Thursday, December 31, 2009

Music of the Year, 2009 ed., or, I'm Still Cool, I think. I hope. Maybe?

I went to another sing-in of Handel’s Messiah this year. It was very pleasant, and very amateur, but it reminded me of how much I really do love that oratorio. That, in turn, made me think about all of the other amazing music I’ve listened to this year. Which, in turn, made me think that I needed to blog about said music. So, without further delay, here are some of my favorite albums of 2009.

1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible. Oh. My. Gosh.

2. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend. Weak, I know. This is a 2008 album. I don’t care, because this album hit me with a vengeance this year. I mean, this entire album just rocks. I’ve witnessed it make a 23 yo female have a near-epileptic attack from the compulsion to dance and I’ve also seen it keep a car full of three typically-noisy kids quietly occupied for a 20 minute car ride to the fish store. Unbelievable. And not to mention the sweet tunes. I really can’t wait for Contra, the sophomore album to come out on 01/11/10.

3. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoneix. I heard about this band first on NPR’s All Songs Considered. A French band that sings only in English, hearing their interview I was very unenthused. Then they started playing, and I stopped caring that they were Frogs. These guys rock. I saw them live this month, too. Really, just great, fun sounds. Listen close to their drummer. And that vibrating tone at the end of “Rome” was honestly the coolest noise I’ve ever heard at a live show.

They opened with “Lisztomania” in the C-bus, too.

4. The National, Boxer. Wait, this one is a 2007 album. See #2. Except I hadn’t heard of them at all until this year. I freaking love this guy’s baritone. I mean, really, really, love his voice. And yes, since you asked, I would marry it.

5. Animal Collective, Merriwether Post Pavillion. This feels like a cop-out to me, to choose Animal Collective as one of my year’s best. Everyone else is doing it. But they’re doing it for a reason. This album was not an instant winner – I had to listen to it a couple of times before it grew on me – but then it was like cancer, except the fun kind that led to more and more enjoyment, not the other sad depressing kind. By the way, what is it about writing about music that makes people use horrible imagery? I mean, that wasn't the worst thing I've ever written, but it's up there.

6. Various, Dark Was The Night. This is another total cop-out. But an awesome one. Besides being such a great title, this is a 2-disc compilation put together as an AIDS benefit. That should be enough reason in some of your heads - with my liberal bleeding-heart, how could I not put something like that in my “Best of 2009” list? You’re right, I had to.

7. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night. Some silly lyrics. Great guitar work. It works. Americana through and through.

8. We Are Scientists, Brain Trust Mastery. Yes, made famous by the Nick & Norah show, but this is a great album in its own right.

9. Oren Lavie, The Opposite Side of the Sea. I don’t usually like music videos, and I don’t usually consider them art. This video is definitely the exception to the rule. I link to the youtube videos just because I’m lazy and don’t want to hassle with uploading mp3 files and then linking just them. This video of Her Morning Elegance, co-directed by Lavie, is definitely the exception, and you should watch it for sure.

10. Blind Pilot, 3 Rounds and A Sound. I heard about these guys while driving to church at 6:45 one morning. I was so excited about them I had to pull out my phone, call myself, and leave the band name on my voicemail so I would remember the name. And then I missed their show in Salt Lake the weekend after Thanksgiving because I had to give a stupid talk on stupid Sunday about keeping the stupid Sabbath day holy. Stupid Karma.

Honorable Mentions:

a. The Sounds, Crossing the Rubicon. Unashamed pop.

b. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, It’s Blitz. One of my friend’s favorite bands, I missed out on their show this year because of a stupid rotation. Super-pop at its best. While I didn’t listen to it enough for it to qualify as one of my favorites, it really is a great album.

c. The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come. Probably one of the most interesting albums, as each song is based off a biblical passage. I think this didn’t make my favorites list simply because I had such high expectations after last year’s Heretic Pride. Still, though, this is a great album, and it’s all Biblically based. Sunday approved!

d. Built to Spill, There is no Enemy. I have liked this band for a while, but they had fallen off my radar until this year. I went up to Boise, ID for an interview for work. My flight got in early, and I didn’t know anyone in town. So I looked up concerts in Boise. Built to Spill was playing for $10 later that night. I hitched a ride over there, bought a ticket, walked to Beto’s, and then listened to the weirdest set of opening bands ever. A Hank Williams solo act followed by a speed metal band followed by an indie-rock band and finally the band I wanted to see. I quickly remembered why I’d liked them so much. The album is solid, but I particularly like the song “Hindsight.”

e. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca. Similar enough to Animal Collective that they got bumped down here, but still a very good record.

So, there’s my (latest) attempts at being a hipster; too bad I'm not more comfortable in skinny jeans. This is some of the stuff I loved in 2009. What about you?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

(Hopefully) The Last Time That Will Happen, or, On Temples, or, Training for Life

I have not lived in Bountiful for over five years. Count them. Today I gave my fourth talk in my parents' church in that time. Count that. Can I take this opportunity to whine? I mean, isn't part of the benefit of moving out the fact that you do not "have the opportunity" to give a talk or hold a calling in the old ward anymore? And four times? I mean, I'm supposed to be on vacation! Am I the only one this seems ridiculous to?

Although I do not want to turn this blog into a religious rant site, I am posting my church talk below again. As I mentioned before, talks are, I think, a particular challenge for me to write. Again, by way of warning, although I have written the talk out word-for-word, please remember that this was intended to be spoken, not read.

On Temples, or, Training for Life

Today I would like to ostensibly talk about Temples, but specifically I want to talk about the strength that comes into one’s life by living correct principles; but first, a bit about me. I competed in several triathlons this year. I use the word “competed” here in the loosest possible sense. Obviously crossing the finish line and the thrill associated with the finish was a great feeling. However, the reason I engaged in these races was not to finish fastest. I did not race to win; I did not race to beat the other competitors. The race served as a goal for me to fix my eyes on as I prepared for the tasks required. A prize that I could visualize as I trained and tried to drag myself to a gym last winter. A boring gym. In a boring winter.

I would like to suggest that the race is similar to the Temple – and that training for the race is analogous to preparing ourselves to enter the Temple. All analogies are flawed, and my point is not to suggest that the ordinances we receive in the temple setting are unimportant. But by training, by preparing ourselves, by becoming worthy to enter the House of the Lord, and then by maintaining that high level of performance, that high level of worthiness, that high level of Christian living – doing those things required to enter the Temple are what I see as the real payoff of being a temple attending individual. Obviously, if you so believe, there are also the small payoffs and prizes of salvation and exaltation associated with the ordinances as well.

Turning to a talk from General Conference. Brigham Young, in the April 1861 conference, lends some support to this idea that the preparatory process associated with temple worship is a vital portion of the temple experience. In a talk about why Jesus had not yet returned, he discussed how every job requires the proper tool. For fishing, poles, boats, and nets are all requisite. To save the people, he says, a Temple is required. Listen to his words: “If we are to be saved in an Ark as Noah and his family were, it will be because we build it.” The Lord commanded Noah to build his Ark. Brigham continues with his reasoning, “If we build a Temple here, it will be because we need one. And if we really need one, we are going to go to work and build it. Will we count the cost? No!” If salvation is our goal, what import is a worldly cost to us? “I care not what it will cost, so long as we are occupied in a good work, it keeps us out of mischief and unrighteousness. . . If you wish this Temple built, go to work and do all you can this season. Some say, ‘I do not like to do it, for we never began to build a Temple without the bells of hell beginning to Ring.’ I want to hear them ring again. All the tribes of hell will be on the move if we uncover the walls of this temple, but what will it amount to?”

For some of our younger friends in the audience, let me first briefly describe the temple. The temple is a place we go to engage in sacred ceremonies and make covenants with God. The ceremonies are a formal way prepared to teach some of the same material taught in the scriptures, namely, that we are children of God, we have sinned and fallen out of his presence, and that Jesus Christ was sent to redeem us. These doctrines are presented in a slightly different way, but there is nothing new or particularly earth-shattering in the doctrine presented. Which is to say, there is nothing surprising or crazy that goes on there. The covenants we make in the temple are also straightforward. The temple covenants are natural extensions of the covenant we just renewed by taking the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, where we covenanted to be willing to take upon us the name of Christ. In the temple, we make further covenants that are in accordance with taking upon us His name; we covenant to obey the commandments, we covenant to sacrifice for the Lord, we covenant to live the gospel, and we covenant obey the law of chastity.

Let me illustrate with a historical example how these covenants affect our lives. Previously, as the Saints were fleeing the United States in 1846, there was much hardship. Many left too late in the season. Many of us have ancestors that were in these parties. We know these stories well, where westbound groups met many different hardships. Mud, snow, Indians, marauders, disease, hunger. When word reached the leaders, relief parties were rallied, almost instantly. Listen again to President Young after hearing about one of the struggling groups of West-bound Saints. He says, “Now is the time for labor. Let the fire of the covenant which you made in the House of the Lord, burn in your hearts, like flame unquenchable.” The wagons, unsurprisingly, soon rolled East to rescue the stranded Saints.

“What was it that gave those early Saints such strength, such drive, and such determination to face the great challenges of the work of the Lord?” Elder Bednar asked in a recent conference. It was the fire of the covenant that burned in their hearts, a covenant made clear in the temple. It was their commitment to worship and honorably hold a name and stand. It was their commitment to live worthy to bear such a name as “Christian.” It was their commitment to live worthy to enter the Temple. It was their commitment to prepare. We have all committed to be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. Will we, brothers and sisters, live up to these covenants and stand in the Lord’s house, prepared, as he has asked?

The most nourishing doctrine of our Church is perhaps the Eternal nature of families. It would simply not be “heaven” to us as Mormons if we were not to be united with our parents, our grandmas and grandpas, our eternal companions (knock on wood) and our posterity. This union, this cementing of family ties, comes through the sealing power used in the sacred ordinances of the temple.

The most satisfying doctrine, to me, is that of universal ordinance work. By vicariously performing ordinances for all for the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, God effectively removes the ordinance variable from the equation of exaltation. By making it a universal common denominator, God effectively “cancels out” these necessary ordinances, thereby providing these blessings to all of his children, regardless of their situation in life. What more satisfying, glorious principle can exist?

As we attend the Temple, we not only foster a greater sense of community by seeing each other working to prepare to meet God, but when we attend the Temple we are also constantly reminded of the potential that our fellow human beings have. From our close ward friends to those other ward members we don’t get along with so well, from our neighbors to strangers; when we attend the temple we are reminded of THEIR divine potential. We realize THEIR great worth. Although he never attended the Mormon temple, CS Lewis had great insight into this principle and saw the powerful blessings associated with community worship. From his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” he says,“ It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses. To remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet – if at all – only in a nightmare.

“All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another. All friendships. All loves. All play. All politics.

“**There are no ordinary mortal. You have never talked to a mere mortal. . . but it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit. . . next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.” In him, our neighbor, is God.

As we prepare to enter the Temple we are constantly reminded of our neighbors worth. Of the eternal and glorious destiny of all of our Father in Heaven’s children. This, the true Spirit of Elijah, the recognizing that all who now live, all who have lived, and those yet to come, are part of our heavenly family. They all deserve our love, respect and service. Everyone. The Petersons. The Clarks. The Marstons. The Mormons. The Catholics. The Muslims. The Jews. The Atheists. They all deserve our love, respect and service. This, the Spirit of Elijah, is one of the central themes taught in the Temple. That everyone is deserving of our love, respect and service is one of the basic tenets of leading a good life.

The Temple is a wonderful place; the Temple functions as a place of focus, a reminder of how to live our lives, a prize to remind us how to train for the race of life. The Temple acts as a place to remind ourselves of our relationship with God, a place to remind us of the potential worth of our fellow man, and a place to help us understand the eternal nature of families. But the Temple also acts as a goal, a reminder, a glittering prize that we can focus on as we strive to live our lives in a better way. May we all bring ourselves in line with the teachings of Christ and thus enjoy a richer life, enjoying the blessings associated with being prepared, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Nerd Stuff of the [Time Period], or, Science is Awesome

Click here for an explanation, if you don't get it. And if you thought that was funny, watch this video below. Otherwise, you should probably skip it.

Can you believe it has been 10 years since The Matrix came out? The movie is still incredible. But this tribute may be even more incredible than the original:

I thought this was just fun. But remember, Carl Sagan said, "The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together."

Speaking of atoms, please, please click over here and play with the slide bar along the bottom of the frame. It is one of the best examples of orders of magnitude I have ever seen. And just friggin' sweet.

Mom, stop reading here. You too, Aunt Janet.

Click here to see a picture of the ultimate owning in online chatting. Really, really awesome. Nerds are already taking over the world. One chat room at a time. Even the dirty ones.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Best Movie of the [Time Period], or, The Fantastic Mr Fox

Exceptional. Just plain exceptional. Best use of my night, for sure.

The animation, the story, the dialogue, the characters riddled with depth and believability despite their, well, obvious problem of being-drawn-images-of-animals-dressed-in-human-clothing, combine to make The Fantastic Mr Fox one of the best films I've seen this year.

Perhaps my favorite scene in the film included this bit of dialogue.

Mr. Fox: I'm trying to tell you the truth about myself.
Mrs. Fox: I don't care about the truth about yourself.

And if you see the movie the fact that this is my favorite line does not make it seem like I'm a bitter, crotchety bachelor with misogynistic views of the problems in relationships. Or just stupid. Or just a hopeless romantic. If you see the movie (which you should), you will simply be forced to agree with me that these lines are a really beautiful and clever use of words, and are but one great moment in an exceptional film.

Just plain exceptional.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OVERHEARD LINES: Welcome To Church, or, Kleptomaniacs Anonymous

In the foyer at Church:
Guy: I heard the woven cable bike locks are the hardest to get through.
Dude: Eh - they're not so tough.