Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ask a Muslim!

Image from the Houston Chronicle
I like having "a guy." You know-- friends and acquaintances I call up when I need a special job done. I've "got a guy" (or gal) for when I need to translate something into Spanish, get a free meal, jump my car, figure what's wrong with my computer or get into the bar when I've forgotten my ID.
Yeah, I like having people.

On my "I've got a guy" wishlist is a guy who can answer my dumb questions about religious tenets without making fun of me for those four years I spent studying in the Religious Studies department at CU. Luckily, for questions about the world's second-largest religion, I can call 1-877-WHY-ISLAM.

With lots of post-9-11 misinformation still connecting Muslims with terrorism, Ask A Muslim seems like a pretty simple way to clear up basic questions about mosques and Mohammad and tackle larger issues such as what the Koran says about jihad.

According to a recent Houston Chronicle article, the call center fields 1,000 queries a month. You can also go online to, where people can e-mail questions, get in on discussion forums, get free copies of the Quran or find a nearby mosque.
“The idea was to help answer the questions that people have about Islam,” Islamic Circle of North America board member Hanif Harris was quoted in the article. “This way, they’ll get the answers directly from Muslims.”

ICNA says the Web site and hotline are meant is to spread information to non-Muslims and promote multi-faith dialogue without converting anyone, but not everyone is happy with the idea. On just the Houston Chronicle's Web site alone were plenty of idiotic tirades about how the tuuurrrrists are just trying to indoctrinate innocent callers with their violent ways and "take over our country."
Gee, guess I'll have to call the number and ask a Muslim if that's true!
So much for interfaith dialogue.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Silly, snarky church signs

Thanks to Seth for alerting me to this fun blog Crummy Church Signs, where I can indulge in some laughable church signs across the country!

Church signs are such a haiku-like phenomenon. With little space to spare and the occasional shortage of necessary letters (3’s instead of E’s, upside-down W’s standing in for M’s), saintly messages are transformed into an awkward art that’s really just a by-product of enforced brevity.

As a kid, the church where my brother’s Boy Scout troop met usually had some great messages on their signs, like “God has a job for you—inquire within.”
What I love about the signs (other than the cutesy sayings) is the way they reflect the community and culture around them. A sign will reference technology (“Need to reboot? Remember, God saves!”) consumerism (“Walmart isn’t the only savings place”) or flash-in-the-pan slang (“Jesus is the rizzle for the sizzle.”) The perfect formula for a hilarious church sign? A combination of vaguely threatening language coupled with awkwardly misspelled words: "God hates whoremongers."

When driving my brother to Boy Scouts, I never paid much attention to the cheesy words that greeted me as I pulled into the parking lot where his friends fiddled with their pocket knives and played football before meetings. Now, I can’t help wanting to start my own collection of double-entendre-laden, snarky and silly phrases that are designed to reach out to people in a contemporary way. If only the sermons were so consistently witty…

If you're a church sign lover like me, you can also get your fix with coffee table books chock-full of church sign photos such as Donald Seitz’s “The Great American Book of Church Signs” or Steve Paulson’s “Church Signs Across America.” Buy local—ask your neighborhood bookstore for details!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Diner-lovers, drunk Pentecostals and one big plastic Jesus

Now that the holidays are over and I’m just about out of energy to party, I’m making a list of movies to watch as I snuggle on my new couch and listen to the annoying Chinook winds blow outside my window. There’s a few embarrassing favorites (Pretty in Pink, more Pretty in Pink) but also a long list of documentaries and dramas I can’t wait to get my cold little hands on.

One gorgeous documentary I can’t stop talking about is Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, an absorbing road trip film that follows alt-country singer Jim White through the American South. White drives through small towns, bayous and forests with a life-sized plastic Jesus in his trunk. He ruminates about what it means to live in an environment where the ideas of eternal damnation and faith are constant companions-- and constant inspiration for writers and musicians. Along the way, he meets drunk Pentecostals, enthusiastic preachers, diner-loving locals and at a handful of folks who claim their brother’s cousin’s best friend was dragged into hell.

Interviews with locals and scattered shots of church scenes offer context for the film, but what cast a spell on me was the built-in soundtrack sung on the edge of lakes, in the middle of roads and in the back of greasy spoon diners. I’m a blossoming alt-country fan, so it was an awesome treat to see performances by the Handsome Family, banjo player Lee Sexton and guitarist Johnny Dowd. These musicians show up at the corners of the story and slowly turn the lonely landscape into organic concert halls for their impromptu performances. In my favorite scene, David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower sits alone in the forest, singing the haunting traditional hymn “Wayfaring Stranger” on his banjo. As he sings, a kid pushes his bike toward him, stops to listen for a minute, then pushes his bike away.

The simplicity of each shot and the unhurried, thoughtful tone of Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus convinced me that there is creative and spiritual inspiration at every turn--even when inspiration comes from dirty truck stop bathrooms and cramped, hot barber shops. White’s view of the South may be crusty, imperfect and full of contradiction, but that’s what he loves so much about it. His outlook reminds me that the crusty, imperfect corners of my own landscape are just as valuable and just as packed with inspiration.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Modern breakups + ancient Indian epics = awesome-looking

I’m marking my calendar for two screenings of “Sita Sings the Blues,” a color-saturated, gorgeously animated film by Nina Paley.
U.S.- born Paley melds the storyline of the Indian epic Ramayana with her own autobiographical account of getting dumped by her husband via e-mail after he moves to India for work. It’s set to the music of 1920’s jazz artist Annette Hanshaw, adding an even more contemporary touch.
I don’t know much else about the film yet, but I do know the Ramayana packs in some serious action, adventure and soap-opera style betrayal, loss and greed. (I’ve only read parts of it because it’s made up of seven books—anyone know of an abridged version I can get my hands on?)

“Sita Sings the Blues” has gotten international accolades from film competitions in Holland, Melbourne, Taipei and Warsaw. Check out the trailer and official Web site here, then catch the flick 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 7 at the Starz Film Center, 900 Auraria Parkway in Denver. If you miss the Denver showing, catch a screening February 12th through the 15th at the Boulder International Film Festival