-Lord-To-The-Test department…I’d never watched a video that gave me vertigo before…until I watched this.


Snapshots

Brief comments on film by Amy.
Some old, some new.  Domestic films and foreign too.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Snapshots.  So here’s a hefty dose of thoughts on films and shows I’ve seen recently.

The Great Gatsby —  I realize that when remaking a classic, one might struggle to do so in a fresh and new way but Baz Luhrmann tried a little too hard on this one. While visually beautiful, it felt more like a lavish, non-animated cartoon than a serious film. There’s over-the-top that works (such as Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom) and then there’s this. DiCaprio is always a standout, but the best thing I got out of this movie was a new song for my treadmill playlist (“A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody,” in case you are interested).

220px-Blue_Jasmine_posterBlue Jasmine — I don’t know where to start on this one, as a film or as an issue. I have long since disapproved of Woody Allen as a man and am certain that the declining quality of his art can be linked directly with his declining sense of right and wrong. But if I only watched movies written and directed by upstanding, moral people, where would that leave me? Reading a book, I suspect. But soon after watching Blue Jasmine, Jim directed me to this link: Open Letter from Dylan Farrow. I was shocked. While I was vaguely aware of the controversy surrounding the split between Allen and Farrow, I had always associated it with his involvement with her adopted but of-age daughter. I had no idea it stemmed from her much younger daughter’s allegations of abuse. I don’t know what sickens me more—Allen’s actions or Hollywood’s ambivalence to them. Blue Jasmine is the last Woody Allen film I will ever see. Having said that, Cate Blanchett is an acting genius. The film was completely dominated by her amazing performance. Just wish she kept better company.

Prisoners — This was a great thriller. I was folding laundry on the edge of my seat. Jackman is great as is Gyllenhaal. Wish the writing had been a little more consistent, as in the deeply religious but potty-mouthed Jackman, but it still raises some interesting questions about justifiable ends and means.

TheMaster2012PosterThe Master — What do Blue Jasmine, The Iron Lady and The Master all have in common? They are all mediocre movies featuring tremendous performances. Joaquin Phoenix was so disturbed (and disturbing) in this film, I could hardly watch. Yet I couldn’t turn away. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams were also fantastic, in a less creepy but still convincing way. Dumb and confusing movie but Phoenix is, indeed, a master.

Star Trek: Into the Darkness — What can I say? J. J. Abrams rocks. This film harkens back to the days of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, when our heroes didn’t take themselves too seriously, and we loved them for it. Dare I say this gives me hope for Star Wars: Episode VII?

Honorable and Not So Honorable MentionsLuther: For those who just can’t get enough of the BBC’s detective stories; not quite ready to forgive for the way the series ended but still worth watching. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: So bad. Oh so very, very bad; if only they had just looped the three or four minutes of Nathan Fillion’s performance I would have been satisfied. Captain Phillips: I always feel conflicted when a based-on-the-true-story film is good, but dishonest in it’s representation of the actual events. I also found the filmmakers attempts to create sympathy for the pirates annoying. Still any movie that engages you despite your knowing how everything is going to turn out must be worth the price of the ticket, especially when you checked it out from the library for free. Downton Abbey: Season 4: Ever so pleasantly surprised by the lack of social agenda in this year’s season. Will confess to having cheated and purchased the whole season on iTunes. Just couldn’t wait to see how it was going to all shake out. While I found Michelle Dockery as the Matthew-less Mary a little uneven, I was absolutely haunted by Joanne Froggatt’s brilliant performance and can’t speak highly enough of the director’s and writer’s agonizingly discreet treatment of the scene in which she is attacked. The Making of a Lady: Thought I was in for an hour or so of light-weight PBS watching and instead wanted to hide under the covers by the end. So, so good in the most terrifying of ways. Could have learned a lesson from Downton Abbey’s “imply don’t show” approach, but still very well done. Finally, The Americans: Ugh. I am supposed to identify with the dedication of Soviet spies who go around killing innocent people and lying up the wazoo while condemning Reagan and the FBI for their devotion to national and international security? Tell that to the millions who were tortured, imprisoned and killed during the same period back in the Motherland.


Top Three Lists of Three

In addition to top ten lists, I love top three lists.  I also love lists of lists.  So… here are my top three top three lists.

The Worst Woman’s Clothing Fashions Ever:

3. High-heeled shoes — Impractical (to the point of being a health hazard) and not attractive

2. Skinny jeans — If an article of clothing could be unflattering on ANY woman, this is it.

1. The bikini — If an article of clothing could be inherently immodest, this is it.  Hmm, let’s make something more skimpy than underwear, but add some color.

Three Things That are Never Cool:

That is, here are three things you can never look cool doing.  No explanations necessary.

3. Yelling from a moving car

2. Crying at work

1. Explaining a joke

The Three Most Disgusting Animals:

There are so many worthy contenders for this category that it’s an excruciating process narrowing it down to three.  But here they are:

3. The leech — Not so much the look of the thing as what it does.  Having said that, leeches are also ugly.

2. The naked mole rat — Talk about ugly.  Even in its most healthy and ideal condition, this animal looks like the living convergence of multiple mutations.

1. The blobfish — This is probably a bit unfair as a choice, because the blobfish only becomes so disgusting when removed from its highly pressurized natural state deep under the sea.  Still, you have to admit this is the most disgusting animal you’ve ever seen.


My Favorite Morrissey Songs

I’ve been reading Morrissey’s Autobiography (which I will review for Books and Culture soon), and of course this has sent me into quite a fit of listening to his music, both the Smiths and his solo stuff.  The Pope of Mope certainly has built an impressive catalogue.  And, being the lover of top ten lists that I am, I’ve been thinking about my favorite Moz solo tunes.  So here they are, lightly annotated for your reading pleasure.  To save myself the agony of trying to rank order them, I’ve decided to list them chronologically.

  1. “The Girl Least Likely To” (1989) – Morrissey is known for his lyrical daggers.  This one, directed at one of the singer’s many benighted critics, is as good as it gets.  “She lives for the written word, and people come second or possibly third,” the Moz sings over an addictive arpeggio guitar line.  Some call this Morrissey’s very best solo tune, and they might be right.
  2. “Interesting Drug” (1989) – More beautifully melodic jangly guitar lines, a tumbling drum part played by former Smiths band-mate (and eventual despised enemy) Mike Joyce, as well as a rare female harmony vocal (by Kirsty MacColl), all couch a truly depressing lyric: “A government scheme designed to kill your dream. Oh mom, oh dad.”  It works.  Man, does it work.

    From theguardian.com
    From theguardian.com
  3. “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” (1989) – Featuring some “Suffragette City”-esque keyboards played by producer Stephen Street, this song is an ironic musical ode to two notorious British gangsters from the 1960s.  “In our lifetime those who kill, the news world hands them stardom…”  So sadly true.
  4. “National Front Disco” (1992) – There are several great songs on Morrissey’s rockabilly-tinged Your Arsenal album.  This one might be the best, featuring some vintage guitar work by Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte.  Unfortunately, the song created controversy because of supposed racist lyrics (e.g. “England for the English”).  Never understood that fatuous charge.
  5. “Hold on to Your Friends” (1994) – Steve Lillywhite’s debut at the production helm for the Moz resulted in a classic with Vauxhall and I, including this beauty—a veritable feast of melodic guitar parts (Boorer and Whyte, again, at their best) as well as some genuine practical wisdom: “Give up your job, squander your cash, be rash…just hold on to your friends.”  Amen to that.
  6. “The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get” (1994) – This is the very next song on Morrissey’s Vauxhall and I album, and its just as musically scrumptious.  It also has an unusually bold and confident lyric for the Moz:  “Beware, I hold more grudges than lonely high court judges.  When you sleep, I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay.  Take the easy way and give in.”  Wow.
  7. “First of the Gang to Die” (2004) – After a seven-year hiatus, Morrissey returned right in stride with You are the Quarry.  This dark anthem is one of the album highlights.  “Hector was the first of the gang with a gun in his hand and a bullet in his gullet and the first lost lad to go under the sod… And he stole all hearts away.”  More classic Moz dark humor.
  8. “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” (2006) – Under the direction of legendary producer Tony Visconti, Ringleader of the Tormentors featured some classic Morrissey tunes that took real chances, like this one with its powerful use of a children’s choir and a gritty mellotron.  “There is no such thing in life as normal.”  Indeed.
  9. “In the Future When All’s Well” (2006) – Human mortality is an abiding theme on Ringleader, and it is especially pronounced on this song, which hammers home the message with harmonizing Rickenbacker guitar lines.  “I will lie down and be counted in the future when all’s well.”  Won’t we all.
  10. “That’s How People Grow Up” (2009) – During his younger years, Morrissey’s perpetual lovelorn state was an invitation to pity.  Decades later (after many “years of refusal,” as the album title declares) it is a badge of maturity:  “I was wasting my time praying for love—for a love that never comes from someone who does not exist.  And that’s how people grow up.”

Got your own top ten (or top five or top three) Moz tunes?  I’d love to see it.


Lessons from the ER

Many of you know that a week ago yesterday, Jim had a strange and frightening “episode.” It began with his failure to remember the storyline of a Sherlock episode we had watched the night before (hardly unusual) and ended with an overnight hospital stay and an alphabet soup of tests. Final diagnosis? Transient Global Amnesia. Bottom line? Scariest day of my life ends with the assurance that Jim is healthy as a horse and will completely recover.

Jim wasn’t the only one to get a check-up that day. While his brain was getting poked and prodded by doctors and nurses, my heart was getting a good workup from the Holy Spirit. Nothing like a crisis to test your faith in your espoused theology. Feeling helpless in the face of the unknown taught me, or rather reminded me of, some important lessons that I hope to remember in the little moments of every day life as well as the big moments of crisis.

So here are some of the things I learned through our experience:

1) Remember that we are guaranteed nothing in this world. As I drove Jim to the hospital, I feared for the life of the man who ranks just below Jesus on my list of essentials to my well-being. In between answering his repeating loop of questions, I was pleading with God for his mind to be protected from whatever was happening. While doing so, I thought of all the people who have done the same thing, who have pleaded for protection, for healing, for restoration…only to be denied. Not unheard. Not unanswered. But denied. I never doubted that God was listening, only that He might have a different plan from mine.

I was reminded that my plans are not guaranteed but God’s are absolute. The day I had envisioned—running to the library, exchanging pants at Target, maybe a quick bite at Chick-Fil-A—never existed. But the day God had planned—rushing to the ER, frantically calling family and friends, waiting for answers—that day had been mapped out for all eternity. God’s day was a perfect day. A perfect day for displaying His ultimate will for Jim and for me and for the universe. Easy to say when the day ended on a happy note, but it is as true in grief as in rejoicing. God is our only guarantee.

2) Carefully consider the words you choose; they could be your last. One of the things I clung to during that day was the last conversation Jim and I had before everything went loopy. I was telling him how much I loved him and how thankful I was for having him in my life. Of course, now he doesn’t remember that I said all those nice things but I do. I kept thinking of how many times he walked out the door to a hurried good-bye or some nagging comment about not forgetting the milk. I know that if something happened to him or me on one of those less than stellar farewell days, Jim would still know how much I love him. Still, I had peace in knowing that, at least on this day, I had done well. Our words hold great power and we should always use them with care.

3) Maintain a deep appreciation for the community in which you live. The Spiegels are profoundly fortunate in our community. Not only does Jim work in the midst of deeply committed brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are a part of an immensely loving and supportive church body. As if that isn’t enough, we have great neighbors as well as a family that stays close despite the distance of miles. I knew all I had to do was call and bam—the kids would be cared for, emails would be sent, meals would be provided, and, most importantly, prayers would be offered.

While we have certainly been planted in green pastures, I told Jim afterwards that the love and care we received was, in part, a reflection of the love and care he had given. He had cultivated those relationships through time and sacrifice and it came back to us ten-fold. Cultivate your pastures whether they are green or stony. God will bless your efforts.

4) When people ask you to pray for something, no matter how big or small, do it. It would be easy for us to say “Well, Jim’s condition, while scary and disconcerting, was never serious. Those hundreds of prayers on his behalf were wasted on a benign disorder.” Poppycock! Our God, who is not limited by space or time, heard those prayers before the creation of the world. He ordained them for Jim’s benefit and no one will convince me otherwise. So thank you, to all those who lifted our family up. May we have the privilege of doing the same for you one day. God bless and keep you all.


Super Bowl XLVIII Analysis

Super Bowl XLVIII is quickly approaching (or not so quickly, if you’re sick of all of the pre-game hype), so its time for me to weigh in with my own semi-informed analysis.  Those NFL fans who know me well actually care about this, because my track record for predicting Super Bowl outcomes is quite good.  I’ve picked 12 of the last 15 Super Bowls correctly.  So, let’s see if I can go 13 for 16.

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Denver is a slight favorite in the game, but most of the pundits I have heard seem to be taking the Seahawks.  It’s the whole “good defense beats good offense” dogma, which fails in this case for several reasons, as I will explain.  I’m calling for a Broncos win, hopefully (as ever), in overtime.  I’ve been rooting for an overtime Super Bowl game since 1970.  Perhaps this year will be the year.  Anyway, here’s why I’m picking the Broncos:

  • The Denver offense is not just any good offense.  They’re historically great, led by the greatest NFL QB ever at the top of his game.  Not only that, Peyton Manning is wiser than ever.  He’s experienced two Super Bowls and knows, far better than his counter-part Russell Wilson, how to effectively prepare.  Wilson might be ready on Sunday, but Peyton Manning will be readier.
  • The Denver defense is playing well.  Not so much during the regular season, but definitely so far in the playoffs.  They shut down the run against both the Chargers and Pats (60 yards each).  They’ll key on Seattle’s run game and contain it (yes, even the “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch) and thus force them to pass, which won’t be easy considering what they did to pressure Brady last week.  The Broncos defense could be the story of SB48.  They’re under the radar now, but might not be for long.
  • The Seattle offense will only be as strong as Russell Wilson.  But can the 25-year-old Super Bowl virgin stand up under the pressure? Several others have won Super Bowls at that age (Montana, Brady, Roethlisberger, and Namath), but only because of the strength of their defenses (their teams scored an average of just 19 points).  Most have failed (e.g., Marino, Bledsoe, Kaepernick, etc.).  But, again, the key will be the Denver defense.  If they can rattle Wilson early, it could get ugly.  That would be a recipe for a Broncos route.
  • The distraction factor:  This definitely favors Denver because of the fallout over the Sherman debacle.  Don’t underestimate the negative effect this can have on the entire Seahawks team.  Such constant media pressure wears on even the most sturdy veterans.  And Marshawn Lynch’s games with the media (refusing to answer questions) is a further distraction.
  • Seattle nearly (probably should have) lost in the NFC championship game at home.  That tells me that the Niners would have won at home or even on a neutral field.  So the Broncos are not playing the NFC’s best.  This point is consistently overlooked or ignored by sports commentators (no doubt because it would detract from the drama of the game narrative).  The media often obscures truth, in sports as much as in politics.  It’s just less exasperating when mere sporting events (rather than human lives) are at stake.  But I digress.
  • The team leadership factor:  Give the edge to Denver here as well, because of Manning and Champ Bailey.
  • Coaching: Probably a draw.  But Fox is a steadier, more even-keeled coach than Carroll, which might work in Denver’s favor.  As Terry Bradshaw says, you need to be cool-headed going into the SB.  That’s exactly what Carroll and his team will not be two days from now.

Final Score:  Denver 27 Seattle 24 (in overtime, hopefully)


Arcade Fire’s Reflektor: A Review

After three acclaimed albums—Funeral (2004), Neon Bible (2007), and The Suburbs (2010)—the expectations for Arcade Fire’s fourth album were exceptionally high, particularly when it was announced this one would be a double album. On The Suburbs, Win Butler and Co. had fully found their stride, both in terms of musical innovation and lyrical maturity. Where would they go next? Well, naturally, to James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to help produce the album. Who would have guessed? No one—which is a credit to Butler and the rest of the band. They love to morph stylistically and refuse to stay in one artistic place.

imagesWin Butler’s musical vision is very expansive, evidently because he’s a devout musical historian. With this album the main influences seem to be early 80s European dance rock and, to a lesser degree, Caribbean and world music, a la the Clash’s Sandinista album and the Jam’s The Gift (there’s even a song on Reflektor that dissolves into Jamaican street noise much like on Sandinista—which I consider a tip of the hat to the Clash), and there’s even a bit of Smiths influence (on “You Already Know”). Some reviewers referred to Stones and Beatles influences, but I don’t hear it. Others have suggested a Bowie influence, which makes more sense. But whatever the real influences, Reflektor is a sonic treat, bursting with fresh ideas and creatively re-treaded ones.
Lyrically, the album revisits a number of themes the band has explored before but also goes in new directions. How many bands today seriously explore questions about personal identity and the afterlife and offer lamentations over youth obsessions with pornography, all the while drawing themes from ancient mythology and offering serious cultural critiques of the excesses of contemporary Western culture? Arcade Fire does all of this on Reflektor, and you’ve got to love their ingenuity and artistic security in doing so. Perhaps the main theme of the album—evident in the title—is the idea that this world is only a reflection of the next world, the afterlife. As on The Suburbs, the main theme is only directly dealt with on a few songs, but the other songs on the album deal with issues that are somehow consonant with the main concept. As usual for Arcade Fire, the album works as a coherent whole.
It’s been interesting to see the wide range of opinions about Reflektor among reviewers. Some, such as this reviewer for Paste, complain that the album is too sprawling and contains “filler.” Others, such as the writer of this Pitchfork review, regard some of the same features as assets to an album that is, overall, a “triumph.” I agree with the latter assessment for several reasons. Not only because the songs themselves are well-crafted but because they work so well within the genres to which each gestures (e.g., the Caribbean “Here Comes the Night Time,” the electronica-infused “Awful Sound,” the dub-styled approach in “Flashbulb Eyes,” and the disco-funk of the title track).

Fans and music critics alike will, no doubt, continue to debate about Reflektor. But this is often the case with the most innovative albums (Bowie’s Low and Radiohead’s Kid A come to mind). Reflektor is a significant achievement and will eventually be regarded as such, even by those poor benighted souls who don’t quite get it now.  In the meantime, Arcade Fire will no doubt continue to explore new musical vistas.