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.

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I’m writing this post as a “note-to-self”, if you will, about how important prayer is in my life and especially in the support-raising process. Prayer is so, so great when I actually sit down and am still. That said, it is so difficult to find the time to spend with God in conversation. I know this isn’t a coincidence and that I need to fight with the power of the Holy Spirit to rest in prayer. Here is some encouragement I’ve found Betty Barnett’s Friend Raising about prayer with promises.

  • We are co-laborers with Him, not in our own strength.
  • “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Galatians 3:3
  • “Asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding… in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power…” Col. 1:9-11
  • “Gratefully, technological developments have provided many helpful tools for missionary work, along with organizational structures that greatly facilitate the recruitment, sending, maintenance, and support of mission personnel. But… tools and organizations can never substitute for God’s power which comes alone in answer to prayer… dependence upon God in prayer is the ultimate way for doing spiritual work.” – Daniel Bacon, former US Director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship
  • “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need… God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them… Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” Hebrews 4:16, 6:10, 12

The Lord is my sole provider. The Lord is equipping me for his work. I should rejoice through this process– through the difficulties and the hardships. His grace is sufficient for me. He will raise up what I need to do his work.

“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 1 Thess. 5:24

While I haven’t been able to consolidate my thoughts enough to write a traditional post, I thought I’d share what I’ve been enjoying and what has got me thinking this past week– with bits of commentary. Look forward to some of these becoming future blog posts in the weeks to come!

Stumptown Girl 
A terrific profile on Carrie Brownstein in the New Yorker. Nuanced and complex, this piece takes a look at her work with Portlandia and how she relates satire to her actual life and the real city she lives in. This article made me think about what kind of culture satire is helpful in the sense that it fosters progress and what kind is merely observant or passive. Also, interesting to hear Brownstein talk about the “narcissism of small differences” and why people may be clinging to small distinguishing factors to derive a sense of unique value or worth.

The Social Networks of Emily Dickinson, Paul Gauguin and Charlotte Bronte 
This piece by Keith Sawyer, published in the 99%, explores what contributes to creativity and if it can be fostered in isolation. He analyzes an article by Katherine Giuffre, which profiles famous creatives that our culture would generally consider loners. Her conclusion is that even in the most limited means of letters, these people relied on communication, collaboration and critique and never created in a vacuum like the individualistic myth might suggest.

The Soft Bigotry of Kony 2012
This Atlantic article explores the assumptions that we make when we buy into viral videos like the Kony 2012 campaign. A terrific read, and made especially interesting by the news today about the Invisible Children’s founder and his recent actions. A favorite quote of mine was:

Kony 2012 is so seductive for precisely the same reasons that make it so dangerous. … [It] sets viewers up for a message so gratifying and fulfilling that it is almost impossible to resist: there is a terrible problem in the world, you are the solution, and all you have to do is pass along this video. … it tells Americans that by simply watching a video, and at most maybe buying a $30 “action kit” of wristbands and stickers, they have done all that’s necessary; they are absolved of responsibility.

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes Community
A long read, but a great read. Far from being a dismissive luddite, Hipps simply encourages us to consider how the medium of the internet shapes the message of what we are saying (an idea borrowed from Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and McLuhan’s Laws of Media). Something that I was left to think on:

“Electronic culture does opposite things at the same time. If oral culture is tribal, and literate culture is individual, then the phenomenon of the electronic age is marked by what I call the tribe of individuals. We live in a confused state of being characterized by a deep and growing desire for connection and community and the ever-increasing experience of an electronic nomad. It’s the isolating and thin existence of electronically wandering the globe, glancing off one another, but never really connecting or encountering the other… The end result is apathy and inaction. This is not our fault; it’s not because we are bad people. The human psyche isn’t designed to withstand all the weight and trauma of global suffering without shutting down. Numbness and exhaustion are natural reactions… and it didn’t exist prior to the electronic age. The reason this matters is that the spiritual habit of empathy at a distance also finds its way into our local communities. It becomes increasingly difficult to muster local activism and genuine concern for others when global suffering has already cauterized the nerves of compassion…”

“But the very act of pausing in a busy day to pray is an act of weakening pride in my life, acknowledging that I am a dependent creature. I am not self-sufficient.” -CJ Mahaney

I have been struggling recently to understand how to be productive while still taking care of myself (eating well, getting sleep). I realize that busyness can actually be a sin of pride when it pushes other things out of my life. When I am busy, depriving myself of good friends, sleep that my body needs, and most importantly God and time with him, I am trying to be something I am not: self-sufficient. I love Mahaney’s quote above because it motivates me to pray and clearly delineates the battle in my heart: do I labor intensively to be perfect and not rely on anyone? Or do I rely on God first, giving him the first fruits of my time and trusting that I will get done everything that I need to that day? My perfectionism (all-or-nothing thinking) and my procrastination go hand-in-hand with my productivity.

I want to share this resource with you. It’s a free e-book written by Mahaney. In it, he collects bits of wisdom from other authors and examines the heart issues behind busyness and procrastination. I have not finished reading it myself, but when I do, I hope to blog more extensively on this topic.

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.

In the last post on reading and Reinke’s new book, Lit!, we talked about how to make time to read. In this post, we’ll be using Reinke’s book to address the issue of reading comprehension.

I never absorb what I read!

I am all too familiar with this problem. Although the average person probably won’t remember 90% of the words they read, it’s the important concepts and select phrases and quotes that stay with us and make reading worthwhile. How do we go about remembering those important points to share with someone or remind ourselves of later on in our lives?

1. Practice reading meditatively rather than reading and reacting.
Ever read a few pages of a book and want to take a facebook break? Or do you come across a great sentence and feel compelled to tweet it or tumble it? The Atlantic, the LA Times and Wired have all written pieces on the internet’s negative effect on our attention spans. It’s a fact, online habits greatly reduce our ability to concentrate. Reading is exercising that long-term concentration that we don’t get many other places. Try to set aside 30 minutes to read uninterrupted. When you come across a quote you like, something you don’t understand or an idea you think is important, think about it yourself first. Write in the margins or pull out a notebook and jot it down. Things will stick in your mind much better if you think about them after your read them.

2. Mark up your books.
Although librarians may have hit you with a ruler for doing this in grade school, don’t be afraid to write in them now! The main reason why I buy my own books is so that I can write my reactions in the margins, highlight, star important points and dog-ear the pages. Also, even if you end up not writing a lot in a book, simply holding a pen or pencil while reading and tracing the lines will keep you focused and and even help you read quicker.

3. Aim for quality, not volume.
That said, reading quickly is not the goal of reading. In fact, reading lots of books isn’t even the goal of reading. To read well, we must be reading to glorify God by delighting in the written word and gaining wisdom. We can’t do this if we rush our reading. Reinke says,

“A wide gap separates a reader who simply consumes books from a reader who diligently seeks wisdom. Book consumers view books as ‘things to get read’. Wisdom seekers view books as fuel for slow and deliberate meditation” (178).

4. Join a book discussion.
A sure-fire way to prevent yourself from being a selfish reader is to discuss a book with friends. Do you read to help others understand things? Do you use what you’ve learned to apply it to your life and the lives of your friends? Do you join a book club with a humble and teachable heart, willing to acknowledge that others have gotten different things out of the same book you’ve read? Read to build up your community. Let it be a blessing to those around you!

Reinke ends his helpful book by pointing out that in reading, like in everything else, Christ is the center. There is no reading or comprehension without the light and grace of God in our lives. We find our identity and our confidence in Christ – not in how many theology books we can read or how well we use our time. Psalm 36:9 reminds us, “In your light do we see light.” Reinke responds with this exhortation:

We are humbled, but we are encouraged. We grab a new book and press on, not as slaves bound to a chore, but as liberated sinners who read to delight in the gifts of our God. We press on, reading and thanking God for the light we do see in books, and for his illuminating grace that lights our way. (185)