Scary Christians at Halloween

A lot of Christians don’t want to celebrate Halloween with all it’s evil spookery and instead choose to celebrate “Fall Festivals” and “Jesus Ween” events in an attempt to sanctify the day and make it holy. There’s nothing wrong with that I guess but let me throw in some thoughts.

Halloween was first known as Reformation Day. This is the date that Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg back in 1517. The word Halloween (“All Hallows Eve”) doesn’t show up until 1556, 40 years later. It is a scary day, not because of ghosts and goblins, but because it’s the sight of one of the biggest church splits in all history and we have still never recovered from it.

Maybe it had to happen but the division the reformation has caused between Catholic and Protestant Christians is nothing short of tragic. Now here’s something real to be afraid of on Halloween: Division in the body of Christ. It’s an evil thing and it is never given to us by God. Division in the church is a gift given to us by the Father of lies.

I don’t want to debate if Christians should celebrate Halloween, I’d rather focus on something real. Many powerful people (not all) in the Catholic church had become corrupt and because of their refusal to repent of their sinful ways caused a terrible division in the church.

Now, I don’t think ill toward Catholics. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Many Protestants have racked up more than their share of sins and have caused more divisions than I care to think about. Let’s not point fingers “out there” because we have plenty to point at in ourselves. We believers may need to look closer to home to see the real evil that exists around us is not Ghosts,and Goblins. True wickedness is to know what God has called us to but then to ignore it.

If you want to fear something on Halloween, fear God. Fear Him in the Biblical sense, which is to be in awe, filled reverence of Him. To fear God is to obey Him and to mend bridges wherever we possibly can with the healing power of Christ.

I’m not scared of Ghosts and Goblins, that’s all fiction. The real evil is in the church, in believers who say they love God but do all they can to fight the things that would further His will. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says: “for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Real evil looks lovely according to the Bible.

What should we really fear this Halloween? Matthew 10:28 has an answer for us: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Happy Halloween.

Rick Lee James News October 2011

Happy Monday,

Making music has been keeping me pretty busy lately but I wanted to take a moment to update you on some exciting things.

The Rick Lee James and Friends 2011 Pickin’ Party

Friday November 18th

6:30-9:30

$10.00 per person

Concert to Benefit World Vision Child Sponsorship.

This year’s Pickin’ Party is just around the corner now and this year I am pleased to add to the artist roster “Kids Helping Kids” as well as “Daniel Dye and the Miller Road Band“. We are all looking forward to a great evening of music and celebrating the God who inspires all creativity. Our goal is to get as many World Vision child sponsorships as we can while playing great music in the historic Clifton Opera House in Clifton Ohio. Make sure to RSVP for the event as seating is limited.

Rick Lee James LIVE on 100.7 WEEC

Thursday October 27th

3:00PM Eastern Time

This Thursday, October 27th, I will be LIVE on WEEC sharing music telling you more about this Year’s Pickin’ Party as well as other RLJ happenings. If you don’t live in Ohio you can stream the show online at 3:00pm Eastern Time on 100.7FM WEEC.

Six Degrees of Kelly Clarkson

I’m very excited to tell you that Michael Logen, a friend who joined us at last Year’s Pickin’ Party, wrote a song that is on Kelly Clarkson’s new album Stronger which released today. The song “Breaking Your Own Heart” was written by Michael and Jennifer Hanson. We are all very excited for Michael and I encourage you to download the song today. It’s worth way more than the .99 cents it costs to buy it.

Free Rick Lee James Mobile App

Don’t miss out on the free Rick Lee James mobile app, available through reverbnation.com.

I want to thank you all for your love and support on this amazing life of making music for God. You truly bless me. Drop me a line and let me know how you are. Also, I’d love your suggestions for songs you would like to hear at this year’s pickin’ party.

Blessings,
Rick Lee James

Busy, busy, busy

Tomorrow begins 3 days of worship leading, speaking, concerting, teaching, and listening in Bryan Ohio. Monday I will be finishing a song in the studio with Ted Rastatter just in time for Christmas. I’ll be playing on a nationally broadcasted radio show next Thursday and will be a featured artist at the Un Mundo Birthday Bash concert next Friday. Busy but good days ahead. I love the Lord.

Prayer For Church Musicians and Artists

My Pastor, Keith Sarver, is a man of prayer. If there is one theme that he has had in the 8 years I have known him it is prayer, getting alone with God. Nearly every Sunday in church he teaches us to pray by leading us together in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciple’s. We often call it the Lord’s prayer but it more accurately could be called the disciples prayer because it is a prayer that they are to pray to their Lord.

So why would Jesus teach us a prayer? Isn’t prayer supposed to be conversation? Do true conversations happen from a script? I want to say that the answer is no, but the more I think about it, maybe we do learn conversations by a script.

Think back to when you were a baby or at least think of babies you know. If left to themselves I wonder if babies would ever learn how to grow up and have conversations. They talk but not in a way that most of us will understand. “Goo goo ga ga blab glur gloop pffffffttt.” Parents begin working with their children, living the script before them, teaching them how to communicate. They go over words again and again teaching them to sound out them out. They read books again and again and again until somewhere along the way, words start forming and actual conversations, little by little, begin.

I think this is why Jesus teaches us words to pray. It’s how to start the conversation. It would do any people well to find a prayer book and to begin memorizing and reciting prayers that someone else wiser than them wrote to God. Prayer books like the book of Common prayer literally teach us things worth praying for and conversations worth having with our God. I know this is a short blog today but I just want to close it with one of the prayers I am learning to pray as a musicians from the book of common prayer. I learned it years ago, forgot about it, and am low learning to pray it again. I want this prayer to be written on my heart that God would help me to be faithful in all my musical and artistic endeavors. Let us pray.

17. For Church Musicians and Artists (Book of Common Prayer)
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in
heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through
art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on
earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty,
and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for
evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How Mediocre Thou Art?

Recently a movie called Courageous was released in select movie theaters across the country. I haven’t seen this movie but really enjoyed other films that the producers have made including “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.” As a believer I found these movies inspirational and they even made me very emotional. They are certainly better than the low-quality, low-budget Christian films I grew up seeing in church.

I applaud the efforts of believers to make not just films, but good films. I think quality is very important especially in the jaded culture that we live in. I play music that is definitely written from a Christian worldview and I do my very best to make it good quality even on a limited budget. I realize it’s not accessible or appealing to everyone. As much as I would like to write the music the whole world sing, I just can’t get away from my calling to write about the love of my life, God.

But, I don’t think that’s an excuse to just write every Christian cliché that comes to mind. I try to write lyrics that will make people, especially church people, struggle with their belief system. I took quite a bit of flack for these lyrics: “And Jesus wasn’t joking with Love Your Enemies, but usually we treat them like a really bad disease. It rots us to the core and it takes our Faith away when Instead of God we love the U.S.A.”

Obviously I wrote those lyrics to be provocative and make believers think about what God they really serve.
Many people love their country and also love God but true believer’s know God doesn’t favor one nation over another. Every life is precious to God from unborn Americans to murderous Al-Qaeda terrorists. To love the U. S. A. to the detriment of another nation is to not love God, and if we choose to love our country more than Christ then we do commit idolatry. All this is to say that I have no problem with Christians making art for other Christians. But should Christians only make art for other Christians?.

As I said before, I haven’t seen courageous yet, but some movie reviewers got me thinking about some things. All of these quotes were taken from various national reviews posted on RottenTomatoes.com:

“While the filmmaking is fairly competent, Courageous is overall worthless to anybody who doesn’t subscribe to its dogmatic agenda.”

“Courageous literally preaches to the converted, delivering ham-fisted messages of responsibility to the most receptive audience possible.”

“The many topics raised – gangs, drugs, immigration, absentee parents, poverty – are examined with didacticism and platitudes instead of by mining their inherent complexities.”

I don’t know if these reviews are fair, but they do bring up my main complaints with most “Christian”art. We don’t allow ourselves to be accessible to anyone who doesn’t already believe the way we do. We literally preach to the converted. We talk about sins and social problems without examining their roots and complexities.

Why is it that we allow Hollywood Movies, and secular writers to do the work of the church for us, and then we cast judgment on them for confronting us with the very things we should be bringing to them? The truth isn’t always sterile and lovely. Prophets in scripture were highly offensive and were never met with popularity by the religious establishment. Why does it seem like the real prophetic words addressing our culture are not words from the pulpit but words from the cinema?

A couple of years ago I sat in a movie theater watching Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece “Gran Torino” and I couldn’t stop crying as the credits rolled. All I could think of was John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. After everyone else left the cinema I found myself in a prayerful state asking God to forgive me for any racist stereotypes I may have in my heart and for not looking deeper into people’s needs, choosing only to see their faults. I saw Jesus in the outstretch arms of Clint Eastwood’s racist, profanity spewing character Walt Kowalsky. The film has many deep levels and shows us that the wages of sin is death and that violence always leads to more violence. Ultimately I saw the movie as a profound love story about a man who was clearly in the wrong about many things in life, but he becomes transformed by agape love into a selfless symbol of the cross of Christ. Some believer’s would never see this movie because of the language, and I can’t fault them for it, but I’m also not sure the movie could have been as effective without it in showing who Walt is and the world he lives in. it’s not a Christian movie but Christian spirituality and imagery is interwoven from beginning to end.

Many secular filmmakers seem to be doing our job for us in the parable department. Here’s a list of secular films with Christian messages compiled by Thom Parham at CERC.org. It’s not exhaustive and ends around 2004 but they are all critically acclaimed movies.
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Tender Mercies (1983)
Places in the Heart (1984)
Hoosiers (1986)
The Mission (1986)
Grand Canyon (1992)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Dead Man Walking (1996)
The Apostle (1998)
The Prince of Egypt (1998)
The Iron Giant (1999)
Magnolia (2000)
Signs (2002)
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie (2002)
About Schmidt (2002)
Changing Lanes (2002)
In America (2002)
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Now here’s a list of the films made by Christians, and most are quite unwatchable. (Most but not all).
Gospa (1995)
Entertaining Angels (1996)
The Omega Code (1999)
The Joyriders (1999)
Left Behind.. The Movie (2000)
Carman: The Champion (2001)
Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001)
Mercy Streets (2001)
To End All Wars (2001)
Hometown Legend (2002)
Joshua (2002)
Left Behind II:’ Tribulation Force (2002)
Luther (2003)
Finding Home (2003)
Therese (2004)
Parham asks a great question, “If Christians want to make successful films that incorporate their worldview, why not learn from those who are already doing it — non-Christians.”

Frank Capra, a Christian director of movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life”, was hugely successful in marketing his movies to mainstream audiences. He did a wonderful job of portraying themes of the gospel without turning his movies into a Billy Graham crusade where everyone has to say the sinner’s prayer before leaving. Art is intended to be parabolic, not blatant and Hollywood film directors understand that. A lot of Christian artists don’t seem to get that.

Aren’t the very best paintings the pieces that make you stop and consider what you are looking at? The really good ones have you grappling with meaning. They don’t leave you when you walk away from them. It’s the difference between art by Thomas Kinkade and art by Banksy. KinKade’s work is beautiful but doesn’t change your thinking. Banksy, on the other hand, grabs you by the conscience and makes you re-think your life choices. Both are art, but only one really does art’s job of inspiring an individual to think differently. One shocks while the other soothes. One impresses while the other implores. One makes you feel fuzzy and one alienates. (I mean no disrespect to Thomas Kinkade, who has more talent in his pinky that I will ever have).

All this is to say, I want to see great films, great music, and great art being made by Christians. I even want to see it made for Christians. But, I also long to see brave, true, reality based art made by Christians that can stand up to the test of time and rival it’s secular counterparts with creativity rather than preachyness. Christians serve an amazing creator and should be the most creative people on the planet.
My songs aren’t where I want them to be so I’m certainly not casting stones. I just think we could all do better. Can Christians make good art and be glorifying to God without saying Jesus name in every lyric? Let me introduce you to some people who do just that.

My friend Michael Logen is such a great singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter. I’m envious of his ability. I have always known him to be a person of great faith and a generous spirit. If you spend 5 minutes with Mike you will find he reminds you so much of Jesus you would swear he was related. Mike makes great, great music. It’s deep, beautiful, heartbreaking, and joyful. People who record his music are not people like Bill Gaither and Chris Tomlin. His music gets recorded by the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Matt Kearney and has found its way into many of the TV shows you and I watch. I think God loves his music and I know that such creativity would not exist without God supplying it to Mike.

Eric Vinson is one of the godliest and humblest people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. His heart for serving God puts me to shame. He is another songwriter that amazes me. He writes rich, beautiful harmonies and smart lyrics that really take you to another place. He also has written music you may have heard on TV has shared the stage with some of the top talents in Nashville. I wish I was more like him. His music isn’t preachy but man it’s filled with God stuff.

These are guys who get it. They make good art because God gives them a big world to write about. They see the beauty of God in a sleepless night and a Ferris Wheel. I want to be more like that. I want to make good art that glorifies God yet also engages the culture. I have a long way to go but like the verse below says:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. — Phillipians 3: 12

Let’s keep pressing on Christians. Let’s not just make Christian art, let’s be Christians who make great art.

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