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.

Episode 15: Pastoral Duties

In this episode we discovered that the podcast should really be sponsored by Snickers and we also discuss the books Amanda didn’t report on her recent accreditation report. Then we got into talking about what it means to be a pastor, sparked by a Eugene Peterson quote. We also got a report from John about his visit to go hear celebrity pastor Carl Lentz speak in Boise.

Episode 14: Cussing Christians

In this episode we examine of the question of whether modern Christianity’s relaxation of the taboos of alcohol and tattoos will soon extend to blue language. And if so, is that a good thing? We also talk about immigration policy, the corruptibility of Christian practices in a fallen world, and (on a lighter note) David’s favorite white elephant gifts.

Episode 13: Rapey Tendencies

After our long summer break, we are back and back with a vengeance. In this episode we discuss the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, internet mobs, justice, hypocrisy, and truth. And that’s just in the first ten minutes. We also discuss the books that changed what you realized a book could be. Spoiler Alert: Amanda chose a C.S. Lewis book.

Episode 10: Movies and Books

In this far-reaching episode we laugh about Monty Python, read some listener emails, argue a bit about Christian Environmentalism, and think about divorce within the church. David learns about Godwin’s Law and tries to formulate his own law. We talk about Moviepass and skiing and how the cost of time influences our experience. And then come the book recommendations.