Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture

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9780743297707: Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture
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Presents the author's exploration of the intersection of popular culture and Christianity, discussing Christian bookstores, theme parks, publishers, superheroes, pop music, rock festivals, comedians, and professional wrestling.

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About the Author:

Daniel Radosh is a writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and a freelance journalist who has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times, Playboy, Esquire, and GQ. In the early 1990s, Radosh was a staff writer and editor at Spy magazine. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

In the beginning

An airfield in rural Kansas, September 2005. The last echo of guitar feedback pulsed through the afternoon air as tattooed roadies carried equipment off the stage and the mosh pit untangled. A lanky teenager made his way out of the crowd and ran to where his friends were waiting on the periphery, sweat smearing his thick black eyeliner. "Awesome performance." He grinned broadly. "They prayed like three times in a twenty-minute set."

I glanced around. If anyone else thought this was a strange criterion on which to evaluate a rock concert, they didn't show it. Not for the first time, I wondered what I was doing here, at a Christian music festival where the merch tables sold "Got Jesus?" T-shirts and Bibles that looked like beach novels. Dustin, the sixteen-year-old prayer fan, continued his rapid-fire appraisal of the hard-rock band Disciple. A black-clad girl named Amanda gazed at him admiringly, and I began to suspect that her T-shirt -- "I'm a sucker for guys in eyeliner" -- was not chosen by accident. Amanda's friend Alexis smiled mischievously at her. Alexis is my sister-in-law. These were her friends. This was her world. Teenage hormones, rock 'n' roll...and Jesus Christ? It occurred to me that I had never before been in a situation where everything felt simultaneously so familiar and so disorienting.

I had met Alexis only two days before. She's the much younger daughter of my wife's formerly estranged father and his second ex-wife. So it's not exactly a close relationship. The first time I saw her she was wearing a form-fitting black trench coat, studded knee-high boots, and a shoulderless red shirt, for a look you might call neogoth meets Harajuku girl. She was as chic as any sixteen-year-old should be, and I wasn't sure why this surprised me more -- because she lives in Wichita or because she is an evangelical Christian. I'm a liberal New York Jew in my mid-thirties, but we hit it off well enough, and I thought it might be fun to tag along for the trip to SHOUTfest in Neodesha, a hundred miles east.

Picking up my ticket at the gate, I looked over the dozen bands who would be performing on two stages. Jump5, ZOEgirl, Skillet, Disciple. I didn't recognize a single name. I wasn't expecting to, but it was still an unusual experience. I'm fairly pop-culture savvy. I download the latest singles from iTunes, my Netflix queue has five hundred movies in it, and I can name all seven Harry Potter books, all six James Bonds, and both of Britney Spears's husbands (at press time). And now I was getting a taste of a teeming subculture that was almost completely off my radar. Sure, I knew Christian rock existed -- was Stryper still around? -- and the words Left Behind had a familiar ring, but I'd never really given this universe much thought.

And it is an entire universe -- vast, complex, and with strange rules all its own, like a mirror universe from a science fiction tale, where everything is the same on the surface, only Spock has a beard and worships Jesus. As we made our way into the field, a volunteer handed me a yellow sticker that read "The Logan Show."

"Who's Logan?" I asked.

"Omigosh, he's the host. He's so funny! He's like the Christian Jon Stewart."

This is a book about popular culture. It's about entertainment, leisure, and shopping. It's also about politics and the culture war that engulfs America. And it's a little bit -- but not as much as you might think -- about religion. True, it is by definition impossible to draw a distinction between evangelical faith and the consumer lifestyle of evangelicals, but I drew one anyway. From the beginning of my research, I made a decision not to set foot in a church, mega or otherwise, unless it was to attend an event that any neutral observer would describe as performance rather than worship (even if the people hosting it might beg to differ). While you'll hear a fair amount about Christian faith and Christian values, both with and without scare quotes, this book is not primarily intended to be a critique of either.

By the end of SHOUTfest, I had a few reasons for wanting to write about Christian pop culture. First, I thought it would be amusing. Even people in this subculture will admit that it can sometimes seem pretty ridiculous. A few songs from the white rapper KJ-52 -- the Christian Eminem -- persuaded me of that. But I also thought it might be important. The modern world takes popular culture seriously, after all. Pretty much anyone would agree that you can't truly understand America without knowing who Elvis Presley, Stephen King, and Oprah Winfrey are. Depending on your definition, between 44 and 126 million Americans are evangelical Christians. Christian popular culture is a $7 billion industry, and it is increasingly crossing over to the mainstream. Wal-Mart now carries some 1,200 religious book titles and 550 inspirational albums, which regularly crack the mainstream bestseller lists and pop charts. Yet for everything I'd read and heard about the rise of the evangelical movement over the past two decades, I knew next to nothing about how this movement might be shaped by, or reflected in, its pop culture.

SHOUTfest gave me a small sense of this dynamic at work: The emotional manipulation of the lead singer for Seventh Day Slumber, who wrung tears from the audience by urging them to publicly confess their suicidal impulses before inviting them to come forward and accept Christ; the hipped-up doublespeak of sixteen-year-old punk princess Krystal Meyers, whose hit song "Anticonformity" promotes obeying God as a form of rebellion; the ominous militarism of T-shirts declaring "Soldier of Christ" and "God of Elijah, send your fire"; the unabashed earnestness of Logan, the supposed Christian Jon Stewart, whose patter turned out to be along the lines of "How 'bout Jump5! But more than that, how 'bout God for that sunset!"

Alexis and her trend-conscious clique were something of an anomaly at SHOUTfest. Most of the people wore baggy jeans or cargo shorts with camo baseball caps. They had bad haircuts and extra pounds. "Other Christians think we're freaks because we wear black." Amanda laughed mirthlessly. "We've been called Satanists." The irony is that for these kids, their alternative trappings are symbolic of a deeper embrace of faith, not a rejection of it. They are theologically, politically, and socially conservative evangelicals. And, to a remarkable extent, this worldview comes wrapped up in pop-culture ribbons. Amanda's favorite teen magazine is not CosmoGIRL but Brio, published by the far right Focus on the Family. Alexis was reading an inspirational book called Sister Freaks, about female martyrs. And Dustin -- don't even get him started.

"So, I'm curious," I got him started. "Why is how many times a band prays what makes a good set?"

"Because it's becoming more and more rare. A lot of so-called Christian bands are really what I call crossover bands. They write these songs where they replace Jesus with You, so you can't tell if they're singing about God or a girlfriend. They can tell Christian fans, 'Yeah, we're still believers,' but nobody else knows. I don't want to judge, but I think a lot of bands try to hide it. They don't deny their Christianity, but they don't talk about it at their shows. They claim their music should be the message, and think the music speaks for itself, but even their lyrics have very little spiritual meaning if any. And if they do, it's very, very vague and could easily be confused with other intonations."

"Um, okay, but Christians don't just have to sing about God, right?"

Dustin looked at me like I had two heads.

"I mean, I haven't heard any love songs all day. Christians fall in love, right?"

"Love songs are all a bunch of clichés," he said. "How many times can you sing 'My girlfriend left me, she broke my heart, so now I'm going to chop her up and bury her in the basement'?"

I guess some people have had enough of silly love songs. I thought about a Seventh Day Slumber song I'd heard earlier in the day. The chorus went, "I believe in Jesus / He rescued me." It sounded to me like, well, a cliché. Not to mention a little simplistic. Even if you believed the message, what could this formulation of it have to do with the messy real world? Dustin was clearly a bright guy, so I asked if lyrics like this didn't insult his intelligence. "The music I listen to thrives on ambiguity and irony," I explained. "What makes it rewarding is that you have to figure out for yourself what the singer is saying, or if he even means what he says."

"If they're really a Christian band, and they're trying to win people over to Christ, there's no blurry lines," said Dustin. "The truth is bold. I don't think people who hear a song should have to do something to find out what it means." He gave the matter one last thought. "Irony in Christian music would not be good."

"Why not?"

"The Bible says, 'Do not cause anyone to stumble.' If someone interprets a song wrongly, the band is held accountable for that."

In so many ways, Dustin reminded me of friends I had in high school and college. He was a rock snob, only instead of scorning a song for being too melodic, he kept tabs on the number of times it mentioned Jesus. As for his convictions about the music he loved -- his ingrained belief that doubt was something to be banished rather than wrestled with, and that any questions must be swiftly followed by pat answers -- was I wrong to see in them a path to creationism and abstinence education? Much has been written about these and other political and social movements, but what if we can only really grasp their meaning by listening to teenagers talk about hard-core rock?

Not long after I returned from Kansas I happened to exchange e-mails with a stranger -- a reader of my blog -- who told me that she had grown up in a strict Christian family. I mentioned my SHOUTfest observations, and she understood my bafflement. "Most people don't understand that this parallel world exists," she wrote. "I think they have the idea of fundamentalists as sort o...

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Book Description Scribner Book Company, United States, 2008. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. What does it mean when a band is judged by how hard they pray rather than how hard they rock? Would Jesus buy Jesus junk or wear witness wear ? What do Christian skate parks, raves, and romance novels say about evangelicalism -- and America? Daniel Radosh went searching for the answers and reached some surprising conclusions. Written with the perfect blend of amusement and respect, Rapture Ready! is an insightful, entertaining, and deeply weird journey through the often hidden world of Christian pop culture. This vast and influential subculture -- a $7 billion industry and growing -- can no longer be ignored by those who want to understand the social, spiritual, and political aspirations of evangelical Christians. In eighteen cities and towns throughout thirteen states -- from the Bible Belt to the outskirts of Hollywood -- Radosh encounters a fascinating cast of characters, including Bibleman, the Caped Christian; Rob Adonis, the founder and star of Ultimate Christian Wrestling; Ken Ham, the nation s leading prophet of creationism; and Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and pastor of his own liberal, punk rock church. From Christian music festivals and theme parks to Passion plays and comedy nights, Radosh combines gonzo reporting with a keen eye for detail and just the right touch of wit. Rapture Ready! is a revealing survey of a parallel universe and a unique perspective on one of America s most important social movements. Seller Inventory # NLF9780743297707

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