Saturday, July 28, 2007

ray lamontagne, irish car bombs, and business travellers

Ray LaMontagne’s recent album "Till the Sun Turns Black" ends with one of the most beautiful songs about peacemaking I’ve ever heard—in which he simply repeats the refrain "War is not the answer, the answer is within you" over the most delicately lilting instrumentation. It’s the kind of sentiment that could be accused of being too vague to have any practical meaning, but warm and positive enough to be popular. But there’s something about it that feels deeper than that.

It comes to mind as I sit in a cramped and crowded airport in Missouri, between cities on a trip that will take me from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest, meeting and talking with people seeking to explore faith at the margins of institutional Christianity. I’ll be part of a conference the week after next on the topic "Dangerous Living"(—a title ambiguous enough to invite further interrogation. The organizers aim to build a temporary community of fellow travelers asking questions and sharing experiences of what it means to follow the radical Jesus in a culture that often seems to privilege consumerism above all else and seeks to avoid anything resembling physical work at all costs. We’ll talk about faith and social justice—just what does it mean in our day to hear Jesus tell the rich young ruler how hard it is to get into the kingdom of heaven? We’ll investigate faith and authority: What kind of leadership is required when so many of our public role models leave so much to be desired? We’ll immerse ourselves in faith and creativity, hoping to become more attentive to the voice of God in art, film, music, and nature. Most of all, we will wonder together what it means to be stewards of the Christian tradition that we inherit without falling into the trap of religious imperialism. In other words, how can we take responsibility for sharing our faith without imposing it on others in a way that prevents anyone taking us seriously?

These questions were not far from my thoughts this afternoon, as we sat down for a meal at one of the in-house airport restaurants. Just after my Diet Coke arrived, the gentleman next to our table took a phone call, the first few lines of which went as follows:

‘Hi there—didn’t realize you were on that side of the pond. You looking for more bombers, or just drinking Irish car bombs?’

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

fame is a mask that eats the face

Posh Spice might hope to feel at home in her new life in Los Angeles, but hubris is winding its way into her week as the ratings of her "Welcome to America" pseudo-documentary come in. In the U.K., where I live, this program was billed as a light-hearted, even "spoof" piece about her reputation for excess. But it seems the U.S. audience, or at least its television critics, weren’t quite ready for this. At any rate, whether or not she was joking, Victoria Beckham and her husband have become today’s totems of consumerist overdrive.

At the same time, according to media reports, the well-known environmentalist and anti-war activist, Barbra Streisand, has apparently issued the staff of a London hotel with demands about how they are to treat her while she stays there—including instructing them not to look her in the eye. You have to wonder just why someone who is about to sing to 15,000 people who are paying up to a thousand dollars each might be scared of a little personal interaction with just one of them, but I guess Barbra feels she’s earned the right.

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