Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #2: Civil Wars - The One That Got Away

What can be written that hasn't already been said about the Civil Wars and their acrimonious relationship? This song has so many layers of meaning - are they singing about each other? Do they really wish they'd never formed this incredible musical union? Is there something deeper that has caused them to split up? Or maybe it's just a song about longing and heartache and not being satisfied with the relationship you have. However you choose to interpret the song, it is one heavy emotional outpouring that still takes my breath away.

Favourite Lyric
Oh, if I could go back in time
When you only held me in my mind
Just a longing gone without a trace
Oh, I wish I'd never ever seen your face
I wish you were the one
Wish you were the one that got away

Monday, December 30, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #3: Kacey Musgraves - Merry Go 'Round

I first heard this song late in 2012 and instantly knew it was going to be big. Little did I know Kacey Musgraves would go on to win CMA New Artist of the Year and be nominated for three Grammy awards. As far as I'm concerned, she deserves every accolade she receives after putting out what may be the best country album of 2013 and might possibly be the record that redefines country music for the next generation. There are already other artists emerging who are taking a similar "no topic is off-limits" approach to songwriting. This song in particular is nothing short of brilliant and could have very easily ended up in the #1 spot if not for two of my favourite artists also putting out new records this year.

Favourite Lyric
Mama's hooked on Mary Kay.
Brother's hooked on Mary Jane.
Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary quite contrary.
We get bored, so, we get married
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go
Where it stops nobody knows and it ain't slowin' down
This merry go 'round.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #4: David Bowie - The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

David Bowie reappeared this year after a ten-year absence from the music scene with a remarkable new album that sounds as fresh and essential as anything Bowie has ever recorded. I could have picked from any number of tracks on this album but settled on this commentary on celebrity, fame, the media and its power over us. The video is a great piece of Bowie weirdness that I've come to appreciate as it is almost always delivered with tongue in cheek.

Favourite Lyric
They watch us from behind their shades
Brigitte, Jack and Kate and Brad
From behind their tinted window stretch
Gleaming like blackened sunshine

Downloadable Dozen #5: All Over Ohio - Over The Rhine

Every time Over the Rhine releases a record, you can be pretty sure they'll have a song make my Downloadable Dozen. In my mind at least, this husband and wife duo is the most underrated band working today and deserve far more attention than they get. Intelligent, sweet, powerful, passionate, and filled with deep faith. An Over the Rhine record is not to be consumed in bits and pieces on a shuffling iPod, but rather, in one continuous play on a reflective afternoon.

Favourite Lyric #1
All I wanna be is a thousand black birds
Bursting from a tree into the blue
Love – let it be not just a feeling
But the broken beauty
Of what we choose to do

Favourite Lyric #2
I have seen the slow corruption
Of the best ideas of Christ
In the pulpits of our nation
Gospel turned into white lies
If you preach a subtle hatred -
The bible as your alibi
God damn you right here in Ohio

Friday, December 27, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #6: Highway Don't Care - Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift

From Arcade Fire to Tim McGraw. That's the kind of year in music it's been for me. This is one of those songs that got stuck in my head and just won't go away. Despite hearing it almost every day throughout the summer, I still haven't grown tired of it. I'm not a big fan of the video, but the song is unforgettable. It's sentimental as all get out, but I get sucked in every time.

Favourite Lyric
The highway won't hold you tonight
The highway don't know you're alive
The highway don't care if you're all alone
But I do, I do.
The highway won't dry your tears
The highway don't need you here
The highway don't care if you're coming home
But I do, I do.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #7: Reflektor - Arcade Fire

I'm not sure that the latest Arcade Fire album stands up as well as their previous material (which still makes it better than 98% of everything else out there), but Reflektor is one heck of a good song and as lyrically enigmatic as anything else they've written. The beauty of a song like Reflektor is that it is open to interpretation. I would guess Arcade Fire likes it this way. I take it as a reflection on death, God, and the afterlife. But it could just be about some girl.

Favourite Lyric
It’s just a reflection of a reflection
Of a reflection of a reflection
Will I see you on the other side?
We all got things to hide
It’s just a reflection of a reflection
Of a reflection of a reflection
Will I see you on the other side?
We all got things to hide

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #8: I Will - Andy Gullahorn

I first heard Andy Gullahorn when Jason Gray shared a file of Andy's latest album Beyond The Frame with me on a flight from Calgary to Vancouver. There are not many records that can bring a tear to my eye, but this one did...on the plane. Jason said Andy was his favourite songwriter and now I know why. Every song on the album is beautiful, deep, and meaningful. This track in particular speaks to the brokenness in all of us and that sometimes the very best thing we can do is just cry together through the dark times. It's beautiful, it's haunting, and it speaks to somewhere very deep inside me.

Favourite Lyric
Sometimes, people think it's better
Feeding you an answer
To what you can't understand
But if you want someone who
Will just cry with you
I can

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #9: Counting Stars - OneRepublic

As you've probably guessed by now, I'm not a big fan of top 40 pop music, but every once in a while a real gem comes along that deserves to be recognized. This infectious song by OneRepublic is just catchy enough and lyrically interesting enough to keep me singing along every time I hear it. Katy Perry's Roar came in a close second to this track, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to hate that song in about six months. That's pretty much how I feel about most pop songs. Counting Stars at least has a chance of still being in rotation a year from now.

Favourite Lyric
Lately I been, I been losing sleep
Dreaming about the things that we could be
But baby, I been, I been prayin' hard
Said no more counting dollars
We'll be counting stars
Yeah, we'll be counting stars

Monday, December 23, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #10: Come Unto Me - The Mavericks

This is the first of several country songs that made the list this year. With a few notable exceptions, overall I found this a disappointing year in rock/pop music. Thankfully there were some incredible albums released by country artists, including The Mavericks who put out their first record in ten years. There are a handful of great tracks on the album, but this is my favourite. The lyrics are not particularly clever, but the music is outstanding. Enjoy the live performance above.

Favourite Lyric
There is nothing that anyone can say to me
To persuade me to change my mind needlessly
For here I am and I will stay
To long for you in every way
To love you better, come what may
To fight for you another day, day, day

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #11: Silver - The Gray Havens

Admittedly, this is a pretty obscure choice for my top twelve list, but from the moment I first heard The Gray Havens on Under the Radar, I was hooked on their unique sound and intelligent lyrics. This song was one of three that I had a hard time choosing between. They're using Kickstarter to raise funds for a full-length album, hopefully in April 2014. If you like their sound, click here to help them out.

Favourite Lyric
We were taken through the shadows,
We were carried through the night,
When the sun appeared
My fears of silver melted in the light,
And we saw the world with different eyes,
And we sang...
We will cross any water any water,
And if we find, there's a song that's getting stronger,
We will sound all of our silver songs
And we will know if they belong.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Downloadable Dozen #12: Fam Jam - Shad

A great new album dropped this year from one of my favourite hip-hop artists, Shad. This track in particular about the immigrant experience is the highlight for me. I love spending time with people from other cultures and hearing their stories - both the good and the bad - about their move to Canada. The lyrics pretty much nail the experience as I understand it.

Favourite Lyric
Now when you're Third World born, but First World formed
Sometimes you feel pride, sometimes you feel torn
See my Mother's tongue is not what they speak where my Mother's from
She moved to London with her husband when their son was 1
And one time after Family Ties, I turned on the news and saw my family die
[Why?] Pops said there's murder in the motherland
Things about colonialism I didn't understand
All the things that shape a man in his mind state;
A community income, and crime rate
If times change, why my people still in dire straits?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Canadian Racism

Canadians have long looked down on our American cousins as being in the dark over the question of racism and racial equality. "That would never happen in Canada!" we like to proclaim as we self-righteously look back on our history and don't see the obvious signs of racism that we see in the United States. Slavery, violence, and separate lunch counters for "whites" and "coloureds" were not nearly as common in Canada as they were in the U.S. so we tend to think that racism has never really existed in Canada.

We like to further comfort ourselves with the fact that multiculturalism has been an officially legislated policy of the Canadian government since 1971 and the legal response to overt racism has been swift and harsh in our country. With that sort of history, we must be a very egalitarian society right? I mean, everyone is equal in our eyes and deserving of equal rights and respect, right? Before we get too excited about our interracial utopia, I would suggest that a deep and abiding racism exists in Canada that, while not as obvious as in America, exists nonetheless in the daily conversations and attitudes of many Canadians.

Last week, on the Upside Down Kingdom tour, Shane Claiborne and Jason Gray had an opportunity to visit the Africville Museum in Halifax (photo posted by Jason here.) Quoted from the Africville website:

"Africville was your typical seaside village. Populated by one of Nova Scotia’s founding peoples. First came the Aboriginal settlements, later the French and British. Less widely highlighted in our history is a population that was integral to the creation of what Nova Scotia is today. The people of African descent — former slaves, escaped slaves and free people who came to Canada for promise of a better life. Eventually some of these former slaves of American and British owners settled on the northern tip of the Halifax peninsula. There, they created a vibrant community by the shores of the Bedford Basin."

Sounds like the welcoming racial experience we love to brag about doesn't it?

Unfortunately, I was unable to join Shane and Jason on the tour, but I did have a conversation with Jason the next day who lamented how the story turned out. It seems that the city of Halifax decided that they knew what was best for the black community living in Africville (oh, and did I mention that they also wanted to build an expressway right through where these folks lived?), so they bulldozed their homes and relocated them against their will to public housing where many families ended up in debt and lost their homes.

That's just one incident we can consider. There is of course the tragic internment of Ukrainian Canadians during WWI and the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII. And let’s not forget our long history of abuse directed at our First Nations People which has been going on for centuries.

But that's all in our past, right?

Well, last night we were out for dinner to celebrate my dad's 91st birthday with a few friends of my parents who shall remain nameless (although I really, really want to 'out' them.) In the course of our conversation, there was the typical talk by older folks about the weather, their aches and pains, and then this little gem: "It's like the United Nations at the health clinic. We were the only Caucasians in there." The conversation descended from there into talk of foreigners, being outnumbered, etc. It's not the first time I've heard comments like this and I know it won't be the last. And I can't just point the finger at senior citizens who grew up in a different era. I've heard similar comments from those who are my age and younger. (By the way, the reason so many people who come from other countries use the walk-in clinic system is because they generally aren't provided with the opportunity of seeing an actual family doctor due to our immigration restrictions. In many cases these are families who have fled from a horrible situation be it war or famine or oppression, and have come here seeking a better life for their children. It's a sad reality that they've often been sold a lie.)

You see, while the history of racial inequality in the U.S. is continually before us, the racism of Canadians is far more subtle and in many ways, more insidious. We don't have anyone running around in white bed sheets burning crosses to which we can point a finger and say: "that's unacceptable." Instead, our racism lies under the surface and is perpetuated by far more 'respectable' folks who drop it into their everyday conversation. Sadly, most of my experience is with church folks - those who would call themselves Christians - who not only see people of other cultures as a threat to their comfortable existence, but also to their faith.

The subtle racism of these church-goers and Canadians at large says: "You are not equal to me. You are not entitled to be treated as well as I am. Your children do not deserve the same level of care as my children." Does that sound like a Canadian trait to be proud of? Is that the kind of Christianity Jesus had in mind when he said "love your neighbour"? I think not.

Have I totally overcome racism in my own life? Of course not. I believe it is an ingrained part of the fallen human condition that we all have to struggle with from time to time just as we have to struggle with other areas of sin. But let's make no mistake about it: racism is sin. A sin that denies people of their rights, their humanity, and their dignity as men and women created in the image of God. Frankly, I'm fed up with people making snide little comments as if it is perfectly acceptable to denigrade someone simply because they are different in some way. Skin colour, native language, or country of origin is no excuse whatsoever to treat someone as less than equal.

How much moreso does this apply to those who would consider themselves Christians. There should be no greater example of racial equality than the church. No greater example of harmony between the nations than the body of Christ. No greater example of what it means to live in unity and love than followers of Jesus. And if you don't like the idea of all people and all races being equal, then perhaps you'd better rethink your plans for heaven. You may not like it there anyway; I hear the guy sitting at the right hand of God is Jewish.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Shopping in Bangladesh

Since I first became aware of the problem, I've had a general concern about sweatshop labour and unsafe working conditions in developing countries, but to be quite honest, it hasn't made a tremendous difference in my shopping habits. While I've tried to take some practical steps to change my ways when it comes to food products like coffee and chocolate, clothing has been a "shop first ask questions later" activity for me.

In light of the building collapse in Bangladesh this week that has killed over 300 workers (as of the latest estimate), I've been compelled to take a closer look at what is hanging in my closet. I'm sure many others have as well. But where to begin?

It's been my experience that, when stories like this hit the headlines, there is a real outcry for change which is fantastic, but we tend to either forget about the issue when it's no longer on the nightly news, or else we simply give up because we don't know how to become more informed about making ethical shopping choices. So here are a few ideas on how you can not only become informed, but actually take some simple steps toward change in your own life.

Take an inventory
If you're like me, you probably haven't got a clue as to where most of the clothes hanging in your closet come from. Here's your chance to get more familiar with that favourite shirt or comfy pair of shoes. I just finished my inventory and was pretty surprised by what I discovered. Aside from the fact that I have an obscene amount of clothing (that's a post for another day), the diversity of where my clothes come from was shocking. Here's the breakdown of shirts, pants, jackets and shoes in order of country of origin:

China: 31
Bangladesh: 9
Indonesia: 5
Cambodia, Canada, Guatemala: 4
Haiti, Mexico, Vietnam: 3
India, Sri Lanka, Thailand: 2
Bulgaria, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Honduras, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Macau, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Tanzania, USA: 1
Unknown/Missing label: 5

Shocking, isn't it? A grand total of 5 items made in North America and zero from Europe. It's a real indication of where labour is cheap and where people are willing to work in less than ideal conditions in order to put food on the table. Now, just because an item is manufactured in a developing country doesn't necessarily mean it's been produced in a sweatshop, however, the odds of that being the case are greatly increased. That being said, we don't want to take jobs away from those who desperately need them so it doesn't make a lot of sense to simply boycott products from a particular country. Ultimately, it comes down to the manufacturer, not the country. This is where point two comes into play.

Do your research
Unfortunately, not all companies are especially concerned with the conditions their employees or the employees of their contracted partners work in. It's tough to know exactly what has been produced ethically and what hasn't so a little outside help is required to make informed decisions. Thankfully, there are a number of great websites available that have done the research for you, making it easier than ever to figure out what companies and products you should avoid and which ones you should support. Here are the ones I've begun visiting regularly:

Ethical Consumer
Fairtrade Canada

GoodGuide is the site I find most helpful and extensive. You can search by brand or by product type, and it covers far more than just clothing. They also have a mobile app available for iPhone/iPad and Android with a built in barcode scanner that will tell you instantly about the ethical properties of the particular item you are considering. Once you start checking out the ethics of some of your favourite brands you'll be amazed. A little tip for you...the more "exclusive" the brand, the less they are concerned about how their clothes are being made. Ralph Lauren ain't such a nice guy after all.

Buy less, buy better
This is a tough one because we all want a good deal. In fact, many of us will automatically reach for the most economical item because we figure saving money is a good thing, and by saving money, we have more available to give away to those in need. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Not in all cases, but often, if the price of an item makes you think, "how can they possibly sell that so cheap?" then there's a good chance that either some form of forced labour or perhaps a practice dangerous to the environment was involved. Cheap items don't necessarily come cheap. We just don't know the real costs involved. Sometimes it makes far more sense to buy the more expensive, quality item (after doing your research) then decide to simply buy fewer items. The better quality item should last longer, you'll feel great wearing it, and you just might improve a life somewhere in the developing world. Now that's a great deal!

I'm no expert at any of this stuff but I do know that I have a responsibility to consider others when I'm making a purchase. Based on how full my closet is right now, I won't be needing to make a clothing purchase for quite a while. When I do though, you can be sure I'll be looking at the tag to find out where it was produced and then doing some research on the brand before I lay down my cash.

If we all start making ethical choices when it comes to our shopping and if we all begin voting with our wallets, the corporations who endanger lives in the name of making higher profits will have no choice but to pay attention. When it comes to big business, money talks. So let's make sure our dollars are yelling loud and clear: the time for turning a blind eye is passed!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Searching for a Kingdom

In addition to all of the Christmas specials and New Year's Eve festivities on television at this time of year, I find it fascinating that there are so many shows on about the British Royal family and the history of the monarchy. It seems like an odd time of year for such a focus, but when you think about the coming of the King of Kings that we celebrate at this time of year, perhaps it's not so strange after all.

In fact, I would take it one step further. I would argue that the fascination so many people have with royalty is rooted in our longing for a kingdom...for THE Kingdom. While history reminds us that earthly monarchs have a spotty record when it comes to their benevolence towards the people they rule, those who do reign with the best interest of the people in mind provide us with an image of God's Kingdom. A kingdom based on love, righteousness, justice, and peace.

Even the folks who would like to get rid of the monarchy altogether will often find great satisfaction in movies, books, and TV shows featuring stories of great kings and queens. There is as reason why films like The Lord of he Rings have captured the zeitgeist. In one way or another, willingly or unwillingly, we are all being fitted for service to the true King. All of the stories of royalty - fictional or real - are a foreshadowing of the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. If we willingly give our allegiance to him now, we can truly call ourselves sons and daughters of the most high King. Whether you choose to believe or not, the longing for a king and a kingdom is hard wired into the human soul. When the Kingdom is finally revealed in all its glory, I want to be on the side of those who willingly and joyfully usher the King to his throne.