Shadows of Virtue, Todd Miller Band, good press

Just got home from a gig unlike any that I've played was a movie premiere! At the gorgeous Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, Bruce Bailey (bass), Micah Taylor (drums), and I (mandolin, accordion) backed up singer/songwriter Todd Miller for a set of songs from the film's soundtrack. Todd is a fellow Salt Lady Records artist and has two solo albums out, as well as a lot of recordings with his other bands Echelon and Mudhouse. Tonight we focused on songs that Todd wrote and recorded specifically for this movie Shadows of Virtue, produced and directed by first-time filmmaker Chad Amour. Todd is a very consistent and skilled songwriter and performer, but these new songs had an even more extraordinary zing to them...especially "Comin' Back to Town" and "News For You" (which you can hear at Todd's MySpace page).

The movie itself was very well done (especially for a first attempt at filmmaking), and it tackles a really complex issue. I've been struggling myself with the issue at hand, so it was quite challenging to see it addressed on the big screen. Here's the big question: What's the difference between kindness motivated by love, verses kindness motivated by virtue? The film features interviews with church leaders in Africa, as well as some heavy-hitters from America like Tony Campolo. The film confirms my own values regarding the issue, but at the same time, makes me feel like I don't really have a clue how to respond effectively. I guess I need to fester over it some more...

For my own entertainment, to challenge my own thinking, and to force myself to be confident in my own opinions, I like to listen to right-winger AM talk radio. And as a media observer, I know the conservative political talking points about this love/virtue problem. They are:
+ Action matters more than intention: regardless how somebody "feels on the inside" about something, the important thing is their virtuous behavior.
+ Liberals are accused of having "misplaced compassion," and doing things only based on "feelings" instead of more practical motivation.
Listen to Dennis Prager's radio show, and you'll see what I mean...and I can't help but think that the theme of this film would really make him squirm.

This film suggests the opposite: that all the virtuous behavior means nothing without love as the motivating force...and the movie quotes 1 Corinthians 13:

"1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."

It's pretty powerful to see these Africans listing sobering statistics about poverty and AIDS in their communities, and then hear them quote this Bible passage and talk about the essential element of love that they need from their American benefactors. The initial reaction from the viewer is kinda like "Uhh...shouldn't you just be thankful for the help you're getting, without questioning the intentions of the're not exactly in a position to be too picky, here..."

This is messy stuff. Myself, I've gotten the creeps many-a-time hearing about American youth groups traveling down to Mexico to build houses, seeing the poverty, getting shocked, feeling a boost of self-esteem for lending a hand, and then spending a few days partying at Disneyland on their drive back home. Virtuous actions, I suppose, but a pretty twisted take on "love." Doing true service motivated by genuine love while not objectifying or dehumanizing the people you're trying to help is a tough tough tough thing to do. Well, anyway, this movie didn't bring me any closer to figuring out what to do, or how to do it, but it has certainly made me think and reconsider my own service work and motivation (or staggering lack thereof). Whew...I'm feeling pretty clueless about the whole thing.

To change the subject, and almost to illustrate my own brazen ego-mania in the face of disease and poverty: I'm very happy to say that my album Protestant Rock Ethic got reviewed in the current issue of The Christian Century magazine, right between reviews of the new Bruce Cockburn and Lloyd Cole albums. Here's the review, written by awesome rock journalist Lou Carlozo:

"From the groovy Lutheran rocker who brought us Sound Theology—a 52-song megaproject tied to the liturgical year—comes something nearly as ambitious: 42 songs on two CDs, combining originals with hymn interpretations, scripture settings and curriculum music. Though the collection is meant for church musicians, Rundman throws in some grand wrinkles—from the percolating banjo that drives "Texas Kyrie" (part of a larger "Heartland Liturgy") to the poppy, poignant C-key piano on "When Rising from the Bed of Death." Not all is airy and light, though; "Hey Hey Samuel" snarls with fuzzy guitars, while a live version of "Wide Awake" (from Sound Theology) sounds as if recorded in a top-down convertible streaking through a twilight-painted desert."

I'm really fighting the urge to delete this record review from my comments on virtue and love. I would prefer to appear virtuous to all you readers, but who am I kidding? Everybody sucks in this regard, so no need for me to pretend that I'm Mr. Holy. The Shadows of Virtue film had an interesting scene where the viewer is reminded that we all have our own gifts and talents, and we're called to use them as best we can to serve in everyday life, so I'm gambling that writing songs, performing, and making records is my main vocational outlet for sharing some love, and hoping I can have some virtue in there as well, without being just a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.


steves said…
While I definitely think it is good to challenge your thinking, I don't know if talk radio is the best way. I used to be a listener, going back to Limbaugh in the early 1990's, to G. Gordon Liddy and on.

I can only tolerate them for brief periods of time. Though I agree with many right-wing positions, I find that these shows are more there for entertainment and less there for news. Some, like Michael Savage, are just over-the-top crazy.

If you really want to challenge your POV, you are better off checking out a internet BB or one of the more well known think tanks or blogs (like the Cato Institute or Eugene Volokhs blog).
Nate said…
I'm a boneheaded idealist. I don't really care to listen to the other side because a)there idiots b)I might be one of them.
This approach has brought me nearly 30 years of joy and optimism in the face/guise of openmindedness and I recomend it. Also, releasing albums of critical acclaim is a virtue to never be ashamed of - it reinforces something always known about you, you're a good doer!
nate said…
does the fact that I used there instead of they're reinforce the idea that I might be one of them?

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