Friday, October 29, 2004

Smitty Keeps on Rockin' in the Free World

In case anyone cared, Michael W. Smith just released his first studio album in a number of years. His middle-aged fan base is eating it up. I'm tired of soccer moms telling me how many sleepless nights they've had anticipating this new artistic milestone. Just buy the album and keep your Smitty fantasies to yourself.

In their description of the album, Family Christian Bookstore says Smith, "...stands as a pillar in the Christian community and beyond." And beyond? Since when does anyone else care who the hell Michael W. Smith is? Most Christians under the age of 30 don't even care who he is.

My disgust for Michael W. Smith stems from two things: 1)his horrendous song "Cross of Gold" (audio sample is at the bottom of the page) and 2) the cover of his 1984 album Michael W. Smith 2. Although "Go West Young Man" still kicks ass in a kitschy nostalgic sort of way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Jesus Is In Our Meatloaf

If I ever write a book about the Christian subculture, I’m going to call it Jesus Is In Our Meatloaf, a line I stole from my wife.

Here’s a little background:

My friend, Jim, recently broke his arm. It was a very bad break requiring surgery to fix. (Just an aside: If there are any attractive, single women in the Twin Cities area who would like to help care for Jim, let me know. Please include a picture with your resume.)

Anyway, in an effort to help out, everyone at church decided to take him food, offer to do household chores, etc. I took Jim some soup the day after his surgery. Here I was, good little Christian boy [stop laughing] taking my ailing friend some soup. When I arrived at his apartment, I was greeted by the presence of some of his non-Christian coworkers. (I should note that I do not in fact know the religious feelings of these people. They could very well be very devout Christians. I’m just assuming their lack of Christianity to make a point.)

I was joking with my wife, Nikki, that there is a tendency to want to “out love” non-Christians in situations like that. We want to prove that Christians are better at “helping a brother out” than our well intentioned “rivals.”

At that point, my wife chimed in, [add sarcasm] “Yeah, Jesus is in our meatloaf.”

God, I love that woman.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Jay Jay the Jet Plane & Looking For Mars Hill

I never thought Jay Jay the Jet Plane could provide the foundation for an in-depth discussion on the nature of Christian retail. Boy was I wrong. My coworker, “Don” (not his real name) and I were labeling new Jay Jay videos to put out for sale.

Out of nowhere, Don remarks, “I don’t think a Christian bookstore should be selling Jay Jay the Jet Plane videos. I’ve watched parts of them, and they’re not overtly Christian. They’re probably very moral in what they teach, but I just don’t think it’s right for a Christian bookstore to sell items that are not overtly Christian.”

I should note I am opposed to Jay Jay for purely stylistic reasons. I hate children’s videos that showcase machinery with human faces. It’s just not right. It begs the question, “Why does Jay Jay, a plane, have a big smiley face like a person?” I have come to one of two possible conclusions. 1) He is some weird, demonic plane-human hybrid or 2) Somebody had a bad acid trip and decided to make a kid’s video out of it. Either way I don’t like it.

But I digress.

Don raises an interesting point. His complaint is based on a particular assumption about the nature of Christian retail. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but it did lead to a great dialogue about the question, “What should a Christian bookstore look like.”

I know some people feel Christian bookstores are a waste of space and should be burned to the ground as some sort of physical act of worship. Others believe it is the only place for certain artists, writers and musicians to exist without either “selling out to the world” or being ignored by nonreligious venues. You could also define a third group that may not question the idea of Christian bookstores, but they would question the practical application of that idea.

Depending on a number of factors including how much coffee I’ve had, how many evil customers have entered the store or how many pieces of “art” I’ve sold, I could fit into any one of these categories. After talking to Don, I wonder if I have too easily written off Christian bookstores? Let’s be honest, I have an entire blog devoted to mocking the very thing that helps pay my rent. That’s not a very grateful thing to do. Maybe there is something there.

I tend to believe that Christian bookstores provide a place for Christians to hide from the real world. We have created this infrastructure of marginally well-produced literature, music, film and “art” that seems to sustain us. We have no need to engage with the greater culture, unless we’re picketing to stop gay marriage or to let teenage girls seeking abortions know they’re going to burn in hell with Hitler, Osama and Clinton.

I wonder if I dismissed the idea of Christian bookstores because the vast majority of them are exactly what I described: a safe haven for Christians who forget the parts of the Bible that call us to be active participants in the world around us. Maybe there is hope for a Christian bookstore that seeks to be countercultural instead of anti-culture?

We should seek to engage culture instead of running from it. Carry books that have Christian themes but are not overtly Christian (or are too well written to be described as “Christian fiction.”) Have film discussion nights about films like Magnolia or Big Fish. Have art shows featuring local artists with no religious agenda but exist merely to showcase good local art and to build relationships. Carry music by bands who are Christ-haunted (a phrase I stole from Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine). Have debates about Christian responses to social injustice in the area. The list could go on.

Maybe the Christian bookstore I envision looks more like the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill instead of Bob Jones University. I’m just throwing things out there. I’m not even sure how to bring about such a store. Some would argue that it sounds like your average independent bookstore that is quickly being driven to extinction. Maybe it is. All I know is that as I spent a long October day putting price stickers on Jay Jay the Jet Plane and the Jump 5 Christmas album, I had to ask myself, “Why are we doing this? Why is this the path we have chosen?”

Friday, October 8, 2004

Christmas Spirit

Best line of the day: my manager looked at our "Wall of Christmas Cheer" and said, "It looks like Santa puked."

It does indeed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Away In A Manger

We currently have a few hundreds varieties of nativity sets for sale, each of which is displayed in as obnoxious a way as possible. I tried switching the babies from the African American set and the Norwegian/Aryan race set. I thought the imagery of Joseph, deprived of sex, looking at the Black son born to his painfully white wife would be funny. Granted, it would be a bit sacrilegious, but it would be funny. Somebody switched them back.

But I digress.

With so many displays, where is one to put the price tags so as not to detract from the kitsch value of 150 nativity sets crammed together? I was informed that we always put the price tag on the bottom of Baby Jesus. Anyone else find that a bit ironic, seeing as how we are making a ton of money off the poor kid's birthday?

Friday, October 1, 2004

Tis The Season

It's October, and in the retail industry that means Christmas. My store is no exception. We have been buried in an avalanche of Christmas merchandise. The vast majority of this stuff is poor at best. I'm telling you, the sweatshops just don't have the quality control they used to.

In honor of the season, I will be regularly detailing various Christmas items we sell. Or, as I like to call it -- what my friends can expect in their stockings.

Today's bundle of Christmas joy is the "Christmas Fiber Optic Wand." This handheld device is dark blue with white snowmen and snowflakes. Amidst this winter wonderland is the phrase "Jesus Loves You Snow Much." There are a bunch of fiber optics coming out the end that display pretty colors. I guess they're popular at Christian raves where people are "rollin' on Jesus."