What I’m Listening To

23 Jan

MUSIC: it’s what keeps me going. I love music and I love sharing it with my friends. I’ve decided that every now and then I’ll post a few songs that have been in heavy rotation on my ipod. Feedback is welcome.

Also, please tell me if you’re unable to play these. I can always post youtube videos or links, but I’m gonna be pissed if I got a space upgrade so that I can upload mp3s and it doesn’t work. I’ve tested them and they play for me, but let me know if you have problems.

Here’s what I can’t stop listening to lately:

Gold Motel: I am in love with this aptly-titled album, Summer House, which feels like summer. What a great escape from this frigid weather. Every song is amazing, but Sunshine All Night is probably my favorite. It reminds me of my time in L.A.:
Arcade Fire: Suburban War, off of their 2010 album The Suburbs, is unequivocally the best song of 2010. We can’t “agree to disagree” on this one, you just listen to it repeatedly until you concur:
The New Pornographers: Amanda turned me onto this band last summer, and I’ve been dragging them back out lately. Again, this whole album is amazing, so it was hard to choose one song for you to sample. Here’s We End Up Together from their 2010 album Together:
Girl Talk: From the 2010 album All Day, here’s my favorite, Every Day:
Kanye West: I know he can be quite the arrogant asshole, but he’s also a genius. He and I both love many of the same bands (he’s a big fan of Daft Punk, TV on the Radio, etc), and I love hearing the indie rock influences in his work. Here’s one I’ve had on repeat, it’s from his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this is Lost in the World, featuring Bon Iver:
And lest you think I’ve been doing nothing but reliving 2010, I give you a couple of much older songs that are in my Top Played List of late:

Chris has turned me into a Talking Heads fan, and these are the two songs I play the most lately. This is Road to Nowhere, from their 1985 album, Little Creatures:
And this is Sugar On My Tongue, from their 1977 album,  77:
Now what have you been listening to?


The Porcupines and Solidarity

8 Dec

illustration by Ken Crane

I read this on Paulo Coelho’s blog today and can’t get it out of my head.  Something to think about:

During the Ice Age many animals died because of the cold. Seeing this situation, the porcupines decided to group together, so they wrapped up well and protected one another.

But they hurt one another with their thorns, and so then they decided to stay apart from one another.

They started to freeze to death again.
So they had to make a choice: either they vanished from the face of the earth or they accepted their neighbor’s thorns.

They wisely decided to stay together again. They learned to live with the small wounds that a very close relationship could cause, because the most important thing was the warmth given by the other.

And in the end they survived.

The Best Love Songs of the 21st Century (so far)

5 Sep

Click on a song name to watch a video (chosen for the sound quality and not visuals); click the artist name to go to their website.  You’re welcome to add your own favorites in the comments, but here are the very best love songs from the year 2000 to the present, according to me:

25.  I See You: The Duhks – Canada; World/Country/Folk; “I see you, for everything you are; in this sea of people, you’re the shining star; they fade away…”
24.  Sleeps With Butterflies: Tori Amos – LA by way of Maryland, born in North Carolina; Alt-Rock/Baroque/Piano Rock; “You say the word, you know I will find you, or if you need some time I don’t mind; I don’t hold on to the tail of your kite; I’m not like the girls that you’ve known, but I believe I’m worth coming home to; kiss away night, this girl only sleeps with butterflies…”
23.  Northern Lights: Bowerbirds – North Carolina; Indie-Folk; “I don’t need you to catch my wandering mind; And I don’t expect a southern girl to know the northern lights; And all I want is your eyes, in the morning as we wake for a short while…”
22.  The Only Exception: Paramore – Franklin, Tennessee (lead singer from Meridian, MS); Alt-Rock/Emo/Pop-Punk; “Up until now I had sworn to myself that I’m content with loneliness; Because none of it was ever worth the risk; Well, You, are, the only exception… You, are, the only exception…”
21.  Naked As We Came: Iron and Wine – aka Samuel Bean; Austin, TX by way of Florida by way of South Carolina; Folk Rock; “She says “If I leave before you, darling / Don’t you waste me in the ground” / I lay smiling like our sleeping children / One of us will die inside these arms / Eyes wide open, naked as we came…”
20.  Stillness Is The Move: Dirty Projectors – Brooklyn; Experimental Indie Rock; “after all that we’ve been through / I know we’ll make it after the wait / the question is a truth / there is nothing we can’t do / I’ll see you along the way baby / the stillness is the move”
19.  You Picked Me: A Fine Frenzy – Los Angeles; Indie Rock/Alt-Rock; “And all I can say, is you blow me away, Like an apple on a tree, hiding out behind the leaves, I was difficult to reach, but you picked me, Like a shell upon a beach, Just another pretty piece, I was difficult to see, but you picked me…”
18.  Big Red Heart: Tracy Bonham – Eugene, Oregon; Alt-Rock/Post-Grunge; “Suddenly oooo-oooh, suddenly oooo-ooohh, this big red heart, beats for you, beats me black and blue, and then it’s such a lonely view…” (close second: You’re My Is-ness – no video available)
17.  Reasons to Love You: Meiko – Los Angeles by way of Roberta, Georgia; Adult Alt./Indie-Pop/Folk; “I wanna fall asleep with you tonight, I wanna know that I am safe when you hold me tight, I wanna feel like I wanna feel forever…”
16.  Anyone Else But You: Moldy Peaches – New York; Anti-Folk/Garage Rock/Indie-Rock/Lo-Fi/Comedy; “You’re a part time lover and a full time friend, the monkey on you’re back is the latest trend, I don’t see what anyone can see, in anyone else… but you…”
15.  You’ve Got the Love: Florence and the Machine – London; Alternative/Indie-Rock/Soul/Baroque Pop/Art Rock; “Time after time I think “Oh Lord what’s the use?”, time after time I think it’s just no good; Sooner or later in life, the things you love you lose, but you got the love I need to see me through…”
14.  Light You Up: Shawn Mullins – Atlanta; Alt-Rock/Country Rock; “Everybody wants a real deal, everybody wants to cop a good feel, everybody want more money, everybody wanna taste o’ yo honey… I just want to light you up, light you up, like a fire, I just want to turn you on, turn you on, and take you higher…”
13.  The Girl: City and Colour – aka Dallas Green; Ontario, Canada; Acoustic/Folk/Alt-Country; “When you cry a piece of my heart dies, knowing that I may have been the cause; if you were to leave, fulfill someone else’s dreams, I think I might totally be lost; You don’t ask for no diamond rings, no delicate string of pearls, that’s why I wrote this song to sing, my beautiful girl…”
12.  No One’s Gonna Love You: Band of Horses – Seattle; Indie Rock/Alt-Country/Southern Rock; “We are the ever-living ghost of what once was, but no one is ever gonna love you more than I do, no one’s gonna love you more than I do…” (close second: For Annabelle)
11.  Might Tell You Tonight: Scissor Sisters – New York; Glam Rock/Disco/Pop/Alternative/Electroclash; “Life seems so much slower with your toothbrush by the mirror, can I make it any clearer?  And I just might say it tonight, I just might say it tonight, I just might tell you tonight that I love you, and you should stay all my life…”
10.  Hot Summer Night: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Fayston, Vermont; Indie-Alt/Blues/Rock; “It won’t stop raining, and there ain’t no explaining why I feel, feel, feel a warm summer breeze; Oh babe you make me feel like it’s a hot summer night, even though it’s the middle of the winter and it’s really bad weather, it’s a hot summer night, when I’m next to you, baby”
9.  Need You More and More: Donna the Buffalo – New York; Zydeco/Folk Rock/Country Rock/Bluegrass; “Romantics set aside, with my cheap suit and a comb, one smell of your armpit, is proof enough that I’m home; Need you, more and more; Need your love, more and more…”
8.  Die Alone: Ingrid Michaelson – New York; Indie Pop/Indie Folk; “I never thought I could love anyone but myself, now I know I can’t love anyone, but you; You make me think that maybe I won’t die alone… Maybe I won’t die alone…” (close second: The Way I Am)
7.  Birthday: the Bird and the Bee – Los Angeles; Indie Pop/Indie Rock/Synthpop; “Hold on, hold on, keep holding on to me, I will love you from the bottom, no one holds you better than me; Hold on, hold on, doin’ the best we can, I will love you on your birthday, I will love you better than them…” (close second: My Love)
6.  Us: Regina Spektor – New York by way of Moscow, USSR; Anti-Folk/Baroque Pop/ Indie Rock; “They’ll name a city after us, and later say it’s all our fault, then they’ll give us a talking to, then they’ll give us a talking to, because they’ve got years of experience…” (close second: Samson)
5.  January Wedding: The Avett Brothers – Concord, North Carolina; Indie Rock/Folk/Folk Punk/Roots Rock; “She’s talkin’ to me with her voice down so low I barely hear her, but I know what she’s sayin’, I understand because my heart and hers are the same; And in January we’re gettin’ married…”
4.  Drunk With The Thought of You: Sheryl Crow – Kennett, Missouri; Pop/Alt-Rock/Roots Rock/Folk Rock/Country Rock; “I could wait my whole life for this moment to come, with a long list of beautiful chances I’ve blown; Well if love is a cocktail of all that you do, I get drunk with the thought of you…”
3.  To Be Loved: Joan As Police Woman – Norwalk, Connecticut; Singer-songwriter; I will never know but forever I ask, how I got so lucky; All this time proceeding, silent in processional; The words, they escape me through my singing cage, of how I love you too…”
2.  Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble: Lucero – Memphis; Alt. Country/Southern Rock/Cowpunk; “Now, I believe you should run with me until this Texas sun falls into the sea; If I shed this skin of iron and this breath of kerosene, darling, would you take a chance on me?” (close second: Smoke)
1.  All The Time: Mike and Ruthy – New York; Folk/Singer-Songwriter; “I wanna fall in love, I wanna call it love, I wanna haul up all this love with you all the time; I wanna be in love, I wanna see you in love; I wanna be knee deep in love with you all the time…” (close seconds: Slow Train; Something’s Got a Hold of Me)

The 20 Honorable Mentions that almost made the cut (no particular order):

I listened to hundreds of songs over and over when making my final list.  No, I’m serious – countless hours of listening, relistening, comparing, shuffling… I’ve been working on this for over five weeks!  I did not want to repeat artists, hence the “close seconds” contained in the Top 25.  Some artists just master the art of the love song more than others – I probably could have come up with a whole list of amazing Mike and Ruthy love songs.  I also wanted each song to be a love song, not just a song about love.  Does that make sense?  I’m very satisfied with the final product, and can honestly say that I sincerely love every single song on the list.  My hope is that each of you find a couple that you like as well.

And finally, I would like to share one of my favorite love songs ever, from one of my favorite bands ever.  The band isn’t together at the moment, but I truly hope they work something out soon.  I want a recording of this song!  But alas, I’ll have to give you a video I made myself.  Had I any idea that it would be the only way I would be able to listen to this song, I would have stopped swaying around so much when recording it, and I definitely would have stopped singing.  Please forgive my terrible voice and video skills and enjoy the clip of this sweet little tune by my dear friends in Two Way Radio:

All souls will eventually reconcile with God

31 Aug

I recently got into an online debate with a handful of Christians regarding the biblical position on the existence of Hell.  Now most of you have read my blogs for quite some time, and kept up with me as I moved it from myspace to different urls on wordpress and finally settled into this new home.  Those readers know well my religious views, and that I regard myself as a Unitarian Universalist with secular humanist leanings, should one require me to label my personal spiritual beliefs.  I used to say I was “spiritual but not religious”, but I really don’t find the two terms are any different in my current life and embrace both.

For those of you who are not familiar with Unitarian Universalism, it is a religion that embraces all kinds of spiritual beliefs and does not require its members to subscribe to a particular creed.  That said, I do not speak for all UUs when I discuss my personal beliefs.  If you ask 10 UUs the same specific religious question, you will likely get 10 different answers, and my answers are but one and I speak only for myself, unless otherwise noted.

My belief about the Bible, and the Unitarian Universalist Association‘s position on it, is that it is but one of many important religious texts but do not consider it unique or exclusive in any way.  We do not interpret it literally.  We think some parts of it offer more truth than other parts, and it is not the central document in our religion.  The UUA puts it like this:

We do not, however, hold the Bible – or any other account of human experience – to be either an infallible guide or the exclusive source of truth. Much biblical material is mythical or legendary. Not that it should be discarded for that reason! Rather, it should be treasured for what it is. We believe that we should read the Bible as we read other books – with imagination and a critical eye. We also respect the sacred literature of other religions. Contemporary works of science, art, and social commentary are valued as well. We hold, in the words of an old liberal formulation, that “revelation is not sealed.” Unitarian Universalists aspire to truth as wide as the world – we look to find truth anywhere, universally.

So whatever problems one might have with my interpretation of the Bible, one should note that this is the way I feel about the book as a whole.  Trying to alter my point of view by arguing that the Bible says otherwise is therefore a futile effort.  I will attempt to convey why I believe the Bible does not support the idea of Hell as a place of fire and eternal torment, and you may take or leave my point of view.

First of all, I take serious issue with any person or religion attempting to sway someone to your point of view out of fear.  Christians do this all the time, as I learned from a very young age.  When I began to question my faith as a teenager, I went to my youth minister.  Not wanting to admit my own doubt, I told him that I was attempting to witness to a friend who was stumping me on several points, and I needed his guidance.  Our conversation went back and forth, with me arguing “my friend’s” position, and him responding, until we finally got to a point where I had him stumped and he said, “Well, if it gets that far just say, ‘If you’re right and I’m wrong, I’ve lost nothing… but if I am right and you are wrong, you lose salvation and everlasting life, and are subject to eternal damnation.”  I thought about that for the next year of my life as I struggled to cling to a faith that personally brought me little solace.  I took serious issue with the Bible, as well as the way I saw Christians treat other people.  I still have the journal in which I wrote as an adolescent, “If you believe the right thing, but for the wrong reason, isn’t it still wrong?  It feels wrong, and it makes me resent God.  I wonder if there is another way to have a personal relationship with God outside of the religion that is smothering me and contradicting my ideals.”  Not long after that my high school friend Jane admitted to me, “I don’t know that Jesus is my ‘Savior’.”  I felt so much relief hearing someone else admit that she didn’t quite buy into all that we’d learned in our past 16 years of religious education.

And today again I had someone tell me “If I’m wrong what’s the worst that can happen to me, BUT if you are wrong…..???? Let’s just say I’d HATE to be you if you’re wrong.”  This is well-known among educated people as “Pascal’s Wager“, which I think was best addressed by Voltaire when he dismissed it as “indecent and childish… the interest I have to believe a thing is no proof that such a thing exists.” I was terrified because of this for long enough, but that no longer has any impact on me.  I have friends who say the thought of the Rapture caused them to lose sleep at night.  How sad.  But believing something false in order to use it as a whip to drive people to do right doesn’t work anyway – prisons are full of people who believe in Hell.  It’s better to love people and help them to make the right choices.  The world has over one billion Christians – if they all lived by the Golden Rule, the world would be a much different – and better – place.

That being said, why do Christians believe in Hell at all?  Because they have been taught to, and they have been discouraged from interpreting the Bible for themselves.  For instance, the Bible clearly says that God’s name is “Jealous” (Exodus 34:14). Does that really fit with who you believe God to be in your heart?  Wow, what a petty god.  Yet people take the book literally.  That is scary to me because I believe as Brian from The Beautiful Heresy does: “I believe that people become like the god they serve. If their god is petty, they’ll be petty.  If their god is unforgiving, they’ll be unforgiving.  If their god creates throw-away people, they’ll see some people as throw-away people.” Well, if one must believe in the Bible to that extent, here is the evidence it offers that Hell is not the place your Baptist preacher would have you believe:

Point 1: Hell is never mentioned in the Old Testament, which is why those of Jewish faith do not subscribe to the notion of Hell.  One holding an English translation of this Hebrew text would argue otherwise and point out specific verses that mention it, but in the 31 times it is mentioned in the Old Testament, it is in every instance translated from the Hebrew word “sheol”.  It does not mean a lake of fire and brimstone, but quite the reverse: instead of a place of blazing fire it is described in the context as a state of “darkness” (Job 10:21); instead of a place where shrieks and groans are heard, it is described in the context as a place of “silence” (Psa. 115:17); instead of representing in any sense pain and suffering, or remorse, the context describes it as a place or condition of forgetfulness (Psa. 88:11,12).  Note that this identical word “sheol” is translated “grave” 31 times and “pit” three times in the KJV by the same translators – more times than it is translated “hell”.

Point 2: If Hell is so important, so permanent, then why did God wait 2,000 years into man’s history (if you believe in the Bible’s delineation of time, which is another issue entirely) to mention it??  If Hell is real, why wasn’t Cain warned about it, or Sodom and Gomorrah , or any of those who committed the earliest recorded “sins?”  If Hell is real why didn’t Moses warn about this fate in the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Covenant consisting of over 600 laws, ordinances, and warnings? The Mosaic Law simply stated blessings and curses in this lifetime.  If Hell is real, why are its roots in paganism, rather than the Bible?  Many nations surrounding Israel in the Old Testament believed in Hell-like punishment in the afterlife, for they served bloodthirsty and evil “gods,” while Israel simply taught the grave (sheol) and a hope of a resurrection.  If Hell is real, why was the revelation of it first given to pagan nations, instead of God’s covenant people?  Did God expect Israel to learn about the afterlife from the Pagan Gentiles?  If so, why did He repeatedly warn Israel to not learn of their ways?  If Hell is real, why did God tell the Jews that burning their children alive in the fire to the false god Molech, (in the valley of Gehenna ) was so detestable to Him? God said that such a thing “never even entered His mind” (Jer. 32:35). How could God say such a thing to Israel , if He has plans to burn alive a good majority of His own creation in a spiritual and eternal Gehenna of His own making?

Point 3: Why did Jesus not warn his people about “Hell”?  Many Christians will argue that he did, but they would be wrong.  It’s not their fault; they are reading a translated text, and as we have already covered, the Hebrew word “sheol” does not translate to anything close to what modern Christians describe as “Hell”.  Instead Jesus warned the Jews many times of impending destruction, both nationally and individually.  He used several different terms to refer to punishment/destruction, some of which were erroneously translated as the same word, “Hell” by Bible translators.  The first great cluster of references to Gehenna (mis-translated as “hell”), are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5:22, 29, 30), Jesus’ great sermon to His disciples in which He warned that one was in danger of Gehenna for the likes of calling someone a fool.  This is a far cry from our modern Evangelical interpretation that says not accepting Jesus as your Savior is what sends someone to Hell.  Are we perhaps missing the symbolism that Jesus originally intended?  (I think it’s also important to note here that one cannot take the translated texts of the Bible literally and not have them contradict one another – just for one example, it says one shall go to “hell” for calling people “fools”, but also says that the one without sin, Jesus, called people fools in Matthew 23:19 – this proves that the Bible cannot be both true and literal, at least in its translated version.)  If the Jews did not understand “Gehenna” as a symbol of everlasting torture, but rather as a place of shame, filth, and defilement (where Israel participated in the grossest form of idol worship), why does modern theology ascribe more to the word than the original meaning did? The teaching of Gehenna has evolved in Jewish teachings to include punishment in the afterlife; but even today, Gehenna still does not mean “endless” punishment to the Jews.

Point 4: The concepts of everlasting Hell contradict the message of the Bible: Did Jesus fail in His mission? He said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).  If Hell is real, and the devil is the one who deceives people into going there, isn’t he ultimately the winner in the war for souls? After all, the traditional interpretation of the Bible in which people believe in “Hell” says that more people will end up in Hell than in Heaven. If so, can you really call Satan the defeated enemy and Christ the victor?

Point 5: Most of the modern and inflexible Christian notions of salvation and Hell stem from words that did not contain the same meaning in Hebrew as they do in English.  This is important!

The term “saved” has evolved in Christianity to mean something different than it did to the original readers and hearers of Scripture. The Greek words, “sozo” and “soteria” embrace the broad meaning of being rescued, delivered, healed and saved from danger. These words were applied in a variety of ways throughout the New Testament. There is much more to the salvation of Christ than most Christians know. Sadly, much of the church is robbed of fullness of their salvation by embracing a limited and futuristic view of what it actually means– (i.e. “going to Heaven when they die”).

The words “everlasting” and “eternal” are also mis-translations of Hebrew words.  EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE IN WHICH SOMEONE WILL USE THE BIBLE TO JUSTIFY WHY THEIR CONCEPT OF HELL IS A PLACE OF “EVERLASTING” OR “ETERNAL” TORMENT WILL CONTAIN A VERSE WITH A MIS-TRANSLATED WORD.  Check it:  If Hell is forever, why is the Hebrew word Olam (which has been translated to mean “eternal/forever”) used in so many verses where it clearly does not mean “everlasting”? A few examples: “Everlasting” is applied to the priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the Jewish temple, to the length of time that reproach and shame should be upon the Jews. The word “forever” is applied to the duration of man’s earthly existence; to the time a child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi’s leprosy; to the to the duration of a king’s life; to the time a servant was to abide with his master; to the duration of the Jewish temple; to the time David was to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set up at Jordan; and to the time Jonah was in the fish’s belly. It should be obvious from the context that olam merely referred to an indefinite period of time–not forever!  Aion and related words (aionian and aionios) are the Greek equivalents of olam .

Aion, literally means “age,” from which we get our English word, “eon.” Aion/age/eon, is merely a period of time. “Aionian and Aionios” are words that refer to the ages (plural) or pertaining to the ages. As long as time is being measured, it cannot be referring to eternity, which is a realm beyond the measurement of time. If “Hell” is forever, why is it described by words that pertain to the ages?

More proof the Bible doesn’t intend for it to be permanent: “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, He devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him” (2 Samuel 14:14).  Also, the Psalmist confidently speak again and again about being rescued from it (sheol) (Psalms 16:10, 30:2-3, Psalm 49:15, 86:13, 116:3-8, 139:8).

Point 6: If you are a Christian who believes in Hell as an everlasting place of eternal torment and suffering, then:

How can mercy triumph over judgment? (James 2:13)

How can it be true that, “where sin abounded grace did much more abound?” (Rom. 5:20)

When will all flesh come to God? (Psalm 65:2-4)

I could go on, but Tentmaker Ministries really does it all for me.  They are Christians who have meticulously studied the Bible in various translations, love Christ, and “are convinced the Creator of the Universe and his Son, Jesus Christ, have gotten a lot of bad and false publicity, often at the hands of those who espouse His name.” As they say, “If Hell is real, can you honestly rejoice in the victory, love, and wisdom of God, knowing that somewhere in His beautiful creation there will always be a black and stinking hell-hole crammed full of tortured souls who have no chance for relief or forgiveness–or even death? Even if there was only one person left in such a state, how could all of Heaven rejoice for all eternity knowing that there was still one soul who had not been touched by the victory of Christ and was suffering alone?”

If you are a Christian struggling with this new concept of a God who would not banish a human soul to a place of eternal and everlasting torture and would like to read further about this idea, the sites here and here may also be helpful to you.  You may also want to read the Wikipedia entry for Gehenna, which is one of the words from which “Hell” is translated.

It’s not like I’m just crazy and making this up.  Believe what you want; it makes me no difference.  But don’t think that it’s just UUs or atheists or Jews that hold no belief in Hell.  Plenty of Christians believe this as well.  I think the most honest, accurate representation of the modern Christian religion’s promotion of the concept of Hell is presented by Bishop John Shelby Spong:

And finally, I’d just like to say that if Heaven is full of people like Jerry Falwell, then I don’t want to go there anyway.

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