Monday, November 10, 2008


Work is a persistent fellow with no real regard for the needs of a tired soul. For the last thirteen months, I have worked at a computer and taken no days off that were not days spent working or traveling in some capacity. That is until today. As Nashville awoke to find its first frost this morning, I find myself in Portland Brew, a Monday ritual I practiced every week prior to taking my position at Griffin. I have missed this time. Most of my reading and blogging occurred during my Monday coffee (you can read back on the earlier years of this blog and note all the entries posted on Mondays), and it only seems fitting to write a bit this morning.

One of the reasons my soul is tired is the absence of the natural side of creation in my day to day life. The office has my back to our only window and in this post-daylight savings, it is dark more than an hour before I ever leave the office. I experience God in the falling and crunching of leaves, the running of rivers, and the setting of suns, the stench of dirt, and the chill of cold. Autumn is often a spiritual experience for me as God is reminding me that while summer’s fruits die off for a season, the soul awakes, hungers, and grows ever still. I miss this more than I miss my Monday coffee.

About an hour northeast of my parent’s home is a river called the Hiwassee. Winding down out of the Smokey Mountains towards the Tennessee, the Hiwassee has more in common with its western counterparts than most rivers in this state. It is wide and shallow with water so clear you could photograph the river bottom. Amidst the contoured rock, chutes, and tall grass Sandhill Cranes spread their wings and Rainbow Trout hide unless lured out by the chance of a meal. For years, my dad and I have waded these waters in pursuit of the trout, sometimes fruitlessly, but mostly successfully. The river lacks the management a great trout stream requires as the Tennessee Valley Authority has a vested interest in power production, not fishing, but for this part of the country, it is as good as any river gets.

Yesterday I donned my waders and boots and assembled my rod like an infantryman might his rifle. An artificial fly is a work of art, as is the knot that connects it to my line. Fly-fishing as a whole is an art form worthy and demanding of discipline in technique, patience, and love of the water. There is nothing quite like fishing from the middle of a river rather than the bank, pulling your fish in to you, only to release it in the water running between and around your legs. Today the water is shallow, no more than knee deep, and this means the fish are timid. For much of the afternoon, I work my line across the deeper runs in the river to no avail. The light gets ever lower and the hardwood-covered hills burn with the colors of autumn. The sun glares on the water, running wide and winding out of view. I don’t care about catching fish as today is all about remembering the creation I so seldom see. This time is worshipful; I am grateful for it.

Eventually the river yields two small Rainbows from the same hole, and the magic fly I tied on snags and breaks off on the river bottom. I catch no more fish and the sun sets, forcing us off the river in the last traces of light. As my dad and I twist out of the hills towards home, I feel rest in a way I’ve not felt in months. I pray this peace continue through the rest of this week’s vacation, and I thank God for the reminder that no dam can reduce a river’s majesty, and no office can confine nature’s glory. Cheers!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who Would Jesus Vote For?

In the last couple of weeks I have heard a lot of contradicting statements with no less authority on either side. The media does this every day, it’s how they make money, and at this point the media is about as realistic a representation of the ins and outs of life and politics as a pornographic movie is a guide to healthy sexuality between spouses. This is not about the media. This is about Christians. Some Christians, friends and prominent leaders will say that no Christian in good conscience could vote for John McCain, the war mongering, opponent-bashing heir to President Bush. Others will say that no Christian in their right mind could vote for Barak Obama and his deep liberal voting record and support of infanticide. I sit and wonder who Jesus would vote for, and why, and it seems as good a time as any to dwell on this for a while.

The politics of this country are divisive by design. Pundits will tell you that there is no riding the fence, if you are a moderate you are not a Republican/Democrat, as if all the values of a couple hundred million Americans can be split into two categories. Senators Obama and McCain tout unity as major points of their campaigns, but there is no option to vote for the middle of the road as when you cast your vote, you are aligning yourself with everything the candidate stands for. You cannot vote for Obama’s tax cuts without voting for the protection of partial birth abortions, and McCain’s energy policy goes hand in hand with his foreign policy. The concept of a melting pot turns into a dish of oil and water when we give our voice, and our country is the weaker for it.

Christianity, on the other hand, is all about unity. This is in theory, of course, as the politics of the Church, religion, have fractured and splintered the original fellowship so many times over you could earn an advanced degree in the study of it. Christians seem to be proud of their differences too, as can be clearly seen from the street looking in on the building or the sign out front. We are quick to tell other denominations they are doing it wrong, reading the scriptures wrong, presenting themselves to the rest of the world in a way that makes the rest of us look bad. Some Christians will even go as far to say other Christians aren’t actually Christians. This is a daring and dangerously arrogant thing to do. This was never the intention. Before being taken into custody, Jesus prayed over his disciples, “That they may be one as We are one” (John 17:11). Jesus’ desire for us is that we would be united as Christ is to the Father, one in the same. The Church is the earthly presence of God’s dwelling among man, but it often shows little of the character of God, and this leads to discord and disbelief. Freidrich Nietzsche once said, “I will believe in your redeemer when you look more redeemed,” and I don’t need tell you what he believed.

So if Christians are supposed to be unified in thought and action, why are we talking about politics? Why do we engage in the debates and self-righteous arguments over our decision? How can we be content to dehumanize a candidate in the name of our faith, yet turn a blind eye to the equal sins of the one we support? What do our beliefs contribute to the voting process? These are valid questions for Christians to be asking, and important ones to be considering during these times. But there is another question to consider, a question you might hear a lot of different answers to depending on who you ask. Who would Jesus vote for?

The Bible doesn’t say much about politics, and says nothing about anything that looks like voting for public office. Christians are left with no choice but to use their faith to form political opinions, but these are not intended to go together. Jesus lived during the occupation of a hostile government, an era ripe with political controversy yet he did not speak out against the Romans. Jesus chose to speak about spiritual bondage, and pointed people towards freedom through teaching, community, and miracles, but left the bondage imposed by the Romans alone. Pretty interesting, considering Isaiah’s claim, “The Government will be upon his shoulders.”

On one occasion, Jesus is approached by the Jewish elite regarding taxes. You know this story - the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin, then asks the crowd who’s face is on it. “Caesar’s”, they said, to which Jesus replies, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the thing’s that are God’s.” And that’s really about it. Jesus allows the Roman military to crucify him, and then he overcomes death and challenges his followers to sacrifice all, not for God and country as they saying goes, but for God.

Many times I have heard or read that if Jesus was alive today, he would certainly be an activist. I don’t think this is true, at least not in the traditional sense. Jesus would certainly still associate with beggars and homeless, prostitutes, addicts, cheats, friends and family, but he would not be carrying picket signs or speaking out against the war. Jesus’ mission was much more focused on the people around him, the people who would be at these rallies, or even the politicians themselves, but with no aspirations of political influence. He never petitioned the government to give food to the poor, or create programs for the homeless and addicts, and he never instructed anybody on how to vote, just how to live.

I am not entirely certain why we take politics and voting so personally. Perhaps the political process is the highest stake game of I told you so we have available to us, an instance where we place our pride on the line because when it comes down to the “proper” direction of this country, we want to be right. Both political parties have had their fair share of time in power and this country is still moving forward, yet we continue to fight very personal and nasty battles on our way to the polls. That’s pride, not objectivity driving the voices of the most powerful nation in the world. I don’t know about you, but that’s a scary thing to think about.

Christians certainly take politics personally too. It’s very easy to see how our pride affects the church - just ask someone who quit going to church - and it only makes sense that when it comes to a Christian perspective on politics, we want to be just as right about Roe v. Wade as we do predestination. Republican Christians want Jesus for president and Democratic Christians want the government to be the Church. If Jesus were alive today, however, he would retreat from political power and tell the Church to be Church in spite of the government. In other words, Jesus taught a faith and way of life that had nothing to do with the government in power. The Church is designed to flourish in a democracy or a dictatorship. This is an important thing to remember, and I cannot stress this enough. As far as we Christians are concerned, it does not matter who wins this election.

To revisit the question, “Who would Jesus vote for?” Honestly, I don’t think Jesus would vote. If all authority on heaven and earth is his, why in the world would he cast a vote for the authority of a man? Sure, each candidate represents certain things that call upon the teachings of Jesus, but only certain things, plus some other very un-Christlike issues as well. There are far more important and personal concerns for our Savior, things we should be more concerned about than the current political process, because whether we live in the US, China, or Iran, these things would remain and bind us as believers.

Now I’m not saying you should not vote. Paul talked about his Roman citizenship on several occasions, and it afforded Paul certain advantages in his ministry. It did not define him, however, and neither can our American citizenship. I say cast the vote for the candidate who you feel will do the most to preserve and advance the constitutional identity and purpose of this country. That’s probably the closest way to vote in a “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” mentality that I can think of. We live in a country that affords us the freedom to practice our faith without persecution, but even if it didn’t, a government does not have the power to take our faith and values away from us, so please do not vote fearfully as if it does. Live your faith and values, don’t pridefully vote them, because even if the candidate you want to win wins, he will certainly let you down in the end. It’s just like Tammy Wynette once said, “After all, he’s just a man.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

new gear...

I have an amp I bought on eBay and from the first time I turned it on, we were musical brothers. It's called a Divided by 13 (see the link on the right), a hand-made job out of LA in the vein of a vintage AC30 but with a lot more wallop and reliability, and it is an amp that sounds exactly like I always hoped an amp could sound. This particular model was designed and built for Paul McCartney's guitarist, Rusty Anderson. I bought mine from a guy named Brad Fernquist who plays for the Goo Goo Dolls. It's super cool, and incredibly loud, probably my favorite piece of gear I own.

Now before I continue, and I will keep this brief, there are three classic and basic types of amps in the world from which all others worth playing are derived - the 6L6/6V6-based Fender, EL84-based Vox, and the EL34-based Marshall. So you may be wondering, what's the difference? For the Fender, think of all the classic country, blues, and jazz guitar sounds you know. For the Vox, think jangly pop from George Harrison, to the Edge, to great chimey contemporary guitar work. As for the Marshall, we're talking rock and roll - Hendrix, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin. Everything else stems from one of these traditions. The Vox-style is my favorite voice and probably the most versitile, hence the Divided by mentioned above, but a professional player should have all three to keep his bases covered.

For a while now I've been wanting something small with a nice tone that was quiet enough to play in my bedroom, maybe something with an old Fender-sort of vibe. It would be a step in rounding out the collection, but budget is short so I've been waiting. Gibson and Epiphone do a yard sale a couple times a year to get rid of seconds, overstock, and damaged product. Most of the stuff there is junk, but occasionally there are some gems that come through. It seemed a good time to find a practice amp and I convinced my boss to let me miss the first couple hours of work on Friday to stand in line. When I got there, I eye-balled this pallet of Gibson amps, probably the only pieces of actual Gibson product in the sale, and though I had never played one, I knew it was my best bet. The employees get in first, and they immediately went after the amps. I started worrying all the cheap Gibson's would be gone, but when they finally let the proletariat in, there were three left and I grabbed one.

I had no idea what I had bought, so I pulled it up online and checked it out. Turns out it's a hand-wired, 15-watt amp in the classic Fender vibe, just like what I've been wanting. I was blown away, and instantly worried that it wasn't going to work. Now, I'm not one to make a point of money, but this deal was too good not to share so here goes. The Gibson GA-20 RVT, which I purchased, sold new for between $1000-1200, and I bought it new with nothing more than a scuff on the vinyl and a bad but usable tube for $100. To top it off, this thing sounds great! As simple a thing as this is, I think God chose to bless me with this amp, giving me something I had been hoping for in a way I had never expected to find it. It's a nice addition to my collection.

Next up is the Marshall, some day. On another note, I really do want to blog more. Thank you for still checking in, and feel free to pressure me. Cheers!

Monday, October 13, 2008

An Affair to Remember...

When I was a child, I prayed with my father. In a quiet moment, he guided me through words canonized in our Baptist tradition, and said, “Son, you just made the most important decision you will ever make.” On another occasion, my dad informed me of what he said to be the second most important decision I would ever make - choosing the woman I would spend the rest of my life with. I tucked this away in my mind, and much time has passed since.

A girl passed me in a hallway some two and a half years ago. I knew who she was yet I did not expect to find her there, in that moment, and she caught me off guard. Her hair was the color of autumn straw yet rested on her shoulders like silk. She wore thin black frames over green eyes and little make-up; her posture was impeccable. It took 45 minutes for me to introduce myself, which was quite awkward, and for several more weeks I would pass her, speak to her, and once tried to hug her. It was a disaster. Yet somehow the heavens smiled upon me and after a couple of weeks, we went on a date.

Over cups of coffee and tea, we became acquainted. We shared stories of our families, schools, dreams, and work, then we shared a movie and eventually dinner on a red and white checked table cloth. On a hill above Nashville our relationship began, and the paths we walk have pushed closer and closer since. She is life, she is laughter, she is warm and bold. She is a part of me.

Recently this part of me departed town for several days. Usually I am the one who travels yet on this occasion Sarah and three of her closest friends flew to New York City for a vacation. It was to be the trip of all trips, the chance for Sarah to do everything she dreamed of in New York. From scouting favorite movie locations like the castle in Central Park or the Empire State Building, like in Sleepless in Seattle (her favorite!), to dropping in on The Today Show and Conan O’Brien, to visiting great museums and Broadway shows, the trip was something to be jealous of, and Sarah was ecstatic. Sarah is a woman who loves to dream, and this trip was a dream come true in every way, and to mark the occasion, I prepared a little surprise.

Sunday morning I departed the house long before the sun’s tidal glow washed over the darkness. My faithful Honda led me to the airport, which in turn led me to the Starbucks in terminal B, and then eventually onto a plane. I sat down next to a sweet couple from Kentucky who had a son name Whit, and they told me all about their plans in New York. For all the times I have played my guitar to a crowd, I still get nervous easily, and their stories and questions helped to pass the time and calm my nerves. The plane landed, and after a terrifying shuttle ride I boarded a train. The day before, I told Sarah I was going on a hike, and that my cell phone would probably not work for much of the day. During that hour and a half long trip down long island, my cell phone sat powered off and burning a hole in my pocket. I would imagine my heartbeat was audible even over the steady pulsing of the train, and the city could not come quickly enough.

Eventually, I arrived in mid-town Manhattan and stepped out of Penn Station into this overwhelming sea of people and traffic. I had three hours to travel three blocks, and I hadn’t eaten all day. I knew Sarah and the girls were shopping, and seeing the myriad of department and designer stores at every corner, I became paranoid my surprise would be ruined, and I took cover in a Starbucks. Not long after, the fact that I had not eaten caught up to me, and I left the Starbucks in search of food. Five feet down the sidewalk, I stopped for a burrito, ate three bites, felt like I might vomit, and threw it away. I then returned to Starbucks, bought a smoothie, and ducked into a corner for a while.

Checking my watch, I still had an unbearable amount of time, so I headed up 5th. I stopped in the Public Library, but turned around when they were about to coat check my bag. Since 5 o’clock in the morning, I had clutched my bag like it was my last possession in the world, the reason for which you will soon find out about, and I had no choice but to leave the library. Just around the back, however, I found Bryant Park, and for a brief time, this narrow oasis allowed my sweaty brow to rest and my nerves to relax. Then it was time.

I quickly headed back down 5th until I was met by a doorman at New York’s most enduring landmark. The Empire State Building loomed 102 floors above me and twenty minutes later, I stood on top and looked out over the city. After all the nerves and anxiety of this day, I felt like I had conquered the building somehow, like King Kong once did, yet I had no beauty in my hands. I could only imagine where Sarah was and all I could do was wait.

Now throughout the day I got the occasional update from Lindsay, Sarah’s roommate, and for two and a half hours I waited on the 102nd observation deck until the last message came through. “We’re on the elevator,” it said. I stood and watched the needle creep towards number 102, and finally the doors opened. The girls walked out, and finally Sarah stepped through the doors. For a moment she surveyed the skyline until our eyes met, and then she stopped. Walking forward, I took her hand, saying, “There’s something over here I want to show you!” Leading her away from everyone else, we hugged for a while as the reality of my being there sat in. I reached into my bag and removed a small blue box with a bow. “I got you a gift for your trip to New York that I didn’t get to give you before you left, and I wanted you have it while you were still here.” I then got down on my knee and asked her to marry me.

As you have probably guessed by now, she said yes. The rest of the night was a whirlwind. We celebrated, took some pictures, called family from the back of a cab, and had an unforgettable dinner (not because of the food) at Tavern on the Green. We found coffee at a Barnes and Noble, and bought some bridal magazines. I held my new fiancé's hand as she walked barefooted through the upper west side, and we enjoyed the last moments of our incredible night in New York.

The next morning I walked with Sarah and Lindsay to the taping of The Today Show, where I had to leave them for my train and subsequent plane back home. It is my honor to say that Sarah Beth Moseley will soon be my wife, and that the awkward advances of a bumbling boy some two and a half years ago have never been so well rewarded. To the green-eyed girl with hair the color of autumn straw, I say thank you! You have made me so very happy...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

lost in space...

David Bowie wrote this song that made me sad as hell the first time I heard it. You know it, the story of Major Tom and his ill-fated trip into outer space. Everything starts so courageously, but as "Space Oddity" continues, Major Tom's space craft slowly shuts down and hope is lost. He tells his wife he loves her, then drifts into eternity in the ever darkening and cold expanse of space. It's such a lonely song.

I'm watching Apollo 13 on AMC, and I cannot help but think about Bowie's song. This is a different kind of story, though, a true story of one of this country's greatest feats of ingenuity and quick thinking. It's a remarkable tale of a time when the world rallied in support of three astronauts floating powerless in space. The pope led prayer for thousands in Rome while others gathered at the wailing wall in Jerusalem, and I don't know if so much attention has even been given so few people in the history of this country.

Stories of space are compelling. Nothing in this country's history gives me a greater sense of awe and hope as the space program. With so much of our country's attention devoted to fixing things, NASA continues to pursue dreams and do the extraordinary. In a lot of ways, it stands for our best, one last bastion of the American Dream that continues to dream. In a time where nuclear warheads sat poised on missiles, we stuck a man on a rocket, put him on the moon, and brought him home safely. Not to say we didn't put some nukes on some rockets either, but still, that's incredible no matter how you look at it.

It's pretty clear we take this for granted, even forgetting it's there. Major news outlets treat launches and landings like the local bake sale, or the World's Ugliest Dog pageant - passing coverage at best. We’re so busy pointing fingers at our government, whether justly or unjustly, that we fail to remember the people who daily pursue the impossible. It is clear we’ve forgotten, that is, until the bottom falls out.

I still remember the morning the shuttle Columbia disintegrated in our atmosphere. It was February 1st, I had an audition that morning, and my father called, the tone of his voice still present in my memory. He said he just wanted to call, that news like that was always hard to hear; we were both sad. The event was a shadow across my heart the entire day, and I felt like I had lost something. Remembering that day, it felt like a dream had been broken.

As I sit here on this couch watching the actors retell the story, I ask myself, When did we stop dreaming? When did our country quit pursuing things that make us feel alive? When did we trade our heroes in for binge-drinking actors and adulterous athletes? I start to think about all the garbage I hear about on the news every day, and all the fear that spins from the headlines. John Kennedy's words have long since been ignored as we continue to moan about what we think this country should do for us. It is quite clear we quit dreaming.

Driving in my car later in the evening, I find myself praying and asking the question, When did I stop dreaming? As we plan and plot the course of our lives, from grade school to high school, to college and all its preparation for the first job of the rest of your life, we settle into this linear model of living that will continue unabated unless we do something.

God never intended us to take the safe and prosperous way out, yet we live in a day where preachers teach and Christians live a faith that says the blessing of God is safety and prosperity. Christians grow richer and more complacent, all the while enabled with new tools from the church to cope with it. The Bible teaches the poor will be blessed, and that spiritual poverty is an injustice. This American church has turned their dreams into buildings, and attendance, and the injustice of it all spills out into the community around it. It was never supposed to be this way.

Watching Tom Hanks and the rest of the actors, I am aware of my own guilt, the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety I pursue everyday. Before I know it, I too am drifting through space like Major Tom, bound for an endless and lonely journey. I long to cast my dreams upwards to the heavens, just like some courageous men in this country once did. In the classic film, Sunset Boulevard, a fallen star famously responds to a critic. "You used to be big," he said, and Norma Desmond responds, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." Looking through my little TV at a remarkable view of this planet, I am convinced it is not the pictures that got small, but rather us.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

the sun shall set...

Sand spreads my toes with each step and pushes into my high arches. I stop to drop my sandals and zip my jacket to the collar’s top on my way to the water. As the sun sets I feel like I am loosing it, never to see it again, and all my senses come alive as to remember always. My skin tightens and the hairs on my arm stand up in the brisk south Atlantic wind; my hair is a mess. I can taste wild sea and hear its rabid surf, growing louder with each step. The beach smells of sandbox, littered with pet droppings and trash. A splash of water shoots an electric pulse through my body. I am cold.

The entire group of us gathers on a rock for a picture, a last chance to document our time in this land of apartheid. The setting sun burns like wildfire into the mountains behind us, and we say our bittersweet farewell to South Africa. I feel closer to the sun here, for some reason, and I am sad to see it go. We huddle, snap a few shots, then wander the shore for a while. The sun falls rapidly below the horizon, and for a little while it is like the fading light stalls in a cold blue-gray. For a short time this evening glow lingers, and I negotiate the sharp rocks with my bare feet. We take some more pictures here and there, and eventually the last color fails and the stars take their rightful place above us. I have never seen these constellations in my entire life.

A sunset occurs every day, this final breathe of light and life after the sun goes down is something I can see any evening the clouds allow, but this sunset is perhaps the most memorable of my entire life. It hurt in my heart to watch the sun fade because this place was special, it was a hotbed of life, beauty, suffering, and the frail condition of humanity. I feared I would never see the sun set on this horizon again, I still may never, and it moved me.

You hear a lot about the environment these days. There is the threat of oil wells in the north Alaskan wildlife refuge, rising sea water, and polar bears damned to fall into the Arctic Sea. It is sheik to care about Mother Earth, and as the world goes “Green”, mainstream pop-culture has devoted tremendous amounts of time, money, and carbon to concerts from self-righteous musicians to TV networks for our billions of un-recyclable television sets. The evidence all points to an of era of people who love the environment because they were told too, like neo-nature Nazi’s marching to Al Gore’s drum.

There is one piece of pop-culture that makes me grin from ear to ear every time I see it. Discovery has been running this commercial where a number of their personalities sing this song - “I love the whole world, it’s such a brilliant place”. The World is Just Awesome, it says in the end, and every time I stop and think, “Yeah, it is!” I love this planet, and am overwhelmed by its scope and creativity. I’ve been fortunate to travel to some of the most extraordinary places in the world, and it has made an advocate out of me. I pick up trash when I hike, argue about environmental issues with friends, and have been jokingly called a tree-hugger on many occasions, even though I am nowhere near the the woodsman people seem to think I am. Some of the greatest spiritual revelations of my entire life have happened in the less-touched parts of creation, and I am grateful for these things.

But it doesn’t take long to be reminded of how not awesome the world can be. There are are the obvious human issues of poverty and disease, war, terrorism, and grave abuses of human rights. The Earth itself is groaning under the feet of mankind. Think of all the rivers you wouldn’t be caught dead in, landfills full of our excess, and the fact that extinction rates among wildlife is at an all-time high. Whether it’s because of carbon emissions or the ambiguous “warming trend” critics of global warming refer to, the Earth is getting warmer. Ice caps will melt, flooding the costal cities where billions of people live. Deserts will expand, bringing famine, poverty, war-lording, and even graver human rights violations the world over. We are in a state of emergency, and governments and people buzz with ideas and solutions.

For all the spiritual experiences I have had in creation, I consider what is the Christian stake in all this environmental stuff. I’ve heard it both ways, those who think it is Biblical to protect the environment, and those who don’t. I am angered by the believers who say it is pointless to protect the planet because it is all going to be destroyed anyway. It is an easy step as Christians from debunking environmental initiatives to looking at the world with our “hell in a hand-basket” style of judgement. Such believers will inevitably retreat into their own sheltered world out of fear, only for it to be destroyed as well. This simply does not work. After all, Paul writes in Romans, “From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made.” God’s essence is seen since the beginning of creation, before man was ever made. Not only are we made in God’s image, but the Earth itself carries secrets of God’s divinity. The secular world gets it, even though they do not know it, and all the while we poke fun.

So what does this mean for us Christians? A guy spoke at my church Sunday about just this, and in short, he pleaded the case that God’s creation is a tremendous tool sharing Christ to non-believers. God’s glory is so clearly displayed through the intricacies of creation and speaks volumes to the receptive heart. An environmental initiative is a means of pointing people towards God. It is not the only way to do this, but a valuable and inescapably present asset never the less. We would never take a portrait of Jesus off a wall in our church and walk on it, and while Christ is Lord over creation, we should not flippantly march all over the planet with careless dominion, but rather with faithful stewardship. This is an act of worship.

On that night in Noordhoek, South Africa, God spoke his peace to me. “I’m right here,” He was saying. “This is of me, I am in this. I know what I’m doing.” My perch on that tiny rock was a window to the spiritual world present the whole earth over. Spiritually, we are children of a dawn, the fresh and renewing promise of Christ’s redemption from sin. I cannot, however, help but see this sunset as a metaphor for the natural world. Man’s ambition has brought the sunset, and as the light fades on this physical earth, I wonder if we are now in the blue-gray evening glow of natural life. God will restore the Earth one day, correcting all the damage we have done, but until that day comes, we must be faithful to conserve this incredible gift, broken it may be.

Monday, June 30, 2008


A brief break from work and dash to the far coast, I sit with my elbow hanging over the isle on my fourth flight in less the 24 hours. This is the very meaning of illogical, a hundred and fifty people in a fiberglass tube hurtling forty thousand feet through the air at five hundred miles an hour. The physics is bewildering yet I am more likely to die behind the wheel of my Honda. Windows have been elusive this trip and I’ve hardly seen the ground. All the mountains of California and Colorado pass below without so much as a hello.

It was an exciting trip though. I had the chance to play guitar for an artist I greatly admire for her wisdom and sincerity. Her father has always told her that when she opens her mouth, she allow the spirit to fill it, boldly proclaiming the works of the Lord in song. This is a charge she carries out with humility, and I was blessed to be involved.

We went to Saddleback, a massive church in Orange county best known for its mega-best selling pastor. The event was a conference for worship leaders from as far away as Japan, a time for the potentially stretched and exhausted to be filled. I know that feeling too well, and it is a privilege to be a part of something like this.

I don’t play a lot of gigs these days, and I look forward to them when they come. This particular gig was a great opportunity to work with someone new and I was unusually nervous. That’s not to say I don’t get the usual pre-show jitters, but this was different. The band had been told we needed to be perfect, and while I pursue perfection in my playing, I have never been told up front that it had to be. With every day that passed and every listen through the songs, I grew increasingly nervous and a stone formed in my belly, ever expanding and growing heavy.

In Luke 14, Jesus has dinner with a group of Pharisees and teachers in the home of a prominent leader. While there, he shares a parable about a wedding feast, telling those in attendance that it is better to not sit in a place of honor, for if someone more distinguished than you were to come along, you might be asked to move. Such an occurrence would be humiliating. Jesus teaches, rather, to sit at the end of the table, in a place of humility, so that the master might invite you to move to a seat of honor. The proud humiliated and the humble exalted, I have long feared being the proud.

A day or two ago I was reading my way through Psalms and came to number 23. It is one of those pieces of scripture that makes you stop for a moment, like how your eyes might stop on a book you’ve read in the middle of a shelf filled with others you haven’t. David writes so romantically about his God and shepherd, and I am struck by how simple and elegant this poem is. In the last verse, David speaks of a table, possibly a banquet table, prepared for a feast “in the presence of his enemies.” David is basically saying that while the shepherd guards and protects him, God also seeks to bless and honor David while humiliating the proud and wicked. I would imagine David’s seat at this table would be quite close to the master’s.

Having read both passages near each other, I was struck by the parallel of the two tables. The scriptures, like any great work of literature, do not repeat imagery thoughtlessly and in the face of this coming gig, I began to pray that I come humbly to the table God has prepared for me. I know in faith that God will honor the humble pursuit of the gifts He’s given and I dwelled on this idea for a while. But what of my enemies? The nerves, questions, and worry over the coming gig made it quite clear who the enemy was.

Much of my life has been spent fighting myself. The petty insecurities, the self-imposed confusion, silent and public fears, it has all been there at some point. Brennan Manning, in one of his books, refers to, “The Impostor”, the false-self capable of taking over our lives. Eventually the impostor will remove all memory of the true self, most people never being aware they have made this transformation. I have lived as the impostor, and in these times, I feel like I still do. All the while, the true self, the man God has already created me to be, sits bound in captivity and out of thoughts. As I read the words of David, I know full well that these fears and insecurities are my enemy.

The morning of the gig, I sat on my hotel bed with the window open and the cool Californian breeze blowing through. I turned to the next Psalm, number 24, and realized it was the source scripture, almost word for word, for a song we were going to perform later in the day. I paused for a moment and considered the timing, the fact that I had started in Genesis close to 8 months ago and that every day I did or did not read my Bible led me to reading this particular section on this particular day. Encouragement overwhelmed me and I felt no nerves for the rest of the day. Aside from my in-ears breaking on the first song, the gig went great. For all my anxiety, it felt like I’d played that gig a hundred times before. My table had been prepared, indeed.

Today I consider the impostor. So many of David’s songs and poems speak of these ever relentless foes bent on his destruction, and I wonder how many were flesh and how many were spirit. The battle of my life has certainly been my spirit and the forces inside me that seek to undo me. I know this is dramatic, but I am amazed (not in the good way) that I am 25 years old and still struggle with fear and insecurity. My identity gradually aligns with the insecurity and before I know it, I am lost in it. I could never count the number of times I’ve performed in front of an audience, or the occasions in which I’ve opened myself up to another person, yet so often it feels like the first time I’ve done it. It is an amazing path I have traveled, and as I sit on the plane, flying high over the midwest, I know there is a long way to go, yet I am reminded still of the good shepherd. The impostor and I have more battles to fight, but God is faithful and his work has already been done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy...

A landmark occasion was all over the news today as the state of California began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. It was a “victory for humanity” in those approximate words according to the mayor of San Francisco, and the media was a flutter with stories of long-expectant couples eagerly awaiting this day. The centerpiece of the spot on NPR this morning focused on a lesbian couple in their 80’s who have been together for over 50 years. They were the first couple to be wed under the new law, and their frail voices expressed relief. Family surrounded them and they celebrated.

No piece of controversial reporting would be complete without a trip to the other side, however, and the news team soon found their way to the protesters gathered around city hall. One man was introduced as a “born again Christian”, that all too immediate “I’m with Pat Robertson” tag, and he quickly explained that he believed God would bring destruction upon this country for the things that are happening. NPR is my primary news source, and their bias was quite obvious this morning. The voice of the Christian majority, preaching condemnation and destruction.

I once wrote the question a while back, and you can dig for it if you want to, “can you legislate morality?” This is not a blog about gay marriage, I’m not going there, but this is a matter of politics. You see, the man on NPR this morning, with his picket sign and sharp words, was lobbying the political process to uphold his Christian morals. We as Christians in America do this all the time, seeking protection from the imminent cultural implosion taking place around us. Protect us from criticism, protect us from liberalism, save our babies, and keep our teenagers virgins. We place God on our side and vote from our pews; we grow complacent. How little we understand the plight of the millions of Christians operating the world over, not only without government protection but under open persecution of the very institution designed to protect them. It is not the government’s job to protect our morals, but it is our job to uphold our own.

The conservative right is not the only side to do this. I am a member of a generation alienated by the church and bitter because of it. The church as we knew it has become an enemy and so many young Christians have made the swing to the left in the name grace and justice. The gospel of Christ is transformed into a liberal political agenda as we lobby the government to take up the fight against poverty, homelessness, hunger, health, and global justice. I am guilty of this liberal swing and I, along with so many others, have turned to my government to do the dirty work I find so daunting. These are good things, Biblical things, issues close to the heart of Christ, but they are not the government’s job.

I had breakfast with a friend this morning, and we talked about the Declaration of Independence. He is a seminary student, quite smart, and he explained that close examination of this document does not point to a nation founded on Christian principles but rather deistic, almost universalist beliefs. Further study of the founding fathers would also indicate that many, such as Thomas Jefferson himself, followed in this universalist mindset, though I had long believed our founders to be devoted Christ followers. Our government protects the right to practice religion, but it does not protect the rights of one over any others. We Christians in America have long lived like it has. It shows in the way we have sheltered ourselves in our churches, and called upon our leaders to look after us. As the world burns around us, we roast marshmallows.

I think it is a dangerous thing for the government to legislate religious morality, though it is essential it legislate fundamental morals. Human life is valuable and murder is a crime. I am also of the opinion that abortion and the death penalty are no different. Basic human life, period. But what about a day like today? As I listened to the piece, it was obvious the elderly women being interviewed loved each other, but in my heart of hearts I believe their relationship to be sinful. What do I do with this?

This afternoon the same news service reported that over 25 million people are currently living as refugees under the protection of the United Nations. Floods rock the Chinese provence devastated by a massive earthquake only a month ago, and the rains are not suspected to subside for another ten days. Hundreds of thousands are dead and displaced by a massive cyclone in the nation of Myanmar, and their wicked government works to tie the hands of global relief organizations desperate to help the victims. Even on our own soil, nearly 90% of the counties in Iowa have been declared disaster areas as flood waters continue to rise. What do I do with this?

The honest answer is that I do not know. Would Jesus hold a picket sign on the streets of San Francisco? I doubt it, but I am certain he would oppose gay marriage. In spite of this, I am also certain he would have friends in the gay community, and he would be very good at loving them. Would Jesus have petitioned the government to feed the poor around him or provide social services to the homeless, prostitutes, and drug addicts? Probably not. Jesus showed little patience or interest in the function of government, but instead he dwelled with the vagabonds, loved and transformed them, even though the religious people around called him a “drunkard”.

To the Pharisees, it was Israel versus the world and like them we point our fingers and walk our picket lines. But to Jesus, we were all children of God with no more of this "us and them" garbage. He lovingly urged others to sin no more, and to take up the cause of the poor and the widow.

These thoughts consume me as I look towards November, and I consider what is important. I have no wisdom compelling me to where to assign my voice at the polling station, and in this era of the shallow entertainment we call news media, the issues are as lost to me as all the toiletries I’ve left behind in hotel bathrooms over the years. Yet I am entirely certain of one thing - conservative or liberal, it is time we stop hiding behind our government, and quit counting on them to do the job Christ died for us to do. To trust our government to uphold our morals and be the hands and feet of Christ is to sell God and the power he has generously bestowed to us, his people, through his Spirit so very short.

May God dispel the fear that drives my complacency, and forgive my shallow faith, for my sin so graciously forgiven was just as worthy of destruction as that of those we so bitterly speak against. Gay, genocidal, infanticidal, adulterous, war mongering, greedy, and prideful - we are all born equals.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

his iron heart...

I carry a curse with words in that while I love to read, and enjoy a good conversation as much as the next guy, I am doomed to loose it, to forget it. My reading comprehension is pitiful, having to read and re-read passages in books just to remember them, and I cannot repeat anything heard without jumbling the words or forgetting it all together. Sarah can remember entire conversations, and lines from movies and shows she saw years ago. She is an ever patient reminder that I am a hopelessly visual person. For this reason, I am grateful for movies.

I just got home from seeing "Iron Man" and it was fantastic! A completely enjoyable and exciting movie, free of any cheesy lines (what was intended to be funny was actually funny), and the cast was terrific. Probably about the best "super hero" movie I have ever seen. The movie was good because the story had depth, a story about figuring out who you are, and living with the things you've done. It is a story of injustice and war. The most remarkable part of the story for me though, and forgive my ignorance all you fan boys, comes in the source of the hero's power. This may be fantasy, but bare with me for a minute.

Tony Stark is a brilliant scientist, engineer, and weapons designer who is captured by terrorists seeking to enlist his services. In his capture, he is sprayed with shrapnel, and a doctor, also in captivity, attaches an electro-magnet to his chest to keep the shrapnel from working its way into Stark's heart. Seeing the limitations of the attached car battery that feeds it, Stark finds a new way to power the magnet and sustain his life through a small, chest-mounted reactor of his own design. Instead of making weapons for the terrorists, Stark builds an iron suit, powered by this new invention and escapes. As Stark returns to society, he is touched by the delicacy of life and the terrible cost of war.

This is a story about what drives us, about what makes us strong in our weakness. In the unrealistic source of Iron Man's power we see the delicacy of the heart, that we are driven by more than pure mechanics and biology. For every bit as real the heart is, beating inside our chests, there is a metaphorical heart that for those who feel it, keeps the physical heart beating. We derive passion from it, endurance, motivation, and excitement. It feels pain, weathers turmoil, clinches in sadness, and moves with love.

I am often aware of my heart when I am anxious. It is as if a cord is pulling it deep into my chest. Anxiety rears its ugly head at the most inopportune times, when I hold a guitar, when I write these words, when I find myself on the verge of vulnerability. At my best I do not know this.

It works the other way too. Just the other night I was in my car during the last hours of daylight. The sky was electric blue like a tropical cocktail, blanketed with with thin strips of cloud colored and textured like ceiling insulation. The blue and pink were the only two colors in the sky, set in hard opposition. The voice on my radio repeated, "Your love is strong," and my heart expanded in my chest. Where anxiety makes my heart sink, joy could make it explode. This is the heart meant to endure. All the while the other heart, the finite heart, beats.

The point comes, as it does in all good hero stories, where the protagonist's strength fails and everything hangs on the brink. Iron Man is driven beyond his abilities, and his artificial heart begins to fail. Without spoiling anything, we are given a glimpse into the the true strength of Tony Stark's heart. It is a moment seldom found in a big summer blockbuster. I love a good movie because it inevitable gets my mind going. As I sit and consider the heart, I'm thinking $8.50 is a small price to pay.


Monday, June 02, 2008

sarah in cyber space!

I met a girl with hair like the autumn sun, and I wanted to know her better. Awkward flirting and coy conversation would follow, and come to find out she's terribly sweet, perceptive, and absolutely hilarious like no one I know. She's also my best friend. Lucky for you, she's starting a new blog!

Sarah is an extrovert, a great thinker, and a keen photographer. Her blog will be an extension of all these with an over-arching sense of deep spirituality. So check it out over on the right here! Her old blog is linked too, and while small in number, the posts are worth reading if you haven't.

It's good to have you back in the blog-o-sphere, Sarah! Been a long time coming...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

a long time coming...

I've mentioned on this blog before that I like Radiohead a great deal. My esteem for the band has only grown, from the first listen through OK Computer, to skipping class for Kid A, to the band's recent In Rainbows and I must tell you a story.

I graduated from high school the same year Radiohead's Kid A was released. The band toured the US and my best friend Hunter bought us tickets for my graduation. The closest show was in DC and we jumped into Hunter's 4Runner and headed north for a 12 hour drive. Upon reaching the Bull Run battle field where the show was being held, we saw one flash bulb construction sign after another telling us the Radiohead show had been canceled. We pounded fists against the dash, cussed, and turned around and drove home. 12 hours home to be exact.

That was seven years ago and I have never had the chance to see Radiohead again until this past Wednesday in St. Louis. Despite the frustration of the drunken frat boys all over the lawn, the two plus hours of music was probably the best and most inspiring concert experience of my life. The light show was stunning, the set list was terrific, and the band is simply flawless live. All the sonic complexity of their records translates with ease as the five members of the band have always worked hard to not leave any important, studio-made detail behind. The band's core three guitar, bass, and drum format saw both Thom and Johnny spending ample time behind the Rhodes or piano, Johnny operating any number of analog synths to reproduce much of the more peculiar sonic textures. Even Ed, the band's only dedicated guitar player set his guitar down to manipulate various floor-mounted effects.

With over two hours of music, they played every song off In Rainbows, including "Bangers & Mash" from the bonus disk, as well as at least 2 songs from every other album but their first, Pablo Honey. Highlights of the show range for the three guitar onslaughts of "Airbag", "My Iron Lung", and "Paranoid Android", to the largely programming-based "The Gloaming", to "There, There", a point in the show where only Thom played guitar, and Ed and Johnny both picked up sticks and played percussions. As a whole, the band communicated a tremendous love for live music and a deep appreciation for their fans. Thom cracked jokes from the stage and they all graciously waved and bowed to crowd at numerous points; one of the best bands in the world, living up to their reputation and with no pretension. It was a long time coming.

Anyway, for you fans, here's the setlist. Maybe put together a little playlist and enjoy!

All I Need
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
15 Step
Kid A
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
The Gloaming
You and Whose Army
Faust Arp
Everything in Its Right Place
Bangers & Mash

Encore 1
Exit Music (For a Film)
My Iron Lung
There There
Fake Plastic Trees

Encore 2
Pyramid Song
House of Cards
Paranoid Android


Sunday, March 30, 2008

a weekend at the movies...

Friday evening came with the sweet promise of a weekend with nothing to do. It feels like ages since I've had a weekend like this, and what a welcome weekend it was. The time was filled with good eats, the typical amount of sleep, which sadly isn't much, and the time forgotten lazy afternoon at home. I even cooked dinner with legitimate fixings! A very welcome weekend indeed.

The above title is a lie, though I did watch a few movies. The first was "Jackie Brown", the third film directed by Quentin Tarantino. The only of his movies I'd not seen, it was a smart tale of a street-wise flight attendant and the arms dealer who pays her bills. Not as raw and over the top as Tarantino's other work, the story is well told, written, and acted, featuring a terrific cast including the always welcome Michael Keaton, Samuel L Jackson, Robert DeNiro, and Bridget Fonda. I liked it.

Yesterday, Ryan, Scott and I went to see "Diary of the Dead", the fifth film in George A Romero's "(Noun du jour) of the Dead" franchise. An attempt to comment on the violent depravity of men, the story of a group of college film students documenting their flight from the un-dead falls short of other recent zombie flicks like "28 Weeks Later", and the remake of Romero's own "Dawn of the Dead". I confess that I like movies about zombies, but the script more or less sucked, as did the acting. So in other words, it wasn't great.

Speaking of movies, my ever more creative, not to mention funnier and better looking, companion Sarah presented me with a fabulous suggestion we will soon be undertaking. In the wake of my humiliating upset at the Oscar's (see the below reminder of my humorless obsession), Sarah, no doubt aiming to restore my pride, proposed we start watching the Best Picture winners, all 80 of them. We quickly got excited and committed ourselves to the task, and soon we will start to work our way through the movies in reverse order from "No Country for Old Men" to 1927's "Wings", plus the first two installments of "The Lord of the Rings" to catch Sarah up to speed. We both have our reservations, Sarah dreading "The Silence of the Lambs", and I "Titanic", but we're looking forward to starting. Sarah tells me I have much to learn about "The Sound of Music", and I will certainly post updates along the way.

That's all for now, and I best get to bed. Right now people the whole world over are restoring their strength so they can wake up, call and complain about their iTrip, meaning I need all the help I can get. Cheers!

Monday, March 24, 2008

so long...

I lost my iPod to a glass of week old Coke tonight, and I find myself in a quandary. I spend most of my day talking to people who own iPods. Almost everyday I talk to someone who says my company’s product ruined their iPod. I then give this spiel about how we’ve never had an instance where our product fried one, but that we would be happy to get it back and test it. This is the truth, I’ve never seen it happen, but no one cares, and for the most part no one believes you. I hate being the villain, but the truth is that things quit working, products fail, even expensive ones, and all day long I wish I could tell someone it’s just stuff.

This was my fourth iPod. The first one developed this pitiful frowning face and ultimately quit working all together. The second one had a short in it, causing it to turn on and off if you squeezed it in the right place. The third one was stolen when some high school kid broke my car window and took it along with Sarah’s. My father graciously replaced the iPods, and tonight that one bit the dust too.

A friend of mine is a Young Life leader and tonight I volunteered to help students kidnap their friends and bring them to Young Life. The 15 year old girl riding shotgun was looking for some music and set the iPod down in a cup of Coke. I didn’t know this until after the kids got out of the car and I realized the iPod was all sticky. I turned on the light and could see the liquid under the screen. All of a sudden I’m looking for someone to blame, frustrated over the fact the girl knew what she had done the moment she felt the Coke in her hands, though she never said anything. If I was in her shoes at that age, I don’t know if I would have either, and I can’t hardly blame her. While I try to take the high road, I really wish in my heart of hearts I had someone to blame who could do something about it.

No matter what I learn about the world, it is hard to overcome the materialism that pervades it. I have a very good grip on my guitars, when they were made, what they cost, the location of every nick and ding. I can even hold one, run my hands across the strings, and sense the infidelity of another person’s hands. Every DVD has a specific place on the shelf, and I can see what’s missing with a passing glance. I know where every CD I own is, how it is organized (alphabetized by genre with records chronologically sequenced by artist), and who has borrowed one. It is quite pitiful. Tonight the passing of my fourth iPod makes me sad, and in the midst of all this I forget what a luxury it was to even have one.

I have seen third world poverty with my own eyes, walked in a slum where one out of five people had HIV or AIDS. Countless homeless have heard the sound of my car doors locking, or the so simple “I don’t have any cash.” Yet I have so much more to lose, so many other luxuries that can only be lost in time. All these things are replaceable, and in spite of what I know about the world, it is hard to remember that which is not.

There is no cute anecdote here, just the knowledge that in this time of frustration, I am very aware of how easily I get priorities messed up. Even in thinking about this blog tonight, I have marginalized and hurt someone I hold closer than any other, and it sucks to realize that. I should be grateful for my sticky, caffeinated iPod, and be humbled by how quickly the things we revere become worthless. Maybe I will be come the morning.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar Night!

This is the time of year where I really get sick of hearing about sports. Not that I’m ever really that excited to hear about them, but between the hype of this past Super Bowl and the inevitability of March craziness, I am weary. I suppress my inner competitor, but when it comes to this weekend is different. I look forward to the Oscars.

So here are my predictions, who I want to win and who I think will win - sometimes why. The truth of the matter is that I know nothing (especially about movies I’ve never seen), and my opinions will change nothing, just like yelling at your TV can’t make someone catch a football. But who really cares? Here we go.

Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood - In the midst of good performances, Lewis has no competition. His loss would be the upset of the night.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Who do I want to win? Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men - This man was downright terrifying. Who will win? The Academy has a way of honoring the veterans; I have this feeling Hal Holbrook will win for Into the Wild.

Actress in a Leading Role: Want? Ellen Page for Juno. Win? Julie Christie for Away From Her

Actress in a Support Role: Cate Blanchett for I’m Not There - She’s too good to be nominated twice and not win one.

Animated Feature Film: Persepolis - This tale of growing up Muslim and female is primed to dethrone Pixar from their digital tyranny, though Ratatouilli was a lot of fun.

Art Direction: Sweeney Todd - No one creates esthetic like Tim Burton and his team. I really hope this wins.

Cinematography: Roger Deakins for No Country for Old Men - This is his sixth nomination in this category, and this movie feels as cold as its ruthless villain. Simple, traditional, and beautifully filmed.

Costume Design: Want? Alexandra Byrne for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I think that Jacqueline Durran will win for Atonement due to the stunning war sequences.

Directing: Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men - They got snubbed for Fargo and I think they deserve this.

Documentary Feature: This one’s a guess. Taxi to the Dark Side

Documentary Short: Freeheld - I have no idea.

Film Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum - This movie must have been so hard to piece together, and to do it well was quite an achievement.

Foreign Language Film - 12

Makeup: Ve Neill and Martin Samuel for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - They’ve been nominated before and the third time is often the charm at the Oscars (think LOTR).

Music (Score): Marco Beltrami for 3:10 to Yuma - A good score becomes a character, and this was a memorable performance.

Music (Song): Once - "Falling Slowly" - Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - The most moving and original musical in years.

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men - The Coen’s have done their time and creating a sweeping masterpiece.

Short Film (Animated) - Madame Tutli-Putli

Short Film (Action) - At Night

Sound Editing - Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins for Transformers - Both are two time winners and this was the best aspect of the movie.

Sound Mixing - Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane for Ratatouilli - All the kitchen sounds and pattering mouse feet. Very tough to balance and very cool.

Visual Effects - Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier for Transformers - I did not like this movie, but the effects were stunning, some of the best I’ve ever seen. Take note of the way light reflects off the AutoBots.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) - Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood - His source material was scarce, and the end result was dynamic and terrifying. A screenplay worthy of the Daniel Day Lewis’s stellar performance.

Writing (Original Screenplay) - Diablo Cody for Juno - Never has a movie been so irrevereant and touching. I really think he deserves this award and Juno deserves an Oscar.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

top 5

At the end of every year, I always try to stop and think about the year gone by, what the best and worst things about the year were. Well, 2008 galloped by, and grabbed me by the arm like a bandit on his high horse, and February is already upon us. So for now, I choose to look back, before it is too late, and recount my favorite media of 2007. This list is not authoritative, in any sort of order, and not even limited to things released in 2007, but simply what I enjoyed during the past year. So here it is, my top 5 albums, movies, books, and TV events of the year. Cheers!


In Rainbows - Radiohead - Radiohead has been my favorite band since I learned to drive. I skipped school the day Kid A came out, and after several years of waiting for this record, I am satisfied. While they have never ceased to be brilliant, it is nice to hear ten straight tunes without the minimalist spacer tracks of the last couple records. Also a piece of music industry history.

Neon Bible - The Arcade Fire - This record is loose and gritty, meandering in and out of 80’s new wave and modern garage rock. Very emotional and full of energy, it comes from a spiritually dark place, though recorded in a church, but it is overwhelmingly hopeful in its whole.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon - A lesson in simplicity, this record draws on early Van Morrison and Elvis Costello while managing to sound like nothing else.

Asleep at Heaven’s Gate - Rogue Wave - An expression of the life’s duality of joy and suffering. I probably listened to this band, as well as their last album, Descendant Like Vultures more than anything else this past year.

A Weekend in the City - Bloc Party - This band plays so well together, yet they always sound like they’re on the verge of falling apart. Great production, awesome guitar, chaotic and beautiful.


No Country for Old Men - The Coen brothers have made most of my favorite movies and Cormac McCarthy wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read. This movie is bleak, but it’s so good. With the best villain since I can’t remember, I couldn’t begin to break it down, so I’ll simply say that I loved it.

There Will Be Blood - PT Anderson is another one of my other favorite film makers and this study of greed and selfishness is a departure. Great screenplay, cinematography, score (provided by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood), and probably my favorite piece of acting since DeNiro in The Kind of Comedy.

Hot Fuzz - I could never get sick of this movie. Best laugh of 2007.

The Simpsons
- I had more fun watching this movie than anything else last year. It made me feel like I was ten again.

Juno - It takes a special movie to make teenage pregnancy a laughing matter. As touching as it is funny, probably my biggest surprise of the year.


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union - Michael Chabon - This author never writes the same kind of story twice, and this exploration into noir is steeped in a fascinating piece of historical “what if?” that never looses momentum. A mystery/thriller as only a winner of the Pulitzer prize could write.

Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - I live with two comic book artists, and this was inevitable. Watchmen deconstructs the super hero like 1984 does fear and politics; I simply loved it.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling - The conclusion of this story was everything I hoped for. Entertaining, touching, exciting, and above all, appropriate.

Sex God - Rob Bell - A unique look at the nature of intimacy as it pertains to a man and a woman, but more so God and his children.

Through Painted Deserts - Donald Miller - A simple but beautifully told story of a pivotal time in the author’s life.


Lost - Sarah and I just boarded this train (or dare I say plane? sorry...) and are somewhere in the middle of Season 3 (so no spoilers PLEASE!!!). I’m hooked.

Planet Earth - The biggest documentary budget in history, taking over 5 years to make. Awesome, stunning, and truly humbling in its scope, it is probably the finest documentary series ever made. What a world!

The Office - The smartest show on television, and the only show since the X-Files I’ve actually made a point of watching on a weekly basis.

Mythbusters - The only show on television I will watch whenever it is on, no matter the time of day. The best model of the scientific method since Bill Nye the Science Guy.

24 - My roommates and I continue to stress over this one whenever a new season gets released. Season 5 was the best one yet.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Sarah has a new job working for a ministry that connects churches with the community in non-churchy sort of ways. This is a noble mission for many people see the church as a quarantine - isolated, cold, and ominous on corners of many streets. The woman at the well in John 4 is a testament to this when she says, “Our ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but the Jews say that Jerusalem is the only place for worship.” We have many Jerusalems and Connect Ministries seeks to tear their walls down.

Last night all the partners and camp directors went bowling with their spouses and significants. Shortly after arriving, an older man of about 60 passed Sarah and looked her head to toe. He was very skinny and tan, and he spoke disrespectfully to her. At first we all talked about awkward it was, eventually shaking off. We laughed as the 5 year old daughter of a man present innocently showed us the bandage on her middle finger. We got our lanes and sat down.

The man just so happened to be in the lane next to us and he spoke unintelligibly as we passed. He then proceed to stare at Sarah the entire time we bowled. We tried our best to ignore him, but it was difficult. At one point, I got up to bowl as Sarah left for the restroom with a co-worker. I turned in the lane and watched as the man got up and followed Sarah to the other side of the building. I quickly got rid of the ball and walked to the bathroom. The man lingered at the door and when Sarah came out, he approached her, leaned his head in close in began talking to her, when I walked up and pointed at him. My blood boiled and I spoke with more anger than I have ever spoken to anyone in my life, stuttering and shaking. “Don’t talk to her! Get away from her! I’ve heard what you’ve been saying, you don’t talk to her like that!” The man then reached out and put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “What was I saying?” and again, “What was I saying?” He knew what he said, but I was nearly speechless from my anger at this point. Sarah grabbed my other arm and pulled me away.

I cannot imagine how Sarah felt, and I do not think that I ever could. I felt the cold chill of evil and dirty intentions as it threatened the one I love. It reminded me of a time when I was on a mission trip as an 8th grader. The youth group played putt-putt and a man in his mid-twenties approached a girl in our group, no more than 12. He asked her if she wanted to come to bed with him, and she began to sob uncontrollably. I could feel the sickness then just like I felt it last night, and I am reminded of the disease that is sin.

A police officer sat at our table for the rest of the time we bowled, and the man continued to stare until he eventually left. As we put our shoes back on, Gabe, one of Sarah’s bosses, said, “That’s what we would be without Christ.” In this moment, I am reminded of how treacherous the devil is, how sin poisons who we are until all that is left is a feeble frame with a vulgar tongue. Gabe’s words convicted me to pray for the man.

The world is full of so much beauty, but for all the good we try to create around our selves there is much darkness. We medicate ourselves against the sorrow, and focus on what makes us feel happy. An environment is created, seemingly impervious, but in reality porous and submerged in pain, darkness, and suffering. “Life is good,” some people say, but I don’t know if this is entirely correct. My friend Dave says that life is hard, which is true. Life can really suck sometimes, and for a lot of different reasons. But in the midst of everything, we are given the power to weather, and to endure.

Sarah and I walked into the parking lot at the end of the night and looked around. We ran to the car holding hands, smiling for the first time in a couple of hours. I knew the man wasn’t there, but I could still feel his presence; it was heavy on my chest. The rest of the evening was a battle against my anger, and it took hours to fall asleep. Gradually the man faded from my mind, my eyes slowly closed, and I slipped into sleep. In the morning, he was gone.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

your best suit or dress

All over the world people dress for an occasion, and make company with the choicest of friends. Plans may be simple or extravagant yet there is a common theme happening the whole world over. This is celebration. Raise your glass into the air and speak blessings of the year to come, declare your hopes for the future, and turn your back to the disappointments of the last year. “Maybe this year will be better than the last,” and everyone drinks their approval. It happens every year.

Two things seem dangerously prevalent with the passing of each New Year’s Eve. The first is that we are all too eager to sweep the last year under the rug, all of its lessons and experiences. The second is that we are setting ourselves up to fail. This is the point of resolutions, making up for last year’s failures and creating the opportunity to screw it up this time around. I do not intended to make a sweeping generalization, but rather an assessment of seasonal sentiments at large. It is a cycle I wish to avoid this year, and as I consider the last year and the year to come, I have some thoughts.

2007 was an interesting year for me. From a professional point of view, I worked much less this past year than in the year before it. I thought I had found my in, and with the start of 2007 I anticipated even more work with better pay and exposure. This was not the case, however, and I spent much of the year with time in my hands. I cannot say I grew musically in 2007, but my desire to express myself creatively has not diminished by any means.

I went to South Africa in February for two and a half weeks, and I was not prepared for the place. There may be nowhere on this planet that better exemplifies the contrast of beauty and disaster, but I saw a glimpse of the measure of God’s love there. Hope is in no short supply, even though HIV/AIDS, TB, and poverty are rampant. Cape Town and the western cape of South Africa is as stunning as anywhere in the world, and I was blessed to see it. And there at the collision of two oceans I saw God meet the earth in a way I never could have imagined. Hope upon hope, life upon life, and joy in its purest state of existence.

Like I said before, I had a lot of time on my hands this year and I am afraid that the lessons of that wild place gradually washed away. I can remember the gigs I traveled to, yet so much of this past year was a blur, which is probably normal. It is just that I came home so motivated and inspired to write, play, love, and live with so much joy and excellence, but I let my inactivity get the best of me. You can ask Sarah and anyone else who spends much time with me, and they will tell you how down on myself and in a shell I can be, either in word or demeanor. No room should be made for regret so I say this not to medicate myself, but to confess and be done with it. There is much work to be done for those who are willing and 2007 has taught me how necessary it is to be willing.

Highlights of the year include some pleasant travels with some of my favorite people. These include a week on a lake in central California, and another week in the mountains of New Mexico. I long for these places, especially now that the days have become so short. I also got to watch life come into being in the form of Sarah’s joyful nephew Noah, as well as my sister’s first child, Sam. He is beautiful and I have felt my heart grow with his presence.

I also started my first real job in 2007. When I say real job, I mean real job, the kind with salary and benefits. I finally decided that I was not playing enough to warrant not having one. I want to continue with my life, not wait on it, and the opportunity at Griffin promised a chance to proceed and plan. And, as I mentioned above, I had time on my hands and it was costing me far more than money. After two and half months, it is still good to work, and I am enjoying the structure I have no truly known since high school. I sleep better, get up earlier, and waste little time; it feels so very good. I still wish to play and pursue music, and I cannot listen to something good without loosing myself in the urge to create. My parents generously gifted me a gorgeous, inspiring Gretsch guitar, and told me to go do something with it. I intend to.

A little over a week ago Sarah and I had dinner to celebrate Christmas together, and she asked me what I resolved for 2008. Like I said above, resolutions are often an invitation to failure, so I thought carefully. If I eat better or exercise more, so be it, but I want real goals for this year, things that would shape the course of everyday life through the expansion of my spirit and mind. I then told Sarah that I want to start and complete some form of writing project (as of yet undetermined!), that I want to finish 2008 a better guitarist than I started the year (something that did not happen this past year), and that I want to learn to pray like I actually believe prayer is what the Bible says it is.

As I look to the next year, I want to continue to build upon the foundations God has laid in my life, not let life’s lessons dilute in a solution of apathy and frustration. I do not wish to wait for something to come to me that I can go and get for myself. I do not wish to waste the time that I have. Not this year. I am going to put on my best, raise my glass, toast my friends and loved ones, the year gone by, and the new year that is really no more than another day. So to 2008 and each new day I say, “Welcome. You’ll be gone before I know it so let’s make the most of it.” Happy New Year. Cheers!