Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Top 33 Lingering Fragrances of 2011

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 2 Corinthains 2:14
An incredible year of grace, joy, failures(,) and discoveries (oxford comma -- important or no? I can never decide) these past months have been. As for me and my ways, 2011 could be split into two parts pretty cleanly. There are the smells that belong to the past, and the overwhelming olfactory aroma of the hope and promise of the future. The smells of a bygone era, and the smells of a journey not yet quite understood. 

This is a seriously long list, but in many respects it was a long year, with many things worth reconsidering as time moves on. If you've stumbled upon here, I hope some of these instances that brought me various emotions and experiences you too can allow yourself to stop and smell for a time. Uživaj! (enjoy)


33. I Don't Believe in If Anymore song by Roger Whitaker
Besides the deep-seated conviction when I watch this video that Roger Whitaker belongs in Middle-Earth, wherein he was bred from some sort of chicaneric off-creation between elf, hobbit and youth counselor, I can't help but be energized by this song's smiley war-torn melody. Maybe it's just Roger's aquamarine button-down, but I can't peel my eyes away from all the what-ifs and wtfs of this jazzercise-disco-spectacular, spectacular.

32. Hellfire song from the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame
There seemed little reason to check into Disney films after The Lion King. The formula that returned the magic kingdom to a second era of golden animated films was becoming its own bane. Song and dance and princess and talking animal will forever appeal to the li'l folks who have not yet gobbled up years of entertainment, but for the age-ed, the formula becomes nothing more than vague repetition... and Stephen King taught me long ago that, "Hell is repetition." It is because of that waning interest in all non-Pixar Disney endeavors that led me to avoid Hunchback for so long. By happenstance I came upon it this summer, only to discover a vast world of Catholic guilt, indignation, and scoldering envy! The battle of religion as power versus love as grace wields the plot of this fair adaptation, and makes for the best villain song Disney has ever offered.

31. Voldemort character from the Harry Potter book series
I admit, I still know very little of the Harry Potter universe that Miss Rowling has devised, and, up until this past year, had little-to-no desire to endow myself with such affiliations. Somehow, amidst a conversation over the powers of Harry's arch-nemesis, that all changed for me. Voldemort (or as I read his name in the Slovene translation, Mrlakenstein), is a being who apparently, from my thin knowledge perceive, cannot create, but led by his immense greed and power-hunger, twists creation to his own bent. He gains his power by sucking the will and soulful offspring of others. This is intriguing to me on two fronts: 

FRONT ONE -- Voldemort seems to be a mere fictionalization of Satan. It would follow then that an understanding of him as a character would be akin to a modern-day study on the thought process of who Lucifer is. Very little is actually written in the Bible about Satan. Much of what we think we know is mere tradition. But the ever-curious question remains: we know how and why Adam fell from grace, after all, he was tempted by a serpent (hmm... Voldemort has the ability to speak the language of serpents... fascinating), but what was it that drove Satan to fall; the greatest of all creation made into the darkest of light? 

FRONT TWO -- Voldemort cannot make out-of-nothing. In this he is like mankind, for we are only endowed with the ability of sub-creation. So it is a practice of twisting the real into something at first only perceivable. Perhaps this is why the book of Revelation says that the mark of the beast 666 is also the mark of man.
     The boy Harry has never had any interest to me --- even now as I sludge through reading the books in Slovene, I find myself often frustrated and bored with the weakling boy. It is the arch-villain who remains veiled in secrecy and prized myth. He holds the keys to deeper truths and answers. He is the reason to journey onward.

30. Tree of Life movie directed by Terrence Malick
The picture, meticulously assembled by the oft-gone visual artist, that dared to grasp the entire breath of this thing called life, was easily the most-anticipated film of the year for me. What I hoped for was an ecstasy of worship, that praised the Creator in wondrous awe. I dreamed that it would plant seeds of inquire about the function and purpose of existence that would feed my ever-exploring soul. I also feared for the production. I feared that it would turn out to be an exercise not in wonder, but in conceited 'artistry'. 

Perhaps above all, I wanted an emotional experience on par with Aronofsky's The Fountain, with a story that would continue to stalk and haunt me as implicitly true to the life experience.  In this writer's opinion, what we were given with Tree of life was nothing of pomp, nothing of the cataclysmic pretension of The Fountain. Rather, I saw a film of color and time. I think the key is to see the humility in the accomplishment. I don't think Tree of Life seeks to answer any questions; I'm not even positive that it asked many. Malick's work simply serves as a full-course meal. The sounds and images hope to embrace the expanse of life. He shows us as much of existence as he can dare. We are the ones left with the responsibility of what to do with the pieces.

29. This Too Shall Pass music video by Ok Go
I don't know what they're singing about. I don't know why it was decided that the addition of a marching band would really kick the song up a notch. I don't know why everything takes place amidst a fall-ish field surrounded by a colorful forest. I don't why the band members pop out from the green marsh. I don't know a lot of things. But when those kids join in with their melody and raw energy, who am I to do anything but grin. Somethings we're made for grinning... and grinning broadly. 

28. The Republican Primary Race 
We have come to the place where all things are sport. As far as my eyes could see (particularly in being a dogged San Diego sports fan), nothing provided me with more intense strategery and groupthink manifestos than the race for the next Republican presidential candidate. In relative earnesty (if earnestness is something that can ever be found in politics) the race began in August during the Iowa straw poll. The results of that one put Michele Bachmann at the top of the rat race. But she tends to have a scary face, so her few minutes of fame were few indeed. Then Rick Perry barged onto the scene and immediately shot to first place in the polls -- that is, until he opened his mouth. Rick Perry is a candidate better seen than heard. His debate oops-y-ing cost him his frontrunner status long ago. Then the Herman Cain train came to town, and I'll raise my hand here; I was sold. 9-9-9 was a ticket to ride! But then lady after lady strolled into newsrooms towing endless parades of affairs with the Cain man, and that blew the brakes real hard-like on his train in a mighty hurry. 

Avalanched by televised debate after debate, the pundits and people alike saw Newt Gingrich as the opponent most suitable to fight Obama for the presidency, via mouth or fist. But Gingrich is an angry doughboy, and angry doughboys can only stay docile for so long; the campaign he started out as one of innovation and idea turned under fire to one of hostile snark and bite. All the long through the tides of candidates, the Mormon remained calmed. Mitt Romney. Businessman. Clean. Mormon. No one really likes him, but folks seem to collectively sigh and select him when push comes to shove and shove comes to bullet. By the time 2012 rolled in Rick Santorum gave a short gasp of hope to the anti-Romney electorate as the new great white hope, but now it seems that that ship has sailed as well. As for me, I have been indoctrinated to fall in line with Ron Paul-ism, but it really isn't about who stands for what, it's about how they play the game... and how the game plays all of us. 

27. WICKED musical
When looking at the world of musicals, I find myself a reticent glutton. The masculine, full-contact side of me rears its battle-scarred head at the notion of enjoying the romp and riddle of music in plot-motion. But alas, once I sit my butt down to inhale such intoxicants, I inevitably fall victim to their siren songs. Going to see this Oz-ian production with the girlfriend (now fiancee!) in December was nothing short of choking out a buck to play a rigged game ("but it's the only game in town"). Of course I was going to helplessly fall for the play. I never had a chance. This being a year of fictional universes as ardent conveyors of deep truth, the universe of Oz had much intrinsic value for me. Add to that the beautifully layered discussion surrounding the question: how can one be good in a realm devoid of goodness? What good does altruism accomplish when there's no one to acknowledge its effort? Intoxicating music sharpened by themes of relevant value creates a lasting impression. Check out these lyrics from the song No Good Deed:

One question haunts and hurts  
Too much, too much to mention:  
Was I really seeking good  
Or just seeking attention?  
Is that all good deeds are 
When looked at with an ice-cold eye?  
If that's all good deeds are  
Maybe that's the reason why
No good deed goes unpunished 
All helpful urges should be circumvented  
No good deed goes unpunished 
Sure, I meant well - Well, look at what well-meant did...


26. Maps music video by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
One of story's most brutal devices: time never stops. The death of a relationship, the end of an adventure, the last chord of a song --- time passes, forcing us in and out of situations and moments. You'll hear a call from time-to-time, an impassioned plea from a weak soul, "wait." Wait. I'm learning now what it means to want a moment to extend into eternity. No moment does. As soon as it's over, that very instant you are as incalculably departed from that moment as you'll ever be. You can't ever go back. That can be a virtue and a vice. 

The video ends with house lights flickering back on. Time and tide sober ever passionate plea. 

25. Airports and Airplanes
Going to a shrink is something like searching for a cheat code to a video-game we're always playing. And if that is true, surely airplaning is pressing pause. As much as I've learned to acquaint myself with the oddity of transport via air, I still can't really wrap my mind around it. Days are quicker, but yet hours feel longer. I sit in a chair and wait. Wait, wait, and wait; then, somehow, I arrive. I do this strange traditional rhythm. Take off my belt, my shoes, smile at the passport people, wait in one line after another. None of it really makes any sense to me. Sure, I can explain it from an objective point of view, but from my own subjective perception of reality, it just seems batshit crazy -- like the myriads of us airplaners are performing strange cultural traditions in order to be graced by the god of the air, so as to be magically transported to our secret heart's desire. Does my body age when I fly? Will that time be counted on my mortality clock? Seems like it shouldn't...

24. Helplessness Blues  song by Fleet Foxes 
Like a melodic vision of Candide minus the comedy, the song plays like a memory adrift inside a slow-moving dream. Candide ends with the line: "We must cultivate our gardens." Helplessness Blues ends this way: 
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
Someday I'll be like the man on the screen 

23. Sister Winter, The Friendly Beasts, Dumb I Sound  songs by Sufjan Stevens
Having been sullied by the overspoilment of two (count them: one...two!) Sufjan albums last year, to ease the burden of waiting, I indulged in a furthering of Mr. Stevens' back albums. Praisefully, almost all of his past work can be streamed for free off his website. These three particular songs impress upon me the landscape of thought that Sufjan's work creates in my head. He builds environments, atmospheres, in which my mind joyfully jaunts through. For instance, the terrifyingly lonely Dumb I Sound does not so much tell a story as it does lead me to build my own lachrymose world to build flights of fancy for resident thoughts and feelings. The music of Sufjan takes me places, but then wondrously leaves me be to imagine on top of his founding work. 

22. Degeneration Street  album by The Dears
The album title tells you what you need to know. The world is crumbling. The whole earth groans for redemption. All of creation aches as it slowly breaks. With energy and a hypnotic sense of melodic vitality, The Dears newest album is the forceful plea on the otherside of, "Wait." It's the scream at time to hurry. It's the hope to stay alive until the story finally turns! Get past the winter! Make it to the day when you can cultivate your garden. 
Lyrics from the last song on the album:

This was the child of the Millennium  
A switchblade hanging round the neck  
A trail of crosses burn continuum  
The path to Hell blazed in a wreck
Over and over  
Over and over

Get me through the night  
Get me through the winter 
Get me to the sun  
Or we'll all be gone

21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie directed by Philip Kaufman
True horror must be about the metaphysical. What if God isn't who he says he is? What if I'm right about God's power, but wrong about his grace? What if he turned his back on us? What if he doesn't love us? What if he's not looking after us? Horror is the fear of alienation. That's why aliens work so well. They're good at that stuff. I snuck into viewing this film with a doubtful eye. But it's a doozy if you embrace it. Go ahead. Let yourself live there. 

20. Bad as Me  album by Tom Waits
You find yourself lost. You know you're wandering down the lost-side tracks back of mainstreet at some uncertain hour before dawn. You are vaguely aware that you're scurrying through a major metropolis, but for the life of you, you can't seem to recall which city this is. Time drifts away. You are trapped in this moment, in this place, and you're lost. All that was is a foggy memory. All that is now is this treacherous back alley. You ask yourself, 'what is next?' That's when a door swings open. With nothing to lose, you push yourself through the black chasm. Completely dark, you again find yourself tripping down an endless flight of stairs. You lose your balance. Fall. Now you tumble down and down and down. You stop. The back of your head has slammed against dirt. You feel wetness from the backside of your head scamper away from your warm body. Head facing up, you dare to open your eyes. You don't know how it is possible, but from this position you see the stars of the night sky. Bright and beautiful they glow. You smile at their color. In that space, the music of Tom Waits hollers in. It is at once obscene, baroque, melodramatic, flashy, cold, jagged, and almost in spite of it all, truthful and vulnerable. 

19. The Ongoing Performance of Glenn Beck media personality
Beck is passionate like no one else. The dude blows that whistle as loud as any Old Testament prophet. He's the energizer bunny of apocalyptic news commentators. He has for years now been the darling child of Foxnews and their ilk. But he grew and he grew and just went and outcrazied the crazies. Getting ousted by Foxnews for your political right-wingery is a feat unparalleled in channel news history. Of course, rather than shut up, the man goes on and creates his own network. GBTV, meaning: Glenn Beck TV. Crazy just got up and running. Now, I must admit to a high degree of admiration for the man and his endless supply of chalkboards. He's got passion and he's gonna quell that inner beast of burden if it's the last thing he darn well does! The problem is... he's great a casting a flag of doom, but he fundamentally fails at painting a positive picture of what the world should be. He focuses on his conspiracies so much that we seldom see what his view of a perfect world would be. How would it function? What does liberty do? I liked Beck's persona so much this past year that I created my own youtube series trying to take the good from him and applying it towards something positive. Go ahead, judge away.

18. Going On music video, by Gnarls Barkley
I got essentially kicked out of my apartment. I wasn't a happy camper. I was frustrated with my situation, with aspects of my job, with my future, with how to move forward in life. God loves me. This I know. Not just because the Bible tells me so... but because I feel it in the story He has given me. This is an incredible life we all get to live. 2011 will prove to be a fundamental year in my life, because in it I was led to a door that brought me to my current fiancee. I know grace, because I don't deserve to be loved so... neither by God nor the girl. And, as is also fun-exciting-frightening, I get to be the door my fiancee walked through as well. My role changes as I walk through these doors. When all is said and done, a lot of life shall be painful for us, but it seems best to just keep dancing through -- door-to-door -- for Oh, the places we'll go!

17. The Plague Dogs movie directed by Martin Rosen
A certain phrase has been thrust upon me at multiple times this past year: "perception is reality." As much as I dry-heave when I try to ingest that idea, it may stand as one way in which this film ends smitten with hope. My poor, poor eyeballs watched this concentration camp of a film back in February, and it immediately, without hesitation, received the honor of most depressing thing I've ever seen. Now, it has long been documented that I'm a worthless wreck when it comes to animals (and their souls). When I was fourteen, I watched my dog die over the course of an evening, and it was a pathetic, brutal thing to behold. The Plague Dogs starts with dogs escaping from a center for medical experimentation, wherein our protagonists are being tortured. That's where it begins. It ends with our brave protagonists still journeying on. By story's end, I've long lost hope for our bedraggled comrades, but maybe the point is that they haven't. I find that they're searching for a quixotic dream that simply cannot be --- but, maybe they're perception will become reality. Whatever the answer, it's a rough road...

16. Parks and Recreation tv show
There's a song my fiancee and I like to repeat to each other (hee-hee... I have one them now... them fiancees!). The line we most repeat reads, "Home is wherever I'm with you." Parks and Recreation is time spent with people you simply want to be around. There are seldom any true enemies. There are few insurmountable problems. There's just us. And as it turns out, the 'us' that the writing staff of this made, just so happen to be really funny and lovely. I love 'us'. And I want to spend more time there, in that place... with us. Because we're awesome. There's comfort food, so I presume that there can be such a thing as comfort shows, of which Parks and Rec is the foremost comfort.

15. Ordet movie directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Some films evade description. There is a plot. There is a message. There is a theme. That's all you need know. As I sit here writing, trying vainly to decipher how a film like this should be heralded and sold, I find that the best way to depict the film is that it is what it should be. It is bound by earth, but seems to be more closely akin to something of a lost, pure language. Faith. Go see it. 

14. Paris, Texas movie directed by Wim Wenders
What will my story look like when I die? What will the pages display? Is the road I'm on now the same one I'll be on when the book is complete? Paris, Texas is about listening, both to the past and to the point of the story. We like to talk more than we listen. Listening takes work... and... for many of us, there is a great fear behind listening that is not there when we speak. To talk is to know the answer, to know what is about to come. To listen is to be unsure. The last act of this film features, almost exclusively, two characters telling their stories unabridged and unflinching. What courage they show. In all my relationships, I am so quick to assume I know what will be said. Even if the other says it, I've already interrupted their words by my presumed answer. I must resist this urge. I must listen deeply and with vulnerability. In that deep place, where any word fills the future with meaning, and only in that deep place, can I truly be hurt or cured. Only there do such words as "l love you" mean anything at all. 

13. Mark Driscoll pastor 
For when one says, "I folly Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:4-9 ESV  

These verses reverberate through my head when I dare to think of leadership in the Church. Christ is our head. He is our rock, our fortress, our defense... However, being human and being bound by time we find ourselves looking for role models and leaders. Of course, we also have the awful prize of Catholic history to reflect on as to how men of certain ages have used leadership in the Church as a means to personal power. So, we who tend towards protestantism also tend to be overly cautious at anointing leaders. Nevertheless, as the age of communication and internet continues onward, a united Christian Church would be great if it could be so. Could it be? Could we be united under Christ without bickering and apartheiding? In the Old Testament we had commissioned roles for Prophets and Priests. Can we still have that sort of administration? Questions of this nature hurt my head ---- but I will say this; so far, Mark Driscoll seems to be a man above reproach. I pray he remains so... and I pray God leads him evermore into the role Christ would have for him.

12. American Gods novel by Neil Gaiman
Everything that has ever been worshiped is real. All the gods dwell on earth. The gods were once strong because man believed them to be, and so they ruled in the manner in which they desired to rule. But time has past and man being an inventive creature, has forged new ways and has begun to build altars to new creations; to new gods. Once upon a time Thor lived in antiquity, but then the men and women of the north took to the seas and came to America. Once upon a time the tribal gods of Africa ruled with vicious precision, but then the slave ships came. Once upon a time Ra was the sun, but now he has fallen into memory. American Gods envisions a landscape of vagabond gods, touring lumps of soil across America feeding off whatever faith they can summon up from white-eyed lads and lasses. The book is oodles of fun, in that it materializes the seconds of our lives. It stares back at you from its pearly white pages with a subtle, admonishing glare, asking, "What do you spend your time worshiping?" 

11. Breaking Bad tv show
Television, taken as a collective whole, is perhaps the artistic agent best suited for causing long-term change in its recipients. It has the widest breath, the greatest proximity to being a surrogate caretaker of any other art form. The power of any one particular television show can be immense. Sadly, the medium is seldom wielded widely. What we have in Breaking Bad may be the wisest tv show yet created. Breaking Bad follows the trials of Walter White. It meticulously shows his decent into evil over (so far) the span of four seasons. Never has a show so slowly turned the screws on a character, constantly leaving the audience at odds with how we should view our protagonist. We have this tendency, as an audience, to want to blacken (whiten?) a character with the simple label "Good" or "Bad". Children play good guys versus bad guys; so do viewers. Is Walter White good or bad? Deep down? Why do we insist on some sort of fairy logic that people have a good or bad heart? Breaking Bad may be a lesson in how situations nudge inventive, desperate souls towards decisions of bleak consequence. Morality is real. There is objective truth. But damn, it's hard to say whether decisions make the man, or if we are in fact somehow greater than the some of our (chosen) parts. 


10. Rob Bell former-pastor, media personality
False prophet or modern voice of Jesus the merciful? I have half-a-heart to roll up my rug and follow Bell wherever he leads and half-a-heart to burn him at the stake. He may be the voice of postmodern belief, but man alive, can that really be a good thing? Our petty human minds have a tendency to think that things in tension must be diametrically opposed. Bell hits heavy on mercy, grace and his definition of love. Does that then mean he is undermining God's justice, his perfection, his wrath? Sure, we are loaded with deep questions and mysteries in this life. Some of those questions hurt. Hell is a hurtful topic when you start naming names. I can understand, deeply empathize, with Bell's desire to see God not as the author of Hell, but at the end of the day, does he allow for God's justice to reign. Does he put God above man, or fit God into his paradigm of how man should be loved? I don't know the answer. I have no incentive to find the answer. I will admit to some sadness. The question of modern day prophet arose in my mind as it has with Mark Driscoll, but then I read of Bell's decision to leave his role as pastor of his church. This makes me sad. In its place, he is choosing to create a television show loosely based on his own life. Sketchy... 
Read my two posts on Rob Bell's newest book Love Wins HERE and HERE TOO.

9. Transcendental Man documentary directed by Robert Berry Ptolemy
Our instinct may be to write the protagonist of this documentary, Ray Kurzweil, off as a complete nutjob. That may be well true, but it doesn't take away from the gravity of the conversation. Technology is changing our lives at a constant clip. And it has gone far past the work of devices like the cotton-gin, which merely make life easier. Technology has changed not only how we live our lives, but what we choose to value in life. Kurzweil predicts that by 2029 computers will gain consciousness. Furthermore, by 2045 we, being humanity, will merge our consciousnesses with the computers. Again, you may mock the mere notion of this claim, but one thing is undeniable: technology will continue to throw our culture into new waters. We must consider all consequences, particularly Christians. How does all this affect our faith? Our daily lives are continuing more and more to be divorced from the picture of what it was to live in first century Palestine. This is going to be challenging, my friends. And exciting. But mostly challenging. But really exciting as well. And friggin' challenging. Etc.

Over the past few years the echelon of artistry in movie trailers has dramatically risen. 2011 became for me the year when many trailers surpassed in beauty the very films they were representing. The greatness of a trailer is that it leaves your mind to fill in the gaps of story that the tone and atmosphere sculpted for us. It leaves us to do the heavy lifting. Rather than blurt on about them, I'll just provide a few links below. (I know The Social Network came out in 2010, but I didn't see it until 2011, so I'm counting it... as it may be my favorite movie trailer ever devised.) Click on the films to behold the glory.  

7. Dead Island Trailer video game trailer
Confusion. Horror. Awe. Remorse. Ecstasy. Pain. Epiphany. --- All these emotional responses from a game trailer. I am no gamer, and I've never played Dead Island, but this trailer is remarkable. The palette of emotions the concoction of beauty and ugliness the moment allows steals my breath. Although I've never had my family wretchedly attacked by a band of bedraggled and desperate zombies before, I'm pretty sure this is what life is... an intolerable melding of the serene with a little violent chaos sprinkled in. 

6. The Zeal and Imaginative Grit of J.R.R. Tolkien writer
One night not too unlike the nights that still bode over our tired souls, a young Tolkien sat roundly defending his thoughts by the shrewd and cunning C.S. Lewis. We see them now as giants of imagination's lore, but way back then they were mere friends, confounded by each other's ineptitude to comprehend the very truth of the matter. Lewis asked with his very British form of scathing bite, 'What good fairies and elves? What good myth?' Tolkien responded with a poem that was later to be enshrined with the name Mythopoeia. It begins:

To one [C.S. Lewis] who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though 'breathed through silver'.
Philomythus to Misomythus

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain...

I've never before cared for the expansive universes of Tolkien or Rowlings or Lucas. I thought them mere distractions from raw truth. But this year I've come to see further. There is a magic to this world -- I like to call it 'Awe'. We have normalized our minds to its presence, so we rarely acknowledge its light. But rest assured my comrades, our God has made a doozy of a creation. Later in his direct poem Tolkien stands on his apple box to defend the continuance of modern myth for the soul:

Yes! 'wish-fulfilment dreams' we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise -- for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bate, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight...

Imaginations can be used for such dreadful things. Have we not an extensive history of ironic tortures devised by the machinations of men's minds? But if such a vile thing can become of the imagined mind made perverse, what power of beauty lies in it before it has been twisted to wretchedness? Tolkien concludes his poem like so, imagining the heavens we'll once come to know:

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down. 

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys...

5. Super movie directed by James Gunn
Sometimes the sum of the parts of a film is more than the whole. Super slips and slides along the way, but I forgive it all for the sake of a few painfully honest and backbreaking moments. The cornerstone moments of the film revolve around childlike crayon pictures of the protagonists 'perfect moments'. He draws them an gives them a place of honor so that he can always be reminded and strengthened by these few moments of grace in his life. This is not dissimilar from the Israelites needing to be constantly reminded of what God had done for them. In college, my roommates and I did this very same practice of putting hand-drawn memories on the wall for reflection and boast. We forget what grace feels like, so we must remember, remember, remember. Super's main man is like an Antonio Salieri figure; able to appreciate the type of character he'd like to be without the inherent gifts to become that man himself. Amidst this discomforting reality, our protagonist, through wretched sobbing, kneels down at the foot of his bed:

[Praying] God, please guide me. Tell me what to do. I hate you god!... I'm sorry I said that. It just seems so unfair god. Other people have goodness, they have good things, they have love and tenderness, people who care about their lives. Not humiliated at every turn. Other people have things god, even the starving children in Africa, even their parents love them. Why was I so unlucky, to have my soul born into this disgusting me? This ugly face, this hair, this hair that doesn't comb, and this dumb idiotic personality?
Other people stare at me god, I can tell. They are amazed at how something so stupid and idiotic can even exist! Why am I that? Please. God. I just want this one thing, I'll ask for one thing, I'll never ask for anything ever again. Please.  

4. Next to Me song by Sleeping at Last 
The adventure is shared. There's so much yet uncertain, but I'm not worried. We'll turn hours into gardens, cultivating every shared moment. 

3. Louis C.K.comedian
The new voice. The new angle. Humility in pragmatic deconstructionism <-- that is the core of both Louie's comedy and his philosophical underpinings. I find him to be a swell chap, in that you instinctively know that he's a guy who'll sit down with you and listen to whatever it is you believe you need to say. Above all else, Louie is a brilliant observer, who can harbor both disdain and poetry within his glance. He poignantly made this perhaps most self-evident in an episode of his show this past year when he goes to visit the troops in Afghanistan, only to find that his kids shelved a baby duckling into his carry-on backpack. Amidst the hate and fear resounding between afghan and marine, there waddles out a cute duck. The world freezes. Everyone focuses on this docile little bundle of love. The duck has no enemies and no agenda. He is the ultimate diplomat of the moment. This is the thrust of Louie's charm. If only the man were curious... then we'd be getting somewhere. 

2. To Whom it May Concern  song by The Civil Wars
In the beginning we didn't have touch and smell and taste to rest our minds and hearts. We had only the universe we envisioned together; our sub-created kingdom sodded by hope and faith. "You and me and the Holy Ghost make three." Those first few months had to be gentle. There's perhaps been nothing that's come easier to me than falling in love with you. But with all things open comes fear and trembling. At any point the Lord could have taken you away (could still). I'm so happy he hasn't. So thankful. Maybe one day he will, and then I'll return to our once imagined kingdom, where God makes all things new again, and we bask in eternal embrace. I'll wait there for you. In some ways, I'll always be waiting there. I am happy.

1. Surprised by Hope novel by N.T. Wright
As a child, I would find myself from time to time pondering on the subtle fear that Heaven seemed like a rather dull place. Then, being a lad raised by Godly parents, Revelation chapter 21 was read to me:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I head a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning,  nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said,
 "Behold, I am making all things new." 
Revelation 21:1-5a ESV

I then, being a small lad, smiled at the concept of BOTH a new heaven and a new earth, for surely there would be a giant slide connecting the two. If I ever got bored I could just jaunt on over to that slide in paradise!

N.T. Wright speaks much to these things in his book, and much to the idea that many of us in the western Christian culture have fallen victim to a latent belief in gnosticism. He rebukes hymns that have helped sculpt our view of eternity as being a place of celestial spirit bouncing on clouds thumbing the delicate hairs of harps. By no means! Wright writes that the scripture is quite clear that our eternity is to be with God on earth in bodily (and soulily!) forms. The earth below me shall be redeemed as all of earth will be, but our nature, our very function shall not be mocked and changed in eternity gone by. We will have work to do on the new earth as we will still have physical bodies to plow with.

There is far too much content to broach in Wright's book to be mentioned here. I will leave it with this --- 

---for eternity, in the presence and glow of God with us, we will cultivate our gardens.


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