Nate Loucks


Nate Loucks is the pastor of State Street Community Church and the President of the Pax Center in downtown LaPorte, Indiana. These are thoughts on faith, social entrepreneurship, and the beauty of life.

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Indiana, what do we value?

LaPorte, Indiana is not as rural as the towns featured in this VICE News segment, but we share some similarities with these communities. Recently, I heard a story about the differences that have happened in the last 10-15 years in the number of applicants for a gym teacher position. In the past, there might be 15-20 applicants. Now, they are lucky to get 4-6 candidates.

Last year, research published by Indiana State University suggested that of the 220 districts that responded to the survey, 91 percent reported experiencing a teacher shortage. What is causing the shortage? According to their data, a combination of factors including lack of pay and high turnover. To illustrate this sobering reality, the U.S. Department of Education said that in Indiana, inflation-adjusted teacher pay has fallen since the 1999-2000 school year to the point where teachers now earn almost 16 percent less than they did two decades ago.

All my life, my father has repeated this axiom, "If you want to know what someone values, take a look at their pocketbook." While that's not true in every circumstance, there is some truth to it. If we value the development of children and education in Indiana, we should be willing to compete with the states that are compensating their educators far more than the Hoosier state.

Over the last year, in helping a small team of teachers and staff at our local elementary school achieve certification and develop curriculum, I witnessed the incredible lengths that educators, staff, counselors, and administrators go to provide every student with a thorough and efficient education while also working to bolster a child's social-emotional well-being.

It's late nights and early mornings. It's pressure from administrators and parents to meet standards that are not always well-defined. It's processing stories of trauma and chaos with a child while trying to create environments of inclusion and embrace (but, don't forget about those education standards!) It's being scapegoated when something in a school doesn't work, but also being asked to do more with less each year. It's being told that "we need to stop teaching to the test!" while being handed new requirements for the next test. It's recognizing that they can make more money in another vocation, but holding strong to the unrequited joy and satisfaction when a child gets "it" for the first time.

We need more public school teachers. We need better-paid public school teachers. And, not for the sake of the educators; for the hope of a healthy and adjusted society. If you want to know what someone values, take a look at their pocketbook.

On the 18th Anniversary of My Mother's Death
My mother with my sister, Heather. 

My mother with my sister, Heather. 

On January 15th everything was seemingly normal. By evening on January 16th, everything changed. It’s been 18 years since the tragic evening when my mother died. She was 36 years old. It’s been so long since I have shed a tear about my mother passing. The shock of the situation is over. After all, I have lived more of my life without her than I did with her. Yet, there’s still a profound heaviness each year on this day. It’s a day when I’m willing to let my memories collide with the potential of a life with her in it. I don’t often entertain the question of “what if…” as I find little value in looking at the world in impossible outcomes. She’s dead and she’s gone, of that there’s no doubt. For years I thought it was a bad dream of grief and anger and guilt. I prayed for resurrection. I prayed for another conversation. I prayed for relief and release.

The finality of her death set in a number of years ago and I opened my eyes to reality. It’s been my experience that tragedy has a way of leaving an indelible mark on those who suffer with the tragedy. Not all deaths are tragic, but my mother’s was. The worst part is that when death happens, the impact of the relationship doesn’t die with it. That’s the most difficult aspect of death. You just find a way to be comfortable living with suspension of the relationship in light of the brutal finality that is separation in death. Christ has brought me rest from the burden. 

But, today I allow myself the freedom to wonder, “what if…” 

What if my mother didn’t know how much I loved her because of my frustrations with her addiction? 
What if my mother would have been successful in getting treatment for her depression and addictions? 
What if my uncle Danny wouldn’t have died months earlier and her sadness wouldn’t have accelerated her addiction? 
What if my mother could see my siblings and me now? 
What if my mother was around and she could help my aunt and my cousins take care of my grandfather? 
What if my mother could see my children? Would she see herself in my daughter as much as I do?

Some questions lead me to laughter thinking about what life would be like. Other questions lead to a bit of sadness. But, I wonder. 

What I don’t wonder anymore is whether or not my mother loved me. Though I can’t speak for all people who love those facing addictions, my temptation was to believe that my mother loved her addiction to alcohol more than she loved me. My rather elementary [and ignorant] understanding of addiction was that if I would simply explain to my mother that I didn’t want her to drink anymore, she would abstain out of her love for me. Since she didn’t do it, she didn’t love me, or my rather distorted thinking told me. But addiction doesn’t operate in the expanse of logic and rationality and deductive reasoning. This is why addiction can be so troubling: it leads you to do things that you don’t want to do, but have little control over. It’s compulsive and abrasive. It’s not rational. It’s love misplaced. 

My mother loved me, in spite of her hurts and hangups. She loved me. She didn’t always know how to deal with everything raging within her. She was pregnant at 15 years old. She was divorced and had four children. She didn’t marry men who valued her uniqueness or her partnership. She wasn’t unlike many people I know who are a bit lost in the high tide of the seas of life, but unlike many I know: she had four children. My mourning for my mother always accompanies compassion. Her life wasn’t easy. I don’t know what I would have done if I was her. But, I know my mother loved me. And, as I reflect on her death, I tried to remember what she gave me in life. 

I miss you, mom. You are loved more passionately than you ever knew or understood. 

RandomNate Loucksgrief, family
Day 3: The Unabomber, Crabs, and the Best Kind of Letter

Words are a passion of mine. Some people love to build great temples and buildings with their bare hands and mighty tools. My grandfather used to tell me that the most satisfying part of being a concrete man was that he could see what he built at the end of the day. His labor was rewarded with something tangible. Something real. Words are the same for me. When I write or read a perfectly organized and poignant sentence, there are few things I enjoy more. A perfect sentence shouldn't just say the premise, but saying it in a way that also scratches at that creative element of the self that rarely gets moved throughout the day. Sure, the most important part of a word is the essence of what it communicates; the actual thing of it all. But, what fun is it just living within the singular purpose of something? It's maddening and constricting.

There are days that I dream of moving to Montana and purchasing a cabin with countless acres and spotty electrical service just to write words and sentences that matter to me. It is a dream that those words may matter to others as well. But then I think, "I bet that's exactly how the Unabomber's dream started as well. You're playing fast and loose with your already frail sanity, Loucks." It always starts off innocently enough, I'm sure. But then when you realize that your dreams are far too closely paralleled to serial murderers, it's time to enter back into the real world. And quick. The world of mortgages and people and problems and kids is where I belong. 

We are now finished with the third day of my wife and son's trip to Romania. I'm happy to report that my two oldest children who stayed behind with me are both alive and well. Some would even argue that they're happy, though that argument would likely have some objectionable holes in it. Without my wife, happiness is a virtue that we have all sought to attain only in small blessed increments, not in sustained moments. She is the glue, we are her popsicle sticks. 

Yesterday was grocery shopping day. I picked Dino-boy up from the babysitter's house and Nora up from her after-school program. Immediately the complaints started pouring in: 

"Dad, I'm hungry." 
[we'll go to a restaurant and eat...]

"Dad, my legs are hurting. I think I'm growing too much. Can you do something about that?"
[yes, I can fix anything, I'm your dad. We fix this specific problem by not complaining about it anymore. It's holistic therapy. I read it on the internet...]

"Dad, Dino-boy won't sing the right words to the songs. Make him stop."
[I like it when Dino-boy sings. Let him sing the words he feels are the right ones. Stop stifling his fun, Captain Misery McComplain Pants...]

"Dad, my stomach hurts because I haven't eaten in a long time."
[she had, in fact, eaten that day... I think...]

We made a quick stop at a restaurant and headed to the grocery store. Dino-boy has been infected by a love for Taylor Swift songs as of late. He can't get enough of them. Because I'm dedicated and working extra hours for my "Father of the Year" coffee mug, our car rides have been filled with frivolity and T-Swift listening parties. After we parked and the radio was shut off, apparently the song "22" was still playing in Dino-boy's heart because he kept going with it. Loudly. We walked into the store and he's still singing, wearing his Dino-cap, because he's now the Singing Dino-boy. Then an older lady with bangs from the 80's looks down on me in pity. I smile politely back at her and she says, "Do we have an upset one here?" She mistakenly thought that the Singing Dino-boy was actually the upset and crying Dino-boy. Perhaps because his singing sounds remarkably similar to an out-of-tune and out-of-work lark with a slight lisp. No, ma'am, he's not crying or whining. That's just how he sings! Unfortunately for Dino-boy, he's inherited an awful curse. He is a part of a long line of music lovers who can't carry a tune in a bucket. But, darn it if it stops us from trying. 

A little later we were doing the ceremonial "walk-down-each-aisle-in-the-grocery-store-even-when-you-only-need-a-few-things-because-there-MIGHT-be-something-you-forget-because-you-didn't-make-a-list," and we were getting close to the live [and tremendous sad looking] lobsters. My kids love those lobsters and have yet to figure out that they are (1) sad and (2) someone else's food. For Nora and Dino-boy, it's like a small trip to a zoo. A few aisles away from the lobsters and Dino-boy proclaims loudly, "Daddy, something really smells like crabs!" I knew what he meant. You now know what he meant [for those not following, he meant 'lobsters' but said crabs, stay with us.] But, apparently, the three guilty-looking college coeds near us did not know what he meant. They heard 'crabs' and started laughing and looking around. I looked at them and shook my head. I played it off with a, "Haha, kids say the darndest things," and mumbled under my breath, "stay in school and make good and healthy sexual decisions." For a brief moment, I thought about singing for them a song from "True Love Waits: the Musical" that my youth group put on in the late-90's. There's hand motions, box steps, and the whole shebang. But, I didn't feel like the Dino-boy was an adequate backup singer [and we only had one shot and doing it right] nor did I really have time for such life lessons. I can't be sure because I haven't checked the security camera footage, but I'm guessing when I walked away, it looked something like this:


I am finding that the secret to getting things done at night is to forego sitting down. It's not rocket science. If you just keep moving and doing, it'll be far easier than giving yourself a few minutes of rest and then starting to do something again. For me, it never turns into just a few minutes of relaxation. If I sit down, I turn the motor off. I tap out of productive living and work into more of an amoeba-state that doesn't communicate much and eats whatever it can find nearby. Before I sat down to relax for the night, I put the groceries away, swept and mopped the kitchen floor, did two loads of laundry, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed the carpet. The kids even helped... by going to bed. But, before Nora went to bed, she begged me to write a note. She told me that she had something she needed to write down and keep with her. After she was asleep and I was able to relax, I read her note. Here it is:


For those that can't read the handwriting of a kindergartener, let me translate for you [I asked for her help]:

Things you are good at:
Dad you are good at taking care of children.
Finn you are good at cheering.
Mom you are good at love.
I am good at writing.

I miss my wife so much. She's my best friend and my partner in life. She has learned to manage all the ugly parts of me and I have learned to be less ugly because of her. Yesterday, however, without the safety net of my wife and familial glue, my daughter told me that I'm good at taking care of her and her brother. All my insecurities were met with a crushing blow of defeat by the misspellings and grammatical errors of a wonderful 5-year old. Honestly, I work hard at being a good dad. Good parents don't happen accidentally. Like any other life discipline, it takes time and energy that you don't always want to exhibit and give. There are days when I'm not a terrific example of love and grace and mercy but, above being a great writer or effective pastor, being a caring and engaged dad is something I really want to be. I went to bed with a smile on my face and thanking Christ for such a crazy, beautiful, and lovely life. 

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Day 2: Dino-Boy, Taming the Shrew(d) Hair, and Life Without the Wizard

Finley wore his dinosaur hat to the babysitter's house today. He's been wearing it everywhere. My parenting philosophy for my Dino-boy goes thusly: he'll one day figure out that he's not, in fact, a dinosaur. Some kid or adult will undoubtedly be having a bad day [probably caused by their father who didn't allow them to be a dinosaur] and feel the need to rip that cold hard truth from his poor heart and it's not going to be me. So, I let him wear his dino-hat whenever he wants. It's actually the top to a costume my wife made for him a few years ago. It looks like this: 


We have only been without my wife and youngest son, Harry, since Saturday. They are on a trek to Romania to test Harry's wizardry skills and to visit family. They'll return to us in 10 more [long] days. Until then, our stated family goal is "Survival is love. Love is survival." I've talked to them about putting each other's needs before our own and how we help each other when things are different [like when we're surviving without something really, really important to us.] If this mantra doesn't work out, our goal will simply evolve to: SURVIVE: EVERYONE FOR YOURSELVES! RUN!!! SAVE YOURSELVES!!!! WE'VE BEEN ABANDONED!!!!!! 

I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that, though. 

My alarm went off earlier today than normal. There are few things that I dislike more than being late, so I compensated by getting up well before the sun rose. My daughter tried to convince me that it was still night. I told her, "With that attitude, it is still night." No one really knew what I meant by that comment [including myself], but they didn't really question it either so I turned around confidently and went to make breakfast. It was clearly a moment that I needed to retort with something parental, but I'm not always adept at coming up with those bits of sage wisdom. I am learning that a key to successful parenting is sounding confident in bad advice and axioms. It doesn't necessarily have to make any sense, as long as it sounds true-ish and is said with the confidence of a brilliant scientist. "Make your bed or the trolls under your bed will eat your blankets." "Eat all of your food or I'll give it to the brother we've got locked in the basement that you've never met because he didn't eat his food." I'll probably never be asked to write a parenting book, though. 

Dino-boy started the day crying. He has yet to figure out that his brother will not be back anytime soon. He went to The Wizard's bedroom and found no occupants. Explaining the concept of time to a 3-year old is quite the exercise.

ME: Mommy and the Wizard won't be back for 10 more days. 
DINO-BOY: Oh. So, we'll all go grocery shopping tonight?
ME: Wait. Are you serious? 10 days. 
DINO-BOY: Is that soon? Or later? 
ME: It's 10 days. Not soon. A week from Wednesday.
DINO-BOY: So, they're coming back on Wednesday? 
ME: No. A week FROM Wednesday.

Tonight before bed, we're going to sit down and go over the intricacies of the Gregorian calendar. He'll have some fun facts to impress his friends at preschool on Tuesday. Either that, or he'll be crying on Wednesday when he finds out that his mom and brother haven't returned from the land-o-Romans. BUT, DAD, YOU SAID THEY'D BE BACK ON WEDNESDAY!! Nora and I will then take a vote to see if he'll continue in our newly formed familial alliance or not. Understanding the nuances of the Gregorian calendar is a must. 

Speaking of my lovely Nora, we strategically got her hair cut in a more management hair style before my wife left. We know my limits. Braiding hair is just not happening for me. Prior to her new do, she was sporting her best impression of Rapunzel. Trying to do something with her Rapunzel hair would be like starting out with a marathon after my lung surgery. It just wouldn't be prudent. You have to know your limitations as a parent, folks. Now she just looks like a miniature version of my wife. 


Something happened to my daughter over night when I wasn't looking. I haven't decided what to make of it. Either she: 

1. survived a tornado
2. had a run-in with a vicious hair-messing badger, or...
3. was the victim of a weird robbery where the perp didn't take anything but gave noogies to the only 5-year old in the house. 

Her hair was a mess. I asked her if she knew how to fix it. She said that she did. But, here's the thing; she lied. Her attempts to fix her own hair was met with futility and disgust (on Dino-boy's face and my own.) I grabbed the comb that looks like it came from a horror movie and started going to town. There was tears and gnashing of teeth, possibly even some blood on the scalp. Dino-boy went to his room and changed into some sackcloth to denote the mourning that should happen for the fallen hair. But, after a few minutes, the chaos was starting to get tamed. The knots were out, the tears were dried, and we still weren't late for school. 

One problem. Though the hair was straight-ish and the wildebeest previously living on her head was freshly slaughtered, there was still a decent amount of renegade strands of hair that went rogue. They floated towards the ceiling and mocked the comb that I just used to destroy their will. I did the only thing I knew how to do to manage unruly hair. I went to get some of my "products." Now, we should probably get this out of the way; I am a man that uses a decent amount of hair products. Most of them are "old" hair products that your grandfather probably swears by. I love them as well. They work. Save your modern-man Crew gel for the next guy, I'm using Pinaud's Clubman and you can tell by the smell. If you look through my medicine cabinet, you'll also find some hair tonics that work masterfully at adding a bit of character to an uninspiring head of hair. 

I reached for the hair tonic. Nora looked at me with a sense of panic. 

NORA: Daddy, is this what mommy uses in her hair?
ME: No. Mommy's not cool enough to use this product. Only really cool people use it. Plus, she's not a huge fan of the awesome smell. 
NORA: Will it make me smell like a man?
ME: No. It will make you smell awesome. Like some men do. But, it will also make those lame stragglers in your hair be tamed. I'm out of other solutions, sweetheart. It HAS to be this way. 
NORA [resigned to the failure of this moment]: Ok. 

It ended up looking well and not smelling like a man. We got to school on time even. 

Tonight I will pick up my two Muggles and we'll attempt to grocery shop. So far, we're all missing my wife something fierce, but we're surviving. After all, survival is love. Love is survival. For now. 

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My Favorites of 2013

For those curious about what helped form and move me in 2013, here is a list of my favorite things. I hope you enjoy!



It was a really good year for music. Highly anticipated albums from Josh Ritter, Arcade Fire, Shad, Typhoon, and Volcano Choir (Justin Vernon's side project) were released. Some new artists emerged on to the scene as well. Among my favorites are the Olms, the Lone Bellow, Jake Bugg, and Air Review. I've tried to limit my choices to no more than ten when applicable.

Favorite Songs of 2013

  1. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent [link]
    "Yeah then I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing..."
  2. Weight by Mikal Cronin [link]
    "No, be bolder, golden light for miles, sing for love in colder portions of my mind, I'm not ready for the weight again..."
  3. Artificial Light by Typhoon [link]
    "But I have no other place to keep you safe, but in my shaky ever shaking melody..."
  4. Love Don't Go by the Family Crest [link]
    "Oh, old love, you wanna step outside, find a place to run and hide?"
  5. Broken by Jake Bugg [link]
    "I'm waiting for you for I'm broken down..."
  6. Light by Sleeping at Last [link]
    "I’ll give you everything I have. I’ll teach you everything I know. I promise I’ll do better."
  7. Ithaca by Tyler Lyle [link]
    "In a beautiful dream you were walking. In the city by the sea and you wanted me like I wanted you I wish that were true..."
  8. America's Son by Air Review [link]
    "Would the poor be on my mind? Would the wretchedness I try to hide carry me away, would I be saved?"
  9. My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me by Little Green Cars [link]
    "So long you're gone just like I always knew but I'm still here waiting for you..."
  10. The Mute by Radical Face [link]
    "And through them days I was a ghost atop my chair. My dad considered me a cross he had to bear and in my head I'd sing apologies and stare..."

To listen to the rest of my favorite songs from 2013, click on this Spotify list. There are many, many more songs that I've enjoyed this year.



My favorite songs often differ from my favorite albums, though some collaboration may exist. There are some albums that I really enjoy from start-to-finish but don't really have a stand-out track on them. Yet, it's still one of my favorite albums. Conversely, there are some songs that locate themselves on albums that are just terrible. If not for one great song, the album would be terrible. So, the following is a list of my favorite albums of the year [in order]:

  1. Typhoon: White Lighter
    Typhoon is an indie symphony of terrific melodies, dynamic instrumentation, and aggressively cynical yet hopeful lyrics. And I love everything about it. This may be my favorite album of the last five years even. I was able to see Typhoon in Chicago in September and they were equally great in concert.
  2. Volcano Choir: Repave
    I'm a big fan of Justin Vernon. Not only is an accomplished front man and songwriter of Bon Iver, he's also a pretty great producer. He produced one of my favorite albums of last year; Kathleen Edwards' Voyageur. While the similarities to Bon Iver are fairly labeled against Volcano Choir, it's no doubt that through a few listens that this is something different. It's indie rock at its finest. 
  3. Radical Face: The Family Tree: The Branches
    I first fell in love with Radical Face after the 2007 release of "Ghosts." I love Ben Cooper's voice, his percussive use of instruments, and the poetry he weaves throughout his songs. Beautiful and lovely stuff. 
  4. Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In
    This album harkens back to the wonderful country and western singers that predates my time. Rose is like a more talented Zooey Deschanel [don't shoot me, oh violent She & Him'ers, because it's true.] I'm surprised at how under-the-radar that she's stayed, especially since this is her second great album.
  5. Hey Marseilles: Lines We Trace
    It's a band composed of a gentle and subdued vocals, an often prominent accordion player, and flowing violin and cello parts, among other things. You can tell that the band isn't just influenced by modern indie rock, but classically trained musicians that light up other worlds known to modern listeners. This all results in songs of depth in an increasingly shallow indie-rock world. 
  6. Josh Ritter: The Beasts in the Track
    I'm a big Josh Ritter fan. His music has been foundational to my emotional development over the years. Perhaps I'm being a bit too overdramatic, but still. He's been a constant in my headphones for quite some time. He's one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the modern generation. He writes of love, loss, war, peace, and everything in between. He's worth a listen.
  7. Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg
    I'm in love with 50's and 60's rock and roll. If you've got to the 70's and 80's, then you've went too far for me. Jake Bugg was 17 or 18 years old when he recorded his self-titled debut album. Yet, his vocals, song structures, and lyrics are reminders of the great songwriters from your grandparents age. Hipster-warning: This album is probably best listened to on vinyl.
  8. Keaton Henson: Birthdays
    Henson is reportedly a slightly reclusive sufferer of stage fright. Most of his performances are in small art galleries, clubs, and/or museums. He sings in a falsetto in many of his folk-rock songs, yet it comes together in beautiful ways. His music is fragile and delicate, but stands strong in the face of whatever he's writing against... love lost, painful pondering, and lies being told. 
  9. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
    The National's albums are meant to be dissected. They are meant to be enjoyed all the way through, from the first beat to the last lyric. When I was first listening to their latest album, I liked some of the songs but nothing really jumped out at me. Admittedly, I have a very high standard for one of my favorite bands. However, when I let the entire album play over and over again, I started to understand the flow and appreciated it in a new light. I really, really like this album.
  10. Mikal Cronin: MKII
    Mikal Cronin came out of nowhere to me. I think he was one of the great Spotify recommendations that I followed throughout the year. For those more versed in indie music, he's not new. I've loved listening to this indie rock album. It's well-thought, not overly produced, and refreshing in a crowded indie-rock genre. 

Other albums I've enjoyed but didn't make the top-10: Air Review [Low Wishes], Arcade Fire [Arcade Fire], Bombadil [Metrics of Affection], Brooke Waggoner [Originator], Evening Hymns [Spectral Dusk], Five Iron Frenzy [Engines of a Million Plots], Foy Vance [Joy of Nothing], Frightened Rabbit [Pedestrian Verse], Leagues [You Belong Here], Lily Kershaw [Midnight in the Garden], Little Green Cars [Absolute Zero], The Lone Bellow [The Lone Bellow], Mandolin Orange [This Side of Jordan], Noah & the Whale [Heart of Nowhere], The Olms [The Olms], Penny & Sparrow [Tenboom], Phosphorescent [Muchacho], Shad [Flying Colours], Twenty One Pilots [Vessel], Villagers [Awayland], 



The following list will likely be lame. I didn't watch many films this year for whatever reason. There are some that I enjoyed, however. Notably absent from the list are the critically acclaimed films from this year that I haven't had time to see yet: namely 12 Years a Slave, Her, Gravity, and Captain Phillips among others.

Favorite Films I Watched in 2013

  1. Of Gods and Men [trailer]
    This is cheating as it was originally released in 2010. But, I just watched it this year and was profoundly affected be it. It tells the story of a group of monks living peacefully during the 1996 Algerian Civil War. It can be slow at times, but that's part of the monastic feel that appealed to me. Watch this film. 
  2. Undefeated [trailer]
    I'm cheating again. This was released in 2011 but I watched it on Netflix just this year. It's still on Netflix for those that want to enjoy it. The summary on wiki:  The film documents the struggles of a high school football team, the Manassas Tigers of Memphis, as they attempt a winning season after years of losses. The team is turned around by coach Bill Courtney, who helps form a group of young men into an academic and athletic team.
  3. Iron Man 3 [trailer]
    I loved it. RDJ's supreme confidence as Tony Stark is just so much fun to watch. 
  4. Sound City [trailer]
    My favorite rock-n-roller David Eric Grohl directed a documentary about the famous-but-now-defunct recording studio Sound City. Grohl's own band [a little known band from Seattle called Nirvana] recorded at Sound City in 1991. But, it's as much about history as it is about the signs of the digital times and the future repercussions of digital progression and advancement. 
  5. Warm Bodies [trailer]
    My guilty pleasure choice. The inner-teenager within us all loves a good young adult fiction piece from time to time. Warm Bodies is funny, creative, and tells the story of someone coming back alive from the chaotic mess of depression... or is it back alive from being a zombie? Or is it a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet? The zombie genre is overplayed, sure. But this was fun. 


Like my film list, I will modify my "favorite of..." list for books to include the books that I've read for the first time this year. There are so many books that I never get a chance to read the year they are released. I want this list to include those that I've read for the first time this year even if they were released in 2012 or before. Most of the books I read are to help prepare for sermon series or education writing. Some were assigned by a professor, some were recommending by friends, and some were just found by chance. Here's a list of my 10 favorite books that I read for the first time this year:

  1. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson [Amazon]
    Someone check my temperature: a Congregationalist Calvinist has the #1 book on my list this year. But rarely have I fell in love with literary characters as much as I did in the Gilead. I typically don't read a ton of fiction, but Robinson's talent at writing fiction is indisputable. I absolutely loved this book. It was written in 2004.
  2. Come Out My People!: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond by Wes Howard-Brook [Amazon]
    Originally released in May 2012, this book goes through the entire narrative of Scripture connecting the dots of empire and imperialism and the Kingdom of God. Howard-Brook was a lawyer but left law to become a theologian at Seattle University, a Jesuit Catholic University. Though I don't know this for sure [as I'm too lazy to look it up], I believe that Howard-Brook and his wife are now Mennonites, which would totally fall in line with the content of his book.
  3. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman [Amazon
    It's unfortunate that you probably have never heard of Howard Thurman. Thurman's life is truly something remarkable. After growing up in the segregated south [b.1899], he graduated as the valedictorian of Morehouse College. He became a pastor and then the first dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University. He helped found and pastor the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. He then became the first black dean at Marsh Chapel at Boston University. He was profoundly influential on Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders while demonstrating what true racial diversity can look like in his life and career. This book was written in 1949.
  4. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns [Amazon]
    The Evolution isn't a terribly long book at only 192 pages, but it's an important read to help clarify some rhetoric on the many sides of the cosmology debate that Christians have vigorously and admittedly maintained over the last few hundred years. Enns earned his Ph.D. at Harvard and teaches at Eastern University. This book was released in 2012.
  5. The Parables of the Kingdom by Robert Farrar Capon [Amazon]
    This book dates back to 1985, when I was four years old. No one read it to me then, so I decided to read it at 31. This is the first book in Capon's parables trilogy. Capon's attempts to connect Christ's parables with the entirety of the narrative is commendable and even enjoyable to read. I found this book very helpful in better understanding the often misunderstood implications of the Kingdom parables of Christ. 
  6. Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by Jean Vanier & Stanley Hauerwas [Amazon]
    The Bible makes all sorts of peculiar statements about the last becoming first and the weak becoming strong in God's economy. What does this mean? It's tough to believe that this is true when everything I see suggests that the strong become stronger and the weak become weaker. Hauerwas is an ethicist from Duke (now retired). Vanier founded the L'Arche Communities. The do a great job at exploring this tension. This book was written in 2008.
  7. The Longing for Home: Reflections at Mid-Life by Frederick Buechner [Amazon]
    You can pick this book up on Kindle for $.99. It is a collection of some thoughts and essays by Buechner first published in 1996. Buechner talks about home being twofold: the place that we remember and the place that we dream about. This book served a purpose as we were fighting some of my health issues this year. 
  8. Community That Is Christian by Julie Gorman [Amazon]
    Gorman's book is a primer for small groups in churches, but it's really much more than that. It's about the nature of community and how relationships are formed. I'm a bit skeptical of one-size-fits-all small group models. This book helped solidify some thoughts on the importance of community and how to organically handle and foster community development in a place like State Street. This book was written in 2002.
  9. Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton [Amazon]
    We feel a sense of calling and vocation to the urban center of our small city. It's a transient and difficult area to work that often leaves us with frustrations and challenges. Lupton's words were encouraging and hard to read. They challenged the status quo of how ministry is done in urban arenas. They also gave hope that, though the Church has sought to abandon these areas, Christ has not. It's a good read for those passionate about ministry at the center of the city. This book was written in 2010.
  10. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee [Amazon]
    I read this at the same time that our book club read Jeff Chu's "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" with our book club at church. Both seek to tackle a difficult question; how will the church proceed in a complex world with complex questions about the nature of human sexuality? It's no secret that the Church has not handled these questions well in the past. So much hate and division has happened that looks nothing like Christ. I found both books to be a breath of fresh air in this debate. This book was written in 2012. 

OK. It's your turn. What books/music/movies/albums did I miss that I should check out? Maybe it'll make my 2014 list.