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 1. The Trumpet Child – Over the Rhine
This is without a doubt my favorite OTR release to date. It’s somewhat of a departure from from their more typical contemplative stuff, but I really like it. The songs are upbeat and playful – particularly in light of their previous album, The Drunkard’s Prayer. That album represented their journey through a rough patch in marriage (OTR is primarily the husband/wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karen Bergquist). This album clearly has them on the other side of that journey, still together and making great music. The jazzy feel to the tracks makes this album a fun listen. There’s not one song I dislike. For the story behind The Trumpet Child told by Linford Detweiler himself, check out this article from Paste Magazine.

2. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire is an indie band from Montreal. This most recent offering from them is replete with organ, a Hungarian orchestra, and a men’s military choir. These elements combine to produce a haunting overtone to the album. There’s clearly a longing for transcendence expressed in these songs, but the tracks also capture the reality of a jaded religious experience. There’s a deep skepticism of organized religion throughout as themes of hypocrisy, manipulation, and superficiality are all explored. Not only do you get quality music with this album, you also get profound insights into the thoughts and feelings of those who are disillusioned with religion in the modern world. You gotta pay attention to the lyrics with this one! If you want to read an interesting article about Arcade Fire from Paste magazine click here. There’s a terrific quote in the article about fear of God and fear of people.

3. Of Orphans and Kings – Mo Leverett
You’ve probably never heard of Mo Leverett but he’s one of my favorite musicians. Mo directed an effective New Orleans based urban ministry in one of the worst housing projects in the country before he and his family lost all their possessions in the wake of Hurricance Katrina. Desire Street Ministries, founded by Mo, is still making an impact but he has now concentrated his efforts on duplicating this ministry in other pockets of poverty through Rebirth International. I had the opportunity to take a class on urban ministry from Mo in seminary; this guy’s the real deal. Of Orphans and Kings chronicles Mo’s post-Katrina journey of coming to grips with loss and wrestling with God in the context of immense pain. As typical with Mo, the lyrics are honest and authentic, brought to life through his bluesy and folksy style. You won’t find any sentimentality in this music. What you’ll encounter instead are songs about redemption in the midst of the harsh realities of a broken world. For a review of this album written by a friend of mine click here. If you want to read an article from Paste magazine about Mo and his music check this out.

Honorable Mention:
In Rainbows – Radiohead
The Shepherd’s Dog – Iron & Wine
The Ringing Bell – Derek Webb

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Word on the street is that ABC will show the first eight episodes of LOST this season beginning on Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 9:00 pm. We’re only a little over a month away!

Check out this brief CNN interview with Gabe Lyons, one of the authors of unChristian. I’m currently reading the book and finding that it accurately represents the views of many younger people. I agree with the authors that Christianity has an image problem today. Much of what I’m reading here I regularly encounter in talking with young adults – inside and outside the Church. I highly recommend unChristian if you want to get a better grasp on what the people around you think about Christianity, and/or if you want to understand why you feel the way you do about Christianity. Let me know what you think of the interview. Do you agree or disagree?

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LOST season 3 is in stores today! I’m looking forward to re-watching some of the episodes from last year before season 4 premieres in February – that is if it does premiere this February. The writer’s strike has me really, really nervous.

For those of you who live around Wilmington, Katie and I are planning a LOST party for January 12th (yes, it’s a costume party). Is this not the greatest show ever???

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I’ve recently been enjoying some good Christmas music. If you don’t have these albums you really should check them out. Good stuff. The first is Snow Angels by Over The Rhine and the second is Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens. Give them a listen and treat yourself to some fantastic music this Christmas season!

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“Stories are verbal acts of hospitality” – Eugene Peterson

People crave story – so much so that it’s impossible to imagine life apart from story. Storytelling has always held a prominent place among humans. Our compulsion to write and tell stories, to read and hear them, points to this ongoing fascination we have with them. What is it about story that captivates us? What draws us into story?

Stories have this way of inviting us in, don’t they? They grab our attention by making us feel at home. Good stories open the world to us. They evoke powerful emotions within us, giving us new insight into what it means to be human. They also aid us in seeing the common ground we share with others. Good storytelling is really an expression of good hospitality. It’s a vital way we make ourselves at home, and help others do the same. But even more profoundly, we respond to story because story is our common language. We relate to the language of story because, well, life is story.

Each of our lives is a mini-narrative. There’s a story behind every person you encounter, a story behind you and me. As storied beings we’re always on the look-out for some narrative to live by. The advertising world knows this well. Think of how commercials feed our hunger to live in story. They offer us what seems like an unlimited number of stories, promising to fulfill us (yes, even save us) whenever we enter these stories to live by them. What they offer is usually a variation of the Amerian dream story: buy this or that, and you’ll have the security, comfort, and fulfillment you always wanted. We fall for this story all the time, don’t we? Is the most recent cell phone or iPod really all that fulfilling? I guess it depends on the songs you have on that iPod, huh? Your iPod probaby isn’t nearly as fulfilling as mine! Consider how the political process confronts us. We’re invited to step into the Democrat or Republican Story, with the assumption being that our dreams will be realized if only we enable the right story to be written. It’s inescapable; wherever we look we’re bombarded with invitations to live in a story.

The Bible also invites us into a story. A majority of the Bible is narrative. This narrative tells the story of God’s renovation project for a world that has gone wrong. It’s a project that focuses on Jesus Christ. The biblical story claims to be the grand or ultimate story – the story that makes sense of all other stories. In fact, this story puts our fascination with story into context. We’re captivated by story because each of us is actually part of a big story whose author is God. In other words, life is story. We’re invited to participate in this story, joining God in His mission to make all things new. This story invites us into something much larger than our own personal drama’s, the American dream, or whatever small story some political party holds out to us. God’s story offers us something worth throwing ourselves into with full abandonment.

We can’t miss the authoritative claim this story makes. It insists that it is the best story to live by. The ancient people of God were called to live in step with God’s story in order to show the watching world that this story was true and worthwhile. Likewise, the early church lived out God’s story in provocative ways, demonstrating that competing stories (like the story told by the Roman Empire) weren’t nearly as compelling. The Bible claims that to settle for another story is to settle for something less – for something that dimimishes us. All other stories will shatter our dreams and leave us empty. Are we willing to give up these dead-end stories in order to get caught up in the story God is writing in the world. Is the story of God intersecting with the story of your life? What story are you living by anyway?

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