The best and worst Christmas songs, part 2: electric boogaloo

large_3119568364

Ah, Christmas… the time when we eat delicious food, spend time avoiding uncomfortable conversations, celebrate the birth of Jesus… and, listen to a whole lotta Christmas songs.

Last year, I shared five of the best and worst Christmas songs. Some are ones that I joyfully listen to (much to my wife’s chagrin). Others, well, not so much.

But I realized there were more out there. And so, here we are: the best and worst Christmas songs, part two:


Best: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This one was on last year’s list, too, but with a different arrangement. Dustin Kensrue, under the Modern Post moniker, released a new version on his Child of Glory EP, and it is delightful.

In fact, do yourself a favor: buy that EP and just put it on repeat. It’s one of the few Christmas compilations I really enjoy.


Worst: Christmas Shoes

This one was by popular demand—and in fact, I am fairly certain my distaste for the song caused me to block it from my memory.


Best: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Paul McCartney made last year’s “worst” list. This time, he’s got a really nice take on a classic song to make up for it:


Worst: All I Want for Christmas is You / Last Christmas (tie)

This is a terrific pair of yuck: one in which Mariah Carey sings about Christmas, but not about Christmas. The other is Wham.


Best: O Come O Come, Emmanuel

Sufjan’s a bit passé these days, but this take on this classic song is wonderful.


Worst: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Because, as we were reminded in 1984, it’s important to feel as guilty as possible at Christmas time, just like Jesus wanted.


Best: Please Come Home For Christmas

I love Blues. Therefore this song by Charles Brown wins.


Worst: Christmas Don’t Be Late

Because the Chipmunks may, in fact, be made of pure concentrated evil (as evidenced by the movies).


Best: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Okay, I know I shouldn’t include music performed by the same artist twice on a list, but I’m doing it anyway. I really enjoy this take on O Little Town of Bethlehem by Dustin Kensrue.


Worst: Funky, Funky Christmas

I had completely forgotten until recently that the New Kids on the Block made a Christmas record. Oh, how I wish I this information was still lost to me.


Photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

The worst books I read in 2014

large_3981364314

Yeah, I’m going there.

Usually at the end of the year, us blogger types only talk about the books and articles and moments and cookies we really loved. The ones that really mattered to us (at least for a few minutes).

I’ve got lots of that coming up, have no fear. But what I want to do today is I want to kick off the “best of” season with a bit of a twist, and share a few of the really bad books I read in 2014. Some (most?) were released this year. Some were crazy popular. But none of them were particularly good. Ready? Let’s go!

That time R.C. Sproul wrote a bad children’s book

The King Without a Shadow by R.C. Sproul. Okay, this might be a shocker to some. But if I’ve got my timeline right, this is Sproul’s first children’s book, and it shows. My wife and I read it to our kids and it was

so

very

loooooooong.

It’s so long that Emily lost focus while reading it. I may or may not have feel asleep while reading it, too. We love Sproul’s other children’s books (although none of them are really all that short), yeah, this is one we’re not planning on going back to any time soon.

The one that put a cramp in my soul

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick. You may have seen my review over at TGC a while back. (And if you haven’t read it, will you please? I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.) That review, incidentally, took ages to write as I had to try really hard to not go all ad hominem on Furtick. Its false premise, defensiveness and hopeless help isn’t worth your time.

The other one that put a cramp in my soul

Killing Lions by John and Sam Eldridge. There’s a review coming. The first line: “I don’t even know where to start with this book.” True story.

The one that didn’t really say anything

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. I know this book is a business classic and all, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I can figure out why. So many pages, so little content. If you want to save yourself some trouble, just read the opening and final pages of each chapter; you’ll get everything you need from those. Then go read something by Patrick Lencioni, because he’s way more fun.

The one that is sincere, but sincerely wrong

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. This is another one I’ve been struggling to review, not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I want to be as thoughtful as possible in doing so. My central point of contention is that while Vines relies on the standard—and largely disproven—arguments for homosexuality’s compatibility with Christianity, he bases his arguments in experientialism and emotionalism disguised as “fruit.”

Bonus: The one that was too obviously ridiculous to even bother reading

The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell. C’mon, like you didn’t know this book wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time from the title alone. When a supposed Christian ex-pastor starts spouting pagan1 nonsense about increasing the energy flow between you and your spouse, and the displacement of God’s omnipresence (something that, by definition, is not even possible), you know you’re going to crazy town.


Photo credit: cesarastudillo via photopin cc

The weird and the witty: A choose your own autobiography

I walked into my local Chapters, making my usual bee-line for the Starbucks, when it caught my eye.

No, not Joel Osteen’s beautiful (and likely very expensive) smile…

osteen-book

(Although…)

No, something much more amazing. This:

NPH-autobiography

Autobiographies are weird animals. Most of us don’t have a life stories interesting enough to fill a book (or at least, one people would want to read). The same goes for celebrities, who also don’t really have lives that could fill a book you’d want to read, either.

And yet, here we are.

And here this is.

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography may well be the most clever addition to the ever expanding line of celebrity life stories, simply because of the schtick of putting the reader in the driver’s seat of Harris’ life. For example:

You, Neil Patrick Harris, are born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 15, 1973, at what you’re pretty sure is St. Joseph’s Hospital, although it’s hard to be certain as the whole experience leaves you a little blurry.

The first person you encounter is, not surprisingly, your mother, Sheila Scott Harris. As the years go by you will come to learn she is a truly remarkable woman filled with love, kindness, fragility, selflessness, intelligence, wisdom, and humor. The kind of mom who will talk to you like a person and treat you with respect from the age of two. The kind of mom who will hold you in her lap for an entire four-hour car ride, lightly scratching your back. The kind of mom who teaches you the rules of Twenty Questions and then lets you guess the “right” answer even though it wasn’t what she was thinking, but does it subtly enough to keep you from realizing that’s what she’s doing. The kind of mom traditional enough to sing in the Episcopal church choir every week but hip enough to improvise a horrific death for a character in the bedtime story she’s reading you just to make sure you’re paying attention. The kind of mom who sews your Halloween costumes and plays the flute and loves to laugh and encourages you to pursue your passions and at one point trains to become a Jazzercise instructor and at another decides to go back to law school in her thirties and commute four hours each way every weekend for three solid years to make sure she spends enough time with you.

This is a pretty clever approach to an autobiography, one that shows a certain willingness to poke fun at oneself too rarely found in celebrities. But then again, Harris did start something of a career comeback mocking himself in the early 2000s, so…

The weird and the witty: The world’s greatest ukulele players

large_4933046630

A few weeks ago I was in Orillia, Ontario, to preach. While I was travelling, my wife and children spent the weekend with my in-laws and Emily decided to take up… the ukulele. So, our home of late has been filled with the chipper sounds of the underdog of guitar-like instruments.

But did you know you can do some pretty amazing stuff with one of these? It’s true. Check out three pretty fantastic takes on pop songs, as performed by some of the world’s greatest ukulele players.


The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (yes, that’s a thing) offers what may be the most unique rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I’ve heard (aside from Paul Anka’s version):


James Hill performs “Billie Jean”:


And finally, Jake Shimabukuro performs Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the ukulele. Seriously, this is really impressive:

(You should also check out his cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Wow!)


Photo credit: Luis Hernandez – D2k6.es via photopin cc

The weird and the witty: Dumb Ways to Die, Dropbox and Bots

One of the things I really love are clever PSAs and promotional videos. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. In my day job, I’m doing a lot of work with video, learning what makes a great short piece that engages and compels viewers to action
  2. I genuinely enjoy the process of learning how these work (and writing them is a lot of fun, too!)
  3. The best ones always—always—make me laugh.

These are some of the best I’ve seen lately.

This is the best “Don’t be dumb around trains” PSA I’ve ever seen. And it’s dang catchy, too:

Meet Sincerely Truman:

This is a great piece from Solve Media:

Finally, this will absolutely make you want to work for Dropbox:

What are some of your favorite clever videos?

The weird and the witty: The annotating Spurgeon

People who know me and my reading habits know that I love to mark up, mess up and beat up my books. I write a LOT of notes, and have little conversations with authors in the margins of my hardcopy books. Sometimes these are pretty funny (at least for me), but other times, they’re expressing my deep frustration with what I’m reading—at least when it’s wrong.

And all who’ve seen my now-lost ARC of Love Wins said, “Amen.”

One of my favorite books to mark up was the first edition of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (which remains one of my least favorite books, but that’s another story).

At the time, I happened to be reading with a red pen in hand and as I did, I found myself fully crossing out entire pages, and writing a simple and direct response:

No. Read your Bible.

I should also mention that I’d been a Christian for all of a year at the time.

But thankfully, I’m not alone in this. In fact, it turns out I’m in good company, as Adrian Warnock reminded those who follow him on Twitter yesterday when he shared a masterful bit of annotating by Charles “Oh, snap!” Spurgeon:

spurgeon-annotation

Spurgeon, never one to let his opinion remain hidden, certainly gave us a clear picture of what he thought of Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s work, didn’t he?

Do you mark up your books? What’s the funniest margin conversation you’ve had with an author?

The weird and the witty: an Electric Monk on a bored horse

If there’s one thing I learned as a grumpy, broke and pretentious teen and twenty-something, it’s this: It taking life too seriously is hard work. It takes a lot of effort to be dour all the time.

This is helpful for me to remember now as a thirty-something. After all, I work for for a ministry that does very serious (and very good) work. The material my team and I produce tends to be focused on very serious issues, even when we’re telling hopeful stories. And sometimes there’s almost this expectation that I’ll spend my free time focused on those areas, too.

But I don’t really like reading a lot of books on poverty and social justice, despite having written one. I don’t enjoy movies like Slumdog Millionaire; I’d rather go see something like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post: starting today, and over the next few weeks, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite weird and witty moments from books, movies and web videos. These are just silly, witty and weird things that make me laugh. I’m sharing them with you for one reason: It’s really easy to be far too serious as Christians and forget to do things like laugh. But God wants us to laugh—He gave us senses of humor, so we should use them!

So here’s the first bit of weird and witty, something from one of my favorite Douglas Adams’ books, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:

Holistick-Detective-Agency1

High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse. From under its rough woven cowl the Monk gazed unblinkingly down into another valley, with which it was having a problem.…

The problem with the valley was this. The Monk currently believed that the valley and everything in the valley and around it, including the Monk and the Monk’s horse, was a uniform shade of pale pink. This made for a certain difficulty in distinguishing any one thing from any other thing, and therefore made doing anything or going anywhere impossible, or at least difficult and dangerous. Hence the immobility of the Monk and the boredom of the horse, which had had to put up with a lot of silly things in its time but was secretly of the opinion that this was one of the silliest. (4-5)

It’s a simple scene, but it sets up the absurdity of everything that is to follow in this book. And be honest, you smiled at least a little reading that, didn’t you?

Because sometimes you just need to laugh

Four videos that make me smile:

1. Tim Hawkins combines everything I hate about country in this video:

2. Word crimes hurt us all. But this song is great:

3. “How can we expect children to learn to read if they can’t even fit in the building?”

4. “Yeah, that’s not appropriate”

What’s a funny video you’ve seen lately?

Five books I’m (probably) not proposing

origin_461123879

One of the scariest part of the writer’s life is proposing books. When I first finally mustered up the courage to send out a proposal for Awaiting a Savior, I was more than a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. The book sat with multiple publishers, most of whom rejected it, before Cruciform Press kindle picked it up and made it the moderately profitable book it is today.

But there have been many (many!) other book ideas that have come up since then. At present I’m hoping to see at least one come to light, but only time (and the Lord’s sovereign hand) will tell. But there are others. Some have the potential to earn tens of dollars, some are purely entertaining for me, and others would probably be best left in a folder called “don’t ever, ever try to write these.”

Which is which? You tell me:

Idea #1: Contentment and the Art of Ministry-Mobile Maintenance

What my franken-car taught me about contentment and humility in the face of strange noises and all-too-frequent repair bills.

Idea #2: How to Win Friends and Pants People

Become an influencer in the wrong crowd with this surefire self-help bestseller.

Idea #3: Your Average Life… Now!

While every day might be a Friday for some people, the rest of us have a case of the Mondays. Own your okayness as you learn that you don’t have to have it all, that a “meh” day isn’t a sign of unfaithfulness and sometimes “success” just means getting your pants on right the first time.

Idea #4: Discipline (Is) For Dummies

Join my children and me on a journey of discovery as we seek to learn about “consequences”.

Idea #5: The Prophets’ Diet

More prophets than Daniel have something to say about your eating habits. With advice from the likes of Ezekiel, Elijah and John the Baptist, this is guaranteed to be the last Christian diet book you’ll ever (want to) read!


An earlier version of this post was first publishing in April 2011. Photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

10 things you want to say at the border but really shouldn’t

canadian-flag

“Do you have anything to declare?”

I get asked this question every time I return to Canada, and every time I have to stifle a giggle. This is mostly because I’m terribly immature. But seriously, every time I cross the border, I have to fight from making a silly comment that’s sure to send me straight into the loving arms of Canadian or American security personnel.

On our way home from Nashville this past weekend, Emily and I were laughing about the things we could say when asked this question. Here are a few of the answers we thought were pretty funny:

  1. “We had a wonderful time, thanks for asking!”
  2. “I’m a little gassy, sorry.”
  3. “Bankruptcy!”
  4. “Do you know they’ve got beer in their grocery stores?”
  5. “A monkey and a jetpack.”
  6. “I forgot my passport, can I just show it to you next time?”
  7. “I love lamp.”
  8. “The only things we bought were a bunch of Guns… [uncomfortably long pause] and Roses t-shirts.”
  9. “These aren’t my kids.” (See also, “These aren’t my parents.”)
  10. “Not really, do you?”

What about you? What are some ways you’ve always wanted to answer the declaration question at the border?

The original Christian hipster

The other day, my wife was picking our daughter up at her bus stop and, as she waited, she saw a lady pass by, dressed in a long green coat with a belt around the waist, wearing a hand-knitted toque, and a long multi-colored scarf, but she couldn’t get a look at her face. So, she was left with a troubling question:

Was she an old lady—or a hipster?

Hipsters, the über-hip group of 20-30 somethings who replaced the Emo phenomenon of the mid-2000s, can be identified easily: usually by their fashion sense, preferring vintage and thrift store inspired garb over the mass-produced consumer fashions from Walmart. (Also known as the opposite of me.)

They would resonate with Grandpa Gil from Trevin Wax’s Clear Winter Nights, who “sported a pair of glasses that looked remarkably en vogue—not because they were new but because he had worn them so long they’d come back into style.”

But, like any other fashion trend, they’re only riffing off of what’s come before.

The Christian hipsters are no different. They owe their fashion sense to several men from an earlier generation, but there’s one man in particular to whom they owe an enormous debt:

John-Piper-hands-up

And by the way, when Piper freestyles, he rarely loses confidence

You’re welcome.

My favorite #SuperBowl moments

Confession: I didn’t watch the Super Bowl last night. In fact, the last time I watched a Super Bowl was in 2005, I think. Clearly, I am not a sports fan. But even so, I did find a number of the tweets about the Super Bowl pretty hilarious. Here are a few of my favorites:

And a bonus Instagram from Jon Acuff:

7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher

fortune-cookie

They’re big, bold and beautiful—or at least wearing beautifully tailored suits. Prosperity preachers, selling you the finest in positive attitudes, living your dreams and making every day a Friday.

Not too long ago, my wife was feeling a bit down, and a super-nice lady whose kids go to the same school as our daughter gave her some books to encourage her. Funnily enough, they all happened to be prosperity theology books (which has led to some entertaining and positive discussion around the house).

Every so often we all stumble into prosperity theology, usually unwittingly. While occasionally you’ll get a nugget of helpful truth (in the same way that you’ll find some helpful things in your average self-help book), there’s a lot of goofiness which can make for a fun night of “Joel Osteen or Fortune Cookie.” So, how do you know if you’re reading a book written by a prosperity preacher? Here are seven signs:

1. A bright shiny smile that looks like it belongs on a poster for a dentist office. For example:

The only exception? TD Jakes, but that’s only because he seems incapable of smiling in a photograph (although he does smirk).

2. The title makes it clear someone is really important—and that someone is you.

God is Not Mad at You, Reposition Yourself, Your Best Life Now, Become a Better You, It’s Your Time… I’m noticing a trend here. Someone’s a pretty big deal, and apparently that someone is me.

I feel so much better now.

3. It’s advice that could easily be confused with the message from a fortune cookie. Taste the highly processed encouragement:

“You may think there is a lot wrong with you, but there is also a lot right with you.”1

“Unhappiness does not come from the way things are, but from the difference between how things are and how we think they should be”2

“Never make a permanent decision about a temporary situation.”3

“Sometimes you can tell what something is by what is isn’t.”4

I have no idea what that last one even means.

4. There’s a proverb on the cover. Often something like Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it”—but you’re not likely to find Proverbs 18:11, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.”

5. Someone’s caps lock got stuck. For example:

God has said to us, just as surely as He said to Isaac, “I WILL PERFORM in your life THE BLESSING of Abraham. I heal you! I prosper you! I create the conditions of Eden around you, and you will carry THE BLESSING to people everywhere you go!”5

I’m pretty sure Kenneth Copeland needs a new keyboard, he may have broken his in his excitement, what do you think? Also, what does that even mean?

6. It may or may not be trying to cast wicked spells. Remember, “It’s our faith that activates the power of God.”6

7. Seven is always the magic number. You can learn the seven steps to living your full potential, the seven keys to improving your life every day, and how to be happier seven days a week. Seven really is the magic number, isn’t it?

So there you have it. The seven signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher. Wait—seven signs??

A few of the weirdest Christmas specials ever made

Yesterday I shared a few of the best and worst Christmas songs ever made (although noticeably absent was “Christmas Shoes”). But Christmas doesn’t bring out the weirdest of music—it makes TV even more peculiar than normal. There are so many to choose from that it’s hard to keep the list short. Nevertheless, here are a few of the weirdest Christmas specials ever made:

He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special

Yep, you read that right. He-Man and She-Ra had a Christmas special. “Special” doesn’t quite explain this one:

Pee-wee’s Christmas Special

Yeah, I know. It’s Pee-wee Herman, so of course it’s going to be weird. But still. Here’s the opening montage:

Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas

Because, Bowie:

That time Webster and Mr. T celebrated Christmas

Yeah, the 80s were weird:

And, of course, I’ve saved the best (or weirdest) for last:

The Star Wars Holiday Special

“Life Day,” wookies, Princess Leia singing, and Bea Arthur.

Yep.

This was so bad that even George Lucas (who has not yet disowned the prequel trilogy) has done all he can to make sure it never again sees the light of day. Try as he might, it’s still out there:

Anything you think should be added to this list?