Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wall-E: After Virtue

Throughout the 1980's and 90's a number of thinkers expressed concern about the decline of virtues in America.

Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart appeared in the mid 1980's and chronicled the "hollowing out" of the American heart, once governed by inner habits formed by the virtues of Christian community, but now ungoverned due to shallow individualism.

In 1993, William Bennet's The Book of Virtues appeared (before the vice of gambling attempted to crush him) and many parents began to read classic stories to their kids in an attempt to habituate them with some of the classic virtues rather than the shallow values of consumerism that have left so many people in our generation hallow on the inside and fat on the outside.

Then there was David Well's amazing and scathing, After Virtue, which implicated Evangelical Christianity as a sell out version of the Gospel due to our pursuit of Individualistic Consumer Christianity that has traded values for virtues, Madonna for Augustine. Rough stuff but expected fare from some of our secular and relaigious intellectuals- and I am only touching the surface. At any rate, this stuff (individualism and consumerism) do not make for typical dinner conversation in many areas of our culture.

That is, Until Pixar's Wall-E came out. This amazing film (and it is a "film" and not a mere "movie") deals head on with some of the really serious problems that our culture, and our kids are facing today. How so? Well, if you have seen the movie, I hope it is obvious. If not, allow me to explain.

Wall-E is a movie that explores the life of a robot, designed to be a producer in a world where production has all but totally lost its value. In fact, this robot is the lowest member of the proverbial food chain because he is designed to be a garbage collector- and he happens to be the last productive species on the earth which has been abandoned by humans for the past 700 years while Wall-E is left to clean up the crap that they have left behind.

Meanwhile, said humans are off on a never-ending vacation where EVERYTHING is done for them- their only responsibility is to make consumer choices while they get fatter and fatter. Now, here is where the morality of the film comes into play. Wall-E, in producing and struggling, and suffering and creating, develops a personality- He is being (as Aristotle put it) habituated or developing the kinds of habits that allow him to become, well, human. He develops a sense of love, of loyalty, of courage, of compassion, and of justice. meanwhile, back on the space ship humans have devolved into fat mindless drones who act more like machines than humans. And why is this? Well, becuase they have been so relentless about creating a world where ALL their needs are met that they now are unable to DO anything. They exist to consume and have been effective in creating machines that will do all the work for them. However, now the machines rule and have begun to exploit them.

The movie plays out with Wall-E and another wonderful robot (aptly named EVE) waking the sleeping humans from their stupor like theprotagonist in Plato's Cave (See Neo in the Matrix freeing the people from the machines). Classic, powerful, and, a kids movie? Yes. My youngest wept through the entire film and when it ended she dried her eyes, deeply moved by the morality play that had unfolded before her eyes and said, "Daddy, I love Wall-E." This is a GREAT film that I would recommend everyone see. It is in a class of its own.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Top 25 Alternative Christian Albums of the Past 40 Years!

There are a number of artists, who happen to be Christians, that have made an indelible mark on our culture (Moby, Lenny Kravitz, Ben Harper, U2). They have entered the “Major Leagues” of music and have fought to maintain a level of excellence and creativity that deserves extraordinary applause. Likewise, there are artists within the subculture of “Christian Music” who have been relegated to the “minor leagues” where their music is heard by a tiny fragment of the world. Many of these artists’s relegation to the minors are well-deserved. They play a knock-off version of a band that has done the hard work of crafting its own sound based upon a distinct worldview that fans have grown to love (“Oh, they sound like Cold Play, or she sounds just like Alanis Morrisette”) and therefore well deserve to play “side show” venues as sounds-like artists of mediocrity.

However, there are artists in the “minor league” that have done something unique. They have been able to craft a sound that deserves praise on the merits of the band’s own creative work. These bands might deserve a shot at the “Major Leagues” based on the creative excellence they have developed. However, it is often the case that because of their Christian Worldview, their music my never be heard outside the Christian “ghetto.” Others artists within this minority among minorities have chosen to stay below the “Major Record Label” radar screen intentionally so that they can freely create music without corporate strings attached (see Waterdeep). Others have started out in the minors and have been able to break through to larger audiences.

I want to highlight 25 artists that have been instrumental in the world of music by being both distinctively Christian (often offering worship songs in their albums) and unique in their creativity. These are artists that sound like, well, themselves, rather than knock-offs from some band that has already established their own sound. Of course, you may not find your top-ten favorites from the CCM charts or the latest WOW compilation-those lists are many and easy to come by. My hope is to offer a sampling of artists from the 1970’s to the present day that have been trend-setters of creativity, excellence, and authentic, transparent Christianity.

Creativity- The band is unique and sounds like themselves.
Excellence- The band is excellent. No whiny voice, no over-produced sound that gives you a head ache.
Christian- The band is out about their faith and mentions Christ in their lyrics either implicitly or explicitly and is not afraid to talk about sin, struggle, death, doubt, joy, forgiveness, and redemption. Note: some of these artists are afraid of being associated with Contemporary Christian Music but still exist, to some degree in this league.
Low Yuck Factor- You would not be embarrassed to play this a t a party or promote it to a person who does not know Jesus- it’s just that good.
The whole Album. For the most part, the album mentioned is (in my opinion) the band or artists best album. This is determined by the fact that you can listen to the whole thing without having to skip ten tracks (no one hit wonders).

1. Larry Norman (Only Visiting this Planet- 1972) (RIP Brother)

2. The 77’s (Ping Pong Over the Abyss- 1983)

3. Altar Boys (When You’re a Rebel- 1985)

4. The Lost Dogs (Scenic Routes 1992)

5. Adam Again (Dig-1992)

6. Jars of Clay (Jars of Clay- 1995)


7. Vigilantes of Love (V.O.L 1995)

8. Sixpence None the Riche (Sixpence None the Richer- 1997)

9. Enter the Worship Circle (First Circle 1998)

10. Jennifer Knapp (Kansas-1998)

11. Burlap to Cashmere (Anybody Out There- 1998)

12.Waterdeep (Everyone’s Beautiful-1999)

13. P.O.D The Fundamental Elements of Southtown-1999)

14. Third Day (Offerings: A Worship Album 2000)

You’re Love Oh Lord

15. MXPX (The Ever Passing Moment- 2000)


16. Five Iron frenzy (All the Hype that Money Can’t Buy- 2000)

17. Sarah Groves (All Right Here 2001)

18. Reliant K (The Anthology of Tongue and Cheek-2001)

19. Brave Saint Saturn (The Light of Things Hoped For-2003)

20. Paul Wright (Fly Away-2003)

21. Anberlin (Blueprints for the Black Market- 2003)

22. Sufjan Stevens (Seven Swans-2004)

23. MeWithoutYou (Catch For Us the Foxes- 2004)

24. David Crowder Ban (A Collision 2005)

25. Josh Garrels (Over Oceans-2007)