Weekend Reads: "Top Gun," Death Metal, Ravi Zacharias, Wombat Poop

Recommended weekend reading material for February 20, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of my dad pulling me out of school to go see Top Gun in the theater. So it felt like something of a rite of passage to watch it with my own son earlier this week. Top Gun was originally inspired by an article titled “Top Guns,” written by Ehud Yonay for the May 1983 issue of California magazine.

As twin white-hot flames shoot out from the plane’s exhaust nozzles, the magnificent silver machine explodes forward, slamming into their backs like a truckload of bricks and hurling them through the sound barrier. Yogi has rehearsed this kill in his mind a dozen times. He’ll cut the first bogey off at the pass with a head-on missile shot, and then, breaking and rolling to avoid getting hit, he’ll rein the plane in and pull it around like Ivanhoe at the end of the first joust and come racing back across the skies for the other. Great fighter pilots are always ahead of their planes, and, as his adrenaline surges up, Yogi’s eyes bore into the empty blue space before him, looking for the bogeys. Nothing can stop him now.

You can read the full article here. It’s incredibly entertaining — Yonay does an excellent job of putting you in the seat, and mindset, of a top fighter pilot — and there are several parts in the article that almost certainly inspired specific scenes in the movie, like the bit about how pilots deal with a fellow aviator’s death (RIP, Goose).

Given that death metal traffics in dark, violent, and horrific imagery, you might be concerned about the mental condition of its fans. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t be.

Thompson’s work has produced some intriguing insights. The biggest surprise? “The ubiquitous stereotype of death metal fans — fans of music that contains violent themes and explicitly violent lyrics — [is] that they are angry people with violent tendencies,” Thompson says. “What we are finding is that they are not angry people. They’re not enjoying anger when they listen to the music, but they are in fact experiencing a range of positive emotions.”

David French writes about the painful lessons to be learned from the downfall of Ravi Zacharias, a celebrated Christian apologist who preyed on and abused multiple women.

Christian ministries are populated by leadership teams who derive not just their paychecks but also their own public reputations from their affiliation with the famous founder. They’re admired in part because the founder is admired. They have influence in part because the founder has influence. When the founder fails, they lose more than a paycheck. There is powerful personal incentive to circle the wagons and to defend the ministry, even when that defense destroys lives.

For more details on the Zacharias scandal, I highly recommend Christianity Today’s in-depth coverage: “Now it is clear that, offstage, the man so long admired by Christians around the world abused numerous women and manipulated those around him to turn a blind eye.” (As you might image, the CT article is a very difficult read.)

There are many details to consider in CT’s article. But one that really jumped out to me was that for years, the only person who took any allegations concerning Zacharias seriously was an atheist blogger. Which strikes me as particularly damning for the Church’s witness.

Scandals like Ravi Zacharias’ are often blamed on “celebrity culture,” but Sheila Wray Gregoire argues that the evangelical view of sex is the real culprit.

When abuse scandals like Ravi Zacharias or sex scandals like Carl Lentz are exposed, we should stop being surprised. These men acted out exactly what so many evangelical resources taught them: Men need physical release; they can’t control themselves without women’s help; if they don’t get help, they could easily become predators. And this is all presented as God’s design.

Bandcamp lists nine artists inspired by Lord of the Rings.

Consider this a Bandcamp Fellowship of the Bands, made up of artists who take their names from the nine members of the fellowship. How well do these projects line up with their namesakes, and can they complement each other as well as Tolkien’s nine did in ultimately destroying the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom? Settle down in your hobbit hole with a nice cup of tea and find out.

The recently launched Pool of Siloam blog profiles the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus.

Where to start? The name? The reference to a terrorist group in the Spanish-French film Ese Oscuro Objeto del Deseo (That Obscure Object of Desire)? That they’ve existed since 1985 and only popped out 5 albums (3 of which were in the last 6 years)? That half their songs are in French/Italian/Latin/Portuguese but the band is just a bunch of Liverpudlians… That they perform live once in a blue moon and when they do its laden with scenes from Tarkovsky films?

Back in 2014, I was fortunate enough to interview the Army following their announcement of a new album titled Beauty Will Save the World. You can check out their music — which I highly recommend — on Bandcamp.

In addition to being a great music resource, did you know that Discogs is also a massive music marketplace where people can buy and sell even the most obscure of recordings? For example, here are the most expensive cassettes ever sold on Discogs.

In 2020, Discogs saw a 33% increase in cassette sales over 2019. This is a continuation of an upward trend in previous years. That being said, cassette production is nowhere near the scale of vinyl and CDs, which means supply is still relatively low. But the demand is there, which is why the value of certain releases — old and new — can inflate heavily, especially in a Marketplace like Discogs. Among the 100 most expensive cassettes sold on Discogs, every single item is $500 or higher.

Esther Wang chronicles the love that many Asian Americans have for new wave and synth-pop artists like Depeche Mode, Erasure, and New Order.

What had felt for me like an individual, idiosyncratic passion was in reality widespread. New Wave was the soundtrack to our youth, inspiring a devotion we had carried with us through the years and into adulthood. It’s now, in the absence of an easily identifiable genre of pop music by Asian American artists, our own version of the classics. It was generational, to be sure, and not every Asian American Gen Xer or older millennial was in on it, but there were enough of us to make it a known thing, a sort of inside joke.

NASA successfully landed its latest Mars rover, named Perseverance, this week. Its primary mission is to explore Mars for signs that the Red Planet may have once supported life. If you missed the landing, you can watch a simulation here.

As impressive as landing a rover on another planet might be, let’s not overlook another great moment in science, OK? Researchers have finally answered that age-old question: How do wombats poop cubes?

The bare-nosed wombat (Vombatus ursinus), which weighs up to 35 kilograms, lives in the grassy plains and eucalyptus forests of Australia, where it spends its nights grazing on plants and its days in underground tunnels. It’s a territorial animal, leaving its unusual droppings as a calling card. But how does such sharp-sided scat come from a round anus?

From the Blog

If you weren’t a church kid growing up during the ‘80s and ‘90s, then I don’t know if I can fully explain the phenomenon that was Carman, but I decided to give it a shot. The Christian music icon — who died earlier this week — was a major part of many a childhood soundtrack, and I daresay, his music and message played a not-insignificant role in shaping modern American evangelicalism.

Some have undoubtedly dismissed Carman as a talentless hack who simply capitalized on whatever musical trend captured his fancy in the moment. But I find that far too easy and simplistic an explanation, one that’s even more so than Carman’s own militant, jingoistic lyrics. The simple fact is that Carman’s music, ministry, and image is irrevocably woven into the DNA of modern American evangelical Christianity. And if one wants to better understand the modern American church, then I wager that one could do far worse than watch a Carman concert or give The Champion or The Standard a listen.

Carman’s music definitely hasn’t aged well, at all. But I can’t deny that it played a major role in shaping my own faith and beliefs, even though I no longer agree with much of Carman’s message and politics.

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