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Published: Saturday, 11/18/2006

Band gets its Christian message across

In 1998, Christian music label Essential Records offered the band P.O.D. a $100,000 recording contract. The San Diego rap-metal-reggae rockers were hardly in a position to turn down that kind of cash - one of the band members was living in his car and another was buried in debt and living with his parents.

But the musicians did reject Essential's offer because, despite their deeply held religious beliefs, they did not want to be pigeonholed in the Christian genre.

"God has a bigger plan for P.O.D.," singer Sonny Sandoval said at the time.

That plan became reality when P.O.D. (which stands for Payable On Death) was discovered and signed by Atlantic Records.

The group released its debut disc, "The Fundamental Elements of Southtown" in 1999 and its breakthrough hit, "Alive," first hit the nation's airwaves on the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sandoval, guitarist Marcos Curiel, drummer Wuv Bernardo, and bassist Traa Daniels have since become a top-tier rock band, selling 7 million CDs with their unique blend of melodic rock that contains a hefty dose of slashing guitars and thumping rhythms. (Curiel was replaced by guitarist Jason Truby of Living Sacrifice in 2002.)

P.O.D.'s hit parade includes the anthemic "Youth of a Nation," "Rock the Party (Off the Hook)," "Set Your Eyes to Zion," and "Sleeping Awake" which was the lead single for the Matrix Reloaded soundtrack.

The group has never compromised its Christian message, but by signing with a mainstream label P.O.D. has been able to share its faith with audiences that would never have given a "Christian" band a chance.

A new P.O.D. compilation, "Greatest Hits (The Atlantic Years)" comes out Tuesday. It features 17 tunes, including all the hits plus two previously unreleased tracks, "Going in Blind," a single recorded just for this collection, and "Here We Go," an outtake from the band's latest studio release, "Testifyin'."

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BIBLE DRAMA: Samuel L. Jackson plays God, Angela Bassett is Esther, Blair Underwood portrays Jesus, and Cuba Gooding, Jr., stars as Judas in a new 21-hour dramatized reading of the Bible.

The ambitious project from Zondervan, titled "Inspired By ... The Bible Experience," comes in a 19-disc package with a bonus DVD for $49.99, or in mp3 format for $34.99.

This is not just a straight reading of the Bible but a dramatic version complete with sound effects and background music that is intended to "draw listeners inside the Bible with the quality of a major motion picture," according to Paul Caminiti of Zondervan.

The audio project was the brainchild of Kyle Bowser, a former television executive who said he wanted to create "a product that might resonate with the African-American community ... I've long felt that Christian products tend to ignore our perspective."

Although the all-star lineup of African-American actors may capture the attention of the black community, this audio set has a much broader appeal and will be of interest to anyone who wants to hear Bible stories read with emotion, excitement, and a sense of drama.

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TAKING A STAND: Few artists have been as consistent through the years as Michael W. Smith, who started out playing keyboards for Amy Grant in the 1980s and has gone on to solo stardom.

In his 23-year career, he has won three Grammy Awards and 40 Dove Awards and has earned 16 Gold Albums, 5 Platinum albums, and 31 No. 1 radio hits.

His 19th studio album for Reunion Records, "Stand," released Nov. 7, features more of the catchy pop sound for which Smitty is known.

But it also offers a challenge to Christians.

"It's a call to stand outside the walls of the church, rubbing shoulders with the lost," Smith said. "It is a call to stand because you've captured a glimpse of something so powerful you cannot stay seated."

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CROSSED OUT: NBC has yielded to public pressure and is cutting a scene from a broadcast scheduled for Wednesday night of a Madonna concert in which the singer is lowered to the stage strapped to a mirror-covered cross and wearing a crown of thorns.

A number of Christian leaders had protested to the network, asking NBC to cut the scene. NBC refused at first, saying it was "not inappropriate" and that "Madonna felt strongly about it."

Madonna issued a statement defending the scene, filmed at a London performance of her Confessions Tour - which hit 60 cities, selling 1.2 million tickets and grossing $193.7 million.

"I don't think Jesus would be mad at me and the message I'm trying to send," Madonna said in the statement. "It is no different than a person wearing a cross or 'taking up the cross' as it says in the Bible. My performance is neither anti-Christian, sacrilegious, or blasphemous. Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today, he would be doing the same thing."

That cross scene, which also included background video of ill and impoverished children, was intended to "bring attention to the millions of children in Africa who are dying every day," she said.

There are other ways to make a point than by mocking the central symbol of a world religion. But it comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed Madonna's career. Whenever she is about to fade out of public view, she manages to push society's buttons, stir up controversy, and leap back into the headlines.

David Yonke is The Blade's religion editor. Contact him at dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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