Friday, April 30, 2010

And the “Most Improved Apostle” Award Goes to …

My favorite radio show is "Wait … Wait … Don’t Tell Me!" on NPR. Recently I caught a glaring error in the show. They were talking about the Last Supper, and one of the panelists made a joke about something Paul may have said to Jesus that night. Did you catch that? Paul at the Last Supper? This guy doesn’t know his New Testament. Do you?

But it occurred to me that someone slightly out of the loop could certainly be forgiven for assuming that Paul was at the Last Supper. After all, when you think of Jesus’ most famous followers, don’t the names Peter and Paul rise to the surface?

Peter is better known for his time with Jesus than for his accomplishments later in life, which is too bad, because these later works are important and are outlined in glorious detail in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter may deserve the "Most Improved Apostle" award for his lifelong transition from simple fisherman to world traveler, from run-of-the-mill Galilean Jew to one who welcomed and embraced Gentiles into the Christian family, and from loudmouth oaf to humble servant whose life ended in crucifixion.

But Paul is better known for his later works than for his earlier ones, and the reason is simple: Paul wasn’t Paul until his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. And that’s what really sets Paul apart from his contemporaries. Despite the fact that he never actually met the man Jesus, Paul is the most famous evangelist in the Bible. Maybe the award should go to Paul, who began by persecuting and killing Christians
and ended by likewise being persecuted and killed (according to Christian tradition) for his Christian faith.

Peter and Paul were both martyrs. They both came a long way. But today, as I write this, Paul is my hero. And that’s because he had the audacity – and the humility – to align himself with the people who had actually walked the earth with Jesus, not just heard about him afterward.

Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. - 1 Cor. 15: 8-11

Can we find in ourselves the audacity and humility to believe that we, also, are apostles? Can we understand ourselves to be called by God to spread the Gospel throughout the world, just as if we had walked the dusty road with Jesus, eaten meals with him in Palestinian homes, and witnessed his miraculous healings? No matter who you are or where you find yourself on the journey of faith, God is calling you to become like Paul: a confident child of God and daring truth-teller, dedicated to loving others as Jesus loves you.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

20-Year Flashback: May 4, 1990

What were you doing twenty years ago this week?

Allow me to jog your memory. The Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. West and East Germany agreed to merge their currencies. Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union. The Episcopal Church of the Philippines was granted full autonomy. And Billboard’s top 10 hits in the U.S.A. for the week ending May 5, 1990 were as follows:

On the radio, this song didn’t do much for me. But in the context of the album Rhythm Nation 1814, in its full six-minute glory, it somehow works. Not one of her most memorable songs by any stretch, though.

At the time this went down as one of my favorite songs of the year. It still passes muster. Steven Tyler wails with the best of them, and as usual, I can’t quite reach the same notes he can. At the time I had just fallen out with my best friend, and this song felt just right: anguished and intense.

Cool, smooth, jazzy, but still pop. Add a very mellow new jack swing beat underneath, and this hit was in the right place at the right time.

So what, exactly, is whip appeal? I asked WikiAnswers. That’s kind of a disappointing answer, but I suppose it makes sense. No matter … Babyface still makes me groove every time I hear this one.

Sorry—I couldn’t find the original radio edit on YouTube, which is a shame, because it’s a pretty great song, especially that amazing synthesizer solo.

The story song had been a dying art for a long time by this point. What a bizarre way for it to come back … you want what? And why? You know, they do have adoption agencies …

A classic. This song was slapped onto her I’m Breathless album of songs inspired by the movie Dick Tracy. That was a total mismatch, but both the album and this song were great.

I still can’t hear this song without immediately skipping to the next one!

Does it get any shallower than this? The 1980s were over, but the obsession with money was just beginning.

OK, yes, this song, while over-produced, is absolutely amazing, and so is the video. American Top 40 ranked this as the overall top hit of 1990. But if you want a real treat, listen to the original version, a duet between Prince and Rosie Gaines.

Overall impressions two decades down the road: Top 40 music was in the doldrums. But I was 17, so this will always be a nostalgic time for me—Michael Bolton notwithstanding!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Lamb Is Also the Shepherd

sermon preached at the TV Eucharist, a production of KING-TV
(broadcast every Sunday at 5:00 a.m. on KONG-TV 16 and on Cable channel 6)
by Josh Hosler, Associate for Christian Formation
The Fourth Sunday of Easter/ April 25, 2010
Lectionary readings

Happy Easter! Yes, it is still Easter. Easter is such a great mystery that it cannot be contained in one day. It goes on for fifty days … an entire season that lasts right up through the Day of Pentecost, which falls on May 23 this year.

During this fifty-day season of Easter, our readings in church teach us about the resurrected Christ using the image of a Lamb. Early in the story of our faith, the Hebrews feast on the sacrificial Passover Lamb before being led through the Red Sea to freedom. At the climax of our story, Jesus becomes the Lamb. He sacrifices himself on a cross in order to end, once and for all, the endless system of sacrifice.

And on this, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear from the bizarre, often maligned, frequently misused Revelation to John. I don’t believe that you’ll find within its pages the secrets of how events will unfold in the Middle East or a litmus test for who is on God’s nice list or naughty list. I do believe, though, that it gives us a deep well of rich imagery and an exciting, satisfying ending for our story. It also has many things to teach us.

This particular passage from chapter 7 works well during Easter season because it speaks of resurrection and its implications not only for us, but for everyone in every place and time. At the end of all things, the image of the Lamb returns one more time. The Lamb is seated on a throne, reigning from beyond space and time, and all death is subsumed into a glorious celebration of resurrection.

Now contrast these odd, majestic images with the image Jesus presents us with in today’s Gospel. He is our Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep. We hear his voice, and we follow him. He steers us away from dangerous chasms, he protects us from wolves, and he leads us to the good grass and the river. It’s a simple, pastoral image that stands in stark relief against the mind-blowing, cinematic scene from Revelation. Yet there’s a clear connection! Right in the Revelation reading, you’ll find these words: “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The Lamb is also the Shepherd. The Shepherd became a Lamb, was slaughtered like a lamb, and has come through the great ordeal of death to show us the way. The Lamb who is also the Shepherd knows each one of us by name—not just as a huge, nameless throng of humanity, but also as individuals! And if we trust the Lamb who has gone through death ahead of us, we will arrive at the River of Life.

The Resurrection is a story of victory. Death has been utterly defeated—revealed for the impotent bogeyman it has been all along and put on display for us to mock! But that’s not the end of the story. From here, we can go out and live and practice resurrection. How do we do that?

This week I came across a website called Spirituality and Practice Dot Com. It provides a long list of ways we can practice resurrection in our lives. Here are just ten of them:

• Love God, love your neighbor, and love your new life as marks of the resurrection.

• Enthusiasm is the mark of a life-giver. When you can laugh and sing and relish life, you are practicing resurrection.

• When you regularly pray for others as part of your devotional activities, you are practicing resurrection.

• Whenever you with compassion open your heart, mind, and soul to the pain of the world, you help bring suffering beings back into the land of the living.

• Give your full attention to whatever you are doing, and you'll recognize the constant renewal of life all around you.

• Every time you forgive someone, another resurrection is in the making.

• Leave the past to God's mercy. Leave the future to God's discretion. Living in the present moment, the only time when God brings forth new life, is a way of affirming your belief in resurrection.

• When you add even a small portion of joy to the lives of those around you, you bring resurrection into your community.

• Welcome changes — big and small — in your experience and signal your receptivity to transformation and resurrection.

• When you stay open to all people and all situations, you affirm your belief that all things can be made new.

Do you see? Resurrection isn’t just something that happened 2000 years ago. It is the blueprint for creation, on both the cosmic level and in our day-to-day lives.

So live and practice the resurrection. When you do, you’ll find that the Lamb who is the Good Shepherd has led you to the River. Are you thirsty? Come drink! Come quench your thirst, at least for now, and then bring others to the River. And don’t just drink from it. Wade in it! Swim in it! Immerse yourself completely in the waters of new life.

The Lord is your shepherd; you have everything you need. You may be walking through Death Valley today, but the fear does not own you. When you feel lost, the Lamb who is the Shepherd is going out ahead of you. When you feel bold, the Lamb who is the Shepherd is right at your back, protecting you from hidden dangers.

There is no scarcity—there is enough for everyone. And not just for you and Jesus, but for the whole flock—for you and you and you and me and Jesus and everyone else who has ever lived. Amen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And the most misogynistic musician in history is ...

I wrote this piece in 2004. I still like it a lot .... enjoy.


So many controversial artists over the years ... so many controversial lyrics ... Elvis, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister, the 2 Live Crew, Marilyn Manson, Eminem ... so many reasons for a parent to fret. What are our kids learning from these blatant, in-your-face distributors of sleaze?

Well, I'm here to challenge all those claims. Who's the worst offender in the history of rock n' roll? None other than Ray Parker, Jr.

What? Not the guy who recorded "Ghostbusters"? The very same. And no, I'm not like the parents of the girl in my high school class who wasn't allowed to read "Hamlet" because there was a ghost in it. No, "Ghostbusters" we can set aside as worthless '80s fluff once and for all. I'm talking about Ray's other twelve top 40 hits. Do you remember any of them?

Ray Parker, Jr. was born in Detroit, moved to California, and became a successful session guitarist for class acts like Stevie Wonder and Barry White. In 1977, he formed a group called Raydio, and their first single hit #8: "Jack and Jill."

"Now why do you think Jack snuck down the hill?/
'Cause he needed love, love he couldn't get from Jill."

It's a dated but pleasant-sounding R&B record, and it tells a story. Jill ignores Jack, so he cheats on her. Now, this situation has been presented in pop music many times; another example that comes to mind is the 1995 hit "Creep" by TLC. It lays out a questionable cause-and-effect relationship: 1) You ignore me. 2) I cheat. 3) I'm justified in cheating. There doesn't seem to be a confrontation step anywhere in there. There's nothing about refusing to stoop as low as the original cheater. But Ray is one among many to take this position, so let's move on to his second hit, "You Can't Change That":

"Honey, I'll always love ya/
I promise to always love ya/
'Cause I think the whole world of ya/
And you can't change that."

Aw, how sweet!

"You can change your telephone number/
And you can change your address, too/
But you can't stop me from loving you/
No, you can't change that."

Whoa, hang on. Things just took a turn for the creepy.

"You can change the color of your hair/
And you can change the clothes you wear ..."

Well, I guess even the Witness Protection Program won't stop him from loving her. Let's move on to Ray's next top 10 hit, "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)." Yeah, you do remember that one, don't you? It's such a nice-sounding song!

"Don't make the mistake of thinkin' old-fashioned/
Times have changed from yesterday/
But no longer will those old double standards/
Be accepted by the women of today."

Has Ray reformed? Has he been thinking about supporting the ERA?

"A woman needs love just like you do/
Hey, don't kid yourself into thinkin' that she don't/
She can fool around just like you do/
Unless you give her all the lovin' she wants."

OK, so let's get this straight. In "Jack and Jill," Ray feels totally justified in cheating simply because she hasn't been paying attention to him. Then it takes him three years to realize that payback's a bitch. In other words, she'll hold you hostage for sex, always dangling the possibility that she might take her goods somewhere else if you don't keep her satisfied. What a healthy relationship!

In 1982, Ray adds some edgy guitars and hits #4 with "The Other Woman":

"I'm just an average guy/
I fool around a little on the side/
Never thought it would amount to much/
Never met a girl whose love was so tough ..."


"I know the rules of the game/
You hit it once, then break away clean/
I should've never gone back, I know/
But I had to have just a little bit mo'."

All right, 'nuff said. We know by now that Ray is basically a scumbag, A charming, sexy scumbag who gets a lot of action, but a scumbag nonetheless. We also suspect some tendencies toward stalking. Then, in 1983, he releases the album Woman Out of Control. The single, "I Still Can't Get Over Loving You," hits #12. Ray has been dumped, and he's feeling pretty lost:

"I'm all confused and I don't know what to do/
'Cause I still can't get over loving you./
I've had time, but I can't get you off my mind/
No, I still can't get over loving you."

Could this be the moment when Ray finally realizes what a jerk he's been? Alas, no; his need for therapy becomes even clearer:

"Every time I run into your friends/
I just have to ask them with who and where you've been/
And when they tell me what I really didn't want to know/
It only breaks my heart, it makes me want to know more."

Let go, Ray! Let go! Before it's too late!

"Girl, I can't forget, 'cause it's not over yet/
I still can't get over loving you/
Every breath you take, I'll be watching you, girl/
'Cause I still can't get over loving you/
There's no way that this thing is through/
No, not yet—I ain't through loving you/
I'm gettin' mad, girl, don't you ever try to leave/
No, no, it'll be the last thing you ever do."

Yikes! He's a man out of control! Call the cops!

It is at this point that Ray Parker, Jr. is commissioned to write and record "Ghostbusters." Maybe someone saw that he was in trouble and thought he could get his mind off her by recording a song with no women in it. At any rate, "Ghostbusters" spends three weeks at #1 and goes down as Ray's only memorable song. But does it help? Oh, no. His very next hit, which makes it to #14, is called "Jamie":

"Watch what you say about Jamie/
Because she used to be my girl/
I don't wanna see her kissin' no one else besides myself."

He then dispenses advice to Jamie's new man on how to love her:

"When you're lovin' Jamie, you gotta hold her tight/
'Cause she's the kind of girl that has to have it every night."

Has he finally let go? Is Ray finally going to let his girl's supposed nymphomania remain someone else's problem? Alas, no:

"You see, I trained her just the way I wanted her/
I taught her every trick in the book/
It ain't fair for her to give it all to some other guy/
Jamie, you know you got me hooked."

Oh, I see—it's an addiction. So Ray isn't actually responsible for his actions:

"Jamie used to be my girl/
To me, she's still my girl/
Watch what you say to me, Jamie/
Watch who you're layin' with, Jamie/
'Cause to me you're still my girl."

Luckily, "Jamie" was Ray's final top 20 hit. It seems that someone had the right idea by handing him "Ghostbusters": get him labeled as a novelty artist and maybe he'll fade away naturally. It worked. Ray only scored one more solo top 40 hit, this one in 1985:

"Girls are more fun, ooh/
Girls are more fun/
The party ain't begun 'til all the girls come/
'Cause girls are more fun."

It's an irretrievably stupid song, and it peaks at #34. But we can learn a little more from a line toward the end of the song, where Ray appears to be ad-libbing:

"For those of you who've gone the other WAY/
Girls are more fun."

He jumps up about an octave on the word "way," apparently implying that gay men have high, squeaky voices. I suppose I might have thought that was true, too, when I was about eight. So as if Ray doesn't have enough problems relating to women, he now has to convince all the gay men in the world that they're missing out on something great. Something tells me Ray could "go the other way" himself, and it still wouldn't help.

Move over, Eminem. Here's to the king of misogyny, Ray Parker, Jr.!


What was the #1 song on the day you were born? Click here to find out.