Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in pictures

Happy New Year! Below is my attempt to present my year using only one picture per month. I had to cheat for November (you'll understand why) and December (I made a collage, so it's technically only one picture...). 2013 has been a great year. Here's to a lovely 2013.


Molly, asleep in the winter sun.

The fateful Half Price Books in Humble concert, during which our car broke down and we were stuck in Houston.

Studying for doctoral exams, which I passed!


Easter brights.

I was there too, I promise.

5th anniversary festivities

My favorite show to play this year: Dallas does the Eagles


Back to school!


Never. Ending. Pasta. Bowl. (with some of my favorite people)

Avengers for Halloween

Two new baby nieces on their first ever Thanksgiving. How could I choose between them?


From top left: a scene from Narnia on a white Christmas in Paris, TX; caroling with Highland Baptist Church; we roasted marshmallows around this fire; Uncle Adam tackling my future-NFL/rock - star nephew; country Christmas; Molly and the book tree.

Happy 2013 everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2012

What Child is This?

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone!

This weekend, I had a blast playing Christmas songs at Opening Bell Coffee's annual Christmas Open Mic. As usual, it was a wonderfully talented bunch of performers and songwriters, and we really enjoyed being part of the holiday spirit.

Now, it's Christmas eve, and to get you in the spirit, here's that other Christmas tune I promised you: "What Child is This?" featuring the alternate chorus lyrics.

From the picture on this video of a peaceful Molly-cat, you might be tempted to answer the question, "What Child is This" with: a fuzzy orange tabby. But that would have truly frightening theological implications. So, I'm going to stick with the answer:

"This, This is Christ the King, 
whom shepherds laud and angels sing; 
haste, haste to bring Him laud,
 the babe, the son of Mary."

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Friday: Books and Cats and Christmas

Earlier this month, I showed you our book tree with Desmond trying to knock it over. Today, I bring photos of Molly and the tree -- a perfect picture of the personalities of our two cats: Desmond tries to destroy things while Molly sleeps and looks pretty. Now that I've switched to this tree-topper, Desmond generally leaves the tree alone, but the mere glimmer of tinsel turns him insane. Yesterday, I was wrapping presents and struggling to keep the crinkly paper and ribbon away from Desmond's adorable-yet-mischievous white paws. I turned my head for a second and when I looked back he had strings of shiny red tinsel in his mouth. I thought I got all of it out, but later I found a lovely new Christmas present: throw-up with strands of tinsel glittering throughout. sigh. At least we also have the good cat:

I love that in this picture you can just see our mantle with stockings. Here's a close-up:

That was a long time ago. Now that little count-down Santa says "04"

Also, Molly is good at hiding.

A close-up of the top of the book tree. It's kind of amazing what books ended up on the tree through searching for mostly red and green books. A yellow one ended up near the top because it was the right size. I really enjoy the interplay of those top 5 books: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton; A Theological Miscellany; The Divine Life of the Most Holy Virgin; Jesus: Man or Myth?; and finally, a Gideon's New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs Bible -- the perfectly-sized topper, and sort of symbolic, too. I'm not sure what Tolkien Commentaries, Beckett's Endgame, and The Heidegger Reader say about us -- probably just that we're both graduate students.

Happy Friday, and Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

A couple of years ago, I recorded two Christmas songs in my home studio, playing and singing all the parts myself as a fun, winter-break project. Ever since, I've wanted to do more Christmas songs, but we've had some problems with our recording equipment at home, and going into the studio is expensive. But here's one of the songs for you, one of my favorite Advent songs of longing: "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus:"

Speaking of songs of Advent longing, check out my post over at Thinking Through Christianity about a little-known Christmas carol in which a mother mourns the death of her child in Herod's Massacre of the Innocents.

I'll post another Christmas song next week.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Happy Hobbit Day -- er -- Friday!

As you can tell from my relative blog silence, this week marked the end of the semester and all its accompanying insanity. Today, I will calculate and enter my final grades and then go celebrate by watching The Hobbit. In college, when the first Lord of the Rings movies came out, I would have been at last night's midnight showing, but neither my body nor my schedule is that forgiving any more, so I'm looking forward to date night tonight in middle earth and my local Studio Movie Grill.

I know this is not a holiday post per se, but since the first movies also came out around finals week/Christmastime, Peter Jackson's vision of Tolkien's world has seemed, ever since then, like the perfect way to celebrate Christmas. And, really, what could be better to celebrate Christmas than a tale of prophecy and promise, good triumphing over evil, and order and peace restored to earth? I mean, middle earth.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Friday: 5 unfamiliar Christmas songs

Happy Friday! Today I am shamelessly recycling a post I wrote last Christmas over at Thinking Through because it features 5 of my favorite Christmas songs that don't get nearly enough attention. I'm copying the post below, but here's a link to the original.

5 Christmas Songs You Should Be Singing, but Aren't

I'm sure that the giant stack of papers I need to grade accounts for my breaking my Thinking Through Christianity silence today, but that's all right -- the joys of Christmas music are worth it. So here goes, amid the shiny pop strains of "All I want for Christmas is You" and the ten-jillionth (yes, "jillionth") rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," here are 5 Christmas songs worthy of your attention:

1. Wexford CarolThis Irish/English carol, from the 12th century, is one of the oldest surviving European carols. Its opening lines are a beautiful call to maintaining memory of why we celebrate Christmas: "Good people all, this Christmas time, consider well and bear in mind what our good God for us hath done in sending His beloved Son." Also, the linked recording, by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss is transcendent.

2. Sussex Carol: Apparently, I really like Christmas songs named after parts of England. You may also know it as "On Christmas Night All Christians Sing." This one is remarkable for its lyrics, which point to the redemptive work of Christ: 

Then why should men on earth be so sad
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from sin He set us free
All for to gain our liberty.


When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new-born King.

I haven't been able to find a recording that I really love, but my band and I perform this song each Christmas in an energetic, lilting style that always brings me the joy of Christmas. Maybe some day we'll record it this way.

3. The third verse of "Joy to the World": I know I'm being awfully lyrics-heavy here, but have you seen these wonderful words?

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

When we say "Joy the world," we don't just mean people, we also mean the earth. Christ's coming signals the coming of His Kingdom, which extends to every bit of creation that has been tainted by sin and the fall. His blessings flow to the most wounded individual as well as to the most hurt part of the earth -- and it even extends to horrible, horrible pop music. Yes, one day, we will hear perfect music on a perfectly restored planet, with perfectly restored bodies and souls. This is all part of the promise of redemption.

4. Come On, Everybody! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!As far as I can tell, this Sufjan Stevens song has no deep theological value. But, for me, it captures the sheer joy of Christmastime like nothing else I can think of. Just listen for yourself and see if it doesn't make you smile.

5. Here Comes the Sun: Okay, I know this isn't technically a Christmas song, and some people at your church would look at you really strangely if you started playing this on Sunday morning, but the theme of this song is what Advent is all about -- I mean, people have been using images of light shining in the darkness as metaphors for the Messiah for a long time. Just check out this passage from Isaiah 9:

 The people walking in darkness
   have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
   a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
   and increased their joy...

 For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace...
To which, I joyously respond, "Sun, sun, sun, here it comes!" 

This Saturday, Dec.8th, at Coffeehouse Cafe, from 6:30-9:30, I will be providing, along with my usual originals and covers, plenty of lovely Christmas music, and you can bet that these 5 songs will be on the list. Well, except for the Sufjan Stephens, because there's no imitating him. And you might even hear my version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," too.

What other Christmas songs would you want to hear?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Advent

This Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas in which we remember Jesus's birth and anticipate his return. I think I love Advent even more than Christmas itself. I love the sense of anticipation, the music, the parties, the food, but even more than that, I love the constant reminders during the Advent season of the essential mysteries of my faith. Expressed through the songs of the season, I am reminded of "the incarnate deity" who "comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found;" that "the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men;" and I am encouraged to "rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing." At no other season are these messages so much a part of the fabric of ordinary life, even amid the inevitable commercialism and cheesy renditions of "All I want for Christmas is You." The lights all around remind me of the need for "the Light of the world;" the gifts remind me of God's gracious gifts; even the food reminds me of the spiritual feast that God Himself provides in sending His son.

So over the next four weeks, I'll be devoting my posts to various Advent musings alongside pictures and stories of our own Advent preparations, like our book tree:

This year, inspired by various pictures online, we decided to make a tree out of books. Our first topper proved to be no more than a cat toy, but we did finally solve that problem.

May this Advent season be a peaceful time of reflection for you, even in the midst of holiday craziness.