Friday, June 19, 2009

List #3: 9 Great Documentary Films

As we arrive at week three of the 52 Lists in 52 Weeks project, I wanted to share with you my nine favorite documentaries of all time:

9) Road Scholar (1993) In this film, Romanian-born intellectual Andrei Codrescu takes the ultimate American road trip in a classic convertible. He begins in New York City, talking with Allen Ginsburg as they stroll down the street, and then visiting a family of crack addicts who literally live in the hole of a wall of an abandoned building. As he travels across the country he meets increasingly quirky people: a church service on Roller Skates, a street artist in Detroit, a new age healer who uses crystals. Critics say that Codrescu is opportunistic and consdescending. I find him to be genuinely mystified by the diversity of the American landscape.

8) Murderball (2005) At first the idea of watching paraplegics smashing into each other in their wheelchairs seems somehow perverse. This (appropriately MTV-style) documentary shows us the world of wheelchair rugby and it manages to be crude and obnoxious and deeply reflective at the same time. The young men who play wheelchair rugby often injured themselves in daredevil fashion. But their spinal cord injuries do not take away their competitiveness or their testosterone. Not only is this a film about masculinity; it is a film that will change the way you perceive disability.

7) Bowling for Columbine (2002) Michael Moore’s sprawling documentary purports to be an investigation of what led two students in Littleton, Colorado to go on a killing spree at their high school. Actually, this piece is a bait and switch. Bowling for Columbine is about our tendency to point fingers and assign blame so as to explain (away) why horrible tragedies happen. Moore focuses on why these explanations are often silly. (The Columbine killers went bowling the day before the shooting, but nobody has suggested that bowling leads to gun violence.) But more than that, Moore shows how conventional wisdom often obscures our own capacity to truly make sense of the world in which we live. For example, there is a major missile factory near Littleton and Moore interviews a man standing in front of a nuclear ICBM and the man talks about how his town is quiet and peaceful. While the documentary is sprawling at times and the interview with Charlton Heston at the end is painful to watch, I find BFC one of the most memorable documentaries I have ever seen.

6) Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) I caught this documentary at the Rio in Overland Park a few years ago. This film provides an in-depth look the rise and fall of the Enron corporation and all of its unethical and underhanded business practices. This film is a case study in greed and the seductiveness of power. From tales of executives who hire strippers for office parties to the company manipulating the California power grid during a heat wave that resulted in wildfires, this documentary contains many powerful images, images that we would see mimicked leading to the recession we currently face.

5) Young at Heart (2007) Imagine a chorus of senior citizens singing numbers like “I Want to Be Sedated” by The Ramones or “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth. Young at Heart is both the title of this documentary and the name of an odd senior citizen choir from western Massachusetts. The film begins lightly and then continues to deepen. We see the group perform at a local prison. We witness the diminishing health and death of several members of the group. When the choir performs a version of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” it is one of the most touching moments I have ever seen on film. You can see the trailer here.

4) The Power of Nightmares (2004) This documentary was a three part series issued by the BBC. The Power of Nightmares chronicles both the rise of Islamic extremism and the rise of neo-conservatism in the United States. The subject and its treatment is so incendiary that it was blocked from being shown in the United States! I managed to secure a copy of it when it was included as a bonus by Wholphin.

Islamic extremism actually originated in the United States. The seeds for its ideology were sown at a college in Colorado where an exchange student from the Muslim world in the 1950s was shocked by the cultural differences he observed at a college dance(!) From that point forward, the documentary traces the rise of Islamicism and neo-conservatism and how the two followed a similar rise to power.

3) Sicko (2007) Michael Moore’s least politicized documentary is also, in my opinion, his best. When I saw this film in the summer of 2007 I was moved to tears and left the theater in a state of shock. At times, Moore does employ the power of anecdote and some of the habits of shock journalism, but he does so in pursuit of a righteous anger. Sicko, as I wrote about in this sermon, asks profound questions about the existence and possibility of a social contract.

2) Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) I blogged about this movie here. Taxi explores the practices of torture and interrogation conducted by the United States government at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay. This Academy Award winning documentary by Alex Gibney is hard to stomach, but essential to watch.

1) Man on Wire (2008) Of my nine favorite documentaries of all time, five are politically charged. However, my favorite documentary of all time is not political. It does pretend to offer sociological or anthropological insights. It does not offer an alternative or transformative vision of a marginalized community. This Academy Award winning documentary is about the oddness and idiosyncrasies of the human condition. This film focuses on a French tightrope artist named Philippe Petit who daringly improvised a tightrope between the tops of New York Twin Towers in 1974. Petit then performed an amazing tightrope act 1,350 feet above the city streets. For those of us living in a post 9/11 world, the presence of the Twin Towers in this film is emotionally stirring. This documentary is the ultimate human interest story. It is a tale of the triumph of the human spirit. UU theologian Rebecca Parker writes that we must choose whether to bless or curse the world. For buildings that are best known for terrorists who chose to curse the world, it is powerful to see them in the context of a man who instead chose the path of blessing. You can watch the trailer here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sermon: "Time Turned Into Life" (Delivered 6-14-09)

First Reading by Theodore Parker
“For the last year or two, the congregation did not exceed seventy persons, including the children. I soon became well acquainted with all in the little parish, where I found some people of rare enlightenment, and some truly generous and noble souls. I knew the characters of all, and their thoughts. I took great pains with the composition of my sermons; they were never out of my mind. I had an intense delight in writing and preaching; but I was a learner quite as much as a teacher, and was feeling my way upward with one hand while I tried to lead with the other…

“I sought illumination and confirmation from all sources. For historical things, I sought historical evidence; for spiritual things, I found ready proof in the primal instincts of the soul, and confirmation in the life of religious people. The simple life of the farmers, weavers, mechanics, about me, of its own accord, turned into a sort of poetry, and reappeared in the sermons, as the green woods, not far off, looked in at the windows of the meeting house.

“I think I preached only what I had experienced in my own inward consciousness, which widened and grew richer as I came into practical contact with living people, turned time into life.”

About two weeks ago, early on a Monday afternoon, the ten Coming of Age youth climbed to the third floor of Harvard’s Divinity Hall and entered the Chapel. This small room was the place where Emerson delivered his famous Divinity School Address in 1838. All around the room there are plaques honoring many of the great Unitarian leaders who passed through the school such as Ware and Hedge, Emerson and Parker.

As a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School I was presented with the passage from Theodore Parker’s journal from which I earlier read. The passage was written early in Parker’s ministry, when he served a small congregation in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. They did not have internships in Parker’s day, so when Parker graduated, he left Harvard with his knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin, his theological training in the thought of Kant and Hegel, and his scriptural understanding based in historical-critical interpretation which had come from Germany and was the en vogue mode of Biblical scholarship of his day. Parker took all of these and arrived at his congregation of 70 people to do ministry.

Parker’s journal is a confession of “On the Job Training.” He is describing that moment when theory and classroom preparation end and when practice begins. What Parker describes is something that is experienced not only by ministers. Parker is describing the feelings of medical students at the time when they leave the lecture hall and step, for the first time, into the clinic. He is describing the teacher who has learned educational theory and now steps in front of a classroom to teach, and he is describing the psychologist or social worker seeing her first client: “Finding my way through the dark with one hand while trying to lead with the other.” And somehow, through a combination of intuition and grace and learning from mistakes, something magical happens: “Practical contact with living people turns time into life.”

My words this morning have a bit of a swerve to them. So far I’ve been talking about ministry, but this won’t really be a sermon about ministry. And, even though today has been billed as a celebration of the Anne Griffith’s internship with us, I won’t really talk about Anne all that much. Instead, this is about you. And that is the swerve.

So, what do you think? Has it been a good experience having a second minister with us this year?

So, what do you think? Would it interest you to have another intern spend nine months with us in the future?

How has it felt to have a much greater number of hours of ministerial presence?

Across our movement there are specific churches that have made an institutional commitment to having an intern each and every year. To give you just two examples, one of the UU churches in St. Louis and another one in the Twin Cities have a special part of their endowment that fully supports the presence of an intern every year. At the first church where I worked, the oldest church in Boston, I served just after the official retirement of Rhys Williams who had just completed a forty year ministry with them. Over those forty years, Rhys Williams had supervised some 100 interns and student ministers; serving as a teaching church was and continues to be of the most central ministries of that church. Those who interned under Rhys Williams are known, playfully, as “Rhys’ Pieces.” Could our congregation—should our congregation—make the formation of ministers, the transformation of seminarians into ministers, into one of our hallmark ministries? That is a question for you, and not for me, to answer.

Next week I have a feeling that Anne’s sermon will reflect back to you some of her observations about this church from the perspective of being your intern for the last nine months. I also imagine that we she will talk about some of the ways that you are particularly well suited to support and develop interns.

From my own perspective, it has been a joy serving as Anne’s supervisor. I’ve witnessed her grow in her ability to lead worship, in her comfort with stepping into the ministerial role. And, I know that as a congregation we have received much for her time with us. But, the old saying is true. It is better to give than to receive. And serving as a teaching church requires giving.

During the internship Anne has received my supervision, direction, mentorship, advice, and, from time to time, some gentle prodding. She has also had the time to discover and reflect on her own, to become self-aware. But, I want to focus, as I said I would, on the most important part of the entire formula: “Practical contact with living people.”

“Practical contact with living people turns time into life.” That is the fabulous alchemy, the amazing wonder of being a Teaching Congregation. You’re not here to teach her theology. She has studied that. You’re not here to teach her the finer points of scriptural interpretation. So, what does it mean then to be a Teaching Congregation?

In his journal, Parker writes, “The life of the farmers, weavers, mechanics, about me, of its own accord, turned into a sort of poetry, and reappeared in the sermons, as the green woods, not far off, looked in at the windows of the meeting house.” At SMUUCh we have more engineers than mechanics, more social workers than weavers, and more gardeners than farmers, but the point is the same. The first part of being a teaching church is to let the Intern into your life, to trust that person with your struggle or your story, to take that risk of opening up to someone who is only going to be here for a few months, which, by the way, can sometimes be easier than doing the same with someone who will continue to be here. However, that openness, that generosity of self, is only the first part of what makes for a great Teaching Congregation.

There is also what you teach. There are some things that can be taught explicitly, but many more things that can be taught implicitly. There are certain things you can teach explicitly. You can tell the intern that she should speak more clearly into the microphone. You can give her feedback on a sermon or a workshop. You can invite her to observe how a program in the church runs.

But the implicit lessons that an intern learns are actually far more valuable. An intern gets to learn the answers to questions like:

“If I take a calculated risk in the pulpit, and, if it flops, will I be written off or will others say, ‘We appreciate you trying something new?’ Keep trying.”

“If I speak my mind at a meeting will others respect my contributions or will I be ignored?”

“If I inadvertently rub someone the wrong way, will they deal with me maturely, directly, and compassionately?”

“What capacity does a congregation truly have for forgiveness? For reconciliation? For dependability? For honesty? For forbearance?”

My colleague across town, Jim Eller, who will retire from All Souls next month and who has supervised four interns has said that a congregation leaves its imprint on an intern. How a congregation behaves is the model the intern will carry forward with her in the years that lie ahead. And believe me, if I did not believe that this congregation had the capacity to imprint an intern with a positive mark, there is no way we would let an intern come here.

A teaching congregation takes a responsibility, if not for the intern’s life, then for this person’s future in our movement. We’ve been entrusted with a sacred duty: to take this person out of the classroom and launch her with our imprint out into the larger world of Unitarian Universalism. Wherever Anne goes in ministry for the many decades of ministry and service that are before her, she will take part of you with her. We’ll be able to say, with pride, Anne was our intern.

But, here is the secret, what Theodore Parker wrote in that journal is not just a wonderful encapsulation of what it feels like to be a novice minister. It is not just a wonderful encapsulation of what it is like to be a novice anything. This idea of turning time into life, the alchemy of it, the magic of it, the poetry of it is something that can be ours not just when we are serving our larger movement as a teaching congregation. Indeed, it is something that each and all of us can do.

We turn time into life when we really dare to get to know another person.

We turn time into life when we recognize the poetry of the lives around us.

We turn time into life when we experience those divine moments when we are blessed to step outside of the daily hustle and bustle, the sturm and drang, and take the time to be attentive, still, and to see each other.

The philosopher bard of Unitarian Universalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaks to our capacity to live in this way, writing, “How many persons we meet in houses, whom we scarcely speak to… How many we see in the street or sit with in church, whom though silently, we warmly rejoice to be with! Read the language of these wandering eye-beams.”

Are you living time? Watching the clock tick through the seconds and minutes and hours of the day. Or, are you turning time into life? Perhaps, the presence of a blossoming minister in our midst has led you to come out of your own shell and shake free some of the shackles of time.

An intern comes to us pre-fired, to stay with us for a predetermined period of time and then to depart and follow the journey and the path of the ministry that lies before. But, if we have dared to let time be transformed into life… if we’ve dared to truly open ourselves up… if we’ve modeled forbearance and forgiveness, a delight and curiosity in growing together, then wherever Anne goes in ministry for the many decades of ministry and service that are before her, she will take part of us with her. And we will be able to say, with pride, Anne was our intern. And we will have helped to turn time into life.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Homily: "In Lieu of Flowers" (Delivered 6-7-09)

Flowers mark our lives:

As babies, when we are dedicated in a Unitarian Universalist Church, we are presented with a flower, a symbol of our inherent beauty and individuality.

In the games of childhood we sing about pockets full of posies; make dandelion chains, and pluck petals from daisies to augur whether we are loved or loved not.

In our adolescence, proms and cotillions involve the wearing of a corsage or a boutonniere.

And then there are weddings. Many wedding processions include a flower girl; many brides choose to carry a bouquet. Some couples decide to include the artistry of an elaborate flower arrangement—or several! Following many religious wedding ceremonies are secular wedding celebrations and these often include the tossing of the bouquet. (I think we can all be glad that Norbert Capek created the flower communion and not the garter communion.)

Later in life, flowers take on a different meaning. They are less the symbols of forward-facing celebrations. Increasingly they are the symbols of compassion and sympathy. Flowers adorn hospital rooms and are an unspoken gesture of comfort to another person in a time of grief and sadness. In our own church, each December, two of our members call on a dozen or so persons within our congregation, visiting and bringing a poinsettia plant to spread cheer.

At life’s end, we gather at memorial services. The presence of flowers is universal. In fact, flowers are so much an expected part of the memorial service that it is now almost as common for a grieving family to stipulate their wishes with a common phrase: “In Lieu of Flowers.”

About seven years ago, one of the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Tulsa decided to commission an exquisite watercolor painting from a nationally known artist. They charged the artist with presenting a visual representation of our UU faith. The final painting contained at least twenty symbolic elements, representing such disparate concepts as the place of the democratic process in our voluntary associations, the delicate balance between liberty and justice, the evolving nature of our theology including our own role in “building our own theology,” our connection with Transylvanian Unitarianism, and our theology of death. However, in this painting, the most central element is an enormous, extravagant flower arrangement.

The arrangement is held by a clear glass vase. The vase represents the institution of the church. It is clear glass because our religion is not a place where we are sealed off from the outside world; instead, our religion compels us to look outwardly, to see the truth of the world, and our religion bids us to go forth and live lives of purpose and calling, compassion and consequence.

The vase holds water, which in the painting symbolizes what some call God or the Spirit of Life. The water is a symbol of that which gives us life abundant, refreshes our spirits and our minds, and restores and nourishes us. The water escapes our attempt to grasp it fully. It is what Rudolph Otto called “numinous.”

Out of this water, contained by the vase, explodes such an extravagant bouquet. Each flower, a person. Each flower, different and unique. Each flower, contributing a part to the whole. The arrangement demonstrates the power of diversity; we would be something less if each of us were a carnation. We would be something less if any flower was missing. You can play with this metaphor in your own mind.

Standing apart from the great bouquet, there is a tiny blue vase that holds a single, yellow tulip. This stand-alone flower, differentiated, is a reminder that in community we do not lose our own individuality. And this tension between individuality and community is a reality about which I could preach a dozen sermons and still not exhaust what there is to say on the subject.

But, this tension is one that I want to begin to explore, however briefly, in the remaining time that has been given to me this morning. When Norbert Capek consecrated the flowers at the first Flower Communion he called forth a blessing upon them with these words, “Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these thy messengers of fellowship and love. May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection and devotion to thy holy will.”

I’ve always thought that calling flowers, quote, “thy messengers of fellowship and love” was very cute, very precious, and darling. But as I recounted the ways we use flowers to mark the passages in our lives, I could see how flowers actually are messengers of fellowship and love. That’s exactly what they are whether you bring them when you are showing up for a date, or carrying poinsettias with you on your house calls.

But, the flowers also, symbolically, become us. In the painting from the Tulsa church, the flowers are not flowers; they are people. We become the messengers of fellowship and love, called to be one in desire and affection and devotion.

And thus, I want to offer you all a few words of challenge this morning. While it is necessary to strike some balance between life in the elaborate spray of the bouquet, and life in solitude standing alone, living in the way of the tulip becomes a life lived very much “in lieu of flowers.” According to the theology of this painting, the bouquet does not lessen the individual. In fact, the bouquet may sharpen our distinctiveness. The sunflower is not any less a sunflower because it is positioned next to a rose.

In a frequent reading in the back of our hymnal, George Odell writes that we need one another. He writes about needing one another when we are mourning and needful of comfort, when we are in trouble or afraid, and when we are in despair or temptation or need to be recalled to our best selves again.

This morning, thanks to the leadership and the perseverance of our Intern Minister, and thanks to the willingness of more than a dozen of our members to commit, we are better able as a community to comfort one another in mourning, and be present to each other in times of despair. Just as our own second principle calls on us to show compassion in human relations, our third principle asks each of us to encourage one another to spiritual growth. George Odell continues by saying that we not only need one another in times of personal struggle and hardship, but that we also need one another, "when we would accomplish some great purpose and cannot do it alone."

When we would accomplish some great purpose and cannot do it alone… if we swing too far to the side of the single yellow tulip, at the expense of the bouquet, we forsake our ability to work for those great purposes that we are too small to work for alone.

This morning also includes the opportunity for us to enter into a bouquet relationship, not only with one another, but with other congregations across Johnson and Wyandotte County for the purposes of community organizing in order to improve health care. Indeed, we need one another when we would accomplish some great purpose and cannot do it alone. We are in need of others and others are in need of us.

This morning we have participated in a communion of flowers. We have reminded ourselves of how they have been, through our entire lives, messengers of fellowship and love. Like them, let us also carry forth the message of compassion and commitment, of encouragement and justice, of fellowship and love. May it ever be so.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

List #2: 5 Books You'll Meet at the Johnson County Public Library Book Sale

This morning I dropped by the (mostly abandoned) Metcalf South shopping mall where the Friends of the Johnson County Public Library were holding a major fundraiser, their annual used book sale. I did pick up 10 books for $1 each. As I browsed through the fiction section I did notice that dozens and dozens of copies of certain books were available. So, with apologies to Mitch Albom and without further ado, here are:

The 5(+) Fiction Books You're Most Likely to Meet at the Johnson County Public Library Used Book Sale

1) A Light in the Window by Jan Karon. Books from Jan Karon's Mitford Series (none of which I've read) were extremely abundant.
2) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. It looks like donors to the Joco library book sale were eager to forget this book.
3) We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. Few writers are as prolific as Oates. Few books were as plentiful at the book sale as Mulvaneys.
4) Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Donors dropping off books for the sale left this book behind by the dozens.
5t) The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.
5t) A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. At 742 pages in length and weighing over two pounds each, copies of this book took up as much room on the table as any other.

Honorable Mention:
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

Oddest Book Placement:
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lammott in the travel section!

Friday, June 05, 2009

List #1: 104 (More) Songs that I Could Have Written About Last Year

Last year I wrote about a song I particularly liked at a rate of one song per week. Now that the 52 Songs in 52 Weeks Essay Project is complete, I'm beginning a new project of 52 Lists in 52 Weeks. As a bridge between the two, I figured I would kick off the List project with a list of 104 More Songs I Could Have Written About Last Year:

1) “TPS” by 10 Sugar Charlie, from the album End of the World
2) “So Alive” by Ryan Adams, from the album Rock N Roll
3) “Promises” by The Architects, from the First Blood Oxblood Records Sampler
4) “Car Underwater” by Armor for Sleep, from the album What To Do When You Are Dead
5) “The Truth About Heaven” by Armor for Sleep, from the album, What To Do When You Are Dead
6) “Invalid Litter Dept.” by At the Drive-In, from the album Relationship of Command
Comment: This song is hardcore!
7) “The Boys of Summer” as covered by The Ataris, from the album So Long, Astoria
Comment: This remake of the Don Henley song makes the list for one reason. Henley sings about the irony of seeing a “Dead Head sticker" on a Cadillac. The Ataris make the irony contemporary by singing about a “Black Flag sticker."
8) “Dammit” by Blink 182, from the album Dude Ranch
9) “Reckless Abandon” by Blink 182, from the album Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
10) “Strangers When We Meet” by David Bowie, from the album 1. Outside
Comment: An extremely weird and disturbing concept album is redeemed by this amazing song.
11) “Girl All the Bad Guys Want” by Bowling for Soup, from the album Drunk Enough to Dance
12) "Cat Like Thief" by Boxcar Racer, from their self-titled album
13) “Cannonball” by The Breeders, from the album Last Splash
Comment: One of the catchiest songs of the 1990s!
14) “Divine Hammer” by The Breeders, from the album Last Splash
15) “Easy/Lucky/Free” by Bright Eyes, from the album Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
16) “Waste of Paint” by Bright Eyes, from the album Lifted...
Comment: This song is so good that it seems like it could fit seamlessly on any of Bob Dylan’s great albums.
17) “I Must Belong Somewhere” by Bright Eyes, from the album Cassadaga
Comment: Forget Bob Dylan. The lyrics to this song seem like they could have come right out of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
18) “Fire Eye’d Boy” by Broken Social Scene, from their self-titled album
19) “It’s All Gonna Break” by Broken Social Scene, from their self-titled album
Comment: This is the last track on BSS’s fantastic album. And there is no better way to end the album than with this tremendous anthem.
20) “Backed Out on the…” by Kevin Drew, from the album Broken Social Scene Presents: Spirit If…
Comment: I am a sucker for any song where J Mascis makes a guest appearance on guitar.
21) “Summer” by Buffalo Tom, from the album Sleepy Eyed
22) “Broken Chairs” by Built to Spill, as featured on their Live album
Comment: 20 minutes of epic rock & roll. Now I am going to make up for neglecting so many great BTS songs on the original list.
23) “Big Dipper” by Built to Spill, from the album There’s Nothing Wrong With Love
24) “Cleo” by Built to Spill, from the album There’s Nothing Wrong With Love
Comment: A song that is sung from the point of view of a fetus, which I consider quite imaginative.
25) “Distopian Dream Girl” by Built to Spill, from the album There’s Nothing Wrong With Love
Comment: This song gets special mention for the lyrics, “My stepfather looks just like David Bowie, but he hates David Bowie.” Sung from the point of view of an angst-ridden teenager, this one line sums it all up.
26) “You Were Right” by Built to Spill, from the album Keep It Like a Secret
Comment: I could’ve included every song on this album. I’ve always thought this song was creative for taking lyrical snippets from hit rock songs of the 60s and 70s and then commenting on whether they are true or not. (See #99 below.)
27) “Conventional Wisdom” by Built to Spill, from the album You In Reverse
Comment: Besides being a great song, “Conventional Wisdom” has an amazing video.
28) “The Wait” by Built to Spill, from the album You In Reverse
29) “Glycerine” by Bush, from the album Sixteen Stone
Comment: I’ve always been a sucker for this song although nothing else by the band Bush ever did much for me.
30)“Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake, from the album Comfort Eagle
On the original 52 Songs List it was a toss up between this song and “Sheep Go To Heaven.”
31) “00:15:00” by Chomsky, from the album Onward Quirky Soldiers
Comment: The closest thing ever to a hit single from a great local band from Dallas, TX.
32) “Blood Red Summer” by Coheed and Cambria, from the album In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth
33) “Bend and Not Break” by Dashboard Confessional, from the album A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar
34) “Again I Go Unnoticed” by Dashboard Confessional, from the album The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most
35) “Different Names for the Same Thing” by Death Cab for Cutie, from the album Plans
Comment: I was never sold on this song until I saw the video treatment it received on the Directions DVD.
36) “I Was Once a Loyal Lover” by Death Cab for Cutie, from The Open Door EP
Comment: Recently released, this 5 song EP seems like a last ode to bachelorhood from DCfC front man Ben Gibbard, who recently became engaged to actress and musician Zooey Deschanel. This song includes the lyrics, “All my friends are foreward thinking, getting hitched and quitting drinking.”
37) “July, July” by The Decemberists, from the album Castaways & Cutouts
38) “Crane Wife 1&2” by The Decemberists, from the album The Crane Wife
39) “I Live For That Look” by Dinosaur Jr., from the album Green Mind
40) “Start Choppin” by Dinosaur Jr., from the album Where You Been
41) “Drawerings” by Dinosaur Jr., from the album Where You Been
42) “Fight Test” by The Flaming Lips, from the album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
43) “When I grow Up” by Garbage, from the album Version 2.0
44) “Holiday” or “Red Letter Day” or “Forgive and Forget” or “Central Standard Time” by The Get Up Kids, from the album Something to Write Home About
Comment: A tremendous album by these guys from Kansas City. Impossible to pick just one song.
45) “Rock Star” by Hole, from the album Live Through This
Comment: Only someone who spent significant time in the Pacific Northwest can truly appreciate how Courtney Love screams the proper name “Olympia.”
46) “Bridge and Tunnel” by The Honorary Title, from the album Anything Else But the Truth
47) “Why I Like Robins” by Hum, from the album You’d Prefer an Astronaut
48) “The Mixed Tape” by Jack’s Mannequin, from the album Everything in Transit
49) “Starman” by Seu Jorge, from the soundtrack to the movie The Life Aquatic
Comment: How is it possible to beat an acoustic cover of David Bowie’s classic song sung in Portugese?

50) “Ragoo” by Kings of Leon, from the album Because of the Times
Comment: Besides “On Call”, this is the only other song on the album I really enjoy.
51) “Molly Chambers” by Kings of Leon, from the album Youth & Young Manhood
Comment: This may be the single that everyone recognizes from this album, but it is a truly solid and enjoyable album from top to bottom.
52) “Awake” by Letters to Cleo, from the album Wholesale Meats and Fish
53) “Here & Now” by Letters to Cleo, from the album Aurora Gory Alice
54) “Acid Tongue” by Jenny Lewis, from her album Acid Tongue
Comment: Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes sings backup vocals on this song.
55) “Honk & Wave” by Limbeck, from the album Hi, Everything’s Great
56) “Wishing Heart” by Lisa Loeb, from the album Firecracker
57) “Garden of Delights” by Lisa Loeb, from the album Tails
Comment: Go ahead and take a close listen to these lyrics. Who would have imagined that Lisa Loeb could have released something like this?
58) “My Best Girl” by Lucero, from their self-titled album
59) “Wolves at Night” or “Golden Ticket” by Manchester Orchestra, from the album Like a Virgin Losing a Child
Comment: Taking a listen through this album, I’m struck by how solid it is from beginning to end.
60) “Lady Fingers” by Luscious Jackson, from the album Electric Honey
61) “For the Actor” by Mates of the State, from the album Bring It Back
62) “Someday I Suppose” by The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, from the Ska-Core, The Devil, And More EP
63) “Our Love” by Rhett Miller, from the album The Instigator
Comment: You have to give credit to a song with lyrics that gloss the amorous correspondence of 19th Century German composer Richard Wagner and writer Franz Kafka
64) “I’m Totally Not Down with Rob’s Alien” by Minus the Bear, from the They Make Beer Commercials Like This EP
65) “3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse, from the album The Moon & Antarctica
66) “Fake Empire” by The National, from the album Boxer
67) “Slow Show” by The National, from the album Boxer
68) “A Brand New Low” by National Fire Theory, from the Ending With White Lights EP
69) “Failure Forever” by National Fire Theory, from the Blackout Days EP
70) “Sucker” by New Found Glory, from their self-titled album
71) “Lonely Holiday” by The Old 97’s, from the album Fight Songs
Comment: Did you know that this band got its name from a famous train crash that was later turned into a song by Johnny Cash?
72) “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town” by Pearl Jam, from the Album Vs.
73) “Never Said” by Liz Phair, from the album Exile in Guyville
74) “By the Bed” by Phantom Planet, from their self-titled album
75) “Wave of Mutilation” by The Pixies, from their Best of… greatest hits album
76) “Strange Currencies” by REM, from their album Monster
77) “Portions for Foxes” by Rilo Kiley, from their album More Adventurous
78) “My Life After Death Pt. I & II” by Roman Numerals, from their self-titled album
79) “Consent to Dissent” by Roman Numerals, from the First Blood Oxblood Record Sampler
80) “Mistaken” by Save Ferris, from the album Modified
81) “Every Man has a Molly” by Say Anything, from the album …Is a Real Boy
82) “No Soul” by Say Anything, from the album In Defense of the Genre
83) “Inbetweener” by Sleeper, from the album Smart
84) “Delicious” by Sleeper, from the album Smart
Comment: Sleeper has to be one of the most underrated bands of the mid 90s. Perhaps, I am biased because of the crush I had on singer and guitarist Louise Wener a dozen years ago.
85) “Hands Open” by Snow Patrol, from the album Eyes Open
86) “Miss Misery” by Elliott Smith, from the soundtrack to the movie Good Will Hunting
Comment: I was never a big Elliott Smith fan until I read Ben Nugent’s wonderful biography of the Portland-based singer-songwriter. To answer any questions you may have: Yes, this is Smith’s most commercially successful song. Yes, I do also own 5 other Elliott Smith albums besides the movie soundtrack. Yes, I do actually like his entire body of work. However, reading Nugent’s account of Smith performing the song at that year’s Academy Awards reinforced for me that it is perfectly acceptable to like popular stuff.
87) “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor, from the album Begin to Hope
Comment: I repeat, it is perfectly acceptable to like popular stuff and this song is one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard.
88) “Later that Year” by Straylight Run, from the Prepare to Be Wrong EP
89) “Who Will Save Us Now” by Straylight Run, from the album The Needles In Space
Comment: Straylight Run’s first single from their debut album was entitled, “Existentialism on Prom Night.” As a music fan, I think you had to have diminished hopes for an experimental emo band that gives its songs such pretentious titles. However, Prepare to Be Wrong is an amazing EP and while the follow-up full-length The Needles In Space is spotty, it does have some gems like this one.
90) “Divine Intervention” by Matthew Sweet, from the album Girlfriend
91) “Freewheel” by Team Dresch, from the album Personal Best
92) “‘Til My Head Falls Off” by They Might Be Giants, from the album Factory Showroom
93) “You’re Not the Boss of Me” by They Might Be Giants, from the Dial-A-Song anthology
Comment: This was the theme song to the TV program Malcolm in the Middle.
94) “No Depression” by Uncle Tupelo, from the 89/93 anthology.
Comment: I once sung this song in church with a member backing me up on guitar.
95) “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend, from their self-titled album
Comment: Just in case you were wondering, there is such a thing as an oxford comma. This song raises such important and insightful questions as why we should care about such a thing. The video for this song is cool and the song is brilliant.
96) “El Scorcho” by Weezer, from the album Pinkerton
97) “Undone (The Sweater Song)” by Weezer, from their self-titled Blue album
98) “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn” by Weezer, from their self-titled Red album
Comment: If you’ve never heard this song it is hard to imagine. It is a true rock anthem that is also a mash-up of different genres, from Hip-Hop to metal to punk to alternative rock to an imitation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The song is arrogant, sarcastic, schizophrenic, and completely over the top. What’s more, the song is loosely based on the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” Confused yet?

99) “Heart Songs” by Weezer, from their self-titled Red album
Comment: The third verse, an ode to Nirvana’s Nevermind, gives me chills.
100) “Last of the good Straight Girls” by Susan Werner, from the album Last of the Good Straight Girls
101) “Time Between Trains” by Susan Werner, from the album Time Between Trains
102) “Petaluma Afternoons” by Susan Werner, from the album Time Between Trains
Comment: This was Werner’s last guitar-driven folk album before she branched out into piano-centric Jazz and early 20th Century popular music. This song is a wonderful ode to Northern California. Although she puts down Oregon and Washington, she does so beautifully. “Portland is nothing but a downspout / Seattle is only sailboats in the rain.”
103) “Lyric” by Zwan, from the album Mary Star of the Sea
104) “Honestly” by Zwan, from the album Mary Star of the Sea

The List of Lists...

Last June, I undertook the 52 Songs in 52 Weeks Essay Project. For the last year I posted a short essay about a song that I like at a rate of one entry per week. I found the enterprise to be enjoyable, but received little feedback from my readers. Maybe you found these short essays about those songs boring or a distraction. Maybe you enjoyed hearing about my favorite songs. Maybe you just ignored those posts.

Now that the project is over, I find myself wanting to continue to write a post each week on some subject outside of ministry. You may not know it, but I am a lover of lists. I like making them (but not checking them twice.)

Lists serve many purposes. On my computer you'll find an alphabetized list of every CD that I own. This is a functional list, a good thing to have in case my house burned down or I was the victim of theft. In a separate file, I have a list of every concert I've ever attended. This list exists to stimulate the memory. Elsewhere, you will find a file that I keep with the date, title, and location of each of the 255 sermons I've preached to date. Such a list is both functional (how long has it been since I last preached on forgiveness?) and also a trip down memory lane. Lists document, categorize, remind, and organize.

All this is just my way of saying that I plan to compose a list each week for the next 52 weeks. I hope you'll find some of them interesting.

The List of Lists:

List #1: 104 or so (More) Songs that I Could have Written About Last Year
List #2: 5 Books You Meet at the Johnson County Library Used Book Sale
List #3: 9 Great Documentary Films
List #4: 30 Vocabulary Words from Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
List #5: 17 Satellite Songs
List #6: 9 States I've Never Visited + 4 More
List #7: 5 Examples of UU Sign Language
List #8: 10 Bands I've Never Seen Live But Would Like To
List #9: 5 Beloved Memories of The Reverend Doctor Tim Jensen
List #10: A Dozen Birthday Cards
List #11: 26 Books Being Read on Midwest Airlines Flight 2056
List #12: 8 Warnings Concerning Travel to Ecuador
List #13: 8 Famous Ecuadorians (According to Wikipedia)
List #14: 9 Most Intimidating Police Units & Security Guards in Quito
List #15: 4 Odd Rules Listed on the Visitor's Brochure to Machu Picchu
List #16: 6 Annoying Tourist Habits at Machu Picchu
List #17: The Socialist Graffiti of Ecuador
List #18: 101 Greatest Yankees of All Time
List #19: 5 Loudest Bands I Have Ever Heard
List #20: 5 Movies I Saw in November
List #21: 8 Thoughts on a Best Books of the Decade List
List #22: 5 Notable Stained Glass Windows
List #23: 10 Best Seasons by Boston Teams (2000-2009)
List #24: 10 Gut Punch Moments in Boston Sports (2000-2009)
List #25: Top 15 Moments in Boston Sports (2000-2009)
List #26: 10 Favorite Books Read in 2009
List #27: 7 Resolutions for the New Year
List #28: 11 Questions abour Reading Answered
List #29: 10 Thoughts about Vedera's New Album
List #30: My Ranking of the Nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture
List #31: Some Numbers on My Mind
List #32: 25 Picks from my March Madness Bracket
List #33: 25 Picks graded from my March Madness Bracket
List #34: 7 Facts about Payday Loans in MO/KS
List #35: My 10 favorite covers from The A.V. Club's "Undercover" Series
List #36: 3 Politically Incorrect Ingredients in the Witches' Cauldron in Macbeth
List #37: My Top 10 Albums from 2010
List #38: 25 Books I Plan to Read in 2011
List #39: Ten Prophetic & Pathetic picks concerning the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament