Vacation!

by Chris Burfield


I'll be out on vacation from work later this week and the week of Memorial Day. A long road trip is planned and so posting regularly here over the next two weeks is not really an option. 

Along the way I will be knocking two Major League Baseball parks off my list, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. So you can expect reviews and pictures of those when I get back in June.


Christianity's Fall in North America

by Chris Burfield in


There was a much talked about report released on Tuesday by the prestigious Pew Research Center on the state of religion in America. In short, much of the decline in Christian affiliation seen recently has picked up, with one notable exception being evangelical Protestants. While they are up in absolute numbers (the only ones to be so among all Christian denominations) they are still down in terms of percentage of total population. In other words, evangelical Protestant growth has not kept up with the overall population growth.

The best article I read commenting on the report is by Russell Moore. I've quoted him here a time or two in the past, he is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention based in Washington D.C. I completely agree with what he said.

Read the whole thing here, but below is a slice from the middle:

People who don’t want Christianity, don’t want almost-Christianity. Almost-Christianity looks in the mainline like something from Nelson Rockefeller to Che Guevara at prayer. Almost Christianity, in the Bible Belt, looks like a God-and-Country civil religion that prizes cultural conservatism more than theological fidelity. Either way, a Christianity that reflects its culture, whether that culture is Smith College or NASCAR, only lasts as long as it is useful to its host. That’s because it’s, at root, idolatry, and people turn from their idols when they stop sending rain.

Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction. Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the worlds we construct. But the strange, freakish, foolish old gospel is what God uses to save people and to resurrect churches (1 Cor. 1:20-22).

We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America. Again, that’s good news. The gospel comes to sinners, not to the righteous. It is easier to speak a gospel to the lost than it is to speak a gospel to the kind-of-saved. And what those honest atheists grapple with, is what every sinner grapples with, burdened consciences that point to judgment. Our calling is to bear witness.

 


Patriotism Only When Paid

by Chris Burfield in


Or at least that is the impression I get from an article pointed out in the Significant Digits column over at 538.com. Turns most of those tributes to the troops you see in the NFL are paid advertisements, paid for by you and me through our tax dollars. Those teams don't do it out of the kindness of their hearts. It makes me wonder how much and how often this occurs in Major League Baseball.

From the NJ.com report:

When the Jets paused to honor soldiers of the New Jersey Army National Guard at home games during the past four years, it was more than a heartfelt salute to the military — it was also worth a good stack of taxpayer money, records show. The Department of Defense and the Jersey Guard paid the Jets a total of $377,000 from 2011 to 2014 for the salutes and other advertising, according to federal contracts. Overall, the Defense Department has paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million during that time, of which $5.3 million was paid by the National Guard to 11 teams under similar contracts.

The whole business of "Saluting the Troops" at sporting events and other public venues has bothered me for some time. To the extent that we are truly thankful they sacrificed their lives and their time then all the better. However, the moment this turns into a handy way of just saying thank you while forgetting that we are sending them on impossible missions then shame on us.


Currently Reading: How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

by Chris Burfield in


The book is by Russ Roberts, economist at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and host of a podcast I subscribe to, Econtalk. It came out last year and I'm just now getting around to it. Based off Adam Smith's lesser known work The Theory of Moral Sentiments it summarizes it in a easy to read way, bringing the somewhat archaic language of the 1700's English into modern times.

I'll quote from the chapter on how not to fool yourself (page 75):

Humility is an acquired taste. Once you come to like it, it's a dish best served hot. It's amazing how liberating it can be to say "I don't know." Maybe your intellectual opponents aren't evil. Maybe they see the world through a different lens or evaluate the evidence differently than you do. What seems like a decisive fact or study or piece of evidence usually can be answered by those on the other side. Hard as it is to imagine, your opponents have their own evidence that they find just as convincing. The world is a complicated place.

He is right that humility is an acquired taste. It did not suit me well earlier in my life, especially in college and a few years after that. But, as I learned how much I did not know, as opposed to thinking I knew everything, it has become very helpful.


The Wicked & The Divine

by Chris Burfield in


I've never been a big comic book reader, which is a kind of weird thing to say given how much I like comic movies, tv shows, etc. Growing up in the mid 90's the animated versions of X-Men and Spiderman were some of my favorites. I tried getting into comic books but it just didn't work. It felt like each issue was maybe half if not less of a 30 minute episode. On top of that, I eventually learned what ret-conning was. A character can die but he or she is not really dead, or another writer comes along and decides to make major changes to the backstory of a character. It didn't seem like there was just one story and it was impossible to keep track. Plus, getting to a comic shop to stay on top of new issues was not really an option.

All that said, I am surprising myself by how much I am enjoying and looking forward each month to a new issue of The Wicked & The Divine, a new issue came out yesterday. It is written by Kieron Gillen, drawn by Jamie McKelvie, colored by Matthew Wilson, and published by Image Comics. I discovered it on a year-end list at Vox.com and the blurb which starts each issue captured me.

Every ninety years twelve gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead. The year is 2014. It's happening now. It's happening again.

The story centers around a fan (the young African-American girl in the page below) who gets wrapped up into the events surrounding the gods, and what happens to the gods themselves. It is a great story which serves as commentary on celebrity, death, religion, and on top of all that the art is gorgeous. I've never seen a comic book with art like this. There are only 10 issues so far, easy enough to jump right in and get caught up, especially with apps like Comixology.

I'll leave you with an image from the first issue.


Being An Evangelical Is a Disadvantage in Presidential Politics

by Chris Burfield in


Or at least that is what a new poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal states. The Washington Post has a nice summary linking each trait to a current contender in the 2016 race, but click here for the full poll results.

The current results show that the top five negative traits in terms of the combination of "some reservations" and "uncomfortable" are No Prior Elected Experience (69%), No College Degree (63%), Leader in the Tea Party (61%), First Term Senator (45%), and being an Evangelical Christian (44%). Of note is that being Catholic and homosexual rate at 20% and 37% respectively.

Now, compared to the first time it was asked whether being an evangelical Christian was a good or bad trait in a president, in 2008, the total un-favorability rating is down from 54%. If I were to put a theory to why it was so high in 2008 and has seen a decline since then a large factor would have to be George W. Bush. He considered himself to be an evangelical and used that to garner votes. I would think the public considered that when answering this question back then.

Despite the decline if you take the liberal side of the margin of error then you could reasonably state that 47% are uncomfortable or have serious reservations with an evangelical being president. As an evangelical this saddens me and makes me wonder how we got into this position.

One driving factor behind this has to be the political positions advocated by evangelical leaders. From abortion to homosexuality the church is appearing as not just increasingly backward, but even hateful and intolerant. I'm willing to tolerate being called backward, what truly saddens me is being associated with hateful and intolerant people. Jesus never called us to be so. He loved others and called them to repent and follow Him, but never hated others.

I am firmly convinced no discerning Christian should fit neatly into either political party. The sooner the church as a whole realizes this and uses it to our advantage by working with both parties to make lasting change, the better. And that also means no longer blindly following a politician who claims to be a Christian and who promises the moon on abortion or homosexuality.


How to Disagree

by Chris Burfield in


Rick Warren, Robert George, and Cornel West get on a stage...

That sounds like the beginning of a joke but instead it is a true thing which happened last week at Biola University. They had an extended discussion for almost 2 hours on the topic of civility in political discourse and otherwise. I watched the entire thing and I recommend that you do the same. If you do not have the time then just watch the clip below, I have it starting at the probably the most interesting question of the night.



New Music: April 2015

by Chris Burfield in


When creating these lists it is my goal to listen most if not all of the music which appears in Spotify's new music feed. While I was mostly successful in the first three months of this year I can't say that about April. Other things crowded out the time required to do so. Still, I was able to listen to quite a lot of new stuff and have put together the below list. Enjoy!

1.) "Get Out The Way" by Mother Mother on Very Good Bad Thing

If I had a superpower it would be to pipe this song into whoever is driving too slow in front of me when I'm driving. It is not just the lyrics though, it has got a good beat and music to it as well.

2.) "Greek Tragedy" by The Wombats on Glitterbug

This song kicks off with some trashcan drums and then before you know it the guitar kicks in with a great hook that drags you through the rest of the song.

3.) "Where You At" by The Bohicas on Where You At

This is a great song to drive to with the windows down. Just a good rock song that knows what it is and doesn't go on too long. Bonus points for the horns at the end.

4.) "Whole Life Story" by Passion Pit on Kindred

The third album out of this indie group is overall decent. Only a few tracks stuck out to me, this one being the best in my opinion.

5.) "Upside" by Allen Stone, released as a single earlier in April

Aside from spelling his first name wrong this is a good track with shades of Bruno Mars coming through.

6.) "For Granted" by Odessa on Odessa

I almost dumped this track from my preliminary list but was glad I gave it a second listen. Her voice just captured me and vaulted it ahead of some other good tracks.

7.) "Until the Night Turns" by Lord Huron on Strange Trails

I had never heard of these guys before listening to this album but this track caught my ear, mostly for the nice mix of indie rock and country.

8.) "I Do Not Feel Like Being Good" by Ryan Adams, released as a part of an EP earlier in April

This is the second short EP released by Ryan Adams this year. This one is an acoustic affair and this track features a detailed guitar work and a bluesy sound.

9.) "Ship to Wreck" by Florence + The Machine, released as a single earlier in April

I've always enjoyed the voice of Florence Welch and this track combines that with a more mainstream sound than I've heard from them before.

10.) "The Wolf" by Mumford & Songs, released as a single earlier in April

There has been a steady drip of singles dripping in advance of the full album releasing in May. This track is another solid one which shows off their new sound.

11.) "XMAS_EVET1 N" by Aphex Twin on MARCHROMT30a Edit 2b 96

The title is a dead giveaway that this is an electronica track. Aphex Twin is hit or miss for me with a lot of tracks which have barely any melody. This one does though, and is all the better for it.

12.) "Mene" by Brand New, released as a single earlier in April

A really good straight ahead rock song which is very reminiscent of 90's grunge.

13.) "Lonesome Street" by Blur on The Magic Whip

Blur is back after an extended absence. Most of the album was so/so for me with this being the one track which caught my ear.

14.) "Stupid Games" by WATERS on What's Real

This track kicks off with whirling electronica but then dives into a solid rock beat. The chorus carries the song for me.

15.) "Buffalo" by Toro Y Moi on What For?

There is a very retro vibe to this track and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It strikes the perfect tone to end the list with.  


Homogenization of Movie Trailers

by Chris Burfield in


Red Letter Media is famous for absolutely destroying the Star Wars prequels, and justly so. Those videos are hilarious and if you haven't seen them drop what you're doing and either bookmark the page, cause each video is really long, or watch them right now. Don't worry I'll wait.

Well they just recently did a deconstruction of every major movie trailer released in the last few years. While not as funny as those videos, there is no real commentary just careful editing of the various trailers, it is a good way to see how everything is turning into the same thing.

Enjoy.

Hat tip to The A.V. Club for pointing the way to this.