Thursday, January 28, 2010

To the Earth

You've forgiven us so much.
Is your patience wearing thin?

This time some of ours to forgive.
Were I them I can't say I'd be quick to.
But neither would I want to cross you.

Will you bring us to our end?
Or will we just get to you first?

Whom is more a threat to whom?
Surely it doesn't matter:
Who's the former, who's the latter.

You are not our angry mother.
Are you the sister we've estranged?

We share a Father; is your hope our Brother?
Might we some day just be friends?
Can we some way make amends?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of Mice and Earthquakes

Yesterday I read another interesting reaction to the Haitian disaster which contrasted Pat Robertson's quite markedly. Reflecting on the notion that "earthquakes don't kill people, buildings kill people", the blog went on to repent of complicity in the oppressive capitalism that contributes to and even exploits the systemic weaknesses of the countries like Haiti. In the face of tragedy, instead of casting blame, it accepted it, and for that it can be appreciated.

For all that, however, it gave me pause to wonder: Why do we feel that in the face of these natural tragedies someone must be blamed?

Some blame God. Some blame the victims. Some blame themselves. Some blame tectonic plates shifting and thus come closest to avoiding the blame game altogether. But I suspect that even the most ardent naturalist still feels like some kind of wrong is at play, and looks to improve upon the situation, and thus implicitly blames yesterday's lack of tomorrow's progress.

Something is wrong. It is our to wonder what.

Yesterday was Robert Burns Day in Scotland--a night for eating Haggis and reading poetry. And all this was in the back of my mind as I pulled out our Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry at supper and read Robbie Burns' To A Mouse (since one of my sons was reciting a verse from it in class that day). The poem was occasioned by Burns' accidental disturbance of a mouse's nest while ploughing a field in 1785. In it he cries:

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken nature's social union
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An' fellow-mortal!

The poem goes on to lament the various inevitabilities to this clash of humanity and nature, and continues:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy!

I was surprised to come across that famous line, and even more surprised once my wife and I figured that in its completed form it says "the best laid plans of mice and men don't oft agree."

That's the problem of nature, isn't it? We are not at peace with each other. Whatever joyful promises which nature seems to hold, they are dashed by grief and pain.

But that's not where the poem leaves it. One might expect Burns to declare some final hope, or to settle for a contented, make-the-most-of-it attitude. But he does neither. Instead he addresses the mouse, enviously:

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me;
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I cannot see,
I guess an' fear!

The problem of natural evil is often put only to the theist, and only in theist terms. Why does a good God allow suffering? It is not a question to be avoided. But the question can also be posed another way: Why does natural tragedy bother us at all? And what makes the grief and pain so, not only objectionable, but vexing?

I am not sure of Burns' particular worldview, but he voiced a common concern: Whatever the problem between humanity and nature, we wish for it to be reconciled.

It doesn't appear that Burns thought he should expect such a thing, and so wished the nagging wish were gone. But, like it or not, we aren't mice but human -- and as such it behooves us to wonder.

In a song declaring non-belief in God, when Joel Plaskett comes to a line about buildings that collapse he brings the music to a pregnant pause. One might dare to call it a sacred stop: For in such moments we might wrestle it out with God.

What I have found particularly compelling as I've been drawn into this wrestling match is that in Christ not only do we learn to hope for a reconciled creation, but we also have someone to who can and does take to himself our grief, our longing, and even, incredibly, our blame.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

34 Albums to Live By (10-6)

10. U2 - Zooropa

With the exception of the songs Babyface and Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car this album has somehow been my companion in every era of my life. Stay (Faraway So Close) and Dirty Day are great songs, but are bested still by The First Time and The Wanderer. Both these songs have unforgettable lines of pilgrimage put to ominously genuine tunes. Lines like: "Stopped outside a church-house / Where the citizens like to sit / They say they want the Kingdom / But they don't want God in it / Yeah I went with nothing / Nothing but the thought of you / I went wandering."

9. Brian Doerksen & Vineyard - Hungry

I admit I have a love-hate relationship with worship music. Probably Brian Doerksen and Stuart Townend are the song-writers in this genre I respect the most, and Vineyard music was pretty instrumental in my early years of Christian adulthood. Delirious had a double album that made some waves in my life at one point too. But this is the only worship CD I ever listen to anymore. Your Name is Holy is my favourite. It and Hungry remind me of a memorable Youth Conference at college as well. But it is songs like Humble King that, instead of being b-side drivel, likely give the album its staying power.

8. Joel Plaskett - In Need of Medical Attention

This album was written largely from a hospital bed. It closes with the songs Goodbye World and Goodbye, Doctor, and begins with the lines: "I'm sorry father, I didn't want to be the one, to tell you about the news of your son, he was a failure, second to none, and that's not all." Can it get more grippingly authentic and pared down to the soul than this? I think the highlight of the album for me is the song Powerful Lights, where he sings his wish "to hear somebody's voice, other than my own" and two other voices close out the song echoing "other than my own" back and forth. Remarkable.

7. Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head

This is epic. This album accompanied us through those first months of parenthood, and is a fantastic piece of work besides. Surely you've heard it.

6. Consider the Ravens

My brother has done some really good stuff with Dave McGregor in The Young Wire Wicks (including an EP that only leaves one begging for more) as well as more of his own stuff since his first few concerts with Nathan Davies as Consider the Ravens. See the links in my sidebar if you want to track that stuff down. But he threw together a CD a few years back which combined one of their shows with some other songs of his own and I just have always sat in amazement of it. The songs really have seeped into me. Ghost at the Window is an eerie epic that gives me the same feeling as a great Dylan song. Alone Together, Lost in Translation, and the live version of I Can't Stand are all gorgeous songs. I can't get over Frankenstein either, from the first lines to the last: "Come to life you wretched no-man / The breath, the ghost of God . . . . Don't come to me for joy / Because I'm lost in the race to be a better man." I suppose it is typical to put your brother in a list like this. But I'd be lying if I didn't put his music high on my list of musical influences.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Books, A New Masculinity, and P.R.

Yesterday I came across a going out of business book sale and grabbed Church Dogmatics III.4 for half price. Totally awesome, I know! For those keeping score at home, that means I now own all the pink ones and the fourth green one. Aren't you psyched for me?

My dissertation is on the pink ones, by the way. Thus far I've read the first one, half the second one, the third one, and have just cracked the fifth one. Plan to be done by March so that I can write my do or die paper by June.

* * * * * * * *

At the same book sale I also found Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen's 2002 book, which I've been wanting to read for quite some time, called Fathers and Sons: The Search for a New Masculinity. Got it for 2 pounds! Her earlier book, Gender and Grace, was amazing, and highly informative and influential in my "conversion" to egalitarian mutuality.

So, this is the lady who is going to tell me how to be a 21st century man! I like to imagine that bothering John Eldredge just a little bit.

* * * * * * * *

It was tempting to comment about Pat Robertson last week. If I still lived under the oppressive tedium of 24 hour news-saturated television I might have reacted strongly and quickly. But I'm starting to accept the fact that Jesus doesn't need me to be his public relations manager (although I'm sure He wouldn't mind if church leaders spoke better in His name).

Besides, I think Pat Robertson is a ready tool for anyone needing an easy reason to disregard Christianity, and a convenient catalyst for the self-righteousness of both those who agree with him and those who take great pleasure at pointing out his lunacy. Do I, in condemning him, repeat his offence?

At the end of the day, it would be a lot better if he didn't get so much air time, but since he did, this Haitian response is all any reasonable person needs to see. I find it quite moving actually:

What a wise, passionate, and gracious response. God help this country rebuild.

I really appreciated the varied push-back and feedback on that last post. If anyone still wants to chat about any of that, or any of the above, go ahead and bring it up.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Punch in the Face

I broke up a fight at the school grounds today.

Saw one boy land a pretty brutal flurry of punches and in turn have some food and taunting thrown at him by a group of his peers. Saw him run off and take out some serious pent up anger (desperation?) kicking a trash bin. Tried to talk to him and saw tears overtake him. Saw his mom come and try to speak to him and saw him run away. Saw parents and kids alike huddling around and keeping to themselves.

I don't usually meddle, and probably to my shame am actually fairly aloof when I drop my boys off every morning. But this morning it all happened so fast. I was drawn in against my will. I saw it, saw no adults nearer than I, began to walk over, yelled the loudest and most commanding "hey!" I could muster, and got over there and broke it up. I got one kid's name but could not cajole anyone into coming to the office with me, or even really talking to me.

I told them what I saw and thought at the school office, and they seemed to think they knew all the complexities of the story before I even told them. Maybe they do. I tried to represent empathetically all sides of the event. In the end I had to leave it to them and to trust them to handle it on their turf in their way.

All I have left of the situation now are my questions.

Questions about getting involved, and how deep that can take you, and where do you stop?

Questions about imposing one's values outside of one's own home. When and when not?

Questions about children, and how everything they do (good or bad) is a mirror on their adult society. By that I don't mean just their parents (or lack thereof). I mean all of us.

Questions about darkness; and the chaos and confusion that smothers it like leeches. I wanted to speak to this punch-throwing boy with empathy and care, but there was no way he wanted anything to do with me. Whatever he was pissed off about would only be trivialized by the interference of some stranger, no matter how well meaning. My unpractised little light could not come out of its bushel and even hope to penetrate this cloud. Not even close.

Questions about just letting stuff like this go. And how that often seems like our only option, even once we become somehow involved---let alone when we are only partially aware of the existence of such events and the circumstances that must lie behind them.

Questions about how we're all, all of us, pretty much paralyzed in the face of this kind of darkness. It seems our whole society is built on the mechanisms to stay comfortably aloof, so we can hold on to our illusions. We do not have a real hope in the face of evil. We keep it away with our mechanisms of fear and tolerance and we reason against it with our false mirage of human progress. But whether we are directly involved or not, all of us are implicated in it.

Questions about our church communities, and about how that paralysis, and not some kind of holiness, is probably a better explanation for our set-apart-ness most of the time. What with our private schools and safe places and home schools and small groups. Are we just afraid and hiding? Are we just making the most of life in our paralysis? We say we are people of faith, hope and love, but it is mostly in the abstract. Most days we are people of fear, guilt, and grateful safety.

I should not sound so accusing here. I'm talking about me. There are plenty of Christians I know who are right there in the thick of it, salt of the earth, loving the unloved and seemingly unlovable, hoping for the hopeless, holding faith where there are no shafts of light.

The sad thing is that these folks are sometimes the apparently un-theological sort, the kind that we make light of with our stereotypes of the church, and our theological elitism, and all its talk of "bad words" and so on. Don't get me wrong. Truth-talking is as important in the face of darkness's falsehood as anything else. But it is at times like this when I remember that it is these people, the people with real faith, hope, and love in the face of and not in oblivion to darkness---these are the real heroes.

I'm not accusing anyone here. Unless you are like me. Then with me you stand accused. I realize today that I am a far cry from being a man thoroughly ingrained with faith, hope and love. I am paralyzed, and retreat to my comfortable place, and analyze the situation from here. And this is all I can do. Maybe it is even the best I can do.

But somewhere nearby a boy is crying alone.

I can't even fathom Granville Street. Let alone Haiti.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Becoming Acquainted with Karl Barth III: Love of Music (i.e. Mozart)

While reviewing my CD collection to ascertain the "albums I've lived by" I was struck again at how influential music has been not only in my day to day life but in the development of my "outlook". I suppose there is a chicken and egg argument to be made here. Maybe music is simply indicative of one's life, but I think there is a back and forth: Your life shapes your music choices and your listening can profoundly shape your life.

So, music is the theme of this the third installment of my "Becoming Acquainted with Barth" series. The following quotes from Eberhard Busch's Karl Barth: His Life from Letters will give you a sense of the influence of music on Barth's own life and theology.

Barth wrote: “But the golden sounds and melodies of Mozart’s music have always spoken to me – not as gospel, but as parables of the kingdom revealed in the gospel of God’s free grace, and they continue to do so with the utmost freshness. Without it I could not think of what moves me personally in theology, in politics. There are probably few theologians’ studies in which the pictures of Mozart and of Calvin can be seen side by side at the same level” (410).

"Equally remarkable was Barth’s confession in one of the commemorative articles, that ‘if I ever get to heaven, I shall first ask after Mozart, and only then after Augustine and Thomas, Luther and Calvin and Schleiermacher’” (409).

While we're on the subject of music, I couldn't resist throwing in the following two quotes, which I think hint at what Barth might say about evangelical "worship" habits today. The first humorous (and telling) anecdote is fairly obvious, addressing the delight worshippers sometimes seem to have at the sound of their own voices. The second is from pretty early in Barth's career, but it represents his opposition to presumptuous triumphalism (despite emphasis on the victory of Christ), and so I'm inferring here that it reflects a desire (if not his then mine) to see lament and confession as integral parts of Christian worship.

“But if only the Anglo-Saxons would not make their phylacteries so broad and so long! I went to an Evening Prayer at which the Lord’s Prayer was said twice and the Gloria five or six times. I said to them afterwards, 'If I were the good God, I would reply to you in a voice of thunder, ‘All right, that will do, I’ve heard you!’ . . . The best diversion was provided by a small cat which once intruded into the service. It miaowed around here and there, finally sprang on the back of one of the most zealous worshippers and from there waved its tail to and fro like a banner” (399).

“During the break in the summer semester of 1922 Barth had the opportunity of articulating his theology and taking it out of the lecture hall to groups of pastors and theologians by giving three long lectures. . . . Barth concluded: ‘There is more hope when we sigh
Veni Creator spiritus!, than when we exult as though the spirit were already ours. You have been introduced to 'my theology' once you have heard this sigh”(139).

Monday, January 11, 2010

34 Albums to Live By (20-11)

20. Ryan Adams - Love is Hell

At the end of the day I'm not sure I agree with the title, but I get it. The 16 songs on this album are, every single one of them, just awesome. Shadowlands is deeply moving, and at a certain period of life really found me where I was at and kept me going. Wonderwall makes something new of something old in a brilliant way. And Please Do Not Let Me Go, My Blue Manhattan and Hotel Chelsea Nights are perhaps the most relaxing songs imaginable. I come back to them often.

19. The 77's - Sticks and Stones

Michael Roe and the 77s modelled genuine faith to me, and guided me in many ways through my coming of age. I really ought to write them and thank them. From the heart-wrenching Bottom Line to the saddest song I've ever heard, Don't This Way, Roe knew just how to get real about the struggle. And yet with songs like Nowhere Else and The Days to Come he was speaking out of a very real hope. By the time the song God Sends Quails gets to the repeated refrain "You've can't go back" and resolves, almost relents, into the soft but growing response "You can go on" I'm past suspecting mere sentimentalism and am open to belief. You should read the lyrics to that one. Michael Roe reminds me of Johnny Cash, except no one knows about him. His song 'Til Jesu Comes is on a solo album, but bears mention in such a list nonetheless.

18. Damien Jurado - Waters Ave S.

This is a pretty raw early Jurado album that sunk itself into my psyche my third year of college when I was really finding my legs (shakily) as a human being and potential leader of some sort. Notables are Treasures of Gold and Sarah and such slivers of life as Yuma, Arizona and Wedding Cake. These songs are like the soundtrack to some of the hardest months of one of the greatest years of my life.

17. Sixpence None the Richer - This Beautiful Mess

Classic. This band made a bit of a name for itself but in my opinion never bested this its sophomore release. Circle of Error, The Garden, Disconnect, and Drifting--all these songs are irreplaceable aspects of my life. There was a heartfelt searching and honesty about this album that was a breath of fresh air to my experience of Christianity and in many ways, along with the 77s, another mentor in my burgeoning faith. I think it was with these bands that I first began to appreciate the value of true lament.

16. The Tragically Hip - Up to Here

There were a couple years there where The Hip had their finger on the pulse of teenage life in Canada, or at least in Lower Mainland, British Columbia. It was like their songs coursed through our veins. Fully Completely is probably the album most of my peers would identify with most typically from that era, but it their first album, Up to Here, that I called my own. New Orleans Is Sinking made them famous, but its the b-sides of this cassette that had me hitting rewind and starting over on those many road trips and nights working meaningless jobs in high school. Great stuff.

15. The Joel Plaskett Emergency - Down at the Khyber

I wish I'd known about Joel Plaskett years ago. How anyone can be a Canadian and not know about (and thus love) this musical treasure is a tragedy. Down at the Khyber is a masterpiece of rock and roll, I kid you not. True Patriot Love is the new national anthem, Light of the Moon is an epic up there with the best of them, and Unconditional Love just shows that Joel is not a lyrical or musical pretender but an absolutely talented vocalist and guitar player and a purely enjoyable and thoughtful singer/songwriter. This album would be up there on a list of albums I'd want on a desert island. Musically marooned in Scotland its been like a lifeline to home.

14. Ryan Adams - Gold

Although Love is Hell may stand better as an entirety, this has three of my favourite Ryan Adams songs of all time and thus carries the day. La Cienega Just Smiled, Wildflowers, and Rescue Blues--these are glorious songs.

13. U2 - Boy

I don't know how it is but I am pretty sure this album was recorded in Narnia. Not the Disney Narnia, but the one in your head when you first read the books as a child. I think my conviction in this regard has to do with the fact that I first bought this album around the time when I decided to read the books again as an adult. There is also the song Shadows and Tall Trees and the overall magical quality to the album which doesn't hurt either. Some of the best U2 songs of all time are on their first album: Out of Control, Stories for Boys, and An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart.

12. Matthew A. Wilkinson - Sinners

This is not an attempt at flattering or plugging one of this blogs most faithful readers. Sinners is a fantastic album. Here is a link where you can go listen to it. You will be really glad if you do. I don't often force people to sit an listen to an entire album with me at once but I did so in this case with a good friend at seminary and he was hooked. When the last five years are said and done there are few albums which would evoke as many memories for me as this one. The songs (especially the first five) fit back to back so well and create an ethos so flawlessly that the whole has the feel of a thoroughly accessible concept album.

11. Radiohead - OK Computer

This is probably the best rock album of all time. Let Down is probably the best song of all time. It has overlapping guitar parts with different time signatures, of all things! Sounds amazing. Mention here should likely be made of Kid A and Hail to the Thief, two other Radiohead albums I can't get enough of, but which somehow aren't listed here.

And with that the ground is broken for my top 10, perhaps even more scattered than this 10, which will come along in a week or so. . . .

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Bad Words III: "Christian Music Industry"

I have listened to and enjoyed a lot of "Christian music" in my time; even promoted it as such. Especially back in the day when I felt like it had some original stuff going on and was particularly important to me. But calling it that has always felt off, for some reason. I guess it seems too flippant, too in/out, too narrowly conceived, too inbred, too blatantly niche-seeking, and too presumptuous.

Now, I do think there can be legitimately unique music which would seek for a proper descriptor and with reverence land on the adjective "Christian". I also do think there is an industry aimed at producing music for the church which can have some really good stuff in it. But the notion that an industry or a label or an artist can be so bold as to control the giving of this adjective, or even that listeners can look to such a labelling enterprise in a trusting way, is troubling. I think Karl Barth might say it best:

"It is not the Church which makes its special activity holy. It is not itself which by its special activity in the world marks itself off from that of other societies. But this means that it does not lie in its power or under its control to give to its own activity the predicate "Christian." It would do well always to apply this adjective to its own activities only with the greatest reserve and therefore relatively seldom.

In all seriousness there are what we may call "Christian" activities, which are as such different from all others and as such holy, a holy activity of the community within the world. There is in fact a coincidence of its divine separation and its own separations in and with its activity (in its preaching, in its worship, in its constitution, in its ordinances, in its theology, in its attitude in questions and decisions which affect the world). There are human acts and attitudes which are holy as such, i.e., which have the character of real witness to the One whose earthly historical existence the Church is allowed to be.

But that they have this character is always dependent upon the answering witness of the One whom they aim and profess to attest."

Even the first Christians were themselves so named by the Antiochan public. Even Mary does not call herself "blessed" but rejoices in the grace that generations would refer to her as such. Even the Christ himself is happy to mutter a mere "you have said so" and let the declaration of his Kingship echo off the lips of Pilate; the one who would let him be killed.

I think we can appreciate when the industries and arts of church people are unconcerned to self-define---but are genuinely living instead from the reverent and unassuming prayer that on the earth and in the world they might bear God's savour and light.

- Quotation from Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1, 693-694, cf. IV.2, 188ff.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

34 Albums to Live By (34-21)

On my 30th birthday I sent a thank you email to 30 people who'd meant a lot to me up to that date. Ever since I've extended the sentiment toward the arts by annually creating a tribute list to the film, fiction, and now music that has shaped my life. This year: 34 albums I've lived by.

Most of the following became important to me for pretty subjective reasons, but that's not to say I don't highly recommend every single one of them. Anyway, here it is:

34. Bob Dylan - Modern Times

This lyrical genius has over 34 albums of his own worthy of mention, but this recent one, as a whole, has just bled itself into the last few years, injecting a kind of easy-going concern. Spirit on the Water, Thunder on the Mountain--it has sort of an epic calm and maturity about it that I only wish I could begin to reflect.

33. Bleach - Again, For the First Time

This band toured the youth group music scene for awhile when I was really into that, and had one concert in particular that was a fun night for me. They broke up without leaving any real great musical masterpiece, until they just kind of got together again to throw this thing together. It made for several summers of just plain fun windows-down rock and roll for me and my wife. The last two songs, Andy's Doin' Time and Knocked Out, are quite special to me, but quite frankly this is just a surprisingly fantastic, short, simple rock album.

32. Phoenix - Its Never Been Like That

Another fun rock album. One our kids really enjoyed with us, which was fun and has given some great memories. Our older two boys heard several of the songs so often they tried to sing them themselves on numerous occasions. Especially Napoleon Says and Consolation Prizes. I was in a melancholy-lament-music-only phase for awhile there, and this album snapped me out of the overdose and made me sing with the windows down again.

31. Collective Soul - Dosage

My interest in this band died off after awhile, but this album was their best, and has stuck for many years. The last song, Crown, is pretty remarkable stuff, and I have played it along with a sermon on several occasions because it helps me say so much of what I think worth saying; and have even more often needed hearing.

30. Counting Crows - Recovering the Satellites

August and Everything After got ridiculous amounts of play time, but this album is the one that lasted for me. Great energy and optimism (which I have needed often enough), without being naive or shallow (which would pretty much ruin it for me). Another pretty quintessential modern rock album, if you ask me.

29. Sigur Ros - Agaetis Bryjin

I'd love to have been at the wedding where the bride walked up the aisle to Staralfur. Geniuses were married that day. What a perfectly beautiful song. A fitting climax to a magical album. I do a lot of reading and writing, and this album has accompanied me in and through "the zone" many times. Don't be freaked away by the odd album cover and the indiscernible lyrics--this band is one of the best things to happen to music these past couple decades.

28. Sufjan Stevens - Come on Feel the Illinoise

A symphonic journey that feels like it could either be a really whimsical joke or a touch of the transcendent, and is probably best described as both. Something about this album just stirs my whole body, mind, and soul. From John Wayne Gacy, Jr. to The Predatory Wasp of the Pallisades is Out to Get Us! there are songs both haunting and joyous scattered all throughout this thing. And in Chicago, when the choir sings "we've made a lot of mistakes" and "you came to take us", I feel like I'm closer to real confession and worship than a great many church songs have ever taken me.

27. Patrick Watson - Close to Paradise

This album has an ethos. Saw them live and it was a really unique, intimate concert experience. At one point Watson was standing on a table in the middle of the crowd singing through cupped hands with nothing but the glow of people's cell-phones lighting him up. I remember one morning a bunch of us were on a road trip and had to get to a conference and were stuck in traffic and were strung out from no sleep and this album brought peace and tranquility back into our lives. Its that kind of music. Canadian too. I love The Great Escape, Luscious Life and The Gift.

26. Coldplay - Parachutes

I absolutely love the song Everything's Not Lost. I can even get worked up about it. Don't Panic is a wonderful opener too. My boys singing along to it is pretty priceless: They call it "sinking like stones" (from the first couple lines). Yellow gets overplayed, but that's because it is a great song; the single that catches your attention for the lilting wonder of the other songs like We Never Change.

25. Tom Petty - Wildflowers

A couple of my friends and I were big Petty fans in high school. I could have chosen a couple of his older albums, but this one has a light, deep, melancholy peace about it, from start to finish. Songs like Time to Move On have seen me through many moves and transitions and times of stress---especially the verse-ending line: "Most things I worry about, never happen anyway." Classic.

24. The Walkmen - You & Me

This is a unique album from a couple years ago that was in my ears a lot around about some of the hardest parts of the PhD application process last year. It kind of has this mood to it like ascending a dark mountain, not sure but suspecting the sun may just be behind the hill. I distinctly remember I had this album on the whole drive home after I was sure I'd failed my GRE exam and all was lost. I also always think he's summoning me by name in Donde Esta La Playa when he sings "Well its back to the battle today / But I wouldn't have it any other way / Cuz tonight, we'll be as crazy as Kooks [Coutts?]."

23. Neil Young- Sleeps with Angels

A friend here in Scotland tells me that Neil Young is one of Canada's greatest exports. I believe him. My friend in high school swore by Harvest Moon but I picked Sleeps With Angels up at a used record store and never let it go. I should say it never let go of me. Just listening to this takes me back to my days bombing around delivering pizza and wondering what life had in store. Change Your Mind is a 15 minute epic, Piece of Crap is a hilarious but true "venting" against commercialism, and Safeway Cart is a song that goes way deeper than the title could ever suggest. In it is one of my favourite lines of all time: "Like a safeway cart rollin' down the street/like a sandal mark on the Saviour's feet." Beautiful.

22. Sigur Ros - Hvarf Heim

Some music accompanies high moments or great memories. Some sees you through tough times and then is there for you afterward as you move on. This is one of the latter. In fact, the video they released along with it, which follows them on a free concert tour in their gorgeous homeland of Iceland, literally stills my anxiety and makes me love humanity again. Hyperbole? Maybe. Wonderful music though.

21. U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind

This is arguably their best record. It was pretty popular, for good reason. Part of the greatness of this album is its timing and its tone. I am not sure I'll ever forget U2's halftime show at the post-9/11 Superbowl, nor the morning of 9/12 when the normally sleazy morning-DJ of a local pop radio station was nearly in tears introducing the suddenly potent song Peace on Earth as the terror the world knows so well began to hit home. From Beautiful Day to New York to Grace, this album mixes lamentation with hope like I imagine few could.

To be clear, these aren't necessarily the top 34 I'd have in my playlist right now or even my naive idea of a top 34 all time albums (though some would qualify), rather, these are 34 albums which have most pressed themselves into my life and stuck. The order of this list is debatable, but I've really tried to be fair to the music of my past, and even if I never listen to it anymore, I have tried to honor the hold it had on me for a time.

As a result I've had a good time reminiscing the last few months about this. As I've done so, some old music has re-impressed itself upon me and revived itself in my ears. I highly recommend such a reflective exercise. Music is a wonderful thing. I'm sure you can relate.

I've really appreciated these 34 albums, for one reason or another. I'll get to the rest of the list later . . .

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Well, the "aughts" are over. Or as BBC 3 called them, the "noughties". I distinctly remember thinking as a child of the 80s that neither I nor the world would live to see this decade. Wow.

Since New Years is really just the celebration of a digit change, I figure I'll play along and start off 2010 with some numbers:

With this post my blog enters its 6th year. This after just celebrating its 4th anniversary. (Incidentally, I just realized that I am also personally entering my 5th decade. If that isn't mortally frightening, I don't know what is).

A long time ago I signed up to google analytics, which monitors your blog and tabulates all kinds of stats. I haven't looked at it in years. But tonight as I finished up some work I thought I'd have a gander.

Turns out that in 2009 I had 22,721 visits. Since 22,000 of those are probably me checking in on things, I'm not sure what to make of that figure. However, this is apparently up 95.89% from 2008! Really? Not sure what to make of that, either.

In even more banal news, the average time of visit is 48 seconds and my "bounce rate" is 82%. I don't know what that is.

I wasn't going to do this, but while we're at it, here's the top 10 ways visitors get here:

1. Direct (like, typing in the address?)
2. Google image referral (do I need to be more careful about image use?)
3. Google/organic (?)
4. Kramer's blog!
5. Nathan' blog!
6. Blogger referral (what is that?)
7. Matthew's blog!
8. Dale's blog!
9. My Yahoo referral (that'd be me or my wife coming from our home page)
10. Forrest's blog!

Wow, this is way too much information, isn't it? I sort of prefer being surprised everytime someone comments or mentions that they've been reading along. I don't think I'm going to look at google analytics again any time soon. That said, its nice to have a sense of who your community is, or where they're coming from anyway.

While we're talking statistics, I do notice that I've had an increase in posts every year, topping 2008's 94 posts with 104 in 2009. I kind of doubt I'll post more than that this year. Mind you, I'd have said the same thing last January too, especially after we just had twins. But here we are.

Mostly I keep coming back because
a) I like to articulate or share thoughts if people care to listen,
b) I like to hear back from you people,
c) its a fun way to keep track of thoughts, movies seen, music & books, and
d) to keep track of and interact with you.

So here's to 2010 and the new decade (whatever it's called)!

And here's to us (whoever we are)! I really am humbled by your readership, but more than that by your friendship and presence in my life, however you choose to interact. Thanks.

. . . And now I have that dirty taste in my mouth like when I've looked at church attendance charts, demographic target groups, and growth projections. Eghad! Let's concern ourselves with quality rather than quantity, shall we?

And all God's people said: "Amen."