Music Review: The B-52s, Funplex

So what do you call it when one of the premier party bands of the 80s returns after a 16-year hiatus sounding almost exactly the same as before, as if the passage of time had not altered them in any way?  Not a bad thing, actually.  There have been many changes in the world since 1992 when the B-52s released their last full-length studio album, and not all of them have been good.  In light of this, it definitely helps to know that something out there has not changed.

Right from the opening track you will see that this is the exact same B-52s sound that you have come to know and love.  Fred Schneider’s distinctive half-sung, half-spoken vocals sound exactly the same as ever, and Kate Pearson and Cindy Strickland are whooping it up just like ex-high school cheerleaders.  (Yes, Cindy Strickland is back.  She took a pass on “Good Stuff” in 1992, but she’s back in action this time around.)  It is only towards the middle of the album that the electronic influence starts to kick in and remind us that we are indeed still here in 2008.

It all adds up to the fun, garish, B-movie/surfboard/kitsch sound that has been distinctive of the B-52s ever since their inception back in the late 70s.  So don’t worry about war in the Middle East, high gas prices, the housing crunch, the credit crisis, the impending economic troubles, etc.  Just put on this CD and know that somewhere out there the party’s still rollicking along exactly as it was back in happier times.

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

This is going to be review week here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion, because I have a number of books, CDs, and other things that I want to review before the new year.  Deal with it.

Quantum of Solace is the latest James Bond movie; it came out back in November.  This movie is intended as a sequel to Casino Royale and features James Bond working at breakneck speed to put the brakes on a nefarious, world-threatening plot to…take over the water supply of Bolivia???  Man, please.

If you watch this movie, you will see that James Bond has definitely gone down over the years.  Instead of the James Bond that we all knew and loved from the vintage Bond movies of old, with his deathly hilarious wit and amazing high-tech gadgetry and cool savoir-faire, we get a workaday version of Bond who just grits his way through this one, not to mention a boatload of the usual liberal conspiracy theories about the U. S. propping up crazy right-wing dictators in South America.

High points of the movie include James Bond breaking up a teleconference which is taking place at the opera Tosca, with all the villains scattered throughout the stadium and communicating via Bluetooth-type earpieces, blowing up an eco-friendly hotel in the Bolivian desert which was so hideous that it needed to be blown up anyway, and leaving the villain out in the middle of the Bolivian desert with nothing but a can of motor oil–in a couple of days he would be found dead with his stomach full of motor oil.

Honestly, I don’t think that leaving the producers of this movie out in the middle of the Bolivian desert with nothing but a can of motor oil to drink would be such a bad idea.

The Entertainment Page Is Open

That’s right, people.  No longer is Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion just your home for strategically-based diatribe deployment, it is now also your home for Looney Tunes cartoon-based entertainment.  And that is exactly what you will find on the Entertainment page.  There I have assembled, courtesy of YouTube, a vast assortment of Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons.

Just click the tab at the top of this page marked “Entertainment”, or click this link, and there you are.

So if you are ever in need of some wholesome entertainment to while away the hours at work or elsewhere, just bop on over to the Entertainment page and relive the glory days of our youth when Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and friends ruled the Saturday morning airwaves.

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: Amy Welborn on Thomas Merton

Today let me direct your attention to a post by Amy Welborn on Thomas Merton.  Written on the week of the 40th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death, this post notes that even now Thomas Merton is still controversial in Catholic circles, but “one person’s “controversial” is another’s “just not canonized yet, okay?” ”

The thing about Merton is that he is human.  This shows through quite strongly in his writing, and it is probably the thing that puts a lot of people on edge when they look at Merton.  Oh that we could all be as real and human as Merton was, and as open and honest about it as he was.

Merton was quite a poet as well, and this post has an example of a poem that he wrote about Mary.  Some of you may wince at this; it is understandable given that the role of Mary is a significant sticking point between Protestants and Catholics.  Nevertheless, understand that Mary is an excellent example of one who lived a life submitted to Christ and that we could benefit significantly from her example, even if we don’t believe all that Catholics believe about her.

As Promised: My Thoughts on Ga-Ga Tech

Of all the possible deaths that can befall a space traveler who is unfortunate enough to wander into the wrong part of the universe, the death that results from falling into a black hole is perhaps the most gruesome that can possibly be imagined.  Why?  Tidal forces.

Tidal forces are a consequence of the fact that gravitational forces vary in different parts of a gravitational field.  Specifically, the closer you are to an object with a gravitational field, the stronger the gravitational force is, and the farther away you are from the object, the weaker the gravitational force is.  For example, the force of the earth’s gravity is stronger upon your feet than it is upon your head (when you are standing up), because your feet are closer to the earth than your head.  So if you were falling toward the earth, your feet would fall a little bit faster than your head.  This difference between the speed at which your feet fall and the speed at which your head falls is a tidal force.

Of course, you never feel the effects of tidal forces here on earth.  This is because the earth’s gravity is only strong enough to keep us from floating off into outer space.  But suppose that instead of falling toward the earth, you were falling toward a black hole?  Now, a black hole’s gravity is much stronger than that of the earth.  It is so strong, in fact, that nothing can escape it.  Not even light.  Not even O. J. Simpson. Continue reading “As Promised: My Thoughts on Ga-Ga Tech”

Father Cantalamessa’s Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

Today let me direct your attention to this sermon preached by Father Raniero Cantalamessa at Vatican City last week.  You will be hard-pressed to find anything out there in evangelical Protestant-dom (or in any other branch of Christianity, for that matter) which articulates Jesus as the Person upon whom all of Christianity rests, as this sermon.

This sermon walks us through Philippians 3:7-12.  It begins with Paul’s conversion, making the point that it was Paul falling in love with a PERSON, not a set of beliefs about a person.  It then goes on to make the point that Christ was the main focus of Paul’s writings, not justification by faith or any other doctrine about Christ.

To return to his letters, in the first place the Letter to the Romans, for the purpose for which they were written was not, of course, that of furnishing future generations with a gymnasium in which to exercise their theological acumen, but that of edifying the faith of the community, formed in the main by simple and illiterate people. “For I long to see you,” he wrote to the Romans, “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).

Next, the focus turns to Protestant-Catholic relations.  His point here is dead on:  It is irrelevant for us to argue about the details of Romans when the outside world has little to no conception of sin and guilt in the first place.

The sermon closes by focusing on “forgetting the past” as Paul uses it in this passage.  His point here is that Paul did not limit “forgetting the past” to his pharisaical, pre-Christian days, but instead applied it to every day of his life as a Christian and an apostle of the Church.  It puts an entirely different slant on things if we think of it in this way, doesn’t it?

“Forgetting the past.” What past? That of Pharisee, of which he first spoke? No, the past of apostle in the Church! Now the gain of considering loss is another: It is proper to have already once considered all a loss for Christ. It was natural to think: “What courage, was that of Paul: to abandon the career of rabbi so well underway for an obscure sect of Galileans! And what letters he wrote! How many voyages he undertook, how many churches he founded!”

The Apostle saw in a confused manner the mortal danger of putting behind himself and Christ his “own justice” derived from works — this time the works done by Christ — and he reacted energetically. “I do not think,” he says, “that I have arrived at perfection.” Toward the end of his life, St. Francis of Assisi cut short every temptation of self-complacency, saying: “We begin, brothers, to serve the Lord, because up to now we have done little or nothing.”[8]

This is the most necessary conversion for those who have already followed Christ and have lived at his service in the Church. An altogether special conversion, which does not consist in abandoning what is evil, but, in a certain sense, in abandoning what is good! Namely, in detaching oneself from everything that one has done, repeating to oneself, according to Christ’s suggestions: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).

The Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar: Prepare to Be Awed

For those of you who are interested:

The Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar.

Those of you who grew up in a liturgical tradition may be familiar with Advent calendars.  For the rest of you, here is the drill:  The calendar consists of a sheet of poster paper with 25 doors, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas.  Every day you open a door, and on the inside there is a Bible verse or a brief reading pertaining to Advent.  Great fun for a kid; I used to love these when I was growing up.  For the rest of us, it’s a little something to help keep our hearts focused on waiting for the coming of Christ which we will celebrate on Christmas.

This site is kind of the same idea.  There are currently twelve images up there; by the time you see this there will be at least thirteen and possibly more.  These are all images of various parts of the universe as seen through the Hubble space telescope; prepare to see them and be awed by the thought that God created all of this.  Prepare to be further awed by the thought that the same God who created all of this sent His Son into the world to live as one of us.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but right about this time of year I seem to be inundated with emails from all my Christian friends about how Jesus is the reason for the season, how Jesus is a whole lot better than any ol’ Santa Claus, and how we need to take a stand and fight to keep Christ in Christmas.  It’s not Xmas, it’s not the Holidays, it’s not winter break, it’s Christmas for crying out loud!!!!!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I see something like this, it kinda makes me think that all our squabbling about putting Christ back in Christmas is just a little bit petty and pointless.  Honestly people, after seeing the images on this calendar, do you REALLY think that the God who created all this needs our shouting, fighting to get Christ back in Christmas?

Advent is not a time to shout.  It is not a time to fight.  It is a time to sit quietly and wait–for the One whose coming we will celebrate in just a couple of weeks time, and who will come again at the end of time to put all things right and bring about a better world.

Joseph Bottum on the End of Advent

Today I would like to direct your attention to this post by Joseph Bottum over at First Things.  In this post, Bottum contends that much which is wrong with the celebration of Christmas, both in our churches and in the culture at large, is a result of evangelical Protestant-dom’s deemphasis of the Advent season.

Those of you who did not grow up in a liturgical tradition are probably shaking your heads and wondering, “What on earth is Advent and why on earth are we talking about it?”  For your benefit, let me give you a brief Advent primer.

Advent is the season before Christmas.  It starts on either the first Sunday of December or the last Sunday of November, and lasts for four weeks–three full weeks plus whatever is necessary to take us through to Christmas.  There are always four Sundays in Advent–never more, never less.

Advent is a season of waiting.  It is a season in which we await the fulfillment of God’s promises to us by sending Christ to be born in our world, which we celebrate on Christmas–and at the same time await the complete fulfillment of God’s promises to us which will take place when Christ returns again at the end of the present age.

Advent is also a season of darkness.  Not the darkness of Lent (the season before Easter) which is the direct result of the Cross looming large before us and casting its shadow directly across our path.  The darkness of Advent is just straight-up darkness–the darkness of the formless world before God spoke into it and said “Let there be light”, the darkness of a world thoroughly corrupted by sin which awaits the fulfillment of God’s promise to send His Son into it.

The underlying premise of Advent is that we need a Savior.  That’s right, people.  I said “we”, and I meant it.  As evangelicals, we love to parade before the whole world the message that we have the Savior and they’re the ones who need Him.  That is wrong.  We all need a Savior–those of us who are inside the Church just as much as those who are on the outside.

We need a Savior to deliver us from the abysmal failure of religion to produce any transformation inside of us.  Strip away a couple of layers of religion and we who claim to be “saved” appear to be just as lost as the world which, we claim, needs to be “saved”.

We need a Savior to deliver us from our headlong rush into captivity at the hands of Western culture.  From our tendency to prioritize things in the way the world does–that more, bigger, faster, busier, etc. is better.  From our churches which represent all that we admire in American culture but offer barely a shred of the community that Jesus would want to see in His church.  From our pursuit of more lights, more gifts, bigger gifts, more expensive gifts, more shopping, more parties, more trees and ribbons and music in the stores–as if all these things are what Christmas is really all about.  (Don’t get me wrong here.  I love the lights, the music, the parties, the decorations, etc. that go along with Christmas.  But these things are NOT the essence of Christmas.)

Advent is the time in which we acknowledge that we all need a Savior, and we wait–both for the Savior whose birth we will celebrate in a couple of weeks, and for the Savior who will come again at the end of the age and put all things right for good.  This is not a time for the “saved” to tell the “lost” to “Get saved!!!!!”  This is a time for all people, whether “saved” or “lost”, to come together to await the birth of the Savior whom we all so desperately need–and when He comes, to recognize Him–together.

Read Joseph Bottum on the end of Advent.

Also, read this post by Michael Spencer on the mood of Advent.

Those of you who are interested in finding some ideas on how to observe Advent, this post by Michael Spencer is a good place to start.