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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Some "Ha Ha Ha" to lighten things up.

After all this serious stuff, NPH thinks you need a laugh.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:47 PM | link | 5 comments |

Chris Erdman on The GA

Chris Erdman has a really good post about the Presbyterian situation over at his blog, Odyssey. Here's a money quote:

    "We have a case of people seeing what they want to see and impugning
    intent without really listening. People are looking for a Trojan Horse
and     in doing so have created one of their own making. We are in the midst of a new “fog of war” and when such a fog comes very few can see
clearly. In fact, we start seeing ghosts and monsters and hear
frightful sounds that tell us more about ourselves than what’s really
going on on the ground."

NPH spent an hour after worship yesterday dispelling the fog for members startled by shouts of "monster!" and "ghost!"



posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:10 PM | link | 1 comments |

An Illustration

The ad in Saturday's Kansas City Star in opposition to the actions of the PC (USA)'s General Assembly decision to maintain ordination standards and reaffirm the responsibility of local bodies to ordain their own has one decisevely telling element: a quotation of Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did was was right in their own eyes."

Renewal groups within the denomination have produced this illustration as a kind of talking point for conservatives. NPH thinks it points up precisely the difference between the victimized alarmist conservatives and the rest of the church. The reference is of course to a collection of individuals in pre-regal Israel all doing their own thing. The implication is that the PC (USA) is now akin to a mere collection of individuals who have sanction to do what is right in their own eyes.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the GA's actions further bound members of the PC (USA) to one another and to a set of standards for ordination. More loosely, the assembly's actions asserted the binding character of the "essentials" of Reformed faith and polity upon those who would be ordained as officers.

Opponents of this action have a deeply flawed view of the situation and their role in it. They claim the objective, morally privileged, position of Biblical adherents relentlessly set upon by a relatavistic mass of faithless liberals out to assert their political agenda. It's a view of matters that makes the facts almost impossible to discern.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:03 PM | link | 0 comments |

Yeah, Well, We'll Just Go Buy An Ad Then

Saturday, June 24, 2006

NPH knows that only some of our readers are affiliated with a church community, and even fewer of them are a part of the Presbyterian church community in the U.S.A. (and even fewer of them are in Kansas City). NPH is not a blog about the church.

However, NPH is a blog the convergence of faith and media, and the questions that arise as a result. So when we discovered today that colleagues in the Heartland Presbytery, the regional body to which NPH's church belongs, had purchased a 3/4 page ad in the Kansas City Star, we we bristled.

The ad is a self-enclosed box with a body of text in front of the PC (USA) insignia, and is headed with the words, "Local Presbyterians Oppose Weakening of Ordination Standards." The ad then lays out a version of what happened at the PC (USA)'s General Assembly last week that is, if not inaccurate at points, then incompletely presented. The effect of it is to say the denomination is in schism, that it has departed from Biblical standards and from traditional Christianity, and that it will be abandoned by the church worldwide.

Any NPH reader who has taken in our comment on the GA's actions will recognize the fault of such statements. But be that as it may, the real problem NPH has is that tomorrow, while our church is trying to celebrate our church's ministry with children through our VBS, we will be dogged by panic-stricken congregants who demand to know why our denomination has renounced God, the Bible, and the Church.

We can't help but feel hard put to by our colleagues, if not a little betrayed. They claim to affirm wholeheartedly the anti-division sentiment so strongly conveyed at the General Assemby, and yet they can hardly wait to do something that can only perpetuate division.

And let's not overlook the key aspect of this situation: that the church in America, far from being the marginilized community of witness found in the New Testament, has the cultural and material resources to use the media industry for airing inter-ecclesial disputes. What, after all, did these evangelism-minded churches and pastors think outsiders would think, reading this ad? Do they expect this "valiant" statement (they really used that word) would make people want to run to their churches?

NPH is flummoxed.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:19 AM | link | 1 comments |

Reviewing the Headlines

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Google News search uncovers these leads to stories discussing the PC (USA) decision to maintain ordination standards and emphasize the primary role of churches and presbyteries in applying those standards:

Associated Press: "A Presbyterian Church (USA) national assembly voted yesterday to let local bodies that wish to have homosexuals serve as clergy and loy officers do so, despite a denominational ban on homosexual ministers."

The LA Times: "The nation's largest Presbyterian group, meeting in Birmingham, Ala.,
approved the new policy that enables local and regional church bodies
to approve the ordination of gays and lesbians on a case-by-case basis."

UPI: "The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA approved a
resolution Tuesday that would allow regional bodies to ordain
homosexuals as ministers."

Reuters: "The largest U.S. Presbyterian Church body approved a measure on Tuesday
that would open the way for the ordination of gays and lesbians under
certain circumstances."

Cox News Service: "A divided General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Tuesday adopted a provision that allows congregations and local presbyteries to ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians."

Here's the thing. The words "gays," "lesbians," and "homosexuals" appear nowhere in the recommendations that the GA adopted. Admittedly, everybody in the church knows that when you talk about ordination standards, that's what you're talking about. But NPH wants to emphasize that the standard that was affirmed, the standard that local ordaining bodies will have to wrestle with on a case-by-case basis, is about "fidelity" and "chastity."
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:15 PM | link | 0 comments |

Media Carta

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

NPH has always been challenged by Adbusters. It's a foundation-supported publication that asks the difficult questions about our mass media system that mainstream media outlets can't ask: who controls what gets on the air? What rights to citizens have in relation to broadcast media? What effect is our mass media environment having on our ability to think rationally and live responsibly? The Media Foundation, which publishes Adbusters, describes itself like this:

"We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters,
students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new
social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple
existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will
live in the 21st century."

While NPH has always admired the publication and what it aims to do, we've also been a tad put off at times by the extremism of the thing. Of course, the foundation's aim is extreme--toppling existing power structures isn't a middle way, last time we checked.

Here's the next big thing from the Media Foundation: The Mental Environment Movement. The centerpiece of M.E. is the Media Carta, a treatise on media ownership, use, and governance that is straightforward and demanding. Also employed by M.E. is a series of television spots, all of which were rejected by the networks to which they were submitted (you can hear the rejections on the site).

Here is an example of somebody trying to do something with media advertising that media advertising simply can't do. All of the rejections say, in effect, "We can't run ads that tell people not to buy things and to turn off their televisions. We can't offend our sponsors." What Adbusters wants to do with these ads (raise public awareness and challenge corporate culture) is impossible in the present media environment. The internet will allow the ads to be seen by a different kind of audience, but only the kind of audience that already agrees, the kind of audience who goes looking for it.

These spots make no effort to disguise the fact that their values are at odds with the values of the larger culture, and that's precisely why they'll never see the broadcast light of day. But NPH respects what they're doing, moreso than we respect attempts to cozy up to the larger culture so as to whisper in its ear. That may "raise interest," but it lacks integrity.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:22 AM | link | 0 comments |

Ooh, Let's Stay Together

NPH's Mother Kirk is going to be in the media for the next couple of days, and not for its ads. At its General Assembly yesterday, the church acted to adopt the recommendations of a task force to keep an ordination standard pertaining to sexuality in the church constitution, while allowing local ordaining bodies to apply that standard in individual cases. The story you may read will say that the church has "opened the way for the ordination of gays and lesbians under certain circumstances." The story you should read will explain the bedrock Presbyterian principle that, "Ordaining and installing bodies, acting as corporate expressions of
the church, have the responsibility to determine their membership by
applying these standards to those elected to office" (Adopting Act, 1729).

NPH is pleased. He read the task force's recommendations (which were published nine months ago) as was convinced by their authors that this is a faithful and courageous direction to go. Opponents of the recommendations contend that maintaining a church-wide standard while allowing local bodies to apply those standards will create a "balkanized" church, not a nationally unified one. Many people who rose to speak against the recommendations appealed to clarity and clearly-defined boundaries as reasons to keep the application of ordination standards out of the hands of ordaining bodies, which strikes us as shortsighted. NPH thinks of Jesus' debate with the real religious folk in the temple, the one where they questioned him on all the controversial matters of the day (divorce, the emperor tax). Jesus' answers were hardly the boundary-defining, clearly-demarcated principles that are so desirous among many in today's church; they were ambiguous (Give to Caesar what is Caesar's . . .), and they placed the larger burden of interpretation and application on the hearer. Jesus declined to issue a dictum and said, in essence, "You figure it out."

NPH thinks that the Presbyterian Church is taking a step towards more faithfully figuring it out.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:18 AM | link | 0 comments |

Merchants of Cool Pulled From Classroom

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Douglas Rushkoff's exceptional documentary, The Merchants of Cool, was pulled out of a Dallas classroom after a parent complained. NPH is in a tizzy.

Merchants was the piece that first interested NPH in Douglas Rushkoff. It's a harsh critique of mass media corporations and their exploitation of teenagers for profit. MTV especially takes a beating. Rushkoff's insight in particularly valuable, because he points up the use of sexuality and insecurity by these corporations as a way to expose advertising blind spots and manipulate them for gain. It's very good commentary.

And, as any good commentary will, it makes use of the materials which it criticizes. So the MTV clip of Brittany Spears ripping her shirt off, the segments of films that feature nudity (while blurred out) are dropped into the documentary. They have to be; they are precisely the point.

So when a parent complains about the nature of the content and the piece gets pulled, who benefits? Do teenagers benefit because a censored and criticized version of what they're watching every day is no longer in their classroom? Or do the MTV's and other advertisers benefit because a critic with some teeth has been sidelined?

NPH is going with the latter.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:20 AM | link | 3 comments |

Here and Now--Presbyterian ads

NPH has listened to the radio spots, read the print ads, and watched the television clips that make up the PC (USA)'s "Here and Now" media campaign. The purpose of the ads is to raise the profile of Presbyterian churches in communities throughout the country; congregations and presbyteries can order the ads to run in their local media market. They can insert their own church information on the ads to direct people to their congregation. Having said that, it's unlikely that the profile of the church will be raised in the same way from Baltimore to Sacramento. That is, the contexts of local churches are so unique and so diverse that one wonders which context is being targeted by a nationally produced ad?

A couple of things may be ventured about the target: (1) it's largely white. All of the television spots feature white subjects, as does one of the three print ads. As for the radio ads, one of them features a voice that is meant so sound African-American. So, out of nine ads, three employ non-white subjects.

(2) the target is middle class. The most explicit illustration of this is the television ad titled "You Believe," which gives a litany of things that you, a strapping white guy doing roof work, believe in: hard work, integrity, and so on and so on, until the viewer begins to think she's watching a spot for a Republican congressional candidate. One of the print ads features an Afrian-American woman seated in her car in what is obviously business dress, looking stressed and frazzled, as middle-class white-collar people must. "Who's taking care of you?" the ad asks. Oprah couldn't have said it better herself.

The tagline of the tv spots is, "When you're ready, there's a church for you." NPH thinks this is a bit deceptive. The radio spots are all acceptance-driven, poking fun at popular conceptions of church that revolve around guilt and judgment ("we won't judge you," the ads seem to promise). And so the "When you're ready" refrain conveys the same idea. This church, it seems, is about you--what you want, what you need, and when you feel you need and want it.

That's the kind of message an advertisemnt has to give. But it's deceptive. Because sooner or later the relationship between the advertisee and the advertiser (that is, the church), will have to change if it is to be of any substance. A what-you-want-when-you-want-it relationship can be had in a lot of places in a market-oriented culture: bars, grocery stores, even politics. But that's not the kind of relationship the church holds forth. The church models a relationship that turns a market-orientation (and most other cultural orientations) on its head. For this relationship makes a claim on your life (your time, your loyalty), and shows "when you're ready" to be the wrong standard. After all, the earliest church advertising said simply, "Follow me." Not "when you're ready," but now. Because, yes, Here and Now, things are happening that change everything.

A final note: NPH doesn't seek to simply lampoon these ads as a cynic or naysayer. NPH wishes the church to be more critical in its appropriation of media technologies. NPH wishes the church would ask the deeper questions about the biases and agendas of television advertising, questioning whether or not that medium can rightly hold the message of the gospel. NPH obviously has his doubts.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:21 AM | link | 0 comments |

Church Advertising

Monday, June 19, 2006

NPH spends a good deal of time writing about media matters and a great deal of time writing about church matters; he gets absolutely delirious when the two intersect.

The church in which NPH is an ordained minister, the PC (USA) is set to unveil a coordinated media campaign  consisting of print ads, radio spots and television ads. NPH has some thoughts:

First, apart from any of the advertising content, a question must be raised about the medium of media advertising and its suitability for Christian proclamation. If Marshall McLuhan is right (and NPH thinks he is) in saying that the medium is the message, then what does it say about the good news of the gospel that the church proclaims  if it can fit into a 30 second TV spot or a half-page newspaper ad?

The PC (USA) seems to be following the lead of the UCC, which created a lot of attention last year with its national tv ad campaign, which played directly on issues of homosexuality and racism.

As to the ads themselves, NPH has only seen one of them (a tv one), and he is unimpressed. Using standard advertising techniques of the day, the spot has as its subject not some product (say, the church) but the viewer himself. Its "you believe . . ." refrain makes that clear. The message says, in essense, "You're a good person. When you feel like it, you can to a Presbyterian church, because we're good people too."

Now, that's not a bad message. But it's not evangelism either. It will be  a big mistake for churches to depend on nationally distributed advertising to do their work of sharing the good news for them.

NPH will look at the other ads later.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:38 AM | link | 11 comments |

U.S. vs Italy

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Americans' next match is on Saturday, 2:30 eastern, against Italy. NPH will be quite eastern at 2:30 eastern on Saturday, attending the wedding of Nick Strasser, the pride of Ft. Hood Texas and The Hot Corner fantasy baseball league, not to mention the man who introduced NPH to scrapple and his wife to the mojito.

It will be NPH's first foray into the Princeton University Chapel since his graduation from seminary in 2004. Hopefully I won't be induced, by a flashback, into walking down the center aisle to receive a diploma during the vows.

Here's the real concern with this wedding: it's at 12:00 noon, which is a crisp two-and-a-half hours before the USA/Italy match. The reception is to follow immediately at a nearby hotel. Is it going to be bad form when I make repeated trips to the lobby to check the score?

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:59 PM | link | 2 comments |

Soccer Blog

NPH has blogged before about Franklin Foer's fun little book, How Soccer Explains the World (I've even blogged about how I've blogged about the book). Now Foer, the editor of The New Republic, and a number of his colleagues have set up a World Cup Blog.

It's awesome.

The writers of Goal Post know soccer (which is more than can be said for the ESPN commentators assigned to the matches). But they know culture, politics, and lots of other stuff useful mostly at cocktail parties and magazines. Really, it's great reading. Here's just an excerpt, from Aleksandar Hemon:

"I suppose that one of the favorite pastimes of mindless American patriots is flinging
insults at soccer. But the target is not the liberal or the Democrat--it is the immigrant,
or the impure American--the un-American, in short. And then liberals or Democrats
also happen to be un-American. What is interesting is that in the minds of those
people, baseball or some other "American" sport and soccer are mutualy exclusive. You
have to choose--your own, or foreigners. Somehow hating soccer--and foreigners--is
often a staple of American patriotism. And that has as much to do with soccer as such
as it does with the latte--if it wasn't soccer, it would be something else."

NPH will be checking in throughout the tournment.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:44 PM | link | 0 comments |

Now This Is Vacation

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

NPH is enjoying a long-awaited week of vacation. Day one of the vacation was spent at the World Cup watch party out at Arrowhead (watching the U.S. get smacked by the Czech Republic 3-0) before it was capped off by an NPH-prepared dinner and a walk around the Plaza, concluding with a margarita and cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. With friends.

Today, however, will be hard to beat. For today NPH took in lunch with a buddy at Oklahoma Joe's, a KC spot patronized far too infrequently. Not only is it a great bbq joint, but it's a great bbq joint inside a gas station. That sells frisbee golf equipment. We ate good chow and watched the end of the France vs. Switzerland match (a disappointing 0-0 draw).

Then, to work off the lunch, NPH and said buddy played 18 holes of frisbee golf. NPH sucks at frisbee golf, but it's good exercise and a delightful excuse to hang out with Alan Wang.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:22 PM | link | 0 comments |

It's Still A Major League City

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Kansas City Royals are on their way to setting a major league record for most losses in a season. They are staunchly marching toward their third 100-loss season in four years. Kansas City hasn't seen postseason baseball for 20 years.

But that didn't stop 28,000 people from coming out to the 'K' on Friday night to watch the Royals begin a three-game set against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It's still got to be one of the best sporting experiences you can have in this country: a warm summer evening at a beautiful open-air baseball park watching big leaguers. What better excuse do you need to hang out with good friends for a few hours?

The promotional $1 hot dogs, sodas, and peanuts don't hurt either. Neither did the dancing mascots or the spectacular fireworks. Neither did the fact that the boys in blue pulled out a win, a late-inning come from behind win. NPH screamed like a 10-year-old.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:13 AM | link | 3 comments |

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Monkey Chow Diaries

NPH is bemused by the Monkey Chow Diaries. Here's a guy who has committed to eat nothing but the food that zoos feed to monkeys for seven days. The stuff claims to be a "complete diet for all primates, including the larger apes."

The experiment can be seen as a juvenile stunt, the kind of thing that the internet now allows to be seen by millions. By NPH thinks it's more than that. Here's someone very publicly asking questions about how we North Americans relate to food. How much money do we spend on food? What function does food play in our lives? To the people who live on the continent that consumes the vast majority of the world's food resources, these are pressing questions, and the Monkey Chow Diaries is asking them, at considerable discomfort to the interlocutor.

NPH suggest that the experiment is a kind of postmodern fast, a science and publicity propelled meditation on the most powerful of human appetites.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:02 AM | link | 0 comments |

A New Look

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Look! It's NPH's first template change ever. We, the editors, decided it was time to make a move in the direction of lucidity; they grey of the NPH readers have come to know and love was bringing us down, to be frank. And the links were hard to see. We all agree that this is simpler, bigger, and clearer.

Now if NPH move in a similar direction with the content we'll all be better off.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:21 PM | link | 1 comments |

NPH Goes All On The Media

On The Media has become easily my favorite podcast. It's become a bit of a tradition for me to download the week's show on Sunday morning and listen to the first half of it on my way to church.

This week OTM had a piece about Youtube, the online video site that shot to the top 10 on the most viewed websites list. Youtube is changing the way we view media, putting old television content and all sorts of amateur-produced content online for worldwide viewership. Somewhat of a community forms around certain videos, like happened with SNL's "Lazy Sunday" short, which spawned countless replications by nameless hacks with camcorders.

But it's not all fun. Traditional media distributors, like major television networks, are ill at east with Youtube's ability to facilitate a viral spreading of media content. Especially their content. So NBC's lawyers smacked down Youtube for it's distribution of Lazy Sunday and made them remove it from their site.

Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine said on OTM that American media companies are doing everything in their power to hold on to their grip on media content distribution, while European network execs are taking more of a "the-old-world-is-gone" stance and looking for ways to capitalize on the internet's media distribution capabilities. But however our traditional media distributors react to things like Youtube, it can hardly be argued that it's the best example of how the internet is changing how people relate to media. I mean, before Youtube, could millions of watch what was originally a street performance for a handful of passers-by?

This skeleton dances like Jeff Bryan.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:39 PM | link | 0 comments |

Wine and Work for The Weekend

Saturday, June 03, 2006

NPH can't sleep for anxiety over tonight's wedding and tomorrow's Pentecost worship. So NPH has gleefully trotted over to Panera at 6:00 am on a Saturday to hammer out a wedding message and Pentecost sermon.

Last night NPH and the wife took part in a novel idea: a wine-tasting party. About 20 people gathered at the home of a colleague, each bringing a bottle of wine. Upon paying $5 at the door, party-goer's wines were wrapped in a paper bag, numbered, and placed on the table. Then, over the next 2 and 1/2 hours, everyone sampled all the wines, giving each one a score from one to 10. Reds and whites were scored separately, and, at the end of the night, the bringer of the best white and the best red split the door money. The worst white and red each got their $5 back.

We were pretty confident with the Riesling that we picked up at Berbiglia on our way; it was, after all, on a special tasting display by the front door. But we did not win (we didn't finish last either). The winner of the white category was a brand simply called "House Wine," while the red that won was a Folie a Deux winery production called Menage Trois.

Not to be confused for actual wine experts, our party scored this red gem higher than any other, even higher than another bottle of the exact same wine of the exact same year.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:12 AM | link | 2 comments |