May 2016 Pop Culture Roundup
1. I read Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed this month. I heard Ahmed at the Festival of Faith and Writing in April, during which he did a brief reading. I was intrigued enough to pick it up. This story follows Adoulla, who is advanced in age and the last of his kind as member of an order that hunts evil creatures. Incredibly weary of battle and the world in general, Adoulla is pulled into a conflict with a more powerful force than he has fought before, which involves the Khalif that rules the land and an expanding group of rebels with a charismatic leader. There were elements of Firefly and Star Wars that drew me in, but the world Ahmed establishes is fascinating all its own. I enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to more.
2. I also read Glorify by Emily C. Heath this month. Heath explores progressive Christianity's need to reclaim its center as a movement rooted in faith and discipleship, rather than solely action or results. Heath encourages progressive Christians to consider the theological grounding of pursuing important service and justice goals, and reflects on how these result from seeking to follow Jesus as opposed to tacking on the theology as an afterthought. It's my sense that my generation has been introducing an entire movement of seeking to get mainline denominations to-recommit to their core as Christ-followers, and this book gives an overview on why that is important.
3. We finished the second season of Daredevil this month, which first introduces Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, as he runs roughshod through several New York gangs. Even as Daredevil finally helps take him into custody, he learns enough about Castle's background to see that there's more behind the scenes than he first knew. Along with this appears Elektra, a former lover and fighting partner who enlists his help battling a mysterious group of ninjas called The Hand. One theme of the season is how stretched between multiple commitments the title character ends up becoming, and there come some difficult decisions as events develop. At times it felt like there was too much going on for the viewer as well as the characters, but overall it was an enjoyable season.
4. I'm a little late to the party, but this month I finally listened to (and watched) Beyonce's new album Lemonade. This album has made waves the past few weeks for several reasons: the release came as a surprise, it was accompanied by an hour-long film featuring powerful artistic visuals, it has a strong socially conscious message centered on the lives and experiences of black women. This is not "Bootylicious/Single Ladies" Beyonce. This work is incredibly eclectic and rich both musically and lyrically; expressing the full range of human emotion. The presenting issue on this album is a troubled relationship, but repeated closer listens reveal that there are deeper themes at work concerning identity, pride, courage, and freedom. Here's the trailer for the visual version of the album, as full videos of it are hard to come by:
5. I've been listening to and enjoying Art Angels by Grimes this month. I first heard "Flesh without Blood" a month or two ago and finally sat down to hear the entire thing. Grimes is solid pop-rock with electronic elements woven in. It can be peppy and upbeat as in "California" or "Flesh without Blood," quirky/primal as in "SCREAM," or more reflective and airy as in "laughing about not being normal" or "Life in the Vivid Dream." Here's a mashup of two music videos from Art Angels: