Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite Movies of 2014: The Top 10

If end-of-the-year lists are a personal statement of the past year, these top 10 favorite films of 2014 may offer insight into my own journey. This countdown of films (you can read about #20-11 here) is a sort of filmic chronicle of my own experiences of the last 365 days, a year with plenty of emotional ups and downs, twists and turns, trials and joys, beauty and depravity. This was the year where I turned 30attended an international film festivalexperienced burnoutmoved from Canada, and sought to be more present with God and my family. It's certainly been an interesting and transformative chapter in my life.

Also, I have yet to see some critically acclaimed films that may be added to this best-of list in the near future. Films like SelmaMr. Turner, The Imitation Game, A Most Violent Year, Life Itself, and Calvary could all be strong additions as soon as I get the opportunity to see them. There are other great films that I wasn't sure were considered 2013 or 2014 films--Like Father, Like Son and Ernest and Celestine have appeared on a few critics' 2014 lists, despite being released last year, and I loved them both. Let's face it: end-of-year list-making is a complex task.

As a pastor, a father, a husband, a writer, an immigrant, a musician, and a man wrestling with his own sense of vocation and identity, these are the films that moved me, captivated me, terrified me, challenged me, and inspired me. These are my top 10 favorite films from 2014:

10. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent). Any parent of a young child can relate--sleepless nights and parental struggles can feel downright horrific. Terrifying and touching, The Babadook is a chilling depiction of single parenthood and dealing with personal grief. The performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman as the mother and son are affecting, and filmmaker Jennifer Kent focuses on the story and unsettling suspense through image and sound instead of gore or jump scares. The horror genre is done best when it personifies and examines our real-life struggles and fears, forcing us to confront that which we would rather avoid. Those fears may not leave us alone, but with time we can manage the anxious terrors hidden in the dark basement of our soul.

9. Noah (Darren Aronofsky). Noah is the filmic mashup between a Narnia-esque fantasy, a Shakespearean family drama, and a gritty biblical morality tale, all rolled into an epic cinematic experience. This is not your Sunday-school Noah, with happy flannel-graph animals gathered on a boat beneath a rainbow. Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky depicts Noah (Russell Crowe) as a tortured soul, a man striving to remain faithful to the Creator and care for his family while embracing the difficult task of being a key figure in the destruction of humanity. While Noah has some flaws, it’s certainly a *fantastic* film, in both senses of that word: “extraordinarily good” and “imaginative.” For those who are hesitant about Noah–particularly those who claim it isn’t “biblical” enough–I would invite them to watch again with open minds and hearts, seeking the truth and beauty in the flood of this tale. Noah reminds us that we are broken and beautiful, bearing both the weight of our sin and the image of God in our souls. (my review)

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson). Quirky and outlandish, The Grand Budapest Hotel tells its complex narrative with a dry wit and a twinkle in its ornate eye. Every scene is beautifully constructed with precise detail and a reverence for design. The story is layered with fascinating characters that could only exist in a Wes Anderson world of weirdness and wonder. I want to buy this film and just watch it frame by frame, noting the intricacies of each moment, its structure and colors. Love him or hate him, Anderson has a unique style that he infuses in each of his films, and The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like the most Andersonian of the lot.

7. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan). A familial drama centered around one hotel owner's relationships with his wife, his sister, his community, and himself, Winter Sleep is both intimate and epic in scope. The story addresses the themes of separation, loss, justice, and spirituality, all set in the misty hills of Anatolia in Turkey. And what a location! Like something out of another world, the hotel is embedded in the hills, a Middle Earth-like home in the rock, filmed in lush auburn tones. It’s a subtle film, full of complexity and intriguing characters that never feel stilted; they feel wholly human, beautiful and flawed, navigating a winter season together-yet-apart in the crags of the steppe. (my VIFF review)

6. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle). A horror film of sorts, Whiplash is the frenetic drama centered on the conflict between two men who sacrifice their humanity for their creative musical endeavors. J.K. Simmons' portrayal of a ruthless music instructor is at once a drill sergeant, a father, and a monster. Miles Teller gives his own excellent performance as the young jazz drummer willing to do whatever it takes to be the greatest. The film steadily picks up the tempo into a riveting and cathartic climax. As a drummer, this was my favorite drumming movie of the year (better than Birdman), and a heart-racing thrill ride of creative mastery. Drumming = blood, sweat, and tears.

5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater). Boyhood is like a series of scenes that flash before one's eyes in the moments immediately prior to death, one's whole life in an immediate glance. Episodic and often with little context, each moment plays out with both ordinariness and profundity. Watching Boyhood is like opening up a stranger's family photo albums and glancing through all the pictures, trying to make sense of the person's life in the images. This can be a beautiful and a boring exercise, and Boyhood is frequently both. Richard Linklater's 12-year experiment in storytelling is a remarkable success, and while I can't jump on the "this is a flawless film and the best one of 2014!" bandwagon, Boyhood is certainly an entertaining meditation on time, memory, and the adolescent experience. (my review)

4. The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord and Chris Miller). Everything is awesome about this film. The imagination and world-building in The LEGO Movie are par none; the humor is the most laugh-inducing I've had in a year; and the surprises in storyline, character cameos, and direction the film takes are all delightful. While the story seems like a typical "good Rebels versus evil Empire" tale, the final act takes the film to a new level of creativity and depth. The LEGO Movie wonderfully explores the spiritual nature of creativity and our relationship with the Creator. It encourages a posture of moderation and discernment, where the abundant life is experienced by neither "following the rules" or "just doing what feels right." The LEGO Movie instead offers a Third Way, a path between polarization and politics, a road that is far more difficult to navigate but offers copious rewards when embraced with wisdom and discernment. (my review)

3. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski). The first thing you'll notice about Ida is the beauty. Shot in gorgeous black and white and structured in 4:3, every moment is like out of a painting. The story follows an innocent young nun, Anna, on the verge of taking her vows. She goes on a quest with her secular aunt, Wanda, to discover the secrets of her past and the dark history of both her origins and the Polish nation. A coming-of-age journey with a young woman wrestling with identity, spirituality, and her own ontology. Every person has a name, every person has a story, and every person undergoes a crisis of faith in their own way.

2. The Immigrant (James Gray). The first Marion Cotillard film on this list, The Immigrant is a strikingly honest film. Though characters are duplicitous and behave with mixed motives and questionable morals, they are nonetheless themselves, wholly authentic and raw, in a story that feels like it could only be birthed out of reality. Perhaps the best word for the film's essence is confession. The entire narrative rings true, from opening to close, and the final scene is entirely satisfying with a beautiful closing shot that could be framed in an art gallery. It is an immigrant story, people far away from their country of origin trying to establish a new home and the painful struggles therein. (my review)

1. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne). Like a modern-day parable, Two Days, One Night is a simple story embodying profound moral and spiritual themes. The film focuses entirely on Sandra (Marion Cotillard) and her struggle over a single weekend to keep her job. It's a portrayal of remarkable empathy and pain, and Cotillard has never been better (even in The Immigrant). If you have ever fought for something or someone; if you've ever wondered about your own value and worth; if you have ever experienced rejection or criticism or depression; if you have ever been in an uphill battle, struggling alone against the powers and authorities; if you have ever wanted someone to stand up for you to be your advocate and friend, then Sandra's plight will be an experience of empathy and catharsis for you. (my VIFF review)

Favorite Documentary of 2014:

The Overnighters (Jesse Moss). This documentary about an oil boom in small-town North Dakota and the Lutheran pastor who tries to rally his community around the incoming workers should be required viewing for every pastor. I haven't seen many films address the weightiness or strain of pastoral work like this one. Masterful storytelling, and offers a unique 21st century picture of the American dream. Following in the ways of Christ is a complex endeavor, both in personal and systemic ways.

Note: Many of these films on this list contain content (language, violence, nudity, sex) that requires viewers to approach with wisdom, caution, and discernment. Know your own boundaries, and make the wise choice when approaching any film.

What were your favorite films of 2014? Share them in the comments! Check out my Favorite Films of 2014 list on Letterboxd.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Favorite Movies of 2014: 20-11

The past year has been filled with lots of good, great, and really great films. Yet I've only given one 5-star rating to a film from 2014. Perhaps I've become more selective and critical with my tastes, because it wasn't a bad year for movies, and I've been impressed with the diversity and quality of films. By my count, I've seen about 50 films that could be included in this favorites list. In the next two blog posts, I'll highlight my top 20 (er, 23), starting with #20-11.

Sam Adams wrote that end-of-year lists are a sort of personal statement, highlighting critics A.O. Scott and Drew McWeeny's lists and personal reflections on the past year. I suppose my list is a personal statement of sorts, a series of filmic highlights from the past 365 days, a year where I turned 30, attended an international film festivalexperienced burnout, moved from Canada, and sought to be more present with God and my family. As a pastor, a father, a husband, a writer, an immigrant, a musician, and a man wrestling with his own sense of vocation and identity, these are the films that moved me, captivated me, terrified me, challenged me, and inspired me. Included are gripping documentaries, beautiful animated films, sweeping dramas, intimate character studies, and thrilling blockbusters.

Here are my favorite films of 2014, #20-11:

20. Locke (Steven Knight). One man, one car, one eventful night. Tom Hardy's performance as a man making a series of frantic phone calls is solid as concrete. A gripping morality tale about the nature of choices, consequences, and living based on resolve and principle, Locke forces us to examine the decisions we make, and the second (and third, and fourth) decisions that follow. It's one of the best One Man in an Impossible Situation performances I've seen yet, up there with Robert Redford in All is Lost. Best supporting performance goes to the car dashboard.

19. Horse Money (Pedro Costa). Hallucinatory, foreboding, haunting, and enigmatic, Horse Money is an exercise in endurance and disciplined film-viewing. Essentially, Horse Money is a series of dream-like scenes and dialogues, culminating in a long internal "conversation" between the central character, Ventura, and a living toy soldier in an elevator, told in voiceover and with multiple personalities. Sound strange? It was. But I can't shake the feeling that I was seeing something brilliant. (my VIFF review)

18. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev). When I told my father that I was seeing a Russian film based on the book of Job, he told me, "oh, that sounds depressing and sad." He was right. Leviathan is a bleak and cynical indictment of the major social systems in Russian culture. From politics to religion to marriage to parenting to friendship, every form of system is dismantled and critiqued, revealing the hypocritical and ugly sides of all parties, leaving no one unscathed. Leviathan is well-crafted, beautifully shot, ambitious, and quietly compelling, but its despair was too overwhelming for this viewer to find it worth revisiting any time soon. (my VIFF review)

17. Fury (David Ayer). Neither anti-war nor pro-war, Fury is a film exploring the effects of war on the human spirit, both how war arises from and fosters human depravity. A bleak and brutal film, Fury is also one of the more compelling portrayals of a Christian character. While I initially found the whole exercise quite depressing, this is one film that has stuck with me and grown in my estimation over time, particularly Brad Pitt's performance and the spiritual questions this film raises. (my review)

16. Gone Girl (David Fincher); Force Majeure (Ruben Ostland). A two-way tie, as these films have strikingly similar qualities: darkly comic explorations of marriage, the evisceration of the male ego and gender tropes, the impact of media/technology on a relationship, and the hidden interior selves we cover with artificial masks. Both were surprisingly funny and devastatingly insightful in a cynical sort of way. Force Majeure is the more uplifting film of the pair, while Gone Girl is quite dark and disturbing. Not exactly "date movie" material, unless you want to have a long conversation with your significant other about the nature of relationships and human depravity.

15. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier). A taut minimalistic thriller, Blue Ruin is best experienced with as little knowledge as possible of the plot or outcome. Filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier does an excellent job of telling a compelling revenge story in an intriguing way through very little exposition and plenty of quiet suspense. The violence is quick and gruesome, the story is familiar yet unpredictable, and the whole exercise lingers in one's mind for days afterwards. "The one with the gun gets to tell the truth."

14. X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer); Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn); Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves). Mutants, monkeys, and Marvel. This is a three-way tie for the Summer Blockbuster With An Uber-Long Name. Each film features a war between factions, with the central protagonists caught in the middle. Dawn was the most cynical, X-Men was the most hopeful, and Guardians was the most fun.

13. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata). Visuals, story, music, themes--this is a beautiful film on every level. The animation looks akin to a watercolor painting, perfectly embodying the simple emotions and wonder of the story. Based on a Japanese folk tale, the story is about a princess appearing in a bamboo grove and adopted by a kindly country couple. A coming-of-age film of sorts, this was one of my favorite movie-going experiences of 2014, as I had three teenage Studio Ghibli fans as my film-watching companions.

12. Class Enemy (Rok Bicek). As a youth pastor and a cinephile, Class Enemy is right in my wheelhouse--a tense, relentless morality tale set in a high school classroom which kept me on my intellectual and philosophical toes for its entirety. It's Slovenian film about a rigid substitute teacher and the escalating rebellion of his high school class in the wake of a classmate's suicide. What makes Class Enemy so fascinating and why it works so well is its ability to navigate the realms of the morally grey with apparent ease. Even the color palette is stark, using natural grey lighting from Slovenia to give a pale and monotone look to the film. Neither the teacher, the class, the parents, or the deceased student are the clear antagonist or protagonist--each elicits both sympathy and denouncement from the audience. (my VIFF review)

11. Begin Again (John Carney). The follow-up film from the maker of Once, Begin Again is a musical, a romantic-comedy, and a delightful examination of the creative musical process. Every character in this film is charming and fun, and everyone involved seems to be having a great time making music and exploring New York together. Perhaps it was because I watched this with my wife at our anniversary, but the whole experience was joyful, and I found myself humming along with a smile on my face. This also confirmed something for me: Keira Knightly is one of my favorite actresses.

Note: Many of these films on this list contain content (language, violence, nudity, sex) that requires viewers to approach with wisdom, caution, and discernment.

Wednesday: my top 10 favorite films from 2014.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Ecumenical Jury

About a month ago, film critic Kenneth Morefield announced the creation of the Ecumenical Jury Awards:
The Ecumenical Jury is made up of film critics and cinephiles who wish to recognize and celebrate films that use the medium to explore themes of religion, faith, or spirituality. We particularly seek to enlarge or expand the perception of what is meant by either labeling a film a “Christian” film or suggesting that it should be of interest to Christian audiences. The jury seeks to recognize quality films (regardless of genre) that have challenged, moved, enlightened, or entertained us and to draw the attention of Christian audiences to films it thinks have the potential to do the same for them.
It was humbling and exciting to find myself on a jury with some of the best Christian film critics writing today, all who have taught me to think deeply about the connections between films, truth, and beauty. There were over 60 films nominated for the final top 10, which is one of the most interesting end-of-year film lists I've seen, and the one that most closely corresponds with my personal top 10 list (which I'll publish in the week leading up to 2015). The list is so diverse--foreign films, blockbusters, dramas, comedies, horror, and one excellent documentary. For a list of films addressing faith, religion, and spirituality, you won't find any typical "Christian" films here. I would use discretion and discernment in choosing some of these films, but I think the best films engage that sort of critical thinking, i.e. discretion and discernment. The honorable mentions list is also excellent and diverse, a "top 20" of sorts. (I included the 2014 Cannes winner, Winter Sleep, as my honorable mention vote.)

I wrote a short blurb for Noah, which was voted as #9 on the final list:
Noah is the filmic mashup between a Narnia-esque fantasy, a Shakespearean family drama, and a gritty biblical morality tale, all rolled into an epic cinematic experience. This is not your Sunday-school Noah, with happy flannel-graph animals gathered on a boat beneath a rainbow. Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky depicts Noah (Russell Crowe) as a tortured soul, a man striving to remain faithful to the Creator and care for his family while embracing the difficult task of being a key figure in the destruction of humanity. While Noah has some flaws, it’s certainly a *fantastic* film, in both senses of that word: “extraordinarily good” and “imaginative.” For those who are hesitant about Noah–particularly those who claim it isn’t “biblical” enough–I would invite them to watch again with open minds and hearts, seeking the truth and beauty in the flood of this tale. Noah reminds us that we are broken and beautiful, bearing both the weight of our sin and the image of God in our souls.
Check out the 2014 Ecumenical Jury Awards here. Which film on the list is your favorite? Which one should have been included?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Love Requires Presence

I had the opportunity to preach at North Langley Community Church this past Sunday, which was a unique privilege--this sermon happened one week before my final Sunday at NLCC, allowing me the opportunity to offer a sort of "final words" sermon. So, I talked a lot about Jesus. I shared on John 1:14 and the love of God demonstrated in the incarnation.

You can check out the whole sermon in the video below (my apologies, the audio can be a bit fuzzy at times):

Message 2014 12 14 Joel Mayward from North Langley Community Church on Vimeo.

Love requires presence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Leaving Canada

Photo Credit: sea turtle (Creative Commons)
About two years ago, I wrote a post sharing the news: I am moving to Canada.

One year ago, I wrote about our first year in Canada, the ups and downs, and how much we had learned.

Now, just after our two-year anniversary of moving to Canada, we are preparing to leave.

My final Sunday at North Langley Community Church is December 21, and if all goes according to plan, we will be leaving the nation of Canada the following morning. We will be moving to Vancouver, WA and live with Katie's mom for a season as we figure out what God has for us next. I am viewing the next six months as a sort of sabbatical, a period of rest and recuperation in order to get back into full-time ministry with a renewed spirit.

I recently shared that I am in burnout. The burnout plays a significant role in our motivation for leaving Canada, though it's not the only reason. The only way I can put it is that we felt "released" by God from our calling to this location and ministry. Try as I might, I couldn't shake the thought or feeling; God was telling us we needed to go. I totally understand this sounds like some spiritual trump card, a sort of "God made me do it" excuse. Nevertheless, it is true. Katie and I discerned a similar release when we left our home in Arizona over two years ago, and prayerfully recognized this new calling from God a few months ago, leaving a lingering and clear command in our minds--be ready to leave Canada soon. I suppose the best place to be in life is in obedience to the Spirit, and it doesn't make much sense to linger when He is guiding you in a direction.

Leaving our home in Canada is bittersweet. We have made beloved friends, and I deeply love and care for the teens and families at NLCC. The decision to leave was not easy or fun, and my greatest difficulty in leaving is the inability to adequately comfort the students I love because I'm the one who caused the grief they're experiencing. The teens have been gracious and understanding, but I know it's still hard for them, as it's hard for me. This is one of those paradoxes in ministry: on one hand, Jesus is the one who transforms people and saves them from sin, and He will continue to work in the lives of youth at NLCC without me. In this sense, I am not essential for God to do His redemptive work. On the other hand, I believe Jesus has uniquely created me (and you!) in His image, and I am created for a purpose only I can do, for relationships and conversations and moments where God intends to transform lives through me as a conduit for His grace and love. In this sense, I am absolutely essential for God to work in this time and place. My story has a unique impact here in Canada, and Canada has certainly left its impact in my life.

I will miss British Columbia. I will miss seeing the sun pierce through the fog surrounding the banks of the Fraser River to illuminate the trees and mountains all around. I will miss seeing movies being filmed in my neighborhood and taking the SkyTrain to see films in Vancouver on one of their many theaters. I will miss the locale of Walnut Grove and Fort Langley, the latter being such a quaint and quirky little town (albeit one that has vastly increased in busyness and popularity in the two years of living here). I will not miss border crossings, but I will miss the charming city of Bellingham. More than anything, I will miss particular friendly faces and the beautiful souls behind them.

While I'm pained to leave people I love, I am still looking forward to the next season. I hope this chapter will be filled with rest, discernment, healing, and prayerful dependence on God. I'm eager to pursue graduate studies, as I enjoy and am challenged by theological studies. I was recently accepted to George Fox Evangelical Seminary to pursue an MA in Theological Studies, a similar program to what I wanted to study at Regent in Vancouver. Some have asked me why I'd be going to grad school when I'm in burnout, assuming schooling would be a hindrance or drain on me. But I view education--or particular aspects of theological study and learning--as a life-giving activity; one of my personal values is to be a lifelong learner. (I know. I'm weird. Consider me a nerd.) While we leave friends behind in BC, we also will be reunited with family and friends in the Portland area, living nearer our family than we ever have as a married couple. So while the move will be stressful and difficult, we also anticipate new friendships and community, deeper connections with our family, and a greater reliance upon the Lord.

Here's how you can be praying for us as we move:

-Pray for our kids. Katie is due with our third child (a boy!) the first week of March, so we want to get moved to Vancouver, WA and figure out the medical/hospital situation. The end of Katie's last two pregnancies had difficulties, so we need continued prayer for health and protection of our third kiddo. We also need prayer for our other kids--Copeland and Eloise are so excited to live with their grandma and move into a house with a yard, but we know it's going to be stressful for them in ways they likely can't describe, so we are praying for peace and endurance and joy for them.

-Pray for NLCC. The students and families at NLCC have been shaken by transition, and while I'm absolutely certain of God's presence and goodness in the midst of the grief, it's still a difficult and painful season. Pray for the next youth pastors at NLCC, whoever they might be, and pray for the current volunteers and youth ministry team.

-Pray for my spiritual and emotional health. I've felt such a profound sense of relief and hope since sharing about my situation and making the decision to move. I know it seems kinda crazy, but I've already seen how much more present I've been with my wife and kids, and I know Katie has seen a difference too. There's still a lot of emotional work to do within me, but burnout hasn't defeated me, and that's something worth celebrating. I'll be looking into seeing a counselor for a season, and hopefully will be able to work through some of my present burnout symptoms.

-Pray that God would provide the right job/role for me at the right time. As we move, I don't have a ministry job lined up. I'm quite sure that a full-time church ministry role is not what I need at this time. I'd love to do some itinerant speaking and teaching for churches and schools and youth workers, and I'd also love to find ways to write more (Contact me here if you'd like me to speak or write for you!). These are life-giving activities for me; I'm rarely drained by teaching, preaching, or writing, especially if it's for equipping and encouraging church leaders and the emerging generation. If nothing else, I'll just get a job at Starbucks; it's a right of passage for the millennial generation, right? But I hope to be back in full-time ministry before the end of 2015. Pray that God would guide us to a gracious and Jesus-following church community in the Portland area where we can find community and rest.

Monday, December 15, 2014

My Favorite Albums of 2014

I have an eclectic taste in music. If it's good or interesting or notable, I'll give it a listen, especially if it has a solid drum performance. In 2014, some of my favorite musicians came out with unexpected albums (U2, Damien Rice, Copeland), a few just seem to get better with each album (Spoon, Audrey Assad), and I discovered new favorites (Joe Henry, The War on Drugs, Warpaint).

Here was my soundtrack from the past year:

10. Katie Herzig - Walk Through Walls. Herzig makes excellent, singable, memorable pop albums filled with heart and depth.

9. Warpaint - Warpaint. I love how this album is produced and mixed. And the drums. The drums!

8. U2 - Songs of Innocence. "Free album" doesn't always mean it's good. But this is. Some of the best music they've produced in a decade.

7. Tycho - Awake. Instrumental electronic percussive background noise. This is my writing music. It gets the creativity flowing.

6. John Mark McMillan - Borderlands. If Bon Iver and The National made a worship album together, it might sound a bit like this.

5. Damien Rice - My Favourite Faded Fantasy. After an eight or nine year hiatus, here's a new collection of sad Irish love songs.

4. Joe Henry - Invisible Hours. A folk masterpiece about the beauty of fidelity and love. I'm now obligated to find and listen to everything else Mr. Henry has ever done.

3. Copeland - Ixora. Beautiful and heart-wrenching music from a band I thought wasn't going to hear from again. This is one of those bands I both loved in college that, for some reason, stands the test of time. Also, I named my son after them. So there's that.

2. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream. This is the top album on so many end-of-year lists. I can understand why. A multifaceted rock epic that comes at you in waves of guitars and drums and echoes and memories.

1. Spoon - They Want My Soul. Straightforward American rock infused with wit and soul. An album that managed to make me both laugh and cry this past year. This was the go-to album for the many road trips our family made between BC and the United States. Well, it was my go-to album, period.

Honorable Mentions (the top 20, in alphabetical order)
The Antlers - Familiars
Audrey Assad - Death, Be Not Proud EP
Coldplay - Ghost Stories
Divisionary - Ages and Ages
Future Islands - Singles
Hurray for the Riff Raff - Small Town Heroes
Sleeping at Last - Christmas Collection 2014
Switchfoot - Fading West
Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes
William Fitzsimmons - Lions

What was your soundtrack of 2014? Share your favorite music from the past year in the comments.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Top 10 Mayward Blog Posts of 2014

Photo Credit: Andrew Sorensen (Creative Commons)
Looking back of 2014, it's been a year marked by joy, pain, perseverance, and unexpected movements of the Holy Spirit. Much of the past year has been recorded here, at my personal blog. As the year comes to a close, I think it's important to look back and remember the highlights from the journey, the significant moments and the writing that accompanied them.

Here are the ten most-read, most-shared blog posts of 2014 for The Mayward Blog:

10. Youth Ministry Soapbox: Stop Trying to Build Your Platform
"Yes, I am questioning your motives. I am also questioning mine. I've seen the log jammed in my own eye, the mixed motives of my own heart when it comes to social media. I know the brief euphoric rush of getting a few hundred "likes" or "clicks" or "favorites" for a blog post. As an author, I know the tension of wanting to promote my books because I genuinely believe in their message and content, but also not wanting to become a salesman. I recognize the irony of sharing this post on Facebook and Twitter in the hopes that it exhorts and stirs up some conversation. Yet any platform I have in the youth ministry tribe is simply God's grace; it's a gift that I want to steward well, to be a voice of encouragement and wisdom and hope for our tribe. This soapbox moment is simply meant to question our focus in youth ministry and draw us to what matters most: making disciples of the emerging generation."

9. VIFF Reviews: Wild; Foxcatcher. 
"While God isn't a central figure in Wild, he's quietly present in the midst of Cheryl's pain. In one scene, Cheryl and her younger brother pray for their mother's health, with Cheryl taking on the classic prayer posture of closed eyes and folded hands. Her brother chides her for her attempts at spirituality. Neither seems to take the prayers too seriously at first. Yet in a few moments, both are quietly offering their prayers and hopes into the atmosphere, hoping their wishes for a miracle will be answered. When that miracle never happens, Cheryl's response to God is one of rage, screaming a hearty "f**k you" into the heavens. There are a lot of these middle-finger moments with Cheryl; she's got quite the vocabulary for expressing her pain and frustration, shifting from poetry to cuss words with seamless ease. Take caution: Wild is difficult film to watch sometimes, and Cheryl's downward spiral involves addictions to sex and drugs."

8. 6 Predictions for the Future of Youth Ministry
"3. Youth ministry resourcing organizations will become entirely online and regional. With the advent of the Internet and blogging/tweeting/Facebooking world, the age of the huge youth ministry convention will be over, and the one-size-fits-all curriculum and training that comes from many organizations will go by the wayside. What works in a Catholic setting in Seattle simply doesn't work the same for a Baptist in Nashville. This regional emphasis will clear the way for smaller contextual gatherings and giving voice to a wider variety of youth workers. It will also mean having to discern and sort through the mass of content being created--anyone can create their own website, start a consulting/coaching program, or publish their own book and curriculum, meaning there will simply be more resources (good and not-so-good) to choose from."

7. Ministry Like Jeremiah (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
"God has recently prompted me to read through the book of Jeremiah. I'll admit, I wasn't too excited about the idea. This lengthy prophetic tome is filled with blistering passages about God's wrath for the sinful nations, as well as Jeremiah's suffering at the hands of his own people. Yet as I read, I am reminded over and over again of God's faithfulness, His covenantal love for His people, and the nature of ministry. It is this latter point--the nature of ministry--that I wish to unpack here more fully."

6. I Want to Be An Unbusy Pastor.
I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence. I can't do that on the run. It takes a lot of time. I started out doing that with you, but now I feel too crowded. 
I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods. This is subtle stuff. It demands some detachment and perspective. I can't do this just by trying harder. 
5. On Turning 30
"So what will the next ten years look like? I have no idea. When I look back upon the life I've lived thus far, it's full of unexpected blessings and beautiful surprises. I never planned any of this. Oh, I had plans. But not these ones. These turned out far better, and were usually in spite of me and directly connected to Jesus and his guidance.

Even though I'm unsure what the next decade will look like, I'm still going to set some goals and see where they lead. I'm publicly posting 30 goals for my 30s, right here and now. This isn't an exhaustive list--I have unspoken dreams for my life that aren't ready to be posted on a blog yet--but it's a pretty full one. So if the Internet and blogs still exist in ten years, this will be a public record of what I was aiming for."

4. On Christian Tabloids, or YOU'LL BE SHOCKED BY WHAT I SAY NEXT
"Tabloid journalism tends to emphasize scandalous crime/legal stories and gossip about the personal lives of celebrities. They use aggressive tactics and volatile story-of-the-week moments to get more readers to indulge. With the advent of social media and instant information, the innate human desire To Know More About Everything is piqued. We read about Driscoll being asked to step down from Mars Hill, or about Gungor not believing in a literal Genesis, or about John Piper bidding farewell to Rob Bell and we feed on those links like it's Shark Week.

Twitter and Facebook have become online Christian tabloid sources, increasingly becoming more volatile, reactionary, and temporary."

3. Movie Review: Noah
"In the end, Noah isn't a perfect film, but it's certainly a fantastic film, in both senses of the word--extraordinarily good and imaginative and fanciful. For those who are hesitant about Noah--particularly those who claim it isn't "biblical" enough--I would invite them to watch again with open minds and hearts, seeking truth and beauty in the flood of this tale. Noah reminds us that we are broken and beautiful, depraved and good, bearing the weight of our sin and the image of God in our souls. It calls us back to Eden, recognizing that we cannot create or enter paradise on our own--we need a Savior who looks upon us with favor, one who will carry us through the waters out of death and into life."

2. Confession: I Am In Burnout. 
"The only way to heal from burnout is to slow the pace, lessen the burden, and lean into Jesus and community for healing and strength. If I keep running in the marathon with a significant wound, I'm likely to ultimately wound others. So, I'm taking some significant action steps to recover, including stepping away from my current youth pastor position at my church in Langley, BC. Along with this resignation, our family will be moving from Canada back to the Portland, OR area to be closer to family, for me to pursue graduate studies, and to take a season to discern and heal. By this Christmas, the chapter of our lives in Canada will come to a close.

I'm recognizing that what got me here was my own pride, choosing to trust in my strength and try to tell myself things will get better. As Carey Nieuwhof writes in his post about recovering from burnout"Only humility will get you out of what pride got you into." I just quit my job so I could be a better pastor, husband, and father. I'm not saying everyone has to do this, but it's my act of faith and obedience."

1. Top 25 Movies Every High School Student Should See
"What are the movies teenagers should be watching? Most modern movies marketed to high schoolers aren't particularly enriching or well-crafted, and often placate to the basest of impulses and tastes. So what are some better options? What are films that young people can and should consume, films that inspire and enrich and expand horizons, films that high school teens would truly love if they only knew they were worthwhile?

In 2005, the British Film Institute created a list of the 50 films you should see by age 14. Inspired by this list, and a conversation thread at Arts and Faith, I've listed 25 films that every movie-loving high school student should see before graduation. Some of these films could be viewed in the earlier teenage years (e.g. The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Singing in the Rain). Some should only be viewed by more mature and discerning viewers who can handle the content, including The Godfather, Amelie, Schindler's List, The Kid with a Bike,and The Thin Red LineWith any film, teens need to use wisdom, discernment, and caution before consuming it, looking at movies through the lens of Scripture and prudence. Be a sieve, not a sponge or a funnel."

Thanks for reading, sharing, linking, and commenting this past year. It means so much to me that you read The Mayward Blog, and I hope this next year of 2015 will be even more fruitful and encouraging than the last.