I Belong to Jesus

Today we are happy to welcome back former Good Letters blogger Sara Zarr as a regular contributor once again.

3768063540_5c7235b957_z In the church of my childhood and adolescence, we had a tradition at church retreats and evening services of forming a circle, joining hands, and singing, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” (It was the seventies, okay?)

These retreats were held in relatively remote areas, at centers with names like Mt. Hermon and The Lord’s Land, where believers would gather in A-frame buildings to learn and share.

Though my memories of being surrounded by cool adults wearing bellbottom jeans and sporting macramé guitar straps are special for me, I eventually felt a need to put distance between those days and who I am now. [Read more...]

This Dark World is Precious to Me: 14 Songs for 2014

4842505983_b76ddf0307_mGuest post by Joel Heng Hartse

This is my seventh yearly playlist for Good Letters. I’ve been racking my brains to come up with a theme for this one, but to be honest, I think the theme of these playlists is almost always the same: basically, the human condition—joy and sorrow, faith and doubt, triumph and tragedy, and all that.

These songs are roughly arranged in two parts, with the first half being more sad and angry, and the latter half more hopeful and upbeat. Really, though these are just fourteen songs I heard this year felt warm, human, and true. You can listen to them on a playlist here. I hope you like them. [Read more...]

When the Matches Go Out

When Marie-Henri Beyle visited Florence, that city named for its place among waters, he thought the art he came across might kill him. Visiting the Basilica Santa Croce in 1817, he wrote that he “was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart…the wellspring of life was dried up within me. I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.”

When I first heard of what is now called Stendhal’s syndrome (Beyle’s penname was Stendhal), I was overcome myself, with envy. I was studying English literature and art history in college, but I had never been so undone by my subjects.

The summer after learning about Stendhal’s syndrome, I bought a collegiate Eurail pass, starting my travels in Italy. I went to Rome and Florence. I saw the Sistine Chapel, and I thought it was beautiful, but other than slight nausea from the summer heat and dehydration, I had no physical reaction. I considered my failure to experience this ecstasy a deficiency; a true art lover, surely, could have brought herself to such a place with the appropriate knowledge and awe.

I left my art history on the sun-soaked campus in North Carolina when I joined the Army. The art I carried with me was music, from one choir to the next in North Carolina, Bosnia, Korea, Texas, and finally Seattle.

[Read more...]

Blaze: David Wilcox Opens the Heart, Part 1

David Wilcox describes himself as a “father, a husband, a citizen and a songwriter…a traveler—an adventurer at his core, always on his way somewhere.” The celebrated songwriter and creator of more than eighteen albums began his career with a bike ride through North Carolina when he was a teenager and has called Asheville home ever since.

Wilcox’s latest album blaze debuted Tuesday. I talked to him about narrative and responsibility, creative process, and how songwriting opens his heart and teaches him to engage with the world.

Shannon Huffman Polson: Your lyrics have a very real narrative element to them, sometimes even writing songs from the perspectives of different characters. Where did that idea come from and what does it do for you?

David Wilcox: I love the experience of being carried along by a story and having it open to another layer like a good parable does. This can surprise me with an emotional experience that’s a surprising compassion or reframing of a circumstance. A good story can do this—I love stories that walk beside you and gradually walk you to a place you might not have gone otherwise.

Those are the songs I love to have in my life. That’s what I aspire to. The songs I write I write because I want to learn from them, I want to see the world the way they see it.

[Read more...]

Look at the Light: Thirteen Songs for 2013

Arcade FireGuest Post by Joel Heng Hartse

I’m writing my dissertation right now and for once I am trying to be bold, to not worry about whether what I am arguing has been substantiated by someone with more knowledge or status than myself. This is probably what is called for.

Sometimes, though, it is nice to shut up and let the wise ones have their say. This is my sixth annual end-of-the-year playlist for Good Letters, and unlike previous years, I am not going to offer any commentary on the songs I’ve chosen; instead, I offer these songs paired with excerpts of books, articles, or other things I have read recently (or not-so-recently) which resonate with me and, I hope, the songs. [Read more...]


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