Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Emergent Hope

I'm in the midst of reading a relatively new book from the folks at Emergent Village called An Emergent Manifesto of Hope an am just about one third of the way through. It's been an interesting read thus far and I've found some solid statements of hope and challenge within. Thought I'd share a few with you.

Mark Scandrette, from his chapter, "Growing Pains":

"You should not think that the "real" emergence is happening elsewhere. You are invited to embrace your own celebrity - recognizing the importance of your own journey over simply being a fan of others' - and cultivate a local culture of faith-seeking. To address spectator tendencies, I give this unsolicited advice: no one can emerge for you. Make your own life. Host your own emergence. Stop reading so many books and blogs. Start your own conversations, and be a caring friend. The most important conversations happen between people who have the potential to live out their story together."

Carla Barnhill, from her chapter, "The Postmodern Parent":

"Indeed, parenting is about more than raising children. It is about investing in our hopes for the world. It is about joining in with our Creator in the ultimate act of re-creation. It is about pointing our children toward the work God has for them and giving them the resources to do it. It is about celebrating the goodness of life with God, a life that looks more like the kingdom with every generation."

Thomas Malcolm Olson, from his chapter, "Jailhouse Faith":

"I want them to imagine how their life will look when it's fully connected to God and connected to others, but they're not able to see it yet. But I can. It's the lens I look through when I teach them about recovery. I don't judge them based on the worst thing they've ever done. My reading of the prodigal son story convinces me there are many more verses in their life to be lived out."

Ryan Bolger, from his chapter, "Following Jesus into Culture":

"Jesus did not reject culture; it is where he started with people. He engaged them and spoke their language. Jesus was not countercultural as much as he was nonconformed within culture. As a cultural insider, he embodied a message of life in those places where the culture advocated death. Jesus lived in two realms simultaneously - both within human culture and submitted to the reign of God."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Review: Better Questions - Todd Agnew

I became a fan of Todd Agnew's after seeing him in concert several years ago. His band rocked and his gravelly voice, accompanied by a blues-flavored sound, hooked me. Yet, his record releases have been less than stellar. Agnew seems confused as to what direction to take his sound and, as such, leaves listeners with a mixed bag of goods. Yet, there is good to be found for those willing to search it out. Here's the review I did for INFUZE:

Landmarks and Remembrances

Y'know, if you read through the Bible, people were always erecting some sort of landmark as a memento of sorts of some sort of thing that God had brought them through. Whether or not it was some sort of big battle that had been won or was simply being able to ford a river or whatever, the people of God were always intent on gathering some stones and building some sort of structure to be able to look back to as evidence of God's working in their lives. Even the Bible in itself calls us to read it and remember, to engage these things of God as history and realize that He is in fact out and about.

Well, I've been going through some stuff, more or less internally, and am finding myself in one of those spiritually dry spots. St. John of the Cross refers to it as a "dark night of the soul"; others as just a funk. Either way, I'm fighting those thoughts that, instead of making their way to the Pearly Gates, my prayers and instead being ping-ponged back to me courtesy of our ceiling. Bible reading proves dry and even some spiritual reading that I like to do has seemed just, well, dry. As such, I've tried to follow that biblical mandate of "remembering", of looking back to the signposts and landmarks left along the path of my journey. The problem is, I don't think I'm seeing what I'm supposed to be seeing.

Instead of looking and seeing the small structures erected that declare, "God did this", or "Remember when He stepped in and did this", I'm instead seeing a littered pile of stones along the way back that instead call out, "Remember when you screwed this up?!" Sure, I have those few landmarks that all good Christ-followers are supposed to have, marks of conversion and such, and I do realize that there are more that I'm simply blind to in these moments, but I'm finding that those good things are shadowed over so heavily by my failures. Now, a good thinking Christian will take the tact that, well, I'm saved and am therefore forgiven of all wrongdoing. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me and that when God the Father looks down upon me, He does not see my faults but rather the glory and beauty that His Son has placed upon me. And I agree with this theology.

The problem is that, well, existentialist that I am, I don't feel very forgiven right now. I feel more like a failure than a success. This place is not where I'm supposed to be. Of course, it can again be argued that I'm right where I'm supposed to be; that God has placed me in this place for reasons that only He knows. And again, I acknowledge and agree with the theological truth inherent. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I just need some piece of grace to fall my way, to remind me that it all really does make sense in the end.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Cobalt Season Interview and Review

I had a chance to sit down with my friend Ryan Sharp, via phone, a week or so ago and speak with him regarding the process of making his latest album, In Search of a Unified Theory. For those who aren't familiar with Ryan's work, it's amazing. This album captures a unique ethos of hope and longing and faith and frustration, all over a cool indie-folk soundscape. Good stuff. Anyway, here's the link to the interview and the review:

Cobalt Season Interview

Review: In Search of a Unified Theory - The Cobalt Season

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm in Springfield!

Okay, not really, but you've gotta go do this. You just upload a photo, make a few adjustments, and find yourself "Simpsonized"! Very cool!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Review: My December - Kelly Clarkson

I wasn't a closet American Idol at the time that Kelly Clarkson took the crown but my desire to stay up on pop culture has kept her in my eyes. Plus, if you listen to the radio at all, you just can't miss hearing her songs! But, My December is actually an album that's worth listening to. Just keep in mind, you're gonna need some cheering up after! Here's the INFUZE review:

Despite What My Critics Say

Online Dating

I'm apparently approved for all audiences! Booyah!

(HT: Marko)

Recent Reading

I've continued to live with a desire for fiction as of late, despite a small stack of non-fiction "to-reads" piling up next to my bed. I think it's got a lot to do with our pace of life and stress level as of late but, either way, I've run into some good stuff to read.

Coyote Blue was probably my least favorite of Christopher Moore's works but it was still an entertaining read. Again Moore brings the surreal into the everyday and makes us think, laugh, and shake our heads.

I read Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas some time ago and remembered it being quite an interesting read. So, when I happened upon this sequel at my local secondhand store, I picked it up. Koontz's key character, Odd, is intriguing and will worm his way into your heart. Give him a shot.

I started listening to Garrison Keillor's tales from Lake Wobegon a long time ago before I even realized how truly great they were. Keillor is a masterful storyteller with a sensitive finger on the pulse of midtown life and here he weaves tales of love, loss, and a touch of midlife crisis into a fun and heartwarming read.

This book made me sad. Not because of it's dark thematic elements (it deals with death, as in the big "D") but more so because this concludes the Christopher Moore books that I haven't read. Yet, as one of his latest, Moore continues to improve and excel, continuing to mine the town of San Francisco for material and integrating characters familiar in some of his other works. Strangely poignant and laugh out loud funny, this is good stuff.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Relevant Wisdom

Some time ago, I ran across this very cool magazine for twentysomethings called RELEVANT. It was trendy, cool, and had some very thoughtful and challenging pieces as well. I was hooked. So I've been reading ever since. For a long time I just picked it up at the local bookstore but eventually relented, particularly since I realized it was tons cheaper, and subscribed. Well, my subscription ended with the last issue, May/June, and with our move and everything we forgot/were too poor/lost the paperwork/had enough trouble remembering where we'd put all our stuff to renew it. So, the other night, a bit overwhelmed with children, I left them home with my wife on a mission to buy some much needed Pull-Ups but detoured along the way and picked up a copy of the new issue.

I'm so glad I did. It's a great issue but two things in particular just kind of caught me right this time and I thought I'd share them here. The first was ironically the editor's letter, called the "First Word", from founder Cameron Strang. Cameron writes:

"How many of us have felt that optimistic determination that we're going to change the world? And how many - be honest - have had difficulty sustaining it? Inevitably, things don't turn out the way we hope, and "real world" things - school loans, marriage, kids, mortgages - pull us away from huge passions that once steered our lives. So what do we do? Do we succumb to the reality of settling? Or do we find ways to stay true to the passions God instilled deep within us?"

Okay, read my blogpost before this and I think we have that answer. But Cameron continues with some good advice:

"Distractions and responsibilities are inevitable. Things will not happen the way we think they will. But if we still believe in the things we once did, it's up to us to still go out and fight for our convictions.

And we need to start now. We don't have to wait until things are perfect. You may be working some sucky 9-to-5 to pay the bills, but that doesn't need to define your future...Don't let your circumstances dictate your future. Don't lose sight of what God has put inside of you...The future will be determined by people who will chase their dreams and stand up for what they believe in, come what may. If we're unwavering in our convictions, keep our focus on God and do whatever it takes, well, that's how revolutions are started. And sustained."

Good words, Cam. Good words. And I need to hear them so, thank you.

In the same issue, RELEVANT featured an interview with one of my favorite authors of all time, Anne Lamott. Lamott's writing has left quite an impression upon my life and has enabled me to see through an entirely new lens so this was very cool to read. I just want to share one quick quote that she offers up in the interview:

"You don't deepen your relationship with Christ with books; you do it by showing up with other people who are taking care of the poorest, hungriest and most marginalized. If you want to find where Jesus is, you'll find Him close to the poorest of the poor, the suffering, the terrorized people."

Just good stuff. Thanks, RELEVANT.

And as a side note, if you're not a reader/subscriber, you should be. Head over to their site and check it out. And for bonus fun, log onto itunes and subscribe to their podcast too. Features some good interviews, music, and well, all around hilarity.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Hulk Within

This has been an interesting day. It's been one of those days where it feels like the weight of the world has decided to take a break upon your shoulders. I can't really explain why but as I've had more and more time (it was a REALLY long day) to sort of reflect, I've noticed one thing about myself. Now, I'm sure that this is true of most people and whatnot but today I truly latched onto it as my own. Here's the big realization: When I get tired, it affects all of me.

Now this sounds simple in principle and I'm surely not the only one who reacts this way, but I've just really noticed, perhaps more and more, that as my fatigue level rises, I begin to struggle in more aspects than just being sleepy. My spiritual discernment and strength wane. My temper flares. My patience level, normally pretty strong, slides straight into the trash can. I know that I can't be the only one.

This particular point of fatigue has come, by and large, courtesy of my darling children Tyler and Peyton. If you scroll down here and there, you'll see some darling pics of these super kids. But, rest assured, pictures can lie. They're great kids but, well, some days, they can be a bit taxing on old Dad. And recently, Peyton has been having a few issues with sleeping through the night. So, that makes virtually a year with us alternating with getting up every freakin' night, sometimes more than once. On top of that, our slightly ADHD boy has just been trying to push some buttons, testing the waters. We've tried just about every discipline point that we know, some which work and others with lesser results, and it has just left me tired.

On top of that physical and emotional fatigue, I've also found myself pushed for time. Celena and I have spent a fair amount of time gabbing about our search for balance over at the "conversation" and this continues to be a struggle as I wrestle with trying to be a Dad, be a husband, be a son-in-law, an employee, and, most difficultly, a writer. I've had the most difficult trouble carving out space for me. To me, that feels like a very selfish statement to write, and perhaps it is, but I just need that bit of personal time, particuarly for writing. I am driven more and more to write but it's very difficult to establish a rhythm with the flow of these kids and life in general.

It largely ends up having me feel like Bruce Banner, just waiting for The Hulk to emerge. I'm a fairly mild-mannered guy, but the pressure edges in sometimes and I'm just trying to do my best to keep the green guy under wraps. Say a prayer for me if you would...

Recent Tylerisms

Heard as he sat playing with Peyton the other day: "Is the baby our pet? Are we going to keep her?"

Heard at bedtime, as Erin read a "Dora the Explorer" story to Tyler and he and I sat listening:

Erin: "...and then my Mamie said..."
Me: "Mommy..."
Erin: "It's spelled M-A-M-I. That's Mamie!"
Me: "Yeah, but have your ever heard a Spanish kid say, 'Mamie'? I don't think so."
Erin: "Whatever."
Tyler, looking at Erin and then at me, shaking his head: "She's not very good at this."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Nothing But Big Events

Our life has been pretty hectic as of late which may or may not explain my lack of blogging lately. (By the way, please forgive the plethora of review postings prior to this one. Got a little backlogged!) But we've been keeping our heads above water. Life has been a continual adjustment as we live with Erin's parents but we're doing okay. I think we are anyway. There are a few days where things have been, well, tense, but other than that we're hanging in there.

But we've had some biggies going on too that have been sucking up our time too. The first big news is that Erin is finally a college graduate! Yay! Like me, she finished her studies a long, long time ago but had to wait to finally walk. Ironically, her school's business office messed up and come ceremony time, the little folder she got only had a blank sheet of paper in it but all has been resolved and the bonafide diploma is now safe in our possession. I'm so proud of her!

Our second big event was our darling little girl Peyton Brooke's first birthday and party. Just last year Erin was taking a quick trip to the hospital on July 4th for her weekly test and calling me and telling me to get there quick, that we were having a baby that day! How quickly a year has passed! It's crazy but she's an amazing little bundle of joy and we couldn't be happier!

Review - Indiana - Jon McLaughlin

Ever just heard one of those artists that you knew was going to make it? That's how I felt after hearing Jon McLaughlin's debut. This kid has the chops to go all the way. With a classically trained piano prowess and intelligent, heartfelt lyrics, this kid is here to stay. Check him out! Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur - Various Artists

The latest trend seems to be concerts and albums geared toward generating money and attention toward some point of injustice like Live Aid or the upcoming Live Earth. The problem is that, at least as far as albums go, these oftentimes end up in hellish tracks, like the "We Are the World" recording years ago. Yet, I don't think we can fault what are good intentions when they're there. This album is a mixed bag of artists and results but the attention needs to be given to this crisis. Buy it to help and enjoy tracks like Green Day's "Working Man's Hero" to boot. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: Carry On - Chris Cornell

I love Chris Cornell's voice. I have within my mind a short list of singer's voices that I intend to "negotiate" with God about contracting once I head on up to Heaven and his is on it. Cornell can wail, whine, and croon with the best of them. His work in Audioslave has been hit and miss and unfortunately this album suffers the same fate. Yet, it is Cornell singing and his cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" is worth the price alone. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: The Snow Abides - Michael Cashmore

Ever just been in the mood for something different? Well, then Michael Cashmore's the guy to turn to. At least in this instance he's well worth a shot. This five-song EP is a simple, unique outing that will have you scratching your head yet reaching to give it a second play. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: S.O.S.: Save Our Soul - Marc Broussard

Late night insomnia pays off sometimes. While wrestling with sleep one night and with wakefulness winning out, I found myself channel surfing through infomercial and bad movies. Ultimately, I happened upon CMT and found myself watching the video for "Home", a vivacious single off of Marc Broussard's album Carencro. As is often my way of responding, I hunted the album down and was amazed at the young man's grasp of blue-eyed soul. He sets his sights on reviving the genre here and rocks out on these classics. If you need an injection of life, Marc Broussard is your guy. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: Lost Highway - Bon Jovi

The music of Bon Jovi was the soundtrack of my youth. I remember having a cassette tape with some songs recorded off the radio that I played to death. One of those tracks was Bon Jovi's seminal "You Give Love A Bad Name". Good memories. Well, I've grown quite a bit since those days and the boys have aged a bit but they've weathered the storms and have come out on the other side looking none the worse for wear. Adopting a country-inspired sound this time around, Bon Jovi scores a fun listen. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: Pocket Symphony

I try to be a pretty open guy musically. Just a quick look at the itunes shuffle survey post I did a few posts below will show that, even with just a percentile of my music uploaded, I'm fairly diversified. Yet, I hit a wall with Air's Pocket Symphony. I wanted to like this album. I listened to it over and over, probably more than I should have really, yet I just found myself bored. It just didn't do it for me. Yet, here's the INFUZE review:

Review: Live in Dublin - Bruce Springsteen

I became a Bruce Springsteen fan after seeing the video for the title cut of Devils and Dust. With the subsequent release of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, I was hooked. This was not the Springsteen I grew up imagining. The Boss' compelling delivery coupled with a hardworking and everyman sort of attitude just sold me. This is a great album! Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace - Big & Rich

While I'm a huge proponent for old-school country (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings), I still like to see what the young kids are up to. Guys like Shooter Jennings and Big & Rich have brought some interesting things to the table in the past few years and, while not necessarily creating groundbreaking music, have kept Music Row hopping. Unfortunately, this outing from Big & Rich falls short of what I think they're capable of, despite featuring a few solid singles. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: The Gospel Truth - Susan Werner

I caught an interview with Susan Werner on NPR one Saturday morning as I went about some daily chores and knew that I needed to give her album a listen. Billing itself as perhaps the first "agnostic gospel album", this is some interesting stuff. Werner borrows from the traditional gospel sound and offers up thoughtful, poignant, and honest lyrics that those of us in the Christian camp would do well to listen and dialogue about. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: We'll Never Turn Back - Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples is one of the greatest voices in music, period. Whether it be gospel or whatever, her voice possesses a powerful charm that grabs anyone within listening range. This album is a beautiful tribute to the African American struggle for equality and reminds us that we still have a long way to go. This will be on a few Top 10 lists this year. Here's the INFUZE review:

Review: Call Me Irresponsible - Michael Buble

Sometime not long ago I found myself at my future sister-in-law's house and she was playing a mix she'd created for her wedding that was virtually all Michael Buble. As I listened to the young Canadian work his way through songs old and new, I was impressed. Call Me Irresponsible isn't his best work to date but it's worth a listen or two. Here's the INFUZE review:

A Little itunes Fun

I owe props for this deal to Marko! I thought this would be fun to copy so, well, here goes. The first fifteen songs in itunes on "shuffle" mode. No cheating! (Note: Due to the fact that I'm wickedly behind the times and/or poor and do not yet possess an ipod or related mp3 playing device, the entirety of my music collection is not yet uploaded. So, please do not hold the shuffle against me!)

Here goes:

1.) 'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose - John Prine w/Dermot Byrne from Hands Across the Water

2.) Glory - The Cobalt Season from Live: Deconstructing the American Dream

3.) You Make it Feel Like Christmas - Neil Diamond from The Christmas Album

4.) Leavin' On My Mind - The Hacienda Brothers from The Hacienda Brothers

5.) Dora's Dark Side - Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours from Trailercana

6.) That's What the Blues is All About - Albert King from The Best of Albert King

7.) Deathbed - Relient K from Five Score and Seven Years Ago

8.) Hound Dog - Albert King from The Best of Albert King

9.) Shake That Devil - Joan Osborne from Pretty Little Stranger

10.) O Holy Night - Mercy Me from The Christmas Sessions

11.) O Come All Ye Faithful - Frank Sinatra

12.) Black Water - Watermelon Slim and the Workers from The Wheel Man

13.) World Without Sound - Roseanne Cash from Black Cadillac

14.) Zach's Bon Ton - Zachary Richard from Zach's Bon Ton

15.) Amelia's Last - Over the Rhine from The Darkest Night of the Year

Whew! That was fun!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My Inner Willy Loman

Lately, I've been having a case of the willies. Surely you remember reading through Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman in some high school English course, right? Well, then you surely remember the play's protagonist, Willy Loman. He was the guy who believed himself to have a solid amount of talent and skill yet found himself at the end of his career having to lean on his neighbor and others for handouts and loans. He had gotten to that place where he thought everything was going to be gravy and instead, he couldn't even afford gravy. That's kind of how I've felt lately.

Now, things aren't entirely Willy Loman bad. I'll admit that. But there's something to be said for intuitively knowing and understanding that there is much more you could be doing. That's how I feel, like I could be doing so much more. Yet, at seemingly every step of the way, I find myself hamstrung. Whether it's simply being worn out by the rugrats, burdened by poor choices from far before, or just perhaps not seeing the opportunities, I'm wrestling. I believe in my heart that I have something to offer. I know I do. Yet I find myself crawling through the same deal, day in and day out. And I hate it. I want to be challenged. I want to do something that matters. I want to create a legacy, not be a laughingstock.

I realize that this world is not about money, about things, about accomplishments. And that's truly not what I'm lamenting. While I certainly do desire a slightly more inflated salary than I currently draw, money is not the motivating force for my life. I want that force to be my love for God but that's truthfully something that I'm learning to make more consistent. Thats part of the journey, I believe. But I truly do desire for my life to be intertwined with His purposes that will allow me to truly LIVE, to TASTE, and to SEE. Right now, I think I'm frustratingly bored. I want to reclaim the adventure. I want to reengage in relationships. I want to live my life to it's fullest.