Brene Brown’s “Dare to Lead”

A great quote from Brene Brown’s latest book on leadership, Dare to Lead.

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Best Songs of 2018

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here is a playlist of my favorite songs of 2018.

You should especially check out “Fever Pitch” by Rainbow Kitten Surprise (yes, that’s a real band name). Also, let me know if you get the joke when you listen to “Parked Out By the Lake” by Dean Summerwind.

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Best Albums of 2018

Every year I take some time to reflect back over my favorite new music from the past twelve months. (For a look at my favorite albums from previous years, click here.) Streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music make the listening experience easier than ever — even if such services pay most artists a pittance to stream their songs. (See below.)

These are problems that can’t be solved here. But it’s a start to at least acknowledge them.

At any rate, the music of 2018 was mostly “meh” for me. For much of the year, nothing really grabbed me. I latched on to the new CHVRCHES when it came out in late spring; I discovered interesting artists like Khruangbin and Israel Nash; but I kept waiting for that one new album to really grab me from start to finish.

But in the final few months of the year, two albums emerged as favorites: one from a Fort Worth soul singer who performs in vintage clothing from the 1960s; the other from a Grammy-nominated CCM artist.

Best Albums of 2018

  1. Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child. Like many fans, “You Say” was my first introduction to Lauren Daigle. Admittedly, I don’t listen to much CCM, but I was bowled over by both the strength of her vocals and the depth of her lyrics. I heard “You Say” while I was preaching through a series on guilt and shame and her confessional lyrics — I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough — became something of a soundtrack as I reflected on those themes. But the song became deeply personal for me, too, prompting me to reflect deeply about my own inadequacies and shortcomings and the enormity of God’s sufficient love toward me anyway. When the full album was released in September, I did the full “deep dive” and discovered a treasure trove of similarly elegant ballads: “Rescue,” a promise of divine deliverance (I hear your S.O.S.); “Remember,” a declaration of God’s enduring faithfulness; and “Love Like This,” another rumination on the ineffable love of God. “Still Rolling Stones” is one of the few upbeat songs found here, reminiscent of 21-era Adele. But song pentameter aside, Daigle’s thesis is both hopeful and transcendent, communicated in both the album’s artwork and title: Look Up Child, a fitting message in these bleak times. Look Up Child is an incredible recording, my favorite album of 2018.
  2. Leon Bridges, Good Thing. Leon Bridges is more than a nostalgia artist. This seems to be the theme of his fantastic sophomore album, Good Thing, a fitting moniker for an LP chock full of earworm tunes like “Bad Bad News”, “Forgive You”, and “Beyond.” Sure, the Sam Cooke throwback sound is still there, but it is augmented by additional flourishes: the updated 70s funk/soul of “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be); the disco haze of “You Don’t Know”; and the modern R&B texture woven throughout the entire album. This is more than paying homage to the bygone days of Cooke and Redding; this is more of an update to those sounds, freshly rendered for the eclectic tastes of today’s playlists. Rarely has popular level music sounded so bright and vital. If you’re unfamiliar with Bridges, do yourself a favor and put this one on repeat. You won’t be disappointed.
  3. Israel Nash, Lifted. One reviewer used the term “folkadelic” to describe Nash’s sound, curated over his 10-year recording career. That’s an appropriate designation for Nash, a Texan singer-songwriter…only more Austin than Fort Worth. Nash’s website hails Lifted as a “modern day hippie-spiritual”, which also sounds about right. This album swings for the fences with anthemic choruses, orchestral backgrounds, and decidedly ambiguous lyrics. It mostly works, except for the occasional sunbeam reference. To get a feel for Lifted‘s aspirations, check out “Sweet Springs,” a delightfully beautiful song that sounds just like a summer day drenched in sunlight. What is the song about? I have no idea. But it sounds great.
  4. CHVRCHES, Love Is Dead. CHVRCHES have made their most accessible music to date, a synth-jam smorgasbord that my youngest son and I kept on repeat throughout the summer. Check out “Graffiti”, “Miracle” and “Get Out.”
  5. Jeff Tweedy, WARM. Between this album and Springsteen on Broadway, I’m up to my ears in late season confessionals from middle-aged rock stars. WARM is basically a Wilco album and I mean that as a compliment. Best track: “I Know What It’s Like.”
  6. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour. Since I don’t listen to any “mainstream” country music anymore, I have no idea if the bozos in Nashville are playing anything off of this album. (I want to believe there has been sufficient “bro country” pushback to warrant a sea change. But then I remember that Florida / Georgia Line is still a thing and my hopes are dashed.) No matter; I will fully own this next comment. This is, hands down, the best country music album of 2018.
  7. Khruangbin, Con Todo El Mundo. Psychedelic, soul funk, instrumental rock. Those are the genres listed on Khruangbin’s Wikipedia page. And they all fit. I know it sounds weird, but trust me: it works. This has been one of my go-to albums in my office this year.
  8. Wild Pink, Yolk in the Fur. My favorite ambient rock album of the year.
  9. Hush Kids, Hush Kids. If you’re like me and you still grieve the loss of The Civil Wars, you should really check out Hush Kids. They’re phenomenal. I came across this album late in the year, so it may rate even higher after I live with it for another few months.
  10. St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Young Sick Camellia. I love the soul sound St. Paul & the Broken Bones continue to cultivate. I thought this album would have benefited from tighter editing, but overall, a solid effort.
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An Interesting Take on the Lauren Daigle Controversy

I love Lauren Daigle’s music; her latest album, Look Up Child, is my favorite recording of the year. Daigle sparked a bit of a controversy recently by making an appearance on Ellen, hosted by Ellen Degeneres. A portion of her fanbase was appalled that Daigle would perform on a talk show hosted by an openly gay celebrity, leaving me to wonder if these same fans would express similar outrage if Daigle had performed on a program hosted by a famous heterosexual adulterer. Daigle’s answer to a direction question about the sinfulness of homosexuality has produced even more consternation among her fan base. 

I’m not going to be critical of Daigle for performing on Ellen. And even though it is easy to pick apart her statement in the Domenick Nati interview, I understand the fine line she is trying to walk. With this controversy taking on a life of its own, I found this New Wineskins article to be particularly thoughtful and gracious. If you’re following this story, you might benefit from Josh Daffern’s take here.

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Welcome to the fold, Paul Goldschmidt

Cardinals brass finally captured their white whale. About this time last offseason, the Cards were spurned in their efforts to acquire the current NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, fresh off a 59 homer campaign in Miami. As a consolation prize, they settled for Marcell Ozuna, who had just wrapped up a career year himself. At the time, Cardinal fans believed the team had acquired the middle-of-the-order bat they coveted. 

But Ozuna’s wonky shoulder depressed his 2018 power numbers, leaving the team desperate to acquire yet ANOTHER big bat, either on the free agent market (thus those Harper rumors) or through trade. 

In Goldschmidt, the Cardinals have finally found their man, inarguably their most dynamic offensive centerpiece since Albert Pujols. Of course, caveats abound. The Cardinals surrendered a promising young 25-year-old hurler in Luke Weaver, “catcher of the future” Carson Kelly, a high-upside minor league infielder and a future draft pick. That’s more than a decade worth of controllable pieces in exchange for one year of Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy’s acquisition, while improving the team’s power and infield defense, does nothing to break up the glut of right-handed bats in the lineup. It also sets up a doozy of an offseason after the 2019 season — when both Goldschmidt and Ozuna can test the open market. The Cardinals are gambling that Goldschmidt will go the way of Mark McGwire and Matt Holliday by signing a long-term deal after becoming enamored of the team’s culture and tradition. Of course, that doesn’t always work out. 

Regardless, Christmas has seemingly come early for this Cardinal fan. If the Cardinals make no further upgrades to the lineup this offseason, they already have a formidable heart of the order in Goldschmidt / Ozuna / Matt Carpenter (36HR, .523SLG) / Jose Martinez (assuming Martinez isn’t a defensive nightmare in RF). They still need to add a couple of bullpen arms and you can never have enough starting pitching, but this is a mighty fine way to kickstart the offseason. 

Welcome to the fold, Paul Goldschmidt. 

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Happy Thanksgiving 2018

2018 Turkey Trot at UAH

This morning I ran the Turkey Trot with my daughter. Just a few months ago, she was confined to a walking boot after surgery on her right foot. Today we ran / walked / ran some more / walked some more our first 5K together — the Turkey Trot on the campus of the University of Alabama Huntsville. I’ve been running this race for years — it’s a great way to burn off some calories before our annual feast. But today was the start of what we hope is a new father-daughter tradition. We agreed that this would be “our thing” together. I’m so proud of this little girl who is growing into a beautiful young woman. I’m looking forward to the day when she’s the one encouraging this old man as he limps to the finish line (see that grey in the beard there! HA!). 

Lots to be thankful for tonight. Happy Thanksgiving 2018. 

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Eugene Peterson

Last week, the church said goodbye to one of her most important contemporary voices. Eugene Peterson — pastor, professor, and author of The Message — passed away at the age of 85. 

I would count Peterson as one of my favorite authors — and one of my greatest influences. His pastoral theology series continues to be a source of wisdom just as his spiritual theology series continues to inspire. I have an open note in Evernote for my favorite Peterson quotes. Here are a few: 

The most important question we ask as we read is not “What does it mean?” but “How can I live it?” 

This is the hermeneutic Peterson always puts before us. He’s as well schooled as anybody when it comes to “What does it mean?” And his scholarship has helped more than a few young seminarians like me come up with some important answers to that question. But this question is always in service to the second question, the “How can I live it?” question. In one of his later works, Peterson writes about his Pentecostal upbringing. Although he has a few critiques of the tradition of his youth, he notes that Pentecostals are fiercely devoted to the idea that every last detail of the Book is intended to be lived. And with that simple stroke of his pen, I gained a deeper understanding. How can I live it? 

When God forms a church, he starts with the nobodies. 

There’s an underdog quality to some of Peterson’s writing. He’s a pastor for people who don’t like pastors. And I love that he’s always reminding us of the renegade nature of Jesus. 

Salvation is not a one-night stand. It is an all-encompassing commitment. 

Earlier this year, I read Peterson’s autobiography, “The Pastor.” I think anyone would benefit greatly from reading it, but I found it to be a profound statement on the state of the North American church from one who spent a lifetime holding her up. Rather than being a crowd, the church is a community. Peterson’s wisdom will be sorely missed, at least by this young minister. 

At his memorial service, Eugene’s son, Leif, noted that his father only had one sermon. 

They thought you were a magician in your long black robe hiding so much in your ample sleeves, always pulling something fresh and making them think it was just for them. They didn’t know how simple it all was. They were blind to your secret. For 50 years you steal into my room at night and whispered softly to my sleeping head. It’s the same message over and over: “God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless.” 

Leif Peterson, at Eugene’s memorial service

What a fitting epitaph: God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless. 


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