Friday, December 29, 2006

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2006

Yet again, we come to my year-end review based upon my year's experiences of various media. Each category is in no particular order...I just numbered them for practical reasons.

Five Books I've Enjoyed or Have Found Enriching in 2006
1. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton - This was my introduction to Thomas Merton, and since reading it I've acquired five of his other books. I admit that I don't identify with him completely. That usually happens when he veers into ultra-Catholic mode. Otherwise, he has wonderful insight into humility and spirituality that Western Christianity could use more of, especially in a landscape of American Christendom dotted with megachurches and lots of defending the faith at the expense of actually doing anything out of faith.

2. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - I've mentioned before that I have plans to re-read this book every year. This is a novel about pastors, but it is also a novel about fathers and sons. The narrator is a pastor and father near the end of his life writing a memoir for his very young son, recounting his own struggles with faith and relationships and church life. There is some point in the middle where the story is neglected in favor of longer theological musings which are interesting but not altogether integral. Or maybe I'll see how they are integral the next time I read it.

3. Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll - Yes, believe it or not, Driscoll made the list. This book is one that I've been remembering bits and pieces from all year round...the good parts on church polity, not the homophobic parts or the horrible attempts at humor. His writing is otherwise accessible and transparent, and I give him credit for (usually) admitting his faults along the way. I used his "attractional-missional" discussion during a recent Consistory meeting to help introduce what I want to accomplish over the next couple years.

4. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne - There is no more powerful or prophetic a book for the institutional church than what Shane Claiborne has written. Shane is an "ordinary radical" who lives in an intentional Christian community in a poorer section of Philadelphia where he and his house seeks to build relationships among those in the neighborhood. His story is an indictment of churches overly concerned with budgets, membership, and building upkeep at the expense of relationships and service. It's a simply incredible read.

5. Don't Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock - Spurlock's commentary on the fast food industry (really, the food industry as a whole) was quite eye-opening. He details the work of lobbyist groups set up as "research councils," gives insight into the hows and whys of who the food industry targets, and generally advocates fresh food over cheap thawed heat-lamped crap.

Five Movies I've Enjoyed in 2006

1. Garden State - A whimsical, understated story about a guy who comes home to help bury his mother and rediscover himself. The characters are colorful, and the story is strong.

2. Serenity - A movie with three more seasons of Firefly crammed into 90 minutes or so. Joss Whedon did a good job wrapping everything up, but it's a shame that this movie had to be made at all.

3. X-Men 3 - Not as character-driven as the other two, but an enjoyable action movie. It leaves plenty of room for more, but they shouldn't make more just to make them.

4. Casino Royale - I had more of a passing interest in the James Bond franchise before I saw this. I've seen a good chunk of the others, but this more gritty portrayal helped make me a real fan.

5. Clerks 2 - When I first heard about this, I thought it would be out in theaters for a week and then sent to DVD. But this movie is one of Kevin Smith's more clever offerings in his New Jersey Chronicles. Plenty of inside jokes from the other movies, a few cameos by Smith's buddies, and a contribution to the Star Wars-Lord of the Rings debate (I didn't know there was one, but I guess there is).

Five TV Shows I've Enjoyed in 2006

1. Angel - We watched the entire series over the course of this year, and in terms of character development and the movement of the group through the different phases of their dealing with Wolfram and Hart, it was fascinating to watch it evolve. It was darker and more intelligent than Buffy, and in contrast with Buffy's "bad guy of the season" mentality, was one continuous story over five seasons.

2. The Sopranos - The new episodes shown during 2006 were lower key than previous seasons, even with Tony getting shot in the premiere. As a whole, this season built a lot of tension within and between families...sure, these were lower key, but the last ones set to air early next year should be absolutely explosive.

3. Entourage - This season witnessed the success of Aquaman and Vince's subsequent firing from the sequel and blackballing from the studio. In addition, Vince's guys get into a fight with Seth Green's guys, and Ari is fired after botching Vince's next project deal. Hopefully this doesn't mean the end of Ari in the series. Maybe season four will be all about Ari trying to make things up to Vince.

4. Firefly - Joss Whedon's lesser-known underappreciated post-Buffy project. Also a smarter show than Buffy...but really Buffy is a clever teen drama, so I'm being unfair. Firefly is a space western following a crew of smugglers through the universe as they deal with people more shady than them, run from cannibals, and try to stay off the Alliance's radar. It really sucks that this show was cut so short. Have I mentioned that?

5. The Colbert Report - I'm not a "regular" watcher per se, but I catch it when I can. Colbert is always brilliant. His "The Word" segments are my favorite, followed close by his interviews with seemingly oblivious political figures. Look up his interview with Lynn Westmoreland on Youtube for the best one by far.

Five CDs I've Enjoyed Listening To in 2006

1. Robert Randolph & the Family Band - Colorblind: Randolph combines jazz, soul, rock, and gospel and a lot of energy. This CD in particular keeps moving.

2. Keller Williams - Stage: To get a true sense of what Williams does, you have to listen to his live album. He's up there all by himself, plays a whole slew of instruments, and sings incredibly clever lyrics.

3. KT Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope: I don't know what exactly attracted me to her particular blend of acoustic folk/rock. I think it's because I found "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" to be so freaking catchy. Sucked me right in.

4. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife: This one took some getting used to, more than Picaresque. This is more of a theme album. Their musicianship is excellent and they can still sound so happy while singing about death and despair.

5. Gov't Mule - High and Mighty: More of the same from Mule: hard drums, grinding guitar, and Warren Haynes singing something about how someone screwed up. But that's enough. These guys bring it every time.

Five Blogs I've Enjoyed Reading in 2006

1. Wayfaring in Sneakers - The anonymously written journey of a now-former minister. SneakerProphet hit some major snags in his plans this year and wrote openly of his feelings and situation the whole time. I think it was the humanity of this blog that kept me visiting during the second half of the year.

2. - I forget just how I came across Bob Hyatt, but I've enjoyed his stories of joy and struggle related to church planting and emerging church issues. This was one that I made sure to check almost daily for updates. While listed at #2, remember that numbering is just for convenience. If I were truly ranking these, Bob would probably be the #1 blog I've read this year.

3. Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary - Meg is doing an incredible thing. She attends a "conservative" Reformed seminary in Michigan. While there, she relates stories of enduring some of her male classmates' fear, as well as her own joys and insecurities. It's a wonderfully transparent and whimsical look at seminary life. I'd recommend some of her reflections from her summer experience, particularly her entry on holding a memorial service for a co-worker.

4. Internet Monk - Once again, Michael Spencer makes the list for his "post-evangelical" views. I'm continually amazed at the length and depth of his essays. He's a little more "conservative" than me on more than one issue, but the way he thoughtfully and respectfully shares his views helps me to understand positions that differ from my own, and also help me think through said positions. iMonk also added a weekly podcast, which make for some nice background while I mill around in the den.

5. RealLivePreacher - While I just said that numbering on this list doesn't mean anything, I will admit that I put RLP at #5 on purpose. While I enjoy what he writes, I don't make it a point to check for updates as often. So he's on this list again this year more for his reputation. He sits in my sidebar as a constant reminder that he's there whenever I need him, and he always comes through. RLP is my blogger in the clutch.