Thursday, October 27, 2011

In Defense of Barn Party USA

I made Louisville, Kentucky my home for a couple of years.  During that time there were a few things I could count on.

1.  Around April 15, sports talk radio stations would start breaking down the upcoming college basketball season.  Yes, that’s about a week after the old college basketball season just ended and maybe another six months before the new one starts.

2.  Any given week, you could count on either 12 inches of snow or a 75 mph wind from out of nowhere.  Either way, you can forget about having any power for the next two or three days.

3.  Every Saturday night at 10:00, no matter who was at my house or whatever else was going on, my TV was locked on the local cable access channel for Barn Party USA.

Barn Party USA was basically the same thing every week.  The Reed Brothers Band hosted the show from a different record store/truck stop/Waffle House each week.  In between interviews with record store owners/truck drivers/Waffle House cooks we were treated to a continuous loop of music videos from The Reed Brothers Band.  One of those videos was for a song called Guns Already Drawn.  It was my favorite.

At first glance you’ll be tempted to think that this video, and by default every other video from The Reed Brothers Band, is a poorly produced vehicle for name recognition by some ignorant weekend musicians. 

Not so fast.

The Reed Brothers are geniuses.  I can’t tell you one artist or group that has won a Video Music Award but it’s been three years since I lived in Louisville and I’m still talking about The Reed Brothers Band.  In fact, last week a friend sent me a message that said, “I heard you’re gonna need fresh horses.”  I knew immediately that he was referring to another video by The Reed Brothers Band. 

Pure marketing genius on the part of The Reed Brothers Band.

Oh, but you want proof.  Well sit back, relax and enjoy Guns Already Drawn by The Reed Brothers Band.  Again, the name of the song is Guns Already Drawn.  I remind you of this in the event that hearing it repeated 73 times during the song just doesn’t do it for you.

0:12 – Some bands wear make-up and flashy costumes[1].  Not The Reed Brothers Band.  I’m pretty sure that the bass player, whom we’ll call Dwayne, just got off of work at some factory and didn’t have time to change clothes.

0:21 – Here we learn that the Reed Brothers are wanted for doing something wrong.  We also learn that the printers back in the old west are better than the one currently in my house.

0:39 – The slow motion effect means that trouble is coming soon.  Wait for it, wait for it…

1:05 – Here it is.  I have no idea what that is.  I’m pretty sure that it’s some woman holding a puppet.  For some reason they’re not happy.  In fact, it appears as though the woman is being killed by the puppet.  What this has to do with guns already being drawn is still a mystery.

1:14 – In case any terrorists are watching, take note.  Our drummer has an America shirt.  Oh, and he can sing too.  So take that terrorists.

1:23 – I thought she was killed by a puppet. 

1:31 – Here’s a behind the scenes shot of the Reeds in the “studio”.  By studio, I mean large office complex.  I’m pretty sure that this belongs to the factory where Dwayne the bass player works.

1:34 – Notice the woman in the background.

“Ma’am, could you please keep it down?  We’re trying to shoot a video here and we’ve only got the office space for another 15 minutes.”

“I’m just here for my paycheck.”

“Jackie will be with you in a minute but right now she’s holding the camera for us.  Now hush!”

1:47 – Notice the kid’s reflection in the window.   This is frightening.  There are two possibilities here.

Option A: 50 years ago this kid was killed at this very sight and now he’s back to stop the Reeds from filming their video.  I think this happened before on the set of Three Men and a Baby and The Wizard of Oz.

Option B: Poor production.

I’m sure the FBI is on the case.  They’ll get back to us on this.

2:07 – The Reeds are back in the lab.  Look, I’m no Rick Rubin but shouldn’t there be sponges on the wall or something to help with the sound?  Not if you want to sound authentic.  The Reeds are authentic.  The sound of typewriters and women waiting on their paychecks only makes things better.

2:40 – Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.  There’s finally a gun being drawn in the Guns Already Drawn video.  This woman is going to stir up all kinds of trouble in this town.  She’ll kill anything that moves until she gets to the Reeds for one dramatic showdown at the end of the video.

Okay wait.  Never mind all of that.  Did she get shot?  Can’t be.  There’s no blood.  Apparently she pulled a muscle in the bicep of her firing arm.  It looks like this is the last we’ll see of her.

Is this the same one that was mauled by the puppet earlier?  If so, this woman really shouldn’t be around guns, or heavy equipment or the Reeds for that matter.  She’s bad news.

3:07 – The lady waiting for her paycheck now has her purse in her lap.  She’s getting impatient.  The bank closes in 7 minutes.  Maybe we’re finally starting to see where the Guns Already Drawn storyline is heading.

3:30 – Someone is being hung for something.  You should notice that the person about to be put to death is not one of the Reeds.  A huge miscarriage of justice is about to go down.

3:38 – But our soon to be dead criminal doesn’t seem too worried.  He’s still able to give a nice nod to the ladies.

3:58 – Best hideout ever!

4:05 – Worse hideout ever!  And another pulled muscle.

Here’s what we’ve learned?  If you’re in a band and you want to make a music video, don’t let the lack of a good budget and the lack of a good story line stop you.  If you can just somehow find a way to get it on TV there’s a good chance that three years later some idiot will be writing a blog about it in the middle of the night.

[1] KISS and Rascal Flatts.  More so Rascal Flatts.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On Being and Acting

In the movie The Accountant, Ray McKinnon plays an old school accountant on a mission to save the southern way of life one family farm at a time and by any means necessary. As he explains his philosophy to the two brothers whose farm he is trying to save, he reveals that the problem is much deeper than sloppy bookkeeping and questionable farming practices. And it’s through this conspiratorial explanation that we get a nice chunk of wisdom. The real danger for these two brothers is not losing the family farm. The real threat is that one day they will stop being country and start acting country.

Being country is wearing the necessary clothes for the job you have to do.

Acting country is wearing a sleeveless flannel and beat up jeans because that’s what Larry the Cable Guy wears.

Being country is driving a car that you can afford.

Acting country is getting way over your head into debt just so you can buy a brand new truck with a 6 inch lift, horns on the hood and a sticker on the back that says “Ain’t Skeered” because anything less wouldn’t be country enough.

Being country is teaching your little girl what it means to love a husband and help support a family.

Acting country is dragging her all over the state, dressing her up like Dee Snider[1] and hoping she gets first place overall in some shady “beauty pageant” because that’s what Southern Belles do.

Of course the struggle between being and acting is not limited to country living.

In high school I had a good friend named Joe. Joe wore different clothes and talked different. Joe just looked different from everyone else in my suburban Atlanta community because Joe was from New Jersey. He would even get mistaken for Joey Buttafuoco in restaurants. People who are born and raised in the south don’t get mistaken for Joey Buttafuco. But Joe was just being New Jersey.

On the other hand, there’s Snooki. She’s acting New Jersey. And by acting, I mean that in the truest sense of the term: scripts, staging, camera angles and all the rest of the stuff that goes along with reality TV shows[2].

Even sports are not immune to this phenomenon. Sign up for a 10k and take some time before the race starts to look over the runners. The guy you see with the brand new shoes, swanky shorts and weird leg sleeves will not win the race. Count on it.

When you find the guy that looks like a homeless dude in his underwear and somebody else’s shoes, you’ve found your winner.

The same is true of any other sport. Think back to your junior high days and the guy with the $300 pair of Jordans and $100 Nike outfit[3] that couldn’t hit a layup if you built a staircase under the rim for him.

Acting is dressing the part. Being is winning.

Acting and being is a problem in the church too.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus commended a church for its good works. He gave the church at Ephesus a thumbs up for patiently enduring through trials. He was pleased with the discernment they displayed as they encountered peddlers of a false gospel.

And then, in Revelation 2:4, he drops the hammer.

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

This church was doing all of the right things and they seemed to be avoiding the things that were not pleasing to God or good for his church. And yet they forgot the most important part. Perhaps they were doing all of the right things out of habit or rote tradition. All we know for sure is that they weren’t doing it out of a love for God and others.

They were acting instead of being.

The remedy that Jesus offers is not this: “Come on church. Get over that theological stuff. Theology is for seminaries. This is the real world. All we need is love.”

Instead, he tells them to repent and to make loving God and loving others the springboard from which they do their good deeds. He tells them to be what they already are.

I really enjoy talking with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a great way to put what you study into practice and hopefully see people who are blinded by a false religion come to see Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man. But sometimes I walk away from the conversation convicted.

Was I trying to win a debate?

Was my goal to prove that I was right and that they are wrong?

Or, was my motivation the fact that I love God so much that I don’t want to see his gospel distorted and that I love those people so much that I don’t want to see them make the biggest mistake of their lives and buy into a false gospel?

Trying to keep good morals, stay away from bad stuff, and convince others to do the same because that’s what Christians do is acting.

Loving God and neighbor because of God’s demonstration of his love for me on the cross is being.

Are you acting Christian or are you being Christian?

[1] See also Christina Aguilera

[2] The second you put a camera in someone’s face they stop being themselves. This is exponentially true when you follow them around with that camera for 6 months out of the year. With the exception of sports and maybe Cops, there is no such thing as reality TV.

[3] Boys over the age of 3 don’t wear outfits.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seven Deadly Sayings

There are many certainties in life and here are two.  First, words are powerful.  James compares them to fire (James 3:5) and Jesus says that they are excellent indicators of one’s heart (Mark 7:14-23).  Second, the power of words combined with the power of sin in our hearts means that we will often misspeak.  Some of our verbal mistakes are harmless and humorous while others reveal a severe problem of the heart.  Below are seven examples from culture, family and the church.

7.  “I’m a Yankee fan”

Translation: “I only like teams with a history of winning.”

If you, your dad or son played for the Yankees or if you actually live somewhere in or around New York, go play Angry Birds until we move on to the next point.  You’re legit and this doesn’t concern you.

This one is for they guy that lives 800 miles away from New York and has no ties to the team whatsoever other than the fact that he lets ESPN cram them down his throat every morning during Sportscenter.  This is for the guy that really didn’t have a problem with the Yankees getting knocked out of the playoffs last week by a team with a much smaller payroll because he knew that his favorite NFL team[1] and college football team[2] would pick him up later this year.  This guy’s only problem is worrying about whether or not there will be an NBA season so he can cheer for his favorite pro basketball team[3].  If not, there’s always college basketball and the North Carolina Tarheels.

Remedy: Spend a season cheering for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

6.  “The best team doesn’t always win”

Translation: “There’s no way for me to deny the fact that my team just got curb stomped so I’ll just come up with my own formula to prove that getting beat 45-0 isn’t all that bad.”

The best team does always win.  That’s kind of the point of sports.  If recruiting classes, fan bases and traditions were all that mattered Clemson would be working on their 24th national title this year.  Sadly for them, as good as those things are, they don’t mean a whole lot unless you actually win games.  This saying is reserved only for losing teams who don’t want to admit that they were manhandled.  There’s a reason why you’ve never seen a coach stand on the podium at midfield after leading his team to a Super Bowl victory and use this phrase.

Remedy: Replace this phrase with its younger, less whiney brother: “We just weren’t the best team that day.”  That way you fess up to getting beat but you still get the pleasure of leading people to believe that had this game been played on the following Tuesday, the results would’ve been much different.

5.  “I’ll tell you the truth”

Translation: “Everything I’ve said up until this point is a complete lie.  But now, I’m shooting you straight and I think that you were meant for this gently used 1988 Ford Escort.”

Remedy: If you use this phrase, stop using it and just tell the truth all the time.  If someone uses this phrase on you, run away as fast as you can.  Nobody was meant for a gently used 1988 Ford Escort.

4.  “One, two, three”

Translation (what comes out of the parent’s mouth): “Dylan, if you don’t quit choking that little girl, I’m gonna keep yelling at you, then give you a few empty threats and then start counting.  Now I know you don’t wanna hear mamma count.”

Translation (what the kid hears): “DYLAN, KEEP DISOBEYING ME UNTIL I SAY THE WORD THREE!!!!”

I’m convinced that this is why kids grow up so confused.  I can’t prove it but hearing mixed messages like this their whole lives has got to be the reason why guys wear their girlfriend’s jeans and why girls wear their pajamas out in public.
The only thing worse than The One Two Three Method is The One Two Two and a Half Three Repeat Child’s Name Start Back Over At One Method.  I’m not sure who invented these methods but they were probably Yankees fans.

Remedy: Kids will never say this but they actually like structure and being shown the consequences of their actions so give it to them.  This helps them grow up to be real men and women who know, in the words of Tedd Tripp that delayed obedience is disobedience.

3.  “Gospel-centered”

Man 1: “I took my kid to see (insert Elmo on Ice, The Super Bowl etc…).”
Man 2: “What did you think.”
Man 1: “Not gospel-centered enough.”

Don’t get me wrong on this.  I’m a big fan of what seems to be a resurgence of the gospel.  If my preaching isn’t gospel-centered, I’ve failed.  Gospel-centeredness is the goal of every sermon I preach.  Small groups and classes at our church have used and benefited from curriculum entitled The Gospel-Centered Life.  Being gospel-centered is the way to go.

But the problem comes when we make being gospel-centered the new legalism.  We can spend all of our time and energy policing blogs, movies, sermons and songs for a lack of gospel-centeredness that we begin to love that more than, get this, the actual gospel.  Jared Wilson gives us wise counsel here.  It is a very real danger to be gospel-centrality-centered rather than gospel-centered, just as it’s a very real danger to talk for miles about Jesus without following him an inch.”

Remedy: Continue to pursue gospel-centeredness.  Just don’t flip out if the newest Veggie Tales video doesn’t lay out the creation-fall-redemption model to your liking.  Never blame a tomato for not teaching your kids what you’re supposed to be teaching them.  I think Thomas Jefferson said that.  Look it up and get back to me.

2.  “This economy”

Translation: “I enjoyed hording all of my money back in 2006 but now that the economy is in the tank, I’ve finally got something to blame it on.”

It goes a little something like this. 

“Well, we’d love to (insert sponsor a child, give more to missions, build an orphanage etc…) but you know how it is with this economy.”

There is no denying the fact that times are tight.  But for many in our country, our lifestyles are as much to blame as the economy is for these tight times.  It doesn’t get much more funny than to hear a person with two homes and four cars talk about being “poor”.  I’ve been to some pretty poor places around the world and one thing I’ve noticed is that poor people rarely tell you how poor they are.  Poor talk is a rich man’s game. 

Remedy: Philippians 4:10-20

1.  “I’m not racist but…”

Translation of “I’m not racist”: “I enjoy Denzel Washington’s films, I don’t belong to the KKK and I really appreciate that young black male that scores all of those touchdowns for my favorite team.”

Translation of “but”:  “I’m a racist.”

Imagine the following scenario. 

You’re in line at the bank.  As you wait in line, a man walks in wearing black military boots, black pants, a black trench coat and a black ski mask.  He also happens to be carrying a pretty big gun with a name that you can’t pronounce.  After bursting through the doors, he jumps up on the main counter and says, “Everybody listen up!  I’m not a bank robber or anything but give me all the money in here.”

Nothing exposes the power of words more than contradictory statements from the same mouth (James 3:9-12).

If you’re constantly (or occasionally for that matter) having to explain away your racist comments, you probably are a racist.  I know that kind of an accusation get’s thrown around a lot.  I don’t mean it in the “Oh, you cheer for Duke so you must be a racist” or “You just quoted Farrakhan so you’re obviously a racist” sense of the term.  I mean it in the all that’s missing is the white sheet sense of the term.

Perhaps I don’t understand.  Maybe it’s just the way you were brought up.  I don’t have a clue what it was like growing up during the civil rights conflicts.  But imagine if 30 years from now a friend introduced you to someone who was an obvious sexual deviant.  After voicing your concerns, your friend responds with, “Yeah, I know but it’s just the way he was raised.  I mean there was pornography everywhere back then.”  Somehow I don’t think that such an argument would be well received.

Remedy: Ask God to forgive you for the sin of not loving him and your neighbor (Mark 12:28-31; 1 John 4:7-21), ask him to take over your heart with his lovingkindness (Psalm 51) and thank him for giving you more grace than you have been willing to give to others (James 2:1-13).

[1] The Patriots.
[2] Notre Dame.
[3] The Lakers.