2016: The Year In Review

Year-end is a time for reflection. What went well, what didn’t? What would you change or keep the same? What lessons can be learned?

2016 continued to feel like a holding pattern. After resigning from vocational ministry in January 2015, I have struggled to find solid footing. I have found part-time employment but have struggled to find “what’s next” for me and my family and we have struggled to find a faith community.

But through it all, I have felt challenged to know myself more fully. I have been thinking a lot about the fantastic Tom Waits quote: “Be devoted to the unification of the diverse aspects of yourself.” I have been fascinated by both Mennonite and Anglican thought. I have moved away from Republianity and deeper into a desire to understand how Christianity fuels social justice.

Through it all, I am deeply thankful for family and proven friends. When you resign from ministry, you realize that many people who you thought were your friends were . . . well, I don’t know, except to say that it’s easy to feel lonely. I am thankful for friends who prove themselves to be just that, regardless of my position.

The past couple of years have felt like a pruning and I’m excited to see what flowers from it.

In the meantime, let’s look back a bit.

  • Browse my favorite books and authors of 2016.
  • Browse my favorite albums of 2016.
  • Stream a two-volume mix of some of my favorite 2016 songs.

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 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”.

Why I Cannot Reconcile Mixed Martial Arts With Christianity

violence-preventionI often have to repent of being rather contrarian. I sometimes find pleasure in being the odd man out, in thinking differently and it’s oftentimes driven by arrogance. But I’ve got something bothering me; an issue which I seem to view differently than many other Christians. And rarely has it left me so unsettled as this week when my Facebook feed was filled with photos and videos of two women beating each other up in the name of sport.

I know there are many Christians who love and even practice mixed martial arts but I simply cannot reconcile the two. In fact, I do not believe that they can be reconciled. Let me explain.

While there are many verses we might consider, I think that much of the Bible’s position might be summarized by Psalm 11:5: “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” This alone should give us pause because it does not simply say that God hates violence but the one who loves violence.

And there is no escaping it: MMA is sanctioned violence. Yes, I understand the arguments about how it promotes self-discipline, perseverance and all around grit. I even understand the argument that it is safer than boxing and that it is, after all, a sport. It is not street violence and it involves highly trained professionals. But it is still violence and I just don’t see any way around that. I also realize that I am calling in to question all full-contact sports and, though I am OK with that, for today I want to reserve my comments to MMA.

I am not sure that I am a pacifist and I understand that the Bible does not outright ban all violence. In fact, the story of God’s people is filled with violence, some of it commanded by God Himself. Yet that violence always had a purpose. MMA is violence for the sake of entertainment, glory and money. This is violence without any redemptive value. Violence as entertainment should not be accepted by Christians no matter how “skilled” the participants or how great their athleticism.

After all, how does one “win” an MMA match? Two fighters enter the octagon and fight until the referee deems that one has taken enough beating, someone is knocked out or simply gives up. The fights may not be “to the death” but how is this very far removed from the days of gladiators?

What’s more is that, in the race to make MMA and Christianity to be seen as somehow compatible, many Christian fighters (the very fact that we call them fighters means that we recognize that the sport cannot be separated from violence, even if it is consensual) citing verses like Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” in their victories. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul did not mean for pummeling someone into submission as part of the “all things” Christ strengthens His followers to do.

I am not a pacifist. I believe in variations of just war theory. I own guns. I understand that there may be times in life when violence is unavoidable. Police, soldiers and others may have to partake in violence because it is unavoidable. But MMA is avoidable violence. Christians must choose to participate or support MMA. They must make a conscious choice that this form of violence is compatible with their faith in the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) while Proverbs 3:31 tells us to avoid the ways of the man of violence.

Jesus told His followers to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) rather than retaliate and Jesus blessed the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Psalm 17:4 tells us that the words of God lead us away from violence, not towards it. Elsewhere, Proverbs tells us that it is the the “treacherous” who desire violence (Proverbs 13:2). Jesus tells us to live at peace with one another (Mark 9:50) Zechariah tells us that Jesus will guide His people in the “path of peace” (Luke 1:79). Paul says equates not knowing God with also not knowing the way of peace (Romans 3:17) and that God calls His people to the way of peace (1 Corinthians 7:15) while the writer to the Hebrews tells us to “strive for peace” (Hebrews 7:14). I understand that these verses are about war, murder, disunity and the like but I think their trajectory is clear: to follow Jesus means to pursue peace.

MMA, though consensual and certainly involving great skill, is simply sanctioned violence. All arguments in its defense must at some point explain how it is not violent. I see this as the central issue and I simply cannot reconcile a God who prompts me to peace with taking in violence as entertainment. In the end, it’s about trying to reconcile our cultural intake as much as possible with seeking out peace rather than violence.

I know many Christians, follow, support and participate in MMA. I would love to hear from you as long as you don’t beat me up over mine.

Liberal Compared to Whom And How Did I Get Here?

political-logosUnless you live under a rock off the grid, you’re probably painfully aware that it is presidential election season once again.

As embarrassing, awkward and vitriolic as American politics can be, it can also be a valuable time to (re)consider our political/social convictions. We take for granted that we get to exercise our right to vote but we do not so readily acknowledge that the regular rhythm of the political system presents the critical opportunity to re-visit our opinions and ask why we hold to the positions that we do.

It can be an opportunity to reinforce our preexisting biases and remind ourselves how lucky we are that we’re right. But it can be more than that. The rotation of political seasons can also be an opportunity for self-examination and, if we’re lucky, growth, and possibly, even change. Just as people change over the years, it is only natural that our political views will change over time as well.

I was once the President of the College Republicans at a private Christian university. I once volunteered to put up signs for a Republican presidential campaign. But this year, as presidential politics begin to boil, I have found myself in the curious position of being characterized as liberal. isidewith.com said I side 95% with Bernie Sanders. Several other political quizzes have confirmed these sentiments, one even telling me that I am “solidly liberal.” And of course we can trust online political quizzes, right?

Regardless of the merits of any one particular political quiz, I am very interested in the consistency of my results, especially in light of my own past political leanings. It’s made me wonder what has changed. I am fairly culturally conservative on several key social issues such as marriage and abortion and I am certainly considered a theological conservative. So how am I considered liberal and, liberal compared to whom?

The obvious and snarky answer, of course is that I’m liberal compared to those right of me on the political spectrum. But what does that really mean and how did I go from openly identifying as Republican to now being told that I should feel the Bern? How did this happen and in particular, which of my views shifted?

As I’ve considered this, it seems to me that the issues that have pegged me as “liberal” are issues primarily dealing with social justice. I believe the government should offer a “safety net” for those struggling to find their way and that most people who receive government assistance are not freeloaders. I believe we should rely less on military force. I believe the government has a responsibility to care for the environment. I believe that “trickle down economics” only serves to increase the wage gaps and actually harms the people at the bottom of the system rather than giving them a leg up. I believe that the free market economy is equally part of the problem and I believe that healthcare should not be driven by profits. I believe that our school systems should not have to beg for budget overrides every year. I believe that the “war on drugs” is a sham. I oppose the death penalty. I believe that our current model of mass incarceration amounts to social injustice. Not to mention the fact that our prisons should not be run by for profit companies. And I believe that Christians should be more than simply “one issue” voters. This paragraph has already given many of my family and friends conniption fits.

I came to these convictions not necessarily through politics but by faith. As I strive to become more like Jesus, I can’t escape the fact that my faith demands care for the poor (Exodus 23:6Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 25:39). My faith demands that we care for refugees (Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19, etc.) I believe our social systems, especially our justice systems should not favor either the poor or the rich (Leviticus 19:15), etc.

The issue, of course, is the question of what the role of government is in all of this. These commands, of course are not meant as government policies for our modern systems but were primarily for the Israelite theocracy. So how, if at all, do these issues relate to the modern Christian and our modern government systems? I believe that though these commands were for Israel, they communicate something deeper: humans should care for one another. Any approach that simply says “every man for himself” will inevitably not only leave some behind but will eventually result in injustice, especially against the less fortunate. I do not believe this can simply be chalked up to saying that some people don’t work as hard as others.

As an extension of humanity, I believe that governments should share in our fundamental human concerns. This, I think is how I’ve come to be labeled as “liberal.” Many of my fellow Christians (and please understand, I am not questioning their faith, simply acknowledging that we have different interpretations. of how our faith should be applied to everyday life and politics) believe that the government should do less, be smaller and have very little to do with actually helping people.

 

As a person of faith in Jesus, I own the fact that these obligations fall first on the Church but I believe that the government is an extension of our humanity, not a replacement for it. The church should take the lead in caring for the poor, in housing refugees, etc. but the government should bear some of this responsibility simply because we are all humans. It would be great if the American church took care of all of these issues but we aren’t and so, we need to look to other avenues to fulfill our duties to one another.

I’m still trying to work through a lot of these issues and don’t claim to have any better understanding than anyone else. All I can say is that, as I’ve begun to wrestle with the clear demands of my faith, I have been considered by others more and more “liberal.” I don’t know what to make of this.

I know that many of you disagree with my thoughts. I can’t wait to hear from you because I believe that opinions (and please remember, that’s what these are) are sharpened through dialogue. I’m simply sharing my own journey, so please be respectful.