Notre-Dame in Flames

Notre Dame on Fire
Notre-Dame Cathedral, April 15, 2019(CC BY-SA 4.0)

As I looked at photos and footage of Notre-Dame wreathed in flames, I couldn’t help remembering what it was like to watch my own church burn down on the morning of June 9, 2007. Our house was on the same block and we spent that Saturday morning watching the blaze from our back yard with friends, neighbors, and fellow churchgoers, all of us filled with shock, grief, and dismay.

No doubt many in Paris and beyond have felt a similar mix of emotions. In fact, those emotions may have been felt even more keenly, given Notre-Dame’s age and cultural importance.

While it’s easy (albeit true) to say that a church is not a building, it’s still painful to watch one crumble before your eyes. Because we’re physical creatures, God uses physical spaces to minister to us and subsequently, we use them to minister to each other. They’re sacred spaces for those most joyous and solemn of occasions, like weddings and funerals. They’re where we gather to hear God speak to us through His word and where we respond with worship and confession. They can fill us with awe and a sense of majesty, remind us of our smallness, and convey theological and spiritual truths.

Some are seeing an especial significance and doom in Notre-Dame’s destruction, given Christianity’s fading presence in an increasingly secular Europe. The fire could be viewed as the end of an era, and I certainly won’t begrudge anyone mourning it as such. But the truth — which can be difficult to accept and believe in the moment — is that God’s Church is not contained within a single building, however beautiful it might be. (And make no mistake, Notre-Dame is a very beautiful building indeed, even after the flames.)

Obviously, nobody knows what all will happen as a result of the Notre-Dame fire. But the God whose people built that glorious cathedral is a God Who loves resurrection and redemption. Like a masterful author writing twists into the storyline, He can take the very worst moments, and instead of leaving them as they are, use them as the means to bring about a greater good than could have been imagined or achieved beforehand.

Not to be glib, but it feels strangely appropriate that this fire happened during Holy Week. Christians around the world gather for Good Friday and remember history’s darkest moment — when the Son of God was rejected and killed by humanity and, taking our place, absorbed the full measure of God’s wrath and judgement in our stead. And yet, we call it Good Friday because it was only through that horror that the beauty of Easter Sunday could happen, when Christ rose from the dead, defeating sin, tragedy, pain, horror, and death once and for all.

I’ll spare you any cloyingly ​“encouraging” phrases about Notre-Dame rising again. Though there has been some good news in the aftermath, and France has announced ambitious plans to rebuild, the loss and damage is still incalculable. And if my church’s fire taught me anything, it’s that there is a time to gather together and mourn what was lost before looking to the future. Doing so is only right and proper.

But my church’s fire, and what came out of it, also reminds me that God’s sense of irony might not be finished with the Church in Paris, not by a long shot — and that beauty can and will emerge from the ruins and ashes in strange and surprising ways.

I Want to Travel Back in Time so I Can Hang Out at This ’90s Internet Cafe

Cyberplay

The ​‘90s were a halcyon period when it came to computer technology. Although the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, the concept of ​“cyberspace” was just starting to make itself known to the broader, non-tech-y culture. (Hackers, anyone?) I was in high school and at the time, computers still seemed quasi-magical. They were going to transform everything and turn the world into a techno-utopia after a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.

Of course, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Nowadays, we know all too well that technology can be a double-edged sword. We find it easier than ever to be connected and experience different points of view, and yet we find ourselves isolated and locked inside echo chambers. We might have access to more information and entertainment than any other period in human history, but now we also face grave privacy and security issues that have global ramifications.

But for those of us who were fairly nerdy and grew up in the ​‘90s, there’s still a bit of nostalgia for the utopia that computers might’ve ushered in. And a perfect example of that is this awesome Twitter thread packed with photos of Cyberplay (a kids-focused internet café in Orlando, Florida) and Tempus Expeditions (a motion theatre and retail store), two amazing relics of the ​‘90s view of technology.

The aesthetics of these places are mind-blowing and so incredibly dated, they seem almost timeless. You’ve got every ​“cyber” and ​“futuristic” architectural and interior design trope you could hope for: scaffolding, circuitboard-ish wallpaper, giant gears, computer consoles and interactive kiosks that look like they came straight from the Babylon 5 set, and user interfaces that look inspired by Kai’s Power Tools… and that’s just the tip of the techno-iceberg.

It’s gaudy, over-the-top, and an assault on the senses, and I love all of it. As I tweeted when I first saw the thread, I’m pretty sure this is what I imagined heaven looking like when I was in 9th grade.

What does “The Rise of Skywalker” mean?

The Rise of Skywalker

I’m sure that by now, you’ve already watched the new Star Wars trailer at least several times. But just in case you haven’t, here you go. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

There’s plenty to talk about in the trailer, from Rey’s bad-ass flip over the TIE fighter in the opening minute to the laugh that echoes in its final moments, and then there’s the film’s subtitle: The Rise of Skywalker. What does that mean?

I’ll admit that when I first saw it, I was a bit worried. Lucasfilm had previously confirmed that Episode IX would bring to a close the Skywalker Saga, thus freeing future Star Wars films — and of course there will be more Star Wars films — from being limited to Skywalker-centric storylines. As such, The Rise of Skywalker seems to go against that. But after some discussion with fellow nerds, and keeping in mind writer/​director J.J. Abrams’ (sometimes misguided) penchant for misdirection, I’ve begun considering some alternate theories.

Perhaps The Rise of Skywalker refers to a literal rise of a Skywalker. Which, given the events of The Last Jedi and the death of Carrie Fisher, means that technically speaking, Kylo Ren is the last Skywalker. (Unless Abrams decides to retcon The Last Jedi concerning, say, Rey’s parentage.) In that scenario, The Rise of Skywalker is actually a bad thing, especially if Kylo Ren uses the ​“Skywalker” name to help bolster his rise to galactic power after wanting to reject the First Order altogether.

I like this idea for two reasons. First, it would be in keeping with Ren’s character at the end of The Last Jedi, where he seems to fully go over to the dark side. Second, it could be a nice continuation of the (healthy) deconstruction of Star Wars that Rian Johnson began with The Last Jedi.

On the other hand, perhaps it picks up on the end of The Last Jedi, specifically the scene with the young kids hearing about Luke’s final showdown with Ren, in which ​“Skywalker” becomes something bigger than just a name or a single person. It becomes a true symbol of hope for the downtrodden and persecuted throughout the galaxy.

In this scenario, The Rise of Skywalker becomes about Rey and Co. taking that symbol and lifting it up as an ideal that’s bigger than the Rebellion or even the Jedi could’ve ever been. Hopefully, that doesn’t translate into a scene where Rey, Finn, Poe, et al. literally say ​“I am a Skywalker” à la Spartacus when staring down Kylo Ren, but rather, just adhere to the spirit of that.

In any case, fans will no doubt continue to theorize right up until the movie arrives in theaters on December 20. In the meantime, I’m just going to watch that trailer a few more times.

The First Trailer for Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You Brings the Beautiful Rain

Back in December, Makoto Shinkai announced his next film. Titled Weathering With You, it’s about a high school student who encounters a young woman with the ability to control the rain. The first trailer has arrived — hat tip to io9 — and as you might expect from a Shinkai film, it looks gorgeous. If you liked what the man did with rain in 2013’s Garden of Words, then you’ll definitely like what you see here.

Weathering With You arrives in Japanese theaters on July 19. Given the massive success of Shinkai’s last film, Your Name, I suspect that at least an announcement of the film’s American release date won’t be too far behind.

Scientists Reveal the First Image of a Black Hole

Black Hole
The black hole lies at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy and is almost as big as our solar system.(CC BY 4.0)

Black holes are some of the universe’s strangest and most disquieting phenomena, a region of space where gravity is so strong that the laws of physics break down and nothing, not even light, can escape.

They’ve confounded scientists and fueled the imagination for decades. But for all of their dreadful power, black holes have never actually been seen. Instead, we’ve had to settle for secondary or indirect evidence of their existence, like observing the effects of their intense gravity on neighboring cosmic bodies.

Until now, that is. Earlier today, scientists released the very first image of a supermassive black hole that’s located in the center of the Messier 87 galaxy.

If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow — something predicted by Einstein’s general relativity that we’ve never seen before,” explained chair of the EHT Science Council Heino Falcke of Radboud University, the Netherlands. ​“This shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon, reveals a lot about the nature of these fascinating objects and has allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole.“

Multiple calibration and imaging methods have revealed a ring-like structure with a dark central region — the black hole’s shadow — that persisted over multiple independent EHT observations.

The image is the result of the years-long ​“Event Horizon Telescope” project, which linked eight radio telescopes around the world to essentially form a single, super-powerful planet-sized radio telescope, thus giving scientists an unprecedented ability to study super-distant objects. (Messier 87 is located 53 million light-years, or approximately 312 quintillion miles, away from Earth. And just in case that number isn’t mind-blowing enough, when they describe the black hole as ​“supermassive,” they mean it’s 6.5 billion times more massive than our sun and almost as big as our solar system.)

Putting aside the sheer awe of seeing a black hole for the first time, the technical and logistical aspects of this discovery are also pretty amazing. For example:

  • The telescopes involved had to be upgraded with ultra-precise atomic clocks so they’d properly synchronize with each other.
  • A five-night period of observation resulted in 5 billion megabytes of data, and scientists spent two years parsing all of the data.
  • The people tasked with creating the final image were divided into 4 teams that worked independently of each other, in order to ensure quality control.
  • And perhaps most impressive of all, hundreds of people saw the image before its official release, and yet it was never leaked.

Back in 2015, The New York Times posted a lengthy piece titled ​“Black Hole Hunters” that followed the trials and efforts of the EHT team, and hinted at the sheer scope and ambition of the project.

In all, the Event Horizon Telescope involves 20 universities, observatories, research institutions and government agencies, and more than a hundred scientists. Among other things, to keep the radio telescopes in their network suitably synchronized, they had to equip them with new atomic clocks accurate to within one second every 100 million years, and new short-wavelength receivers.

Dr. Doeleman recalled having to wear an oxygen tank to test atomic clocks at the new ALMA array, on a 16,000-foot plateau in Chile. Another colleague, Daniel Marrone of the University of Arizona, spent last winter at the South Pole installing a new receiver. Both of these installations will eventually join the Event Horizon observations.

The March observing run was the first time the group would have enough telescopes — seven radio telescopes, on six mountains — to begin to hope they could glimpse the black hole. They would have five chances over a period of two weeks.

[…]

If everything went right — if all the elements of Dr. Doeleman’s spider web of weather and electronics and superprecise timing held together — they would see that any given wavefront would arrive bearing the marks of interference, a complicated pattern of crests and troughs — ​“fringes,” in the astronomical vernacular. With enough fringes from baselines going in different directions across the sky from the various observatories, the astronomers could reconstruct a map what was happening out there, thousands of millions of light-years away.

Seeing even one fringe from one baseline would be a triumph — it would mean they were achieving the kind of resolution needed to make a detailed image of Sagittarius A* and see if it looks like a black hole. Making that image, of course, would be another long story indeed. Until they saw that first fringe, the Event Horizon team would simply have to hold their breaths.

That could be months. All that data would be too much to send over the Internet. Nobody would know if the whole telescope had worked until the data recorded from each separate instrument had been correlated in a supercomputer back at M.I.T. As Dr. Doeleman liked to say, ​“The bandwidth of a 747 loaded with disk drives is phenomenal.”

If they are lucky, sometime later this summer or fall, then, they might see emerging from the computers at M.I.T. the first rough image of a black hole. And its size and shape could provide a judgment on general relativity, the harshest test yet a century after Einstein dreamed up the theory.

It’s hard not to admire scientists who are willing to devote years of their life and brave brutal conditions in the pursuit of knowledge. Indeed, it’s really quite inspiring even as it’s humbling to consider what their discoveries reveal to us about the utterly mind-boggling scale and power of our universe.

Should pastors wear really, really expensive shoes?

Air Yeezy 2 Red October
These shoes cost at least $6,000. What would you think if your pastor wore them Sunday morning?

I recently discovered the @preachersnsneakers Instagram account, which, as the name suggests, highlights pastors wearing really expensive shoes and other articles of clothing (like a $1,980 travel bag and $795 pants).

I must admit, something inside me feels a bit sick when I see such photos. It seems so worldly (to use a nice Christianese term) to see Christian leaders walking around in super-costly shoes. At the risk of judging their hearts, such clothing choices do seem to be the very definition of succumbing to vanity, consumerism, and the trappings of fame and fortune.

Fashionista recently interviewed the creator of @preachersnsneakers (who goes by the pseudonym ​“Tyler Jones”). It’s a really thoughtful interview, and Jones — who is both a Christian and a sneaker aficionado — makes it clear that he’s not simply trying to tear down the people he highlights. But there’s no denying that @preachersnsneakers raises good questions about pastoral accountability, responsibility, image, and even wealth.

Do you think it’s inherently problematic for church leaders to own or post pictures of themselves in expensive stuff?

That is the massive question here. As somebody that has given money to my local church, personally I would be a little irritated if I saw the pastor step out in some fresh Yeezys. I would at least ask the question.

The rebuttal to that is ​‘Well, these megachurch guys are doing major book sales or doing speaking tours,’ which is valid. I don’t fault any of them for making a lot of money. But I do think that you’re held to a different standard if you are leading a church that people are contributing money to and investing some amount of their trust in you to lead them spiritually. That’s a pretty heavy calling. I think you at least need to be aware of the optics of the things that you’re wearing.

In this current era, the Church has lost a lot of moral authority in cultural matters, and much of that is its own fault (see the rise of #ChurchToo). Obviously, wearing ridiculously expensive shoes is nowhere near as egregious as sexual abuse. Still, consumerism and materialism should not be dismissed so easily, and sadly, they’re things that the Church has often struggled with. (Consider the heresy that is the prosperity gospel, and how its focus on material well-being has deceived and manipulated countless individuals, or how churches often place an undue emphasis on spectacle and entertainment.)

The Bible makes it clear: those who teach the Gospel and lead the Church are called to a higher standard, to live above and beyond reproach (e.g., James 3:1, 1 Peter 5:1 – 5, 1 Timothy 3:1 – 13, Titus 1:5 – 9). This applies as much to clothing budgets — or any use of disposable income, for that matter — as anything.

None of this is to suggest that pastors and Christian leaders are forbidden from enjoying life’s finer things or the (monetary) fruits of their labors. But it does suggest that if you’re a pastor, and you’re eyeing a pair of sneakers that probably costs more than your average congregant’s rent or mortgage payment, then maybe you should take a moment to consider what such a purchase will communicate to those God has entrusted to you — beyond the size of your bank account or how much swagger you’ve got, that is.

Hyper Light Drifter, The TV Series

Hyper Light Drifter

Polygon is reporting that a TV series based on the acclaimed Hyper Light Drifter video game is currently in the works. The series is being produced by Adi Shankar, who’s no stranger to video game adaptations: he produced Netflix’s acclaimed Castlevania (which was just renewed for a third season) and is also working on adaptations of Devil May Cry and Assassin’s Creed.

The Hyper Light Drifter series is still in the very early stages, with Shanker and the game’s creator, Alx Preston, currently discussing how best to translate the game — which was highly stylized, extremely moody and atmospheric, and entirely wordless — to television. Questions concerning the TV series’ inclusion (or not) of dialog are certainly important, but I’m primarily curious about how well Hyper Light Drifters tone will work for a TV series.

Shanker is certainly not opposed to darkness in his stories — an episode or two of Castlevania will make that abundantly clear. But Hyper Light Drifter isn’t simply grim and violent. A deep melancholy suffuses its storyline, from the brokenness and decay that fills the game’s world as a result of creatures trying to play God to the main character’s own deathly ailments that threaten his quest.

Hyper Light Drifters sense of loss and melancholy — which I explored more fully in this Christ and Pop Culture piece — is a far cry from, say, Castlevanias gory violence, gothic horror, and misanthropic humor. Watch the game’s release trailer to get a sense of that melancholy, as well as its captivating aesthetic.

Suffice to say, I’m cautiously/​hopefully excited about this. Hyper Light Drifter is such a cool game with such an interesting world and mythology; there’s a lot to explore there. I’m normally averse to prequels but I think that approach could work well here. Given the game’s cryptic-ness, it’d be cool to learn more about the events that happened prior to the game, see the game’s world before it fell into ruin, and find out more about the titular character’s origins.

Oh, and one more suggestion: please use Disasterpeace’s music for the series. It’s as important to setting the game’s tone as any visual.

The Rock That God Can’t Lift

Perhaps you read the recent New York Times opinion piece in which a philosophy professor named Peter Atterton challenges the notion of an all-powerful God by, among other things, trotting out that old chestnut about God making a rock to heavy for Him to lift:

You’ve probably heard the paradox of the stone before: Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? If God can create such a stone, then He is not all powerful, since He Himself cannot lift it. On the other hand, if He cannot create a stone that cannot be lifted, then He is not all powerful, since He cannot create the unliftable stone. Either way, God is not all powerful.

It’s a pretty thin and silly piece that was quickly dragged on social media, mainly because Atterton’s objections were the sort of ​“philosophy” one typically assigns to first-year students who’ve had a couple of bong hits.

Steven D. Greydanus — who, in addition to being an excellent film critic, is a pretty smart guy all around — has written an excellent response to Atterton’s column that examines the inherent nonsense of the professor’s questions:

Let’s be clear about something: Just because we’ve put a bunch of words together doesn’t mean we’ve expressed an actual concept. Words can be used in utterly meaningless ways.

For example, suppose I told you, ​“Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to quantum defibrillation sans magnifier betiding.”

Have I told you anything about my plans for tomorrow afternoon? Have I used words in a meaningful way at all?

Now suppose that, when you challenged this nonsensical remark, I countered, ​“Well, can God quantum defibrillation sans magnifier betiding?”

Guess what? I still haven’t said anything. I might as well have asked ​“Can God gyre and gimble in the wabe?”

Jabberwocky doesn’t suddenly become an actual concept because you prefix it with the words ​“can” and ​“God” in some order. And that’s all meaningless combinations of words are: jabberwocky.

As C.S. Lewis said, ​“nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

More:

A rock that God can’t lift” — like ​“a square circle,” ​“a married bachelor,” ​“a magnifier betiding,” or even ​“an uffish thought” — isn’t an actual concept. It’s just a meaningless combination of words. And it remains such even when someone talks about omnipotence trying to do something about it.

There are plenty of excellent and thorny questions that can be asked when discussing God’s nature and attributes, especially when it comes to issues like evil and free will. But ​“Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted?” is not one of them.

Animating the Spider-Verse

Wired recently interviewed Danny Dimian and Josh Beveridge, who worked as the Visual Effects Supervisor and Head of Character Animation, respectively, on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In this video, the duo discussed how their teams achieved the movie’s amazing animation and visual styles. Make sure you watch it on the highest resolution possible to fully experience and appreciate all of the details.

There’s so much in this video and it’s all fascinating, from how they captured the printed look of comic books (such that every single frame in the movie is perfectly crisp and clear), to the way they skewed and distorted the New York buildings and landscape for added effect, to the movie’s references to Jack Kirby. (Phil Coffman highlights a few more aspects.)

At the very least, it’s a wonderful ​“behind the scenes” look at one of 2018’s best movies. But even more than that, it’s a great example of just how powerful, evocative, and imaginative animation can be as a medium, and how it can tell stories and create experiences in ways that would be very difficult (if not impossible) to achieve via live-action.

My Son’s Foreign Languages

Sons-dnd-languages

This past Christmas, our family began playing Dungeons & Dragons, thus fulfilling a long-standing #GeekDad goal of mine. Overall, it’s been a lot of fun and a good way to spend time together that doesn’t involve any screens — just lots of imagination, creativity, and collaboration.

The labyrinthine rules sometimes go over their heads but my kids have really taken to it. Case in point: I went to wake up my son for school and found him already hard at work on his dwarvish, elvish, and draconic. I’ll have to see if his school will give him foreign language credit for this.

Review Round-Up: David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!

Shazam - David F. Sandberg

Be honest: when you saw the first trailer for Shazam!, you probably thought DC was nuts. They can’t seem to get a Flash movie off the ground, and yet they’re making a movie about Shazam, i.e., the superhero who gains his powers by shouting, well, ​“Shazam”?!

But here we are, and between you and me, I’m really excited about this one. DC seemed to turn a page with the excellent Wonder Woman, and while Aquaman was more spectacle than substance, it was some pretty awesome spectacle buoyed by Jason Momoa’s charisma. And Shazam! looks like DC is lightening up, exchanging the grimdark of the Batman and Superman movies for something a bit goofier, and too good effect, if initial reviews are any indication.

Writing for Vox, Alex Abad-Santos calls Shazam! ​“an unapologetically buoyant triumph of a superhero movie” and compares and contrasts it with the grimness that can often pervade superhero movies, especially ones from DC. He writes:

Sandberg has found success in Shazam by shrugging off typically cumbersome grimness and ignoring a need to fuse together with other films for a future team-up epic — all that stuff that weighs down most superhero movies. Instead, for large parts of the movie, Shazam unfurls like a holiday movie spin on the genre. And in embracing earnest glee and heartfelt tenderness, Shazam allows us to fully appreciate the magical excitement and wonder that superheroes can supply.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky gives Shazam! a ​“B-” in his review and notes that the film ​“positions itself as a blast for a different past — directed not only at actual kids of a certain age, but also at the inner 10-year-olds of grown-up viewers raised on ​80s hits like Big (which gets an homage in a toy-store sequence) and Gremlins (from which it borrows a Christmastime setting).” He also makes an interesting comparison to both previous DC movies and the current MCU: “[I]f DC movies can’t offer the sweeping arcs and conflicts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they can at least be forgettably fun.”

Given that Shazam’s alter-ego, Billy Batson, is a young orphan, Germain Lussier makes special notice of the film’s emphasis on family, noting Shazam!​‘s emphasis on ​“the power and importance of foster families.” Towards the end of his review, he writes: ​“Sure, it’s fun to watch Billy fly and shoot lightning out of his hands, but it’s even better to see him trying to find ordinary happiness. There’s a real humanity to the foster family aspect of the story and it ends up paying off with some big surprises and possibly even a few tears.”

Polygons Susana Polo is particularly effusive in her review, which starts off describing Shazam! as ​“pure comic book magic” and then concludes by calling it ​“the holy grail of superhero adaptations when it pulls off an engagingly staged, thrilling, and emotional climax.” She also notes that director Sandberg includes several post-credits scenes that hint at a larger world, assuming the film does well enough to merit a sequel or two.

However, not everyone is as taken with the movie. Todd Gilchrist argues that while superhero movies ​“should reflect the values and aspirations of children,” Shazam! is ​“unfocused, noisy and way, [and] way too chatty” and ​“its eagerness to explore the notion of family at the expense of real character development — and the seeming absence of adult guidance both on and off screen — delivers far too little in the way of true inspiration.” More:

In retrospect, I realize that so many of these complaints sound like an adult critiquing a children’s story, or simply failing to account for that imaginary child author’s perspective. But the problem is that the very real people who made this film were adults, and they failed to put their audience into that childlike point of view — be it to understand the ramshackle storytelling or just to identify with this poor lost kid unexpectedly gifted with the powers of a god.

However, Gilchrist’s views are very much in the minority: Shazam! currently enjoys a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, the film doesn’t arrive in theaters until April 5, so there’s plenty of time for that score to change (for better or worse) as more critics see the film. But the fact that so many critics love Shazam! already and use terms like ​“upbeat,” ​“buoyant and unpretentious,” ​“a joy,” and ​“charming” to describe it bodes well for its success.

Watch The Prayer Chain’s Shawl 25th Anniversary Concert

Along with Mortal, The Prayer Chain was one of the first Christian alternative bands I listened to. A friend of mine let me borrow their Whirlpool EP back in 1992, and I listened to it quite a bit. As I recall, the EP was pretty successful thanks to catchy numbers like ​“Shine.” But the band’s debut full-length, 1993’s Shawl, was an entirely different beast.

Turbulent and angst-ridden, the album felt like the band’s attempt to deconstruct the more upbeat image put forth by their earlier music. (Or as one reviewer put it, ​“Shawl was a smack in the face on the CCM market, set squarely in the heart of the grunge market with an abandon and aggressive emotional release.”) The opening song, ​“Crawl,” even included the lyrics ​“Shine is dead” sung against chants, tribal rhythms, and searing riffs, as if a direct attack on their former image. Meanwhile, the rest of the album’s lyrics were searing explorations of doubt and faith struggles.

I first listened to Shawl in my friend’s car on a Sunday morning, in the church parking lot, natch. And for awhile, it was pretty much all we listened to while hanging out or driving around Omaha. I would eventually cool towards Shawl — I was getting more into industrial music at the time and I probably thought Shawl sounded too grunge-y, or some similarly dumb reason — but I gave it another spin several years back and found myself appreciating it in new ways, especially its more atmospheric songs (e.g., ​“Fifty-Eight,” ​“The Hollow”).

The album turned 25 last year, and to celebrate, The Prayer Chain reunited for a series of concerts (including some dates with The Choir and Dakoda Motor Co.). Their show at Anaheim’s House of Blues was posted on YouTube earlier this year, and let me tell you, it’s a wave of pure ​“Chrindie” nostalgia, especially when Mortal’s Jyro Xhan joins the band for ​“Crawl.” (And sharp-eyed viewers will also notice The Choir’s Steve Hindalong, who produced much of the band’s music, helping out with percussion.)

I never got to see The Prayer Chain live back in the day, but they’re in fine form here, from Tim Taber’s powerful voice and stage presence to Andy Prickett’s soaring, Verve-y guitar lines. And as an added bonus, the band even performs some material from their final studio album, 1995’s Mercury.

The Anaheim performance is also available as a live recording on Bandcamp, which I’ve embedded below:

Hawkins, Indiana Is Still a Crazy Place in the Stranger Things Season 3 Trailer

After some teases on Twitter, Netflix has released the first trailer for Stranger Things’ third season, and it’s pretty packed. It begins with a scene where the rest of gang welcome Dustin home, with bad consequences for Lucas. It’s hilarious, for sure, but is it really wise to give Eleven more nosebleeds just for a little welcome home prank?

The rest of the trailer is a flash of intense scenes, including:

  • Eleven trapped in the void between our world and the Upside Down
  • Visions of what might be the mind flayer from season two
  • Will apparently still reeling from the trauma of what’s happened to him in previous seasons
  • An assassin-looking figure
  • Hopper dressed to the nines on a hot date
  • Hawkins’ flashy new Starcourt Mall
  • The gang venturing off on what looks like a camping trip
  • And finally — because this is Stranger Things — a horrific flesh monster that’s most likely up to no good

The good folks at io9 have an exhaustive breakdown of the trailer, including some interesting analysis of Billy (aka, season 2’s big jerkface).

It’s also worth noting how much older everyone looks. At one point in the trailer, you hear someone (Will?) say ​“We’re not kids anymore.” While I don’t want to read too much into a single line of dialog in a trailer, I wouldn’t be surprised if the difficulties of growing up — and eventually apart from childhood friends — is an even bigger subtext for this season than last, and on into the series’ final season(s). (Stranger Things’ creators have said they plan to end it after the fourth or fifth season.)

There’s been plenty of conjecture about Stranger Things’ third season but we’ll find out for sure when it starts streaming on July 4.

Drone Footage of Nebraska’s 2019 Flooding

Thanks to a weather phenomenon called a ​“bomb cyclone,” Nebraska was absolutely battered this past week. The western part of the state experienced blizzards that closed all highways and interstates in the Panhandle region and dumped large amounts of snow (1020 inches, depending on the area). Meanwhile, eastern Nebraska is dealing with some of the worst flooding it’s seen in decades.

The above drone footage gives you a good sense of the flooding’s scale, and how far rivers have expanded beyond their usual banks. It’s actually kind of eerie to see the small towns highlighted in the video (e.g., Scribner, Wisner). We’ve driven through them many times to go to family reunions but now, they’re completely surrounded, if not covered, by the floodwaters. It’ll take months, and even years, to recover from this devastation.

We’ve been fortunate; Lincoln has come through all of this pretty unscathed. But many other Nebraskans, including my wife’s family, aren’t so fortunate. Even if their houses aren’t flooded, they — like so many others in this region — are essentially cut off by the flooding, and it may be several days before the waters subside enough so that they can leave without risk.

Natural disasters are terrible, and nothing to wish on anyone, but they can allow for the best in humanity to emerge, as people help their neighbors, give their time and resources to help their communities, and even sacrifice their lives trying to save complete strangers.

Oh, and find some humor in even the worst of situations: