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Art | Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
― Banksy

Exploitation, Liberation and Shame: "Let Me Liberate You"

What do we mean when we say “Sexual Liberation”? So much has been thrown around the blogosphere in the last 48 hours about Miley and the VMAs: The twerking, tongue wielding, Disney rebelling performance by Miley Cyrus; “Blacksploitation” of teddy-bear clad dancers (white girl, accessorizing with black women, through hip-hop culture and motifs); what a joke the FCC has become and Robin Thicke perpetuating the growing and accepted “rape-culture”. Miley Cyrus+VMAs=God’s punishment on us – that was my initial reaction and tweet. I lived vicariously (for the first and last time) through the reactions of One Direction and Rihanna (here and most importantly here). I was hating on her like the rest of the world. But was her performance worse than Lady Gaga’s g-string or Britney and Madonna kissing? No…it just looked worse.

The more I considered the spectacle, the less upset I was with Cyrus. I’m not excusing Hannah Montana, but we are kidding ourselves if we think this was a product of her mastermind. Why aren’t there memes filling the web with Robin Thicke, a 37 year old, married, father, grinding and coercing a 20 year old girl? What about the lyricists and producers? So many hands went into Cyrus’ production – wasn’t she doing what she (and many other performers) had always done? Letting others direct her actions to illicit a response or reaction-we have another word for that: PUPPET! We exploit and expose people for the reactions and call this liberation? This scandalous marionette of sexual “liberation” produced not freedom, but perpetuated shame.

  • Shame on Miley for doing it
  • Shame on MTV for putting it on
  • Shame on Robin Thicke for (the list is way too long)
  • Shame on us for participating in further objectification by ridiculing it
  • Shame on the writers for producing such horrible lyrics
  • Shame on capitalism for making money off of it
  • Shame on the FCC for letting that be called “entertainment”
  • Shame on those that mock Cyrus but are ok with other performers of the same vein

After the initial reaction wore off from the furry melee of groping and tongue wagging I was left feeling so deeply sad for a girl obviously filled with self-loathing and absolutely enraged at the posture and acceptance of Thicke. Why does he get off (no pun intended) so easily when memes are flying around left and right about Cyrus? Is it because he is much more “natural” in his sexuality?  A.K.A. We have become accustomed to such misogyny. Just look at the attitude of the women surrounding him: His wife is a willing participant (said she is not angry and knew about it in advance as they rehearsed vigorously (again, no pun); Thicke’s own mom sees nothing wrong with her son’s behavior and pins the onus on the girl who isn’t yet of drinking age.

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The images are disturbing, but what I find much more perverse is the content of the lyrics. There isn’t anything shocking or sad about hearing “It’s our party we can kiss who we want, we can screw who we want”. Not after Madonna, Katie Perry, Lil’ Kim and Nicky Minaj…The problem with these lyrics are that they beckon and justify the much more derogatory, sexist lyrics that people like Thicke respond with. In “Blurred Lines” we hear a message of coercion, sexual double standards, misogyny, sexual abuse, objectification and animalistic nihilism. Take T.I.’s lyrics:

“Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you

He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that”

All of which is toted in the guise of liberation, freedom and fun. Read the lyrics over and see if you can find it…it is a song filled with hatred against women:

“OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you

But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature

Just let me liberate you”

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Did you see any liberation on Sunday night? That looked a lot more like bondage to me…Thicke and Cyrus aren’t the only performers to feed the cycle of sexual objectification and misogyny, but they probably gave us the clearest example of why this is a battle in our culture today. What are your thoughts?

  • How do you define “Sexual Liberation”?
  • Is it complete sexual freedom?
  • What would that include?
  • Is it equality between men and women, removing shame from healthy sexual activity (another term needing definition)?
  • Is it the abolition of sexual double standards? (sexual conquest, multiple simultaneous partners, bisexuality for men v women)
  • Is it something entirely different?
  • Could “sexual freedom” for women be a ploy by men seeking to enslave them?

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We throw “Freedom” and “Liberation” around like they are interchangeable…but I don’t think they are. I also don’t think what we are seeing on MTV’s Top 40 is Sexual Liberation…and I certainly don’t think this “liberation” brings freedom to women experiencing sexual aggression, unwanted advances and violence in our culture. Until we embrace a definition of sexuality that embraces the whole person, not just their sexual organs and is centered on commitment, respect and equality our “liberation” will only bring bondage.

Jesus Culture: The Best of Consumer Culture

Siting in the Gibson Amphitheater during the last day of the Jesus Culture conference, if you have been curious (as was I) about JC hopefully this is helpful. For my missional church friends who are having a gag reflex or moving to my Facebook profile to unfriend me…please read on.

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The past few days gave me reason to reconsidered my posture towards big conference, American-Worship Leader-Idol events. It is amazing to see 5,000 people from all over LA (and the world), from all types of backgrounds, from all sorts of denominations and demographics not only gather together to worship, but to pay so to do it. Let me bonafie that statement. We live in a consumer culture (which is actually different than consumerism). It isn’t inherently bad, it is just what we do…we buy things. We have the freedom to buy what we want, eat what we want, choose certain brands. It wasn’t always like this; thousands of years ago people had one set of clothes that were all the same color; they went to the one entertainment event (if there was even ONE); they ate the same foods every day; they did not have disposable income.

 

We are all quite use to this today though…so in a place like LA where there are literally thousands of things to spend money and time on to see thousands of people show up to spend money and time on Jesus and encountering him with thousands of other people is a totally awesome thing. In a consumer culture shouldn’t it be this way? Now I’m not suggesting we play into the consumerism that is rampant in the church these days (I will give you my money <tithe> and energy<attendance, volunteerism> and you will give me spiritual goods <salvation> and services <worship experience>). However, I think there is something to be said about leading a group of teenagers to a gathering of other teens and adults and showing them that spending their capital on Jesus and community is a great thing…it is an very tangible object lesson.

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The experience was certainly replete with pet-peeves and irritants, but let me start with some wonderful takeaways from the few days I spent there with our youth group.

  • The time spent with our teenagers and youth leaders was by and far the best part of this trip…as it should be.
  • Jesus Culture Band, The Torwalts, Martin Smith…all wonderful and amazing at leading a huge room of people in times of worship through singing…the sound system at the Gibson wasn’t too bad either.
  • There is an expectancy for God to move and meet with people…to see Kingdom stuff (deliverance, healing, salvation) happen and that we all participate in that. Everyone Get’s to Play.

Some of the most wonderful, theologically accurate things preached in the past three days:

  • To bear good fruit, you need to have a good root system
  • Our success isn’t based on our merit or talent, but on abiding in Christ and putting him first
  • We aren’t called to gather at conferences, we are called to disciple nations
  • Where ever we go, we bring the Kingdom of Heaven with us by declaring that Jesus is King
  • America is more than an offering plate for Africa; God wants to save America for the sake of America
  • If we aren’t bearing fruit, all of this is meaningless
  • Jesus is the same out there (city walk) as he is in here (conference)
  • Fruit that lasts is something that takes time…live long term, not just for the moment
  • Lots of awesome practical, down to earth training on praying for people and sharing Jesus with them
  • Lots of testimony from teenagers
  • An clear passion to pastor people, without the structure (local church) to do so.

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Of course, there was quite a bit of over-realized eschatology typical of charismatic conferences.

  • Quite a few “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs
  • Lots and lots of bumper sticker theology:
  • “you gotta claim your flame”
  • “The ABC of FAITH is that as we act, God acts.”
  • “Ain’t no party, like the Holy Ghost party, cause…” you get the point
  • “I want to kick the devil before I kick the bucket”
  • “Jesus is my co-pilot” (jk that wasn’t really said…I think)
  • Ecstatic and loud speaking in tongues during worship (not JC’s fault, just a casualty of public conferences)
  • Little to no explanation of spiritual gifts from the outset, required quite a bit of debriefing for our group.
  • A lot of the messages bordered on making physical healing the highest expression of the Kingdom

IMG_1059The bathwater wasn’t remotely close to stale enough to warrant throwing the baby out with it. I particularly appreciated Banning Leibscher bringing it home on the last night. It was a clear call to dig deep into the Bible and establish a relationship with God that is built on truth. Over all, this was a great conference and a really engaging experience for our teenagers. Will most likely return again…

Like Incense Before God…

I just finished a good conversation with my wonderful friend Cody who, in response to some video collaboration, asked “why do fonts matter?”

Upon some reflection I think this might be a question on many minds (at least within Kairos) – why do the styles of letters and typography matter at all? I believe these small things add up to create the whole. It is not just the major components of theology, philosophy and praxis that create the identity of a church (or any other organization)…it is the small things…the details, minutia and nuances are critical.

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Now, I am not saying the small things are just as important…that fonts or chair layouts or lighting is just as important as an understanding of who Jesus is, or the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Of course not, but I am saying they add up to what we call a “relationship”. Let’s us the analogy of a romance (a pretty classically Biblical analogy). Of course the most important things on a wedding day are the vows being said, the commitment being made, the health and presence of the bride and groom. But to say the details are not significant, that the flowers not matching the dresses, or the Bride being well dressed and groomed or the groom being shaven and having freshly brushed teeth.

Those are some critical details…we take those for granted because they are intuitive for most of us. When it comes to matters of community and hospitality and digital media and public gatherings we may not have the same intuition or care for the same details, but God does.

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The Hebrew Scriptures are littered with nuances and details so specific and minute that we often skip over them in readings. Take the OT directions for the tabernacle or the temple? The instructions to the priests and artisans? God cares deeply over these things, not because there is a write and wrong font to use in a graphic or a correct color to employ in art, but because he wants the care and devotion that come with them. If the church is the bride of Christ, it should be one that is pure in spirit and lovely to behold. Taking care to create an atmosphere of hospitality, an environment of worship, clear and direct signage or a welcoming and intimate floor plan is tantamount to preparing the Bride for the Groom.

When we show up early for a public gathering to layout chairs or arrange signs we are swinging incense down the aisle of the temple. When we labor over a dish to bring to a Missional Community to share with friends old and new we are consecrating the Bread and Wine of the Lord’s table. When we put care and time into the color schema of a new web graphic we declare the Lord’s return. Take note of Aaron’s role in this process: “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. – Exodus 30:7-8

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It is so easy to see these things as “church chores” – mundane and unimportant, but what acts of worship they are before God. Yes, preparing the church for God must first be a matter of spirit…to come with contrite hearts in brokenness and thanksgiving…but that is not to discount the efforts of beauty and presentation that the Bride must also have. I relish the time we show up early for a worship gathering to prepare the sanctuary for a reckoning with God.

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The Treasures of My Childhood

So my brother delivered a box of goodies from my Dad’s old house that he found out in a shed. I forgot about many of these things…it was quite enjoyable going through the box…hopefully you will enjoy a few of these too. Here are some of the gems I found inside:

My student license (circa 1998)

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Some Tinytoons removable tattoos

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Movie ticket stubs from the AV Mall before it was a Cinemark – some of which included Twister, Titanic, Romeo and Juliet, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and That Thing You Do

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A box FULL of Kool-Aid points

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Some Winter 1994 Olympic Pins

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A whole bunch of awesome toys: He-Man, Mask, Thundercats, Dukes of Hazard, Micro-Machines, Ninja Turtles…sadly no Starwars…I went and found all of those about 15 years ago and sold them to buy some music gear…foolishness

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4 Rugrats watches (one of which was still working!)

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A Disneyland map from before Toontown was build

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A few Pogs

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Parents and the Generational Struggle in Film

Let me start by admitting, I do not get to go the movies often due to my work schedule and my 3 children under 5. However, the few movies I have seen over the last year have, in many instances, had a resounding theme: We Must Struggle to Understand and Often Overcome Our Parents and Parental Figures.
This theme stood out in extraordinary fashion when it rebuffed the motifs of romance in two classically “romantic” sub-genres: 007 films and Disney Princess fantasies.

Skyfall: This was excellent…possibly my favorite of any Bond film ever! One of the reasons why is the plot and the lack of trite, meaningless romance. Bond had a small fling in the first half of the film, but it was so periphial that you could completely augment it and the film would read the same. Instead it focused on an internal familial struggle between Bond, his estranged brother figure and M…who is clearly a mother figure to the orphan/hero. This was not so subtle given the line (in reference to M) “mommy has been very bad” (this film could have been titled “M is for Mother”).

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Brave: Not quite the hit Tangled was, but I still loved this movie. Completely void of a love interest or a real villain. This was the story of a daughter wrestling with herself, her family and her future.

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Arthur Christmas: Brilliant! A three way, tri-generational struggle for power, style and values. Son, Father and Grandfather sacrificially fighting for their vision of Christmas and their role as Santa – this movie spoke to me way beyond what I was expecting.

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I could go on and draw connections from other films of the past year and point out that Finding Nemo was even rereleased this year, but the three examples provide sufficient evidence.

Here is the question – are we seeing a renewed sense of generational conflict? Is the gap widening between young and old? Or is this a coincidence?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject as well as other film illustrations you are thinking of.

Intentionally Secular

(I wrote this post a week ago, but my server deleted it…rewritten)

I am a pastor at Kairos Community, a new church plant. We (like a lot of churches) play music overhead while everyone is shuffling in and gearing up for our worship gathering. While some Christian/worship music makes it’s way in there…we intentionally play a lot of “secular” music for several reasons:

1. Gotta give Young Life credit for this – churchy people like church music, nobody else does. Playing familiar music makes people feel welcomed, relaxed and normal.

2. I don’t listen to an overwhelming amount of Christian music…our playlists reflect that. This simply reinforces the transparency and authenticity we try to cultivate

3. We are trying to be more collaborative and participatory in our worship gatherings and music selection. There are all kinds of awesome ways to do this – we use Spotifyhere is a link to our playlist (other options include Grovershark, Turntable.fm)

4. Perhaps most importantly, it can be a powerful way to prepare hearts for worship.

Think about the lyrics to the following Ellie Goulding song

“Only You”

Only you can be the aching in my heart
My enemy, the only animal I couldn’t fight
You hold me in the dark when storms arrive
Only you
Only you can see the emptiness I feel
When you’re with me
When everything you say I’m on my knees
Baby I’m on my knees
(with amazing repetition in true Brit pop fashion)

(This is a truncated version)

The desperation and creativity in that music will soak the church while they mingle, reconnect with each other, find a seat and get a donut…while it is not conventional, shouldn’t we be intentional with our choices?

I would love to hear what secular songs you hear the stirrings of worship in…comment by clicking the header or add them to our playlist.

Entertainment Worship and Famine

Do our forms of worship reproduce in us what we are worship or how we are worship? Are we becoming more like Jesus as we worship or more like a fan at a concert?

Imagine my surprise as I am reading through an issue Critical Half: Annual Journal of Women for Women International dated back to 2003 in McDonald’s in preparation for a lecture in my “Women in US History Class” and I come a cross an article on Entertainment value in Church organization. When the whole article wasn’t centered on this, but a portion of Panacea or Painkiller? The Impact of Pentecostal Christianity on Women in Africa by Charlotte Spinks was. In it she discusses the pluses and minuses of Pentecostal Christianity for African Women.

The article is generally very  positive towards Pentecostal Christianity in Africa…but some of the things the author sees a s “positive” are rather scary. One of the benefits listed is the arena of “worship as entertainment.” Below is an excerpt:

The Pentecostal style of worship is exuberant, with an emphasis on singing, dancing, and the use of popular music. This participatory and exhilarating style of worship provides an alternative not only to the staid and traditional hymns of mainline Churches, but also a free version of nightclubs, where young women can interact without restraint. Some Ghanaian Churches even run their own music-label, and Zambian inter-Church conferences are easily mistaken for rock-music festivals.

Given the “dearth of other entertainment…the element of show time increases in importance.” Instead of spending scarce money on nightclubs, teenage women can dance, vent their frustration, and meet young men at Church.

It strikes me quite sad that the Entertainment value of worship can be seen as a positive in a land ravished with waste, despair, famine, rape, aids, genocide. What should be most alarming to my N. American/Western friends is that modern Pentecostalism is an invention and export of American culture. Is this new consumer spirituality of the American Church that has been shipped throughout the world a new “White Man’s Burden?

If you have a regular place to worship…question the entertainment value of your “worship” encounter. Does this produce the kind of life of the God you are worshiping? Or is it instilling and replicating a consumer spirituality? Though we may not suffer much from famine and disease, it is hard to argue that we are a spiritual and cultural wasteland – where things like community and originality are quickly thrown under the bus for a bigger slice of the proverbial pie. I’m not knocking Hillsong or Jesus Culture or anything else…just asking the questions

Do our spiritual lives and communities reflect the desire for encountering the living God or to consume something that will make us feel “fulfilled”?