Monday, July 25, 2011

An Exegetical Analysis of GI Joe

Saturday was Man Day at our house. That means that my sons and I didn’t wear shirts, wrestled, ate hot dogs and listened to Credence Clearwater Revival. For about six hours, our lovely home looked more like a day care that was being run by the cast of Swamp People. As part of our Man Day festivities, we watched a cartoon called GI Joe: Renegades. I grew up watching GI Joe cartoons so I was hyped when my sons wanted to watch this one. I didn’t know anything about this new version but it couldn’t be that different from the one I knew and loved as a child.

What follows is my assessment of GI Joe: Renegades. Expect to be moved as you read this. As a result of this analysis, it is likely that the whole debt ceiling issue will be worked out, your kids wont need braces and you’ll enjoy a fuller, greener lawn. So sit back and enjoy the genius that is GI Joe: Renegades.

The title of this episode is Revelations Part 1. The very first scene is a woman with black hair and black glasses getting off an airplane. She is a bad guy. We know this because the bad guys in GI Joe cartoons always have dark hair. This is how I broke it down for my son as he continuously asked who was a good guy and who was a bad guy. Apparently, this is a very imp0rtant question for kids his age.

A few scenes later we see an old video of a professor in some laboratory. This is reminiscent of the Dharma Initiative scenes from Lost. My guess is that every character on this show is actually already dead and once the Joes and the Cobras learn to get along, they’ll all meet up in some weird looking church. Just a hunch.

We are quickly introduced to another bad guy. We know that this guy is bad because his head is made out of metal. In GI Joe cartoons, if you see a guy with a metal head, he’s evil. As a side note, this also holds true for real life. People with metal heads are up to no good. The one on this episode also wears a coat and tie. He’s evil but handsomely evil. That’s especially dangerous. The girl with the black hair and black glasses, while also evil, doesn’t like the guy with the metal head. Evil people in GI Joe cartoons can never get along. That’s one reason why they never get the upper hand on the Joes.

Cue intro montage. There’s lots of graphics that probably looked really cool in 1993 and we are introduced to the Joes by a narrarator that says, “Accused of a crime they didn’t commit, a rag tag band of fugitives fights a battle to clear their names…”


Since when did GI Joe stop being GI Joe and start being The A Team? To make matters worse, the Joes are led by a buff looking blonde dude (blonde always equals goodness in GI Joe cartoons) and the rest of the team is made up of a big, muscular black guy (think Mr. T) and a skinny, wise cracking white dude (think Murdoch). The Joes even drive a cool van just like the A Team did. The only difference is that the Joes have a girl on their team with red hair (red is a neutral color in GI Joe cartoons so keep your eye out for this one, she may turn on you, Joes). So imagine if the A Team started hanging out with Scooby Doo’s friends and you’ve got GI Joe: Renegades. “And I would have gotten away with melting the sun with this cool laser beam I invented if it weren’t for you pesky kids, I mean rag tag band of fugitives.”

The story line of the show basically centers around the red headed girl that’s with the Joes. Her name is Scarlett and her dad was, along with being a jerky dad, a scientist that worked for, get this, Cobra. Remember what I said about keeping your eyes peeled for people with red hair in GI Joe cartoons. As you can imagine, this girl had serious daddy issues. This makes the episode take a drastic turn away from the A Team and towards an episode of The Wizards of Waverly Place that “tackles the tough issues.” You’ve seen the commercials. “Tonight at 8, Hannah Montana tries to hide an acne flair up from her dream date. (Goofy voice over suddenly gets real serious) And then on a very special episode of The Wizards of Waverly Place, the kids are faced with a tough decision about (insert hot topic here: gang violence, drugs, global warming).”

It takes about half of the 30 minute episode before the Joes stop “tackling tough issues” and start firing guns. Yes, they actually have guns. This was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting the Joes on this new version to sit and talk with the Cobras instead of shoot at them. Oh, and these guns are legit. And when they hit the bad guys, it actually kills them. That’s one thing that always confused me about the old Joe cartoons. “No wonder they can’t ever beat Cobra. Every time they shoot down one of his planes the guy parachutes out.” Not in GI Joe: Renegades. Finally, score one for the new version.

There are several commercial breaks during this episode and each one begins with one or all of the Joes caught in a really bad spot, just like the original. When the commercials come on you’re left thinking, “Great, the Joes are all going to die. Now I’ve got to find a new cartoon.” You’d think one would grow wise to such trickery but no, I still thought it on this version and yes, they still made it out okay.

Also in this episode, we get to find out a little bit more about my favorite GI Joe member when I was a kid, Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes is a ninja and the coolest Joe ever. When we played on the playground at school every kid wanted to be Snake Eyes. Well, in this episode we find out that Snake Eyes doesn’t talk. No big deal. Ninjas aren’t much for chatter. But we also find out that Snake Eyes has, get this, blonde hair. What?! You can’t have a blonde haired ninja. This never works out. It’s always lame. Just ask this guy.

So in conclusion to my cultural analysis I would not recommend GI Joe: Renegades due to its attempt to tackle tough issues and its reckless uses of ninjas with blonde hair. Also, any show with the name Renegade in it that fails to some how pay homage to the original Renegade is not worth your viewing time.

And now you know to keep your kids away from GI Joe: Renegades and knowing is half the battle.

God Is Faithful

Earlier this month I celebrated my 36th birthday. If you forgot a gift, it’s okay. Just stop reading this right now and head on over to this site to pick me up a little something nice. Thank you.

One of my first thoughts when I woke up on the morning of my birthday was on God’s faithfulness. As I gave a quick scan over the last 36 years of my life, I thought about how I had to deal with my parents splitting up before I was even five, spending most of my school years as a latchkey kid (Is that even legal anymore?) and now leading a family of my own. God has been faithful through it all.

As my day continued, God’s faithfulness became even more evident. I got out of bed early that day and went for one of the longest and best runs of my life. When I got home, I was greeted by the smell of breakfast cooking, hugs from my two sons and a kiss from my wife. All three came to me with gifts and cards and pictures in their hands.

After breakfast, I rushed off to our town’s housing authority where our church had been working with kids and families all weak by teaching them the gospel, sharing food and playing games. I got to tell these kids and their families about how through faith and repentance in Christ we can call God our Father. The kids in this group were as young as 4 and as old as 12. Each one of them sat side by side and hung on my every word. I was in my element. It was great. God is faithful.

When my day was over, I met back up with my family for my oldest son’s soccer game that went something like this. Afterwards we ate Chick-fil-a, ice cream and homemade pie. To top it all off, I got word later in the day that the most pathetic team in all of college football, check that, all of sports, was placed on probation and forced to vacate its already meaningless conference championship from a few years back.

Before I went to bed that night, I went for a walk through the meadow where I drank from a brook with a dear and laughed as a blue bird ate berries from my hand.

You get the point. It was a good day and my first thoughts of that day regarding God and his faithfulness were quite appropriate.

But, what if?

What if I would have tripped over a rock just after starting my morning run, wiped out (Yes, it’s happened to me but you can’t prove anything. This is not an admission of guilt.) and had to cut my run off early, licking my wounds all the way back home?

What if instead or returning home to the sound of my family laughing and food sizzling, there would have been no noise, no pitter patter of little feet on the floor, no kiss from a wife and no pictures to post on Facebook?

What if, like my older brother, there would have been no first birthday, much less a 36th one? If, like him, I had been born with severe deformities and died shortly after coming into the world, would this have done anything to chip away at God’s faithfulness?

Absolutely not. But why?

I have a tendency to think of God as being faithful for 36 years, 11 days and counting. In other words, I have been known to make the mistake of judging whether or not God is faithful by how good things are going for me. It’s easy for me to proclaim God’s faithfulness while I’m high as a kite from a great morning run but it’s also easy for me to doubt that very same God’s faithfulness when his agenda doesn’t exactly cooperate with mine.

Scripture shows us a God who has been faithful before time began and who will continue to be faithful after time as we know it has come to a screeching halt.

We see his faithfulness in his perfect Triune fellowship before creation (Genesis 1:1).

We see it in his promise to deliver humanity from the mess we got ourselves into (Genesis 3:15; Matthew 1:21).

We see that God is faithful when he makes an unusual promise to a seemingly random man and keeps that promise (Genesis 12; Galatians 3:29).

And we will one day see that faithfulness in all of it glory as we enjoy the perfect, eternal rule of Christ (Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 21:22-22:5).

By God’s good grace, may we not stop with just our birthdays as we consider the faithfulness of God. For an even fuller picture, let’s look further to the birth, murder and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a fulfillment of God’s promises to his people.

God is faithful.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hip-Hop: A Personal History

“Basketball is my favorite sport. I love the way that they dribble up and down the court. Just like I’m the king on the microphone so is Dr. J and Moses Malone.”

Basketball by Kurtis Blow

If my memory serves me correctly Kurtis Blow’s Basketball was the first rap I ever heard in my life. I’ve been hooked ever since. As a side note, the video for this song is perhaps one of the most unintentionally hilarious videos of all-time complete with dudes dunking on 3-foot goals and ninjas doing Gymkata in the middle of some inner city basketball game. I would rap this song in my head while I shot hoops in my neighborhood. There was never any Gymkata.

As I grew up, so did hip-hop. Raps about cars, basketball and food were quickly replaced with songs that centered on having sex, bragging about having sex, wanting to have sex and bragging about wanting to have sex. The Beastie Boys got the ball rolling in this direction with their debut album, License to Ill. Luther Campbell and the 2 Live Crew picked up the ball and ran with it all the way to some bank in Miami. The Beastie Boys would go on to somewhat regret the perversions of their first two albums but the monster had been created and it is still with us today.

Not too long after rap music began its downward spiral into sexual perversion another stream of rap came along that was also headed in the wrong direction. You probably know it as gangsta rap. This is the kind of music that made middle-class white kids all of the sudden hate everything and want to join a gang. When they couldn’t find a gang to join due to the fact that the Bloods and Crips had yet to franchise out to the suburbs, they just made up their own gangs. There’s not a whole lot in this world funnier than seeing relatively rich white dudes with names like Stephan (pronounced Steff-haan), Chandler (first name), and Brooks (also first name) ride around town in Geo Trackers with matching warm up suits that say things on their back like Rock Boys or Spur Posse.

But what was simply an imitation in the suburbs was a reality in the inner city. That’s always been the debate. Does art influence culture or is it simply a product of it? In this case it’s both. NWA and Ice T influenced kids in the suburbs by glamorizing stories about what they saw in their inner city reality. If 2 Live Crew and the Beastie Boys created a monster, NWA was creating a legion of monsters. Hip-hop had now become a talented yet ugly combination of sexual perversion and violence. The members of NWA would feel the full force of this monster several years after their humble beginning when Eazy E died just a short time after finding out that he had full blown AIDS and Dr. Dre found himself in the middle of a violent feud between two different record labels on two different coasts that would end with the death of each label’s biggest star.

The deaths of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. changed rap music. People were tired of the drama and just wanted to dance. Sean Combs was more than happy to give them something to dance to. Around this time, the city of Atlanta seemed to emerge from Miami’s shadow and came into its own as a hip-hop epicenter with home grown talent like Outkast and Goodie Mob that gave the world an original sound without a lot of the gangsta angst but with plenty of misguided sexuality.

Of course, the Christian music industry was along for the ride and, as usual, driving in circles in the cultural cul-de-sac. The first Christian rap to hit stores was called Bible Break and it was performed by a man named Stephen Wiley. You wont find Bible Break on anyone's top 50 songs of all-time list. The opening line, “Praise the Lord for goodness sake, we’re all gonna take a Bible break” instantly made the guy who wrote Kurtis Blow’s Basketball look like Robert Frost. Wait, Stephen Wiley was the guy who wrote Basketball. Nevermind.

With very few exceptions, Christian hip-hop continued to market unoriginal and poorly produced duplicates of what had already come and gone in the mainstream market. I’m sure that today (July 19, 2011) there’s a guy sitting in some office in Nashville getting ready to market a hot new Christian ska band that sounds a lot like The Deftones. Most early Christian rap music either sounded like something from a CBS Afterschool Special (Middle aged dudes who know the Bible and fight crime and have tons of funky dancers following them around) or a weird combination of science fiction and bad theology (slaying demons with a KJV 66, shoving a microphone down Satan’s windpipe). While mainstream hip-hop was soaring in production quality and talent its message was taking a nose-dive. For the most part, Christian hip-hop was crashing upon take-off.

Last week, our church led a ministry that we call The Three One Nine. The Three One Nine is a summer day camp that we do every year with our local housing authority. We play games, do crafts, eat food and share the gospel with families in this community, in hopes of building a bridge between our two cultures for the glory of Christ and the growth of his kingdom. Hip-hop is a big part of our ministry. We don’t learn raps about Moses Malone or shooting kids from the other neighborhoods but we use a new strand of quality hip-hop to help us present the gospel message. We listen to this guy named PRo rap about how Christ is King and another guy named Lecrae rap about joy in Christ. I smile every year when I see 12-year-old black kids and 60 something year old white ladies dancing together to the same song.

God is using hip-hop for his glory. This is primarily seen through ministries like Reach Records and Lampmode that distribute quality music and even teaching curriculum that is centered around Jesus Christ. As you can imagine, there are some Christians who, when they think of hip-hop, immediately think of NWA and 2 Live Crew and are, therefore, staunchly opposed to something as seemingly contradictory as holy hip-hop. (In case you haven’t been paying attention to the last 2000 years of history, this is nothing new for some Christians. Other easy targets of their disapproval include but are not limited to: guitars, organs, blue jeans, double piercings in one ear, funny stories and Mickey Mouse.) Ironically, these opponents publish their views by using a medium (the Internet) that almost from its birth has been used to distribute pornography. How dare they?! Down with the Internet!

On the last day of our Three One Nine we got to hear from a Christian rapper named Suzy Rock. As I listened to her I couldn’t’ help but think about Stephen Wiley’s Bible Break as well as other rappers like Diddy (Diddy was once known as P. Diddy and before that Puff Daddy and before that Sean Combs. If you are a rapper and you have more than one name you are legit.) I thought about how far this medium has gone in the wrong direction and how God is now using it for the growth of his kingdom. As I listened to Suzy Rock share about growing up with a dad who was hooked on cocaine I thought of all of the kids in our ministry who share the same story. As I listened to her tell about ultimately finding her identity not in cars or men or looks but in Christ I prayed that the girls and young women in our ministry would one day be able to share in that same identity through faith and repentance in Christ.

And I also thought about when I was in the sixth grade, standing on my church’s playground with friends, saying lines from the Beastie Boy’s Paul Revere. Little did I know then that this new thing called rap would stick around for a few more decades and that God would allow me to see him use it to speak his truth into the lives of a whole new generation of kids.