American Gospel: Christ Crucified

American Gospel: Christ Crucified
Directed by Brandon Kimber
Transition Studios, 2019, 176 minutes

5 Stars

In his previous documentary, “American Gospel: Christ Alone” (2018), Brandon Kimber confronted the false prosperity gospel. See my review here. In this latest film, Kimber turns his attention to the “emerging church movement” (ECM).

The leaders of ECM adopted a post-modern, relativistic approach to the Bible, insisting that God is strictly a God of love and acceptance and dismissing those passages in God’s Word that proclaim God’s wrath against sinners, His judgement, and the eternal damnation of unbelievers in hell. ECMers are especially roiled by the doctrine of the “penal substitutionary atonement” of Jesus Christ; that God the Son voluntarily bore the wrath of God the Father and the penalty for sin in the place of sinful mankind, and that only those who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as Savior by faith alone are redeemed and born-again as God’s children.

What ECMers teach is an updated form of Universalism; that most/all people are destined for Heaven/Nirvana/paradisaical bliss. Some of the most prominent proponents of the ECM false gospel are featured in this documentary, including Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Rob Bell, and Catholic Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr. Opinionated atheist, Bart Campolo, is prominently featured as an example of how ECM is a foundationless, slippery slope and naturally progresses into outright atheism.

Counterposing the ECMers are defenders of God’s Word and the genuine Gospel, including Voddie Bauchman, Alistair Begg, Ray Comfort, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, Justin Peters, and Paul Washer. The spine of the documentary is the journey of believer, Alisa Childers, who was being misled by a crypto-ECM pastor, but by God’s grace became an outspoken critic of the ECM heresy.

Observations and comments

I enjoyed this documentary quite a bit. Several of the ECMers come across as quite “snarky,” especially Tony Jones, Rob Bell, and the two young, know-it-all brats manning the Deconstructionist Podcast (Adam Narloch and John Williamson). In all fairness, believers can be arrogantly “snarky” as well. I was glad to see Kimber include William Paul Young, the author of “The Shack,” as one of the ECMers. Unwitting evangelicals eagerly consumed Young’s Universalist kool-aid. Kimber and company did an excellent job of breaking down the all-important doctrine of “penal substitutionary atonement,” a theological term that sounds dauntingly complicated, but is at the heart of the Good News. The documentary begins by rapidly juxtaposing interview segments with ECMers and orthodox believers, which can be confusing for viewers who don’t know who’s who. I had to stop the documentary and explain to my wife what was going on. After an interval, the viewer is be able to differentiate between the “bad guys” and the “good guys,” but it’s confusing at first. As with the previous documentary, the title, “American Gospel: Christ Crucified,” is regrettably incongruent; a subtitle normally complements the main title rather than contradicts it.

Kimber included Stephen J. Nichols as one of the defenders of the genuine Gospel, which leads me to my closing thought. Kimber has now examined two heretical movements; the prosperity gospel and the emerging church. I wish that his next documentary would examine the growing ecumenism with Roman Catholicism within evangelicalism. Stephen J. Nichols wrote a children’s book, which included Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuits, as a “hero of the faith.” There’s A LOT of that kind of ecumenical compromise and betrayal of the Gospel floating around within evangelicalism these days.

“American Gospel: Christ Crucified” is available via Amazon video streaming as a 48-hour rental for $4.99.

American Gospel?

American Gospel: Christ Alone
Directed by Brandon Kimber
Transition Studios, 2018, 139 minutes

5 Stars

The documentary, “American Gospel: Christ Alone,” was first released in October 2018, and I’ve been meaning to see it ever since. I was recently made aware that the film is available on Netflix and watched it with my wife over the course of two evenings.

First off, the documentary establishes what the genuine Gospel is: salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The film does an EXCELLENT job of contrasting the genuine Gospel with Roman Catholicism’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. Grateful kudos to Kimber and all involved for their uncompromising stand.

The documentary continues to establish what the Gospel isn’t as it turns its attention to the increasingly popular word of faith, health and wealth, prosperity false gospel. Pentecostalism, with its claims of restoring the apostolic gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, healing, prophecy), had its beginnings in 1901 at the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. Pentecostalism spread and its practices eventually entered mainline Protestant denominations via the charismatic movement beginning in 1960. Pentecostals/charismatics emphasized subjective religious experiences. Key teachings that grew out of this movement are that God will heal all sicknesses (health) and that God will provide abundant material blessings (wealth) IF the suppliant has enough faith AND contributes sacrificially to the minister or church.

Prosperity gospel pastors, evangelists, and faith healers exploit people’s desire to be healthy and wealthy. This documentary exposes some of the biggest charlatans in the prosperity “industry” including Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Bill Johnson, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Todd White. The film also points out that the prosperity gospelers have sought rapprochement and unity with Roman Catholicism via the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

The defenders of the genuine Gospel of grace featured in this film include Paul Washer, Costi Hinn, Ray Comfort, Steven Lawson, Mike Gendron, Justin Peters, and John MacArthur.

This is a vitally important and masterful exposé of the word of faith, health and wealth, prosperity gospel sham and I highly recommend it to every believer. As I mentioned, it’s readily available on Netflix.

Postscript #1: The title of this documentary, “American Gospel: Christ Alone,” is confusing in its incongruity. The “American Gospel” portion alludes to the fact that the prosperity gospel has its roots in American Pentecostalism and is now being exported to all corners the world. The subtitle, “Christ Alone,” refers to the contrasting genuine Gospel. In general usage, a subtitle complements/clarifies the main title rather than contradicts it.

Postscript #2: Discerning viewers will note a couple of subtle dichotomies in this documentary. (1) Well known pastor, John Piper, is featured as one of the critics of the prosperity gospel, yet he embraces Pentecostal/charismatic practices; the wellspring of “health and wealth” theology. (2) Some of the featured defenders of the genuine Gospel include individuals identified as employees of RZIM – Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In contrast to the warnings against ecumenism with Rome presented in this film, apologist, Ravi Zacharias (d. May 19, 2020), championed ecumenism with Roman Catholicism! I’ll be discussing more about Zacharias in an upcoming post.


My blogging friend, Bruce, had a concern about this post and I thought it would be helpful to post our exchange from his blog’s comments section. Thanks, Bruce!


Bruce: I noticed that you lumped all Pentecostals with the NAR and that is not necessarily true, this link refers: http://www.spiritoferror.org/2013/06/the-assemblies-of-god-and-the-nar/3246

Tom: Thanks, Bruce. I get it. As a cessationist, I am more apt to overlook/dismiss distinctions that a continuationist would not. I have read criticisms of this documentary from pro-prosperity, Arminian continuationists who note that all of the well-known spokespersons for the genuine Gospel in this documentary are Reformed. That’s fine with me as I lean towards Calvinism. The argument of the pro-prosperity Arminian continuationists is that the spokespersons in the documentary attack their views while harboring their own “heresies,” i.e., predestination. Glad you brought this up so we could present various views. As an ex-Catholic and a cessationist, I believe continuationists are in a bit of pickle when it comes to ecumenism with Rome. Catholic Charismatics (including tens of thousands of priests) who still hold to Rome’s false gospel and are not born-again according to the genuine Gospel manifest the requisite “gifts of the spirit.” Anti-ecumenical continuationists argue that the Catholic charismatics are manifesting counterfeit gifts, but you can see this is problematic.

Aileen Wuornos: Monster?

Aileen Wuornos: Mind of a Monster
Arrow Media, 2020, 1 hr 24 min

4 Stars

Several weeks ago, I was doing my routine, bedtime channel surfing and came across the documentary, “Aileen Wuornos: Mind of a Monster,” on the ID, Investigation Discovery, cable channel.

I had done a lot of reading about Aileen “Lee” Wuornos many years ago, so I watched about 30 minutes of the documentary until I had to go to sleep. The next day, I watched the entire film from start to finish via on-demand.

For those of you who have never heard of Aileen Wuornos, she was America’s first female serial killer. It’s not a pleasant story. Wuornos (b. 1956) turned to prostitution as a teenager in Troy, Michigan. She moved down to Florida in 1976 where she continued “hustling.” Over a one-year period, from November, 1989 to November, 1990, she murdered and robbed seven of the many men who had picked her up as she solicited on the side of the highway. Florida police were finally able to track her down and made an arrest in January, 1991. She was eventually convicted on six counts of murder and was executed by lethal injection in October, 2002 at the age of 46.

How does a person become a serial killer? Wuornos was born into very challenging circumstances. Her mother was married at the age of 14 to an abusive sociopath who eventually committed suicide in prison. The single mother then abandoned Aileen and her older brother when the girl was four-years-old. The maternal grandparents adopted the two children, but both adults were hardcore alcoholics and the grandfather was chronically abusive. At the age of fourteen, Aileen was raped by one of her grandfather’s friends, became pregnant, and the baby was given up for adoption. The grandmother died in 1971 and shortly afterwards the grandfather threw Aileen out of the house at the age of fifteen. She supported herself on the streets for the next twenty years.

While Wuornos was in prison in Florida, a born-again woman reached out to her in friendship and became her legal guardian. Wuornos heard the Gospel. But the media circus that surrounded Aileen was a temptation. The guardian saw dollar signs and changed from an advocate into an opportunist who tried to cash-in on some of the media offers.

Wuornos was a deeply disturbed and violent person and deserved the death penalty for the seven, cold-blooded murders. But she wasn’t a monster. Yes, we’re all responsible for our actions, but Wuornos got her start in a snake pit. In her rambling death-row interviews, she talked about Jesus Christ and going to Heaven, but only God knows what happened to her soul.

This documentary provides an informative overview of the Wuornos case. Several of the detectives, lawyers, and prosecutors who were directly involved are interviewed. The spine of the story is the relationship of Wuornos and her childhood friend, Dawn Botkins, that improbably endured to the end.

Be like Mike?

Outside of limited trips to the neighborhood grocery store, most of us have largely been stuck at home during the past eight weeks due to the pandemic lockdown. I’m a reader, so to keep myself occupied, I downloaded six ebooks and bought two hard-copy, used books from Amazon third-party sellers. Many people have whiled away the surplus hours by binge-watching movies and series on Netflix, Amazon, or other streaming services. In the midst of this high demand for home entertainment, somebody at ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) timed it perfectly with the release of “The Last Dance,” a ten-part documentary, which focuses on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls basketball team during their heyday in the 1990s. The first two episodes premiered on April 19th followed by the release of two additional episodes each of the next four Sunday nights.

Sports-starved American males (and undoubtedly some females) are captivated by this series. ESPN previously had good success with its “30 for 30” series about interesting sports stories, but “The Last Dance” documentary has to be shattering all kinds of audience records.

Michael Jordan played for the Bulls from 1984 to 1993 and 1995 to 1998, leading the team to six NBA championships in that span, and is arguably one of the top-three sports icons of modern times. That very short short-list also includes Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. What made Jordan so good? Not only was he blessed with extraordinary athletic ability, he was also driven to be the very best.

In his push to win championships, Jordan took no prisoners. He even savagely bullied his own teammates. This series provides many unflinching and sometimes even painfully revealing insights into Jordan’s and the Bull’s rise to the top of the National Basketball Association.

A massive advertising campaign once encouraged all of us to “Be like Mike.” The man still enjoys worldwide fame and adulation to a degree that few others have known.

After having watched the latest episodes of “The Last Dance” this past Sunday night, I was doing my morning walk through the neighborhood and listening via earbuds to a sermon from John MacArthur regarding the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Argh! It struck me how VASTLY different the teachings and example of Jesus Christ are compared to the values of this world as exemplified by the adulation accorded to Michael Jordan. I’m not privy to Jordan’s spiritual beliefs. The man has kept his religious views, if any, so private despite thirty-six years of media scrutiny that they frustrate any and every google search. However, it doesn’t appear from the many interviews and behind-the-scenes segments in this series that Michael knows and loves the Lord.

I don’t want to be like Mike, I want to be like Jesus Christ.

Postscript: Featured in one of the episodes is a quip from Larry Bird in a press interview immediately after 23-year-old, Michael Jordan, scored 63 points in a playoff loss to Bird’s Boston Celtics on April 20, 1986. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan,” said the exasperated Bird. Ach. That’s going WAY too far, Larry!

Inside the Vatican – Worldly grandeur but no Gospel

Inside the Vatican
Oxford Films, 2019, 1h 54m
Originally broadcast on PBS April 28, 2020

1 Star

(Note re: single star: While the production standards of this documentary are quite high, the false “spirituality” it promotes is deadly)

I noticed an advertisement for this 2-hour, PBS documentary, but wasn’t able to watch the entire production the night it was broadcast on April 28th. I’m pretty strict about my “lights out at 10 p.m.” policy. However, I was able to watch the entire documentary the following day via the PBS website (see link at bottom).

Evangelical Vatican-watchers will find this “inside look” at the Vatican somewhat interesting as well as grievous and disturbing. The Vatican, of course, is the home of the pope and the central administration headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, with a population of 800 residents and 4600 employees working within the walls of this 120 acre, city-state (roughly the size of Central Park in NYC).

The filmmakers focus on several of the Vatican departments and individual employees including members of the following:

  • Diplomatic corps
  • Ushers aka “sediari” or chair-bearers
  • Choir
  • Preservation/maintenance workers aka “sanpietrini”
  • Groundskeepers
  • Social Media
  • Language translators
  • Security

Interspersed with these examinations of the Vatican’s various working departments are adulatory segments devoted to pope Francis. The pope is portrayed as a high-minded, progressive reformer (an admiring journalist says he’s no less than a “radical”) determined to neutralize the conservative and traditionalist opposition within the church. We see Francis as the enemy of clerical privilege; Francis as the protector of children from predatory priests; Francis as the champion of the planet’s environment; Francis as the benefactor and sponsor of immigrants, the homeless, and the incarcerated.

This documentary is a Francis “puff piece” on a grand scale. A couple of Francis’s conservative Catholic opponents are interviewed (a journalist and the founder of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute), but they’re merely a few gnats in this very pro-Francis ointment. Many conservative and traditionalist Catholics rue the day that Francis was elected pope and pray for a quick end to his tenure. Francis views his doctrine-bending reforms as pragmatic necessity in order to maintain the church as a relevant world institution while conservatives view his reforms as heterodoxy and even heresy. The film points out that Francis has been busy “stacking the deck” by appointing like-minded cardinals to ensure the next pope shares his progressive views.

Some off-the-cuff observations while watching this documentary:

  • There’s plenty of “impressive” pageantry and ceremony at the grandiose Vatican, but the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone is nowhere in sight. The Roman Catholic church teaches a false gospel of salvation via sacramental grace and merit.
  • In close to two hours of watching this documentary, with all of its recorded religious pageantry and spectacle, I did not hear the name of Jesus Christ mentioned one time. Jesus Christ and His apostles would have had nothing to do with this grand-scale pomp and ostentatiousness. This documentary doesn’t delve into church history, but the Roman bishops adopted the Caesarean imperial model including the pursuit of wealth, territory, and political control. The regal trappings of the papacy outdid those of European monarchs. “But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” – Acts 3:6.
  • One of the featured personalities, Mark Spyropoulos, a lead vocalist in the Sistine Chapel Choir, reluctantly admits on camera that he’s an agnostic. The chorister speaks for hundreds of millions of “cultural Catholics.” For those Catholics who say that they do “believe” in God, what they actually believe in is their obligation to merit their salvation, as their institutional church teaches.

“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” – Romans 10:2-4

I would recommend this documentary only to evangelicals who are curious to see the worldliness of the Roman Catholic religion.

https://www.pbs.org/video/inside-the-vatican-o0uz0h/

Video availability expires 5/26/20.

“Messiah” on Netflix: Use discernment ⚠️

Messiah – Season One
Produced by Michael Petroni, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey
Featuring Mehdi Dehbi, Michelle Monaghan, Tomer Sisley, and John Ortiz
Netflix, 2020, Ten episodes

3 Stars

A fellow-blogger recently re-blogged a cautionary post about a new Netflix series called, “Messiah.” Curious, I did a little digging and discovered the new series is about the rise of the end-times messiah, er, or is it the end-times anti-Christ? I’m not big into eschatology, but decided I would give this new series a spin. My wife and I watched the ten episodes of the series in successive evenings, an anomaly when it comes to me and television. The summary below by necessity leaves out a lot of details.

Plot (spoiler alert)

A young man (Dehbi) miraculously brings peace to war-torn Syria and then treks to Israel with his growing group of followers. On the steps leading to Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the enigmatic al-Masih (“the Messiah”) announces he is going to usher in an era of peace into the world. The CIA becomes concerned about this religious rabble rouser and a top agent, Eva Geller (Monaghan), begins to investigate. Al-Masih next shows up in Texas, seemingly saving a church from a tornado. The pastor (Ortiz) is convinced the reticent al-Masih is the second coming of Jesus. Seekers from across the nation flock to Texas to get a glimpse of the messiah. Pastor Felix leads al-Masih and a caravan of credulous followers to Washington D.C.. Al-Masih subsequently shocks the city and the nation when he seemingly walks on top of the water of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Monument. The President of the U.S. consults with al-Masih who advises him to withdraw all military personnel throughout the world as part of the new era of peace. CIA agent, Geller, isn’t buying al-Masih’s schtick. She discovers he is actually an Iranian named Payam Golshiri, whose dossier includes an apprenticeship as a magician, studying in college under an anarchist professor, and being treated at a psychiatric facility for a “messiah complex.”

Just when al-Masih is to appear on national television, he is abducted by a Shin Bet (Israeli internal intelligence) agent (Sisley). Simultaneously, a White House official who fears the President is falling under al-Masih’s spell leaks the CIA’s classified dossier on Payam Golshiri to the media. Feeling he’s been duped, the disillusioned pastor Felix returns to Texas and burns down his church. The plane bringing al-Masih to Jerusalem crashes, but the enigmatic young man “miraculously” survives. Viewers are left to wonder whether al-Masih is the genuine Messiah, the anti-Christ, or a self-deluded megalomaniac. The cliff-hanging ending is served up as incentive to watch a (possible) second season.

Comments

Christians who know their Bibles will know right away that the al-Masih character has no connection with the Scripture prophecies regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ:

“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:27

We know that the Bible foretells the coming of the anti-Christ at the end times, but many do not know that Islam also teaches the coming of al-Masih ad-Dajjal, a false messiah who will eventually be defeated by Jesus Christ. This series seems to incorporate elements from both the Bible and Quran regarding the anti-Christ.

There was some initial concern among both Christians and Muslims as to the identity of the mysterious al-Masih character. The show’s producers and Netfilx were banking on the uncertainty to generate interest. Some Muslims jumped the gun and mounted a petition calling for subscribers to boycott Netflix for its provocative “anti-Islamic propaganda.” After watching the series, it’s clear the show’s creators don’t intend for the al-Masih character to be Jesus Christ returned because it’s revealed that he’s actually Iranian Payam Golshiri with an unflattering past. So the question is whether he’s the anti-Christ or a mentally-unbalanced imposter. The show is interesting because it does demonstrate how the anti-Christ could possibly rise up and gain the allegiance of people worldwide, including both nominal (c)hristians and Muslims.

I don’t think Gospel Christians need to be overly alarmed by this series, but we should be discerning. One of the producers, Roma Downey, is a Roman Catholic New-Ager who, with her husband, Mark Burnett, has given us such Biblically-challenged television series as “Touched by an Angel,” “The Bible,” and “A.D.” We definitely shouldn’t be getting our theology from Downey and must remain ever-cautious and discerning, but we can view this series strictly as entertainment material and, yes, even use it as an opportunity to evangelize. Our unbelieving oldest son who lives here in town would not be caught dead reading the Bible, but he’s expressed interest in watching “Messiah.” We’ve already had a few discussions with him about the series and the coming anti-Christ.

When the “brand” becomes the THING

A couple of weeks ago, I was ending another day by lying in bed and channel surfing, as is my habit, when I came across an episode of “The Profit” television show with host, Marcus Lemonis (photo left). The premise of the show is that no-nonsense Marcus tries to help small business owners grow their enterprise.

In this particular episode, Marcus was down in Miami working with Ana Quincoces (photo right). Ana and her small company were producing a variety of flavorful sauces/marinades under her “Skinny Latina” brand name, but weren’t making much headway into the already over-crowded and competitive sauce/condiment market.

Marcus could see right away that one of Ana’s biggest problem was the labeling on the sauce bottles. There were a couple of issues:

  • The labels prominently featured the brand name “Skinny Latina,” and an illustration of the “Skinny Latina” character. The name and character closely resembled the wildly-popular “Skinnygirl” name and logo used by television personality, Bethenny Frankel, for her products.
  • Customers falsely assumed from the prominent “Skinny Latina” brand name that the sauces were low-calorie when that was not the case.

Marcus (and the viewer) could immediately see the problems with the labeling, but Ana could not. She was deeply invested in and loyal to the labeling. Marcus then asked a marketing focus group to critique the “Skinny Latina” products. Sitting behind a two-way mirror, Marcus and Ana observed as the group of objective consumers gave enthusiastic thumbs-up to the sauces, but also confirmed the problems with the labeling. However, Ana continued to dig in her heels.

Marcus then tapped a marketing firm to design labels that nicely drew attention to the product and toned down the aforementioned “Skinny Latina” distractions. They did a nice job, but Ana still would have none of it. She was devoted to her brand and her labels even though they were hindrances rather than helps.

It’s not apples and apples, but some spiritual applications came to mind from this frustrating story. Lost religious people are blindly loyal and committed to their “faith tradition” brand even though it is opposed to the Gospel of grace. I think of my Roman Catholic family and friends, but this can apply to any false religion. Roman Catholics are generally baptized as infants and brought up in their religion with its impressive array of laws, rituals, and ceremonies. They are proud of their church and its traditions, but they aren’t trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior. They resist the Gospel. They resist salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. They cling strongly to their religious “brand,” even though it is a detriment and a danger. They resist the Physician and cling to the disease. They prize the oyster shell and discard the pearl.

“And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” – Luke 5:39

How a Yankee New Yorker became a fan of Bluegrass Music

A couple of weeks ago, I threw a birthday bash for my wife and after everybody left, I crawled into bed and aimlessly surfed the cable channels as is my nightly custom. When I got to PBS, I saw they were broadcasting a documentary about the history of Bluegrass music. Are you kidding me? I love Bluegrass music! I watched the show for about thirty-minutes until I started to fall asleep, but caught the entire thing via on-demand the next day. Great stuff! If you’re a fan of Blugrass, you’ll really enjoy this documentary:

Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music
Produced by Kentucky Educational Television
PBS premier, August 30th, 2019, Length: 1 hr 58 min
To view online see here.

So how does a person born and raised in Western New York become a fan of “hillbilly” Bluegrass music?

While I was growing up in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. in the 1960s, my older sisters always had their Beatles records blasting from the family phonograph. Having a mind of my own, I eventually adopted the Byrds* as my favorite band, but other musical forms piqued my interest as well. I can clearly remember hearing the opening theme music of “The Beverley Hillbillies” television comedy when it premiered in 1962 and being absolutely fascinated by the lightning-quick banjo picking of Earl Scruggs (accompanied by guitarist, Lester Flatt). Flatt and Scruggs caught my attention again, as well as the rest of the nation, when their Bluegrass tunes were featured in the 1968 film, “Bonnie and Clyde.” Then there was the popular “Dueling Banjos” song featured in the 1972 movie, “Deliverance.” No, I didn’t have any Bluegrass records yet, but I definitely liked the sound.

Chris Hillman started out very young as a Bluegrass mandolin player, but was drafted into rock and roll as the bassist for the Byrds in 1964. With Hillman on board, the Byrds did take some notable excursions into country music, but he quit the group in 1968 andCapture14 attempted to combine rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music with his new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The experiment, documented by three studio albums, was artistically brave and noteworthy, but a commercial failure. Hillman and the FBBs ended their four-year run with the release of the live LP, “The Last of the Red Hot Burritos,” in 1972. The latter-day Burritos had begun including a Bluegrass set within their concerts and this album featured three Bluegrass performances, “Dixie Breakdown,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” and “Orange Blossom Special.” I loved it. I mean, really loved it. No, I didn’t run out and buy a bunch of Bluegrass albums, but I definitely had an affinity for the music. Hmm. Do I sense an album review coming up in the near-future?

Years passed by and as I was walking through Borders Book Store in 1995, a new CD wasCapture15 being played through the store’s sound system; “Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection,” a retrospective of the early recordings of Bluegrass artist, Alison Krauss. Wow! Great music! I bought that CD and eventually also bought Krauss’ five-album back catalog and stayed current with her new releases.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many of the artists and some of the history of the Bluegrass genre. Bill Monroe (1911-1996) is credited with taking various strains of Appalachian roots music and melding them into Bluegrass beginning in the 1930s. In Bluegrass, you’ll often hear songs with Gospel themes. Hillman has continued to feature Bluegrass on his solo albums. I generally don’t buy CDs anymore, but I will make an exception for a new Krauss album (although she’s sadly been crossing over into mainstream music more and more). Mandolinist, Sierra Hull, is pretty good, too.

So, that’s how a Yankee, born and raised, improbably became a fan of Bluegrass music.

*The lead guitarist of the Byrds, Roger McQuinn, came from a folk background. He didn’t know any better and multiple-finger picked his twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar like he had his banjo, creating a unique, “jingle-jangle” sound that became the band’s signature.

Bookworm tidbits and toxic TV

I’ve been a bookworm since my grammar school days. One of my simple pleasures used to be frequenting the many independent bookshops in Rochester. They’ve all gone out of business over the years, victims of the large chains like B. Dalton, Borders, and Barnes and Noble. But the predators became the prey and the last of the giants, B&N, is fighting to stay alive as Amazon continues to tighten its stranglehold. The latest news is that B&N is attempting to sell itself, but who would buy a failing company with no apparent future? See the article below.

Barnes & Noble could soon be putting itself up for sale

We have a B&N near us and I stop in every 2-4 weeks to check out the new offerings, but I rarely purchase anything. I’d much rather get my reading material for free fromCapture71 the library or by purchasing an inexpensive used copy from an Amazon third-party seller. Kindle is always another less-expensive option (Is it me or are those Kindle prices creeping higher and higher?). In my excursion to B&N last week, I did see a new book on the shelf, “Escaped Nuns: True Womanhood and the Campaign Against Convents in Antebellum America.” As you can imagine, that’s a “must read” for me (even though the book examines the topic from a pro-Catholic perspective). I drove home and checked the local library’s on-line catalog (I don’t have a smart phone), but they didn’t have a copy. I checked Amazon and found that it was actually cheaper to buy the book from B&N with my 10% membership discount than it was to order it from Amazon with free Prime shipping. So I drove back to B&N and bought a copy. Review to follow in a few weeks.

We also have a (c)hristian bookstore close to us, but I rarely visit anymore. I have all of the Bible study aids I need and just about all of the rest of the books they stock are written by TBN prosperity gospelers.

I recently ordered John MacArthur’s latest book, “Christ’s Call to Reform the Church: Timeless Demands From the Lord to His People” directly from Grace to You. It’s based on the seven churches in Revelation. Review to follow.

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Television notes: I had thought about reviewing each episode of CBS’s new comedy, “God Friended Me,” but changed my mind after watching the pilot episode because I could see the nebulous deity of the show had no connection to the God of the Bible. One of the main messages of last Sunday’s show was the promotion of same-sex relationships. In other television news, this past Tuesday at 8PM I began to watch “The Connors,” which is the “Roseanne” show without Roseanne. In one scene, 10-year-old Mark, who prefers to go to school dressed in skirts rather than pants, asks his grandfather, Dan, for his opinion on who the best choice would be between two candidates for a boyfriend. Dan is initially uncomfortable with the question, but gradually overcomes his “ignorant prejudices” and tries to help Mark make a good choice. Argh! That’s what’s on TV at 8PM, primetime family viewing? This is a good example of where the world is headed.

“God Friended Me” – Review of pilot episode

I finally got around to watching the pilot episode of CBS’s new religious-themed show…

God Friended Me
Pilot Episode – Originally broadcast Sunday, 9/30/18 on CBS
Featuring Brandon Micheal Hall, Violett Beane, and Suraj Sharma
Directed by Marcos Siega and written by Steven Lilien & Bryan Wynbrandt

Plot

Miles Finer (Hall) is a young single living in New York City and working at an internet security firm by day while attempting to interest Sirius Radio in his New Atheism podcast diatribes. He begins receiving mysterious Facebook friend requests from god, which he initially dismisses as a hoax. (g)od then directs him to save John Dove, who just broke up with his girlfriend and attempts to commit suicide by walking in front of a subway train. (g)od then directs Miles to Cara Bloom (Beane), an internet magazine writer. Persistent Miles enlists Cara in helping him determine who is at the bottom of this Facebook god sham. Miles’ computer software-savvy friend, Rakesh (Sharma), traces god’s IP address to a house in New Jersey, but Miles and Cara find nothing there except for a porch swing similar to the one she used to sit on as a child waiting for her absent mother to return home.

Back at Miles’ apartment, a photo mysteriously appears on his laptop, that of his deceased mother while she was in the hospital, surrounded by family and medical staff, which sends Cara exiting in a tizzy. Miles had become embittered against God when his mother was cured of breast cancer, but subsequently died in a car accident on the way home from the hospital. Oy! With help from his estranged minister father, Miles determines the nurse in the photo is Cara’s mother, who had abandoned her as a child. We find out that Cara had tracked her mother to NYC, but is ambivalent about contacting her. Miles encourages her to meet with her Mom, but when the reunion goes sour, Cara frantically dashes across a nearby street and is hit by a car. As she lies in the street, very close to death, a driver gets out of his car and comes to her aid, saving her life. The driver just happens to be….you guessed it….John Dove, the gentleman Miles had saved at the start of the show. Dove also just happens to be a doctor. As Cara recovers in the hospital, her Mom visits and they reconcile. Miles then reconciles with his minister father.

Comments

As expected, the god that’s presented in this show is the same feel-good deity presented in previous shows such as “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched By An Angel,” a god who is mainly concerned with fixing broken temporal relationships. The God of the Bible was not presented and neither was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus was not mentioned throughout this entire pilot episode. Followers of most any religious stripe could watch this show with its generic deity and not be offended, which is obviously by design. The Facebook tie-in is a none-too-subtle gimmick to hook millennial viewers. In an awkward effort to demonstrate that the god of “God Friended Me” is not some kind of a “Puritanical prude,” Rakesh takes a brand new female acquaintance to Miles’ apartment for sex and god seems to be quite fine with that because the occasion is “providentially” used to disclose information vital to the happy ending (i.e., the photo of of Miles’ and Cara’s mothers).

The god of this show is a far cry from the God of the Bible. After watching the pilot, I doubt if I’ll be watching and/or reviewing any more episodes.

Postscript: My wife is much more of a “glass half-full” type of person, and she insists that this show, even with its very faulty theology, is better than having no shows about God on the big three networks. Comments?