A Very Waterpark Michael Jackson Karaoke Christmas

I love my family.  I have always been aware that my family is a little bit weird.  I am, too.  But the older I am, the more openly weird my family becomes.  And so it was that we all spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day at the indoor water park at our hotel, going down the slides, singing karaoke, and watching old Michael Jackson music videos. 

 

The warm water rushed us down, giving birth to us a few dozen times.  Our voices frayed after hours on end singing songs to which only my father knew the words, laughing ourselves silly.  Our eyes blurred before the slow metamorphosis of the King of Pop, who managed to dance his way out of every imaginable crisis:  The thugs attack?  Dance!  Your peers question your badness?  Dance!  The pharaoh tries to kill you for your past fling with his wife?  Dance! 

 

And so it was that we, too, used music to resolve each crisis.  Grandma and Uncle Bob have subjected the love of my life to three hours of family history and show no sign of stopping?  Let’s sing!  Grandpa has lost his ability of speech and sits staring blankly at the nursing home ceiling?  Let’s sing!  Sing of the newborn King, of healing, of hope!  More than the presents, more than the laughter, and the reason for them both: Christ is born!

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Justin Timberlake: “Manslut”

Gone are the days when a man is a “pimp” or a “playa” for behavior that would earn him the status of a “ho” if he were a woman.  Let us usher in the era of the “manslut.”  That’s what they are.  Let’s not be afraid to call ’em like we see ’em.

What worthier recipient of the new term could there be than Mr. Timberlake?  He’s been around the block more than a few times… and show’s no sign of stopping.  He’s got the rhythm.  He’s got the moves.  He deserved to be crowned as the new King of Pop.  But he’s also a skanky, male ho.’  The inauguration of his “Futuresex Loveshow” tour should be evidence enough of that.  (Don’t even get me started on how little sense the title makes.)

Here’s to you, manslut.  The double standard stops here.

To Be Gay or Not To Be Gay: Is That the Question?

Further Reflections on a Complicated Issue 

In “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!Sufjan Stevens gives us what “is tempting to describe… as a story of male-male agape—just touching on the erotic, with mentions of falling asleep in the backseat of a car—between Stevens and his best friend, but Stevens also lets you see right through it as a love story between himself and Jesus, God born human, a man stung and mocked and wrestled with” (Daddino, Seattle Weekly). 

This may ignore the most straightforward interpretation of the song: “male-male agape” plus eros/philia.  “He runs washing his face in his hands.  Oh how I meant to tease him.
Oh how I meant no harm.  Touching his back with my hand I kiss him.  I see the wasp on the length of my arm.”  And “We were in love!” repeats the chorus jubilantly.  This love was a means of experiencing God’s glory: “Halelu!”  But this love really didn’t work out: “My friend is gone, he ran away….  Though we have sparred, wrestled and raged. I can tell you I love him each day….” 

All of this has led many people to ask, “Is Sufjan Stevens gay?”  To this I would respond: a) you’re missing the point of the song, and b) our culture assumes that the world is divided into a gay/not-gay dichotomy.  Kinsey showed this to be a blatant falsehood, although his numbers were probably skewed due to his sampling methods.  Regardless, Sufjan has recounted in concerts that he was well before puberty when the incident occurred.  This isn’t proof that he’s “gay.”  This is proof that a lot of people experience a lot of things that our culture would use to say, “Hey, you’re gay!”  What if the truth isn’t that simple?

Why Straight, Christian Men Should Listen to Lesbian, Agnostic Songwriters

When I bought the Indigo Girls’ Retrospective, I endured some awkward questions from the cashier. 

“Is this a gift?” she asked. 

“No, it’s for me.” 

“I thought most of their fans were… you know….” 

I shrugged.  “They’re amazing lyricists and musicians.” 

And it’s true.  Whatever criticism one might have of their views, one cannot deny that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers speak with great clarity and beauty.  To be sure, in their protest songs they may shout at you.  But, in their love songs and life songs, they warmly invite you to walk in their shoes.

What is the nature of love, as expressed by the Indigo Girls?  With shocking Biblical imagery, Amy Ray presents it as “Strange Fire.”  This is a reference to Leviticuts 10, when two priests gave an unauthorized offering to God and were destroyed by his wrath.  But here, that fire is love, which is offered to each other, not to God, and forms a “refuge from the wrath.”  The poet then lashes out against those who oppose that love, with “haughty eyes and lying tongues and hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17, quoted verbatim in the song).  At the very least, the song illuminates the greatest transgression of Christians toward those experiencing homosexual desires: by stigmatizing the struggle and “casting stones,” we have committed greater sins than the sin we sought to oppose.  (“Is it a sin?” is a conversation for another day.)

It is not my place to attempt to summarize the entire body of the Indigo Girls’ work, but I would be amiss not to at least mention “Ghost.”  Emily Saliers captures the utter bitter-sweetness of unrequited love: “I burn up in your presence and I know now how it feels to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels….  I can’t swim free the river is too deep, though I’m baptized by your touch, I am no worse than most…. in love with your ghost.”  Is this unrequited love the same as that between a man and a woman?  How can you know if you don’t listen?

The Midwest as the Promised Land

Marilynne Robinson, Garrison Keillor, and Sufjan Stevens on the Blessings of Middle America

What was monotony in my teen eyes has metamorphosized: green vistas and golden fields spread flat as far as the eye can see, undulating slowly with the passing miles.  Anyone who has traveled across the American midwest can attest: boring can be beautiful.

From the outside this might appear to be a land of flatness and cold.  But those who have rested within its embrace know the truth.  Miracles happen here.  Epic betrayals, too, but hope springs eternal and the fields are ripe with redemption.

In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson provides the text of a dying father’s letter to his 7-year-old son.  “I was thinking about the things that had happened here just in my lifetime– the droughts and the influenza and the Depression and three terrible wars.  It seems to me now we never looked up from the trouble we had just getting by to put the obvious question, that is, to ask what it was the Lord was trying to make us understand….  And what is the purpose of a prophet except to find meaning in trouble?” (233)  Every life is a miracle, every act of forgiveness is an act of God.  The more prodigal the son or prodigal the land, the more bold a “wild gesture” it is to stay on and love anyway (247).  Even a dead father can reach from the grave with the promise of unconditional love.  Such wonders can happen in the city, too, but in a simple land, stripped of all worldly sophistication, such blessings taste all the sweeter.  Only in the darkness can a light shine the brightest.

Somewhere in Minnesota, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon eckes out its existence.  The mix of nostalgia and parody helps sweeten the sometimes bitter truth: life is difficult.  The title of last week’s headline: “In Lake Wobegon, all of the beautiful weather makes ones thoughts turn to death, of course.”  Yet this is “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  Even ordinary places can know greatness, however contrived, and in the dead of winter, thoughts of God and his provision are never far from the locals’ minds.

The strangest proponent of the blessings of the Midwest is Sufjan Stevens.  They say that he will write one album for each of the fifty states.  Maybe so, but he is taking his sweet time with the land he knows best.  Michigan wavers between the hopes and questions of faith.  “For The Widows In Paradise; For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti” reads like the promises of  Jesus to the widows and ophans of southeast Michigan.  Yet we hear also the longing of “Oh God, Where are You Now?”  The land is “paradise,” but it is greatly in need of God.  llinois is the haunt of aliens and of serial killers.  This is a land of repentance.  The most memorable refrain is “I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” from “Chicago.”  This is also a land of love, but of a love that loses, whether to the complications of pre-adolescent same-sex attraction, or to the complications of cancer.  Yet thoughout all this, the glory of God can be seen.

This flat land speaks of wonders, if this land can speak, any land can.  It’s enough to “make me homesick for a place I never left” (Gilead, 235).  Love where you are!