Aaron Strumpel: Bright Star, Great Cause

I am a Christian. Jesus has ushered me into His Kingdom through His grace and He is coming again to finish the work of setting everything right. All of life is from, for and through Him (Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16-17, etc.).

I love music. Though I have no musical talent of my own, music has remained a constant part of my life since the summer before Junior High. A friend gave me a cassette tape of Social Distortion’s Mommy’s Little Monster (Don’t judge. We all have a different path) and my life changed forever. I found a connection in music. All of that to simply enforce that I love music.

But I rarely like “Christian music”. You know, the stuff in “Christian” bookstores and played on “Christian” radio. I don’t connect with most of it and don’t find that most of the songs or artists represent anything that resonates with me. Much of it, to me, rings trite and formulaic and seems to exist for the express purpose of either: 01) “praise and worship” or 02) evangelism.

But I love music made by Christians who believe that God is glorified to artistry and attention to detail. People with passion because they’ve got something to sing about. People willing to experiment because their value doesn’t come from what people think about them or ratings but from the Creator, Savior and Sustainer of the world, Jesus.

Though not often widely known, there are a handful of artists exploring authentic expressions of the Christian faith. One of my long-time favorites has been Aaron Strumpel. I first heard of Aaron through his involvement with the Enter the Worship Circle project. I had his 2009 album Elephants on repeat for months. It was one of the most original things I had heard in a long time; musically-mesmerizing and lyrically captivating.

Strumpel recently re-released his excellent Bright Star album on Noisetrade in order to donate the proceeds to Horizon’s International School of Hope, “a school in Beruit that serves refugee children from Syria and Pakistan.”

I recently asked Aaron to share a little bit about the project:

Bright Star turned two this month! In order to celebrate, I’ve put it up on Noisetrade as a give away for the whole month of February – all tips will go to Horizon’s International School of Hope, a school in Beruit that serves refugee children from Syria and Pakistan.

Anyway, about the album. It’s a worship album. I say that because I’ve made a good number of albums that have been Psalmic but not created to be sung by groups of people in worship settings. Some of those albums were Enter the Worship Circle: Chair & Mic Vol. 2, Elephants, Birds, Vespers I, II, III, & IV. To my surprise, many of those songs became favorites of believing communities from all over the place and so after a good amount of encouragement, I combined these “greatest hits” with a batch of brand new songs and made Bright Star, a record that Worship Leader Magazine named as a Top 5 Indie Worship Album in 2015! Super fun! The album was co-produced by my good friend and Page CXVI lead-singer, Latifah Phillips, and I’m so excited to present it as a giveaway on Noisetrade this month.

Check it out here: http://noisetrade.com/aaronstrumpel/bright-star

Or preview the album right here:

Peep the video for “Twenty Three”


  • Visit Aaron’s website
  • the Weekly Town Crier

    London's Town Crier copyI don’t know about you but I love spicy artichoke jalapeño dip. I mean, with some wavy potato chips or the thicker plain chips. Not the thin ones because the dip is too thick for those sissy chips. No sissy chips up in he-yah. Know what I mean, Vern?

    Man, sometimes it just hits the spot if you know what I mean. No? Well, you really should try some.

    Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

    Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

    Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

    Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

    Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

    Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

    R.I.P. Harper Lee.

    R.I.P. Umberto Eco.

    R.I.P. Samuel Willenberg, “the last known survivor of the Nazi death camp Treblinka.”

    R.I.P. Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

    R.I.P. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

    R.I.P. First Lady Nancy Reagan.

    Browse the lineup for this year’s Pitchfork music festival.

    Browse Phoenix New Times‘ list of “Arizona’s 30 Most Influential Musicians.”

    Learn about caffeinated toothpaste.

    Read about Sub Pop Records offering “college scholarships to ‘losers’ and ‘art-enthused misfits'”.

    Read as Smithsonian considers “How the Phonograph Changed Music Forever”.

    Read as Salon argues: “Stop buying old Bob Dylan albums: “Every time somebody buys a reissue, they’re just taking money away from new musicians”. But I like Bob Dylan and new music . . .

    Watch a “1970 documentary about Hunter S. Thompson‘s run for mayor of Aspen”.

    • Read as The Washington Post opines: “If only Hunter S. Thompson could have lived to take on this election”.

    Browse as NPR’s Jazz Night In America considers the history of “Jazz slang”.

    Read as The Washington Post considers three cocktails that “pair perfectly with classic literature”.

    Read USA Today‘s profile of Mavis Staples.

    Browse as The Guardian compares streaming services.

    Browse Paste‘s picks for “10 Essential Short Story Collections”.

    Read as The Guardian considers: “Slave to the algorithm? How music fans can reclaim their playlists from Spotify“.

    Read as Consequence of Sound reports that a “Fall Coachella Festival” is imminent.

    Read reports that Apple is implementing a trade-in program for iPhones.

    Read Vinyl Factory‘s report that new printed city guides for vinyl are being made available for select cities.

    Read The Atlantic‘s report on the return of Planet Earth.

    Ever wonder why you sometimes feel “phantom phone vibrations”?

    Read Smithsonian‘s piece: “Long Before Jack Daniels, George Washington Was a Whiskey Tycoon.”

    Read as Gillian Anderson talks about Dave Grohl‘s X-Files cameo and how it came to be.

    Read as AV Club urges us to reconsider “the grim and gritty Dark Age of superhero comics.”

    Read Live For Live Music‘s report: “The Leaked Tracklisting For The National‘s Extensive Grateful Dead Tribute Is Incredible”.

    Hear “a giant 800-track alt/indie-focused 90’s playlist in chronological order”.

    Read about the new vinyl-pressing plant promising tw0-week turnaround.

    Read CNN‘s report: “Beyoncé offered security for concert by Louis Farrakhan“.

    Browse as Consequence of Sound considers “Which Artists Are Still Holding Out on Streaming”.

    Browse “Relevant”‘s list of “8 Biographies Everyone Should Read”.

    Read Paste‘s report: “Pixar Made an App That Helps the Blind Experience Movies”.

    Read Fact Magazine‘s report: “Discogs sold 6.6 million records in 2015”.

    Watch Bill Gates DJ on Jimmy Fallon.

    See shoes that grow with you.

    Read “Relevant”‘s piece: “Justin Bieber: Without God I’d Be a Terrible Person”.

    Listen as the BBC discusses poetry form.

    Read as Lucinda Williams discusses her discography with Spin.

    Browse Flavorwire‘s picks for “The 10 Albums You Need to Hear in March”.

    Ever wonder: “How Does ‘A Wrinkle in Time‘ Look on a Map?”

    Read Paste‘s: “4 Questions for Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver”.

    the Weekly Town Crier

    London's Town Crier copyDo you remember that time we were together at that place and we did that thing? Oh man! It was the bombdiggity.

    Wait, you don’t remember it? Are you sure? It was bombalicious, yo.

    You’re sure, because it was bombtastic. Truly and for reals.

    No? Not ringing a bell?

    Sorry, wrong number. Sorry to bother you. Perhaps I can offer you some online thought-provoking entertainment? I have collected some links. Why don’t you grab a container of your favorite beverage, put your feet up and peruse.

    Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

    Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

    Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

    Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

    Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

    Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

    R.I.P. Dan Hicks.

    R.I.P. Giant Sand.

    Meet the 107-year-old’ man who’s “secret to a long life is four bottles of red wine a day”.

    See some amazing “these Tiny Hand-painted Wes Anderson Sets”.

    Read Rolling Stone‘s interview with Lucinda Williams in which she “Talks Meeting Dylan, Southern Identity, Shopping Online”.

    Read Washington Post‘s piece: “A Stanford psychologist explains why spacing out and goofing off is so good for you”.

    Read as The Guardian considers” “Villain or victim, Shakespeare’s Shylock is a character to celebrate”.

    Browse “10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People” at Fast Company.

    Read about a rare, unreleased Rolling Stones album that was recently stolen.

    Read as Warped Speed considers why having a beard is good for your health.

    ReadWilliam S. Burroughs on Creativity” at Brain Pickings: “The price an artist pays for doing what he wants is that he has to do it.”

    Take a Peek Inside Neil Gaiman‘s Library”.

    Read/watch as The Chicago Tribune profiles a new documentary about John Prine.

    Maybe movies should end whenever a character says the title out loud“.

    Read as Slate wonders “Why Can’t Apple Figure Out Television?”

    Meet the man who created Papyrus, the world’s second-most hated font.

    Read about the “First U.S. Doctor Sentenced for Patient ODs”. “A California doctor was sentenced to 30 years in prison on murder charges Friday in connection with three overdose deaths from medication she prescribed.”

    Read as The Guardian considers “From Berlin’s warehouses to London’s estates: how cities shape music scenes”.

    Read about the priceless antique Martin guitar Kurt Russell smashed during the filming of Quentin Tarantino‘s Hateful Eight.

    Read as “Andrew Zimmern Explains How to Acquire a Taste”.

    Watch Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy sing Stephen Colbert a lullaby.

    Read as Inc. wonders: “Why Are Millennials So Unhappy at Work?”

    Read: “Proust on What Art Does for the Soul and How to Stop Letting Habit Blunt Our Aliveness” at Brain Pickings.

    Ever wonder “What happens to a tiny town when Walmart disappears?” Find out at The Washington Post.

    Looking for a new career path? “Stone Temple Pilots Launch Open Audition for New Singer”.

    Read as The New Yorker wonders if we’re maybe missing the point in our hatred of Martin Shkreli.

    See “What $1 USD Gets You In Food All Around The World”.

    Read “Relevant”‘s report: “The Pastor of China’s Largest Official Protestant Church Has Been Arrested”.

    Read The Guardian‘s piece: “In 1971, librarian Marguerite Hart asked famous names in the arts, sciences and politics to write to the children of Troy, Michigan, encouraging them to cherish their new public library.”

    Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Josh Brolin to star in George Jones biopic from Straight Outta Compton writer”.

    Browse “America’s Largest Collection of Early Tavern Signs”.

    Read “Relevant”‘s report: “Seal Will Play Pontius Pilate in Tyler Perry’s Televised Passion Play”.

    Read Ars Technia‘s piece: “The NFL wants you to think these things are illegal”.

    Watch the Harlem Globetrotters interrupt Jeff Tweedy at AV Club‘s offices.

    Read as Glenn Danzig discusses his recent Portlandia appearance with Rolling Stone.

    Learn “How to Read a Book a Week”.

    Read Sojourner‘s piece: “Why I’m a Politically Correct Christian (And You Should Be Too)”

    See David Bowie‘s art.

    Watch a guitarist play “the World’s Last Playable Stradivarius Guitar”.

    Read Stereogum‘s report that Belly are reuniting.

    See “Gorgeous, Extremely Private Writing Retreats” at Flavorwire.

    Read Paste‘s report that Beyoncé told Coldplay that she did not want to collaborate with them.

    See the “Last Known Photos of Jim Morrison“.

    Read as Alice Cooper reflects “on His Dinner With David Bowie and Ray Bradbury“.

    Read Fact Magazine‘s report: “The Pirate Bay now streams torrents in your browser”.

    Read AV Club‘s report that a Saved By The Bell-themed restaurant and bar is coming to Chicago.

    Learn “How to Make Your Own Moonshine Still from Hardware Store Parts” at Man Made.

    Read as Stephen King confirms rumors of a Dark Tower movie.

    Read about the Titanic replica set to set sail.

    Read Vinyl Factory‘s report that The Gap has now entered the vinyl market.

    Read as Noisey considers which musicians have the most positive Twitter followers.

    Read Kanye West‘s comments about his new album: “It’s Gospel with a Lot of Cursing”.

    Read about the lifetime collection of 1000,000 records now up for sale.

    Read reports that the eighth Harry Potter book is on its way.

    Read as Peter Gabriel wonders what is the point of music at The Guardian.

    Read Pitchfork‘s report that Bruce Springsteen is releasing an autobiography.

    Read as “Justin Vernon: Bon Iver Is “No Longer Winding Down” at Stereogum.

    Read about “Woodstock Organizers Exploring 50th Anniversary Concert”.

    the Weekly Town Crier

    London's Town Crier copyThough I have not yet made it over to the Welcome Diner, I welcome you to the Weekly Town Crier. This is the spot on the Interwebs where I regularly collect and distribute links of interest to people of interest. The goal is to think about a wide variety of topics in such a way that we’re all the better for it. Now, go, browse, think, talk with those you love and those you’ve just met. Make the world a better place.

    Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

    Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

    Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

    Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

    Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

    Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

    R.I.P. Toyota’s Scion brand.

    R.I.P. Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.

    R.I.P. BMX legend Dave Mirra.

    Read about the man helping classic punk and hardcore bands get years’ worth of royalties.


    Read an article claiming that intelligent people have messy rooms and cuss like sailors.

    Read Hypebeast‘s report that “Pepsi Is Opening a Restaurant in New York City”.

    Read NME‘s report about the petition to get Snoop Dogg to narrate Planet Earth.

    Read about sake flavored Kit Kats being introduced in Japan.

    See a $30,000, bottle of 75-year old scotch.

    See police sketches of famous literary characters.

    Visit the website for The Seer, a new film “Portrait of Wendell Berry“.

    Read about the study that “Finds That if You Spend More Than an Hour a Day on Social Media, You’re Probably Not Sleeping Well”.

    Read Paste‘s report: “Lego Has Finally Released A Wheelchair Figure”.

    Browse “Relevant”‘s picks for “12 Francis Schaeffer Quotes That Will Challenge the Way You Engage Culture”.

    Watch as a “Custom 3D Printer Turns Songs into Ceramics”.

    Read about the history of “The 27th Letter”, the ampersand at Poetryfoundation.org.

    Read as Spike Lee reflects on the role of Michael Jackson being cast to a white actor: “The Legacy Has Been Hijacked”.

    Browse the “the Greatest (and Only) Stray Shopping Cart Identification Guide Ever Made”.

    Read about “What Happened When Muhammad Ali Met Malcolm X” at Time.

    Read as The National Post considers “How comics became literature”.

    Read as The Atlantic reflects on Groundhog Day.

    Read about “How Gin Became The Meth of 18th Century England”.

    Read as Daily News Feed argues: “Americans Becoming Less Christian, More Atheist”.

    Read Paste‘s report that Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” transportation system is more than just a pipe dream.

    Read as The Atlantic wonders “What Happened to Nina Simone?”

    Browse The Telegraph‘s list of the world’s “most ‘hipster’ neighbourhoods”.

    Browse Atlas Obscura‘s list of “Awesome Places (Arguably) Ruined By Popular Books”.

    Read as T.S. Eliot considers what makes great detective fiction at The New Yorker.

    Read as The Atlantic considers the National Endowment For The Arts and the question: Who should pay for the arts in America?”

    Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Dolphins love Radiohead“.

    Watch Stephen Colbert interview motivational speaker, Joel Osteen (whom I refuse to link because I will not be a party to his increased wealth).

    Read The Seattle Times‘s report about Mark Driscoll planting Trinity Church in the Phoenix area.

    Read CNBC‘s report that Amazon is planning on opening hundreds more brick and mortar bookstores. Read as The Atlantic wonders why.

    Read as Sojourners wonders: “Should Christians Be Socialists?”

    Browse Paste’s picks for “The 6 Best New Albums of January 2016”. What were your favorites?

    Read as The Guardian considers which book the most people lie about having read.

    Read Market Watch‘s profile of “the atheist capital of America”.

    Read as First Things considers “David Bowie‘s Search For God”.

    Read as Aquarium Drunkard considers “The Darker Side of Diddley“.

    Browse The Daily Beast‘s picks for “The 40 Most Intriguing Musicians of 2016”.

    Read “Relevant”‘s report: “Televangelism Has Started to Come to Netflix”.

    Read as Salon argues: “No, America is not a Christian nation”.

    Read Paste‘s report that Batman and Wonder Woman are becoming Barbie figures.

    Browse photographs of Kurt Cobain‘s “most intimate belongings”.

    See “The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy Explained Perfectly With a Simple Animation.”

    Read Noisey‘s report that Martin Skhreli has threatened to slap Wu-Tang Clan‘s Ghostface Killah and read about Ghostface’s response: ““I’ll Break Your Heart In Four Days”.

    Browse Paste‘s picks for “The 10 Most Underrated Breweries in America”.

    See the “Guitar Pee Urinal” that “lets you play a guitar solo as you tinkle”.

    Read comicbook.com‘s report that MacGyver is getting a reboot.

    Read Consequence of Souns‘s report that John Kasich has promised to “reunite Pink Floyd if elected”.

    Read Pitchfork‘s report that “The Flaming Lips and Kurt Vile Were Answers on “Jeopardy!”

    Read NME‘s report: “Romantic comedies encourage female viewers to tolerate stalking”.

    Read Time‘s report that “McDonald’s Will Serve Happy Meals With Books Instead of Toys”.

    Read as The New Yorker considers “Why Apple and Beats Should Sell Turntables”.

    Read Brooklyn Vegan‘s report: “Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard, Andy Partridge & more wrote songs for The Monkees‘ first album in 20 years”.

    Read as Rolling Stone argues “In Defense of the CD”.

    He Shines In All That’s Fair (A Three-Volume Music Mix)

    He Shines3

    Who else could bring together this kind of who’s who of musicians?I mean, come on. Think about some of the artists included in this mix:

    And that just scratches the surface. As I’ve said, I’m not trying to read anything in to the heart-motivation of any of these artists. But I will say that each song here has meant something important to me in the years of my own faith journey. I hope you enjoy.

    • Read about the background to the mixes here.

    Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 4.23.26 PM












    He Shines In All That’s Fair (01)

    1. Something Beautiful by Sinead O’Connor
    2. Nobody Knows My Name by Rickie Lee Jones
    3. ’40’ by U2
    4. Amazing Grace by Ani DiFranco
    5. The Truth Is A Cave by the Oh Hellos
    6. Thank You by Glen Phillips
    7. His Truth Is Marching On by Mike Doughty
    8. Jesus Gonna Build Me A Home by John Davis
    9. Please Come Home by Dustin Kensrue
    10. Whiskey & Jesus by Owl Parliament
    11. Jesus Shot Me In The Head by Hiss Golden Messenger
    12. You Give It All Your Heart (Live Parable Version) by Vigilantes of Love


    Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 4.34.15 PM












    He Shines In All That’s Fair (02)

    1. On My Knees by Seryn
    2. Amazing Grace by Daniel Lanois
    3. Walking With Jesus by Spacemen 3
    4. 100th Psalm by All Saved Freak Band
    5. Jesus Is Just Alright by Doobie Brothers
    6. I Was Healed By The Wounds In His Side by Sister Gertrude Morgan
    7. Jesus Gonna Be Here by Tom Waits
    8. Saved by Bob Dylan
    9. To Make A Ring by Wovenhand
    10. Higher Power by Ramsay Midwood
    11. Tree of Life by Wilson McKinley
    12. Spirit In The Sky by Norman Greenbaum
    13. Brazos by Matthew E. White

    Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 4.40.13 PM












    He Shines In All That’s Fair (03)

    1. People Get Ready by Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers
    2. Jaya Dev by Aradhna
    3. Though I Have Wronged You by J. Tillman
    4. King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3 by Neutral Milk Hotel
    5. After Forever by Black Sabbath
    6. Amazing Grace by Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues
    7. Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down by Uncle Tupelo
    8. Jesus Walking On The Water by Violent Femmes
    9. God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash
    10. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by Doug Burr
    11. I Still Believe (Great Designby The Call
    12. The Transfiguration  by Sufjan Stevens
    13. Every Grain of Sand by Emmylou Harris
    14. Doxology by Kelly Joe Phelps


    He Shines In All That’s Fair: Thoughts On Common Grace, Creativity and Introducing My Music Mix

    He Shines3The doctrine of common grace, like many doctrines, can be a contentious one. The basic issue centers around whether or not God is “pleased” by the actions and creations of those not numbered among His people? Because, Christians are in the continual process of aligning themselves, including what we do/can and can not take pleasure in consuming.

    While the issue at hand may not seem immediately apparent to those unconcerned with pleasing God in everyday life, the issue may be summarized as something like this:

    Christians understand sin to be the heart of idolatry and includes anything antithetical to God’s character. It is, by definition opposed to God since we believe that He is the sole source of all our hearts seek. So to look for fulfillment, security, joy, etc. outside of Him is in fact, opposing Him. It is a question of the posture of one’s heart.

    Christians are thus left in the perpexing situation of what to do with anything not done from a heart’s posture to bring glory to God since it is thusly, in some way opposed to God?

    Or is it?

    What about things that in and of themselves might be benign? Moreso, what about things that somehow point to God’s character, even if they creator doesn’t know it or intend it? Music? Art? movies? Books? Poems? The very creative process remind us of a God who brings order from the chaos and flowers from the ashes. But what if the creator isn’t thinking of this or might even be opposed to such a worldview? Can Christians take pleasure in art made by n0n-or-even-anti-Christians?

    As Richard Mouw summarizes the situation in his book He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace:

    How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines between belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time maintaining an openness to – even an active appreciation for – all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of those boundaries?

    While some in my own past theological streams argue that the doctrine of “common grace” is not appropriate, Mouw and others have come to believe that it is not only acceptable but appropriate for Christians to celebrate beauty and cultivate creativity. Wondering at a painting, being swept up in a piece of music, moved by a string of words or ideas, marveling at a sunset, hiking a mountain, smelling hops, tasting coffee, laughing, singing, crying, these are glimpses of God’s grace. They remind us of His goodness, of His character.

    For many well-intentioned Christians, the fact that such glimpses are not sufficient to bring someone to salvation, they are not worth our while at all. Or more severely, they should be condemned. How else could someone come to believe that burning music albums brings glory to God more the creative process they contain?

    I’m not making light of the struggle many Christians face as they try to align their consciences with God’s character as they choose what to watch, read or listen to. I’m simply trying to make sense of how we’ve come to a place where “American Christianity” rejects so much artistic expression without creating anything worthwhile of our own?

    Do we believe that the terrific painting by a non-Christian somehow less valued by God than the horrible painting by a Christian simply because of the intent of the heart? Is there not inherent value in both? The value may be perceived differently by the eyes of faith but the eyes of most people would rather look at a great painting than a bad one (now is not the time to enter into the subjective nature of much art).

    This may seem like a rather nebulous rambling (even for me), especially since I’m not here today to really look for answers to many of these questions. I’m simply giving you a context for the three-volume mix album that I’ve come up with. All of these questions and more have been rattling around my head for years, especially as I listen to music. Which I do. A lot. So over the years, I have kept various private playlists of songs which have presented me with an unexpected glimpse of God. A bit of grace in the everyday. Not every song explicitly mentions Jesus.

    Some songs are by Christians. Some songs are meant as worship. Some songs are meant as evangelism. Some songs are by more skilled musicians than others. But, not every song here is even by someone who would claim to be a Christian. Some have said these songs are not even about Jesus (though they don’t mind them interpreted as such.). Not every song is to be understood as a theological statement or even representative of my own personal beliefs regarding God (specifically Jesus). And, please be forewarned, there is at least one “F-Bomb” for those sensitive to such things.

    But over the years, every song here has, at some point, reminded me of, encouraged me on or challenged me in my own journey of following Jesus.

    A New Year, A New Me (?)

    1388095921000-new-yearsNew Year’s.

    New Year’s.

    New Year’s.

    New Year’s.

    New Year’s.

    New Year’s.

    New Year’s.

    New Year’s.

    New Year’s. Well, here we are once again. The oddest holiday of all. A one-second holiday. The one where we all pretend we’re ecstatic that the calendar has turned in on itself once again and here we are to repeat the whole thing yet once again. And again. And (hopefully?) agai.

    One second we’re old. The next we’re new again. We’ve shed our psychological skin and embraced a new beginning. Or the monkey on our back has added a few pounds and feels just a bit heavier as we face the prospect of carrying it around for another trip around the sun.

    We celebrate the passing of time because we’ve survived. Some of it felt like it was in our control (even though most of it didn’t). There’s no reason we should have survived this year’s lap of a giant 1,000/hour spinning marble around a flaming ball of explosive gases, held in place by a rock finding its identity in spinning around us as we spin around the ball of fire.

    As the years swallow themselves, we remember those who didn’t survive this year’s cruise around the sun. We know that one day, maybe soon, most definitely sooner than we’d like, we will join them in jettisoning this spinning ball.

    As we lap the sun once again, we are torn. Should we celebrate our survival or mourn those whose time ended? Can you do both? Can you do both without guilt?  Isn’t curious that so many of our celebrations are about nothing more than the fact that we survived another year?

    And yet with each Birthday. With each trip around the sun. With each New Year, we instinctively cling to the hope that things will can get better. Things will get better.Things have to get better. They just have to because I can’t keep on like this. Not another year.

    I don’t know how you understand these annual rites of passage but I can’t help but interpret them through the Biblical Story. We celebrate the passing of each year with resolutions for the same reason we mythologize the Phoenix rising from the ashes: we believe in redemption. We long for restoration. Something deep inside us, un/happy as we might be, feels like we were created for more. So much more. This just quite doesn’t seem like all of this creation business has lived up to its potential. Things just aren’t quite as they should be.

    We celebrate the passing of another year with hopes to do better knowing that we won’t. Believing that maybe we can’t. Maybe the set of chemicals injected into us by our parents and theirs before have simply determined how each year, each month, each day will play itself out. But I don’t think so.

    Because God Himself entered in to human history. The Eternal stepped in to time. The Perfect into the imperfect. Trusting God fully; wholly; completely, in every way. In ways I could never. In ways I would never. Even to the end. Unto the end. Through it all. Even to death. Death on a cross. Through the grave and into Intercession.

    My faith in Jesus reminds me that, left to myself, relying on my own devices, I won’t do any better with this coming year than I did the last. I can make all of the resolutions I want and more but I won’t keep them unless I want to and I won’t want to unless my heart itself changes and I won’t ever want to unless something (SomeOne) outside of me acts on my behalf.

    My faith in Jesus provides each year, each moment, with purpose. The passing of each year throws me to the floor with gratefulness. I know I cannot do it without Jesus because I’ve had more than enough chances to prove otherwise and each time I end up with nowhere to go but to Him.

    I know that some of you have views on Jesus than I do. I’m not here to argue with you. I just want you to know that, in spite of the way many Christians express themselves politically or culturally, or artistically, or in-person, our story is one of death and renewal. Our God died in our place so that we might live.

    The passing of each year brings us to the end of ourselves once again. As we optimistically bear weights we’re not sure we can bear, we are reminded that God bears our burdens so that following Him (this year and the next, and the next, etc.) might bring relief to our souls. Could this be the year we’re anxious for nothing? Could this be when we finally learn to be calm in the storm? The Foundation is there, but will we stand on it or lose our grip?

    The passing of this year and every year reminds the Christian that we cannot face what’s next on our own. And thankfully, we don’t have to.

    What does the new year mean to you?

    the Weekly Town Crier

    London's Town Crier copyAnd there you have it. Not just another week gone by but another year. When we’re faced with the daunting question of what we’ve done with life over the past year. Well? What have you?

    Maybe it’s just better to focus on links of varying degrees of interest. Click the ones that interest you. Ignore the ones that don’t. And do better this coming year than you did with the last.

    Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

    Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

    Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

    Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

    Browse my 42 favorite albums of the year.

    See the Japanese bookstore that stocks only one book at a time.

    Consider the “Life Cycle of a Punk Band”.

    Read Stereogum‘s report that Columbia House is relaunching with vinyl.

    Read as one Christian military veteran explains: “Why I’m Not a Conscientious Objector”.

    Ever wonder “Why hipsters all look alike”?

    Read as Time considers “Big Beer’s 5-Point Plan to Crush the Craft Beer Revolution”.

    Read as Flavorwire stereotypes “You by Your Favorite Album of 2015”.

    Read/listen to Here and Now‘s piece: “The Vietnam War Divided The Country, But Music United The Troops”, examining the book We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War.

    Read as FACT considers: “Inside album leaks: how do they happen, how do we stop them, and do they even matter?”

    Read as The Atlantic considers “Dorms for Grownups: A Solution for Lonely Millennials?”

    Read Noisey‘s report: “The Founder of the Pirate Bay Plans to ‘Bankrupt’ the Music Industry With His New Art Project”.

    Read as “Henry Rollins says Donald Trump is ‘just a bored rich guy being crass’.

    Read as The Atlantic goes “In Defense of Gentrification”.

    Read as The New York Times considers “Our Misplaced Nostalgia for Cassette Tapes”.

    Read as The Daily Beast wonders: “Why Did Joss Stone Sell More Reggae Albums Than Any Black Artist in 2015?”

    Read The Washington Post‘s piece: “Biblical birth narratives are weird and incredible. We can stop sanitizing them.”

    Read as The New Yorker considers “How Amazon’s Bookstore Soothes Our Anxieties About Technology”.

    Read Inc‘s piece: “8 Words That Totally Reveal You Are Not a Millennial.” Bummer, I totally saw “awesome”.

    Read as FACT wonders “What the hell is going on with SoundCloud?”

    See “The world’s most beautiful churches”.

    Read about how “How Charles Dickens Secularized Christmas Forever”.

    Read about the “small Japanese village claims to be the final resting place of the son of God (and God’s other son’s ear)”.

    Read as Ozy argues that we should hire more “hipster” cops.

    Read as Consequence of Sound considers: “The lyrics of recent No. 1 singles average at a third grade reading level.”

    Watch The Atlantic‘s piece: “Creative Ideas Happen When You Stop Checking Your Phone”.

    Read as Pitchfork considers “The Genius And Jazz of Charlie Brown Christmas“.

    Read Fast Company‘s piece: “Teens Love The Modern World, While Thirtysomethings Are Getting More And More Sad About It”.

    Browse Time‘s list of “10 Small Things You Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter”.

    Read The Atlantic‘s piece: “Finish That Book! You suffer when you quit a story midway through—and so does literature.”

    What’s up with “Sweden’s bizarre tradition of watching Donald Duck cartoons on Christmas Eve”?

    Do you know “Why Japan is Obsessed with Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas”?

    Did you know about “The beautiful Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve”?

    Read as NPR wonders “Are You A Sucker If You Like Mast Brothers Chocolate?”

    Read about “The Science Behind Making the Perfect Cup of Coffee”.

    Read as The Atlantic considers “The Challenge of Jihadi Cool”.

    Read President Jimmy Carter‘s recent piece: “Losing my religion for equality”.

    Browse as NME considers “The 10 Most Pretentious Albums Ever”.

    Read as Slate considers the downside of binge-watching your favorite TV shows.

    Read as The New York Times warns: “Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children”.

    Read as Ozy considers “Jesus Christ, Marketing Genius?”

    Read The Atlantic‘s piece: “Optimism Is the Enemy of Action”.

    Read as Cracked considers “The Secret True History Of ‘Jingle Bells, Batman Smells’.

    Read as Smithsonian reports that many craft breweries are facing an aluminum shortage for cans.

    Read Fast Company‘s piece: “The Untold Story Of The Invention of the Game Cartridge”.

    Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “FOX News says Kendrick Lamar “has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism”.

    See very cool jellyfish lamps.

    Read as The Chicago Tribune makes a case for “The quiet impact of Obama’s Christian faith”.

    Read as The Atlantic strives “Toward a New Understanding of Modesty”.

    Read as Newsweek wonders: “Why Did So Many Good Pop Culture Sites Die In 2015?”

    Read as Ozy suggests that you really can die from a broken heart.

    Read as The Guardian reports: “Ireland becomes first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote”.

    See “Earth as Art: photos of earth from space look like abstract paintings”.

    Read as Ozy wonders: “Is Free Will Just A Mind Trick”?

    Read as The Guardian considers: “Print survives as a new literature is born”.

    Read The Washington Post‘s piece: “In the age of Amazon, used bookstores are making an unlikely comeback”.

    Read as Consequence of Sound reports: “Motörhead frontman Lemmy has switched from whiskey to vodka for health reasons”.

    • R.I.PMotörhead frontman, Lemmy Kilmister. Unfortunately, the switch from whiskey to vodka couldn’t do much in the fight against cancer.
    • Read as Motörhead drummer, Mikkey Dee says: ‘Motörhead Is Over, Of Course’.
    • Read about how How Lemmy and Motörhead Gave Metal Its Umlaut.
    • Read as Henry Rollins says: “You Can’t Tell The Story of Rock & Roll Without Lemmy”.
    • Read as Consequence of Sound considers “Why Losing Lemmy Hurts So Much”.

    R.I.P. Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon.

    R.I.P. John Bradbury, drummer for The Specials.

    Read as Adweek argues: “Why The Beatles Needed Digital Streaming to Maintain Their Brand.”

    Read as Bill Moyers (well, actually someone else writing at Bill Moyers’ site) wonders if we’re “hard-wired” to be liberal or conservative.

    See the amazing woodcut that took over three years to complete.

    Read AV Club‘s “oral history of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s cult classic,” UHF.

    Read as Christianity Today considers “Tarantino‘s Incarnational Aesthetic”.

    Read about the “Man Has Nothing to Hide—Not Even His Email Password”.

    Browse as Stereogum makes their picks for “The 101 Most Anticipated Albums Of 2016”.

    Read as The Atlantic defends Amazon one-star reviews: “Honest and unbiased reviews allow customers to trust that they can shop with confidence.”

    See the 14-story building that houses the entire population of its city.

    Read as “Colbert Explains Exactly How His Interviewing Style Has Changed Since The Colbert Report.”

    Read AV Club‘s list of “22 songs that are great despite being pro-Jesus”.

    Read as The Atlantic considers: “Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair”.

    Read as “Will Smith Discusses the Role Christianity Played in ‘Concussion’ at “Relevant”.

    Read as Fact Magazine considers: “Pop has an authenticity problem: there’s too much of it around”.

    Read as Consequence of Sound considers not just the restaurantification of CBGB: “It gets worse: CBGB branded baby onesies and umbrellas coming soon.”

    Watch the 21-minute X-Files re-boot preview.

    Ever wonder “Why It’s Hard to Poop On Vacation”?

    Read as BBC News considers “the Jelly Baby’s dark past.”

    Read as AV Club goes “In praise of artistic theft” by pointing out: “Tom Petty knows what many don’t—that appropriation and originality can’t be separated”.

    Read as The Atlantic argues: “America: Abandon Your Reverence for the Bachelor’s Degree”.

    Read as The New Yorker argues: “Donald Trump Isn’t a Fascist; He’s a Media-Savvy Know-Nothing”.

    Browse Hypebeast’s list of “The 10 Most Pirated TV Shows of 2015”.

    Read as AV Club considers the continuing allure of The Warriors: “Greek and literary roots give the cult movie its addictive blend of swagger and mythology”.

    Read as Slate wonders “Why are so many drug anthems sneaking their way onto the radio?” as if drug culture were something new.

    Read as Tiny Mix Tapes wonders: “”Is information stifling design? Is design stifling art? And the biggest question: How does the production and consumption of music alter the world?”

    See the “Winners of the 2015 National Geographic Photo Contest”.

    Hear audio from the first ever concrete record“.

    Read as Fast Company considers: How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name For years, Apple followed user-centered design principles. Then something went wrong.”

    Read Stereogum‘s report that Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker frontman “David Lowery Sues Spotify For $150 Million”.

    Read Aquarium Drunkard‘s interview with  Jim O’Rourke.

    See “Vertical Panoramic Photographs of New York Churches by Richard Silver”.

    Read Fast Company’s report: “MIT’s New 3-D Printer Uses Molten Glass As A Medium”.

    Read as The Atlantic considers “Why the 9-to-5 Day Is So Tough on Creative Workers”.

    Browse Pragues unofficial Apple museum.

    Read about “How Pantone Became a Global Authority on Color”.

    Browse Paste‘s picks for “The 8 Best Breweries of 2015’.

    Read as BBC News considers “How the craft beer revolution started”.

    Read about “The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples”.

    Read as Pitchfork considers “What Your Music Format Says About You”.

    Read as FACT reports: “Amazon sold more turntables than any other audio product this Christmas”.

    Watch “Fascinating analysis of the way Trump uses words” at Boing Boing.

    Read as Yahoo reports: “People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say”.

    Sports Remind Us Of The (Real) Bigger Story

    Many us struggle to believe that our lives carry much significance beyond the daily mundane. Most of our lives feel as though they lack the significance of anything larger than paying the bills and getting the kids to school on time. Everything must be on time. It becomes difficult to believe that life is yours and meant to be lived.

    I’ve come to believe that part of the reason so many American Suburban Christians struggle to believe in the significance of their own lives is because we’ve sanitized the True Story (as recorded in the Bible) so much that it no longer excites our imaginations. We’ve neutered its heroes into moralistic do-gooders who resemble Dudley Do-Right more than Samson. And Samson’s supposed to be in the story!

    However right is heart might be, Dudley just never inspires us to be more. To do more. To live a better story. To make a difference. To take a chance we know can’t be won unless God shows up. And trust that He will. That’s a difficult place to call home. Especially when so many of us live subdued, passive suburban lives that just don’t feel like they mean that much and don’t seem to fit into any bigger story. Much less one about the fate of mankind and a Creator outside of time interested in and even guiding His creation.

    We tell the Bible Story as though its simply one story among many, not as if it is the True Story which defines every other story; in which every character finds their role and the meaning of it. We forget that the Bible is not always family friendly. It tells stories of drunken betrayal, incest, rape, genocide, adultery, prostitute, traitors, and so much more. But somewhere along the way, many well-intentioned suburnanized Christians came to believe that everything must be appropriate for their children’s level of moral maturity so “family friendly” seemed to be a prerequisite for “Christian family” pop culture intake. So that the parents themselves would not watch/read/listen to anything that they would find offensive for their children.

    Our re-telling of the Bible story sanitizes itself so that no one will be offended by it. And it becomes less and less interesting, less and less inspiring with each retelling. Sure the main point, the climax of the story in Jesus still resonates with us but the rest of the story has become so dull. Or at least it doesn’t seem to shine as brightly as it used to. Not like the stories in books or on cable, or even in sports. We end up looking for meaning in stories other than the Bible Story.

    I am not a sports guy. But I have sons who are so I watch sports with them. Not being a sports guy, I’ve thought a lot about the appeal. Because, frankly, I don’t get it. We’re not only watching grown men being paid millions of dollars to play a game and then we somehow pretend like it matters, (when in reality, millions of dollars are actually in play, many of them tax dollars) and “we” come to identify so much with the people on the field so much that we say things like “we really brought it home today” when the most most of “we” did was sit on the couch and drink beer, yelling at the “we” actually doing what we, of course, would have done better. At least that’s how it seemed to be prior to love my sons well enough to actively watch sports with them.

    I think that part of the allure of sports is that we know our lives are part of a bigger story, even when we struggle to see how. Like moths to the light, we are drawn to stories that pretend to have mythic proportions. So, not only to we watch sports, we  find ourselves in the inescapable of most narrative: rooting for some; means booing for others. So we build up narratives around each team so that, some are the “good guys”, others the “bad guys” and a mere game has elevated itself into the mythic consciences of millions.

    We all want to be part of a bigger story and just like professional wrestling, other professional sports are not just about games, they’re about creating narratives onto which people can hook into and ultimately feel that they’re somehow a part of something bigger than themselves. Every season provides heroes and villains. Underdogs and outliers.

    The popularity of professional sports is fine as long we remember that the conflict here is unimportant. “We” will be just fine whether “our team” wins or loses. Because our own lives, as mundane as they might seem, have ultimate value because they are part of the True Story; God’s story of redeeming a people and a world unto Himself; for our good in His glory.

    I’m still not a sports guy. But at least now I have a context in which to understand why my sons are. And at least I can sympathize with their sentiments, even if I don’t share their narrative.

    The “Creative Life” Is More Mundane Than We’d Like To Believe: Additional Thoughts On An Unfinished Coloring Book.

    12042909_10153691586456450_8249815417010762711_nAs you, my friend, know. (Since you are my friend, right?) I have been working on a coloring book project. I am very excited about it but it has taken much longer than I expected. I have had to understand why it has taken so long because God is good and I have had people interested in purchasing the project even before it is complete, which is quite humbling. This process prompted me to publicly think through why the project is not yet complete. That post has since prompted some more random thoughts about creativity that I wanted to write down before I forgot. Since I was writing them down anyway, I thought I would share. Because, you know; that’s what we do, right?

    Anyway, as I’ve struggled to understand my own creative process, here are some dditional thoughts. Make of them what you will. Correct what you must:

    It’s OK to feel like you don’t have anything to pour out right now.Creative types love story so we tend to mythologize those we admire. For example, I love Wes Anderson’s movies. Taken as a whole, it seems like he’s been on an unbelievable creative streak. Just consider the progression of his work (and this isn’t even a complete list!):

    Creatives often look at a list like this and think to themselves well crap, I’ll never live up to that, so why even try. But look again at the list: there’s typically a 2-3 year gap between the finished products that we are given. That’s a long time. I’ve never met Wes Anderson so I don’t know, but I’m willing to guess that there were plenty of days during those 2-3 year gaps during which he didn’t feel particularly creative. There were lots of tasks to be done, but even when those tasks are in the pursuit of creativity, they may not, in and of themselves feel particularly creative.

    But I know many creatives who go to deeper with these gaps. There are honestly times when many of us simply feel like we don’t have anything to give. As I stated earlier, this is the time to fill up. Know yourself well enough to know what to put in to your system. Maybe you need to read some Scripture. Meditate. Watch a movie, listen to music, read a book, take a walk, sit in silence, drink a good cup of coffee or a craft beer. Get some sleep?

    Creativity demands not only that you know yourself well enough to know when to fill up or pour out, it demands that you know what fills you up but it also demands that you know that this drought is but for a season because:

    Creativity takes a long time and takes the long-term vision as seriously as the short-term creative bursts.

    Creativity is always interested in finding its true voice, that’s why the big picture is so important. A letter is not a word and a word is not a sentence and a sentence is not a paragraph and a paragraph is not a novel and a novel is not a body of work. All of them are capturing, displaying and refining the authors’s voice but it is not until there are several novels that an author even truly knows their own voice.

    Creative expression is not just pouring out, it is a visualization and projection of the self. It is sharing with others how we see and understand the world. We create things no one else could because no one else is you. I have had people who write songs I could never in a million years compose tell me that they look at some of my drawings and feel like they could never do that. And that’s a beautiful thing because:

    Creativity forces us to humility, to learning and growing.

    Though there are always some arrogant jagweeds in every circle of life, generally speaking, creative people are humble because they have come to the self-awareness that they are always learning and growing. And they have creative output to visualize their progression. The creative process is never static and thus it always requires the creator to understand that they are trying to get better at their craft. They are trying to write better songs, paint better paintings, write better stories, explain things more clearly. And each creative piece is a step along that journey because:

    Many creative people are not satisfied with their current creative status and sometimes creative souls are quite hard on themselves.

    Even though many creatives understand the beauty of telling a grand story, we get critical of the step we just took. It is quite common to notice the flaws no one else does. And not just notice them but dwell on them. In fact, they become all we can see in a piece. So much so that we are rarely satisfied with our current status. It’s almost like when Jonathan Safran Foer says in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,  laments:

    “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”

    The beauty of possibly and the fallibility of our last step keep us humbled by the potential. The potential is so grand that our last step forward never gets us where we want to be. And so many creative people are their own worst critic. We measure by what could be rather than what just was because we often forget that:

    Creativity sweeps itself up in itself. Like an avalanche.

    You might be able to start an avalanche (take care of your soul, fill up with creativity-inspiring things, etc.) but you cannot control it. Though most are killed by avalanches, many dream of surfing one.

    Creatives often love the thrill of the creative process as much as anything they actually produce. In this surge, we must remember that we will not remember everything. Some things will escape and much will be lost. And that’s OK because:

    Creativity requires you listen to the whispers before you can hear the chorus.

    Avalanches start small. A snowball here, a homeless boulder there. But there is no avalanche without the spark and there is no creativity without the whispers. Though creative outbursts sometimes come like the fully formed “Hallelujah Chorus” and all we have to do is record it as best we can, more often, it starts as a whisper. It becomes a conversation with the muse, hearing the whisper until it becomes louder and is coaxed along the way. For most creative people, most of the time, this requires patience and work which leads me to conclude:

    The “creative life” might seem more mundane than you’d like to believe. I have friends who used to build weapons but now build robots, works with museums  and has hung out with David Byrne. We don’t all get to live that life. In fact, most of us don’t and won’t. And that’s OK.

    Since the creativity is concerned with the artist’s voice as much as any particular statement, we must remember that creativity ultimately encompasses all of life. We find our creative voice as we follow the Creator God who brought order from chaos. Doing the dishes is a much less glamorous or even attractive way of doing this, but it, nonetheless, brings order from chaos. It is an expression of the self over the created order, reorganizing the universe’s molecules as only we could.

    I often think of the Christian life as a continual process of undoing the effects of the Fall. When Adam and Eve chose to mistrust God, they thrust themselves, everyone and everything following them into slavery to sin, disruption, distrust, disorder and entropy. Picking up trash along the way is a way of making a difference, of reversing the Fall. Fighting for social justice, caring for the environment, loving the least of these, painting, writing, composing. All of these are ways of bringing the progress of Good News to bear on where and when we live. But we should not be so naive as to only classify some of them as creative and others as mundane.

    Though creativity tends towards the extravagant, it born in the everyday.

    I’d love to hear more about how you understand the creative process. I’d also love to hear which is your favorite Wes Anderson movie and why.