Friday, December 30, 2005

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2005

Welcome to an extra-special edition of the Pop Culture Roundup, where I review my year's experiences in the various categories I've put forth through the months. The lists are in no particular order of preference. Perhaps I shouldn't have even numbered them. Oh well.

Five books I've enjoyed or found enriching in 2005

1. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller - Miller shares stories from his own faith journey and what he's learned through them. This is a book where spirituality is borne from experience. He doesn't spend a whole lot of time with doctrine, but instead wonders what a Christian life looks like.

Help: the Original Human Dilemma by Garret Keizer - I wasn't sure how I'd like this at first, but once I got started I wanted to read more. Keizer tries to reconcile our call to help others with how others might recieve it. He struggles with when help is appropriate or truly needed. He wonders why we should bother when some so readily take advantage. The stream of consciousness style can be a little nerve-racking, but he raises some good questions.

Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski - I just finished this book the other day and found it a convicting read. Mike decides during a sermon one day to 'be the Christian he thinks he is.' So he plans to live homeless for five months on the streets of cities such as Washington D.C., San Diego, and Denver. The fact that he had the courage to do this was enough for me, though it's far from perfect (he censors the conversations he has with people he meets, sometimes a message comes across that seems to say, 'every time we prayed, God gave us what we needed...more people should do that'). He doesn't pretend that this wasn't a somewhat controlled endeavor. Nevertheless, some of the stories he includes are incredible (churches that wouldn't give them the time of day, getting kicked out of a cafe because he wasn't a paying customer right after he'd bought a cup of coffee). I keep coming back to that line: 'be the Christian you think you are.' That'll preach.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling - My second-favorite HP book after Goblet of Fire, and some of Rowling's best writing. One of the characters is set up so well as Harry's unlikely ally in fairly subtle ways (as he really has been the entire series). I'll be interested to see how they adapt this one for the movie.

From Beruit to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman - I was looking for a good introduction to all the crap going on in the Middle East, and this was what I was looking for. Friedman is a journalist who has been covering the events in Israel and Palestine for the better part of 30 years, so he's able to offer a firsthand account. He doesn't romanticize or whitewash either side, which I appreciated the most.

Five movies I've enjoyed in 2005

1. March of the Penguins - Who doesn't love penguins? I got this for Christmas and watched it that night with the family. It documents the penguins' mating cycle. If you wear your theo-glasses while watching it, you can learn about community, faithfulness, and love.

2. Batman Begins - Renewed my faith in the Batman franchise tenfold. I saw it once in the theater, and then the DVD sat in our rack for months before we watched it again the other night. I'd forgotten just how good, how even-paced, it really was. And the cast is amazing.

3. I, Robot - One of Will Smith's better efforts. A more mature Men in Black-type character and some cool special effects. Interesting to consider issues of identity after watching this.

4. Napoleon Dynamite - A stupidly funny movie. I still quote some of Napoleon's lines around the house.

5. Shaun of the Dead - In the spirit of Army of Darkness, the everyman battles evil with whatever he can find.

Five CDs I've enjoyed in 2005

1. Picaresque - The Decemberists: A friend sent a copy of this CD to me after suggesting that we see them in concert in Cleveland. I was hooked by their eccentric stylings and surprised by their live show.

2. Barenaked for the Holidays - Barenaked Ladies: I don't have many Christmas CDs, and this was one that I picked up just this year. BNL add their own spin to a lot of traditional tunes and contribute some new ones.

3. Stand Up - Dave Matthews Band: If DMB releases fresh material, one can count on them showing up on my list. This is one of their most streamlined albums to date (next to Everyday), but still full of light and fun tunes.

4. Simple Things - Zero 7: A seminary friend introduced me to Chill music, and this was a group that stood out to me. I picked up this album and have been doing nothing to it for the past few months.

5. Passion Hymns - Passion Worship Band: This features some modern arrangements of hymns tastefully done (mostly). A great worship album.

Five TV shows I've enjoyed in 2005

1. Arrested Development - America's most underappreciated dysfunctional family. One of the best-written comedies on TV that people aren't watching for whatever reason.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I saw seasons 1, 2, and 3 this year in their entirety. I then got my wife season 4 for Christmas. We'll be starting that soon.

3. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit - It seems like this show is always on one channel or another, and I always get sucked in.

4. Pardon the Interruption - An easy way to catch the day's top sports stories in soundbites lasting 30 seconds to a minute each. Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser are witty and keep things moving.

Five Blogs I've enjoyed reading in 2005

1. Real Live Preacher - It took me a bit to really catch on to RLP. I noticed him in a substantial amount of blog sidebars, but didn't really think to visit. Now I see what the fuss is about. RLP tries to be as honest as he can about the failures and triumphs he's experienced as a pastor, and shares them with incredible clarity and creativity. His book is awesome, too.

2. The Parish - Greg regularly questions the depth and integrity of church practice and leadership. He's a faithful critic of the megachurch phenomenon and the Evangelical movement, and often presents his vision of church life in terms of community and transformation (two of my favorite theology terms).

3. Internet Monk - I just recently discovered Michael's blog. He's a hardcore writer. I'm often surprised at the length of his entries (which he puts out nearly every day), and they're thoughtful and well-written besides. He's inspired me to take up Thomas Merton, whom he considers an influence.

4. Wesley Blog - A blog focused on issues facing United Methodists. This blog provides a balance of sorts for me. Shane seems to consider himself a 'conservative' (though I might even say he's more moderate). I go here to dialogue with more 'conservative' folks and hear their views. It's one of the more respectful dialogue spaces I've encountered.

5. Chuck Currie/Progressive Protestant - It's a tie for #5. These blogs cover(ed) similar territory: 'liberal' Christianity and politics. Chris T. of PP has since moved to a different focus at a new space. Chuck was one of my 'gateway drug' blogs that got me interested in starting my own space (he was also a classmate of mine at Eden). I stumbled upon PP right around the time he and Shane began a dialogue to dispel myths about 'conservative' and 'liberal' Christianity. PP was one I visited regularly.