Monday, September 29, 2008

Movies & Music, Last Year and (So Far) This Year

I am by nature a list-maker. I make lists of everything. The movie High Fidelity speaks directly to my heart with the characters' incessant requests for a Top 5 of any categorizable opinion or experience. Being a film fanatic and (to a slightly lesser extent) a music person, I keep ongoing lists of new movies and music that come out each year. Then at the end of each year, I do a kind of "final" ranking and compare with the various year-end lists in magazines and entertainment websites. Whatever is missing from my lists, or that I have yet to try, I know to give a shot the next time I have a chance (or, more likely, an extra buck). Of course, all of the list-making is solely for my own enjoyment, and mostly just for nerdy fun.

But! The best part of lists is comparing with friends. (Story: while in Africa for two months, Mr. Heath Newton and I went on a crazy list binge, making cinematic lists of just about every conceivable category. I think we ended by making a Top 100 Favorite Films. Yes!) So I thought I would give a sort of update in the midst of this year so far, while also offering my lists from last year so as to give you an idea of my tastes. More than anything, I love recommendations from others, and I'm always willing to give something new a try. So feel free to start a conversation with me, whether you hated a favorite of mine or don't see a favorite of yours in my own lists.

(Also, I am swamped in studying for a test while preparing to make a trip to Texas later this week, and this is a bit easier than a full, worthwhile theological blog post. Not that musical and cinematic art is not theology! To the contrary. And that is why it is a wonderful thing to enjoy them as God's good gifts to us.)

Thus, without further ado, welcome to the glorious world of lists, and lists, and more lists.

Top Albums from 2007
1. Okkervil River -- The Stage Names
2. Iron & Wine -- The Shepherd's Dog
3. Radiohead -- In Rainbows
4. Spoon -- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
5. Wilco -- Sky Blue Sky
6. The National -- Boxer
7. Feist -- The Reminder
8. The Arcade Fire -- Neon Bible
9. Modest Mouse -- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
10. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss -- Raising Sand

Honorable Mention: Bon Iver -- For Emma, Forever Ago; Bright Eyes -- Cassadaga; The New Pornographers -- Challengers; Josh Ritter -- The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter; Beirut -- The Flying Club Cup

Top Albums from 2008 (through September)
1. Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- Lie Down in the Light
2. Thomas Newman -- WALL-E Soundtrack
3. Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard -- The Dark Knight Soundtrack
4. Okkervil River -- The Stand-Ins
5. Coldplay -- Viva la Vida or Dearth and All His Friends
6. Langhorne Slim -- Langhorne Slim
7. Silver Jews -- Lookout Mountain
8. The Black Keys -- Attack & Release
9. Jamie Lidell -- Jim
10. Vampire Weekend -- Vampire Weekend

Sound Unheard: Cat Power -- Jukebox; Sigur Ros -- Med Suf Ieyrum vit Spilum Endalaust; Fleet Foxes -- Fleet Foxes; Conor Oberst -- Conor Oberst; TV On The Radio -- Dear Science

Top Films from 2007
1. There Will Be Blood
2. No Country For Old Men
3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
4. Atonement
5. Ratatouille
6. Lars and the Real Girl
7. Gone Baby Gone
8. Zodiac
9. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
10. Superbad

Honorable Mention: Michael Clayton; We Own the Night; Juno; The Bourne Ultimatum; Eastern Promises

Top Films from 2008 (through September)
1. The Dark Knight
3. Iron Man
4. Pineapple Express
5. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
6. Kung Fu Panda
7. Burn After Reading
8. Son of Rambow
9. The Incredible Hulk
10. Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Sight Unseen: (Just about everything, but including) Mongol; Tropic Thunder; Eagle Eye; Miracle at St. Anna; Appaloosa; Snow Angels; Man on Wire; Shine a Light; Horton Hears a Who; Diary of the Dead; The Visitor; The Foot Fist Way; Brideshead Revisited; Towelhead; Blindness; The Wackness

Enjoy, and may the conversations begin. A final note: in the chaos of moving, and being a married grad student (=less money for movies), I have barely seen anything this year, so that is why the end of my movie list starts to get so lean by the end. Or maybe that's just a sign of the times...less quality movies, and comic book films a thousandfold.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Derek Webb

This Too Shall Be Made Right

by Derek Webb

People love you the most for the things you hate
And hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
People judge you on a curve
And tell you you’re getting what you deserve
This too shall be made right

Children cannot learn when children cannot eat
Stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
Children dream of wishing wells
Whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
This too shall be made right

The earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
Wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
We say we’re just trying to stay alive
But it looks so much more like a way to die
This too shall be made right

There’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
There's a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
A time for babies to lose their lives
A time for hunger and genocide
This too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who I choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life
And that’s not just murder it’s suicide
This too shall be made right

Oh this too shall be made right

- - - - - - -

Given Life

Vocation is sunrise
But sunset is sabbath
Horizon reveals part
But silence unearths all

The rest of God is whole
As earth and heaven formed
As light and darkness one
Together eyelids close

The skies relinquish speech
For fear wisdom begets
The earth is quiet all
But all break out in song!

The unity of word
And song and poem full
Is not the gluttony
Of breathless heart attack

But thickest balance beam
Is given life, and thanks
To work and sleep, to love
And weep, is marathon

Of goodness even in
The fallenness of now
For hope is rhythm lived
When God entrusted still

Illumines work in light
As candle flickers, wanes
The one creating day
Sustaining even night

Friday, September 26, 2008

What a Fantastic Debate!

The commentary and punditry is just beginning, but wow, that was a great debate. Each side attempted to downplay expectations leading into it, and there were worries that either McCain would be dry or Obama would be bumbling, neither of which ended up coming true. Both candidates were knowledgeable, direct, leaderly, and mostly devoid of stumbles. (My goodness, all of the nation and history and name dropping alone was a masterful display by both men.)

If I were to characterize the night and who "won," I would split up the 90 minutes into thirds: the first third both were solid, with Obama having a slight edge; the second third, Obama peaked and had his best moments; the final third, McCain had finally warmed up and landed his best punches.

Overall, we saw two very different candidates with strikingly different philosophies, fundamentally dissimilar plans for leadership. Next week I will get back into the series asking whether Christians should vote (and if so, how), but for now, after the first Presidential debate, my inner political pundit's heart feels strangely warmed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Various Friday Links

It has been a busy week, and I don't have much time to post anything worthwhile. But here is what I've been reading this week:

Enjoy! Remember that the NBA season begins in one month, and with that, have a great weekend.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Family and Gratitude: Reflections on a Birthday

Imagine this: some morning we awake to the cultural consensus that a family, however else defined, is a sort of compact of mutual loyalty, organized around the hope of giving rich, human meaning to the lives of its members. Toward this end they do what people do – play with their babies, comfort their sick, keep their holidays, commemorate their occasions, sing songs, tell jokes, fight and reconcile, teach and learn what they know about what is right and wrong, about what is beautiful and what is to be valued. They enjoy each other and make themselves enjoyable. They are kind and receive kindness, they are generous and are sustained and enriched by others' generosity. The antidote to fear, distrust, self-interest is always loyalty. The balm for failure or weakness, or even for disloyalty, is always loyalty.

–Marilynne Robinson

- - - - - - -

Growing up in a loving family is not normal.

Having every need met, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise, is not normal. We live in a world in which it is a subversive, countercultural act to be and stay married, to live in lifelong monogamous fidelity, to desire and receive and welcome children into the world, to keep steady employment, to live in (relative) locational stability, to have extended family on which to depend, to have a father present in the home (much less the parenting), to graduate from high school (much less higher education), to be raised in and formed by a faithful church home ... so many things that can be taken for granted that simply are not aspects of life familiar to most persons living in America or the world. But, of course, all of those dynamics lead to increased wholeness and health of mind and body, potentially leading one to forget that they are not normalities to be assumed or taken for granted.

I turn 23 today. Thus, it is good on days like today to remember the good gift God has given us called family, and to be thankful for such a gift we could never have expected. Through family God gratuitously gives us more than we need, more than we could ask for. Through family God forms and sustains and provides for us; through family God reveals to us one of the primary metaphors by which we know the character of God: parent. As the best mother and father are to their children, so even more is God to his human creatures on the earth. Similarly, through family we learn what it means to be God's people: brothers and sisters made adopted family by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even further, through family God comes to us in the rhythms of daily mundane life: meals and prayers, sleep and work, rest and play, births and funerals, anniversaries and parties. (There is an unspoken word here for a future post: memory.) The hospitality of the family that welcomes children into its midst mirrors the hospitality of the church that welcomes (read: adopts) new members into its life and worship.

There really is no end to what family is, to the wonderful mystery God has given us in the blessing of family.

It can be difficult for those of us who "take for granted" family being cohesive, supportive, noncoercive, loving, interdependent, and Christ-centered to simply accept the gifts (great and small) from family as if they are "due" us, as if we are "owed" them or it is "just normal."

No, it is not just normal; no, we are not entitled to it; no, there is no gift too small or routine for which we ought not to be extravagently grateful. Every single day is a gift, and whenever God reminds us, through the mundane reality called family, that we are not abandoned or alone, let us be thankful. Let us thank God and thank our families for such unique and caring graces, that we might be a part of a mystery we assume is normal.

Family is not normal, but neither is the God we serve. And thank heaven for an abnormal God.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Woody Guthrie

Christ For President

By Woody Guthrie

Let's have Christ our President
Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That they call the Nazarene

The only way we could ever beat
These crooked politician men
Is to cast the moneychangers out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in

Oh it's Jesus Christ our President
God above our king
With a job and pension for young and old
We will make hallelujah ring

Every year we waste enough
To feed the ones who starve
We build our civilization up
And we shoot it down with wars

But with the Carpenter on the seat
Way up in the capitol town
The USA be on the way
Prosperity bound

- - - - - - -

Free Market Competition

Jesus said the poor are blessed
And to me, he said No
But I am not one to be refused
And No must be Yes, for
Jesus is a nice enough guy, yes?
I make his No a Yes and walk along,
Make his cry a whimper, stride untouched
Sing and punch my ticket with marked,
Corporate faithfulness

Knowing this will not be forgotten.

I climb the ecclesial ladder, the
Oldest ladder known, the sparkling steps
Of heavenly ambition

Hedonist that I am, literal and realistic
Jesus says Jump! and I measure the cost
In spreadsheets – yes, yes, worth it it is –
And I hope or skip or even jog
(My how he tests me with these games!)

Knowing this will not be forgotten.
Someone, somewhere, watching.

Making notes on a clipboard, scribbles
Of performance and potential, my ratios
Of blessing and curse, managerial
Upheaval coming down the line
Oh, how these opportunities do
Arrive so fortuitously – God, sovereign and
Almighty, has me in mind for promotion

Yes, this jumping hoops and spinning plates
Looks to be paying off, the scales tipping
In my favor as he’s always foreordained

Knowing this will not be forgotten.
Somebody paying attention.

I will be there to collect the prize.