2012 – The Year in Review

Fortune cookie fortunes.  You will get what your heart desires.  You will move to a wonderful new home within the year.

I found these in my wallet the other day.  Looking back at the year which is coming to a close, it’s safe to say that only one of those fortunes came to pass.

After 2011, I had somewhat predicted this would be a breakout year of growth and good things.  Unfortunately, an honest look reveals that not to be the case, at least not in the ways I had hoped.  It was a year of loss and transition, yet also another blur in the landscape of my mid-twenties as time flows on.  Here are some happenings which stand out from that blur as I look back:

  • Early in the year, my attempt to start a “tech relief” side business heartily crashed and burned.  But I also learned that I wouldn’t want to do that full-time anyway.
  • At the beginning of April, I took another trip to visit my girlfriend in Spain.  This trip could not have been any more different from my previous one in August 2011.  The weather was wet and unseasonably cold, and we spent more time in Granada with her team than traveling.  After a week together and some deep talks, we admitted our lives were on diverging paths, and I returned home single for the first time in well over two years.
  • My paternal grandmother, Lola Marie DeLong, passed away on April 19th after a battle with Alzheimer’s.  She was the closest family member I’ve lost yet and an amazingly hard-working woman who did all she could to care for her family.
  • Beginning in May, I spent a few months involved with a solid group of brothers and sisters at People Loving Nashville.  Though my involvement faded through the summer for various reasons, it was exactly what I needed at the time to anchor me again.
  • I was able to go to my first Cornerstone Festival, though it was the final one and nothing as grand as it was in its heyday from what I understand.  Still, it was great to check that off the list since I had wanted to go since high school.
  • In July, I took part in another great mission trip to Honduras.  This time we distributed about 75 water filters which will provide clean water to families and communities for years, reducing sickness and malnutrition.
  • The opening of The Well coffee shop was a marker of sorts, as it gave me a new default hangout for reading, writing, and working on things.
  • We got Netflix at the house, which is probably one reason I didn’t accomplish as much as I would have liked, save watching the entire series of 24.
  • Lots of things changed around me at work, including our switching to developing on a Mac platform and beginning our transition to coding in Ruby on Rails.
  • I actually went swing dancing a few times early in the fall.
  • At the end of September, my roommate and I moved from our 800-square-foot house in the thick of the city to a larger yet cheaper townhouse just a few miles away.  All in all, it’s incredible, including the parquet floors.
  • Joe and I wrote an entire album for Hilltops and Coffeeshops and recorded the vast majority of it.  We just never got around to wrapping it up yet…
  • Throughout the year, I read a few books which expanded my mind:
    • The Will to MeaningMan’s Search for Meaning, and The Doctor and the Soul by Viktor Frankl.  These were a godsend and strengthened my worldview even as they helped me see things in a different light.
    • The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman
    • Wisdom Meets Passion by Dan Miller
    • Culture Making by Andy Crouch
  • I also discovered or purchased these excellent albums, even if they weren’t released this year:
    • “Sever Your Roots” by The Felix Culpa
    • “More than Conquerors EP” by Least of These, my favorite band discovered at Cornerstone
    • “Young Mountain” by This Will Destroy You
    • A passionate self-titled EP by my friends in Black Mask, which is not for the faint of heart
    • “Awakened” by As I Lay Dying, my album of the year
    • “Penny Black” by Further Seems Forever gets an honorable mention
    • And I joined Spotify, which definitely affected how I discover and consume music

So that is how I experienced 2012.  As with any year, there were ups and downs, triumphs and devastation.  Yet we keep moving forward.  It’s the only option, really.  I have virtually no idea what the coming year holds, even if I do have a few goals of my own.  With the way my slate was somewhat cleared, who knows what God’s will may be for my next trip around the sun.

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Thoughts on “Genesis in Space and Time” by Francis Schaeffer

Genesis in Space and Time

Despite my interest in apologetics, I had never read a book by Francis Schaeffer.  When I stumbled across a well-worn volume speaking of biblical beginnings at a used book store, I was more than willing to take a chance.

Genesis in Space and Time did not quite address the subject matter I assumed, though it was still an interesting read. I imagined the bulk of the work to be answering questions about the origin of the cosmos, but Schaeffer largely sidesteps the issue.  Instead, he puts forth that the creation account in Genesis is much more orderly and logical than the majority of others, particularly at its time, which lends it validity.  Along with that, he notes that the actual question of man is not how the universe is here, but why.  On that note, he proceeds into the story of humanity, beginning with Adam and Eve.

One important thing I took from the book was an understanding of genealogies in the Bible. As modern, Western man, we want to look at the numbers, assume correlations, and establish dates relative to our own.  According to the author, exact dates and direct descendants were likely not as important to the ancient writers and audience as they may be in our science-obsessed society.  He points out numerous other examples in early Hebrew writings where the intent of genealogy is not chronology, but to indicate the lineage of godly men.  Saying that one man is the “son” of another indicates only origin, not a literal father-son relationship.  To quote Schaeffer, “Prior to the time of Abraham, there is no possible way to date the history of what we find in Scripture.  After Abraham, we can date the biblical history and correlate it with secular history.  When the Bible itself reaches back and picks up events and genealogies in the time before Abraham, it never adds up these numbers for dating.”

To me, this is a very interesting point.  I had heard the statement that the Bible is not a science textbook, and we therefore should not read it as such, but I never quite knew how to feel about it.  With this concrete example, it became clear.  I find it all the more interesting that modern man, who claims to be so historically and contextually aware, wants to read an ancient document as if it were written last week, assuming its audience cared about the exact number of years between this person and that.

Overall, I found the book slightly more academic than what I typically read.  No, there weren’t footnotes taking up half of each page, but some of the writing does come across as more scholarly than personal, which is fine.  It’s still an enjoyable read for anyone with interest in apologetics and early Hebrew history, if not as scientifically-focused as a book like The Case for Faith.

Genesis in Space and Time is available on Amazon, and if you’re lucky, at a used bookstore near you.

Review of the Matt and Toby House Show in Nashville

Matt and Toby

 

I think I had only been to one legitimate house show before.  It was crowded and deafeningly loud, albeit fun.  When I saw the chance to see Matt and Toby of Emery up close and personal, I was a little squeamish at the $20 price tag.  Having just returned from the evening, I can assure you, it was worth every penny.

To most people Matt and Toby may be a couple of members of a somewhat successful screamo band.  To me, they are the guys who crafted some of the songs that most deeply connected with me in the formative years of my life.  In a sense, I feel like I sort of “grew up” with them as their music has matured, although they are a little older than I am.  But the heart-wrenching lyrics of “The Weak’s End” carried me through my freshman year of college, and virtually each Emery album since has had some sort of impact on me.

A friend and I drove to a nondescript house in East Nashville for the show.  What became immediately apparent was a sense of community that I haven’t felt at any other concert.  For a long time, I struggled to make friends in “the scene,” often going to shows alone.  Here, my friend and I were greeted by a couple of people, and Toby himself, shortly after walking through the door.  We had some pleasant conversations with fellow concert-goers while seated on the hard floor as we waited for the music to start in the dimly-lit basement, illuminated only by Christmas lights.

The rest of the night was a bit surreal if I stop and think about it.  These guys who had been at the helm of some of the most passionate shows of my life sat in front of about thirty people, conversationally taking questions and playing mellow music, largely unamplified.  But that’s what made it all so real.  In college, I may have held them in too high of esteem as musicians.  Here, we all appreciated their gifts, but all of it was in a context of personal connection.  Through their blog at un-learning.org, they are striving to use the platform they have to re-center the conversation about Christianity in American culture.  To me, the humble nature of their living room tour bears witness to such efforts.  They legitimately try to meet every person in attendance, thank them, and hear their story.  It was honestly kind of unexpected.

All in all, the night was great.  They played a great mix of original songs, Emery classics, and a cover, all with unique arrangements, backed by Aaron of As Cities Burn on percussion.  Famed producer Aaron Sprinkle was also in attendance, which was pretty cool.  Though my body soon tired of sitting on the hard floor, the warmth of such a unique and genuine setting overshadowed the discomfort.  It was quite easily one of the coolest experiences I had this year, both intimately connecting with songs that have meant so much to me, and also getting a glimpse into the hearts of two guys who crafted such music.  In their words, “The songs aren’t really ours.  We feel like we’re on a scavenger hunt… a treasure hunt… and then suddenly, there it is; we find the song.”

I highly recommend the Matt and Toby Living Room Tour to anyone who has ever had a connection to the music of these guys.  It was well worth it.

Thoughts On “Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling” by Andy Crouch

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

I just finished Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch.  I should probably also qualify that I actually consumed it via audio book as opposed to hard copy, though I believe I absorb both forms about the same.

The first thought that looms in my head upon completion is that it is a somewhat long book, at least by my standards, at 284 pages.  But this is to be expected with the approach he takes.  After an introduction, he establishes some definitions surrounding the word “culture,” describes five different ways humans interact with culture, explores how culture is referenced in the entire narrative of the Bible, and concludes by explaining the role of Christians in the world today when it comes to culture.  Honestly, the analytical side of my nature loved it, especially as he established the definitions and then categorized all the ways people respond to culture.  While some points did seem a bit belabored a times, I think perhaps this is a book where repetition and examination from multiple angles helps to clarify and drive ideas home.

At one point he mentions how we, as Christians in the United States, sometimes feel we are in the midst of a “culture war.”  We often even hope for an overnight revival or revolution of sorts.  But he then points out that nothing lasting ever grows from the ashes of a revolution.  Any enduring shift in culture occurs slowly over time as a process of creation of new “cultural goods,” not wholesale discarding of existing ones.  We must offer better, more attractive alternatives than the prevailing downward spiral of our society.

Another interesting thread was how he spoke about cultural goods.  Everything from an omelette to interstate highways to the Bible are cultural goods.  By his definition, culture is “what people make of the world,” and any new cultural good is one which affects the “horizon of possibility.”  (For example, the interstate highway system makes it possible to drive from coast to coast in a few days.)  In this sense, the ultimate cultural good is the story of resurrection, which utterly changes the horizon of possibility for human existence.  What was before impossible, eternal life in a perfect state, is now possible.  I always enjoy seeing a new way the story of Christ fulfills the deepest aspects of humanity.

The way he presents scales of culture also interested me.  Societal culture is a very shaping force, but perhaps even more shaping is the culture each of us can create within our families, churches, or workplaces.  Implementing the cultural good of family prayer time makes it possible for parents and children to connect at a spiritual level otherwise unattainable.  Creating a cultural good of a “lunch plans” white board at work makes it possible for members of separate teams to get to know one another.  Creating culture can be a big, world-changing endeavor, but it doesn’t always have to be.

One viewpoint in the book I’m not sure I agree with is how he presents the place of culture in eternity.  He cites the closing of Revelation and how various cultures are described bringing their goods into the New Jerusalem which has come down from Heaven.  In recent years, I had become more open to an eschatology of God renewing the earth rather than destroying it and starting over.  In this instance, it struck me that many of those who envision the second coming as renewal take the vision of Jerusalem coming down to earth somewhat literally.  Yet few take the rest of the imagery in Revelation so literally.  Crouch describes an eternity where cultural goods and even the continual creation of new culture are integral.  That’s hard for me to imagine, but then again so is eternity in general.  At the end of the day, I’m not sure it’s worth exerting a lot of effort to figure it out.  We’ll find out eventually.

Overall, it was a very worthwhile read which expanded my ideas of the role of Christians in culture and challenged some preconceived notions I wasn’t aware I had.  I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who would like a broadened perspective on what culture means to humanity, especially if he or she has an analytical streak.

Review – “Kings EP” by The Sleep Design

kings_ep_cover

I first came across The Sleep Design via their radical label Come and Live earlier this year.  I check the site every so often since all of the albums are pay-what-you-want, and I’ve discovered some awesome music.  When I picked up their full-length, “All That Is Not Music Is Silence,” I tossed it into my library and put it on as background music every now and then.  It was good, but I wasn’t really listening for content, even if the title was thought-provoking.  With the recent release of “Kings EP,” however, I am paying much closer attention to the music and enjoying it quite a bit.

The Sleep Design is an instrumental band out of Nashville and Birmingham.  To one not acquainted with ambient, instrumental, or post-rock music, there may not be much that stands out.  (Truth be told, I’m not enough of a connoisseur to pick out more than a handful of bands distinctively.)  But that doesn’t mean that they do not create well-crafted, beautiful music.  The biggest thing that stood out to me on the five-song offering was the use of dynamic shifts.  With such music, it can be hard to find a good balance between droning ambience and jarring transitions.  I believe The Sleep Design pull this off as well as any band I’ve heard on the “Kings EP.”

At the outset, the listener is greeted by a reverb-washed guitar, but it’s not long before a more passionate moment incorporating the entire band arises from the depths and takes over the song before sentimentally trailing off at the close of the track.  Throughout the album, the spacey instrumental drop-outs are well-timed, leaving one feeling the weight of the music and anticipating the next turn.  At the same time, there are enough surprises to keep the listener engaged.  Unique instrumentation arises here and there to add sonic variation, and complex melodious interchanges between the two guitars and bass could take several listens to wrap one’s mind around. I find that songs transition well one to another and “make sense” as an album. Lastly, the production quality is also great, including some fabulous guitar tones.

The one caveat for me, personally, is the titles.  I find titles to be even more important within an album when lyrics are not present.  This helps me to determine if there is a scene I should envision to go with the music and to connect with what the artist intended.  On “Kings EP,” the titles are somewhat vague, as well as the album title as a whole.  The exception is the closing track, “When We Meet,” which I think beautifully portrays a moment of reunion between two people, or between sinner and savior.  In the grand scheme, however, I understand this is a nit-picky issue.

Overall, I give “Kings EP” a 4/5.  While not breaking entirely new ground, it is a great representation of the genre.  It’s dynamic and interesting enough that you may not want to use it simply as background noise, and it is exactly the kind of album I would put on while going for a night drive.

Kings EP” is available as a free download via Come and Live.