Music

Preview features for 'Jesus Christ Superstar: Daily Beast and NYTimes did it best

Preview features for 'Jesus Christ Superstar: Daily Beast and NYTimes did it best

Without a doubt, the religion event of the week in the world of 21st century pop culture was NBC’s live Easter Sunday broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar last night.

Having played the role of Mary Magdalene in ninth grade, I know almost every lyric and note by heart. I was interested in hearing about this bare-bones rendition of the rock opera compared to Norman Jewison’s over-wrought 1973 movie version.

My daughter and I would have enjoyed last night's show had it not been interrupted every five seconds by commercials, which utterly ruined the flow of the performance. There were lots of great performances; the kiddo loved the music and I got a big nostalgia dose.

Most favorite moment: Jesus getting mobbed by TV news crews while fans were taking selfies. More of my reaction further down.

But first, I was curious as to how reporters previewing the performance would treat the religion angle –- other than the obvious fact that the show is about the founder of a faith that has more than 2 billion adherents. Would they delve into the not-so-obvious?

Many did not. More were taken with how, for the first time, Jesus was played by a black actor, like this NPR story:

This Easter Sunday, NBC will debut its latest one-night live musical event, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert. The event's source material is the 1970s rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, an interpretation of the final days of the life of Jesus Christ. But it's not your old school Sunday morning gospel. This time around, John Legend, the messiah of pop-R&B love jams, will take on the titular role of Jesus Christ for the production. ...

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It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

Everyone loves cleverly written stories and August Brown’s recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the new breed of Satanists is most certainly that.

We learn the cool stuff about the edgy folks who are into this movement, but none of the inconvenient truths. In other words, there are complex religion ghosts hiding in this story. Surprise.

So yes, it is entertaining.

In November, in the candlelit basement of a house just above the Silver Lake Reservoir, Alexandra James walked over to an altar where her husband, Zachary, waited near a bleached human skull, teeth locked in eternal rictus. From the altar, she lifted a sword and drew points across his chest while a circle of onlookers watched solemnly (well, a few giggled too). An organist played eerie minor key chords and Alexandra turned to face the group.
"On this altar we consecrate swords to direct the fire of our unholy will," she said. "A human skull, symbol of death. The great mother Lilith created us all, and will destroy us all."
"Hail Satan! Hail Satan! Hail Satan!" The group chanted back.

The story describes how the attendees are mainly artists, writers and musicians who fling around words like “Satan,” “coven” and “witches” without really knowing their meanings.

But a bigger moment came a few hours later when word circulated that Charles Manson had died. Far from mourning a man whose crimes burned satanic imagery into the American mainstream, everyone cracked beers in celebration and jammed on psych rock tunes. ... It was a great night for a heterodox generation of new self-described Satanists who are upending old "Rosemary's Baby" and "Helter Skelter" stereotypes in service of radical politics, feminist aesthetics and community unity in the divisive time of Trump.

Alas, there is no mention, of the gruesome way the Satan-influenced Manson and his companions killed nine people in 1969.

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Steelers and Ravens: 'Prayers' vs. 'vibes' pre-game? Strange edits in famous Bible verse?

Steelers and Ravens: 'Prayers' vs. 'vibes' pre-game? Strange edits in famous Bible verse?

I didn't come of age in the 1960s, but I am old enough to understand the lingo of that decade when I hear it, like "good vibes." Plus, I'm a Beach Boys fan (especially of the underrated "Sail On Sailor" era).

Everyone knows about "Good Vibrations," right? I mean, it's one of the great radio songs of all time.

This brings us to the strange opening of a Baltimore Sun story the other day, as the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers prepared for another round in the NFL's most intense rivalry. This game, however, was framed by an on-field tragedy -- a scary back injury -- that touched players on both squads, with teams that view each other as respected rivals, not hated enemies.

The headline: "Ravens wish speedy recovery for Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier."

The key word there is "wish." Now, pay careful attention to the wording in the lede:

To Ravens players and coaches, hardly anything compares to preparing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But they hit the pause button Wednesday morning on their intense rivalry to send some good vibes to an injured Steelers player.

The key term there? That would "good vibes."

So what actually happened, in that Ravens meeting as the team started work to prepare for this crucial showdown (which the Ravens lost, in yet another nail-biter in this awesome series)?

This is the rare religion-and-sports case in which we can turn to ESPN to find out. The headline on its story noted: "Ravens begin team meeting by praying for Steelers' Ryan Shazier."

The key word there is "praying." Here is the overture:

The Baltimore Ravens still talk about their hatred for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But there is a mutual respect for their biggest rival.
The Ravens opened their team meeting on Wednesday morning by praying for Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who remained hospitalized for a second consecutive night while doctors monitor his back injury.

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Has Apple become a kind of secular faith? Maybe someone should write a story about that

Has Apple become a kind of secular faith? Maybe someone should write a story about that

Let me start with a confession: There are 19 Apple devices in use, to various degrees, in my home and home office. (Music lovers need back-up iPods since they are now endangered species.) There's another iMac on my desk in New York City.

So, yes, I worked my way through an online copy of the latest Apple announcement event, the first one staged in the Steve Jobs Theater at the company's massive new Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, the one that looks like it is part high-tech monastery, part "resistance is futile" spaceship.

Some might call me an Apple believer, even though CEO Tim Cook lacks the shaman skills of Job. My last Windows machine was killed by the Sasser virus in 2003, after several expensive healing rites.

So I get the fact that Apple is, as one of my mass communications texts puts it, a "belief brand" that has reached "iconic" status for many users. I know people who feel the same way about Tesla automobiles, Birkenstock sandals, Chick-fil-A and various craft beers.

So I was intrigued when I saw that New York Times (another belief brand) headline that read: "At the Apple Keynote, Selling Us a Better Vision of Ourselves."

I thought, for a moment, that someone had finally written a hard-news report about the semi-sacred role that Apple plays for many. I was disappointed when I saw that it was a first-person "Critic's Notebook" essay by James Poniewozik. Still, this is -- as GetReligion co-founder Doug LeBlanc told me in an email -- an "elegantly written piece" that, if you read between the lines, points toward a valid topic for news coverage.

Really? Well, read that headline again. Then read this passage:

This enhancement of reality is what each video-streamed Apple event sells, more than any particular iPhone or set-top box. If advertising once told us that “Things go better with Coke,” this event -- a jewel box for Apple’s products and the people who use them -- says that “Things look better with Apple.”

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Weekend think piece: Dennis Prager on what he said and what journalists said that he said

Weekend think piece: Dennis Prager on what he said and what journalists said that he said

One of the most important skills in journalism is easy to state, but hard for reporters to do.

While teaching reporting classes for the past 25 years of so, I have stated it this way: Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you. The skill? It is crucial to learn how to accurately report the beliefs of people with whom you disagree.

This is why it's important, every now and then, to read articles in which public figures of various kinds discuss journalism topics from the other side of the reporter's notebook, comparing what they said or believe with what ended up in analog or digital ink.

That's what is happening in the following essay at The Daily Signal by the Jewish conservative Dennis Prager. The headline: "Here Are Some Key Ways the Mainstream Media Distorts the Truth."

Now, there's a lot going on in this essay and some of it is pretty picky, personal and political. However, there's a crucial journalistic point linked to religion-beat issues in the section focusing the New York Times coverage of a recent Prager musical gig for charity. The Times headline: "Santa Monica Symphony Roiled by Conservative Guest Conductor." Here is the top of the music-beat news story:

It was supposed to be a dazzling opportunity for the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra -- a volunteer ensemble of professional and semiprofessional musicians led by Guido Lamell -- to play the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles for a fund-raiser. Mr. Lamell, music director of the orchestra, invited the conservative talk show host and columnist Dennis Prager as guest conductor for the event.
But that decision caused immediate outrage among some members of the symphony, and a number of them are refusing to play the fund-raiser, saying that allowing the orchestra to be conducted by Mr. Prager, who has suggested that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and incest, among other contentious statements, would be tantamount to endorsing and normalizing bigotry.

 

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Daily Telegraph backs old guard in row over Church of England's 'Alpha' evangelicals

Daily Telegraph backs old guard in row over Church of England's 'Alpha' evangelicals

The Daily Telegraph has leapt into a dispute between two factions of a London church, offering its support to traditionalists who dislike changes brought by a new priest and the younger crowd of worshipers he has attracted.

The author of the 14 August 2017, article entitled “Proms conductor in row with musicians' church after it bans 'non-religious' concerts” would most likely reject this summary of her story. Yet the journalistic shortcomings of this article turn it into a club for traditionalists to beat modernizers.

Congregational conflicts are seldom newsworthy. But they are often vicious, taking their cue from the command to smite the Amalekites and “utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Sam 15:3). And these church spats seem to revolve around the same set of problems that often boil down to a battle for power.

The exceptions to the rule, however, are often great news stories.

Who would not relish reading about the conflict in this Tennessee church:  “Pastor’s Wife And Mistress Fight At Communion Day Service In Church.”

The Daily Telegraph picked up a story about St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church in the City of London over a power struggle within a church, which has widened to include comments and criticisms from non-members.

The lede telegraphs the Telegraph’s construction of the story. We are told who are the villains and who the heroes.

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OK, Daily Beast, let's try this 'Despacito': You CAN question Bieber's faith, with a little respect

OK, Daily Beast, let's try this 'Despacito': You CAN question Bieber's faith, with a little respect

When the GetReligion team receives an email referencing coverage of a news story, the subject lines are generally subdued. When tmatt wrote asking, "Anyone wanna jump on this hand grenade," we all knew it would be, for want of a better phrase, a real hot tamale.

So we arrive at the young life of one Justin Drew Bieber, age 24, the pop sensation whose current mega-hit single, "Despacito," ("Slowly") would remind a listener who knew both Spanish and the Bible more of the sensual verses in the Old Testament's Song of Solomon than, say, a Keith Green worship piece.

But there's another side to the "Biebs," as he's known to millions of fans. He's a Christian, or so we're told from time to time in the media. And the latest bit of media fanfare came last week from The Daily Beast, which often seems to vie for the coveted "Least-Respectful of Faith" title in the news business.

Their religion coverage is uneven at best, downright snarky at worst. Some of it is news. Some of it is clearly biased editorializing.

This time, the website asks, "Is Justin Bieber Sabotaging His Career for Jesus?" And the text leaves little room to doubt what they're thinking:

... On Tuesday, Hollywood’s least-holy gossip site ran a story explaining that, according to sources connected to Hillsong, Bieber’s church, the singer is taking a professional step back because he has “rededicated his life to Christ.” The update continues, “Bieber’s decision seemed to come out of the blue, but our sources say it was squarely based on what Bieber believes is religious enlightenment.”
Attending more Sunday services is one thing, but opening your own franchise for the Lord is quite another. According to TMZ’s “inside source,” Bieber “may be even planning to start his own church,” which sounds like a magical place where DUIs are automatically stricken from your record and Selena Gomez is always willing to give you a second chance.

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The Maldives: Why does this exotic spot produce a disproportionate number of jihadi fighters?

The Maldives: Why does this exotic spot produce a disproportionate number of jihadi fighters?

“Discover the sunny side of Life: Sunny all year long, Waves like nowhere else, Underwater beauty like paradise! Visit Maldives for a perfect holiday.”

Ah, the Maldives -- the ultimate exotic tropical beach vacation, or so the above pitch for tourist dollars promises. Public relations is what it is, but judging by the photos I've seen (I've never visited), the Maldives may live up to all that’s promised.

Unfortunately, the Indian Ocean island nation may now have to add a discreet asterisk to its pitch.

Because once again, there’s trouble in paradise. And once again, the problem is growing Islamic radicalism and the threat of terrorism.

This recent piece from The New York Times lays it out.

MALÉ, Maldives -- This island paradise made news recently for a reason other than its pristine beaches and high-end resorts: the gruesome killing of a liberal blogger, stabbed to death by multiple assailants.
The killing in April of Yameen Rasheed, 29, a strong voice against growing Islamic radicalization, has amplified safety concerns -- particularly for foreign tourists, a highly vulnerable group and one that the islands’ economy depends on. It is no idle threat, in a country that by some accounts supplies the world’s highest per-capita number of foreign fighters to extremist outfits in Syria and Iraq.
Last summer, the government introduced the country’s first state policy on terrorism, calling for increased safety awareness at resorts and security assessments at seaports and in airports. In January, the Republic of Maldives’ Islamic Ministry released policy recommendations that included a provision instructing tourism companies to provide visitors with written rules on how to conduct themselves in a Muslim country
But critics say these initiatives are cosmetic, doing little to standardize safety policies, and have come only after international stakeholders pressured the Maldivian authorities to acknowledge the threat extremism poses to visitors.

I'm guessing relatively few Americans can find the Maldives on a map, and that even fewer have visited. (Most tourists are visitors from China and Europe.)

So why care about the woes of a small nation of less than 400,000 people scattered across some 1,200 atoll islands -- one that may, it seems, as well be a universe away from Main Street, USA?

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Guardian drags Mike Pence into Christian music festival story, blunting crucial points

Guardian drags Mike Pence into Christian music festival story, blunting crucial points

I'm beginning to see a pattern: To get attention in mass media, faith-based events and/or culture have to be tied, however tenuously, to U.S. President Donald J. Trump or his administration.

I get it: Sex sells, and few things, it seems, are more "sexy," news-wise, than the 45th President of the United States and his team.

But sometimes, this desire for a political connection dents an otherwise good and thoughtful piece on culture, faith, and people -- you know, stuff that sometimes exists apart from politics.

For an example, let's turn again to one of Britain's top progressive newspapers, The Guardian. It should be noted that this paper began life as the Manchester Guardian and was once home to Malcolm Muggeridge, a once-socialist reporter whose Christian conversion was one of the great biographical stories of the last century, if you are talking about interesting lives in journalism.

"St. Mugg," as he was known after his radical conversion at age 60, probably wouldn't find a home at The Guardian today. But there are some good writers contributing to its pages, however much they may be caught up in the frenzy of "Must-include-a-Trump-reference" that has overtaken us.

Say hello, then, to Jemayel Khawaja, a freelancer in Los Angeles who knows music and culture quite well. The Pakistani-born Khawaja authored one of the better analyses of contemporary Christian music that I've seen in the media, once you get past the obligatory, almost tortured, Trumpiana:

“Lord Jesus, thank you for dying for me,” says a bearded man in cut-off shorts standing atop a floodlit stage as hundreds of youths look on. “Lord Jesus, you can have my life.” Teenagers in Avenged Sevenfold shirts with bandannas wrapped around their faces bow their heads and pray together. And then the double-time kickdrum drops in, the guitars start chugging, and the mosh pit resumes.

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