Monday, December 31, 2012

Favorite Movies of 2012

1. The Dark Knight Rises

2. Lincoln

3. Les Miserables

4. Argo

5. 21 Jump Street

6. The Hobbit

7. The Master

8. Bernie

9. SkyFall

10. Moonrise Kingdom

To give some context to this list, these are movies I purposefully left off (that generally got good reviews): Looper, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Grey

And these are movies I didn't get a chance to see yet that might have made the list: Django Unchained, The Kid with a Bike, Silver Linings Playbook, The Imposter, Amour, Life of Pi.

Here's Paste Magazine's Top 50 of the year

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite Books I read in 2012

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (1955)
An epic novel that I finally got around to reading this year. I was afraid that it wouldn't be as good since I had already seen all the movies, but that wasn't a problem at all. There was obviously so much more depth and detail in the book that is much needed to fully appreciate the story. I loved following the characters again (but almost for the first time). Tolkien is so good at creating a world that seems familiar and developing characters that you want to know.

Good quote: “Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

2. The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman (1982)
One of my favorite books is "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Postman. He is such a prophetic voice for our generation obsessed with entertainment as he writes in the mid 80s. This book explains how childhood was basically an invention coming shortly after the printing press. Secrets were created by books and a sharp divide started to come between adults and children. Then, the telegraph started the demise of childhood as information became decontextualized and sent everywhere. Television, Postman argues, further erodes this distinction between the adult and child as information is presented without bias to anyone who can watch the screen. As a result, children are acting more like adults and adults are acting more like children.

Good quote: “Literature of all kinds…collects and keeps valuable secrets…In a literate world children must become adults. But in a non-literate world there is no need to distinguish sharply between the child and the adult, for there are few secrets, and the culture does not need to provide training in how to understand itself.”

3. The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry (1970)
This was my first book by Wendell Berry and it definitely won't be the last. Berry has been a farmer in Kentucky for the past forty years and has written over fifty works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This particular book is a nonfiction work about racism and the damage that it has brought to our country. He gives some personal experience of growing up on a farm with slaves and argues that the white community has received a hidden wound from their injustices towards the black community and that this wound needs to be looked at and talked about in order for the destruction from it to wane.

Good quote: "The white man preoccupied with the abstractions of the economic exploitation and ownership of the land, necessarily has lived on the country as a destructive force, an ecological catastrophe, because he assigned the hand labor, and in that the possibility of intimate knowledge of the land, to a people he considered racially inferior; in thus debasing labor, he destroyed the possibility of a meaningful contact with the earth."

4. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
A fascinating true story about the Louis Zamperini, a world class runner who ends up serving in World War II as a bombardier. He survives a plane crash, weeks in the ocean, and many brutal experiences in Japanese POW camps. Great story with a great ending.

Good quote: “On Kwajalein, Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler’s death camps, the slaves of the American South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people. Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen.”

5. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
I read this earlier in the year and don't remember many of the details, so I'll let the Amazon description speak for me: "How does good spoil, and how can bad be redeemed? In his penetrating novel The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene explores corruption and atonement through a priest and the people he encounters. In the 1930s one Mexican state has outlawed the Church, naming it a source of greed and debauchery. The priests have been rounded up and shot by firing squad--save one, the whisky priest. On the run, and in a blur of alcohol and fear, this outlaw meets a dentist, a banana farmer, and a village woman he knew six years earlier...On the verge of reaching a safer region, the whisky priest is repeatedly held back by his vocation, even though he no longer feels fit to perform his rites. As his sins and dangers increase, the broken priest comes to confront the nature of piety and love. Still, when he is granted a reprieve, he feels himself sliding into the old arrogance, slipping it on like the black gloves he used to wear." (Amazon)

Good quote: "It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It was easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization -- it needed a god to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt."

6. Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World by John H. Yoder (1989)
Everyone loves Yoder at Fuller and with this book I found out why. It's really short and it looks at five New Testament practices: binding and loosing, baptism, eucharist, multiplicity of gifts, and open meeting. He explains that these were central to the life of the New Testament community and he gives some fresh perspective on what they might mean for the church today. He argues that "the full social, ethical, and communal meaning of the original practices has often been covered by centuries of ritual and interpretation" and he  "uncovers the original meaning of the five practices and shows why the recovery of these practices is so important for the social, economic, and political witness of the church today." (Amazon)

Good quote: "The people of God is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately."

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey (1989)
I was quite surprised by this book. I didn't think I liked books about leadership, especially with a certain number of steps to go through. But this book is about much more than leadership, which is I think why it has been just a high seller. Covey's principles are really helpful for all of life. What I really loved is that he didn't focus on actions but on motives and heart level change. I believe I'll be thinking about the concepts here for quite a long time.

Good quote: "The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them--when they feel understood by you--that you have listened deeply and sincerely, and that you are open."

8. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (2002)
A true story about how Mitch finds out his favorite college professor is dying and then meets with him every Tuesday until Morrie passes away. It's a great story of friendship and reorienting one's life based on the perspective of someone who is at the end of his. I read this as a part of my "Grief, Loss, Death, and Dying" course at Fuller this past spring. Totally worth it.

Good quote: "So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong thing."

9. Letters to Children by CS Lewis (1985)
A collection of correspondance between Lewis and his younger readers. It's fascinating to see a man of such great intellect care for children and speak great truths in ways they can understand.

Good quote: "Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it's idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc) can do the journey on their own!"

10. Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff (1987)
This was another book I read for my grief & death class at Fuller. Wolterstoff, a brilliant philosopher teaching at Yale University, lost his 25 year old son to a climbing accident. In this book, he gives the reader a look into his grief and he honestly wrestles with how such a thing could happen. I highly recommend it for anyone who is dealing with any kind of significant loss.

Good quote: “God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God…"

Honorable Mentions: A Praying Life (Paul Miller), Hannah Coulter (Berry), Hunger Games series (Collins), The Ball and the Cross (Chesterton), Gilead (Robinson), Trauma and Recovery (Herman)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Keller: God got involved in our suffering

In light of the Newtown tragedy, I've seen some friends re-post a sermon that Tim Keller gave September 10, 2006 as a remembrance of 9-11 five years later. It's still incredibly relevant and helpful for a lot of the questions being asked in the last few days.
As a minister, of course, I’ve spent countless hours with people who are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question – the WHY question in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like all ministers or any spiritual guides of any sort, I scramble to try to say something to respond and I always come away feeling inadequate and that’s not going to be any different today. But we can’t shrink from the task of responding to that question. Because the very best way to honor the memories of the ones we’ve lost and love is to live confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually be able to face that question. We have to have the strength to face a world filled with constant devastation and loss. So where do we get that strength? How do we deal with that question? I would like to propose that, though we won’t get all of what we need, we may get some of what we need 3 ways: by recognizing the problem for what it is, and then by grasping both an empowering hint from the past and an empowering hope from the future.

First, we have to recognize that the problem of tragedy, injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. Now, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see horrendous evil, you rightly believe that that is a problem for your belief in God, and you’re right – and you say, “How could a good and powerful God allow something like this to happen?”

But it’s a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that if you abandon your belief in God it somehow is going to make the problem easier to handle. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail says that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if a particular human law was unjust or not. So think. If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong eating the weak! And yet somehow, we still feel this isn’t the way things ought to be. Why not? Now I’m not going to get philosophical at a time like this. I’m just trying to make the point that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a problem for disbelief in God—for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of it. OK, then what will?

Second, I believe we need to grasp an empowering hint from the past. Now at this point, I’d like to freely acknowledge that every faith – and we are an interfaith gathering today – every faith has great resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as a Christian minister I know my own faith’s resources the best, so let me simply share with you what I’ve got. When people ask the big question, “Why would God allow this or that to happen?” There are almost always two answers. The one answer is: Don’t question God! He has reasons beyond your finite little mind. And therefore, just accept everything. Don’t question. The other answer is: I don’t know what God’s up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are happening. There’s no way to make any sense of it at all. Now I’d like to respectfully suggest the first of these answers is too hard and the second is too weak. The second is too weak because, though of course we don’t have the full answer, we do have an idea, an incredibly powerful idea.

One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.

But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.

And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we read: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake….[They]… will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars for ever and ever. And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection and the life! Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!

In the year after 9-11 I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was treated successfully. But during that whole time I read about the future resurrection and that was my real medicine. In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

The answer is YES. And the answer of the Bible is YES. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going TO COME UNTRUE.

Oh, I know many of you are saying, “I wish I could believe that.” And guess what? This idea is so potent that you can go forward with that. To even want the resurrection, to love the idea of the resurrection, long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of it, is strengthening. I John 3:2-3. Beloved, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope purify themselves as he is pure.” Even to have a hope in this is purifying.

Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.”

That is strong and that last sentence is particularly strong…but if the resurrection is true, it’s absolutely right. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012

It's the end of another year and that means I have a few "best of" lists to share. I started doing this in 2008, mainly influenced by Paste Magazine. I've enjoyed doing it and I hope you enjoy seeing them.

Here are my favorite albums of 2012 and you can check them out via this Spotify playlist:

1. Land of the Living, by Matthew Perryman Jones
Favorite Tracks: Land of the Living, O Theo, Stones from the Riverbed

2. The Lumineers, by The Lumineers
Favorite Tracks: Stuboorn Love, Ho Hey, Dead Sea

3. Babel, by Mumford & Sons
Favorite Tracks: Hopeless Wanderer, I Will Wait

4. My Head Is An Animal, by Of Monsters and Men
Favorite Tracks: Mountain Sound, Six Weeks, Little Talks

5. The Carpenter, by The Avett Brothers
Favorite Tracks: The Once and Future Carpenter, Live and Die, February Seven

6. Nexus, by Sola-Mi
Favorite Tracks: The Blessing of Being Bloodless, Crowd of Silent Strangers, Mother Mother

7. Gravity, by Lecrae
Favorite Tracks: Falling Down, Gravity

Here are Paste's Top 50 albums of the year.

Also, if I were redo my last year from last year I would include The Head and the Heart self-titled album near the top. I've been listening to it a ton this year. Check out Down in the Valley, Rivers and Roads, and Lost in my Mind on the album. Legit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

True freedom vs. the freedom of affluence

Our present idea of freedom is only the freedom to do as we please: to sell ourselves for a high salary, a home in the suburbs, and idle weekend. But that is a freedom dependent upon affluence, which is in turn dependent upon the rapid consumption of exhaustible supplies. The other kind of freedom is the freedom to take care of ourselves and of each other. The freedom of affluence opposes and contradicts the freedom of community life.”
Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound, pg. 135