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In every area of my life, I stand on shoulders. This is no exception. Revamping the blog wasn’t my idea; Bethany actually suggested it. She has this way about her that nearly always inspires confidence and creativity.

We were in the process of rushing through as many discs of The Wire as possible before June 1st. She was on her way to Brooklyn to pursue her photography  & I was headed home to raise support for my new job at a Christian Study Center. While dissecting plot points and character development over wine and salted edamame, the idea popped up. Bethany, being the enthusiastic person she is, was all for me writing and sharing my observations about literature, film, music and photography. I was not so sure. I mean, she’s the one moving to Brooklyn, cultural hub of the universe! Who wants to read the commentary of some suburbanite grad, living life in the heart of the Midwest?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But the truth is, no matter the blog’s audience, I really want to write it. I want to be better at curating what I consume, and hope to create some nice posts along the way. Amid the whirlwind of a week’s packed schedule, and I want to create a place for rest, reflection and good thinking.

So here’s to engagement, curiosity and writing about what is good. Art needs no justification!

I’ve recently been quite interested in the intersection between Facebook, loneliness, local community and our sense of place and identity. I wanted to curate a few of the resources that have been helping me navigate this topic of utmost importance. A lot of us are allured by Facebook and, if you are anything like me, your free time has shrunk as a result. These articles suggest there is more to be wary of about Facebook beyond the privacy settings and information sharing. Our very sense of friendship and community are being re-defined as a consequence of on our use of social media.

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? (The Atlantic)
This article surveys our national epidemic of loneliness, observing the drastic increase in counselors (“professional carers”), the average person’s surplus of “friends” but lack of confidants and categorizing this plague is a by-product of our American appetite for independence. After setting the premise that we are lonely because we, in some sense, want to be lonely, The Atlantic asks the question: Does the Internet make people lonely, or are lonely people more attracted to the internet?

The nuanced answer the reader receives is certainly welcome. Instead of reverting into sentimentality or nostalgia, the article  makes distinctions between passive and active use of these tools and investigates what the symptoms of each seem to be. Depression and the pursuit of happiness are also touched upon, as well as narcissism, exhibitionism and humility. Terrific read that also directs one to additional resources for the exploration.

Feeling Lonely in an Age of Constant Connection (Veritas Mizzou)
This post points us to a TED talk given by Susan Turkle called “Connected, but alone?” I really like Patrick’s highlight at the end of this short post:

 As Christians this TED talk should point us to several timeless truths of our faith. 1) We must disconnect and meditate on God’s word regularly – that is the self-knowledge the Bible calls us to. 2) The human longing for continual connection can only be met by God’s Spirit, not Facebook. 3) As Christians we must offer people true friendships – not shallow, digital, disconnected disfigurations of friendship.

Technology Eroding Our Sense of Community (The Birmingham News)
This op-ed piece based on an interview with Wendell Berry, sheds light on his take on technology and how it erodes our sense of place. The reporter, Martin Swant, speaks out of his own experiences and ponders how best to remain intentional and present in an age that is firmly entrenched in technology.

In the spirit of Easter, I wanted to share some music that really brings home for me what Christ did on the cross. If Jesus died for our sins doesn’t bowl you over, consider reading this. I wish I could grasp God’s grace that clearly all the time. It’s remarkable how easy it is to get caught up in either the monotony or busyness of everyday  schedules, losing sight of what undergirds the whole of life.

Josh Garrels, Love and War and the Sea in Between

On his fourth album, which is available for free download on bandcamp, Garrels focuses on capturing the tension of living between the ages. His songs are infused with joy, sorrow, longing and a dissatisfaction coupled with a drive to change the world as it is. This album spans genres of folk, soul, jazz, and trip-hop.

highlights: White Owl, Farther Along, Ulysses
reviews: Christianity Today, The Rabbit Room

Page CXVI, Hymns VI

Page CXVI is a band that devotes themselves to breathing new life into old hymns. Their aim is to make them accessible to present generations. For Easter, they are giving away a collection of B sides and a new track off of their latest collaboration with Derek Webb.

highlights: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, Doxology

The Crossing Music, He Holds All Things

The Crossing, a church in Columbia, Missouri, has started writing and recording music in the past few years. Their third release, He Holds All Things, was released this past January. The EP emphasizes God’s sovereignty and his authority over heaven & earth.

If you were tuned in the movie scene this past year, chances are you heard something about Terrence Malick’s new film, Tree of Life. Before seeing it myself, I’d heard a plethora of different opinions, from critics and from my friends. Half the audience at Cannes booed, a writer at Slate offered high praise, some of my friends were riveted to the screen for all 130 minutes, others walked out or fell asleep halfway through. I’ve even heard of theaters putting signs outside the showings, warning the public that they won’t get their money back.

With this huge spectrum of reaction—from boredom to confusion to outrage to fascination, what is the casual moviegoer to do? Sure, the sheer spectacle of such a film probably prompts some to go see what all the fuss is about. But what if you’re tempted just to save your time and money for a movie more guaranteed to entertain? As a college student short on change myself, I understand the sentiment. But for the rest of the post, let me persuade you that whether you rent it or netflix it, seeing Tree of Life is really worth it.

In all of his films, Malick consistently combines breathtaking cinematography with soaring classical symphonies. Music is never background noise for Malick; it has more prominence than the bits of dialogue he chooses to include. Tree of Life in particular stands on the shoulders of Mahler, Holst, Smetana and others, successfully pairing their epics with the fleeting details of everyday life like leaves on a tree, feet in a sprinkler and light dancing across the walls of a bedroom.

This visual and musical feast is for sure a treat to our senses, but it also points to something more. By choosing to depict reality as broken but beautiful, mundane but unique, Malick rejects the nihilist’s view of life. When his characters do speak, they often reference ‘glimpsing the glory’. There is an eternal something tucked away in these characters, traces of god-like visages on their otherwise temporal faces. Malick acknowledges that the world is broken, full of conflict and messiness. Yet this film, thanks to its cinematography and choice of music, expresses the tension between being created for glory and grace and falling into the dark nature of the human soul.

Technically, his methods are nearly flawless. Every transition is seamless and meaningful, every character is treated with delicate light. The attention to detail on even the briefest shots of leaves blown off sidewalks is remarkable. The result is a gorgeously accurate depiction of life. Reality for Malick is filled with complications and sometimes brokenness, but it for sure isn’t a gritty or hopeless portrayal. We see glimpses of glory seeping through the characters in nearly every scene.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out what some of these reputable reviewers had to say:

Terrence Malick’s mad and magnificent film descends slowly, like some sort of prototypical spaceship: it’s a cosmic-interior epic of vainglorious proportions, a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy, a meditation on memory, and a gasp of horror and awe at the mysterious inevitability of loving, and losing those we love. (full review)

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

 

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life’s experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. (full review)

–   Roger Ebert

 

“[It] serves as a reminder of how few contemporary filmmakers engage questions of life and death, God and soul, and risk such questioning without the crutch of an obvious story. It isn’t that these life questions aren’t asked in our movies; they are, if sometimes obliquely. Rather it’s the directness of Mr. Malick’s engagement with them that feels so surprising at this moment, and that goes against the mainstream filmmaking grain.”

–   Manohla Dargis, New York Times

 

Does the Bible tell a story? Do the Upanishads? Does the 13 billion-year history of creation — large or small C, as you prefer — tell a story? Because those are relevant touchstones or reference points for “The Tree of Life,” a massively ambitious work of allegorical and almost experimental cinema that seeks to recapture the lived experience of a 1950s family, after the fashion of a Texas Proust, and connect it to the life of the universe, the nature and/or existence of God, the evolution of life on earth and even the microscopic chemistry and biology of life. (full review)

– Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

 The Tree of Life manages to showcase both man’s glory and his inestimable smallness. Life, in the end, is not about us making a mark. It’s about tuning our ears to the symphony of life around us, paying attention to the bigger story, and doing our best to love each other and receive grace in the time we’ve been given. (full review)

– Brett McCracken, Christianity Today

How do the central Christian beliefs of a) being created and b) being created in the image of our creator affect how people live their lives? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and wanted to explore what exactly such beliefs mean when applied to daily action.

In Genesis, the triune God creates man. He says,

“‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis 1:26-27, 2:15

If we are created, that means we don’t actually own anything. What’s the difference between owning and having dominion? To have dominion means humans are called to be good managers, good stewards of the earth and all that is in it. We are set up to take care of and work for the good of what God has created. That has obviously ecological implications (for more on that, read this terrific post). But how does being a steward of something that ultimately belong to us impact how we view our talents, how we work and how we use our time?

John Coltrane is an excellent example of how a believer can use his or her talents to bring glory to our creator. In Coltrane’s case, he brought glory to God by making well-crafted music. Ashley Kahn, music journalist at NPR, articulates how gifted Coltrane was:

“John Coltrane is one of those rare musical figures who transcends both his time and category. Today, in addition to jazz fans, rockers and rappers, head-bangers and hip-hoppers all swear their allegiance to him. And no album in his catalog reaches a wider audience than A Love Supreme, what he called his ‘humble offering to God.”

Coltrane writes about his offering in the liner notes of this album:

“During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace… ALL PRAISE TO GOD.” 

What a beautiful picture of what it looks like to use your talents to do your work well and glorify God in the process. How different school would look if we students saw our studies as an opportunity to do this. Giving glory to God gives meaning to even the most mundane jobs. And it also drives us to search for what we are passionate and gifted for. We are not making meaning out of nothing.  We are not laboring in vain.

for more resources on work, check out this list.

The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come. 
– C.S. Lewis
 

I never find time to read! And when I do make the time to read a book (which is quite an investment!), I often forget much of what I’ve read a week or two later. What gives? Why do I even keep reading? Is it a waste of my time?

 
To understand how to become a better book reader, I picked up Tony Reinke’s new book Lit! Yeah, reading another book to learn how to read books better may seem a little circular, but let me tell you, Lit! is incredibly helpful. Here are a few specific take-aways that I got from reading it. If these are helpful you to in the least, go out and buy the book yourself. Reinke makes these points (and others) much better in his book than I do in this short blog post.
 
I’m too busy to read! 
 
It’s no surprise that in a culture of video games, Netflix instant, Hulu Plus, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, we don’t have much leisure time for reading. And imagine how much harder it will be to find time when we all are graduated, have full-time jobs and start raising families! The bad news is that you will likely have much less free time after these 4 years in college than you did when you were in college. The good news? We have more free time in this century than we have ever had before as a human race. Check this out:
 
The working man of a century ago spent some 70 hours per week on the job and lived about 40 years. Today he spends some 40 hours per week at work and can expect to live about 70 years. This adds something like 22 more years of leisure to his life, about 1,500 free hours each year, and a total of some 33,000 additional free hours that the man born today has to enjoy! (Robert Lee, Religion and Leisure in America)
 
Knowing that we in fact do have the leisure time to read, how do we go about carving it out in our schedules? Here are some helpful suggestions from Reinke:
 
1. Cultivate a hunger for good books by reading great books. 
Get your hands on a gripping read that your friends recommend, or re-read something that you remember really enjoying. It takes work, but find the books that keep you up at night and motivate you to read more.
 
2. Prioritize your reading. 
Before you begin reading a book, ask yourself why you are reading it and what you want to get out of it. If it turns out to be pretty mediocre halfway through, give it up. It’s okay to stop reading a book!
 
3. Give something up. 
What do you pursue right now without a purpose? Do you find yourself aimlessly scrolling through the facebook newsfeed? Flipping from show to show on a Wednesday night? We all need time to veg, but discipline yourself and set limits to regain control of your time.
 
4. Use your in-between time. 
Don’t expect to find hour-long chunks to read because you probably won’t have them! Bring a book with you everywhere and read in between classes, when waiting in line at the dining hall, before a doctor’s appointment… anywhere! Reading for 15-30 minutes a few times a day adds up.
 
Catch the 2nd installment of this series soon. We’ll talk about how to remember what you read! 

Even at the age of 7, I was an indoor girl. My parents could always find me on a window seat or perched somewhere upstairs, lost in a book. It was a rarity to see me running around outside, playing sports or getting muddy. In fact, the only time I really got my clothes dirty was when my dad would drag me outside to help him in the garden […]

I wrote for Veritas Mizzou on gardening, rest and growth. Read the full post here.