A Few of My Favorite Things

Leaving out my all-time favorites Carlos Santana and John Coltrane, whom I've written about for Sojourners, here are a few cultural artifacts I'm currently excited about. Maybe it's because I've recently turned 40 and find myself doing a lot of recollecting, but after writing this I realized that together these items trace a trajectory through the story of my life.

The Republic of East L.A., by Luis Rodriguez. In this collection of short stories, Rodriguez brings us into the lives of a wide range of characters from Los Angeles' Latino barrio. Some of their stories are inspiring, like that of a struggling Chicano newspaper reporter who solves a grisly murder mystery. Some are exceedingly tragic, like that of a young woman who witnesses the murder of her sister, is gang raped, and has her baby aborted by her addict mother. All of Rodriguez's stories show the strength of a people who insist on embracing life in spite of its painful contradictions. (Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins)

Dogtown and Z-Boys, directed by Stacy Peralta, documents the origins of modern skateboarding, born in Santa Monica ("Dogtown") and other gritty, down-and-out beach communities of Los Angeles. In the mid-'70s, a ragtag group of kids called the Z-Boys (which included the maker of this film) took the gymnastics-oriented skateboarding of the 1960s and radically transformed it with close-to-the-concrete moves inspired by surfing and a hard-core street gang attitude. Their in-your-face style of skateboarding, compared to "a hockey team competing with figure skaters," is now being lost in the world of professional contests, lucrative sponsorships, and skating styles that value TV-friendly precision over Dogtown's explosive slash-n-grind style. (Sony Pictures Classics)

Slow Train Coming, by Bob Dylan. This album usually doesn't make the list of Dylan's greatest works, but Slow Train played a significant role in my acceptance of God, and I still turn it on for inspiration. Some of the theology from the songs of Dylan's born-again era is a little blunt, but his words had the same transformative power on me in 1979 as they did on my parents in the early '60s. They made me a believer. (Columbia Records)

Stay Human, by Michael Franti and Spearhead, is a sign of grace and truth, bringing soul, funk, and hip-hop together with hard-hitting political activism. Reviving the spirits of socially conscious artists such as Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, and Gil Scott-Heron, Franti offers a strong voice denouncing the dehumanizing nature of the death penalty, racism, and partisan politics. Yet, with equally powerful tenderness and passion, the singer calls us to unity and strength in the struggle to "stay human." This is the soulful edge of the revolution. (Six Degrees/Ryko Distribution)

Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), directed by Zacharias Kunuk, is a profoundly spiritual film written, directed, and acted by Inuit of Arctic Canada. Set in the beautiful landscape of the frozen north of a millennium ago, Atanarjuat retells an ancient Inuit myth about a nomadic community that is ripped apart by the greed, lust, and envy brought by an evil shaman. In an archetypal battle between good and evil, the hero Atanarjuat confronts his natural and supernatural enemies and restores spiritual harmony to his community. Isn't this what we're all called to? (Igloolik Isuma Productions/National Film Board of Canada)

Aaron McCarroll Gallegos is a Sojourners contributing writer living in Toronto.

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