Friday, December 24, 2010

Joy to the world

Tomorrow is Christmas. Yeah, I know you had no idea. I'm definitely no Isaiah when it comes to being prophetic. Alas, it is not my spiritual gift. But let's not forget that over 2,000 years ago the greatest spiritual gift the Earth has ever received was born. That gift being Jesus. Truly, there has never been a more apt occasion to proclaim Joy to the world! Keeping that in mind, I want to offer up a Christmas greeting that stays true to that spirit. Peace on earth is something everybody throws around as ideal, but I think that during the Christmas season it's taken a little more seriously. Ultimately, however, I think that the real message of the season is one of love and grace. God's love for us, and the grace he showed by sending his son, Jesus. As Dustin Kensrue of Thrice puts it "Can you see now that everything’s grace after all?" In that spirit...

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends! I hope that you have a joyous Christmas, and that you find peace and hope this year. For those struggling, I can't promise that things will improve, but putting your trust and faith in God to turn things around is the best place to start. Friends: if you have a problem and want someone to listen--I'm here for you. Thank you to those who have been there to listen to me and lend advice. My apologies to those I've offended, let down, and turned my back on. I will do my best to no longer pass judgment without first examining myself and my own faults. I'm thankful for you all, and that God has allowed me to come into contact with so many great people. When you feel disheartened remember that "greater things have yet to come." The fact that we celebrate Christmas as the day "the Lord is come" beckons to a greater day when the Lord will come again! But until that day, we continue to celebrate the joy of Christmas with family and friends who share in the promise fulfilled.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 10 albums of 2010.

A yearly tradition, here are my picks for my 10 favorite (not necessarily best) albums of the year. Also, feel free to comment on this or post your own top 10.

10.Plastic Beach-Gorillaz
Although not as strong as Demon Days, Gorillaz deliver a solid album here. And as always it's kind of strange. Songs to check out: Stylo, Superfast Jellyfish

9.American Ghetto-Portugal. The Man
Another great album from the Wasilla, Alaska (yes, Sarah Palin's home) based band. These guys put on an amazing live show, and they performed a generous amount of songs from this album (since it had just been released) back in March. Psychedelic and textured, every song seems to float on its own. Tracks to download: The Dead Dog, 60 Years, The Pushers Party

8.Year of the Black Rainbow-Coheed and Cambria
Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV will probably always be my favorite, but this one grew on me. The guitars weave in and out, and the drums thud and crash with appropriate intensity. Claudio Sanchez once again proves himself to be one of the most unique voices in all of music. Featured cuts: The Broken, Guns of Summer

7.Sea of Cowards-The Dead Weather
After the rushed Horehound, Jack White and company return with the more complete Sea of Cowards. White's drums crack, while Alison Mosshart's voice slithers around sharp riffs from Dean Fertita. The songs are heavy and some of the best blues of White's career. Standout songs: Blue Blood Blues, Gasoline, No Horse

6.Brothers-The Black Keys
Everyone's favorite garage rock duo is back with another standout album. Brothers is a bit of a change from standard Keys fare, but it remains tight and bluesy. The interplay between guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney is fantastic throughout. Killer jams: Tighten Up, Sinister Kid, Next Girl

5.Omni-Minus the Bear
Following 2007's Planet of Ice, MTB returns with Omni. A more keyboard driven record, Omni is textured and even more laid back than a typical Minus the Bear album. Still, the guitar interplay remains the band's strength. Buy on I-tunes: Secret Country, Excuses, Into the Mirror

4.Dark is the Way, Light is a Place-Anberlin
Stephen Christian and company deliver another stellar record. Christian's lyrics once again are engaging and deeply profound. Slightly darker than New Surrender, the album tackles familiar lyrical themes with Anberlin's trademark sound and fury. Choice cuts: Impossible, We Owe This to Ourselves, Art of War

3.Diamond Eyes-Deftones
After scrapping their finished album once their original bassist was put into a coma after a car accident, Chino and crew released this as a tribute. The songs are layered and muscular with Chino's throaty screams still very much present. With this album the Deftones are definitely on top of their game. Tracks to check out: Diamond Eyes, You've Seen the Butcher, Rocket Skates, and Sextape...really the whole album

2.Empty Room Philosophies-You the Symphony
I have Callan to thank for introducing me to these guys, as they're his friends and now some of mine. Regardless, this album is stellar and warrants immediate listen. The influence of several artists on the list is evident, but these songs definitely speak for themselves. At 6 songs every track comes highly recommended. Go buy it...NOW.

1.High Violet-The National
With my apologies to all those that think this should be The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, High Violet was my favorite of the year. Not much to say here, if you haven't heard it go get it. It doesn't beat Boxer, but the first 6 tracks come pretty close.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

One more (last) time

As I took my last final of the semester today, the reality of the coming end fully dawned on me. I'm a senior with one final semester left. College is quickly drawing to a close. Suddenly, the real world is next year--not down the road. Graduation is in view, not merely on the horizon, and time will not being standing still anytime soon. There are people I may have seen for the last time, because of graduation, study abroad, etc. "I'll see you next year" is no longer a sure thing. I get that I'm not alone in this, but the finality of the situation is sobering. In a sense, I've never come to terms with the disaster that was my senior year of high school. For that reason, growing up seems like a prison sentence rather than some measure of liberation. Cool, I get to pay bills, be alone, and struggle to get by! Maybe that's a tad cynical, but I didn't get rewarded with free tuition from Pitt like some people, and my parents aren't wealthy and able to fund never ending educational endeavors. Keeping that in mind, this semester feels like my last chance to do pretty much everything. Factoring in decisions over the past two years I've definitely missed some opportunities and been way too stubborn at times. However, to all those that read this--which I know is about 2 people--fear not I'm ready to give things a shot.

Given that I have roughly 4 months to be as flexible and open-minded as possible, time is extremely precious. I recognize this, so I want to maximize what I'm able to do and try. With that framework, now I have something to ask of all of you. Challenge me. If I've ever told you I dislike something, ask me if I've tried it. And if I haven't get me to try it, and if I have get me to try it again. Don't let me criticize things without a retort, and force me to admit I judge things irrationally. If you invite me to something, and I give you a crappy excuse call me out on it. Unless I have class, or a prior commitment, then I have free time. Refuse to let me make excuses, demand accountability from me. Push me to be more responsible, to move outside my comfort zone, and not hold things back. Make suggestions to me, invite me to things you don't think I'd enjoy, and if I question it remind me of what I've said. I know it isn't easy, I know that I'm going to struggle too. But, I don't want to stand there on May 1 and think about all the things I never tried and missed out on in the name of pride. Besides, I know God has it in his hands--so I'm not afraid to fall before I fly.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Tis the season

Last Monday I experienced something I never have before: complete mental overload. I had so much stress on me that it felt like the world was caving in. It was a strange and scary realization, and for the first time in my life I felt completely powerless. Ultimately, I ended up going home on Tuesday for the entire week to rest, recharge, and calm down. I believe that had I not I would have ended up in the hospital. Since Thanksgiving happened roughly two weeks ago, and with Christmas on the way, I want to take the time to offer up gratitude and appreciation for everything that I'm thankful for. I think had I done this before, instead of worrying and putting unneeded expectations on myself, that I could have prevented the stress shutdown that occurred.

First of all--the reason for the season--Jesus. To all those out there not down with the J.C., consider receiving the one gift, the promise of salvation and a personal relationship with Jesus, this season that won't cost you money or force you to wait in line. Not a sermon, just something for the skeptics to consider.

My family--especially my mom, dad, and brother. In this world it's hard to find loving support and compassion, but I definitely get it from my family. For those of you out there that aren't on good terms with your family, I hope that you will be able to turn things around. Also, I've got some really great friends that have been there when I needed them. Yeah, I know it sounds sappy. But, life is a lonely place without meaningful relationships which family and friends often provide. I encourage everyone to forgive those that have hurt them during the past year, or before, and repair those broken relationships. It's often difficult to do, but I don't think anyone wants to spend the rest of their life asking: what if?

Those were serious, now for some more light-hearted things I was thankful for this year...
Good health (alright that's serious too), all those hot days during the summer, Snowpocalypse, free meals and home cooking, cookies, the times I got up early enough to see the sunrise, going to the D.R. and all those who gave money, prayed, etc, getting closer to new friends and reconnecting with old friends, roadtrips, when things turned out better than expected (and sometimes when they turned out worse), music: live and recorded, Thursday night frisbee, unexpected conversations, the absurd moments, events that were too perfect to be coincidence, getting answers for unasked questions, cornerstone, new jokes and ones that got old, all the beers I tried (even the ones that sucked), slow nights, encouragement when I needed it and criticism too, growing up but not growing old, grace, getting to the bus stop at the same time as the bus, watching hard work pay off, racquetball, meals with friends, and all the moments that let me know I'm alive and God loves me.

And I'm glad that 2011 provides an opportunity for me to be thankful for new things while cherishing the old.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Right on time

This post owes a huge debt to the brother of one of my oldest friends. Back in 6th or 7th grade he burned me a mix cd, with some songs by Project 86 and a band called Stavesacre. I immediately gravitated to the songs by Project 86, and they have become one of my favorite bands. However, at the time, I largely ignored the songs by Stavesacre. In the time since I have grown quite fond of the entire cd. As a whole, the entire disc is among my most played. Almost every song stands out, but I am posting the lyrics of one song that really hits home. The song is called Keep Waiting (by Stavesacre), and for those that are Christians the message should be familiar.

I was far away from here, felt like a million miles
Under unfamiliar skies, in more than one way far from dreams I'd dreamed
I'd seen the blinding light, there was hope but was there time
Slow trigger starting line, and each day of waiting seemed eternity

You never left my side
You never left my mind

So they will open up their mouths, but really who are they
And soon enough they'll fade away, only blind but soon they'll have to see
Fear like a cancer spreads, how many more will drop their eyes
Lift their hands and wait to die, and how much time to spend to see who stands
But I think I know the way, I got a promise on the mind, and I'll be looking for what's mine
Sovereign stillness whispers trust in me

In just a little while
They'll wish that they were silent

Keep waiting, I'll be right on time
Keep waiting, I'll be right on time

In just a little while
They'll wish that they were silent

And when they try to take your eyes off of me, remember
And when they try to take your eyes off of me, remember me

Keep waiting, I'll be right on time
Keep waiting, I'll be right on time

In just a little while, they'll wish that they were silent.

This is a truth I far too easily forget. So when things seem rough, or you don't know what to do, remember this. Keep waiting. And with that, the blog is back.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's been a while

The last post on here, prior to the brief one the other night, was made in January, it has indeed been a while. A lot has happened since then, but I'm not going to attempt to summarize everything. Although I am going to look ahead to the future, which can be rather terrifying. With 5 weeks left in the semester the final one is not far away. It would be pointless to believe I'm alone in any soul-searching, so I won't play the 'woe-is-me' card. Still, big decisions are on the way that have implications for more then just the next 2 or even 5 years. Is grad school in the cards or will I be testing the job market waters? Will I be in Pittsburgh, D.C., or halfway around the world? Do I go it alone? Sometimes inspired success feels more ominous to me than abject failure. Would I be able to walk away from a successful career for the service and glory of God?

By my own admission I have done a poor job of listening to God. My idea of 'listening' is doing so when it's convenient for me. Generally, this is how I approach almost everything I do. "Oh sure, I want to help people..." Of course, I neglect to add..."when I feel like it and I benefit from doing so." Unfortunately, this perspective doesn't jive with what God asks for. He wants everything you have, not some of it when you feel like it. It bothers me that I act this way, but ultimately I have done little to correct it. What it comes down to is: I am a control freak. I like to run my own life, I hate being told what to do, and I don't like when it's suggested to me that something I do is wrong or a waste. I've tried to work on this, but the process has been slow going. The problem is that I ask for God to show me direction, but then I don't like it if the direction doesn't match what I had in mind. As a result, I fear that the next couple years may turn out terribly if I try to fight what God is pointing me towards. But honestly, I'm having an extremely difficult time figuring out what that is. I say I want to go to grad school, I don't know if I do, and I'm even less certain if God wants me to. I don't want to get a job, but I feel like maybe God wants me to. The truth is general uncertainty is the theme of the day. Am I supposed to stay in Pittsburgh? I want to, but I just don't know. I don't know if that's good or bad, it just is how it is.

And ultimately this begs one question: when I look back 6 months from now will I see the hand of God or only my own stubborn will?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Everything you never wanted to know about me

Well, I suddenly got an urge to go auto-biographical on ya'll. Yes, I recognize this is the sort of 'note-like' garbage you usually get tagged for on facebook. But this is a blog which means tags are non-existent and no one will probably read it. For those who do: here is a small sampling of some of my more noteworthy and head-scratching quirks and idiosyncrasies. Enjoy.

Since my youth (4&up) I've had a perpetual fascination with maps. I really enjoy navigating for car trips and have spent countless hours buried in atlas and other geographic texts. Oh and I find a good sense of direction a definite turn-on.

When given the chance to walk somewhere I prefer it to any other means of transportation. In fact, I use to try to refuse rides from friend's parents in favor of walking. Also, I believe it's a superior way of getting to know someone. Specifically, I hold a walk in the snow to be ideally romantic-much more than one on the beach.

I very rarely go to bed at a time that isn't on the hour or half hour. On numerous instances I've stayed up an extra half hour rather than go to bed at a time in between.

I won't write a paper, regardless of topic, without music in the background. Not sure why it helps me focus but it does.

If it's after 12 pm I refuse to eat cereal for any reason.

On Port Authority buses I won't sit down next to a person I don't know. I stand even if open seats are available.

I like intelligent girls. This isn't those of the book smart, study hard, super serious variety. Well-read girls are a step above the rest. If you appreciate puns and sarcasm you're probably soul-mate material.

Trivia is one of my favorite things in the world. I consciously strive to continually pick up new facts and tidbits.

Almost every day I check the weather forecast. When snow, or some form of extreme weather, is forecasted I obsessively view every detail of the impending storm.

I refuse to pull an all-nighter for school, work, etc. But I will willingly stay up all night doing nothing just to do it.

If asked to make a decision for myself I can do it no problem. However, when asked to do it for another person or a group I am the most indecisive person you'll ever meet.

Before serious conversations take place, I diagram in my head what I'm going to say.

When I give compliments I truly mean them. You'll never hear me casually throw out compliments.

If explicitly asked a question, I'll answer honestly and candidly regardless of the nature of the material being asked about.

When I want to avoid giving an answer, or I'm nervous, I start talking in riddles. Also, usually my speech will get very cryptic.

I gravitate towards certain people, and give them extra attention. In every group of friends I have one person I trust and tell more to than the rest of the group.

My memory is excellent. When I say I don't forget I mean it.

Details are very important to me. I remember likes/dislikes, and when I repeat something you've told me not to before-I do it in jest.

I hold myself to a higher standard than I hold everyone else. Neither of these standards are truly attainable, because I recognize imperfection gets in the way.

Chocolate is one of the best substances known to man.

Finally, I like a good smile :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Life of Possibilities

Winter has been in session for a few weeks, but January always seems to be the defacto start. Usually January brings post-Christmas blues, useless/unkeepable resolutions, and a healthy dose of cold. However, January also produces, most years at least, a good snow or two. Snow is a burden for some and bliss for most between the ages of 2 and 18. But snow can be something far more than simply a powdery, white, fluffy substance. It can be a powerful and vivid metaphor for redemption.

I returned to Pittsburgh on Sunday to a decent amount of already fallen snow. Even more glaringly obvious was that an overabundance of salt had been used to attempt to rid university sidewalks, staircases, and roads of the white stuff. The snow was largely vacated from these surfaces, but the remaining salty remnants were everywhere. Any university building bore salty shoe/boot marks upon entering, which left white, chalky trails throughout the premises. I found these marks distracting and a stark reminder of the ugliness left behind by these snow melting/removal efforts. I wanted the salt to go, but I knew I was powerless to get rid of it. The only solution was to get more snow to cover the repulsive and pervasive salty mess. Fortunately on Tuesday the solution came.

Snow fell for the entire day. Glorious, pure, shining white snow. That night I knew I had to go for a walk to bask in majesty that is freshly falling snow. As I walked through Schenley Park, I was struck by the stark beauty of everything. No blemishes, no bare patches of grass, and nothing left untouched by the shimmering white powder. A new beginning for a new year. Then it hit me. Snow is metaphorically representative of redemption, and, speaking in terms of nature, literal as well. Don't see it, I'll break it down for you.

The salt is sin. It's everywhere, you can't get rid of it (the world says that's ok), and it leaves a hideous stain on everything it touches. We (humanity) are the sidewalks, stairs, and roads. Head to toe we are covered with the salt, and on our own we are powerless to remove it. We try to the best of our ability, but our efforts fall so far short and our entirely futile. In short, we need a solution. Enter the solution: snow, which is really Jesus Christ. Jesus provides the cleansing and removes the stain. Just like snow, Jesus covers every sin. No sin is too great or individual beyond redemption. In the song "Nothing but the Blood" the lyrics provide a direct link between the two: "Oh! precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow." Furthermore, like snow, Jesus provides a new beginning. What some might refer to as second life or being "born again." This is an existence free from the burden and oppression of sin. His death on the cross was the original 'Emancipation Proclamation,' and it intended to bring life and salvation to all who believed. 'A new beginning.' 2010 is as well.

Too often we forget this lesson, and the power of new beginnings that Jesus brings. 2010 is not an extension of 2009. 2009 produced both good and bad memories for me. The Steelers won the Super Bowl, I got closer to friends/others drifted away, 21 came and went, laughs were shared, hugs exchanged, some classes didn't turn out like I hoped, I got stuck working at the same job this summer I had last, and the list could go on. But the point is all these things are in the past. 2009 is over. I have a blank slate with 2010, and I need to see what God has in mind.

This year is a new beginning. I plan to work harder, play less, spend less, engage more (both activities and people), and a whole host of others. However, at the end of the day, I'm not the one who should be in control. The first new beginning, which shouldn't really be new, is that I need to put God in the driver's seat. In my relationships, my actions, and my life God should be #1. But things get in the way and make everything a mess, just like all that salt. Rationalization and justification replace love and faith. Yet, God never gives up on you even to the point when any, even the most reasonable, person would walk away. What is it like to love perfectly? I don't know because I am incapable of doing so. Only God is. Still, this year holds promise. Yes, it will be imperfect but that shouldn't discourage. Relationships can be healed, friends reconnected with, classes can improve, jobs can become more enjoyable, and most importantly God can be the central focus of your life. Don't take my word for it. Newly fallen snow is all the proof you need that redemption is real.