Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Favorite Records of 2007

Because year end lists are so fun!  BTW if you've never read it, please do yourself a favor and check out Steve Turner's Imagine:  A Vision for Christians in the Arts.  And why not buy one of these records and try an exercise in discernment!  (

10) "Andorra" by Caribou
Gorgeous Beach Boys harmonies, Allman Bros. "Live at Fillmore" drums, with restrained electronics mixed in.  The first five or six songs are all great, the second half tends to drag.  

9) "At My Age" by Nick Lowe
I put off getting this on emusic for too long.  Lowe wrote "Cruel to Be Kind" to give you some context.  Great song choices--I'm still trying to figure out which ones are originals.  Self-assured, bright and very British music with minimal production and a great horn section throughout.  

8) "Cease to Begin" by Band of Horses
Great Neil Young inspired tunes following in the vein of the Shins.  They've almost surpassed their Sub-Pop mentors--these songs have better hooks and are less self-aware than anything off "Wincing the Night Away." 

7) "God Save the Clientele" by The Clientele
You won't like The Clientele the first time you hear them.  It took me a good while to "get it." 
As British as you can get, Alisdair is an incredible lyricist and an even better mood-setter. These songs are the brightest he's written and this is now my favorite Clientele record.

6) "Raising Sand" by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant
T Bone Burnett produced this release, which I got to hear two months early from my friend who works at Rounder (thanks T!).  Perfect song choices for their voices, and a Lanois-esque southern gothic vibe.  Hard to believe that Alison Krauss's voice could get any prettier--it really is next to Robert Plant's harmony.  

5) "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" by Josh Ritter
I got into "The Animal Years" late in the game but jumped on this one right after it came out. 
These songs are much better than anything from his previous release.  This one feels like a classic album from the 70's.  

4) "Armchair Apocrypha" by Andrew Bird
Maybe my most listened to album of the year.  Plucking violins,  guitars with just the right amount of tasty reverb, and great jazz inspired songs.   
3) "Magic" by Bruce Springsteen
Just got it.  Some critic said this was almost better than "Nebraska" so I had to check it out.  It's not anywhere close to "Nebraska" but EVERY song is great.  So unpretentious, soo good.

2) "Neon Bible" by The Arcade Fire
I got to see them at the Judson church in Washington Square.  Even though the sound was horrible, it was one of the best shows I've ever seen.  This is a great follow-up to "Funeral." 

1) "In Rainbows" by Radiohead
Glimpses of OK Computer, lots of guitars, huge atmospheric bridges, and Thom Yorke's inimitable voice.  I paid $7.   

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lucie Susanna Pensak

Out of darkness, God brings light! (Lucie=Light)

posted from

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

School's Out!

Our students have exams this week, so it's nice to have a break.  It's hard to believe that this coming Wednesday our little girl will finally be here!  Please pray for us.  I'll post pictures here when they become available.  For now this will have to do.  

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Derek Webb at UConn

We are thrilled at the opportunity to bring Derek Webb (with opening act Kelley McRae) to UConn this coming Tuesday! This show is the first in a series of Northeast dates for Derek, and the only show in CT, so if you're in the area come on out! Tickets are only $5 and because of a generous grant from the Day Foundation (started by the founder of Days Inn), 100% of the proceeds from the show will go directly to the Hartford Rescue mission. We have developed a great relationship with Gregg Woods, director of the mission, as we bring a group of students to volunteer once a month. The rescue mission serves meals six nights a week in their North Hartford neighborhood (in the poorest zip code in CT). So that's just one more reason to come.
See you Tuesday night!

For more about Derek and Kelley, visit their websites:

Saturday, August 11, 2007

People Get Ready

I'm looking forward to UConn starting back in a couple weeks. Please pray for me as I prepare for the juggernaut that is the Fall semester. Thankfully because I've been doing supply preaching at a local church that doesn't have a pastor, I have the first four messages I'll give at UConn in pocket. Hopefully that will relieve me to spend more time with students as well as my family during this hectic time. I will be going back to the gospel of John (I did John last Fall), starting where I left off in chapter six. This was completely unintentional, but it just so happens that John 6 contains the first of Jesus' seven "I Am" proclamations in this gospel. The theme this semester as I see it taking shape in my studies is "life"--what is it all about and how do we go about living it? Every time I sit down to write a sermon, I'm thankful I don't have to start at square one. There's plenty that's been said by a lot of people who are smarter than me about the Bible. No matter where I am in the Bible, I always find myself coming back to Calvin's Institutes: "Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves." And as Calvin said in another place in the Institutes, "In knowing God, we know ourselves." Please pray with me that students at UConn would come to know themselves, maybe even for the first time, as they come to know their God this semester.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Summertime in CT

Really enjoying the debut from St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark). Very weird, but very genius. Apparently live she produces all of the sounds on this record by herself. It's her, a guitar, a sampler and a kick drum. Hope I get to see that for myself.

And the new Ryan Adams (Easy Tiger) does not disappoint either. It's like he finally just got over himself and made the Neil Young-inspired record we all wanted him to make.

It's nice to have time to make my way through the stack of books I've collected over the past six months. A couple highlights:

Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock

by Andrew Beaujon
is more a journey inside the phenomenon of American Christian subculture. Written by a guy from Spin, it is surprisingly balanced and insightful. Especially amusing are his reactions to insider language evangelicals take for granted, like why churches are "planted" and not just, um, "started."

Terrorist by John Updike
is the first Updike novel I've ever read. I filled his prescriptions when I worked part-time as a pharmacy tech in a posh Boston North Shore town during my seminary days. Always wanted to ask him about his poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter, but could never summon the courage. Came across a quote by him in Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book. Updike said Karl Barth's book The Word of God and the Word of Man gave him "a philosophy to live and labor by, and in that way changed my life." He sums up the Biblical world view as he drew it from Barth: "that truth is holy, and truth-telling a noble and useful profession; that the reality around us is created and worth celebrating; that men and women are radically imperfect and radically valuable." Yeah, I think it's safe to say we should read Barth again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

RUF Summer Conference

Just got back. We logged just under 60 hours in the car (there and back). We had a great time but it's good to be home. Mike Campbell was the speaker for the week. He's an African American PCA pastor in Jackson, MS. His passion is racial reconciliation and that came through in his messages on "Dying to Sin, Living to Christ." One night we went bowling (that explains the matching tube socks and the blacklight friendly airbrush tshirts). Thanks to those who gave scholarships so students could go.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The angel and the cup

After Jesus' terrible prayer at Gethsemane, an angel came to him and gave him strength, but did not remove the cup. --Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Some writers seem to have an inborn ability to capture a certain mood and sustain it until you become mesmerized. Berry is one of those. There is a certain silence that you can cut with a knife--a silence you can feel. And you feel it most when you are alone. That feeling is what Berry captures so well. It is a "Be-Still-and-Know-That-I-Am-God" kind of solitude, the kind that causes the pang behind the pang to well up inside you.

It's been three months since we held our precious Caroline. The pangs of sorrow are still very deep and for some reason they have risen to the surface this past week. Today I had to go approve the etching for her gravestone. I had no idea how difficult it would be. When I walked in the door, it felt like someone punched me in the stomach. There, laid across a drafting table on thin white carbon paper was my dear daughter's name with the date underneath: December 16th, 2006. Underneath will be a picture of a small lamb with the inscription, "I Am Jesus' Little Lamb -Isaiah 40:11." That verse says, "He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; and gently lead those that are with young."

Sometimes it feels like he didn't really drink the cup all the way down. That some has spilled out on us.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

King of Queens

This weekend we're hanging out with our good friends the Hickmans in Queens. Pat and Stephanie Hickman started an RUF ministry at St. John's here about the same time we started at UConn. It has been so good to connect with friends who are doing exactly what we are doing (in a very different setting). When they visit us it's for a break from the stress of city life and when we visit them it's for a break from feeling like we're in the middle of nowhere :). Today we took the kids to a really cool place, the CMA (Children's Museum of Art), where Nadine, Patton, Hogan and Libby got to paint and make clay sculptures. Then we walked about 15 blocks through Soho to Washington Square and ate at the Peanut Butter Co. Pat and I got the "Elvis" sandwich--peanut butter, banana and honey of course--but with a unique bonus that I'm sure Elvis would have loved: bacon. I think it goes without saying that it was good.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Frozen Ocean

Last weekend UConn RUF joined RUF groups from Trinity College, Yale and the University of New Haven for our second annual winter conference in Cape Cod. As cold as it was, we had an amazing time. I saw something I've never seen before--a frozen ocean--and it was nothing short of spectacular. It looked like Antarctica. Interesting fact: When the ocean freezes, it freezes in waves (it's not flat). Incredible. My friend Abe Cho from citylife church in Boston was our speaker for the weekend, and he did a great job talking about how the gospel is meant to "dig up our roots" and transform us. The Spirit was at work in the Word--there were many tears shed as students (and campus ministers) began to look honestly at the bad roots that so easily become entrenched in our hearts, turning even "good" works into weapons against God. One of the more insightful things Abe pointed out is that when you look at your heart (instead of your good or bad behavior), you are seeing the motivation behind why you are doing what you are doing. For example, take something most of us would say was good fruit in our lives, evidence that God is at work in our hearts--honesty. Now think about how often for you telling the truth is motivated by either guilt or fear. Guilt: "I'm going to tell the truth because I don't lie, I'm not a liar, I'm just not that kind of person." Fear: "I'm going to tell the truth because I'm scared of the consequences if I don't," OR "I want this person to think better of me than they already do--I'm not lying, I'm just witholding information." Notice the root motivation behind the outwardly "good" behavior is bad. There is no gospel root at all. So what does good fruit look like then? It is honesty rooted in the freedom the gospel brings. And what does the gospel have to say about freedom? We are set free from our bondage to other people's approval. We are set free from our bondage to our sin. So we tell the truth not because we are good people, not because we are afraid, but because we love the God who set us free and who calls us to tell the truth even as He tells us the truth about our hearts. All of this is from the book How People Change by Lane and Tripp (, which I would highly recommend to you.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Arcade Fire in NYC

My friend C.J. (now the #1 coolest friend I have) emailed me last week to tell me he got us tickets to go see one of our favorite bands, the Arcade Fire, in NYC next weekend. Just how hot are these tickets? The band is playing five straight nights and all five nights sold out online in five minutes. Gothamist has a post about the show.

What is so great about this band? Well, one of the fruits of reading Seeing Through Cynicism is this quote:
In popular culture, modern knowledge has become "postmodern knowingness." Earnestness and seriousness are out. Frank Gannon wrote: "Something in the human mind says it's hopeless: The existence of God is something that human beings can never entirely discount, or entirely prove. Why torture yourself trying to answer a question like that? Get a hobby. Work out regularly. Eat low fat. Forget about what Yeats called "vague immensities"...Yet something deep in your soul says, Go ahead. Seek the ultimate answers. Maybe the human brain can actually "know" some transcendent divinity. Yeah. Good one. Don't hurt yourself, OK?
Keyes elsewhere quotes Robert Wright's The Moral Animal:

What is to be avoided at all costs in the postmodern age is earnestness, which betrays an embarrassing naivete...

University of Memphis head coach John Calipari sums it up well: "It's not cool to care." By postmodern standards, then, The Arcade Fire pulls up their pants to their armpits and LOVES linux. There is no irony. There is no winking "knowingness."

They sing songs about missing their parents.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Seeing Through Cynicism

Simply put: the book of the year, bar none. The most substantive, meaty, challenging, thought-provoking book I've read in a long time. Dick Keyes (I recently learned it is pronounced "KAIS," not "KEYS") is the director of L'Abri Fellowship in Southborough, MA. Do yourself a favor and buy it at (their 1 day delivery never ceases to amaze me). A longer post on the book is coming soon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Back at UConn/Update

The Spring Semester has officially begun. We had a great first meeting and it was so good to see everyone. Thanks again to all of you who have come alongside us and supported us during this time. Katie and I are still hurting (we have good days and bad ones), it mostly feels strange to go back to "normal life." Our faith in God's "meta-story" has been both strengthened and challenged by this great loss. We are clinging to the Romans 8:28 truth that God is at work bending even this tragedy for the good of His people. Sinclair Ferguson recently preached on that text and gave one of the best sermons I've heard on trusting in the providence of God (It's entitled "All Things for Good?"). I would highly recommend listening to it on his podcast. Search for "First Presbyterian Columbia" in iTunes.