"Because if this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition…and then admit that we just don’t want to do it."

- Stephen Colbert, from this clip. (via natedern)

This whole segment is fantastic. Watch this segment.

(via anthonyking)

 The Mountain Goats - Hebrews 11:40 (download) (BONUS: This Mountain Goats song is even more Jesus-y— maybe too Jesus-y— and also relevant.)

Yesterday was Yom Kippur. We atoned and fasted and prayed and beat our breasts and blew our shofars and stood up— my God, the standing up— and the gates of heaven were open and then the gates of heaven got closed and the book of year was sealed and put on a shelf somewhere and now everything’s okay again. Everything’s a clean slate because of what we did yesterday— we said we were sorry and we said we would change, so now we can go back to living our lives so that we can make the same promises next year.

It did occur to me briefly last night during the break fast, while I was stuffing my face with carbs, What if this year, we all just decided to be good for a year and then next year came and we had nothing to atone for? What if we knew that in actuality the gates of heaven close at the end of every day? Every hour? If every terse goodbye, every ripped up napkin was a reminder that it’s almost too late, that you’d better apologize now or forever hold your peace?

What if we did all the things we said we were going to do and changed in all the ways we promised ourselves and Yom Kippur was canceled? People showing up at the synagogue; oh, you didn’t hear? There’s a new system now— every day is Yom Kippur. There’s a big book in heaven, but it isn’t written by God, it’s written by you, every second of your life. So go home, have a big meal, tell someone you love them. Your prayers are useless here.

Wouldn’t that be something?

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Darren Day - Beautiful City (Godspell - 1993 Studio Recording) (download)

This is a song from the musical Godspell, a musical all about Jesus wearing rainbow suspenders and hanging out with a bunch of hippies (For those not in the know, that is not a joke, that is actually what Godspell is about). I have a LOT to say about Godspell, but it will have to wait for another time, because there are more pressing matters to discuss. One, today is my birthday. Two, OH MY GOD, MUSLIMS WANT TO BUILD A MOSQUE ON TOP OF GROUND ZERO AND THE MOSQUE WILL ALSO BE A TERRORIST TRAINING CENTER AND THE BUILDING WILL BE IN THE SHAPE OF A GIANT MUSLIM GIVING THE FINGER TO THE STATUE OF LIBERTY, HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, oh good Lord do I envy you. Salon has a coherent rundown of where all this craziness came from. Mayor Bloomberg’s speech on the subject was pretty spot-on and I urge you to read it while listening to the above song to get a nice cry-y feeling.

However, I have one problem with this speech and it’s a problem I also have with a lot of the liberals who comment on this issue, including Obama. It’s the stirring invocation of the first amendment. Am I wrong or is that kind of a red herring? Most of the conservatives I’ve heard argue about this (not all, but most) haven’t been arguing that the Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to build their cultural center; they’re arguing that they shouldn’t.

There’s a big difference between “should” and “should be allowed to.” For example, if Fred Phelps wanted to open a church of hate in Laramie across the street from where Matthew Shepard was killed, I would have a real problem with that, but not with his constitutional right to do so. Still, I would do everything I could to pressure everyone at every phase of development not to let the church be built.

I think most people who oppose Park51 would argue that this is an analogous situation, and that’s all well and good except it’s NOT analogous and the real conversation that needs to take place is explaining why not. Making this an argument about separation of church and state pushes back that real conversation, but eventually the conversation needs to be had, and the conversation is this:




Muslim does not mean terrorist. They are not the same word. I have a thesaurus; I can settle this right now.

We were not attacked by regular Muslims, the kind who want to build a community center in Manhattan; we were attacked by insane zealots who also happened to be Muslim. This is the truth, and if you didn’t know that, I just told you and now you have no excuse for not knowing that.

9/11 is the product of Islam only in the same way the Son Of Sam killings were a product of dogs. If you oppose Park51, then you should also oppose Jodie Foster movies opening near the Ronald Reagan library, because that is a ridiculous thing to think and you are a ridiculous individual.

Building a Muslim community center near Ground Zero is kind of like building a Burger King near a Foot Locker. They’re two things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and if you think it’s offensive then I think you’re offensive. And I don’t mean that in an “I know you are but what am I?” sort of way, I mean it in a “What you’re saying is racist and hurtful and your grandchildren will be ashamed of you” sort of way.

This is not an issue of sensitivity. Saying Muslims should be sensitive to the victims of 9/11 is like saying Jews should be sensitive about the killing of Jesus Christ. It’s reductive, it’s ugly, it’s stupid, and, Anti-Defamation League, you of all leagues should know better. The fact that you’ve landed on the wrong side of this debate is, pardon my Yiddish, fucking revolting.

There is no room for logical discussion here. There are no two sides of this issue. You are wrong. It may not be your fault— you might have been misinformed (in fact you were probably misinformed)— but there is nothing I am more sure of at this moment than the fact that you are wrong.

THAT is the real conversation, but people don’t want to have this conversation because to have it is to accuse an overwhelming majority of Americans (Seventy percent currently oppose the Park51 plans. Yes, seven zero.) of being bat-ass nutty.

People are talking about the first amendment because the alternative is admitting that so many people are either misinformed or purposefully misinforming, woefully ignorant or offensively cynical. The heartbreaking truth is that for many people there is no difference between Muslim and terrorist and instead of correcting this misunderstanding, people with power and influence are exploiting it.

If Muslims make you nervous, that’s not your fault, but you need to realize that’s not the Muslims’ fault either; it’s the fire of your own prejudice stoked by politicians who want you to be scared— and THAT is what is really scary. You know when FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself? Well, he wasn’t just saying that.

My two cents? Let the Muslims do whatever they want as close as they want to Ground Zero; it’s the politicians that should stay away.

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Dan Bern - Jerusalem (download)

I went to the Holy Land. It was mostly hummus.

In Israel, instead of saying, “What do you do?” people ask, “What are you doing?” It’s a quirk of translation I found remarkably disconcerting. Standard smalltalk suddenly transformed into an existential cross-examination— I would pause, mouth full of pita, and think, my God, what am I doing?

When I was in high school we used to play an improv game called What Are You Doing? The basic idea was that you mime an action, then someone says, “What are you doing?” and you have to answer with anything other than what you’re actually doing. It’s a pretty stupid game.

Sometimes I feel like I live my life like a giant What Are You Doing game. I act in a play, I write a short story, I teach for a little bit, I decide it’s time to get serious about my playwrighting, I make some stupid web videos. It’s a good way to lower people’s expectations, to only half commit: “Oh, you didn’t like my acting? Well, that’s okay, because I’m not really an actor, I’m a writer. Oh, you think my writing’s bad? What do you expect? I’m just a comedian.” If you’re constantly moonlighting you never have to really be good at anything.

There’s something Sisyphean about it, the constant second guessing; you roll the rock up the hill and you knock it back down again. But say what you will about Sisyphus; the man knew how to keep himself busy.

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Jesus, etc. [Wilco cover] - Norah Jones (download)

It’s been a big week for Jesus. First he died, and then he came back to life, and then he painted some eggs, and then his good friend the Pope was accused of turning a blind eye towards child-molesting priests. Not necessarily in that order.

For those who haven’t been following, a quick recap: you know how priests are getting busted for touching kids like all the time, always? Well now there’s a paper trail going all the way up to the current Pope, indicating that he himself (when he was archbishop of Munich) allowed pedophile priests to keep priesting, and keep pedophiling. Hello? Infallible much?

On Friday, a spokesman for the Vatican compared the fierceness of criticism the church has received— you know, the criticism for condoning through inaction the molestation and/or rape thousands of children — he compared enduring that criticism to the suffering endured by Jews during the Holocaust, because ha ha, April Fool’s, Jews!

Granted, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa didn’t exactly mention the Holocaust by name, but that damn Jew-coddling media had no trouble connecting the dots;. What he actually said, according to the New York Times [and helpfully annotated by me] was this:

They [THE JEWS] know from experience [THE HOLOCAUST] what it means to be victims of collective violence [HOLOCAUST] and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms [MEDIA SCRUTINY OVER SUPPOSED ABUSES OF POWER].

He then read a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend— that’s right, he can say these things, because HE HAS A JEWISH FRIEND:

I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole world… The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.

Let’s zoom in and enhance this statement:

the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt

I have a little trouble with this phrase. Clearly in the case of the Catholic Church, “the personal responsibility” referenced is that of the individual priests and church officials who did terrible terrible things to children, and the wrongfully projected “collective guilt” is the wildly inappropriate assumption that those priests’ direct superiors should have done something, anything, besides putting their fingers in their ears and saying “La la la la, I can’t hear you! The real problem here is the pill!” MAKES SENSE SO FAR.

And in the case of the Jews, the “collective guilt” is antisemitism as a whole, but what is the “personal responsibility” part of the equation in this case? What is the thing that one Jew did that people hate all Jews for? This can’t be a reference to the Judas’s betrayal, can it?

Is this “anonymous Jew” implying that the Pope is responsible for allowing a pedophile priest to return to ministry only in the same way that all Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus?

Um, because that’s kind of antisemitic.


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The Hold Steady - Citrus (download)

Saturday night, we went to see a high school production of the Laramie Project, directed by my friend Allison, performed by my former students. The Westboro Baptist Church threatened to protest the show, “God Hates Fags” signs and all, so a counter-protest was planned. Over 200 people showed up (in addition to the 200 there to see the show) with rainbow costumes and banners and signs that said things like “God Hates Hate” and “I bet Hell is Fabulous” and “Harvey Milk — See The Movie!” and “God Loves the Peanutty Taste of Jif!” (Fighting nonsense with nonsense?)

In the end, the WBC never showed up, and the counter-protest turned into a full-on lovefest. “This is the best day of my life,” Allison said. “I’ve cried and laughed and gotten goosebumps. It’s amazing.”

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Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Born Secular (download)

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins

For the record, I am not trying to convert anyone here. I am not a Jew for Jesus. I’m not really a Jew for anything, but I guess if forced to choose I would be a Jew for Everybody Chilling the Fuck Out.

There was a kid who used to call me a Jew for Jesus in high school, because he thought it was funny. The joke, for those who don’t get it, is that I was Jewish, and a Jew for Jesus was a thing that he had heard of. It was therefore real real funny to call me Jew for Jesus, in-spite-of-slash-because-of the fact that it so clearly annoyed me. When he ran for our school’s sports commissioner (No, I don’t know what sports commissioner is either), I voted for the other guy, and after the other guy won, I overhead him complaining to his friends, “Why would anyone vote for that guy? He’s going to be a terrible sports commissioner!” I turned around and said, “I voted for that guy, because you call me Jew for Jesus,” and I took great pleasure in watching his face drop as he thought about all the people he had alienated over the years. It was the kind of moment you see in movies that never ever happens in real life. It was a small victory, and one that to this day fills me with pride. Jesus would have wanted me to turn the other cheek, so clearly, I am not a Jew for Jesus.

My personal take on the guy? I do believe Jesus was a man that lived, but I don’t believe he died so that we could feel okay about giving retarded people the death penalty. But that doesn’t mean he/He/It can’t inspire in others something beautiful and rapturous. I’m pretty sure about ninety percent of all great music is about Jesus, heroin, or love-sick teenagers (or a combination of all three, as a song I’ll be posting here soon is; THAT’S CALLED A TEASER).

I don’t think that a lack of belief should be a roadblock towards appreciating a good yarn. (Especially, when that yarn is wrapped around two sticks and called a God’s Eye, thank you very much City of Palo Alto Day Camp— CHURCH AND STATE.) For example, I also don’t believe Moses talked to a burning bush, but I’m still going home next week to take part in the Passover Seder and sing ridiculous songs like “Hunka Hunka Burning Bush” (not a real song) and “Pharaoh, Pharaoh,” sung to the tune of “Louie, Louie” (yes a real song).

It would be interesting to go around the seder table and ask, “Okay, seriously, how many of us believe all this actually happened?” At my family’s table, I’d guess most people would respond in the negative. (Of course I could be wrong. I’m notoriously bad about assuming everybody agrees with me. For example, I would not guess that 50 percent of the country thinks it should be illegal for women to keep their madden names. Also, there are people out there who prefer Billy Madison to Happy Gilmore, has the whole world gone crazy?) So why do we still do all this? All this nonsense with the shank bone and the matza (I refuse to spell it “matzoh” because that’s not how it’s pronounced; “matz-oh!” what is that?) and the four cups of wine? (Okay, I understand the part about the wine.) As the wicked child might ask, If you don’t really believe that God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, what does all this mean to you?

I think most people (again, what do I know?) practice religion in quotation marks— the ritual itself becomes more important than whatever the ritual nominally represents. No, we don’t think Moses did this, or Jesus said that, or Buddha or Mohammad or Krishna or Zeus did the thing with the other thing to the guy with the head, but we do think— we KNOW— that this is what our parents did, and our grandparents, and there’s something deeply comforting in that. This is what people like us are doing right now, all over the world. There’s a string that runs through us and connects us forwards and backwards, to the ghettos of Warsaw, the waters of Babylon, to ourselves as a child, on the floor of the living room, our mother in the kitchen, our father setting the table, and the house filling slowly with the smell of hard-boiled eggs.

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Page France - Jesus (download)

Page France

A while ago, my friend Dave, of I love rap fame, challenged his friends to start their own “I love [music]” blogs, and pretty much everyone I know rose to the challenge, first Asif with I love chipmusic, then Ben’s I love girl music, and Adam’s I love country. Yes, you read that right; I know three people.

These are all great great blogs, and people (read: a person) have been asking when I (Raphael) am going to start my own. I’ve been hesitant to throw my hat into the ring because I already feel bad about not updating my regular blog and I’ve started enough projects to know that I gradually lose interest in everything, always. (I used to have a friend who worked for Attorney General of New York Andrew Cuomo and got an email alert every time the man was mentioned online somewhere. I dedicated a blog to him and his press releases to see how long it would take for my friend to find it. I wrote three entries before I got bored.)

I also don’t know if I love any genre of music deeply enough to merit a blog dedicated to that kind of music. I’m more of a shallow love kind of guy: splash around in the tide pools a little, but get out before you have to make any sort of real commitment like meeting her kid or asking her to break up with her boyfriend, and also I think that metaphor kind of got away from me a little bit.

So, instead of picking a wide-reaching genre for me to lose interest in, I decided I would start a blog about a comically specific kind of music with a limited number of examples, so people wouldn’t be too despondent when I give up on it, gradually and then suddenly, as I almost certainly will.

My first idea was “I love Paul Simon’s 1986 greatest hits album Negotiations and Love Songs,” but I could only come up with so many ways to praise “Train in the Distance." ("Don’t you get it? This song is about life, man!”) Then I thought about writing an entry for every song on the mixtape I made for myself in ninth grade and recently rediscovered in my parents’ garage, but I don’t think the world needs to be reminded of “Are You Jimmy Ray?

It’s a difficult question, “What do you love?” and “Can you please explain why you love it?” A few years ago, I got really excited by this video I found of Perry Como and Julie Andrews on Sesame Street, and I emailed it to all my friends (yes, all three of them). It was a ten minute clip of them singing a medley of songs featuring the word “song” in them, anchored by the Sesame Street standard “Sing a Song.” The part I really loved happens at about nine minutes in. Como and Andrews are standing next to each other, and Como says, “Sing!” Andrew sings a line of “La la la,” and just when he’s finished, Como shouts, “Again!” Andrews sings the line again with a mock serious expression and Como throws his head back, chuckling. It’s such a charming and genuine interaction— two pros improvising in the moment. But of course it’s been planned and rehearsed— the repetition is built into the score. I loved how easy they made it seem— the rehearsed spontaneity. I really thought there was something beautiful there.

Perry Como And Julie Andrews On Sesame Street
Uploaded by strawberrycurrant.

But, for all the people I shared the video with, I’m not sure I ever really could explain what was so great about it; even now I’m struggling to describe how much it moved me. I have this wackjob theory that the things that are most important aren’t shared; they are important only to us.

The way your mother rolls her eyes at you, your sudden decision to stop drinking, the immediate unexplainable sadness you felt when you saw an old open shirt draped over the back of a chair. You can write it all down, you can post it on the internet, you can breathlessly explain it all over a date with a girl you’ll never see again (ice skating, drinks, and a promise that you’ll call her), but the truth is no one can ever really understand the tangle of experiences and passions that make you who you are. It’s the poetry you write on dollar bills that you’re not sure anyone will read, a pebble you keep in your pocket that you play with when you’re anxious, hard as liquor, smooth as soap.

Even the secret kiss stolen backstage on opening night of your middle school’s The Music Man. Peeking through the curtains, Harold Hill whispered to you, the mayor’s wife, “My dad is here.” And then he said, “I’m not nervous; are you?” And before you could answer, he kissed you quickly and softly on the mouth— he kissed you so gently, as if you were a paper lantern, as if you were a sculpture of sand that would fall apart on his face. And afterwards he looked at you, and then he whispered, “Oh.” Even that shared experience— its true significance anyway, what it really means— that belongs to you alone.

But that isn’t true about religion, and that to me is its most seductive aspect. When you believe in Jesus, when you really believe in capital-H Him Jesus, as opposed to boring old lowercase-h some dude, you belong to something greater. Who hasn’t longed for the sense of community that actually believing in something brings? It’s like in the old days, how you could watch a TV show and be fairly certain that half the country was watching the same thing at the exact same time, before cable and VCRs and the internet ruined everything by giving people options.

So I am fascinated and moved by songs about Jesus, even though I myself am a semi-to-non-observant Jew who considers most atheists annoyingly religious. This blog is a place for me to go off about religion and music, my experiences with both, and where those roads intersect. Most entries won’t be nearly this long, but every entry will feature a song about Jesus (or tangentially related to Jesus). I will probably repost everything I write here in my boring old regular blog, so if you already follow that, you never need to visit this website again. On the other hand, if you just want to read about Jesus music, and don’t care about the rest of me, you can stop following my other blog and just plant yourself here.

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