At New Yankee Stadium with Becky Garrison and Joel Osteen

19 08 2010

A couple of years back I met a terrific writer, a nice, if occasionally cranky, person named Becky Garrison. Becky is an accomplished author of such books as Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church and The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail. She is also a contributing editor for Sojourners and has done funny, insightful stuff for The Wittenburg Door among many others. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and talking shop with Becky on my last couple visits to New York City. Most recently, last spring I believe, Becky attended a screening of Lord, Save Us I was hosting at a vibrant church on the Lower East Side. The audience was an eclectic blend of impassioned folks and the spirited conversation after the screening went on for the better part of an hour.

Becky and I only had a short visit afterwards but she was making great progress on her newest book Jesus Died For This? which, incidentally, is being released this week by Zondervan. Turns out I’m mentioned briefly in her new tome. She recounts our chance meeting in the press box at the newly opened Yankee Stadium where Joel and Victoria Osteen were holding their “One Night Of Hope” event in April 2009 (think they just did a similar event in Dodger Stadium). At this point Becky and I had only corresponded, so as I sat casually chatting with this hilarious, fired up and very well informed woman I actually had no idea it was Becky. Apparently, without my Bumpersticker Man suit I was unrecognizable as well, I guess I was in my Clark Kent attire that evening. Hah. Anyway, after fifteen minutes of entertaining conversation that threatened to erupt into spirited debate I introduced myself. Becky’s eyes grew wide and then she laughed, “Oh, Dan, it’s Becky Garrison.” “Becky! Hah. No wonder. Okay, now this conversation makes sense.” We had a good laugh and then really got into the conversation about the fascinating spectacle unfolding on the Yankee infield below.

Here is a brief excerpt from Jesus Died For This?:

Once the praise music faded away, Joel and Victoria took the stage. After Joel rejoiced how he was finally getting to live his dream of playing in a professional baseball stadium, Joel and Victoria regaled the crowd with a replay of their favorite hits. Most of what I’m hearing seems to be eerily similar to Joel’s Madison Square Garden concert that I covered back in 2006. Has their faith not evolved in these ensuing three years? Surely folks as well traveled as the Osteens might have some new stories they can tell, don’t you think?

By sheer coincidence, Dan Merchant, the author and director of the documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, was sitting right next to me. When I complained that I had seen this motivational multimedia show before, this roc-show expert reminded me that “people come to rock shows expecting to see the hits,” citing how the Rolling Stones sing “Satisfaction” at every concert. He added, “Like the Stones, Osteen’s ‘Night of Hope’ hits the same buttons. Charisma, emotion, nostalgia, dramatic staging (gorgeous night, amazing new ballpark), a sense of community – all Osteen is missing are the flash pots and a B-stage in center field.”

I know, I know, I relate every public performance to the Rolling Stones. Hah. Sue me. Think of Osteen what you will, but I guess I didn’t begrudge him “playing the hits”, but Becky was on a deadline and I wasn’t at that moment.

Reading an advance copy of Becky’s book, I was so pleased and impressed with how she refused restraint at times, but how she also illuminated the tender truth. The subtitle to Jesus Died For This? is “A Satirist’s Search For the Risen Christ”, and this compelling collection of thematically linked essays will greatly encourage and, possibly, educate you. Becky’s travels all over America yield some amazing anecdotes about believers who will absolute remind you of Jesus. Please pick up a copy for yourself and someone else you want to talk about faith with. Hard working, uncompromising creatives like Becky deserve our support and encouragement. She has done us all a service by sharing her observations with us in Jesus Died For This?





Prop 8 and Roger’s Story

6 08 2010

In light of the landmark judicial decision this week regarding Prop 8 in California we’ve decided to run a clip from Lord Save Us entitled “Roger’s Story.” Keep those conversations going folks!





Odd Bedfellows

5 08 2010

One of the coolest, strangest attributes of Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is the diversity and range of the people enjoying it. The film doesn’t speak JUST to Christians or JUST to non-Christians – though, depending on the clique, many feel, “I love it, but I don’t think THEY will get it,” which is funny to me because that’s what everyone says.

I offer as proof a smattering of “opposites” in the media, mainstream and alternative sources, who have praised Lord Save Us From Your Followers. Hollywood insider magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter praised the film for being “Admirably bold” and “Moving and Memorable” while Christian publication Christianity Today wrote “The overarching message is desperately needed and winsomely voiced. Most impressive is that this film manages to speak to two separate audiences at the same time.” The Dove Foundation offered this: “Five out of five…Life changing.” Lord Save Us has also attracted attention from major newspapers: USA Today labeled the film as “Michael Moore-meets-Monty Python. A humorous and heartfelt examination of the culture wars,” while the Los Angeles Times said it is “an effective call for greater understanding.” My media appearances have ranged from The Today Show with Matt Lauer and The Dennis Miller radio show to Praise The Lord on Trinity Broadcasting Network to Barry Lynn’s national radio show (People for the American Way). Can you say “odd bedfellows”?

I suppose this evidence further drives home the point we all have more in common than we think, we all are tired of our inability to understand and cooperate with each other to tackle some of the big problems facing our world. If you are a Christian invite a non-church person over to your house to watch the Lord Save Us DVD – if you are an atheist, invite a Christian friend…and enjoy a conversation together. Change must start somewhere. Why not with you? Why not now?





Anne Rice Denounces Christianity in the Name of Christ?

2 08 2010

Last week acclaimed author Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire, Christ the Lord) publicly denounced Christianity on her Facebook page. While few people might be surprised by this revelation, the reasoning behind it may start valuable conversations:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

Dang, Anne, I’m feeling you. I wish I could give you a hug right now. I understand exactly what she’s saying, but I also would love to introduce her to the thousands of followers I’ve met who WOULD remind her of Jesus. Meeting these folks and seeing their beautiful work would no doubt encourage Anne as much as it encouraged me. I also agree there is no reason to get hung up on the label: Christianity. I know lots of folks who prefer “Follower of Jesus” – fine, I don’t care, but there is something cool about people who love boldly in Christ’s name and seem determined to reclaim the title from those who have lost the plot or hijacked the term “Christian”.

Check out more timely updates from Anne at http://www.facebook.com/#!/annericefanpage





Creative Togetherness Over Easy Conflict

29 07 2010

For today’s blog we’re running a 4-star review from Simon Augustine at guru.greencine.com. In his verbose critique Augustine compares me to “a Michael Moore crusading for purer humanism rather than a political agenda.” I like it!

This DIY documentary is a humorous and humane attempt by filmmaker Dan Merchant to address the increasingly vitriolic and seemingly unbridgeable divide between Red and Blue state mentalities – those on the religious Right who favor traditionalism vs. the leftist/secularist community who has grown hostile and turned off to Christianity because of what they perceive to be close-mindedness and hypocrisy stemming from Fundamentalist approaches. The film claims a certain uniqueness in that it is presented by a progressive Christian, deeply critiquing his own faith. He rightly recognizes that the current bombast, volume, and pre-conceptions on both sides actually drowns out meaningful dialogue and winds up serving neither those leftists who may have religious curiosity and/or passion, nor those on the right who are open to more modern viewpoints. Not to mention how the trend of hyperbole and sensationalism often wastes time and denigrates our common humanness.
He aims to show how the combative structure of the debate itself often precludes real conversation and understanding in the current “culture wars” of America, and for the most part he is successful.
What begins as a seemingly glib satire of the rhetoric in the battle between traditional Christians and more secularized progressives actually develops into a surprisingly moving and compassionate “non-sermon” on the way the essential Christian message is lost in the foibles and egos of human communication – susceptible as it is to hyperbole and sensationalism. Merchant takes some brief but effective looks at the issues of poverty, consumerism, war, gay marriage, and abortion. He interviews a series of talking heads including comedian-turned-Senator Al Franken, and produces segments on the good works of Christians as diverse as Bono and Rick Warren.
And like a Michael Moore crusading for a purer humanism rather than a specific political agenda, Merchant also walks around the streets of NYC and Texas, his suit covered in bumper stickers and buttons running the gamut of the most extreme fundamentalist and atheistic slogans, attempting to elicit and provoke conversation with people from varied perspectives. What this stunt lacks in the satiric acumen, bite, or political intensity found in Moore’s best set-pieces, it more than makes up for it in the way that Merchant exposes the self-fascination and rancor of right vs. left political clashes to find a common practicality of the gospel of love hidden underneath all the sound and fury.
One particularly innovative and striking experiment has Merchant, as a Christian, setting up a confessional booth at a gay community event to personally apologize to gays and lesbians for the shortcomings of the Church in terms of acceptance and understanding, evoking fascinating reactions and aptly demonstrating what inroads are possible. And the film ends with an emotional encounter between Christian social workers and homeless men and women whom they serve at a mobile facility that elegantly summarizes its message.
With a charming homemade quality (that unfortunately sometimes devolves into tacky, annoying graphics and a distracting amateurism), Lord Save Us From Our Followers does not have the cinematic power of something like Fahrenheit 9/11, but it is still a minor revelation in terms of emphasizing creative togetherness over easy conflict.





Christian Television Meets Provacative Documentary

26 07 2010

Sometimes it seems this Lord, Save Us journey I’ve been on has lasted a decade or two, in fact it’s been about 5 years and we reached yet another milestone this past week – our broadcast television premiere on the oldest Christian television network in the world, TBN. A couple of snap shots that illustrate for me the breadth of the journey with the Lord, Save Us From Your Followers book and movie: my Spring 2008 appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show” where I was interviewed by Matt Lauer and then sitting with Paul Crouch Jr. on the set of Praise The Lord. In between these two sit downs the film had been released theatrically in 30 cities, we’d won film festivals and awards, I’d completed three tours of colleges and churches and amazingly, a beautiful, powerful and productive conversation had sprung to life in every venue. The wider the film reaches, the more positive things happen. That’s pretty encouraging to me and is, for me at least, an affirmation to keep pushing on. Now, while talk show sets of “The Today Show” and “Praise The Lord” bear some similar elements, I have to say my mind was swimming during both appearances: “I can’t believe Matt Lauer is asking me about Jesus on national television,” and “I can’t believe Paul Jr. just said ‘Tonight on a very special Praise the Lord, we’re going to be watching one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” For me, it just seems like there is something going on here that I didn’t cause. Perhaps God is on the move, because this stuff has been getting pretty weird. Hah. But as long as it stays weird, I’m in.





Christians: Judgemental or Loving?

22 07 2010

We enjoyed this recent review from John Adair that ran on his blog gladsomemorning.wordpress.com. Adair brings up great points on how to make a more organic church a reality. He also dissects Lord Save Us’s Bible commentary with an impressive logical proof!

Christians can be jerks sometimes. Or judgmental. Or hypocritical. Or unjust. Or prideful. The list goes on. Some will read the preceding statements and get defensive. Others will think it’s not stated strongly enough.

Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum in your regard for Christians, Dan Merchant, an Evangelical Christian himself, couldn’t get around the negative impression so many seem to have about Christians these days. Public debate and comment involving Christians speaking out on social, political, and economic issues has left behind the more collegial attitudes of yesteryear and replaced them with what can only be termed a toxic atmosphere.

That’s the impetus behind Dan Merchant’s film, Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, which was originally released in the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election in the United States. Merchant acutely points out that people on both sides of the broader cultural debate going on in our country feel oppressed and cornered by each other. As an Evangelical himself, Merchant spends most of his film focusing on Christians, reminding viewers of such foolishness as Pat Robertson’s claim that Hurricane Katrina was a result of the extra-sinful people of New Orleans or Fred Phelps and his demeaning and destructive “God hates fags” campaign.

Merchant is ashamed of the activity of many Christians in the public square, and rightly so. The film seems fuzzy and scattered in its first half as Merchant details the problems, bouncing from scholars to famous personalities to average people on the street. However, the focus narrows in the second half as Merchant advocates for Christians to take a different approach to the world at large. His logic goes like this: If Christians are followers of Jesus, and Jesus was characterized by humility and grace and compassion for all people, then maybe the followers of Jesus should take on a more humble, gracious, and compassionate posture toward all people, especially those that disagree with them.

Merchant peppers the latter half of his film with examples of Christians actively working out this approach in the world today, people like Rick Warren and the lead singer of U2, Bono, who both give a great deal of time and money to various humanitarian works in Africa; a local group of Christians in Portland, Oregon who provide basic services and clothing for the homeless every week; and the filmmaker himself, who sets up a “confession booth” at a festival for gay and lesbian people.

Ironically, Merchant uses his confession booth not to hear the confessions of people at the festival, but to confess his own sins, and the sins of the church at large. The apologies start off a bit awkwardly, but the act of humbling himself through apology provides Merchant the opportunity to have conversations with those who visit the booth. These are revealing moments—two people facing one another in a room by themselves. While Merchant received a variety of responses, his act of humility was clearly moving to many who entered the booth. Fears and trials and hurts bubbled to the surface as human beings shared their hearts with one another.

The last half of Merchant’s film shows Christians communicating and connecting with people. It shows Christians treating people like people, regardless of race, economic status, gender, or sexual orientation. Merchant’s film advocates for a more compassionate approach from a group of people who should know better, but who too often do not.

Christians can be jerks sometimes. Maybe the existence of Merchant’s film in the world will make that a little less common. I hope so.








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