“The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says ‘look at that’ and points.” – C.S. Lewis
Brandon hopes to pay attention. He wants to be like Ricky Fitts in the film American Beauty, who marvels at a plastic bag dancing with the leaves in the breeze (as cliché as that may be). From what he knows, Brandon is not crazy. Rather, little things hopefully remind Brandon that God is present in a world littered with beauty—and Brandon simply wants to point and say, “Look at that.”
Brandon hopes to see where God is speaking and working in all of life: in nature, movies, music, people—specifically what Jesus calls “the least of these” in Matthew 25—himself, and even politics, which he still has a lot to learn about. Brandon found this passion for the intersection between faith and culture at Azusa Pacific University, a small school in Southern California.
Brandon also cultivated a lifelong love for travel in college. He spent a semester studying the humanities at Azusa Pacific’s High Sierra campus near Yosemite, Calif. Brandon flew off to South Africa the next year, serving a local community called Haniville, living with locals near Cape Town, traveling the coast, and doing some studying in between. His last adventure before the “real world” sent him to study C.S. Lewis and poetry at Oxford University in England. There he thoroughly enjoyed a Christmas party at C.S. Lewis’s house.
Brandon is not originally from the Golden State. He hails from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Among many other things, he loves his family, friends, photography, seasons, and nostalgic movies that try to pin down the elusive concept of home.
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Links of Awesomeness: November 2, 2012
The first silent political ad, free temporary hosuing, sock insurance, Stephen Colbert having some fun with David Byrne and St. Vincent, and an awesome time lapse video of nature. Lots and lots of Internet goodness.
Freelance Whales Treat Washington, D.C.
Freelance Whales’ performance on Wednesday was a bit like my experience with Hurricane Sandy: One minute was jubilation at the prospect of no work for two days, and the next minute was a mellowed out restlessness, presumably from staying inside for too long.
That is definitely not to say that the performance was by any means terrible or disengaging. Rather, it simply means that the group from Queens meandered through most of their current catalogue, which consisted of the poppy, upbeat Weathervanes and the recently released, mellow, ambient Diluvia.
For popular catchy songs like “Generator ^ First Floor,” “Hannah,” or “Ghosting,” the crowd was quick to nod their heads, raise their hands, and sing along.
Pay Attention: An Afternoon with Billy Collins and Mary Oliver
What’s the first thing you think of when you think poetry readings by a Poet Laureate and a Pullitzer Prize winner? Well, whatever it is, I’m sure you weren’t thinking dogs.
Nonetheless, pet dogs were brought up more than anything else during poetry readings by Billy Collins and Mary Oliver at the Strathmore in Bethesda, Md. on Sunday. They managed to bring up their dogs in a beautifully poetic way, of course.
But perhaps the most important take away from the evening came from Oliver during a question and answer time after the readings. She said something like this: “Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful.”
Those are words I have tried to live by for the last year.
Both poets demonstrated that attention in their work — even in poems about dogs.
Links of Awesomeness: October 31, 2012
New Andrew Bird, a little Reformation polka, a concert film from Mumford and Sons, an app that hides all those pesky political Facebook updates, an awesome Halloween costume, a Hobbit-themed airline safety video, The Buddhist Rapper, and, of course, the top ten ways to smash a pumpking.
I know, that's a lot to take in.
On Love: 'Looper' and C.S. Lewis
As the credits rolled after Looper in a packed Chinatown movie theater in Washington, D.C., I simply sat in reverent silence. Moviegoers on all sides began to rise and quietly leave the theater, but for a brief moment all I could do was just sit there. Quite simply, the movie blew my mind.
When I snapped out of it my thoughts started racing, analyzing the ending, which I won’t ruin for you, and the movie as a whole. It wasn’t a question of whether it was “good” or captivating — those were givens. Rather, I started mining the film’s rich themes and questions, particularly what it said about love.
While sitting there, lost in my mind, I began to notice the music accompanying the names moving onscreen. The song’s chorus sang something like, “I loved you so much that it’s wrong.”
I don’t think the song choice was an accident.
That lyric, I think, illuminates the crux of the film: can something like “Love” — not just romantic love — become perverted? Or, in other words, can our love for one person lead us to do horrible things to others?
Links of Awesomeness: October 26, 2012
Some crazy faces, hilarious animal photo bombs, awesome music at NPR and KEXP, God in Golf (in a good way), and Sojourners' very own Alycia Ashburn (talking Creation Care with the people at OnEarth). Awesome links for an awesome day!
Links of Awesomeness: October 25, 2012
Google StreetView is in the Grand Canyon, a video tries to explain why the moon looks so big sometimes, a space shuttle gets shuttled across Los Angeles, Jon Stewarts talks with veterans about job qualifications, and Richard Nixon looks like a hipster. Woah!
Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.
Millennials' Reflections on the New American Values Survey
On Tuesday, the religion, policy, and politics project at Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hosted a forum to release PRRI's fourth American Values Survey (AVS), a large national, multi-issue survey on religion, values, and public policy.
We sent some of our interns to listen in on the findings. Here's what they thought about some of the issues raised by the report.
Links of Awesomeness: October 24, 2012
Videochat karaoke, dogs underwater, an Internet college sweatshirt, and "Emergency Compliment" posters. The Internet is full of awesomeness.
Kimbra: Eccentric But Enjoyable
If I were given one word to describe New Zealand singer-songwriter Kimbra, probably best known for singing the female part on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” it would be eccentric.
But that word is based almost entirely on her live show, where — after dimming the lights and playing the theme for The Godfather over the 9:30 Club’s speakers on Tuesday — Kimbra walked onto the stage, decked out in sleek elevator shoes, a fluffy dress laden with glitter and color (which eventually became a tutu), and what looked like pom poms draped over her shoulders. She would’ve looked even more out of place if her drummer wasn’t rocking a sweet high top fade.
But, even though concerts are performances — and as such necessitate an element of spectacle — the music obviously remains the reason people flock to see their favorite musicians.
Links of Awesomeness: October 22, 2012
Best places for a Halloween party, Stephen Colbert and The Hobbit, some sweet glass anatomical models, a green auditorium, and a really fashionable dog. Good day.
QUIRK: Ph.D. Students Explain their Research Using Interpretive Dance
Science students are known for their interpretive dance skills, right? Well, soon they might be.
For the last five years, Ph.D. students in science from all over the globe have been participating in Science's annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest.
The rules of Dance Your Ph.D. are simple:
- You must have a Ph.D., or be working on one as a Ph.D. student.
- Your Ph.D. must be in a science-related field.
- You must be part of the dance.
Passion Pit Shine in D.C.
In case you’re out of the loop, Passion Pit have emerged over the last five years as a pretty big indie-dance-rock group from the Boston area, seamlessly mixing elements of Vampire Weekend, the Beach Boys, and 80s music, among many other sounds and influences. Passion Pit started as a side project of lead singer Michael Angelakos — one that he thought wouldn’t go anywhere and was just for fun — and has quickly gained steam, releasing its second album last summer and performing on Saturday Night Live this past weekend.
On Tuesday they wrapped up three sold-out shows in Washington, D.C., with a triumphant performance, inspiring even the more awkward shyer attendees to move a little. Even the frat daddies who showed up because their girlfriends made them were getting into it.
Angelakos is well aware of Passion Pit’s tendency for infectious catchy songwriting.
“People feel like they're always singing along,” Angelakos told the Huffington Post. “There are always parts to sing along to. It's built into the music.”
QUIRK: It's Hard to Change the World, Especially as a Sweet Potato
Most people in Washington know that changing the world is hard. But it's even harder when you're a sweet potato named Claude.
But Claude is more than just a sweet potato. Claude is a symbol.
From celebrity chefs and mom bloggers to churchgoers and YouTube stars, ONE campaign members are mobilizing en masse around the country today — World Food Day — to raise awareness of global hunger and malnutrition. These activities are part of a new campaign from ONE that’s calling on world leaders “to make measurable commitments to reduce chronic malnutrition for 25 million kids by 2016 so they can reach their full potential.”
As part of the campaign, supporters around the globe are celebrating the sweet potato, an example of a nutritious crop that can help fight chronic malnutrition. Which is why Claude is a sweet potato and not a french fry.
Every year, malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than 2.4 million child deaths — or more than one third of all deaths of children under the age of five. Chefs Mario Batali, José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson, Spike Mendelsohn and Hugh Acheson are among dozens of celebrated chefs who will support the campaign by shining a spotlight on the humble sweet potato in the coming months.
QUIRK: Francis Chan Learns to Speak Northern Irish
Top o' aftornune to ya!
Francis Chan recently sat down with the Northern Irish Christian band The Rend Collective to test his Northern Irish speaking skillz. Chan holds his own. Most of the time he mimics his Irish friend well.
But what do I know? I'm not from Ireland.
I do, however, enjoy accents. And hopefully you do too. Enjoy.
Jens Lekman: Why You Should Check out Swedish Indie Pop
Jens Lekman is a storyteller.
Wait, Jens who? How do you pronounce that?
Jens (pronounced “Yens”) Lekman is a witty, hopelessly romantic Swedish musician from a suburb of Gothenburg.
Lekman was at the 9:30 club in D.C. last Friday — armed with a small acoustic guitar that fuels his unique indie pop style. Occasionally he reached over and pressed the pads of his sampler, cuing thumping bass accompaniment and flurries of strings to compliment his smooth voice, violinist, bassist, drummer, and pianist.
While he may not be on top of the iTunes album charts, Jens (I feel like we’re on a first name basis simply because he was so relaxed and open at the show) is definitely worth a listen, whether it’s at home, in the car, on the go, or — especially — in concert.
ICYMI: A Roundup of New Fall Music
Just in case you missed it (ICYMI), here's a roundup of new music that should be rocking your Spotify playlists.
Beth Orton: Sugaring Season
In her first release since 2006’s Comfort of Strangers, British singer-songwriter Beth Orton created a beautiful record leaning more toward the folk of her signature “folktronica” sound. Orton opts for stripped down, simplified arrangements, drawing mostly on acoustic guitars, strings, and her soft voice to propel each song. The music moves from the melancholy rich guitar sound of Nick Drake incorporating Simon and Garfunkel melodies to more upbeat, lighthearted tunes. The album, recorded in Portland, Ore., is a perfect companion for a drive through countryside of the Pacific Northwest.
Highlights: “Magpie,” “Call me the Breeze,” “Mystery”
Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams
The brainchild of singer-songwriter Ben Schneider, the music on Lord Huron’s first LP Lonesome Dreams is surprisingly reflective of its album art. (A designer friend of mine once advised me to take any direction I wanted when designing an album cover because they “usually don’t have to make any sense.”) On the grainy cover is a painting of a lone horse rider under the night sky of the desert. Much like the openness of the desert, the songs are expansive and feel like they have depth. The ethereal expanses laden with reverb, sitar, and moon chimes lend themselves well to the picture of the desert sky. Lonesome Dreams feels both antique and refreshingly new. Its themes are large — love, loneliness, and that itch to explore— but it doesn’t at all feel preachy or overzealous.
Highlights: “Ends of the Earth,” “Time to Run,” “She Lit a Fire”
Meet the Nones: Humbly Christian
Editor's Note: Brandon Hook tells his story of why he's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study .
Links of Awesomeness: October 9, 2012
Babies eating lemons, the future plays out, a backpack that gives back, and a heft case of First World Problems (FWP).
Freelance Whales Evolve on 'Diluvia'
Battlestar Galactica—not the first thing you think of while mining the vast array of influences on an indie rock record. Even more surprising might be Carl Sagan’s The Cosmos or the History Channel’s Ancient Alien Theory. But all three shows played vital parts in inspiring Freelance Whales’ newest record Diluvia.
“All three of those shows have an abundance of emotional storytelling that we just found really inspiring,” said Chuck Criss, who plays banjo, bass, synthesizer, glockenspiel, harmonium, acoustic and electric guitar, and provides vocals for the band. “[But] I don't want to give the impression that we made a Bowie sci-fi record.”
While they may not have set out to make another soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the sci-fi influences are definitely apparent on Diluvia, particularly in the twitchy electronic sounds that open and close most of the album’s songs as well as the ambient, spacey atmosphere permeating Diluvia. Both are a far cry from the quintet from the Queens’ opening album, Weathervanes (2009), which they described as “layered, textured pop music.”