Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Berenstain Bears...and Jesus?

Anyone else remember the Berenstain Bears? I think I used to own just about every adventure of the oh-so-originally named Brother, Sister, Mama, and Papa Bear. I read in rapt excitement (okay, maybe not quite, but really they were pretty decent) as they learned their manners, blazed a trail, trick-or-treated, and put on a school play about Grizzlystiltskin. I laughed as I got a little older and saw just how much my own parents resembled Mama and Papa Bear. But eventually I became too old, the Berenstain Bears books got put away and I thought of them but rarely.

Rarely, that is, until my friend "Hadassah" and I were perusing the children's section of my workplace and made a happy discovery. The Berenstain bears had experienced a renaissance, both spiritually and physically. After a decades-long dry spell, new Berenstain Bears books are being written, this time by Mike Berenstain, the son of original writers Stan and Jan Berenstain. And this time, they're not just learning how to mind their manners, they're learning how to do so with the help of Sweet Baby Jesus. Titles in the new series so far include "The Berenstain Bears Go To Sunday School," "The Berenstain Bears Say Their Prayers," "The Berenstain Bears: God Loves You," and "The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule." And even though it's amusing to see the characters I'd seen throughout my childhood talking about God all the time, and I still don't know why they inserted a new baby bear named Honey Bear, I'm pretty happy to see the return of the Bears. The original books were pretty great for teachign moral lessons, and spiritual lessons are a good bonus. If I had kids, I'd probably buy the books for them. Heck, I bought one of them anyway and passed it on to my little brother. Anyone else remember the Berenstain Bears? And what other children's entertainment phenomena should be next in line to be Christianized?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Say What?

I listen to pretty much all Christian music. I find most of the time the lyrics have more meaning, and apply more to my life. God often uses songs from various CCM artists to speak to me, or remind me of things He's been teaching me lately. But sometimes I hear the odd CCM lyrics that just kind of leave me speechless. Not because it's particularly wonderful, poetic, or applicable, but just because it either makes no sense or is really awkward. One of those "wait a minute, did they just say what I think they said?" moments. I've had a few of those over the years as I've absorbed more and more CCM, so without further ado, here it is: Christina's Collection of Odd and Awkward CCM Lyrics. Okay, so the name is still in the works. If you have a suggestion, or lyrics you want to add to the list, go right ahead. The more the merrier

1. "Hit me with the juice/Much obliged got the head of a moose/So mount me on the walls of your living room." TobyMac, Ill-M-I

I love TobyMac. I think his songs are catchy, and most of the time I think I get what he's saying with the lyrics, but this one makes absolutely no sense to me. Is there some deep, metaphorical hidden meaning that I'm missing here?

2. "All you could hear/Was ka-chunk ka-chunk ka-chunk/All you could hear/Was the doctor putting staples in his punk...He could have died that day/Which means that he would not be here." Relient k, Staples

If you contrast Relient k's earlier CD with just about any of their later ones, you see just how much their work has improved. And Staples is easily the weakest track on a weak album. The story? The song is about a guy who crashed his car and had to get staples in his head. The conclusion? He could have died that day, which means that he would not be here (no, really?) but the good would be knowing he's in heaven. Not technically false, I suppose, but really awkward. Every once in awhile I like to listen to it to remind myself of how far Relient k has come since then.

3. “It’s the return of the Boneybone patnas trippin’/Cuz I’m dippin’ in my Lincoln, plus I’m pimpin’, still sittin’ on chrome/Bringin’ you that gospel sound that make you wanna boogie woogie...Gospelalphamegafunkyboogiediscomusic/Awaa nuttin’ but the ghost in me/Supergroovalistic hits ya see” – T Bone, Gospelalphamegafunkyboogiediscomusic

Really, I could have used just about any T-Bone lyric in this compilation. T-Bone amuses me. Make Carman a rapper, and give him a gun and shiny car so he can drive around his 'hood poppin' demons, and you got T-Bone. Someday I will have to devote an entire blog post to him. But I chose this particular lyric because I find it really awkward to use the use the word pimpin' when talking about singing gospel music. Maybe it's just me. Also, the title is pretty ridiculously long.

4. “This is fo’ tha playa playa make you holla holla/Tha kid wit no morals sell his mama fo a dolla” – Grits (They All Fall Down)

Once I was listening to this song and my mom walked in right at this part and was slightly startled. That's when I realized just how awkward it was. That being said, I like Grits. They be like ooh ahh.

5. “Carry me/I’m just a dead man/Lying on the carpet/Can’t find a heartbeat” – Jars of Clay, Dead Man (Carry Me)

Nuff said.

6. “Well the moral of the story/It goes a little something like this/If you got a mullet/Well it’s a haircut, not a fish” – KJ52, The Mullet Song

This one feels like he was really grasping at straws to rhyme, which was probably the case. The funny thing is, it's not even a perfect rhyme. He could have used a word like, say, kiss, which would have made as much sense (or rather lacked as much sense) and it would have at least rhymed better.

7. “Satan is an evil charmer/He’s hungry for a soul to hurt/And without your holy armor/He will eat you for dessert” – Randy Stonehill, Shut De Do

This is the kind of song that gives church kids under the age of ten nightmares. Also I love that throughout the song he talks about "De debil." Way to make him sound terrifying one minute and nonthreatening and almost cuddly the next.

8. “The other night I met a girl/And she looked to be so nice/I asked her for the digits/And she didn't think twice/A couple of days later called her up and asked her out/She said,'with you?' I said, 'with me,'/And then she said, 'without a doubt'/I took her to the Garden where/I guess they grow the Olives/She wore a tighter skirt/Than any I had seen in college/She said, "I love to smoke and drink/While cursing like a sailor"/I asked her where she got her mouth/And if she had a tailor/Finally I walked her to the door to say goodnight/She said, ‘I am an apple,/Would you care to take a bite?’” – dc Talk, That Kinda Girl

As much as I appreciate the premise of this song (which is about how they're holding out for godly women), I find this first verse amusingly awkward. I especially love the lines they attribute to the "bad girl." "I love to smoke and drink while cursing like a sailor" "I am an apple, would you care to take a bite?" And to hear Toby rap those lines just completes it. Check out this tribute video.

9. “Cause I represent a whole new breed of Christian today/I’m authorized and deputized to blow you clean away/I’ve got with me two bullets that overcome all sin and crud/One bullet is called the word of my testimony/And the other one’s called the blood.” – Carman, Satan Bite the Dust

Again, this whole song is just awkward. I fully believe in spiritual warfare, but writing songs about being a deputy in the Wild Wild West (Jesus is the sheriff, of course) and crashing saloon parties to bust Satan and his demons is just, well, odd. And kinda trivializes spiritual warfare and turns it into a joke, on some level. If you've seen the music video you know what I mean.

10. “Someday we’ll drink to this and say/Remember when we died? We went out in flames....I’ll take my heart back/And set the people free/I’ll leave the dead to die/There will be blood on the streets.” – The Classic Crime, The Fight

This is part of an emerging genre my sister and I like to call chremo (or christian emo). My friend "Becca" assures me this song is a spiritual metaphor of some kind, but I haven't figured it out yet. In the meantime I find it almost creepy, especially the line about blood on the streets.

11. “When the toast is burned/And all the milk has turned/And Captain Crunch is waving farewell/When the big one finds you/May this song remind you/That they don’t serve breakfast in hell.” – Newsboys, Breakfast

Strictly speaking, I'm pretty sure this is absolutely true. I've not been to hell myself, but I doubt they serve breakfast there. But I remember hearing this song for the first time when I was 7 and being so fascinated by the unconventional reference to hell that I made my friend Isaac put it on repeat.

12. “Where I and I is free/Jah set my mind at ease/Will I stay cool in the shade even at 96 degrees?” - P.O.D., Set Your Eyes to Zion

It's the word jah that most amuses me in this lyric. They use it throughout the song in the strangest places, and I have no idea what they're trying to say. I think maybe they're trying to use the German word for yes, but if that's the case they've totally butchered the pronunciation. I'm also having trouble discerning exactly what they meant by "where I and I is free." It's like I can almost get it, but not quite.

13. “You need that boy/Like a bowling ball/Dropped on your head/Which means not at all.” – Superchic[k], Bowling Ball

Again, this is one I really don't need to write much about. It speaks for itself. Someday I will use that line on a friend whose boyfriend I don't like.

14. "Professional." - Switchfoot, Amateur Lovers

Okay, so this one doesn't look awkward in print, but it definitely sounds awkward. P-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-professional. It's like they're hissing and stuttering at the same time. Really, it's kinda creepy.

So, have I missed anything? What other strange and awkward CCM lyrics could be added to my list?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Adventures of Manga Jesus

I was never much into Manga. I knew some people who were, and I respected that, but I honestly do not even remember cracking open a Manga book. The closest I got was an Archie comic and, manga illiterate though I may be, I realize it's not at all the same thing. So when I first saw the Manga Bible at work (although I was not working there yet at the time) I was intrigued and amused. I picked it up, looked at it a bit, called my mom over to see what I had found, shared a little laugh (look at the Bibles they're coming up with nowadays), and didn't think much of it anymore.

Then last week a local youth leader was in looking for Bibles for some of his youth, and this was one of the ones he chose. He commented on it when he came to the counter, and I pretty much agreed with what he said. Personally, I'm not terribly interested in reading about the adventures of Manga Jesus and his Manga Disciples. I'm afraid I'd burst into hysterical laughter every time I opened my Bible, which might interfere with serious study. It's kind of like The Word on the Street (affectionately known as the Gangsta Bible), I bought that one entirely for my own personal amusement. But the thing is, this does have the potential to get some people reading the Bible, which is cool. And it has the full text of the NLT, which is my personal favourite translation, because it strikes a nice balance between conveying the exact wording and the thoughts of the original scriptures. So if reading about the adventures of Manga Jesus brings them closer to God and teaches them about His word, good for them. Personally, though, I'll stick to my Life Application Study Bible.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Me, Myself, and Bob

I'm a huge Veggietales fan. The first VHS I ever owned was Madame Blueberry. It was given to me by someone who had only a cursory knowledge of my family and thus was unaware that we did not own a TV on which to watch said VHS. I can't even remember who gave it to me, so I don't know who to thank for my obsession. When we finally did acquire a television, I was at the age where I could appreciate Veggietales more fully, because I got some of the references that went right over my younger siblings' heads. And appreciate it I did. Throughout my middle and high school years, my appreciation for Veggietales partially defined me and connected me with like-minded friends. I made two new friends on my very first day of high school thanks to a Larryboy pen, which sadly broke soon after. The one girl remains one of best friends to this day. Our goal in life, a few years back, was to each discover (well, synthesize, really) an element. She was going to name hers Bob while I named mine Larry. I am now studying Latin and History at a liberal arts school and she is in Arts/Computer Science, which threw a wrench in those particular plans. While that particular dream may now be dead (or, at least, comatose) our love of Veggietales, however, has lasted far longer than it probably should.

So when my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I decided I wanted Phil Vischer's autobiography (complete with a lovely Larryboy bookmark). I figured it'd be a great way to learn some little known facts about my favorite episodes, not to mention figure out what exactly had happened to Veggietales with the whole bankruptcy thing. I figured it'd be interesting and funny- after all, it was written by the writer of Lyle the Kindly Viking. It was, indeed all of those things. Did you know that the Hairbrush Song was originally the Razor Song? Mike Nawrocki had no children at the time and thus had no problem with that, but Phil and his wife Lisa (better known as the voice of Junior Asparagus) suggested the change to a more innocuous object. Perhaps my favorite piece of information was that it was college kids working in Christian bookstores who were largely responsible for Veggietales' mainstream success (we are a great bunch, aren't we?). It was enjoyable, even if some of the descriptions of the computer programming involved went a little over my head. The first 19 chapters were pretty much exactly what I expected.

Then the last 2 chapters hit me like a bit of a spiritual sucker punch. I wasn't expecting to learn much from a book called "Me, Myself, and Bob," except maybe that God made me special and loves me very much. But then he started talking about wrestling with God as he watched his dream of impacting the world for God through children's ministry- be the Christian Disney, if you will- die. QWERTY or no QWERTY, when he talked about what he'd learned today, I saw how much I had to learn too. I could ramble for pages about the things God taught me through this book, the dreams I put back into His hands yet again, but it wouldn't do it justice. I guess I'm a much for effective communicator when it comes to lampooning things, which in a way is kind of sad. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend this book, and thanks to Phil Vischer's story of talking vegetables I now have a better understanding of what it means to be right in the centre of God's will. Because if God truly did make me special, and He does love me very much, then there is no better place I could be.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jalapeno Peppers and Progressive Apostles

January is pull month at your local Christian bookstore. It's when we make a list of our inventory and return what hasn't sold yet and most likely won't. Finding some of the CDs can be a bit of an adventure, especially in sections where every CD is by a collection of artists. Those usually stay alphabetized for about 5 seconds. So, since merchandise is being pulled from every section, you pretty much get to see absolutely every CD currently in store. This can be a temptation, as I saw several titles I wanted (I miraculouslhy restrained myself. The state of my post-Christmas bank account may have helped.). I also saw a few titles that intrigued me, and made me want to giggle. Without further ado, here are my three favorites. Two of the three got pulled. Bonus points if you can guess which two.

1. Seriously Hot Worship
Okay, so the title is a bit unconventional for a worship collection and the jalapeno pepper on the cover is even less so. That's not a huge deal. although I would probably migrate to Laura Story myself. What really got me on this one was the track listing. There were 50 "well-known worship songs" on the back and I recognized exactly zero. As well, whoever titled the worship songs seemed to have difficulty making up his mind. Fully 80% of the songs have an alternative title in brackets: We Come in Your Name (You Have Been Lifted,) If I Could Pierce These Clouds (Mystery,) Fire by Night Cloud by Day (We Will Not Go,) and so on... My favorite? God So Loved This Whole World (Yeah Yeah Yeah.)
2. New Smokey Mountain Gospel Volume 2
Honestly, there's not much to say about this one. It was in the Southern Gospel section, which I don't usually peruse much. When I saw this title, I had three questions that begged to be answered. First of all, what on earth is New Smokey Mountain Gospel? Secondly, how exactly does it differ from Old Smokey Mountain Gospel? And lastly, how on Earth did such an obscure genre become so popular that 2 or more volumes were needed for its compilation. So far these questions are rhetorical, but if you have answers, by all means, please enlighten me. That way, if a customer comes in torn between New and Old Smokey
Mountain Gospel, I can tell them the pros and cons of each.
3. Apostle Donald L. Alford and the Progressive Radio Choir: Then and Now
Seriously, how can such a title now make you giggle, or at least make your lips twitch in mild amusement. I do realize part of my reaction is denominational. I've been to United Baptist Church, a Wesleyan Church, multiple Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches, and a non-denom or two thrown in for goood measure. I have never heard anyone referred to as Apostle Bob, or Apostle Sally. In fact, I was under the impression from a Sunday School lesson in the somewhat hazy past that Apostles contributed to the canon of Scripture in some way. I doubt Donald L. Alford did this, although his definition of apostle probably differs from mine somewhat. It may be a reference to a spiritual gift he feels he has, based on Paul's list of spiritual gifts in his first letter to the church in Corinth. That's legitimate, I guess, although I'd love to see what happened if everyone started doing this. Prophet Bob Smith. Healer Alice Jones. Interpreter Doug Sanders. Anyway, combined with The Progressive Radio Choir, it just seems like a bit much.
So there you go: the three most interesting CDs in our music library. Perhaps you can see why they may not have sold as many copies as originally anticipated.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The New Life Bible, or the Easy-to-read life-book

I'm a bit of a Bible translation geek. Somewhere between seeing Baby Got Book for the first time and starting to work at a Christian bookstore, I decided I was going to try and buy every translation of the Bible I could get my hands on. My count so far is 17, and they range from the KJV to the Word on the Street. Some of them are great. I love the poetry of the NKJV, and I confess to having a soft spot for the Message. I would never use it all by itself, but it's good at making me see Bible verses in a new light. My personal favorite is the NLT. I love that it is totally readable while still being a translation rather than a paraphrase, and it distinguishes between the Greek words aner and anthropos to boot :).
But some translations left a slightly less favorable impression on me. Take the New Life Bible, or NLB. According to the description on the back, it uses "a unique and academically proven 850-word vocabulary." That's right. The whole Bible, using only 850 different words. It kind of makes me think of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, which was written as a result of a dare to write a book using 50 words or less. The whole thing is really stilted and awkward. The authors are apparently big fans of hyphens. The word parable is rendered picture-story. Mercy, grace, and a variety of other such nuanced words are replaced with loving-kindness. And, my personal favorite moment as far as awkwardness is concerned, the word homosexual is rendered people-who-do-sex-sins-with-their-own-sex. I get, and even in a lot of ways support, what the translators of the NLB are trying to do. They want to put out a Bible that the average unchurched person in our culture, who isn't terribly familiar with words like propitiation, justification, and atonement. But I think they took it a bit far. The tone wasn't just readable, it was patronizing. Moreover, it's important to realize that the original Greek of the NT, for instance, is a whole lot more nuanced than English. Even in more mainstream translations like the NIV one English word could be used in place of several Greek ones, so we often put a different slant on English verses than was put on the original Greek. For someone who is new to Christianity and looking for a very readable Bible, I'd suggest the NIrV, the ICB (the International Children's Bible, but I have a 20-year-old friend who uses it and loves it), or reading a translation like the NLT, the NIV, or the ESV (watch me get attacked for lumping the three together :P) in conjunction with a paraphrase like the Message. It's a lot easier than sloughing through a tedious collection of monosyllabic words peppered with awkward hyphens.