My Last Post of 2011 & Words to Ring In 2012

Does it seem like this year has just flown to anyone else? It’s hard to believe there is less than 48 hours left of 2011. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to this year, because it was such an incredibly fulfilling and wonderful year. I started blogging — a journey that has brought more conversation and insight to my life than I ever thought possible thanks to the 7 of you who read this 🙂

It’s been a great year. It’s the year I got married. It’s the year that, for the first time since I was 5, I didn’t have a first day of school. It’s the year I learned more about myself than I ever cared to thanks to experiences like my Clinical Pastoral Education and beginnings of my internship. All of these things have made 2011 an incredible year.

As we make the switch into 2012, I wanted to offer a poem/prayer for those of us still striving to find our way…

I Tremble of the Edge of a Maybe [1]

O God of beginnings
as your spirit moved
over the face of the deep
on the first day of creation,
move with me now,
in my time of beginnings,
when the air is rain-washed
the bloom is on the bush,
and the world seems fresh
and full of possibilities,
and I feel ready and full.
I tremble on the edge of a maybe,
a first time
a new thing,
a tentative start,
and the wonder of it lays its finger on my lips.
In silence, Lord,
I share now my eagerness
and my uneasiness
about this something different
I would be or do:
and I listen for your leading
to help me separate the light
from the darkness
in the change I seek to shape
and which is shaping me. Amen.

I wish you all a 2012 full of blessings and wonder. Happy New Year!

Cheers,
Eric

1 Excerpted from: Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder

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Books I Read in 2011

My “To Read” pile grows immensely faster than my “Finished” pile, but here’s what I knocked out this past year.

           

         

         

          

        

       

Favorite Fiction Book of the Year: I noticed a pretty big lack of fiction this year. Or the fiction I did read, was quite time-consuming. I’d have to say that 2666 by Roberto Bolaño was my favorite of the year. It’s over 900 pages and took a dang long time to get through, but it was worth it. And it changes enough within the book so it doesn’t get old. Great book. If you have a few weeks and are looking to completely disappear in esoteric fiction, this is a good one. The Marriage Plot and The Sparrow are close seconds.

Favorite Non-Fiction, Non-Theology Book of the Year: This one is tough, because there are all kinds of subjects within a rather specific genre. Bossypants is incredible, but I feel like it’s cheating a little bit since I listened to the audiobook on the move down to Arizona from Minneapolis. I didn’t actually read the book. Chris Hedges’ The World As It Is is as wonderful as it is depressing. And it is both. I’d recommend reading it if you want a book to read a chapter at a time and then put down for a bit. It’d be pretty depressing to try to tackle it in one afternoon.

Favorite Non-Fiction Theology Book of the Year: Pete Rollins’ new book Insurrection really captured my imagination this year. It’s heavy enough for theology nerds like myself to read, but accessible enough for a more normal, well-adjusted person. Takes theologies of Bonhoeffer, Derrida/Caputo, Kant and others to construct a really interesting and rich theology. Highly recommended.

So what did YOU read this year?

Cheers,
Eric

Music Monday Special Edition: Top 10 Albums of 2011

Alright, here it is. After a few solid days of listening to all kinds of albums and trying to narrow down which deserves to go where… I have it. These are, in my opinion, the 10 best albums. Here they are!

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One song from each of these has been loaded onto the What I’m Listening To page at the top of the website. Be sure to check those out as well.

10. Ashes & Fire – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams came back this year doing what he does best — writing great melodies and some pretty haunting lyrics. For anyone who enjoyed his “Heartbreaker” or “Gold” discs, be sure to check this out.

Song to Check Out: “Lucky Now”

9. James Blake – James Blake

I was a little bit late on the James Blake train. But once I started his self-titled disc, it became hard to press stop. It’s a great mix of soul, dubstep, some great bass, and at times a church-ish sounding synthesized organ. Great, great album. Highly recommended. If you enjoyed The Streets, but wanted a little more production behind it, this would be a good album for you.

Song to Check Out: “I Never Learnt to Share”

8. Kiss Each Other Clean – Iron & Wine

I’m always a sucker for Iron & Wine. This year they kicked it up a notch with a more electric sound. Some great melodies and wonderfully smooth vocals translate to another good progression forward for Iron & Wine. If you like Sam Beam’s earlier stuff and have a bit of an open mind, I would highly recommend it.

Song to Check Out: “Tree By the River”

7. Nothing is Wrong – Dawes

I was out at Old Chicago in Uptown with my friend Petter earlier this summer and he told me to check out Dawes, particularly their new album. From then on, it has been a staple in my CD rotation in my car. There’s a Tom Petty/Jackson Browne-ness to some of the songs on this disc. It’s a great recall to the 70’s singer-songwriter pop/folk/rock era.

Song to Check Out: “A Little Bit of Everything”

6. Circuital – My Morning Jacket

In the past, I have been so slow to catch up to the My Morning Jacket train. But on this album, there’s a little bit of everything. Jim James mixes it up from a psychedelic ode to death metal to a couple sweet love songs and always heavy on the jams. Great disc to put in on a country road in the summer — or in a dirt road in Arizona in the winter, as the case may be.

Song to Check Out: “Circuital”

5. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

I forget who it was that told me about The Head and the Heart. But whoever it was, I’m grateful. I’ll always think of the summer of 2011 when I listen to this disc because I wore this CD out. A great blend of harmonies and bluegrassy folk. I’d highly recommend getting this disc if you enjoy good music — particularly in the Avett Brothers/The National/Blind Pilot arena.

Song to Check Out: “Lost In My Mind”

4. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

This whole disc also got a lot of play between my CD player and the many copies I’ve burned for my wife, which have been played and played (and played and played). It’s a wonderful album through and through. The way that John Paul White and Joy Williams play off of each other adds so much depth to their songs. Wonderful album and a great live act too. We saw them at the Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis last April. Find them if you can.

Song to Check Out: “Poison & Wine”

3. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83

I just recently got in to M83. On Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, we’re taken as listeners to a kind of supersonic place. It’s MGMT-meets-Muse-meets-Cut Copy. It’s an epic trip into what sound and melody can do. If James Blake’s album was the minimalist album of the year, this is the maximalist. There’s things going on everywhere in every song. But it works. And it’s what makes it great.

Song to Check Out: “Midnight City”

2. Watch the Throne – Jay-Z & Kanye West

Admittedly, this was the album I was waiting most of the year for. On the heels of Kanye West’s best album yet, he was going to follow it up by partnering with Jay-Z for an entire album. I wasn’t quite sure what to think on the first few listens. Certain songs stuck out — “No Church in the Wild”,”Ni**as in Paris”, “Otis”, “Who Gon’ Stop Me”, “Made In America”, and “H.A.M.” to name a few. But the disc as a whole didn’t strike me. Then I kept listening. And listened some more. And after a few listens I wasn’t even noticing when the songs changed. And you know that’s a good album when you don’t even think about skipping the next track.

Song to Check Out: “Otis”

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

This might not come to anyone’s surprise if you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time. I talk about this album — particularly the song “Holocene” — often. It’s the soundtrack for any writing I do. It’s the music I keep in the background any time I can. It’s just an incredible album. I would highly, highly, highly recommend it. There was one night where I listened to “Perth”, “Holocene”, and “Calgary” on repeat for hours until I’m sure Megan was about to scream. But it’s just that good. I could’ve kept listening for hours after that. Check it out. You won’t regret it.

Song to Check Out: “Holocene”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
King of Limbs – Radiohead
Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
House of Balloons – The Weeknd
Zonoscope – Cut Copy
Middle Brother – Middle Brother
Black Up – Shabazz Palaces
Ceremonials – Florence & The Machine
Take Care – Drake
21 – Adele

So those are my favorite albums of 2011. What are yours? What album could you not stop listening to this year? I’d love to hear them.

Again, be sure to swing by the What I’m Listening To tab on the top of the page to listen to all of the songs that I recommended off each of these albums. And enjoy!

Cheers,
Eric

What We Have Gotten Wrong About Faith

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course it is the cross.” – Flannery O’Connor

I was in Barnes and Noble last night perusing the Christmas deals (like ya do) and I went to the “Christian Inspiration” display table set apart from the rest of the religious books as the “bestsellers”. There was the typical Joel Osteen, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyers on the front side and then around back was all kinds of paraphernalia for this book Heaven is For Real. Now, admittedly, I have only read the first chapter of it (as that is all I could get for free on my Kindle).

This kind of emotive faith doesn’t do much for me. It seems to only offer comfort to the comforted. We focus so much on the afterlife that we neglect to do the work of God in this life. Any faith that doesn’t say “Take up your cross and follow me” isn’t anything I want to be a part of. We think of following Jesus only in our expectation of the still waters and green pastures of Psalm 23. We fail to realize that if we actually follow Jesus, it will be far less comfortable than that.

Now, far be it for me to equate a person’s faith life with the types of books they read, but I think it certainly impacts it. You are what you read. By all means, if you are afflicted and need comfort, read something that will give you comfort. I’m not that sadistic. But for a lot of us, myself included, our faith only grows by being pushed and stretched. I doubt reading Heaven is For Real or Every Day a Friday really pushes you beyond the call to simply have more faith.

For a lot of us, the answer to a lot of life’s (more troubling) questions isn’t “if God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it”. But the answer to many of life’s questions can be found in the ancient command to “take up your cross and follow me.”

Cheers,
Eric

*I don’t mean any offense to people who have read Heaven is for Real and found a lot of encouragement in it. I’m sure it’s a very encouraging book. I only say what I say because I think we can do better.

Sermon I Want to Preach On Christmas Eve, But Won’t

I always struggle with some parts of the Christmas story, particularly Luke’s Christmas story. The more I read it and think about it, the part of the story that grabs me isn’t anything about no room in the inn. It’s not about the angel visiting and the voices of the heavenly hosts singing. It’s not the shepherds visiting or any of that, although those are important and oft highlighted parts of the story. What confounds me so much is the first few verses in Luke 2.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own town to be registered.

This situates the birth of Jesus smack dab in the middle of an oppressive empire. The historicity of whether a census was actually taken in this way during this time isn’t important to me at this point. But what is, is that Jesus was born under the cover of darkness under a very strict rule of empire.

So how do you preach about the Son of God being born in spite of the constrictions of Empire (Roman) to people of Empire (American)? I’m running up against resistance in saying that we need to make room for the people who don’t have places in the inn with a lot of the immigration stuff going on down here in Arizona.

Surely, I can’t give an anti-empire sermon on Christmas Eve. Christmas sermons ought to inspire comfort and joy (because we don’t have enough of that).

Perhaps it’s not the right time, not the right place.

Perhaps I need to pick my battles.

Perhaps I need to just turn a blind eye to it.

But someone has to say it. Someone has to call out the dissonance between the way the Bible calls us to live and the way we actually do live. We have to give up this (GOP-fueled) “War on Christianity”. Christianity has been normative for so long, especially in positions of power that for white, American, male, Christians (lookin’ at you, Governor Perry) to even hint at being persecuted is a slap in the face to everyone else in the world (sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t).

We need to change the way we view our selves and our world. And that starts by emptying ourselves as God did when she became a baby and grew up renouncing empire and the power structures that crush people who are not in the majority.

That’s the sermon I want to preach Christmas Eve. But I probably won’t. After all, I’m just the intern. So I’ll say it on here until I get through all the bureaucratic hoops I need to get through.

Then I’ll say it.

Until then… Here we are. With the sermon I want to preach, but probably won’t.

Cheers,
Eric

P.S. Yeah, I did the whole passive-aggressive, refer-to-God-with-feminine-pronoun thing. Another thing I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t. Just like to do it for fun every once in awhile.

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