Live for the Applause of the Nail-Scarred Hands

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That’s What I See

Two images have been seared in my mind these past few days. Both are scandalous, although for differing reasons.

The image of George Floyd…

…and the image of President Trump.

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Park of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The contrast between the two is stark. The image of Floyd’s death comes to us raw, unfiltered, even a bit “grainy” as it was a moment captured by a nearby observer. The image of President Trump is crystal clear in its definition, properly footnoted as an AP photo, a carefully curated piece of political propaganda. We see George Floyd in his black tank top and the President in his suit and tie. Floyd’s hands are behind his back; Trump’s hand holds up a Bible. And the images emerge to us from their contexts: we see one man being pinned to the ground by law enforcement officials until he passes out and, ultimately, dies; we see another man whose security detail forcibly pushes back peaceful protesters in order for this photo to be secured.

These two images are more than the latest grist for our insatiable cable news echo chambers. These pictures might very well be Rorschach tests that reveal to us the condition of our souls.

Which image is an allegory for the image of Christ? The triumphalistic commander-in-chief? Or the incarcerated criminal?

What do you feel when you look at these pictures?

(If you’re tempted to roll your eyes and write me off as simply propagating the political ideology of “the other side” — the side which you oppose — I want to say that I’ve long since renounced partisan politics, at least the bifurcated iterations of “conservative” and “liberal” which seem to dominate the political landscape of this country. I often feel alienated from both parties, so I feel no compulsion to defend or destroy either side. I neither idolize nor demonize.)

My greatest interest at this point in my life is to preach Christ crucified. Which is why these images are so important to me.

One image reminds me of Christ; the other of anti-Christ.

That’s what I see.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Jesus, Politics, Race, Social Issues | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday Jackson

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My Daughter’s Thoughts

My fifteen-year-old daughter’s thoughts on what is happening in this country right now:

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What Breaks Your Heart?

What breaks your heart?

I’ve been thinking about the things that get us really incensed, the sorts of things that outrage us. In my circles, I hear a lot of outrage over things like businesses requiring patrons to wear masks. Inevitably, those discussions are fueled by a very particular understanding of liberty and, even more pointedly, freedom without limit. This same thing applies to attitudes about quarantine and government orders to shelter in place.

It’s not that these sorts of things should be unimportant. That’s not my point at all. But I can’t help but notice the outrage over some of these things as I think about the response to George Floyd’s death…or Ahmaud Arbery’s death…or Breonna Taylor’s death…and the much larger conversation about race in the United States. And such outrage seems misplaced against the backdrop of such injustices.

Here is a simpler way to say it: in some of my circles, there seems to be far more outrage over looting and rioting than there is over the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer.

The things that outrage us reveal the true contents of our hearts.

That’s why this is such an important question: what breaks your heart?

And a second one is of even greater importance: what breaks God’s heart?

And here another: is your list different than His?

It’s so easy to default into sweeping and unhelpful generalizations at a time like this. But the actions of one bad cop are no more representative of all law enforcement officers than the actions of a violent mob represent the thousands of peaceful protesters.

The Scriptures of my faith present communal lament as a virtue in the simple but beautiful command, “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). In that spirit, I weep today:

I weep for George Floyd and his family.

I weep for Derek Chauvin and his family.

I weep for people of color who live in the kind of fear that I’ve never known.

I weep for the officer who will face unnecessary violence today because she is simply doing her job.

I weep for those who feel as if they have no way to voice the hurt they feel in their community.

This is a time for weeping and lamentation. It is a time for broken hearts.

Posted in Culture, Disappointment, Empathy, Faith, Race, Scripture, Social Issues | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Reunions

Boy, did I need some new music to lift my spirits. Well done, 400 Unit.

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Celebrating Sunny

Happy birthday, Sunny!

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May the 4th

Coolest character in the SW universe? Han Solo, of course, but the Mandalorian has a case for #2. Maybe Darth Maul gives him a run.

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The Coddling of the American Mind: A Review

I just finished reading a great book written by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt entitled The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

If you’re a Kindle reader, you can get it for $4.99 in the Kindle store. If not, you might have to spend more like $10 for a hard copy. But I’m telling you: You. Need. To. Read. This. Book.

I give this book my strongest recommendation. I really think it might be one of the most important books I’ve read in quite some time. If you have a child, you need to read this book. If you’re an educator or a school administrator, you need to read this book. Just in general, you need to read this book.

Lukianoff and Haidt identify three “Great Untruths” that are dominating college campuses in this country today:

  1. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker
  2. Always Trust Your Feelings
  3. Life Is A Battle Between Good People and Evil People

These “untruths” have greatly impacted the worldview of not only the Millennial generation, but even more the “iGen” of current college students and teenagers. This is the “safetyism” generation, those who are being taught that every microagression could make them “unsafe” — thus producing our current “call out culture.”

I’ll have more to say about this book later this year — there’s a lot to process here — but I wish everyone would read this. It’s eye-opening and important stuff.

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From Quarantine: Music Reviews Revisited

Like most people, we’ve been doing our best to abide by the recent quarantine orders. We’ve been staying home; we’ve been social distancing. We’ve cleaned up some things, worked in the yard, taken care of some things on the To-Do list. But I’ve also had a little time to listen to some of my favorite music. In particular, I’ve been going back and revisiting some of my “Best Of” music lists from the past few years.

I started compiling these lists about 15 years ago when I started this blog. Back then, blogs were all the rage and that’s just the sort of thing you did. At any rate, I wrote about my favorite album one year and then I started writing about my top five albums one year….and before I knew it, I was just doing this every year, along with my list of the best books I read in that particular year.

That prompted me to go back and retroactively “award” a “Best Of” album for every year going back to 1990 — when I first developed my own musical tastes. You can access that list through the sidebar tab, if you’re interested.

Anyway, as I’ve been listening to some of these old records, I’ve made some modifications to my “Best Of” list, beginning with a couple of albums from the 90s that I overlooked somehow. Here they are:

1998 – Mercury Rev, Deserter’s Songs

Some years, I struggle to find a definitive album. 1998 was one of those years. For a long time, I defaulted to Pearl Jam’s Yield record, which is good — but not great. Other contenders simply don’t hold up after twenty years. But I recently came across Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs…and I was completely blown away. I don’t know how I missed this one, but it’s greatness comes from the strength of the best four or five songs on the album. “Holes” is an absolute earworm of a song. I don’t know why this balloon video works, but it just does.

There’s something really bittersweet about the line, “How does that old song go?” I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s heartbreaking.

And that’s just the opening song.

“Opus 40” is equally amazing. “Catskill mansions / buried screams / I’m alive she cried / but I don’t know what it means.” That’s one of the better descriptions of 90s paranoia you’ll hear this side of Radiohead. According to the story, the band struggled greatly in the years leading up to these sessions. In fact, they were so despondent that they went into the studio assuming that they would break up after this recording. So they put aside any premonition of commercial success and just recorded whatever they wanted. The result was a genre-defying album that not only won them commercial and critical acclaim (being named NME’s “Album of the Year”) but also influenced releases from The Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, and My Morning Jacket for years to come.

By the time you reach the end of the album, “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” is cathartic in its jubilant release. I’ve retroactively named this quirky, brilliant, symphonic album my favorite album of 1998.

1999 – Sigur Ros, Agaetis byrjun (A Good Beginning)

1999 was another one of those years without a standout album for me. I went digging through Google to find some of the more critically acclaimed albums from that year and I was really loving Wilco’s Summerteeth. But on a whim, I decided to give Sigur Ros a listen. Hailed as “Icelandic post-rock”, I had no idea what to expect when I pulled them up on Spotify.

I have to say: not only is this the best piece of music recorded in 1999, it’s quickly become one of my favorite records ever. I have probably listened to it, start to finish, somewhere around 100 times in the last six or seven weeks. I’ve been listening to it while I’m working, when I’m on my afternoon walk, when I’m driving…basically all the time. It’s kind of hard to describe my affinity for this music, other than to say that it’s just beautiful.

I guess “post-rock” is sort of helpful — there are some guitars here, but this is really a strings record. The orchestration is lush and grand; the lyrics are sung completely in Icelandic and Vonlenska, a “gibberish language” according to Wikipedia.

Look, I get it — Icelandic post-rock gibberish music isn’t exactly Top 40 stuff. But I’m telling you: if you’ve never listened to this record, you’re missing out. Just listen to “Svefn-g-englar” and “Staralfur” and “Olsen olsen” (those are songs on this record) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s just beautiful music. I absolutely love this record. I just wish I’d found it sooner.

Next week, I plan to take a look at the music from the early 2000s.

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