Winners: Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury Awards for 2015, Part 2

By Kenneth R. Morefield.

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here

Coninuing yesterday’s list of films, here are five other films (ranked) the 2015 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury recommended for Christian audiences, plus a list of honorable mentions (unranked): [Read more...]

Winners: Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury Film Awards for 2015, Part 1

By Kenneth R. Morefield

The 2015 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury Film Awards had a decidedly international flavor. Six of ten films recognized by the Image-sponsored discussion forum were foreign-language films, including the top three entrants.

Perhaps because of that international flavor, this year’s list of films specifically recommended for Christian audiences looked beyond representations of Christianity and included an Israeli film about a Jewish divorce trial, an historical drama set in seventh-century China, and three films set in contemporary states ruled by Islam.

Two films looked back on American history, showing the positive impact of the Roman Catholic Church on one community and the devastatingly painful impact some of its adherents and administrators had on another.

This marked the second year that an animated film received recognition, with Pixar’s Inside Out receiving a spot on the jury’s short list. [Read more...]

Sign-Seeking in the Dark

By Natalie Vestin

winter churchJanuary is for sleeplessness. Maybe its cause is the temperature inversion that presses pollution down on the city of Saint Paul and holds the river still, pours itch into my throat and eyes as I walk. Maybe it’s the cold and the very real possibility that we would die if left outside long enough. I enjoy the hyper-awake feeling of freezing though: live-wire optic nerve and chunks of ice that shear streaks of sparkling light into my vision, pain settling in kneecaps, lungs burning from all that work to keep warm.

I take long walks in the dark to hide the exhaustion of not sleeping for days. Despite how difficult winter can be, the early darkness makes this my favorite part of the year. I like the silence and mystery and romance of it. Anything could happen, and the air feels rife with messages for people who dare to brave the cold and the uncaring headlights. I like the bruised purple and blue skies, Orion rising in the east, Gemini’s clear line.

My dad told me that at around six pm in the summer, things start to change shape. It’s a trick of the light bending through high ice prisms or scattering its spectrum through particles. In the evening hours, light creates a different world, and things become not as they have been. [Read more...]

To Illuminate a Small Field: 15 Songs for 2015

By Joel Heng Hartse

Sufjan_Stevens_-_Carrie_&_LowellAt the end of each year, I compile a list of “songs of the year” that I email to my friends (and send to Image) on December 31. These songs are probably not the best of the year, but I don’t know how I would be able to figure those out anyway (Jessica Hopper has a piece on this in her 2015 book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic).

Instead, these songs are all songs that were released (and I heard and liked, for whatever reason) in 2015. A lot of times it was because they were among the only songs I heard—2015 was a busy year for me. I went to precisely one concert (an utterly stunning one, by Sufjan Stevens) and purchased about five albums. I still care about music, but I don’t obsess over the surface details—band members, release dates, guest lists, record labels—like I used to. What can I say? I’m a grown-up.

I do think these songs are worth listening to, though. Here they are, in four loosely arranged parts. I hope you find something new that you like.

Sad Songs (Let’s Get This Over With)

  1. Bjork: “Stonemilker”
  2. Death Cab: “No Room in Frame”
  3. Sufjan Stevens: “Blue Bucket of Gold” (Remix)

I’ve been listening to Bjork and Death Cab for about fifteen years apiece, and both made their best records in a decade this year. They’re both divorce albums—Bjork’s is clear-eyed and visceral, Death Cab’s subtle and understated. Stevens’ is a record about his estranged mother’s death, and this remix comes close to getting at the grandeur of the tour in which the acoustic songs of Carrie & Lowell became shimmering, cascading bursts of transcendence.

Shouting at God (or, Faith)

  1. mewithoutYou: “D-Minor”
  2. Refused: “Dawkins Christ”
  3. Emery: “Thrash”

I like the way this group of three songs works together. mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss wrestles with personal and theological demons; Refused does a crude, hot-blooded, post-hardcore/metal indictment of all religious ideologies (including pop atheism); and Emery’s “Thrash” is a brutal track that depicts the stoning of Stephen, ending in a gospelly beatific vision.

A Somewhat Confused and Surprisingly Long Dance Party

  1. Mates of State: “Staring Contest”
  2. Breakmaster Cylinder: “Reply All Theme”
  3. Roman GianArthur feat. Janelle Monae: “No Surprises”
  4. Erica Campbell: “I Luh God”
  5. DC Talk: “Love Feels Like”
  6. We Are the City: “Keep on Dancing”

A cute love song by my favorite neo-prog-pop duo, the theme song of a great podcast about the Internet, an R&B Radiohead cover, a trap gospel track, a reunion of one of the biggest Christian rock groups of the 90s, and a religiously-minded, dancey, indie-rock group from British Columbia: I just DJed your next post-evangelical hipster dance party! You’re welcome.

Faith (Part II)

  1. Torres: “Sprinter”
  2. Lauryn Hill: “Feeling Good”
  3. Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus: “The Bright Field”

These songs are commendable and their stories interesting, but somehow I feel like to “explain” them in the conventional music journalist way would be to cheapen them. (I’m slowly trying to write a book about the purpose of music criticism, so perhaps you’ll see what I mean, eventually.) Instead, I will reproduce “The Bright Field,” a poem by R. S. Thomas, which is spoken in the final song, in its entirety below. I think this sums up these songs, and, in fact, a lot of songs.

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

To Illuminate a Small Field: 15 Songs for 2015 from jthh on 8tracks Radio.

Joel Heng Hartse writes about music. You can read his previous Good Letters playlists for 2008, 2009, 201020112012, 2013, and 2014, buy his book Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll, and visit his website at

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Scoliosis and the Statue of St. Francis

By Christiana N. Peterson

Bartolomé_Esteban_Murillo_-_St_Francis_of_Assisi_at_PrayerDuring a windstorm, our wooden statue of St. Francis is knocked over. I lean him back onto the uneven garden patch beside the porch but the next morning, as I am ushering my children out the door for school, I hear my daughter cry, “Oh no, St. Francis has fallen!”

I get them in the car, and even though we are close to being late, I run back to the door to pick him up and set him aright. Something deeper than sentimentality makes me cry out when I see that his wooden arm is split. Inside, a rod connects his forearm to his elbow. I try to shove it back together but there is no time before I have to go.

My love of Saints started with this garden statue.

I almost missed it while we were cleaning out my grandmother’s house, taking what we could, hoping some of it was useful and could be passed down to our children. I walked by the patio doors and glanced out the glass pane and saw the wooden back of St. Francis. [Read more...]