Episode 20: A Visit With Tom Velasco

You, dear listener, are in for a treat when you tune in to Episode 20 of the Donnybrook Podcast. Our special guest on the show this week is Tom Velasco who we’ve dubbed The Most Interesting Man in the Treasure Valley. In this wide-ranging episode, we rabbit-trail with breathtaking velocity, talking about quality movies, dystopian fiction, the proper pronunciation of Augustine, friendship and isolation in today’s society, and Tom Cruise’s bizarre middle tooth.

Show notes:
George Orwell (not Orson Wells) on That Hideous Strength
Trailer for Ordet (1955)

Amanda’s 2019 YA Reading List

In Episode 17 of the podcast, Amanda agreed to add 20 Young Adult books to her reading list for 2019. John and David have put their heads together and come up with a proposed list of their favorites.*

We also recognize that we have a lot more than 20 books (40 actually) represented here because of series. So, to be clear, the expectation is that Amanda HAS TO at least read one book in the series and then can determine if it’s “good enough” to continue on her own…(we have every confidence that she will).

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.

Jack Lewis

1. Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
Tolkien-lite, this story line follows the adventures of young Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper. This fantasy novel can be silly, which undermines its status as epic-fantasy, but is also beautifully told from a heavily Welsh-influenced mythology. ( John)

2. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
This fantasy series starts out a little rough (first time author) but builds to something really special. Are we cheating by putting in two series for the first two entries? Probably. Do we care? Nope! (David, John)

3. The Wrinkle In Time Quintet by Madeline L’Engle
We assume you have read the title-track, so if you only read one of the remaining in the series, start with A Swiftly Tilting Planet. In Tilting, two children have the opportunity to travel through time to incrementally change the past. If you want to read past that, Many Waters is about two siblings pulled back to the pre-diluvian world who find themselves caught up in the story of Noah. (David)

4. Robin Hood (or Men of Iron) by Howard Pyle
Part of the famous Brandywine school of art (N.C. Wyeth), Pyle was also an author. Both The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Men of Iron are medieval adventure classics. (John)

5. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
One of those books that stretched the genres of the day and was just self-aware enough to pull it off. Puns, lots of puns. (John’s 15-year-old Ethan made this contribution.)

6. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes or 
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Both coming of age stories. Both grade-school reading level chapter books. Both recommended over and over again to aspiring young readers. (David, John)

7. Beauty by Robin McKinley
A retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast, my girls have loved this book to death and are constantly recommending it to their friends. (John)

8. The Age of Dragons series by James A. Owen
Premise: Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams are the wardens of the magical portal between this world and fairy-land… enough said. (John: while excited about this one, I have NOT read it yet and will do so with Amanda!)

9. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
A fairy-tale princess story where the protagonist isn’t so “makes-you-puke over-the-top lets-break-out-and-dance, I’m-hopeless-without-prince-charming, Disney-fied”. (John)

10. Water-Babies/Westward Ho! by Charles Kinglsey:
Victorian literature, both books have fallen somewhat out of favor as they deal with complex moral questions on race, religion, and evolution. Kinglsey wasn’t messing around with his children’s lit. (Brent, John)

11. The White People by Francis Hodges Burnett
By the popular author of The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, here’s a novella length ghost story! (John)

12. The Scottish Chiefs by Miss Jane Porter
The exciting exploits of William Wallace. If you think you know his story from watching Braveheart, you don’t know anything. The book is 10x better than the movie. (David, John)

13. The Jungle Book by Ruyard Kipling. 
Yes, we are aware that Kipling’s imperialism is gross, but the man could tell a story. If nothing else, Riki-Tiki-Tavi has to be one of our all-time favorite shorts! (John)

14. Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
A pair of children discover a hidden lake and community during their summer vacation. (David)

15. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Four siblings learn to sail and lay claim to an island in the middle of an English lake. Now they must defend their island against the former claimants. (David)

16. Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of N.I.M.H. by Robert C. O’Brien
A widow mouse is helped by the super-intelligent genetically modified rats of N.I.M.H. (David, John)

17. The Land of Elyon series by Patrick Carman
Really delightful fantasy series. Because its strong female protagonist we give it an extra bump because we are always looking for ways to encourage our daughters to be brave! Pre-Trump, pre-GOT “shield-wall” fantasy. (John, David)

18. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Another strong female protagonist, it’s younger fiction, but the kind of thing we think you would have loved as a child. So read it now. (David)

19. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
My favorite childhood coming-of-age adventure. Preferred above Robinson Crusoe, this book explores some complex political polarities between the Scottish highlands and lowlands by a naive and moderate protagonist. (John)

20. The Scarlet Plague by Jack London
Okay, we are cheating because this one isn’t a REAL children’s book. It’s not great literature. It’s not even a great story. It is just fun to see a post-apocalyptic world from Jack London’s pre-nuclear perspective. (John, David)

*This is certainly not an exhaustive list of our favorites since we intentionally didn’t include books that we know Amanda has already read. Otherwise, we’d be including books like The Chronicles of Narnia (in the proper publication order, of course), 100 Cupboards, At The Back of the North Wind, and Watership Down.

10 Black & White Movies Every Graduate Should See

Here’s David and my premise.

Black and white movies that have stood the test of time are especially good because they CANNOT rely on special effects to keep the viewer’s attention. Because of this, the PRIMARY means of keeping the viewers attention is STORYTELLING which is a facet of ART that is sometimes lost on a generation looking for the next CGI special effect. With that in mind, here’s 10 black and white movies to challenge your graduate to watch before they head off to college. 

  1. 12 Angry Men (1957): This movie is used in many classrooms, since it explores the challenge of being part of a jury and working together to understand evidence in arriving at a verdict. The interesting this is that the majority of the movie is shot from the room where the jury convenes, and explores the different personalities and emotions of the men involved.  Just writing this makes me want to go and re-watch the original with my 15-year-old. 
  2. Casablanca (1942): High cinematic art. There is a reason why this is on many “Greatest-Ever” lists.  Interesting to go back and watch a movie where the lead role is not played by someone as handsome as he was stylish. Also starring young Ingrid Bergman, I especially appreciate how this film explores the affects of war, without needing the explosions and trenches. 
  3. High Noon (1952): Gary Cooper plays a retiring sheriff who is faced by the return of an outlaw gang who he put in prison a few years earlier. Will the town he cleaned-up, the friends he made along the way, or his newlywed wife stand with him as he decides what and how to do the right thing? This is an ethics class in 90 minutes, and asks the right questions… you’ll have to decide if you like it’s answers. 
  4. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): Comedy with the class of Cary Grant. If we told you the plot, you wouldn’t believe that it was a comedy, which is part of its charm. 
  5. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946): Blah, blah, blah, probably everyone has seen it, but just in case, it is included here as a reminder that we can all make a difference. So many cultural references in this film, it is a “must-see” just to understand catch phrases still used today. 
  6. Stagecoach (1939): John Wayne’s first starring role, this movie features the baby-faced version of Wayne before he signature bellicose machismo. While some might miss that side of Wayne’s personality, it does allow the story to be about something besides John Wayne, since the story is really archetypal rather than individualistic. I know, I know, a Western that is not all about the lone man facing the world (see High Noon!), can it be?   
  7. The Philadelphia Story (1940): This is the story of a socialite (Katherine Hepburn) on the eve of her second marriage. Cary Grant is husband #1 who wants her back. He unexpectedly shows up at the same time as a bashful reporter (Jimmy Stewart) trying to get a story. This film is so witty that at times it makes my head spin and I can’t keep up with the dialogue. Incredibly clever.
  8. Four Feathers (1939):  This was the film that the 2002 Heath Ledger movie was based off (there is also a book, which ironically I have never read). This movie explores the idea of what is cowardice and made such an impact on me that I vividly can recall at least two scenes from it over a decade later.  I gotta buy this book.
  9. The Sea Hawk (1940): Errol Flynn in a swash-buckling adventure that isn’t Robin Hood.  This actually WAS considering special effects back in the day! It’s cheesy, but good cheesy.
  10. The Quiet Man (1952): John Wayne is an American boxer who retires to Ireland and falls in love with Maureen O’Hara. It’s a simple, complicated story that features the most classic donnybrook you’ll ever see, including the obligatory break in the pub, mid-fight.

John’s Songs of 2018 Playlist

Every year I keep a playlist of the songs I have listened to a lot. These are not ranked in order of preference, and I don’t make any claim that these are all songs released in this year, but they are the soundtrack I have used for our families play, work, and occasional podcast outro. I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to spend more time with new albums by Kacey Musgraves, boygenius, or nearly enough hip-hop. Be that as it may, here is what my 2018 sounded like!

  1. Ring the Bells, JOHNNYSWIM and Drew Holcomb (whole album).
  2. So Tied Up, The Cold War Kids
  3. &Run, Sir Sly
  4. Shine On Me, Dan Auerbach
  5. Sit Next To Me, Foster the People (whole album)
  6. Way Up, Chris Howland (feat. CASS & Sajan)
  7. Feel It Still, Portugal
  8. Shoe Boot, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
  9. Millionaire, Chris Stapleton
  10. Yellow Bike, Pedro The Lion (Looking forward to album release 2019)
  11. This Year, The Mountain Goats (2005)
  12. Cover Me Up (Live), Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  13. Get Back Right, Lecrae
  14. Broken Headlights, Roscoe & Etta
  15. Galatians 2:20, The Welcome Wagon (whole album)
  16. We Labor Unto Glory, The Porter’s Gate (whole album)
  17. Grace Alone, The Modern Post
  18. World Without End, Greg LaFollette (whole album)
  19. Tyler Talks Back – I’d Rather Be A Dog, Allen Levi (whole library!)
  20. I Heard The Bells, Beta Radio (Christmas Album is great!)

Album of the Year: None! I can’t say I really had an ear-worm recommendation that everyone should at least listen too. I had a couple that I liked, a couple that I used in my personal times of worship, and a couple artists I will watch on in the future, but no album really was that defining piece of art that I usually identify with a certain year (past albums include, Jason Isbell’s, The Nashville Sound (2017), Switchfoot Where the Light Shines Through (2016)…etc.).

Honorable Mentions:

Goodbye Road – EP, JOHNNYSWIM & Drew Holcomb: Great five song EP with a haunting title track, a great solid cover of Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down, and one of my favorite songs of the year listed below.

The Book of Common Prayer – Greg LaFollette: Reflective worship that I have found helpful in my personal times worship.


Allen Levi’s music: A singer-songwriter with an amazing life story. Start by listening to the interview conducted with Levi on The Pivot, episode 042.

The Definitive-ish List of Post-Apocalyptic Novels

Everyone loves a good apocalypse. Even better, we love a good post-apocalypse where humanity gets its, um, stuff, sorted back out. Here is a ranked list of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels. For best post-apocalyptic movies there is a simpler “list”: watch Fury Road and then rewatch it 7 more times. You’re welcome.

8. I Am Legend

A wise man once said, ‘never judge a book by its movie’ (for which we may be eternally grateful). Matheson’s novel is very much a product of it’s mid-century time as it explores the psychology of isolation, man’s need for purpose, and some of the practical realities of living in a world without functioning supply chains. Protagonist Robert Neville’s mission and the reversals he encounters were innovative for the genre but may not seem so, given the way they’ve been beaten to death in later works. The “humanity of the monster” trope is subtly developed here.

7. Seveneves

Neal Stephenson can do anything, I’m convinced. A novel about physics-monks? Sure. A libertarian gig-economy with ancient Sumerian brain viruses encoded on clay tablets? Of course. An apocalyptic world-destruction novel with the post-apocalyptic sequel built in? Definitely. I can’t say much about Seveneves without “spoiling” it (a concept I barely accept), but it is truly innovative and richly imagined while adhering very closely to scientific realities and near-future possibilities. Gene-editing, micro-robotics, close-quarters human society, and the risks of low-orbit space travel are all part of the slow-build but, as always with Stephenson, they pay off.

6. The Parable of the Sower

A weirdly prescient (the presidential candidate runs on a campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again“) novel, Octavia Butler’s exploration of a disintegrated United States is rich. She offers a world of severe and pervasive unemployment, innovative drug abuse, and privatization of governmental functions. Society functions in small enclaves that survive on meager incomes by survival gardening. Butler centers her novel on a religious development which I don’t find entirely convincing, however, her character development is so compelling that the novel, and it’s sequel (The Parable of the Talents), are well worth the time.

5. When the English Fall

It’s brand new and thus, I’m conflicted about recommending it so highly, however, this solar-storm apocalypse is both a compelling commentary on modern society’s divorce from the land and a pastoral novel of Amish farm life. Charmingly written and creatively imagined: Wendell Berry meets Peter Hobbs in George Stewart’s backyard.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale

Well known now that it has its own Netflix series which I have studiously avoided, Margaret Atwood’s declining-fertility, toxic-waste, religious-fundamentalist-control story is a thoughtful commentary on the way things could go bad if they were to go this bad in the central United States. The daily routines and details of her story have a compelling internal consistency and are elegantly structured. The dullness of a world where women are not allowed to read…well…that is definitely a personal hell.

3. Earth Abides

Isherwood Williams is the apparent protagonist of George Stewart’s novel but the Earth herself, her rhythms, her permanence, and her complexity is actually the central character. Ish wants to hold on to civilization in the face a disastrously fatal disease but what he understands of human society is shockingly limited and cannot be preserved by his sluggish efforts. The formation of a tribe in the midst of decaying abundance is a beautiful picture and Ish’s struggle to let go of his intermittent ambitions and accept the loss of literacy is moving. Much like I Am Legend, Earth Abides, does have some odd mid-century preoccupations: the image of humans surviving for an entire generation on remains of canned food is, I think, a very 50’s conceit.

2. A Canticle for Leibowitz

In some ways Walter M. Miller Jr.’s novel is the best of the post-apocalyptic novels, although I don’t here classify it as number one. Catch me on another day and in another mood and I would. [Editorial Note: John prefers Canticle over WWZ! ] Its cyclical plot, its subtle and complex reference to historical patterns and events, its religious framing, and its varied narrative voices are all perfection. It’s three sections create an elegant internal trilogy that is well-unified around the central conceit. Miller gives the reader insight into monastic practice, preservation of knowledge, and political powers outside of religious institutions.

1. World War Z

OK. I know. The movie was terrible: Brad Pitt saves the world while drinking product-placement-Pepsi. Still. This is simply the greatest of the post-apocalyptic novels. Max Brooks can write. I mean, the various characters don’t all have distinct voices and there are significant gaps in the coverage of this faux-documentary. However. There is simply no other post-apocalyptic novel that so thoroughly explores the social and physical realities of facing a world-wide disaster like this one does. Yes, it’s zombies, which is an absurd conceit on all levels, however, Brooks goes to the heart of what a zombie story is and then delicately dissects it for clear understanding. A zombie story is an outworking of the human fear of loss of culture and loss of self (and the ways those are connected). Rooted in fears of voodoo on sugar-plantations, historically connected to the fear of the advancing Muslim armies in the middle ages, given new life by modern concerns about loss of autonomy and intelligence in a planned and controlled society, the zombie story manifests the darkest fears of the human individual and the human society and World War Z offers a realistic (I KNOW!), gritty, but ultimately hopeful analysis of human response to this kind of crisis.

Episode 16: Apocalyptic Fiction

In this episode we talk about black and white movies that everyone should see and David wears an ugly Christmas sweater. We also talk about how we should measure success in the church (should we?) and the apocalyptic fiction genre. And Amanda’s forthcoming Napoleon Dynamite experience.

David wins the ugly sweater competition in a landslide!

Reasonable Layman Expectations

Have you ever  just felt a lyric resonate with you. Maybe the band isn’t your cup of tea. Maybe the rest of the song doesn’t really do it for you. Maybe it isn’t in a style or genre you find particularly compelling. But the delivery of that one line is just un-explainable and perfect. 

That lyric for me is from the song This Year by The Mountain Goats.

For any of the rest of this to make any sense you’ll have to listen to the song, but the lyric is the chorus:

I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me.

Profound, I know! But that’s kind of been the schedule I’ve been working the past couple of years. A little background.

Two years ago we were employed at our church preparing to take on the role of senior pastor who hoped to retire in a few years. But what the church could afford to pay two pastors wasn’t sufficient for our family of seven and so we mutually agreed with the church that I would work full-time at another job and serve the church in a lay capacity . So for the past two years, I’ve been working about 60 hours a week in my full-time gig as a home inspector and volunteering at the church 30-40 hours a month as worship leader, pulpit fill-in, youth group volunteer, and home-group leader, along with whatever misc service projects our church engages in.

I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me.

Are you beginning to see why that lyric resonated with me? At the beginning of this month the church brought me back on full-time and I’ve thought about the past two years a lot, and one of the questions that keeps surfacing is what is a reasonable expectation of a lay leader working a full-time job with a family?

Now, I’m not trying to quantify a time. That is obviously something that will be slightly different for each individual. Maybe a better question then becomes, how do we assure that the time we ask from our lay-people to dedicate to church.

A few things stand out to me:

  1. People’s time is valuable. People WANT TO volunteer and participate, so if they aren’t showing up to an event they either don’t see the value in what they are being asked to do, or simply don’t have the time to do it.
  2. People have to work in their strengths. People should not want to volunteer just to volunteer.  Don’t patronize them with just any job. Don’t recruit folks to a greeters ministry if they don’t have interest in welcoming folks and handing out bulletins.  That’s the definition of unproductive.
  3. Trust people with decision making power. I have seen, and experienced first-hand, overly protective ministry management. If you are asking for volunteers, vet them, then trust them to make good decisions. If you don’t, you’ll neuter their passion, and gut your team’s creative spirit.

While none of these are earth-shattering, I’m writing these thoughts now to remind myself in a year, when it’s my turn to be recruiting volunteers. Just in case I forget, it’s hard to work and I need to keep a reasonable idea of what to expect from my laity.