Saturday, May 24, 2014

Godinterest vs. Regular Pinterest

I finally succumbed to temptation last week and joined Pinterest, which means I am now extremely well-informed on how to make furniture from old books, how to garnish drinks in mason jars, and how to spend two straight hours hitting "pin" on gluten-free recipes. Coincidentally, I also received a press release last week for a new site called Godinterest, which calls itself "The Christian version of Pinterest." (Why do you think they didn't call it Goderest? Maybe because it sounds like an order to go to sleep. Or like God has been arrested.) How does this "bespoke Christian media platform" measure up the original? Let's do some basic keyword searches and compare the top results, shall we?

Search for: Food


As far as this search goes, Pinterest's "Oreo Pudding Pops" trumps  Godinterest's "Kitty praying for food." In fact, I'm a little disturbed that this kitten has to pray for food in the first place. If she's not getting paid enough for a decent meal, kitty needs to find a new modeling agent.

Search for: Books



Somebody rewrote the Gospel of Mark as a thriller? I was not aware of this, and now I want to know more. Whereas Pinterest, rather than recommending a book, gave me... a description of the experience of reading. I don't know about this "That Moment" meme. Why would you spend your time pinning a description of the act of reading a book instead of actually reading a book? Point to Godinterest.

Search for: Crafts


Winner: Oh, come on, Godinterest, that is not a craft. That is a Mormon music video. "DIY Spoon Mirror," now that is a craft. I mean, I'll spend three minutes and fifty-four seconds listening to that song if you really want, but then what do I do with all these plastic spoons?

Search for: Jesus


Here we have two different illustrations: one of Jesus' empty tomb, and one of the second coming. However, it is important to know that the first image somehow got mismatched with the text from a different post. So while the Godinterest picture has the caption "Illustration of the Coming of Jesus," the Pinterest one is called "Powder Room Reveal." It gets even better when you read the description:

I am so relieved to have this room done! I mentioned awhile back that I had no idea when I started this remodel, that the smallest room in the house would be the most challenging. I shared my intentions to makeover my powder room about eight weeks ago...

Obviously I'm now imagining this crafty Pinterest poster re-making her powder room to resemble the empty tomb of Jesus. She could probably make the stone slab out of wood pallets, and the cave mouth from those little bags of rocks they sell at craft stores, and maybe she could paint the sheet with a chevron pattern for a contemporary makeover...

Bottom line, this is a completely unfair contest, because Godinterest doesn't have much content yet, while Pinterest, like God itself, is infinite. If you're looking for religious platitudes and Sunday School inspiration, you're still going to do better on Pinterest. And if you want a praying kitten photo, Pinterest actually has more of those, too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The 10 Plagues of FX's "Fargo"

Are you watching Fargo on FX? The mini-series, inspired by the Coen Brothers film, is shaping up to be one of the year's best shows. And on Tuesday, things got downright Biblical.

I don't want to get too in-depth with the spoilers, and I'm not sure how the rest of the series will play out yet. But here are some things to think about going into future episodes:

* The connection to the original film, which was slyly revealed this week, hinges on blood money
* Fish are a recurring visual motif, most notably in the poster on Lester's wall. They frequently appear in the background of shots (see clip below).

* Moral relativity is a major theme of the series. The character who seems to possess the least morality also seems the most certain about his relationship with God.
* Another character's personal theology hinges entirely on signs and miracles, which is not working out so well at the moment.
* The ten plagues of Egypt are: Blood into water, frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn. We've definitely seen two of these, and a case could be made that we've seen three. If the pattern continues, I can think of a certain character who may need to watch his back.

That's all for now. You should watch the show.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Passion of Pete Seeger

What Pete Seeger's views about organized religion can teach believers, today on Religion Dispatches. I notice GodSpam has received quite a few visitors in the recent weeks, so first of all, hi there. Second, I have some exciting news to share very shortly, which will hopefully reward some of you for your patience with this neglected site. And third, I'm going back to GodSpam being one word. Try to use it in a sentence today!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Casting Stones at Paula Deen

Did you guys see that Today Show interview with Paula Deen? The one where she looks directly into the camera and urges us to throw a big stone at her head and kill her? Yeah. I think we need to talk about that.
Let he who is without butter cast the first biscuit. (Photo credit)
Here's what Deen, who is hemorrhaging money in the face of revelations that she's kind of a big racist, actually said. "If there's anyone out there that have never said something that they wish they could take back. If you're out there please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please, I want to meet you. I is what I is, and I'm not changing."

The celebrity chef is a Baptist, and she's quoting (sort of) John 8:7. This is the story in which Jesus tells an angry mob to stop stoning a woman to death for committing adultery. Except he doesn't tell them to stop. What he says is, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And one by one, they walk away.

There are quite a few interesting things going on with this passage. First of all, it should be noted that many scholars don't believe it was part of John's original text. There's decent evidence on both sides. It's possible, though, that this story was apocryphal, taken from another source and applied to Jesus. It's a pretty tidy anecdote with a good punchline. You can almost picture it popping up on the ancient Middle Eastern version of Snopes.

Nevertheless, it's one of the most-quoted things Jesus ever said. The phrase "cast the first stone" is still in common usage, alongside with its secular descendent, "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." 

I say it's one of the most-quoted things Jesus ever said. I should clarify: we actually don't know everything that Jesus said in John 8.

Before and after he says the thing about stones, Jesus is writing on the ground. In fact, that's his immediate reaction to the situation: he bends down and starts writing with his finger in the sand. The men then start "questioning" him, according to John. Eventually, Jesus stands -- or just looks up, depending on your translation -- and questions whether they should be throwing stones. Then he goes back to writing, and the dudes decide to leave the poor woman alone.

What was Jesus writing? Nobody knows! This is the only time in the Bible we see it happen. Some scholars believe he is drawing, not writing, since a peasant from Nazareth would probably not have known how to read. (Depends how much time you believe he spent in the temple, I guess.)  Often it's suggested that it's the act of writing that's important, not the content; it denotes divine authority, much like God inscribing the Ten Commandments. Another popular theory: he was re-writing the words of a prophecy, specifically Jeremiah 17:3. The obvious theory, perhaps, is that he was writing down the sins of the men with the stones. Or the sins of the woman, in order to forgive her. Or both. 

(Another important bit of context: we're told that this situation Jesus finds himself in, is a "test" from the Pharisees who are seeking an excuse to lock him up. It was a Catch-22: if he said that the woman should be killed, he would be undermining the authority of the Roman government, because Jews didn't have the right to enforce this penalty. If he objected, he'd be in violation of the Hebrew law -- the law of Moses -- which ordered adulterers to be stoned. But Jesus did something they couldn't have predicted: neither.)

With her plea to the Today Show audience, Paula Deen is casting herself in the role of the woman. (Forgot to mention that this woman is often interpreted as being the prostitute Mary Magdalene. There's no concrete textual evidence for that, though. Back to you, Matt Lauer!) Deen is saying, "I made a mistake. I said something I shouldn't have. If you've never done it, you can cast the first stone." She is begging for mercy. And yet she concludes her statement by saying, "I is what I is and I'm not changing."

What makes me uncomfortable is how heavily Deen is playing the victim card.  In our modern eyes, Jesus stopped the stone-throwers from delivering an outsized punishment, and a judgement that only God could pass down. Paula Deen lost a sausage endorsement after years of racist behavior. Doesn't seem like the most over-the-top punishment to me. 

Also, she didn't seem at all apologetic about using the N-word until she started losing money over it. She still doesn't seem especially sorry for her actions, or aware of why people were hurt by them. There's no forgiveness without repentance. Maybe that's why her apologies all ring hollow.

In another sense, though, the moral of John 8 applies. Jesus is saying that people have no right to judge what only God can judge. As a culture, we are so quick to condemn celebrities who are accused of wrongdoing, and for the most part, we do not forgive. I'm sure Paula Deen is experiencing a fan backlash that's wildly disproportionate to the crime, because that's the norm these days. "I'll never buy a Paula Deen cookbook again" is a reasonable fan response. Tweeting "Paula Deen needs to die" is not. No wonder she's feeling persecuted.

So WWJD about Paula Deen? In the story, he tells the adulteress that he doesn't condemn her, saying, "go, and sin no more." If I were Paula Deen's shoes, I'd take that as a cue to cut my losses (go) and rethink the way I treat other people (sin no more). But I'm not a diabetic Southern chef, and that's why I don't plan on picking up any stones.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to Explain Crucifixion to Your Kids (And How Not To)

Today, I have a post up on about the challenges of explaining the Easter story to kids.  While I was researching ideas for teaching the Passion, the Crucifixion, and all that fun, I came across a couple truly terrible suggestions from Christian parenting bloggers and teaching sites. Here are some of the most memorable (with links omitted to protect the innocent):

1. Parading around the backyard with your family, reciting prayers while taking turns carrying a giant wooden cross. Not included in the post: suggestions for where to buy a giant wooden cross.

2. Have the parents pretend to be Jesus and Pilate, respectively, while the kids yell "Crucify him!" No mention of the 39 lashes, thank goodness.

3. Make a "Stations of the Cross" coloring book. Okay fine, I'll link to this one.

For God Spam-approved talking points, go to Happy Resurrection!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Popes Get Elected (In Movies & TV)

In honor of the election of Pope Francis I, I've written a post for Vulture about conclave conspiracy theories in pop culture. Check it out here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is That Funny Christian Video Real? Here's How to Tell

"Rappin' for Jesus" is a hoax, everybody. Yes, I know it's hilarious to watch middle-aged white Republicans use hip-hop slang. But the rapping pastor dropping n-bombs in Dubuque is not a real person, even if approximately 1.4 million viewers say otherwise. (Watch the video below, but be warned, it's offensive.)

It's a very well-executed hoax, complete with a phony out-of-date church website. Here are the four dead giveaways that it's fake:

1. There's no internet record of an Iowa pastor by the name of James Colerick, outside of this video. That's an immediate red flag.

2. An actual Dubuque pastor has confirmed the nonexistence of the church to The Christian Post.

3. That supposedly defunct-since-2004 site was updated in January. (The YouTube video was uploaded in February.)

4. As The Daily Dot smartly observes, the word "swag" wasn't in common use in hip-hop until after 2010. Do your parents even know how to use it in a sentence? What are the odds that this guy, were he a real person, would have said it before 2004?

Those are the facts. But for me, the biggest tip-off is that it has no real message. This is the most reliable test of a Christian viral hoax: would an actual Christian have a good reason to make this? Does it tell people how to get saved? Does it reference the Bible? Or does it just make Christians look like idiots for no apparent purpose?

For comparison, here's a legit Christian rap from the Georgia megachurch 12Stone. It's about tithing.

Here's another one, uploaded in 2008 by a guy named Matthew Fisher. It tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, and there are self-mocking elements, I'll stake my reputation on this one being the real deal.

You'll notice that the fake video got a lot more views than either of the real ones. Not surprising: people (seemingly) making idiots of themselves attract more attention than people trying to do something from the heart. If you associate Christianity with the kind of clueless, culturally tone-deaf ignorance displayed in "Rappin' for Jesus," then you probably didn't question its authenticity. That's what makes it an effective parody -- it strikes a chord, and one that should make mainline Christians very uncomfortable.

Incidentally, if you want to see what the more over-the-top Evangelicals were actually teaching their youth groups 2005, the documentary Jesus Camp is worth a look.