Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Back when I used to keep up this blog I had an annual tradition where I'd add another entry to my 'life lists' of books, film, and music. (If you are seeing this it probably means you still check in and, thus, already knew that!). Someday I just might fire up this blog again, so I figure I'll keep those lists active. So without much fanfare or further adieu, here are the 36th entries on my lists. Just my way of expressing gratitude to those things which have been a big part of my 36th year.

Albums I've Lived By

Arcade Fire - Funeral

This will forever be remembered as the year I (along with many) discovered Arcade Fire (a little later than most). I got the whole discography at once and though I loved them all and really enjoyed 'The Suburbs' it was 'Funeral' which resonated with me most both lyrically and musically. Already this album has ingrained itself upon my psyche to such a degree that I can hardly believe I hadn't really heard it until this year. When I saw the band live in Glasgow it was unforgettable. Between Laika and Wake Up, Rebellion (Lies) and Power Out, this album's songs carried the night for me.

Favourite Fiction

Richard Adams - Watership Down

For some reason (I don't know what compelled us) I picked this up and started reading it to my oldest this year. We were absolutely enraptured with it. One of the best books I've ever read, hands down. One day I was sick but he wanted to read it so bad he worked his way through a whole page reading to me aloud in bed (this book is full of very big words and he did very well).

Influential Non-Fiction

Willie James Jennings - The Christian Imagination

I wrote about this book at length in various places on the blog, such as here. I read a lot of great books this year, but this one triggered my thinking in new ways the most.

Possible runners up this year:
Karl Barth - The Epistle to the Romans
John Howard Yoder - Body Politics

Films that Stuck With Me

Gone Baby Gone

I would love to write about this more one day. I did so on facebook one time but can't figure out how to find it. The acting was brilliant. The story had twists and turns but still felt real and was gripping without being over the top. The sense of place was profound, and the storyline tugged at the mind and heart. I thought the end was poignantly filmed. Casey Affleck's character turns out to be something of a Christ figure, I think, and as he gives of him self one more time for this forgotten young girl the camera pans behind the TV that he's watching and we sense that the onus is on us if this world is going to get any better.


Darren said...

Jon: Awesome. I'm also a newcomer to Arcade Fire this past year, but I've spent almost all of my time with "The Suburbs" so far. Glad to know there is more deep magic to be felt.

We'll have to watch for Gone Baby Gone. On a semi-related movie note, we just caught Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones last night. Have you seen it? What did you think?

Dave M said...

I agree with you about Arcade Fire, while I have really liked all of their albums its still the ones from Funeral that hold the most water.

I saw the film of Watership Down a few times when I was very small and I remember it being very intense, in a mysterious and fearful kind of way. I should really re-visit it, or read the book.

I would also like to place a vote for you to 'fire up this blog' again.

Jon Coutts said...

thanks for the vote Dave. It will happen one day. Watership Down is definitely worth the read. We watched the cartoon after the fact and while it captured the book really well it simply begs you to read the novel.

Darren, The Lovely Bones seemed like it was headed in some good directions but in the end I thought it was awful. Jackson's point was lost on me, and the screensaver-esque dreamscapes did nothing but detract from what otherwise might have been a compelling story. I thought the villain was good and the sub-plot of the older daughter's discovery had some promise. But the whole thing unravelled for me when Jackson basically made nothing of it.

Incidentally, when we watched Lovely Bones it was because I had mistaken it for Winter's Bone, which is far better. But Gone Baby Gone is better than both by far. You must see it.

s$s said...

Interesting additions to the ongoing list.

I know nothing about Watership Down, despite it being some kind of a classic, but now I'm very very curious. I think sometimes the best way to talk about art is to discuss the way you interacted with it, like your wonderful anecdote about your oldest kid working through an entire page; for me that says more about the book than any explicit discussion of its contents or style.

It's VERY nice to see you on This Side of Sunday again.


Have you read Paul Tillich? I can't remember if you've talked about him or not. I read an article by him a couple weeks ago. His ideas were buried under too much philosophical/theological jargon for my liking, but his ideas are very interesting.

Anyways, I miss the regular interaction.

-Matthew Wilkinson

Jon Coutts said...

I kind of like that way of talking about art too. I always feel this tension of not wanting such things to feel like online journalling though (which I never wanted to do). Not sure when I'll spark this up again but having you guys out there makes me want to do so. In time...

Paul Tillich is one that I know more about second hand than first, but I probably won't emerge from this year without having read him myself. You'll get plenty of jargon, yes, but I think he's got some good stuff. I'd be curious about the article.

s$s said...

The article was on some site that had a bunch of articles and excerpts from his books. I copy-and-pasted a piece I liked. I don't keep very good notes. All I typed under the pasted section was 'Courage to Be' -so I assume that's the name of the article. I was skim-reading and found the following section, which I liked very much:

"The God of theological theism is a being beside others and as such a part of the whole of reality. He certainly is considered its most important part, but as a part and therefore as subjected to the structure of the whole. He is supposed to be beyond the ontological elements and categories which constitute reality. But every statement subjects him to them. He is seen as a self which has a world, as an ego which is related to a thou, as a cause which is separated from its effect, as having a definite space and an endless time. He is a being, not being-itself… God appears as the invincible tyrant, the being in contrast with whom all other beings are without freedom and subjectivity. He is equated with the recent tyrants who with the help of terror try to transform everything into a mere object, a thing among things, a cog in the machine they control. He becomes the model of everything against which Existentialism revolted. This is the God Nietzsche said had to be killed because nobody can tolerate being made into a mere object of absolute knowledge and absolute control. This is the deepest root of atheism."

I'm very interest in this idea of a God above God, a God as Non-Being (though already I'm slipping into the mud of jargon) who transcends existence, and thus in a real sense does not exist.

Anyways, anyways. It feels good to be in your comment section again.

Alexander said...

You are right. I totally agree with you,Dave.

Jon Coutts said...

You are positively interested in this 'idea of a God above God' or you are intrigued about Tillich's denial of it?

At least here he does seem to be saying that this God who is mere transcendence is not the God of theological theism (by which I think he means Christianity).

This is a very interesting quote indeed.

s$s said...

The quote needs more context now, I realize. As if it wasn't long enough already.

I'm pretty sure Tillich believes in a "God above God," actually -and yes I'm positively interested in that idea (I'm a heretic already, after all). The context of the quote isn't there, but I think he's supporting the existentialist view of such a God as something to revolt against. I don't know if he equates theological theism with Christianity, but if so I don't think its his kind of Christianity.

I dunno though. He's new to me.

Jon Coutts said...

I'm not sure the "God above God" is heretical, since it has been a nagging presupposition behind much of theology for centuries past. For instance, we have this concept of God as this transcendent other and we conform any supposed revelations of God's self into that idea. So we assume God must not be able to suffer like we do, and then when (in the case of Christianity) we get what appears to be the revelation of God precisely as one who can condescend to suffer with us -- and we aren't sure what to do with that.

But even those who take Christ to be the full revelation of God have to come to grips with what they call God's "aseity" -- that is, God in God's independence from and transcendence of everything we know. Even if God enters into our knowing, He does it from outside that knowing, and that's the "God above God as we know it" part.

I can see that part being intriguing, but I'm not sure how it is anything but speculation to fill it in with any content apart from some revelation from beyond.

The cool thing about Barth is he exposes how some notions of Christianity rely too heavily on a supposed "God behind the back of God" who is actually arbitrarily predetermining things apart from his revealed character as loving and merciful. Very interesting stuff.

Too much jargon? sorry. But given what I've tried to say here, I'm curious why you find the "God above God" attractive? In that do we find some kind of unifying impulse for our spiritualities etc?

s$s said...

Jon, you said,
"Even if God enters into our knowing, He does it from outside that knowing, and that's the 'God above God as we know it' part."

That's the part I'm interested in, the "God" who enters from beyond our knowing. I'm fascinated in part because it's an idea capable of transcending all my objections to theism, but it does so by kinda not being theistic. It's a discussion of Nothing -of the unknown and unknowable. The un-nameable God (to even call it "God" is too much -though probably it is the most useful term) is the only God that has survived the fire of my atheist skepticism.

I'd love to think there was "a unifying impulse in our spiritualities." I suspect there is.

I find the "God above God" attractive because I think the nameless "God" is something I've experienced. I think it's what I've been calling "Nothing" my whole life. It does not exist. It can not be understood or percieved by our senses, and yet it holds existence together. Everything hangs on this nothing. What am I saying? I'm trying to discuss the un-discussable.

I'll try again.

I "see" it (This Nothing/God) when I watch my thoughts and eventually discern a space between the thoughts; there is nothing in that space, yet it's where all my thoughts come from ("in Him we move and live and have our being"). So I'm interested in the "God above God" because I've encountered it (which is to say I've not encountered it, because there is nothing to encounter. Encountering is something one can only do with what exists, and this Nothing/God does not exist; and yet there is a sense in which I can see the Non-existence that al of existence seems to hang on. I'm in way over my head here. I get tangled in greater and greater paradoxes the closer I come to this unapproachable non-thing, and if reading Chesterton taught me only one thing, it was: Paradoxes are God's way. So I'm pursuing this unpursuable thing, and enjoying the nonsense of it -of coming closer to God in my heresy than I ever did in my orthodoxy.)

I hope that makes sense.

You mention Christ as confounding these ideas of God as a transcendent Other. Christ confounds everything, doesn't he? No idea is safe when he's around.

I hadn't realized you responded. Sorry about the couple days' delay. Perhaps you'll never read this. In that case I'm just talking to myself.

Jon Coutts said...

Still here. Good to see your response.

What you are saying really resonates Matthew because I do think the God you are talking about, this "nothing" or unknown God, is exactly what you get if you don't have a self-revelation of that God. Yeah I think Christ confounds this, you're right. But I do think it worth saying that without a self-revelation of that kind I don't know what you're going to get from this "unifying impulse in our spiritualities" except for humanity writ-large. Which maybe is what you are after. I'd wonder why to use the name "God" for that, however.

Its uncanny to me how much I feel like you should read Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans. He calls what you are talking about the "No-God" and gives an account of Christianity that not only confounds it but also confounded and rattled Christian theologians for decades (and still is).

"closer to God in my heresy than I ever did in my orthodoxy"!

Good hearing you again Matthew.