Category Archives: Peoples

Madeleine L’Engle Riffs

Check out the interview with Madeleine L’Engle in Newsweek (link via Bloggedy Blog). She comes off as the fiesty 85-year-old woman you’d expect.

Some choice bits:

When asked if the recent ABC movie of A Wrinkle in Time met her expectations: “Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is.”

On God: “I sometimes think God is a shit–and he wouldn’t be worth it otherwise. He’s much more interesting when he’s a shit.”

So is faith not a comfort? “Good heavens, no. It

Hey, I Know That Guy

While checking the news today I saw an article in the Star Trib on Michael Ovikian. The guy used to work at the BGEA and has the most amazing stories to tell. In the final days at the BGEA Ovikian used an entire devotional time to tell stories. The one I remember best centered around their son being born in Germany and how they couldn’t get the kid home thanks to his parents’ complicated nationalities. Ovikian was Israeli, and his wife was German, but both countries granted citizenship based on the opposite parent’s nationality (Israel based it on the mother, Germany based it on the father). So they had quite a time getting their kid out of the country and back to the U.S. Amazing story. He’s a pretty amazing guy.

Tammy Faye on Fresh Air

I caught parts of a Fresh Air interview with Tammy Faye Messner last night. Very interesting stuff. I think Fresh Air’s Terry Gross was a little perplexed by Tammy. She kept trying to ask somewhat difficult questions and get to the real meat of a fallen televangelist, and Tammy was being elusive as heck.

Especially interesting parts included Tammy saying they never thought about money (Terry counters that they asked for money all the time; Tammy counters that they had to pay a staff of 3,000), Tammy defending Jim Bakker and saying the sex scandal was true but the financial scandal was fake, and the touch-and-go moment when Terry tried to ask Tammy how she could have married two people who both served jail time for financial fraud.

More Yaconelli

There’s Yaconelli tribute stuff all over the web (in case you missed my earlier post, Mike Yaconelli died last week), so if you have any interest you should check some of it.

My favorite piece is an interview from 1996 (PDF file) that appeared in Kamikaze (re-posted on Yaconelli makes a few choice comments about the future of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Franklin Graham taking over. I relish those kind of jabs at my former employer, which probably isn’t too healthy. I sense unresolved bitterness.

Other interesting links include all the stuff over at Youth Specialties (including Mike’s last public message and a number of his articles) and an interview from Relevant.

That Yaconelli Guy

According to a statement from Relevant magazine, the owner and co-founder of Youth Specialties, Mike Yaconelli, was killed in a car accident last night. If you don’t know Mike Yaconelli, he’s kind of a round, bushy-headed guy with way too much energy and enthusiasm. From what little I knew of him, he put that energy into creative ways to move the church forward and encourage youth pastors. The guy was a little out in left field, and that’s exactly where most Christians should be.

This is quite a loss, especially for his family, the church he pastors, and Youth Specialties. I guess God knows what he’s doing, but it never quite makes sense to us.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know Mike that well. I heard him speak a few times at the lone Youth Specialties conference I attended, and I always tried to read his columns when I could. I snatched up one of his books, Messy Spirituality, of course I’ve yet to have time to read it. I’ll probably dive into it next, furthering my tradition of reading about famous people posthumously.

I also e-mailed Mike a few times and interviewed him once in connection with One Life Revolution. Last I checked, the project had raised more than $700,000, but that’s only money. What’s more important is the people who were motivated to become involved and do something. Mike was quick to point out research showing that only 3% of evangelicals felt like helping to fight AIDS was a worthwhile venture. I think God has used this latest effort Mike was involved in to change some minds on that issue.

All of this while the hills around San Diego are burning.

The Elvis of Christianity

Assuming Jesus doesn’t have the role, Billy Graham is the Elvis of Christianity. Or maybe just 20th century Christianity. Either way, Billy Graham has been the man when it comes to Christianity for more than 50 years.

The guy has preached to more people than anyone in the world, but more than just doing a lot of sermonizing, he’s been able to reach people. When Billy Graham tells you God loves you, for some reason people believe it.

Early on, he was fiery and charismatic. He could thump his Bible with the best of ’em, and ads for his 1949 tent-meeting revival in Los Angeles promised another “sin-smashing” week. He shouted, gesticulated, pointed his finger and was downright more animated than Mickey Mouse.

Over the years his style softened but his message stayed the same. In the past 20 years or so he’s become more of a grandfather than an Elvis. He’s soft-spoken, but filled with love and compassion. You get the impression he hangs out with God and a little something of the supernatural rubs off.

But for all the religious showmanship, the Elvis of modern Christendom truly has a heart for the young. He started preaching with Youth for Christ in the 1940s. In 1958 he published the book Billy Graham Talks to Teen-Agers. It included such classic questions and answers as this exchange about Rock ‘n’ Roll:

“Question: You had other types of music to face when you were young, but how would you regard Rock ‘n’ Roll?

“Answer: I rarely hear any of it, but I do feel that it has gotten out of hand. Anything that whips young people into a frenzy is bad, it seems to me. I often have been disturbed by what has happened to teen-agers [sic] after they listen to it. If I were 17 today I’d stay as far away from it as I could.”

Of course Billy changed his tune over the years. In 1970 he published The Jesus Generation which included the information that on a few occasions Billy Graham himself visited various rock festivals, protests and love-ins in an attempt to understand the masses. Of course he attended “incognito” (meaning he donned a hat, sunglasses, and a big sweater). He also managed to use campy 60s expressions, including trying to “rap” with the younger generation in order to “turn them on” to Jesus.

In the early 1990s he went a step farther and invited Christian hip-hop band dc Talk to perform at Crusades in what has been billed as “The Concert for the NeXt [sic] Generation.” The idea was to bring in current Christian artists that teens actually listen to in an attempt to bring salvation to a younger generation. It worked. Ten years later, almost a million teens have come forward at Billy Graham youth nights.

And now, for the first time in Billy Graham’s 50 plus years of ministry, he’ll be putting on a TV special especially for teens. Unlike other televised Crusades, there will be no choir, no old, gray-haired musicians, and no financial pleas. The 84-year-old Billy Graham will be the oldest thing in sight, but you won’t see the teens glazing over. Billy is surrounded and gladly interrupted with the voices and music of this generation.

“Inside Out” is the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s first TV special for teens. It airs next Friday, December 27 on the WB network in most areas (check your local listings) of the U.S. The half-hour show features the music of gospel star Kirk Franklin, rockers Jars of Clay, and Billy Graham’s faithful standby, dc Talk, interspersed with snippets of Billy Graham’s preaching. The show also includes the voices of real teens, talking about life and God.

The Elvis of Christianity has come along way, and if next Friday is any indication, he’ll continue to leave his mark. It’s been one sin-smashing lifetime.

Homer, Marilyn & Billy

It’s link to other people’s content day!

The Simpsons are finally legitimate cultural icons. Homer’s “Doh!” made it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

On an encouraging note, the end of the teeny bopper era may be near. And on a completely different note…

Marilyn Manson is not exactly a favorite conversation topic. Most people would rather just write him off as a freak or a Satanist and hope he goes away. But he hasn’t gone away, and in fact, I’ve noticed he has a few intelligent things to say.

A few years ago I read his autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell. It was not a fun book to read. It was full of violence and sex and drugs—basic depravity. But it was also full of twisted religion. Manson spoke of his roots, the Christian church.

It makes it all kind of ironic that Christians freak out over this crazed Satanist—yet he’s a product of Christianity. “A lot of people like to pass me off as a devil worshipper,” Manson said in a Beliefnet interview. “I think that could only be true if I considered myself to be the devil, because I tend to be narcissistic and believe in my own strength and my own identity.”

“Maybe I should become a Christian and make them all happy,” he said. “But I think if I found Jesus—which, I didn’t know he was lost in the first place—I don’t think he would be all that different from me.”

At this point I’m sure a number of Christians have turned away. After all, why should they read the words of Marilyn Manson, of all people? When your greatest enemy was once one of your own, perhaps you should listen to what drove him away.

He thinks Jesus wasn’t that different from him. Jesus was misunderstood. Jesus was rejected. Jesus tried to make people think and challenged the establishment. Marilyn Manson fits that bill. Of course Manson also does drugs and wears leather and make up. Don’t be too offended at his comments. There is some truth to them.

“And I think that image [the cross] has caused more pain and suffering than a swastika or the hammer and sickle,” he said. “And those images are taboo, while the crucifix will always be considered holy. But think of how many people died in the name of that image.”

He’s got a point there. It’s a sad state of affairs that the very history of Christianity can be used against it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, man is fallible, our mistakes don’t discredit God. But our hypocrisy does discredit God in the minds of an unbelieving world.

“My Bible teacher would ask the class, ‘Is there anyone in the room that’s Catholic?’ or ‘Is there anyone that’s Jewish?’ If there was no response, she would talk about how wrong those other religions interpreted the Bible. So at an early age, Christians already started to appear to me as people who believed that their interpretation of God was the only one that was right.”

Marilyn Manson had a Bible teacher? He went to a Christian school. Like I said, he’s a product of Christianity. It really makes you think sometimes.

In the interview Manson also described a trip to the Vatican. As a side note, I can’t help but wonder if he just walked in looking like his usual self. You’d think the Catholic church wouldn’t look too highly on that.

“I was kind of overwhelmed by the Vatican,” Manson said. “I was overwhelmed by the amount of gold that was used to create the building, while so many people complain about hunger and homelessness and the pain and sufferings of the world. And buildings like that are supposed to be what God intended. It doesn’t add up.”

Again, Manson has a point. Perhaps you should consider what drove him from Christianity before you write him off.

On a completely different and unrelated tangent, I was reading a chat transcript with Billy Graham on the way home tonight. Someone said that they were a young pastor and wanted to know what advice Graham would give them.

“Study the Bible constantly,” Graham said. “That’s where I think I failed. I don’t know the Bible nearly as well as I wish that I did, and I wish I spent more time studying it.”

Reflecting on Leon

I brought Leon peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I gave him an apple once. I’d get free samples from the corner venders, just to hand them over to Leon. One time I took him to McDonalds. I even thought about bringing him home with me for the weekend. Give him a hot shower, a bed to sleep in, a roof over his head. But I never had the chance.

Leon slept in an alley on a plastic bag. The bag doubled as his rain jacket. He took naps in Grant park and loved to lie in the grass and listen to the music from the summer festivals. A paralyzed leg kept him from going far. It would drag behind him when he walked, limp and lifeless like a sack of potatoes. He spent his days sitting on a ledge in the shade, outside the Panda Bear restaurant, within sight of the Art Institute of Chicago. Leon told me that when he was rich, he was going to buy that Art Institute and let homeless people sleep there.

Continue reading Reflecting on Leon