I just want to give this a hug. Follow the poem below.
I ATE THE COSMOS FOR BREAKFAST
—After Thich Nhat Han
It looked like a pancake,
but it was creation flattened out—
the fist of God on a head of wheat,
milk, the unborn child of an unsuspecting
chicken — all beaten to batter and drizzled into a pan.
I brewed my tea and closed my eyes
while I ate the sun, the air, the rain,
photosynthesis on a plate.
I ate the time it took that chicken
to bear and lay her egg
and the energy it takes a cow to lactate a cup of milk.
I thought of the farmers, the truck drivers,
the grocers, the people who made the bag that stored the wheat,
and my labor over the stove seemed short,
and the pancake tasted good,
and I was thankful.
Gregory Wolfe of Image Journal interviewed Christian Wiman, a poet I've come to love who speaks a lot about Christ and faith, suffering and struggle. He has an amazing story, told in part here. This is a solid interview and, hopefully for many of you, introduction to a wonderful living poet.
Wiman looks like, and in some ways sounds like, a cross between the profundity of Tim Keller and the postmodern searching of Rob Bell. Please take that in a generous way as that's how I intend it. If you like what you hear, you should check out his poetry. Most of my readers would thoroughly enjoy his recent book, My Bright Abyss. Enjoy.
I write words, I speak--
My inflamed heart bleeding truths
to dare, spur, and seek.
Edgar Allan Poe was born this day, January 19, 1809. Much of his poetry expresses longings unfulfilled, sadness, and darkness. One writer has said, "Poe never lost contact with the terrible pathos of his time....he explored the heart of darkness." His poetry is worthy of our consideration on his birthday, so here is "A Dream Within a Dream," where we feel with Poe our inability to keep hold of the golden sands of time against the pitiless waves.
A Dream Within a Dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
It is said that Martin Luther King's "Dream" speech was inspired, at least in part, by reading Langston Hughes' poem "Dream Deferred." Here is Hughes' "Harlem" from his montage of "Dream Deferred" (published 1951, found in his Collected Poems) and then MLK's full speech (1963). As you can see by the text, Hughes is not only speaking of his day, but also ours. And the pairing together the fears of a dream deferred to the proclamation of a dream hoped and longed for is a powerful thing.
by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The only sound I can add to this is silence...
In college I got into the short stories of Ernest Hemingway through the influence of my English professor. One of my favorite stories, which continues to haunt me whenever I come across a similar place in the world (or a similar condition of my heart), is "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." It was also possibly the favorite short story of Hemingway and James Joyce said it's one of the best short stories ever written. The way Hemingway loads only 4 pages of text with so much weight is remarkable. This is a well-lit but dark story about loneliness, the fear of nothingness. It is one of the rare pieces of writing that has stayed with me over time. Here's how it begins...
It was very late and every one had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference...
I'm reading The Selected Poems of Donald Hall. The book ends with Hall delivering a very interesting "postscriptum" about his life as a poet, how the experiences in his life changed what and how he wrote, etc. The postscriptum ends with this paragraph, which I think is not only worthy of reflection for poets, but writers of all sorts, pastors, creatives, artists, thinkers, and, well, most anyone. Apply these observations to your life and family and work...
People have long assumed that poets flourish when they are young, but for most poets their best work comes in middle life. Wallace Stevens said, "Some of one's early things give one the creeps." A friend insists that no one should publish a poem written after eighty (Note: Hall is over 80). I hope I wrote good things, young and old, but my best work came in my early sixties. Over the years I felt my poems gradually diminish. I lost my powers as everyone does. It was frustrating at first, but finally I accepted the inevitable. How could I complain, after seventy years of ambition and pleasure? Happily I am able to write prose.
A little searching and I found a bunch. Enjoy!
- What's Best Next by Matt Perman ($2.99)
- Center Church by Tim Keller ($4.99)
- Dangerous Calling & Awe by Paul Tripp ($4.99 each)
- The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus ($1.99)
- H3 Leadership by Brad Lomenick ($3.99)
- Ordinary by Mike Horton ($2.99)
- Heaven (Theology in Community series) ($2.99)
- How People Change by Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp ($1.99)
- Help My Unbelief ($3.99) & The Pastor's Kid ($0.99) by Barnabas Piper
Another year of great music, some from artists I already love and some are new discoveries. I've been sharing my love for music on the blog through an end of the year "best of" list since 2006...
Previous Years -- My Best Albums
As usual I'll give some minimal comments just to get you started. I hope you'll do what I do all year round, which is hit the links, stream some samples, and find something new. I encourage you to buy the music you love and not just stream it online free. Support good art and great artists! If you click on my links you'll be able to buy through Amazon. It's no extra expense for you by using my links and I get referrals which provides me a little Amazon money for books and music. Thanks for your support!
Here we go. Anything that made this list is well worth checking out.
18. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color | This is a good band making good music. It's a little more deliberate than I want it to be, but it's worthy of the effort.
16. The Gray Havens - Fire and Stone | The best musical storytellers of redemption currently working. Even when they have a stylistic choice that isn't my cup of tea, I finish the cup.
15. Chris Stapleton - Traveller | Nashtastic, beardy, soulful country. Where the rubber meets the stage. Where the boots hit the gravel. You know.
14. Wilco - Star Wars | This dropped for FREE. Wow. And it's purdy good. Dude, it's Wilco. You should own everything they make. C'mon.
13. Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free | Hard to live up to the sweet perfections of last years' Southeastern, but still another great album. Must listen: "24 Frames."
12. Purity Ring - Another Eternity | Goodness, this got a lot of play this year in my house, during work, for fun, with the kids, by myself. It's remarkably catchy. Dreamy beats. Louder the better.
11. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats - Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats | Rollicking fun. Lot's of roll in the rock. Honest. Authentic. The cool buddy we all wish we had. Down to earth.
10. Kamasi Washington - The Epic | Oh, jazz. When you come at me with something classy and creative, something that reminds me of what I love but also gives me something new to love, I do love you.
9. Jamie xx - In Colour | Cool of the cool. Chill. Urban. Sips (no chugging) in the club. Vibe. Flavor. Undercurrent. Emotive. EMOTIVE. Atmospheric.
8. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool | Man, this album was begging me to be put higher. It's groovy fun. Hooky goodness. And it rocks plenty hard. It's sweet adrenaline.
7. Tame Impala - Currents | Life-soundtracky. Hip. Looping. Trippy. Great for focused work, chilling out. It's groovy, man. It's an album that I can turn on most any time of any day.
6. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit | Every early sample of this album ended quickly. But I finally read enough about it to give it a real and thorough listen. Two times through I was sold. It's punkish. The later tracks are the ones that convinced me of Barnett's genius, but she first caught my ear at "Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint you." Almost made the top 5.
5. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear | Sermonic. Counter-cultural. Every song a stage. Laugh-tracks. Really smart. He takes you on his dramatic trip into the challenging of an idea through supremely glorious musical styles. The gorgeousity of the music should be incongruous with the content, but is actually a wonderful way for FJM to make his move on your heart. He gives you a rose and the stabs you in the eye with its thorn.
3. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell | Soft and soothing, but not gentle. Beautifully jarring. Broadly finite. Haunted. Entrancing. A warm hug and consoling whisper through the reverberating ache. Isolated & intimate. This guy is a-something.
2. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Style | The music of Will Toledo that originated from his DIY bedroom recordings as a teenager is quite excellent. This shoegazy rock album is a joy listen after listen. "Anyone new to Car Seat Headrest is, quite frankly, in for a jaw-dropping discovery. The quality of Toledo’s songs is gobsmacking; the lyrics are enthralling, the melodies are to die for, the musicianship is raw yet brilliant." This album is the introverts dreamscape, and cry, and inspiration.
1. Grimes - Art Angels | This album is "utterly uncompromising, imaginative and, somehow, universally accessible." Yes, yes, and yes to the music of Claire Boucher. This is the album that I listen to most, enjoy the most, and makes me want to dance the most. But it's also full of quirk. It's packed with super-duper hooks that aren't easy and cheap. It's fresh and throw-back at the same time. Boucher is a creative genius, "a human zeitgeist, redrawing all the binaries and boundaries by which we define pop music and forcing us to come along."
I was up late last night writing, reading, thinking. Right before bed I wrote this poem (haiku) as I was thinking about life, my own life, the life of dads my age. Then I didn't sleep a wink all night.
Sips of midnight tea
interrupt encroaching fears.
Midlife night terrors.
Chicago has been on my mind and the mind of America with injustice and pain and protests. And so for me Carl Sandburg's poetry has been on my mind and his his famous poem "Chicago." A reminder of the stormy, husky, brawling, city. The city of the big shoulders.
Sandburg said of himself, "I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass." He wrote poetry that everyone could read and understand, he wrote poetry of understanding the common man, and yet scholars read and respected Sandburg. His collection, Chicago Poems, is still widely read today and available cheap. I read again through the first dozen or so poems last night I was moved near tears, both for what he said and the fact that he said such beautiful things so simply. We should aspire to do the same.
CHICAGO by Carl Sandburg
HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
Thoroughly enjoying Whitney Bozarth's album, Anchor for My Soul. More good stuff coming out of Sojourn Music!
- Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright - $7.99 (1,700 pages!)
- Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark - $0.99
- Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke - $2.99 (800 page book)
- Puritan Evangelism by Joel Beeke - $0.99
- Salvation by Grace by Matthew Barrett - $0.99
- Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of his Life & Thought by Stephen Nichols - $1.99
- Tributes to John Calvin - $1.99 (600 page book)
- Hero of Heroes: Seeing Christ in the Beatitudes by Iain Duguid - $1.99
- The End of the Law (NAC Studies) by Jason Meyer - $0.99
- Enthroned On Our Praise (NAC Studies) by Timothy Pierce - $0.99
- Sermon on the Mount (NAC Studies) by Charles Quarles - $2.99
- The Ten Commandments (NAC Studies) by Mark Rooker - $2.99
- The Church: Why Bother? by Jeffrey Johnson - $2.99
If you missed the Country Music Awards last night, and I'm guessing many of you did, you missed a remarkable performance by Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake. No worries, it's below. When Jason Isbell can't help but tweet multiple times about Stapleton last night, you know you found something good. Chris won Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year.
I like award shows, even if only to sharpen my snark, but this moment is one of my all time favorites across the genres and disciplines. When you are done and want to look up Chris Stapleton's music, and you will, just go here to check out his album Traveller.
Ahem...crank it UP!
- Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt $4.99
- Pursuing Peace by Robert Jones $3.99
- Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns $3.99
- Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware $2.99
- Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life & Thought by Stephen Nichols $1.99
- The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves $2.99
- Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George $2.99
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield $2.60
Demi Lovato's two performances on SNL this weekend were just amazing. "Stone Cold" had me almost in tears. This is how you do pop music ballads, folks. THIS.