Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rush, The Supersonics, and other random thougths

- There's a great article in NY Times Magazine on Rush Limbaugh, who is about to sign a $300 million dollar contract with Premier Broadcasting. Rush's heyday is long behind us. The "Rush Rooms" at local restaurants disappeared not long after the "Contract With America" crowd that was elected in 1994 behind Newt Gingrich fell apart. But Rush, who commands a substantial listening audience, is still a political and entertainment force in the country.

One part of the article I found particularly interesting was the author identifying Rush as the legitimate heir to William F. Buckley's throne as the standard bearer for conservative thought in the country. How appropriate, I think, in this particular age that the mantle would go from one of the most educated, intellectual people on the face of the earth to a radio guy who barely made it through high school. Buckley required you read his articles three times and translation with a dictionary in order to understand them. Limbaugh writes tunes like "Barack The Magic Negro" and sells t-shirts that read "My Mullah Went to Gitmo and all I Got Was This Crummy T-Shirt".
That John Stewart (and to a lesser degree, Stephen Colbert) have become the "yin" to Rush's "yang" isn't all that surprising. I know that as I watch the church scene from my little perch here in the Midwest, that the pressure on pastors to be more entertaining in their preaching has only grown over the last 20 years. It's no coincidence that if you examine megachurches that have grown up over the past 15 years, that they tend to led by effective, humorous communicators.

How else can you explain how a church in Granger, Indiana (of all places) could become one of the 10 most influential in the country? Mark Beeson not only is a gifted communicator, but has been instrumental in turning his worship space into something akin to a theater where people become totally enmeshed in the metaphor being driven to death to get the point across.

Granger is now celebrated as the place you go to learn how to turn your worship space into a jungle, or a garage, or a farm. It also is on the cutting edge of producing visual media that is integrated into the worship experience, which is more like a variety show than a conventional worship service. But make no bones about it - Beeson's manic, over-the-top, pastor-on-ten-Red-Bulls delivery is what drives the engine. Without his forty minutes of entertaining preaching, it doesn't matter how good the music is or whether or not there's a fiberglass cow on the stage. It all just falls apart.

Erwin McManus pastors a church, Mosaic, in LA that legions of pastors and laypeople are flocking to in order to figure out how to "do church in the 21st century".

This is a promo for some short films being used as a part of a sermon series at his church. Notice on the clip that McManus is listed as the "Storyteller" as opposed to preacher.

Even in my own tradition, our current uberpastor of the moment, Adam Hamilton, is noted for his ability to communicate. Once the poster boy for traditionalist who touted his church, Church of the Resurrection, as an example of a growing church committed to traditional worship elements (choir, hymns, organ, robes, etc...), Hamilton has moved beyond that to become recognized as one of the finest pulpit communicators in the country. He too is incorporating unconventional elements, such as media, into his presentation as a means of holding the audience's ever-shortening attention.

We are quickly moving from a William F. Buckley, to a Rush Limbaugh/John Stewart world where people don't just expect to be informed and educated, but also entertained. What that will do not only to politics, but education and the formal religious community remains to be seen. All I know is that my congregation snaps to life whenever I start a funny story, or show a video, or figure out some other creative means to make my point. And it doesn't matter how well you craft the rest of the message.... if it isn't somewhat entertaining, you can see eyes glazing over. Given how unprepared most of us in the clergy are, most of us having been trained to preach in an academic style, one wonders about the shifts that are about to take place in the influence Christian institutions will have (or not have) as the demand to be entertained only grows.

- For $75 million dollars, the owners of the Seattle SuperSonics are going to be permitted to move the team from a city that has supported it through thick and thin, to their own hometown of Oklahoma City. The really bizarre piece of this equation is that the NBA's commissioner, David Stern, is supports the move, even though it means abandoning a much larger TV market that has a much firmer connection to the Far East (which is the largest emerging market in the world) for a more parochial setting middle America setting.

That leaves many of us wondering why on earth would the NBA rather have a franchise in OKC than Seattle?

Well, a clue to the answer to this question might be reports that the fiscal state of the league - which just had one of its most entertaining seasons in quite some time - is not good. Had they not looked heartless in doing so, the league would have probably moved their New Orleans franchise permanently to OKC, which is where the Hornets played in the aftermath of Katrina. The team drew well, and more importantly, corporations located in the mid-major city ponied up major dollars to support the franchise as a means of trying to change the town's image. While publicly Stern has been saying Seattle will never receive another team, right now franchises in Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and New Orleans are all reportedly hemorrhaging money and are up for sale. Considering the Sonics name, logo, colors, and team history will not be permitted to go with the franchise when it moves to OKC this summer, everything points to another franchise relocating to Seattle in the next couple of years.

Stern simply had a community willing to take his franchise on the line, and wouldn't let them go. In the process, the league is gambling that a year or two without the Sonics will convince Seattle to replace or renovate their current arena, and give added incentive for corporations in that community to get behind the franchise when it returns (most likely from Memphis or New Orleans). Such is the state of professional sports today, as over-expansion in the 90's has left too many franchises - NFL, NHL, MBL, and NBA - in cities unable or unwilling to support them. Expect more moving franchises, broken leases, and fractured relationships with fans.

Hey, I just watch cause I like basketball. I'll only get incensed about a franchise getting its heart ripped out when LeBron's contract with Nike (which pays him an additional $90 million dollars if he plays in NY, Chicago, or LA) becomes the catalyst for him becoming NY Knick or Net in 2010.

3) Am currently reading "Plastic Jesus: Exposing the Hollowness of Comfortable Christianity" by Eric Sandras. I kind of skimmed it last summer when we did the "Jesus In the Suburbs" series, as a compliment to the main text I was using, the aptly named "Death By Suburb". I'm getting ready for another years worth of sermon series.

At this point, I know we'll be doing the "Jesus At the Movies" series for the rest of the summer (focus: a random survey of some of Jesus teachings). We'll be launching a major emphasis on getting people connected in small groups mean to foster community, bible practice, and prayer with a companion sermon series focused on the "Marks of Discipleship" I shared in yesterday's post. I'm hearing rumblings both in the news and out of our community that the idea of "open marriages" is rearing its ugly head again, so we'll do a series focused on relationships later in the fall. Charlotte has talked to me about possibly doing a "40 days of Purpose" series for Lent, which hasn't lighted my fire as that moment, in my mind's eye, has really passed. But that's as far as I've gotten. I'm reading Sandras book as fuel for some new ideas. Feel free to email if you have any of your own. I'm still in the hunting and gathering stage right now.

4) Hope you have a nice Independence Day. We'll be doing some grilling, and if the community doesn't float away (as its raining cats and dogs as it has many, many, many days this summer) we'll get out to the Star Spangled Spectacular at Faurot Park tomorrow. Here's hoping you've got a few fireworks with friends and family in your future.


Anonymous said...

Thumbs up on the "Plastic Jesus" book.


bryan said...


You need to read "The Shack". It'd be a good one for the next vaca. I'd be interested in your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

thanks , read it. given to me by mitch