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Lost in the Aesthetic

As you might have noticed, we have had a wee bit of a redesign here at Lost in the Cloud.  But how you would have noticed, I am not sure, since any visits to this blog in the last year or two will have proven generally underwhelming (even more underwhelming than when we post more often).  Thanks to Greg’s posts John Stump, composer of Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz and Moby Books Illustrated Classic Editions (both published in 2010), we still receive between 100 and 200 views on any given day.  But those views are the result of a couple of brilliant niche subjects and not the steady traffic that results from consistent and thoughtful blogging, the initial challenge we set for ourselves here at LITC.

Granted, Greg and I are quite busy with relationships, our respective church ministries and life in general, but this is my formal recommitment to Lost in the Cloud and the first order of business was the redesign.  It seems like the last design update was only a few months ago, but looking back at my records I realised that the blog hasn’t had any design changes since September 2011, which, in graphic designer terms, is ancient.

I’ve always aimed to make the aesthetic of the blog efficient, playful and thoughtful.  Those values played a significant part in the inspiration for my original ‘yod cloud’ design back in 2004.  Since those initial doodles I have employed the wee cloud in a large number of designs, including this painting with the full Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew name of God (יהוה‎ or YHWH) which was commissioned for a church in 2006:

Vanityoil on maple, 4′ x 5′, commissioned for Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach

Later on in 2006 I was part of a mix CD club with Greg and some friends and for my round I decided to make a mix that was a playful reflection on the mythical history presented in the Christian Bible called Die Geschichte (The Recapitulation).  This was when I discovered the versatility of the yod cloud design:

CreationI. The Creation

The FloodIV. The Flood

SinaiVI. The Exodus & the Wilderness

TransfigurationXII. The Life of Christ – The Transfiguration

The playfulness of the design is made quite obvious in these illustrations and it was this yod cloud in the Transfiguration that most captured my imagination.  I began to use it obsessively.  I even designed a book stamp featuring it:

Stamp

In 2007 I devised and led an art project made up of a group of university friends that formed a small orchestra and theatre/dance group and performed a theatrical and orchestral version of Sufjan Stevens’ ‘The Transfiguration’ at Biola University in La Mirada, California.  The programmes featured the illustration from the Transfiguration above:

The Transfiguration Flyer

The iconic clouds played a very prominent role in the performance, adorning dancers as well as musicians.  So two years later, when Greg and I were first inspired to start our own blog the name, taken directly from the coda of the song above, came rather quickly, and the yod cloud was sure to be a design feature.  So here’s a wee walk-through of the header designs we’ve employed in the last four years.

Our first header was rather simple, featuring the yod cloud prominently:

lost-in-the-cloud-header-colour2.jpg

As with many of my designs, looking at it now I see it as cluttered, boring and lazy, but I think we really liked it at the time.  The second design was introduced in November 2010 and was nearly identical, but with a few changes:

lost-in-the-cloud-header-update-ii4.jpg

One cloud was added and each cloud employed finer lines, which tidied up the look a wee bit.  Also, the text was brought out to the foreground.  Nothing too major until July 2011, when the third overhaul took place:

cropped-lost-in-the-cloud-header-update-viii.jpg

For some reason I went back to my early design days and employed a whole lot of drop shadow and opacity.  Making two dimensional designs ‘appear’ to have three dimensions was all the rage.  Not long after this design I realised that the white background was looking very boring, so in September 2011 I added the sea foam hue:

lost-in-the-cloud-header-update-viii2.jpg

I would consider this a definite improvement, but it frightens me that I went more than two years without altering the design.  That is a reflection of how much (or how little) attention I’ve paid to Lost in the Cloud, and for that I apologise (although I suspect that most folk pay no attention to the design and those that do probably never thought of our blog’s aesthetic as much to look at).

This leads me to the current design:

litc-header-2013-sm1.jpg

The Andersonian echoes should be screaming at you (though I assure you, it was subconscious).  I’ve decided to really shake it all up.  The hallmark yod cloud is there, but I’ve actually finally tailored it into a nice, clean, modern design.  The hand-drawn element of the previous designs had its own charm, but I’m in the mood for this streamlined cloud.  Flanking the redesigned cloud are navigatory motifs (left) and cloudy-scientific motifs (right).  And yes, I think I just invented the word ‘navigatory’, but I’m pretty sure you know what I mean.  We’ve got the text in a cleaner, modern typeface (the old stenciled typeface was really getting on my visual nerves) that stretches across the whole of the header and below it you may notice nine wee symbols.  These are actually international weather office map code for describing different types of high clouds.  Along with ditching multiple clouds and the old typeface, I also flattened everything.  I think this might be related to the rekindling of my love for printed media and classic branding (see a series of redesigns of professional Scottish football badges I attempted over the last five months).

If you have stuck it through and are still reading this post, let me both apologise for my self indulgence and extend a hearty thank you to you!  Greg and I are back to post more regularly and we hope it’s as exciting for you, our readers, as it is for us.  And maybe I’ll finally get around to manufacturing some merchandise (like this yod cloud badge) for those eager to rep LITC…

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Two Years of Lost in the Cloud

Dear readers,

Today, Elijah and Greg celebrate two years of writing on our collaborative blog, Lost in the Cloud.  Though we had transferred over some older posts from the previous blog we had created with Greg’s younger brother, Criticism As Inspiration (which still features the header that Greg designed on Microsoft Word!), our first official post on Lost in the Cloud was published on 23 January, 2010.

The background and theme was different, but you get the idea…

Since that initial post, we’ve had over 200,000 unique visits to the blog (and to those 200 GRAND readers, may we offer our sincere thanks and warm regards to you).  As a way of looking back on these past two years, we thought we would highlight some of our posts that have had the most hits over the past two years, along with drawing attention to a few series that we have produced and other special posts.

ELIJAH’S TOP HITS:

  1. Helicopter Megaphone“: A post about the heartbreaking back story of the song “Helicopter” from Deerhunter’s album Halcyon Digest.
  2. Will tomorrow be the ‘end of the world‘”: A helpful explanation of the differences between various Christian views of “the last days” written at the time of the Harold Camping rapture predictions.
  3. Lost in the Sewer: Steve Duncan, Urban Explorer“:  A look at urban exploration in the underground of New York City.
  4. Top 20 Bands: 1“:  Elijah talks about his favorite musical artist in the climax of his series (see below) on his top 20 bands.

ELIJAH’S SERIES:

  • Imaging the Kingdom (Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five):  A series of posts dedicated to exploring the nature of the kingdom of God and its implications in the universe, and therefore in our world and in the lives of all Christians.
  • Top 20 Bands:  If you visit the link for Elijah’s number 1 post, you will have links to all 20 of the other bands.

****************

GREG’S TOP HITS:

  1. John Stump, composer of Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz“:  This piece about Greg’s uncle has become the singular most viewed post on LITC.  While John’s comical music compositions have been viewed around the globe, the post on our site is the one place where people can find out  actual information about the composer.
  2. Moby Books: Illustrated Classics Editions“:  This post is also a unique resource on the web on a little documented topic, about a series of abridged and illustrated versions of classic books published in the 70’s and 80’s that were Greg’s “gateway drug” into literature.
  3. ‘Hipster’ ‘Christianity’: a ‘review’“:  Not Greg’s most charitable work, this post takes some below the belt potshots at the book Hipster Christianity.
  4. A Portrait of the Artist in The Age of Adz“:  An early review and speculative analysis of Sufjan Steven’s 2010 album, The Age of Adz.

GREG’S SERIES:

  • Band Evangelist (Chapters One, Two, and Three):  A periodic update on upcoming and new releases from various albums and bands.  (Elijah even posted a “Disciple of the Band Evangelist” piece in the same vein.)
  • The Mirror and the Telescope (Parts One, Two, Three, and Four):  An original essay on an evangelical view of Scripture that proposes that there are truly two subjects of special revelation: God and humanity.
  • Reformed and Always Reforming (Parts One, Two, and Three):  A summary and analysis of the initial chapters of Roger Olson’s book Reformed and Always Reforming.

GREG’S SPECIAL POSTS:

  • John Wenham: An Appreciation“:  This was a brief review of the autobiography of a British evangelical biblical scholar who also held to the annihilationist view of hell/divine judgment.  As a result of this post, Greg received an email from Wenham’s grandson thanking him for his positive evaluation of his grandfather’s legacy.  This post also provided Greg with a number of opportunities to engage with readers on the annihilationist view.
  • A modest proposal for Sufjan Stevens regarding the completion of his 50 states project“:  This was an open letter to the single greatest contemporary American artist (in Greg’s opinion) with an idea of how to continue with the creative endeavor of recording an album for each one of the 50 American states.
  • A review of Josh T. Pearson live in Glasgow“:  This post captured some highlights from an opportunity that Elijah and Greg had to see a one-of-a-kind singer/songwriter in concert whilst Greg was visiting Elijah in Scotland, including a live track from the show.

Working on this blog together has been full of delight, insight, and catharsis, and we are deeply grateful for those who subscribe, read, and comment on our posts at LITC.

This has been one of the ways that Elijah and Greg have stayed connected over the past few years that Elijah has been working on a PhD at the University of St Andrews and so the blog often captures some of the profound affection, encouragement, and willingness to learn from one another that characterizes our friendship.  We look forward to continuing our collaboration into the near future, with the potential of someday even creating a print edition of Lost in the Cloud.  Keep your eyes open for forthcoming information and thanks again for joining us these last two years!

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs

It’s late at night here in Fife and I can’t sleep.  So I do what many Western twenty-first-century twenty-somethings do – I end up on my computer, browsing the internet.  Tonight I am especially glued to the computer with the Phillies-Cardinals game going on.  If the Cards lose tonight they’re out of the playoffs, so I desperately want them to win in order to keep the prospect of a Cardinals-Tigers World Series alive.  For those who are unaware, the World Series rivalry between the St Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers (my favourite team) spans nearly eighty years.  The first time the two teams played each other in a World Series was in 1934, with the Cardinals taking the series in seven games.  They met again in the 1968 World Series, which the Tigers won in seven.  They last met in the 2006 World Series.  After having defeated the Yankees and Athletics in the playoffs, the Tigers went on to lose the World Series to the Cards in five games.  So in the [unlikely] event that both the Tigers and the Cardinals win their respective league titles and end up facing-off in the World Series, well, I will be an excited young man.

But the Major League Baseball 2011 postseason is not why I am compelled to share a few thoughts in a blog post.  The answer to that ‘why’ is sitting right here in front of me…literally…on my lap.  Yes, I am a ‘Mac user’, and tonight, as has been made clear from the incredible flood of identical status updates on Facebook (yes, I am a ‘Facebook user’), it was announced that Apple co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs has died at age 56.

Not only was Steve Jobs the official technological outfitter of hipsters, he was a proto-hipster.

Without a doubt Jobs’ death will be the talk of the town tomorrow.  Whether you loved him, hated him or found yourself generally apathetic toward him, Jobs has had a significant role in the daily lives of a great many people over the last few decades.  When I initially heard the news of his death I figured that enough people are writing about this, why make my own feeble attempt to eulogise, inadvertently adding to the cloud of ‘We’ve lost a visionary!’ chat?  While I have admitted to being a ‘Mac user’ I have neither a literal nor figurative Apple tattoo.  I am not especially wowed by Apple Keynote addresses.  I certainly don’t trouble myself with the false ‘need’ to possess a wide array of Apple products.  To be honest, it’s all very expensive and even if I had the money part of me doesn’t think that it would be especially responsible to indulge in consumer electronics.  But I have owned several Apple products.  As a child my family had an early Macintosh (we weren’t cutting edge or wealthy, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t stolen either).  All throughout my school years we used Macs in computer labs.  I first learned computer programming on a Mac.

When I went to university I used my extra scholarship money to buy my first computer – a 12-inch iBook G4.  A few years later that laptop’s display went kaput and I eventually upgraded to a black MacBook, the very MacBook that’s sitting on my lap now, four years after that purchase.  A couple years ago a certain Greg gifted me with some money, in celebration of my birthday/embarking on my PhD, meant specifically to assist my purchase of an iPod.  I only tell you this incredibly boring history of my Apple product experiences to highlight how my life actually is affected by the influence of Steve Jobs on a daily basis.

In a way I feel sort of dirty for thinking so much about this.  Nearly one billion people in the world don’t have clean drinking water, let alone a computer, let alone an expensive Apple computer (granted, I’ve never owned the ‘high-end’ Apple products).  It’s very evident to me that I should change my lifestyle, but I’m not going to pretend that I don’t make extensive use of my Apple products.  My Macs have brought me through university degrees, have been the means of countless designs (like the designs you see here at LITC), blog posts (like this one), letters, mix CDs, recording songs, etc.  I don’t necessarily need to do all of these things on a Mac, but I have a Mac so I do.  And the iPod – unless I’m spending uninterrupted time with people it is a very common feature of my day.  I estimate that I probably use my iPod for, on average, two hours a day.  I don’t necessarily need to listen to music on an iPod, but I have an iPod so I do.

My point is not to make some profound argument about how the world would stop without Apple – it wouldn’t.  My point is not even to make some profound argument about how my life would be drastically different without Apple – it probably wouldn’t.  But the vision of Steve Jobs, a man who was genuinely passionate about innovation (and genuinely good at selling it), is the fuel behind the success of Apple, success that cannot be reduced to mere monetary units.  The Jobs-led Apple set the bar for other manufacturers (yes, this is a mild endorsement of one aspect of a capitalistic system).  Even though Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, they dramatically changed the way that our society experiences recorded music.  Aside from the technical innovations, Apple also brought a high aesthetic quality to the realm of electronics.  Why can’t our electronics be both functional and pleasing to the eyes?

It’s quite depressing to think about reducing a human being to a brand.  The media outlets will soon be publishing frightening news about how Apple’s success will decline because of Jobs’ death (which isn’t that frightening even if it was true).  Part of me finds this sort of revolting – Steve Jobs was a man with his own unique personality that, in theory, extends beyond the confines of a business, even a business as large as Apple.  But then another part of me realises that Apple was very much at the centre of Jobs’ life and he liked it that way.  Apple was not merely a business venture, but an invaluable outlet for Jobs’ vision and self-expression.

Apple is not dead and will continue to produce excellent innovations, but I don’t think that trajectory could have been so successful without the creative leadership of Jobs.

Steve Jobs wasn’t my friend and I generally do not have a great deal of respect for large companies and their leaders, but all-in-all I think he might have been something like an artist, and a great artist at that.  For someone I never knew and never followed with any sense of dedication, somehow I think I’ll miss Steve Jobs (or as I like to call him, ‘Esteban Trabajos’, with affection).  Thanks for sharing so many good things with the world, Steve.  We here at Lost in the Cloud salute you and will think of you as we experience the blessings of our MacBooks and iPods (and Greg as he uses his iPhone).

Cards won the game, by the way.

Our ‘100th’ Post: 100 Things We Love

Recently, we realised that we were coming up on our 100th post here at Lost in the Cloud.  It’s only been a little less than a year (and we are actually cheating in bringing some of our posts over from our time at Criticism As Inspiration, which account for more than 1/3 of this total), but we felt like it was an occasion we wanted to mark.  Being that we are incredibly fond (or freakishly obsessed) of lists here at LITC, we decided to simply post a list of 100 Things We Love (split about evenly, though there are a number of items that would end up on both of our lists, which are marked with an asterisk [*]).  We have decided not to list out all of our family & dear friends, as well as our favourite films/bands/theologians/etc. which we have previously made space for elsewhere.  This is just a stream-of-consciousness exploration of our affections, listed out alphabetically.  We hope you enjoy & thank you for reading!

Among other things, Elijah loves…

  1. Amoeba Music, Hollywood*
  2. &s (ampersands)*
  3. Autumn-winter succession*
  4. Baseball – Detroit Tigers
  5. Being a member of God’s Church*
  6. Building/repairing electric guitars
  7. Burritos
  8. Deuchars IPA
  9. Disneyland (because in spite of the consumeristic lies it sells, it remains magical)*
  10. Dressing up (especially in a kilt)
  11. Dundee Contemporary Arts
  12. Ecclesiastical architecture
  13. Failblog.org
  14. Finding creative ways to higher ground while in the wilderness
  15. Football – Celtic FC
  16. ‘Friscalating dusk light’
  17. The City of Glasgow
  18. Griffith Park (and all that’s within, such as the Griffith Observatory, Bronson Caves, Los Angeles Zoo, William J Mulholland Memorial Fountain, the Autry, Travel Town, etc.)
  19. Tim Hawkinson’s artwork
  20. Hiking/camping
  21. The history of music in the recording era
  22. Incredibly arid climates
  23. Incredibly wet climates
  24. Innocent Smith’s Musical Circus/Parkside Upper Quads Philharmonic Orchestra
  25. Joshua Tree National Park
  26. The City of Los Angeles
  27. McSweeny’s
  28. Millionaire shortbread
  29. Moleskine journals
  30. Nice ‘N’ Sleazy
  31. The NRSV translation of the Bible*
  32. The number ‘44
  33. The Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, St Andrews
  34. People (especially those who are humble, patient and tender)*
  35. Printed media (books/book covers, street literature, record sleeves, etc.)
  36. Road trips in California
  37. St Mary’s College
  38. Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Park
  39. Silence
  40. Single malt whisky*
  41. Space/aircraft
  42. Thoughtfulness*
  43. Typeface/setting
  44. Urban exploration
  45. Vegan Express, Los Angeles
  46. The wisdom of my elders
  47. Wormit Parish Church
  48. Writing music with Greg & Justin
  49. Writing utensils (STABILO point 88s; Dixon Ticonderoga Mediums; Staedtler Noris HB 2s; Pilot G-2 0.38s and 05s)
  50. Handwritten correspondence*

Among other things, Greg loves…

  1. Amazon(.com/.co.uk)*
  2. American Romanticism
  3. Archives Bookshop (In Christ is a close second!)*
  4. Backyard time with an 18 yr. old bottle of Glenfiddich & thoughtful conversation with authentic men (whether in La Mirada, Long Beach, or Marina Del Rey)*
  5. Banksy’s wit*
  6. BBC adaptations of classic works of literature, particularly of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell & Charles Dickens
  7. Bic black “round stic Grip pens”, fine point
  8. Biola Residence Life & Hope North RAs
  9. The BioLogos Forum
  10. British spelling and punctuation
  11. Cambria, CA (especially Supper Club vacations)
  12. Close reading of the Bible, literature & pop culture*
  13. Craig Thompson’s artwork, most notably in his graphic novel, Blankets
  14. Deep bass notes and thick kick drum sounds
  15. Delicious Library
  16. Domenico’s Pizza
  17. Drawings by and notes from my kids
  18. Elijah Wade & PUQ performing at Punk N’ Pie (which I believe is the same as Elijah’s #24)…twas a most epic performance (x 2)
  19. Extraordinary moments (car crashes, explosions, injury to the groin shots) caught on video, displayed on YouTube/Failblog.com/Spike TV
  20. Footnotes (digressive comments or noteworthy book references)
  21. Fuller Theological Seminary
  22. God’s covenants (though not necessarily in a Reformed “Covenantalism” sense)*
  23. Grace Brethren Church facilities crew, mid-90’s (including “crass Fridays” with Mark & Bill)
  24. Indie music, in most of its hybridisations*
  25. The iPhone (particularly playing Skee Ball with my kids and Words With Friends with Mark, David & Matt B.; and occasionally, Tim)
  26. Libraries*
  27. Magazine subscriptions (currently down to four since Paste went belly up – The Week, Entertainment Weekly, The Atlantic, Christianity Today – but once as high as fourteen)
  28. Making mix CDs*
  29. Mint.com
  30. Mixing cereals (current favorite = Crispex & Honey Smacks)
  31. Moby Books Illustrated Classics
  32. The Muckenthaler Mansion (where I married the most wonderful girl)
  33. Multiple-view books on theological topics
  34. The number ‘22
  35. The paintings of Patty Wickman & Mark Tansey
  36. People who ask good questions in conversation
  37. The Perry Bible Fellowship*
  38. Postconservative evangelical theology
  39. Powell’s Books (and Portland, OR in general)
  40. Questioning things*
  41. The Radical Reformation
  42. Redeemer Church
  43. Short story, novel, screenplay, lyric, or poem concepts & bits
  44. Thinking about impossible endeavours (e.g. making a film of the whole Bible)
  45. Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramels
  46. Weather in the high 60’s-low 70’s & overcast/cloudy
  47. A wide selection of beverages in the fridge (including Coke, Cherry Coke, Coke Zero, Peach Snapple, Arizona Green Tea & Henry Weinhard’s* root beer)
  48. Wind rustling through tree branches
  49. Writing on Lost in the Cloud*
  50. Zappos.com (Michele hates that I love this…like 2 pair of shoes for $250 hates it)

Welcome to November

Every once in a while it is suitable to give a brief update on the inner-workings of the blog and its contributors.  November is upon us and autumn is in full swing.  While I failed to publish a single post in the month of October, Greg more than made up for it with several excellent posts (including an amazing playlist of music from 2010 thus far and a very interesting and insightful look at Sufjan Stevens’ excellent new record, Age of Adz – thank you Greg for picking up my slack!).  But if you’re really thirsty for more discussion on the ‘Hipster Christianity’ theme that Greg has featured in two posts in September (‘“Hipster” “Christianity”: a “review”‘ and ‘Mocking Hipster Faith‘), I have done a book review of Brett McCracken’s book Hipster Christianity for the blog Transpostions which can be viewed here.

Some exciting news from the blog can be found in the address bar of your internet browser: ‘lostinthecloudblog.com‘!  Because we so love this conversation with our readers on LITC, we’ve decided to take this up a notch and acquire an official domain name.  So update your bookmark menu and the links to our blog that you constantly pass around to your friends (who are we kidding – we know none of you do this…).

As Greg has hinted, we are rapidly approaching the end of 2010, which means one thing here on LITC: MORE LISTS.  Concerning music specifically, this has been an excellent year to be an active collector and listener.  I can promise that at the end of this year I will be making several significant modifications to my Top 20 Bands and Top 50 Albums lists.  As we share our favourites with you, we’d love to hear your favourites (please enlighten us).

Thank you to all who regularly visit and contribute to our blog.  It is likely that in our lameness Greg and I would keep doing this blog even if he and I were the only two people who ever looked at it, but all of you really help us to bring these issues—however serious or silly—into a broader conversation, giving us insights and perspectives that we might not have otherwise encountered.  And we love it.

Body Image

There is an ever-growing concern among American parents, sociologists, and educators regarding the way that dolls (like Barbie) negatively impact the way that young girls perceive their own bodies.  I found this report fascinating:


PS. I apologize for the Michael Bannon’s closing remarks.

The current Israel-Gaza conflict

I’m surprised that our blog hasn’t featured much (if any) discussion regarding the current troubles in Gaza (though we are being assured of a ceasefire by Israeli leadership).  I have rather strong views in opposition to the many of the actions of Israel (both presently and in the past), but I understand that as a group of people the Israelis desire a place to call their own (understandably so) and many of their surrounding countries would have them stripped of self-governance (if not even wiped out entirely).   I am certain that great deal of heated discussion would follow if I listed out my criticisms both of Israel and the various Palestinian groups who oppose them, but in this time of intense suffering I desire to write a prayer—something we’ve yet to do on this blog—and I hope it is not out of bounds.

God, the holy creator and sustainer of all things in this universe, we ask that you would exercise your will, particularly with regard to peace and the preservation of life on this planet.  We know that the tensions of war and strife are part of our lot as a result of disobedience, but we also know that you are abounding in grace and love.  Please guide the leadership of these conflicting peoples and—though this seems a near impossible task given the state of affairs in the Middle East—provide a lasting peace.  As a result of this current crisis we ask that you would please heal those who have been injured, provide shelter for those who have been displaced, and provide comfort for those who have lost their loved ones.  We boldly ask that this world would be transformed by the immense power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit.   Use us to pray and provide practical assistance in this situation.  Give us wisdom to see where we can work for your kingdom.  In all of these things may you be glorified.  Amen.

Who neither believes that war is tragic nor peace beautiful?