Idol Chatter

Why are environmental ethics treated with such suspicion among evangelicals? It’s a question that has bugged me for years, but the answer is an easy one: because evangelicals, by and large, vote Republican. I often argue that evangelicals are not monolithic in their views, but the environment is a subject that gives my argument pause. Most evangelicals I know either don’t care about environmental ethics or don’t support environmental regulation; many consider global warming a bully pulpit for the left. I know green evangelicals, but they are an exception to the rule.

In the last year, however, we’ve had occasion to believe that all this may be changing. Bill Moyers’ “Is God Green?” (airing tonight on PBS) is another in a series of media notices that those green exceptions in evangelicalism are growing in number and volume.

After watching “Is God Green?” I was both hopeful and chagrined. Hopeful because evangelicalism’s environmentalists are so much more well-spoken, humble, and just plain likeable than the evangelicals who tow the industry-first, environment-second Republican party line. Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals may be reviled by some of his fellow evangelicals for leaning left on the environment and social justice, but he’s clearly a man motivated by Christian convictions. Same for the other evangelical environmentalists Moyers interviews, including Tri Robinson, a green pastor in Idaho, and a group of West Virginia evangelicals whose tap water has been contaminated by the Massey Energy Company. (Their story is the most moving part of “Is God Green?”–an “Erin Brockovich” for the evangelical set.)

But I was chagrined, too, because Moyers’ program portrays just how difficult it is for real change to occur on this issue in evangelicalism. It’ll happen, but it’ll be slow, because many evangelical leaders have uncritically embraced the silly notion that environmental ethics can only be a project of the secular left. Moyers reminds us of the claims of U.S. Senator James Inhofe, a professed evangelical, that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated (!) on the American people. We hear similar hyperbole from the Revs. Pat Robertson and James Dobson, and get an earful on God’s willful destruction of the earth (at the willing hands of ExxonMobil) from E. Calvin Beisner, professor of theology at Knox Theological Seminary.

Evangelicals appreciate and trust their leaders–again, not monolithically, but by and large. For evangelicals to begin to take the environment seriously as an aspect of Christian priorities, they’ll have to be led. Many of congregants at Tri Robinson’s church were closet environmentalists, but they did not feel free to care for creation until Pastor Robinson gave them permission. Rich Cizik says his conversion to environmentalism occurred only after he heard the case for global warming from Sir John Houghton, a trustworthy evangelical scientist.

In my hometown of Colorado Springs, it’s been wonderful to have Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, take steps toward broadening evangelical priorities to include creation care. And Haggard walks (or rather, rides) what he talks, puttering around town on a scooter in a community that adores its SUVs. Many parishioners have followed suit: Word on the street is that local scooter dealers have a long waiting list.

Good signs, all, and hopefully part of real change. Moyers’ doesn’t answer his program’s titular question–Is God green?–but he does give us reason to hope that evangelicals can be.

Click here to watch clips from the show.

New Yorkers jumped, screamed, raised their hands, and waved thNokia Theatreeir arms at the Nokia Theatre in New York City on Sunday night as MercyMe headlined a concert with newcomer Phil Wickham (whose voice evokes a bit of Jason Wade from Lifehouse) and well-seasoned band Audio Adrenaline.

Most known for their hit single “I Can Only Imagine,” which played repeatedly on mainstream radio, MercyMe recently released a new album, “Coming Up to Breathe,” an infectious, energetic rock-worship album that faintly recalls the sounds of Casting Crowns, the David Crowder Band, and the now-defunct band, “Seven Day Jesus.”

MercyMe's Bart Millard When MercyMe first began gaining recognition, they toured and opened for Audio Adrenaline. Now that Audio Adrenaline is ending their career, they were on their last tour as one of the opening acts for MercyMe. Lead singer Mark Stuart took the stage encouraging fans onto the platform with him and playing favorites such as “Big House,” “Ocean Floor,” and closing with a final bittersweet song, “Goodbye.” Even though I’d never seen Audio before in concert, Mark sang with incredible heart until his voice began wavering, a sad and poignant revelation that his voice was starting to “reach the end,” a main reason why Audio is disbanding. However, given the huge response and loud sing-alongs, Audio’s career may be ending, but its legacy will not be.

Audio Adrenaline's Mark Stuart The rest of the night continued to be an exuberant, rock-edged worship service where, in-between euphoric songs such as “Coming Up to Breathe” and “So Long Self,” everyone freely proclaimed the name of Jesus and were intermittently led in prayer by MercyMe’s Bart Millard. MercyMe also paid a tribute to Audio, singing the slow worship ballad, “Tremble.” Winding down the night, MercyMe sang their signature song “I Can Only Imagine” and then ended their two-song encore with an enthusiastic burst of “One Trick Pony.”

Singing, praising, and worshipping with other Christians–famous and not famous–in the middle of Times Square was a crazy, amazing, and blessed experience. Meeting Audio Adrenaline’s lead singer and all the band members of MercyMe at a media meet-and-greet was even more heart-stopping. Even while it’s silly to fawn over any celebrity, there was something indescribably special about meeting such humble, down-to-earth, and talented artists. I’m hoping these guysMercyMe continue making music and come back to New York soon (after their Hawaii stop in April 2007), a city all the musicians said had the best and most incredible audience.

Since it’s rare for Christian bands, who get their start out west and down south, to headline at any venues in New York City, the excitement of east coast fans always escalates into a palpable collective heartbeat. For one evening, that heartbeat and the soul of God-centered music was definitely alive in the center of the crowded neons and drifters of Times Square.

Perhaps no director has spent more time examining the seedy underbelly of modern American culture than Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York”), and his newest effort, “The Departed,” is no exception. Scorsese brings his trademark no-holds-barred grit and gloom to a cat-and-mouse game between two young men–one a cop and the other a crook –in a movie that attempts to have all of the pathos and moral impact of a Greek tragedy, but with unsatisfying results.

Set in Boston, the movie follows the career of Irish mafia boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who has strategically placed one of the best and brightest from the Massachusetts Police Academy, detective Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), within the Boston state police department to work as a mole for his organization. However, the state police have their own mole –Billy Costigian (Leonardo Di Caprio)–infiltrate Costello’s syndicate so they can arrest Costello. Both men are wracked with guilt as they are sucked deeper into Costello’s web of deceit and violence and as they grow closer and closer to discovering each other’s identities.

For anyone expecting this thriller to be of the level of “Raging Bull,” “The Departed” is not much more than a mediocre rehash of much of Scorsese’s previous work. There are, to be sure, some stellar moments in the film, but its weaknesses overpower those moments of brilliance. Di Caprio’s performance as the troubled Costigian is amazing, but Nicholson chews the scenery like he’s playing The Joker in another Batman sequel, while Damon is just plain unconvincing as the two-faced Sullivan. And then there’s the completely convoluted love triangle-with-a-shrink storyline that is almost impossible to get past.

What troubles me most when I watch a Scorsese film, including this one, is that I always come away with a nagging feeling that Scorsese is not a big believer that grace, mercy, and redemption truly exist in our society. For Scorsese’s characters, it always seems as if these spiritual ideals are only abstract concepts that never become flesh-and-bone reality. And while I have heard some critics laud the final seconds of “The Departed” as Scorsese’s subtle nod to the power of light overcoming the darkness in a cruel world, I find that a bit of a stretch.

More importantly, the hopelessness of “The Departed” makes me wonder even more about the fate of Scorsese’s current project–a film adaptation of “Silence,” a book about Japanese martyrs, which all of my Catholic friends insist I should read.

This is a story of gratitude, and that’s why I am excited about “Little Children.” Not that the story has anything to do with gratitude; it’s a hilarious, biting social satire about suburban boredom and grown men and women acting as much like the title’s “little children” as their offspring do. The novel, by Tom Perrotta, is wonderful, and the movie is getting amazing reviews. But that’s only part of why I am excited about it.

No, the gratitude in question here is more personal: Tom Perrotta was my college writing teacher, and it’s no exaggeration to say he is the reason I’ve chosen the career I have. He was that teacher for me, the one I will always remember, the one who inspired me and pushed me and made a difference. Though he is a novelist and I opted to go the nonfiction route, he remains my greatest professional influence. He taught me to write, and more important, he gave me confidence in my writing, without which my life would have looked vastly different: I would likely have followed the pack to law school, ending up much better paid (um, thanks a lot, Tom), but far emptier inside, where it really counts. Come to think of it, I could’ve ended up not unlike the desperate characters of “Little Children.” But I digress…

What was remarkable about Tom is how patently clear it was that he didn’t want to be where he was, teaching college writing courses: He just wanted to write, but as he waited and waited for his writing to proffer a paycheck, he did what so many others have done, taking thankless adjunct-type positions to pay the bills–not that they really even did that. Despite that, though, he never showed the least bit of bitterness or resentment, and managed to have a profound influence on his students, even as he strived to succeed in the literary world and say good-bye to grading papers. He stuck to his dream, refusing to give up, believing in himself, even as he and his wife started a family and he hit his mid-30s. In other words, long past when a lesser person, and a lesser writer, would have given up and gone to Wall Street (or law school). And in the end, his tenacity and sacrifice paid off, and his succession of novels has reached ever-larger audiences. It couldn’t have happened to a better person.

Though I dreamed of it, I never had the cojones to choose that sort of life of struggle and poverty for the sake of my writing. Luckily, I had good teachers, who gave me the skills to succeed as a working journalist. And that’s why I can’t wait to see “Little Children.” Thanks, Tom.