A digest of interesting, entertaining, and otherwise worthwhile reads collected from around the web-o-sphere.
1) I’ve been meaning to write something about Arcade Fire’s Reflektor since it came out, and so last week, I wrote this piece about one of the album’s deep cuts… and pornography for Christ and Pop Culture.
Throughout the song, Butler laments the damage done by pornography — both to women, whom pornography reduces to mere sexual objects, as well as men, who grow increasingly confused and damaged in their thinking regarding women and sexual performance. (Or, as Butler puts it, “And boys, they learn some selfish shit.”)
Regarding Reflektor as a whole, I think it’s a very mixed bag. The good stuff, like the title track and “Porno” (the song I write about), ranks among the best songs Arcade Fire has written to date, but the album is also too long and too self-indulgent at times.
2) It’s one of the most famous concepts in all of sci-fi, and one NASA physicist is claiming that the warp drive could become reality:
A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein's law of relativity.
3) Long-time Opus faves Wovenhand are recording a new album titled Refractory Obdurate that will be jointly released by Deathwish Inc. and Glitterhouse Records in early 2014. In related news, Glitterhouse Records will releasing 16 Horsepower’s The Glitterhouse Years Collection, a digital-only compilation featuring four of 16 Horsepower’s acclaimed albums, including Olden and Folklore.
4) WordPress is still the dominant blogging platform, but 2013 saw the rise of several interesting and promising contenders.
You’re going to hear the words “clean,” “minimalist” and “modern” tossed around a lot. Those terms run rampant throughout blogging’s bold new premise — a means of writing with less complication and more focus on text, readability and simplicity. At first glance, the naked eye will have a hard time telling these platforms apart, but closer inspection will reveal that they are each on to something wonderful.
One of the platforms reviewed is Medium, which I wrote about back in August.
5) Mark Driscoll has been accused of plagiarism, but Andy Crouch thinks there’s something more dangerous at work here:
Mark Driscoll is a human being, created in the image of God, with great gifts, real limits, and very likely a genuine calling to ministry. But "Pastor Mark Driscoll," the author of "literally thousands of pages of content a year," the purveyor of hundreds of hours of preaching, is in grave danger of becoming a false image. No human being could do what "Pastor Mark Driscoll" does — the celebrity is actually a complex creation of a whole community of people who sustain the illusion of an impossibly productive, knowledgeable, omnicompetent superhuman.
The real danger here is not plagiarism — it is idolatry.
6) Forbes’ Loren Thompson argues that the development of HealthCare.gov broke every rule of project management:
Having made my career in the field of defense analysis, I have seen many such foul-ups in military acquisition projects. It’s a rare weapon system that gets delivered on time, on budget, and with all performance specifications satisfied. The contractors always get blamed when weapon programs go awry, but usually it’s the government customer who is really at fault, and that looks to be the case with HealthCare.gov too. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) overseeing HealthCare.gov appears to have violated every principle of sound project management.
On a related note, the New York Times recently published a fascinating and disturbing look at the behind-the-scenes debacle that was HealthCare.gov’s development.
7) Micah Mattix raises a good point about reading difficult or offensive novels:
…readers can and should make moral judgments about books. That’s a central part of reading. But good readers should allow books to judge them, too. Otherwise, why bother reading? Of course, if you are offended at the smallest divergence from your own habits of thought and rather narrow worldview, it is going to be tough going.
8) Fox News’ Megyn Kelly recently told viewers that both Santa and Jesus are white men. Writing for The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt explains why insisting on Jesus’ white-ness is both bad history and bad theology.
Setting aside the ridiculousness of creating rigidly racial depictions of a fictitious character that does not actually exist — sorry, kids — like Santa, Kelly has made a more serious error about Jesus. The scholarly consensus is actually that Jesus was, like most first-century Jews, probably a dark-skinned man. If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening by TSA.
Interestingly, the Bible is far less descriptive on the matter of Jesus’ skin color than we are. Christian scriptures say very little about Jesus’ physical appearance. They do not comment on his nose, eye color, skin pigmentation, or hair. The glaring exception is Isaiah 53:2, which prophesies that the messiah won’t be much to look at, another fact that places the Bible at odds with the “well-groomed surfer-dude Jesus” who's often put forth.
9) The Playlist compiles the 15 best action sequences of 2013, featuring Man of Steel, Oblivion, The World's End… and Captain Phillips, to name a few.
10) Chris Marchand has posted a thoughtful review of a recent David Bazan concert, and discusses the tension he now feels while listening to Bazan’s music (emphasis his).
As a Christian a lot of Bazan's new songs are hard to listen to. I can enjoy them aesthetically both for their music and lyrics, but as soon as the aesthetics start to mingle with the meaning, the cognitive dissonance kicks in and I just go “Man, I’m sorry, but I can’t go there. I can’t rejoice in this with you. I’m just sad now…” In a Facebook conversation regarding the show I remarked to someone that I find Bazan's music particularly conflicting because I have journeyed with him so long in his story. It is not just typical “secular” music reflecting a typical “secular” worldview. I have no problem listening to music that does not espouse my belief system. Sure, I might sometimes react to a song negatively when I feel it goes against my core beliefs, but I also give artists who do not share my faith a lot of grace in this area. In other words, I do not require an artist to believe the way I do in order for me to listen to and enjoy them.
David Bazan is different though. He was once “one of us” and now he has very willingly exited the fold, if you will, and this has become the main focus of his lyrics for the past few years. This is painful and heartbreaking. Some might praise him for honestly expressing his doubts, for bravely admitting what others out of fear keep hidden, but this is not what he is doing with his art, at least not currently… A vast difference exists between writing a lyric from the perspective of a believer plagued by his doubts and a nonbeliever who is openly “cursing his branches” as the title to one of his albums puts it. Thus, he is not articulating doubt, he is advocating apostasy.
I can relate to this. There was a time when Pedro the Lion wasn’t merely my favorite band, but also a lifeline that helped me through an intensely dark period during which I was beset by doubts and skepticism. To hear another Christian sing so honestly of his own doubts and failings at a time when I perceived so many other Christians doing the exact opposite was incredibly helpful, even therapeutic. I no longer felt alone in my questions and anxieties.
My respect for Bazan’s obvious talent remains unchanged since those days, and I’m glad to hear that he’s still as engaging as ever at concerts. But Bazan’s recent material, as interesting as it is musically and aesthetically — Curse Your Branches contains some great songwriting, to be sure — leaves me saddened more than anything else. Saddened that Bazan has taken this path in life, that he feels such antipathy for the religion of his youth, that the doubts and skepticism have won. I can only nod in agreement with Marchand when he writes, “my hope is the sadness his music provokes in the Christian would lead them to prayer, prayer not only for Bazan but for a disillusioned, cynical, and wandering generation who wants nothing to do with God and his Church.”
Photo by Guy Aroch.