Saturday, December 31, 2005

Highlights of 2005

Here are a few of the things that made 2005 special for me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dark Angel

It was a DVD Christmas at my house (again) and one of the DVDs that I got was the first season of the show “Dark Angel.”  I’ve actually never seen the show before and suggested that I get it for Christmas because it was $17.88 at Meijer and I figured that it would cost me more than that to rent it at Blockbuster so I got it.

I watched the two-hour pilot episode (which in TV time is actually only about 90 minutes long) on the day after Christmas and really enjoyed it.  I was looking forward to watching the next episode when I woke up early (as I typically do), long before anyone else got up only to discover that the DVDs were gone.  Meredith thought it might be fun to watch the DVDs in her room late at night on her new laptop computer so I haven’t seen past the first episode.

However, so far I’m hooked.  The last time I was hooked like this was when I saw the first episode of Alias so I have high hopes for this show!  Now if I could only get my DVDs back…

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Lazy Blue Tunas 5th Annual Chritmas Show

The Lazy Blue Tunas 5th Annual Christmas Show at the One Trick Pony on December 22 was a smashing success. The house was packed and people were unfortunately turned away. We’re sorry some of our friends were unable to hear the show because the place was so full but those who got inside heard the following songs:

Set I:
Good Lovin’
This World is Not My Home
Jingle Bells
I Feel Fine
Snoopy’s Christmas
Pleasant Valley Sunday
It’s All Been Done
O Holy Night
Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End

Set II:
Chipmunks Christmas
Change the World
No Matter What
You Were On My Mind
We Three Kings
I Want You Back
Hotel California
Go Tell
Handle With Care
Some Of My Lies Are True

Got You on My Mind

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My lawn

Last summer I took more than a little bit of grief from friends over the state of my lawn. My decision to trust the natural process rather than expend time, money and energy on artificially watering my lawn seemed, to the unbelievers, like a bad idea. True, my lawn was not lush and green then but I had faith that it would be OK in the long run. This picture, taken this week, shows that my lawn looks just like the lawns of my neighbors.

I stand exonerated.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Alias goes on hiatus with a Bang!

I’m a TV watcher rather than a TV viewer.

In my own personal definition of these two terms, a viewer is someone who has the TV on while he or she does other things and gives it some attention. A watcher is someone who, when he or she has the TV on, is watching with more or less full attention. If I have the TV on I am almost always fully engaged in what I’m watching. Of course I’m not the only person in my house so the TV is on at times that I don’t really care much about what’s on but if I put it on I want to really watch something. That’s why I love DVD’s – I’m not bound to someone else’s timetable, the picture quality is very good and there are no commercials.

There are only two shows I watch without fail whenever new episodes are aired. In fact, even if I’m sitting in the room watching it I run a tape just in case the phone rings or somebody needs me for something or in case I want to watch it again. I also sometimes need to bail out friends who aren’t as careful about making sure they have their VCRs programmed. Those won’t-miss shows for me are Alias and The West Wing. (Full disclosure: there are a few other shows I watch on DVD that I don’t watch when they’re broadcast like The Simpsons and Arrested Development.)

Last night Alias had its last show before the show goes on hiatus for a few months so that Jennifer Garner could give birth. When the show returns in March (or whenever) they’ll crank out the last few episodes of the series. As I’ve mentioned here before, it’s been cancelled and this season is the end.

Not only have I watched every episode of Alias as it has been broadcast (either live or on tape soon after – OK, occasionally I’ve done both.) I have also been watching the DVDs pretty faithfully and I’m now a bit over halfway through the season four set right now. Even when the show has been less than stellar I have found that it plays even better on DVD. I got excited last season about halfway through because I felt that they started to get back to the original form of what made it great. Many reviewers have felt that it seemed a little lackluster this year with the new characters not really taking off. I actually have really enjoyed the new characters, especially good spy Rachel Gibson and bad spy Kelly Peyton.

Last night’s episode was touted as the return of Michael Vaughn and, indeed it was. He returned in a dream sequence so he’s still dead but there were all kinds of hints that maybe he wasn’t. And the way they’re doing it is not in an I-feel-ripped-off kind of way but rather in a here’s-what-they’ve-been-planning-all-along kind of way. And the way his return was handled was a huge shout-out to the serious fans bringing back new versions of scenes from nearly all the previous seasons. This episode had me completely hooked and loving it and then Lena Olin showed up. (For the uninitiated, she plays Syd’s mom, Irina Derevko and is universally acclaimed to be really really good at this role. Fans go nuts whenever she shows up, which has been rare since season two.) Her appearance was, as far as I can tell, completely unspoiled. The fans – especially this one – didn’t see it coming or hear about it ahead of time. So we had a great episode with a wonderful surprise twist. Does it get better than that? I don’t think so. This was, pretty clearly, the best episode of the year and one of the best of the last couple of years.

Now I’m geeked about what J.J. Abrams has in mind for the series finale!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More on Bono and "Coexist"

There has been a great discussion over at a posting I made from way back on October 12 and I notice that the topic gets a fair amount of hits from search engines so I thought I’d bring it up front and see if we can generate more discussion.

My October 12 entry was about a change in the lyrics to “Yahweh” that Bono made when I saw U2 in Chicago this past fall but the discussion soon changed to include other things, most natably the use of Jewish, Musilm and Christian symbols both on Bono's headband and on the images on the screen behind the band. I have reproduced some of the comments and my responses almost exactly as they appear in the earlier posting (with a few typo corrections):

Anonymous said...
I saw U2 at Auburn Hills last week and was unprepared for the Coexist portion of the show. I have been a little intrigued and maybe a little more troubled with the Coexist theme, as it seems to equate Mohammed, Jesus, David, as all equals. From what I take from pluralism, is it disrespects all religions. Christians don’t believe Mohammed is equal to Christ. That is offensive. Muslims do not believe Christ is God. That is offensive. Jews don’t believe Christ is God either. So to say they are all theologically equal is folly. But maybe I am reading into that too much. I certainly agree that the religions should "coexist" without killing each other; bloodshed or ignorance in the name of religion is folly as well. How do you see beyond the apparent pluralism and misdirection of the character of God, "in the name of love" - have you read any other helpful links or articles?

Bob Keeley said...
to johnny5 - Here is what Nathan Hart wrote: "Bono actually says "Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it's true: all sons of Abraham." it's an attempt to find the unity in the people of the religions of the world, in order to find peace instead of war among them." Similarly, in "Yahweh" the pictures of the symbols of the other religions seem to be saying "we don't hate Muslims and Jews" rather than "they're all the same." So, I think Bono really wants war in the name of religion to stop - or as he says "people are more important than ideas."

Anonymous said...
To paraphrase an earlier entry "I saw U2 in Cleveland last week and was unprepared for the Coexist portion of the show..." and I share the sentiments of that blogger. Interesting is the later entry......Similarly, in "Yahweh" the pictures of the symbols of the other religions seem to be saying "we don't hate Muslims and Jews" rather than "they're all the same." Where does that understanding come from? I would not ever get that idea from what I saw in concert. The mixing of the symbols seemed to say "equality," not in the human rights sense, but in the "all religions are the same" sense. I hope Bono's not into this mushy universalism. It pretty much ruined the concert for me. Maybe I just expected too much from only listening to lyrics.

Bob Keeley said...
I hope the previous anonymous poster looks back here again. First of all, thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate the dialogue.A read of The recent book by Michka Assayas (Bono in Conversation) makes it pretty clear that Bono is no universalist and his "Jesus, Jew Muhammad - it's true” is pretty clearly referring to "all sons of Abraham." That became even clearer to me when I watched the Vertigo Tour DVD. Just like you use the Bible to interpret the Bible, I think you need to use Bono to interpret Bono so the COEXIST theme, which is so strong, is the one that I think is what is meant here.Of course, someone could ask him outright but his Christian subtext is SO obvious in other places that I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Top 10 Beatles Songs

Top 10 Beatles Songs – Terry Ott gave his top ten list of Beatles songs and, I think his list is great. That inspired me to make mine. Mine is quite different from his and leans quite a bit more towards McCartney than his does. I also realize that by tomorrow, things might change. Of course, tomorrow never knows. And yes, I know that my top ten list has 13 songs on it. Big deal.
1/ Penny Lane
A brilliant melody combined with a killer arrangement. My all-time favorite Beatles song.

2/ Hey Jude
The song that reminded all of us in 1968 that these boys could write.

3/ I Saw Her Standing There
Was there ever a more brilliant opening to a debut album?

4/ Can’t Buy Me Love
One high point among many of the Hard Days’ Night era.

5/ We Can Work It Out
A song completely unremarkable except that it is pop music perfection.

6/ She Loves You
Just what America needed to convince us that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” wasn’t a fluke.

7/ Yesterday
I'm sick of hearing it but can’t deny that it’s still one of the greatest songs of all time.

8/ Let It Be
Paul at his piano-ballad best.

9/ Something
George has a hit. A beautiful melody, well performed with a nice arrangement even if the title was nicked from James Taylor.

10/ I Feel Fine
Another brilliant pop song. This is from the era when it seemed like the Beatles could churn out this kind of pop wonderfulness avery three months, which, of course, is what they were doing.

11/ While My Guitar Gently Weeps
George nails the writing, Eric nails the playing.

12/ Back in the USSR
The Beatles show that they can do Beach Boys music.

13/ Taxman
A wonderful example of great early George Harrison. A great opener to what is perhaps their best album, Revolver.

I list my favorite Beatles albums here.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas War

Nathan Hart, a former neighbor and student of mine and now a pastor in NYC has made an excellent post over at his blog.

Nathan also touches on something I talk about in my classes - department stores, our government and the public schools are not churches and we shouldn't expect them to act like it.

I had a bit of fun in my class this week by asking some of my students if they knew the exact phrase from the NIV that the innkeeper says to Mary and Joseph. They all got puzzled looks on their faces, a few reached for Bibles to quickly find the quote. I didn't wait too long before I told them that there is not innkeeper in the Biblical Christmas story. The commercialization and assimilation of Christmas into our culture have caused us to lose focus on what Christmas really is. Fighting about the President's Christmas card or what we call the tree set up in a public place is just a distraction.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lennon remembered

Over at MSNBC you will find The Beatles - Great Disc Debate -, an ongoing feature where a critic rates the albums of a particular artist. In this case, the Beatles.

I knew it was the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death before any media told me about it. I remember the day pretty well. I'm probably like most people in that my listening goes in stages - I listen to a lot of Beatles sometimes and then I don't listen quite so much at other times. I will often focus on a particular artist or style of music for a while and then move on to other things. There has been one group, though, that I have continued to listen to and come back to over and over again since I was old enough to buy records - The Beatles. I remember seeing John on the Ed Sullivan show and thinking that playing the guitar and singing like that was something I wanted to do. And I have ever since. Because his album Double Fantasy had recently come out I had been listening to a lot of solo Lennon in the weeks just before he was shot. I went to the Dakota building in New York the summer afterward just to see the place where he lived and died.

Lennon stood for many things, sometimes inconsistently, throughout his life but I prefer to not think of his activism or his performance art with Yoko - frankly, I merely put up with much of that. It's his music that stays with me and, while he did some fine work as a solo artist, clearly his work with Paul, George and Ringo stands above it all. So it is in that spirit that I will look at the MSNBC top five Beatles album list. It's actually a pretty good list:

  1. Revolver
  2. Abbey Road
  3. Sgt Pepper
  4. Rubber Soul
  5. A Hard Day's Night

(They also call the original Yellow Submarine "the dud." Even though they have the more recent Yellow Submarine Songtrack pictured they refer to the original album with only four new songs on it. They're right. While the four new songs are OK, the album simply doesn't live up to the standards of their other albums.)

My quibble with this list is that I would probably put A Hard Day's Night at number four and The Beatles (the White Album) at number five. I've made my appreciation of the White Album known on this blog before (both here and here) but it really is an unparalleled collection of wonderful songs.

So my list looks like this:

  1. Revolver
  2. Abbey Road
  3. Sgt Pepper
  4. A Hard Day's Night
  5. The Beatles (White Album)

So, John, your music is missed. I think I probably wouldn't have liked you as a person - a bit too acerbic for me but, man, you wrote some great stuff.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mere Marketing: Did Disney Pay For Your Sermon?

This article, Weblog: Did Disney Pay For Your Sermon? - Christianity Today Magazine, shows a remarkable and troubling trend - using the pulpit for product placement. It seems that there is a contest for pastors who preach about particular topics related to the film and book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Just the latest in a series of product placement for the impending opening of the movie - and your pastor might get a free trip to London.

A friend at school recently asked me if I was sufficiently geeked about the upcoming Narnia film, remembering my excitement over the Lord of the Rings and figured I'd be a fan of these as well. I hadn't really thought much about it, thinking that the films would probably be pretty cool but I wasn't chomping at the bit to go see it like I was all three Lord of the Rings films. (I did manage to go to all three films on opening day with my good friend Ron Rienstra - a wonderful time of fellowship and orcs! I also remembering seeing the the people gathering for the opening day of the movie and thinking "it's the swarming of the geeks!")

So why am I not as intrigued by these films? I enjoy the books and I dipped my toe back into them a few years back and picked up the Silver Chair (one of the Narnia books) again and enjoyed it even more than I had the first two times. (Come to think of it - I reread The Silver Chair because of a sermon Ron preached. Thanks, Ron.) As I did the appropriate amount of soul searching I realized that the enthusiasm of the Christian media has tempered my enthusiasm for the film. I've been disappointed too many times by so-called Christian art. When I see the film (not "if") and when I enjoy it (and I really do expect to) I'll probably come around. But my lukewarm reaction so far says more about Christian marketing, like the sermon contest - do I really need to go into why I think this is a terrible idea? - than it does about the film itself.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dont Give Up - Peter Gabriel, Bono and Alicia Keyes

Bono and Alicia Keys have done a remake of Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” which you can listen to here (direct link to quicktime stream). Listening to it (which, on first listen didn’t get me real excited but it’s growing on me) did make me want to go back and listen to one of my all-time favorite albums, So by Peter Gabriel. This album was given to me as a Father’s Day present when Bethany was very young. I have a pretty clear memory of making a tape of it for my car and listening on a short trip when I was concerned that Meredith and Bryan might be born early (the link shows you what they’re up to these days).

The album itself is, simply, a masterpiece. I haven’t been a close fan of Gabriel’s work but other things of his that I’ve listened to haven’t come close to matching this album in excellence. “Don’t Give Up,” sung as a duet with Kate Bush, is simply stunning in it’s beauty. “Red Rain,” “In Your Eyes” and “That Voice Again” are perfect examples of Gabriel’s ability to make a moody piece that has a melody that doesn’t leave your head for quite some time. Then there is the mega-hit “Sledgehammer” and it’s twin “Big Time” that shows that Gabriel knows how to craft songs that have a groove as deep as the grand canyon.

The playing, especially by bassist Tony Levin, is outstanding and the singing is emotive and exceptional. Peter Gabriel shows that emo is not a new thing. If you haven’t heard this album do yourself a favor and find it and listen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Terrible itunes shuffle combinations

Sometimes itunes puts two songs next to each other and I stop what I’m doing to marvel at how cool it sounded – especially when they crossfade into each other. Its not always so great, though. Today it went from “The Steward of Gondor” (from the wonderful soundtrack to The Return of the King - where Pippin sings that mournful song to Denethor) directly into “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. Worst transition EVER.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Banner - The Real Christmas

Here is a short Christmas play for families that Laura and I wrote that was published in the latest issue of the Banner.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Top CDs for the year

It’s too early to do a best of the year list so I’m not. But I have been thinking about which CDs have stayed in my player throughout the year. You see, its one thing to listen to a CD and to like it but it’s different to keep it on the stereo and in your car CD player for weeks on end only to put it back after a brief rest. So I looked back over the year and thought about the CDs that hung in there for me. There are a couple.

Before I hit those that stayed in my player let me mention a couple that didn’t – CDs that I like but, for some reason, didn’t see much time in the player. The biggest disappointment in this regard is The Word is Live by Yes. Theoretically I like this album – or rather this set of three discs – a lot. I reviewed it favorably back when I got it this summer but it just didn’t spend much time in the car or in the stereo. The same is true of the Cream Albert Hall album. Again – I like it a lot (see my review) but just don’t play it much. I wonder why?

But now on to the good stuff. The winner – by a LOT – the album that I listened to more over the past year than any other by a long shot: How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb by U2. Is it U2’s greatest album? Maybe not but I just like all the songs and I never seem to tire of it. Second place isn’t quite so obvious but I think it would have to be Add to the Beauty by Sara Groves. I gave it a pretty favorable review and it has continued to grow on me.

Finally, three more albums that I spent more than the usual amount of time with, X & Y by Coldplay (my thoughts on Coldplay), Chaos and Creation in the Backyard by Paul McCartney (my review) and Back Home by Eric Clapton (even though I gave it a luke-warm review in September).

These are the CDs that I actually listened to most this year. I’m struck by how predictable I’ve become.

'Alias' Over in May

Disappointing. Zap2it - TV news - 'Alias' Over in May

Alias was one of two shows I watched consistently. The premise is completely preposterous but yet, from the very first episode, they had me. I liked the way the show had multiple layers happening, especially in the first year where every mission was two missions in one - an SD6 mission and, at the same time, a secret CIA mission. The intrigue and overall coolness of the show made it a can't-miss for me. And I haven't! Not in four and a half years.

They tried to reinvent themselves this year and I think things were going well. I like the new characters and especially like the way the missions are more team focussed instead of just Sydney. I like Rachel (the new spy) a lot and I also like not having a clue what Sloan is really up to. But this year they were struggling with ratings and there just wasn't enough momentum to keep it on the air. I knew the cancellation was coming. It was pretty widely predicted - but I'm still not happy about it. At least this way the writers can bring the series to a conclusion knowing it will be the end.

Its a good thing there are DVDs of past seasons - I'm in the midst of watching season four now!

Friday, November 18, 2005

U2 Vertigo Live in Chicago 2005 DVD

I went right out and bought the U2 Vertigo Live in Chicago DVD on Tuesday when it came out but needed three days to watch the whole thing because of a busy schedule. Now I’ve seen it I can’t wait to see it again.  Having seen U2 in concert in Chicago four months after the filmed show I must say that I agree with some critics who suggest that they got better as the tour went on – which is hard to believe when watching this because the video is outstanding.

What really struck me in watching this time, though, since I had much more distance (and a lot less adrenaline) than seeing them in person was how U2 uses their repertoire the way a painter uses color.  They make a concert experience that has different “acts” – an opening act, an angry political act leading to an inspirational call for unity, love and compassion.  (The transition from “Pride” to “Where the Streets Have No Name” gave me chills, even on video and when, in the intro to “streets” Bono talks about “everyone” echoing the recorded words that opened the show it reminded me how much these guys think about the show as a whole.)  For the encores we have the Zoo section followed by the spiritual section.  The show has a different feel than the Elevation tour in that, even with some of the same songs, the placement in the show gives the set a different vibe.

The DVD itself is great and, while there are a couple of things from the show I saw that I wish had the same impact on video that it did live (the opening, for example) I am very happy with the way the show was presented.  By the way, the single disc (read “cheaper”) version is all you really need.  The bonus disc stuff is not really worth it.  But I would gladly have paid the two-disc price for the one disc version – it’s that good.

Monday, November 14, 2005

New Jersey searches for a new slogan

Having grown up in NJ I can appreciate a good NJ joke when I hear it. In all seriousness, though, New Jersey is looking for a new slogan, as reported in this article. Among the entries:
  • "New Jersey: You Got a Problem With That?”
  • “NJ: How You Doin’?!” And
  • “Most of Our Elected Officials Have Not Been Indicted.”

Between Hipsters and God, There's Sufjan Stevens

Here is an article that I quite enjoyed. It is about Sufjan Stevens who I am starting to figure out a little bit thanks to my kids' insistence that he's not as bad / weird / strange as he appeared the one time I saw him in person. With a band playing along he's supposed to be quite something. I find "O God, Where are You Now" from his Michigan album to be haunting and beautiful.

My favorite line from the article is: "That the impulse to look for hidden meanings should seem incompatible with Christian art is a sign, both of how far Fundamentalism has dumbed down the religion it claims to represent, and how much intellectuals' defensive response to Fundamentalism has left them deaf to the spiritual traditions it distorts and suppresses. "

Thanks to "C" at Scatter o' Light for pointing me to it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Christmas plays for Children

Just because I know that some people will be searching for Christmas Plays for children, I want to mention again that The Very Best Gift of All, the latest in the series of Christmas plays that my wife, Laura, and I have written is now available from Faith Alive Publishers.

Televangelist Robertson warns town of God's wrath - Yahoo! News

This article tells of Pat Robertson's most recent public statement regarding how a town in Pennsylvania is going to incur God's wrath because they voted against intelligent design candidates for school board. Pulease. Clearly, according to Robertson, murderers, theives, abusers of various sorts - all these people - are bad and some day God will "get" them BUT it takes a vote against intelligent design to really get God's attention.

It sort of makes you wonder if Robertson really thinks that God is intelligent.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tony Bramwell's Beatle book discussion continues

Over at this "Bob's Bloggery" post from last August there is still a discsussion regarding Tomy Bramwell's book Magical Mystery Tours and just how scripted the film A Hard Days Night actually was. I contend that Alun Owen, the scriptwriter, wrote a script that sounded just like we imagined the Beatles sounded, based on what I have read and heard (on the DVD of the film, for example) and one anonymous commenter suggests that the script was written afterward to match the mostly improvised dialogue. I'd love comments from people with information other than Bramwell's book or the AHDN film to chime in.

Leading Quietly by Joseph Badaracco – early thoughts

I’m just about one-fourth of the way through the book Leading Quietly by Joseph Badarocco. Badaracco is a professor at the Harvard Business school.

There is much for me to like in this book. In fact he had me at page one when he wrote
“…the most effective leaders are rarely public heroes. These men and women aren’t high-profile champions of causes, and don’t want to be. They don’t spearhead ethical crusades. They move patiently, carefully, and incrementally. They do what is right – for their organization, for the people around them and
for themselves – inconspicuously and without casualties.”

His emphasis on leaders being something other than the people who are faced with obvious moral imperatives to make an unpopular choice is refreshing. He acknowledges that mixed-motives often play a role in what we do and that self-interest isn’t inherently bad – on the contrary, it is those self-interests, coupled with a desire to do what is right, that motivates us to get up and actually do some things!

I’m not always on the same page as he is – and his emphasis on self-interest cam sometimes feel a little too pragmatic – but so far, I appreciate where he seems to be going in this book.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Star Wars Episode III on DVD

There was a time in my life when I had watched the latest Star Wars movie multiple times in the theater. That was in the days before home video. When the first Star Wars movie came out I was in college and thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. As the original trilogy continued George Lucas managed to do what few others have done – keep a high level of quality going through all three pictures. When he announced that he was going to go back and complete the set by producing Episodes 1-3 I wondered if he could pull it off. Generally, it is agreed (I think) that the latest three episodes do not measure up to the original movies. It’s hard to compare them, though, because technology and styles have changed enough in the intervening years that it really is a different world now than it was when A New Hope was released.

The particular challenge of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was to connect the dots between what was begun in Episodes I and II and what we new had to be in Episodes IV-VI. How do you make a film where everybody already knows the ending? I think George Lucas came pretty close to pulling it off and I think Episode III is the strongest film of the second trilogy. Sure, I have quibbles about some things. I wish Hayden Cristiansen was a little less wooden in his performance. I wish these so-called advanced civilizations would figure out how to put hand-rails on walkways over bottomless pits. But, for the most part, watching this film again on DVD this week kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat as I wondered anew exactly how we were going to get from where we were in the story (the end of Episode II) to where I knew we had to be (the beginning of Episode IV).

I find myself almost wishing that George Lucas had done with this film what Peter Jackson did and made an extended edition. It is clear that he had some additional ideas about things in the film – the plot is very complicated and some additional explanation in parts would help. The deleted scenes would be a lot of fun to see interwoven – especially when we see hints of subplots that couldn’t be developed because of time. However, these are different than Lord of the Rings and perhaps extended versions would not work as well in the Star Wars universe. Do I really need to see more of what happened to Jar-Jar Binks? I don’t think so.

Lucas has made a great DVD of a fine film. I really enjoyed my second viewing of the film – my first on the small screen – and look forward to seeing it a few more times, exploring the extras and thinking about how all the pieces fit together.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Does Electrocution Happen for a Reason? - Christianity Today Magazine

Did you hear about the pastor who got electrocuted while baptizing someone? It sounds like the opening for a joke doesn't it? It's not. It really happened this past Sunday. Kyle Lake from Waco Texas was in the baptismal font of his church in front of 800 people and went to adjust the microphone. For some reason, when I read David Crowder's post about him - turns out Lake was David's pastor - the situation became a lot more real to me. (see my review of David's latest album.) He went from being "some pastor in Texas" to a person who had a family, friends and a ministry. Then I ran across this article at Christianity Today online and felt that the church had lost a potential leader. I found his writings about Romans 8:28 especially compelling, given the circumstances. I think it's worth reading

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Rethinking Paul McCartney's Driving Rain

Having listened to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard more than a few times I had the urge to listen again to McCartney’s previous solo album, Driving Rain. Now the thing with this album is that (I believe) it is generally considered to be a throwaway McCartney album. The one positive thing that people said about it at the time was that the bass playing was really good. Many reviewers – at least in my memory – wondered why there wasn’t more sadness in the album. After all, this was the first studio album of original material since Paul’s wife Linda died and, despite the fact that quite a bit of time had passed and that Paul was engaged to Heather, people were expecting to see Paul spend some time mourning in public. This album, it seemed was more upbeat than they expected. Consequently, when Chaos and Creation came out, reviewers said “who would have guessed Paul could sound this pensive?”

Listening to Driving Rain today, though, I was struck by how much sadness is in the album. Clearly, by opening the album with a song entitled “Lonely Road” McCartney is trying to say something about his life. He is not generally known for being a great lyricist and often plays with words just for the fun of hearing the sounds but I’m beginning to think that even songs as lightweight as “She’s Given Up Talking” tell what’s going on in Paul’s heart. McCartney has often said things not quite as carefully as he could have – for example, saying “it’s a drag” when John Lennon was shot. Maybe he’s given up talking about Linda. Even an upbeat song like “Driving Rain” starts out with “something’s open. It’s my heart.” There are many many examples in the album of lines that show that Paul’s heart is on the line if not on his sleeve. In Tiny Bubbles, a song that begs not to be taken seriously, we hear him say “You can't imagine just what I've been going through.”

I think that McCartney was baring his soul a lot more than I gave him credit for on this album and, even on the songs that seem to reflect his new-found love with Heather, there is a wistfulness that shows that he’s a man who has lost the love of his life. In some ways, we should have seen Chaos and Creation coming.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Rita Springer: I Have to Believe - review

I usually review CDs and DVDs that I like simply because if I’m going to spend my bucks on something I pretty much know I’m going to like it going in. This will be an exception. I’m not wild about the new Rita Springer album, I Have to Believe.

I liked one of Springer’s earlier albums so when I saw that her new album was 1) on sale, 2) produced by Margaret Becker and Nathan Nockels (both very good signs), 3) on sale, 4) included a *free* Best of Rita Springer CD and 5) on sale I figured I could not go wrong. I was wrong.

On first listen I just wasn’t grabbed by this CD at all. The songs struck me as unremarkable and, when I finally got to a song that grabbed me, I realized that it was a cover of a Delirious song. But, I figured, give it time – maybe I was just in a bad mood when I listened the first time. Maybe I was expecting it to be different than it was and wasn’t being fair. So I waited a week, played the CD when I wasn’t paying attention once and then listened intently again. I liked it even less the second time.

The first song starts out nicely with gospel / blues piano and some bluesy soulful singing but aside from that, the melodies overall don’t grab me and the lyrics are really pretty shallow. After hearing Sarah Groves and U2 I want a little more from my lyrics than I’m getting from Springer. (Frankly, even Paul McCartney’s lyrics are superior – well, maybe not “English Tea” but at least that song has a killer arrangement.) I think she’s sincere – it’s just that she misses the boat. The point of “Love with Justice” is that Rita Springer is “in love with justice” whatever that means. You can’t imagine what “My Hero” is about - well, maybe you can. It's about how Jesus is my hero. The problem is that the songs never get past the kind of sloganeering that these songs indicate. So, if you’re looking for some new great worship songs – go listen to an old Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin album.

Preaching to the Choir: A Rant Against Bad Preaching

Mary at Preaching to the Choir has an absolutely wonderful post about bad preaching that you should read. Really. It's amazing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Concert for Bangladesh

It’s been over 34 years since the Concert for Bangladesh. I was just 17 at the time – in fact, it was something like two days after I had gotten my drivers license. I lived in NJ, only about 20 miles from the site of the Concert but I seem to remember not knowing much about it until after the fact. I do remember spending a lot of time listening to All Things Must Pass, which I had gotten for Christmas the year before, and I was also a fan of Cream and Eric Clapton. I played his first solo album a lot back then. I also played the album from the concert and I picked up the CD when it came out some 10 years ago.

So it was with great anticipation that I watched the DVD of the concert for Bangladesh this morning. I certainly have no issues with the transfer from film to DVD – it looks and sounds just fine. I also have not yet watched the extras – I’ve read that the 45 minute documentary on the making of the concert and the film is almost worth the price of the DVD all by itself and I’m looking forward to watching it. I’d seen the film only once before in a theater and, to my knowledge, it had not been released on VHS so this is an occasion for George Harrison fans, of which I number myself one.

So here are some random thoughts now that I’ve seen this concert again after all these years:
  • Technology has come a long way. Things are better in tune now; musicians can hear themselves and each other on stage much better.

  • Bob Dylan had to adjust his own mike stand before he could play. That wouldn’t have happened today – it would all be set before he went out there.

  • The film crew was making it up as they went along – it took nearly the whole verse that Leon Russell sang in “Beware of Darkness” for them and for the light crew to find him!

  • Rock was a lot more countercultural back then! Now rock music is all about show business – back then, the musicians hardly acknowledged the crowd – that was too much like being one of those old fogey entertainers.

  • Eric Clapton was not in a good place in his life – he almost could have been absent on the stage. Even his solo in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sounds like he’s hardly trying.

  • Billy Preston was cool.

  • Ravi Shankar smiled a lot more during his set than I expected him to based on just listening to the album for all these years.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bono rates the U2 albums

One of the more fascinating parts of the generally fascinating Rolling Stone interview with Bono is his discussion of each of the U2 albums. Bono is, not unexpectedly, perhaps harsher on his lyrics than I would be although his comments often strike me as being really perceptive regarding each album’s relative strengths and weaknesses.

One comment that really struck me was about How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Bono said (and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the interview in front of me) that it was perhaps their strongest collection of songs but that the whole was not more than the sum of its parts. Bono found that particularly annoying. (For a point of reference, he said that Achtung Baby was a counterexample – the whole of that album is more than the sum of its parts.)

Now I really like Atomic Bomb as an album. I agree that the collection of songs is amazing. But do I agree with Bono’s assessment? I’m not sure. As I thought about it though I started to think of albums that are better as albums then they are as individual songs. I immediately thought of Sgt. Pepper (Beatles). Then as I thought more I came up with Tommy (the who), Layla (Eric Clapton / Derek and the Dominos), Band on the Run (Paul McCartney), Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon), Beyond Nature (Phil Keaggy) and Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits).

But what about other albums I would also consider great? Are there other great albums that are more like a collection of great songs than a really coherant whole album? I think I would put one of my all-time favorite albums in this category – The Beatles’ Revolver. Who’s Next and Close to the Edge might be other examples.

So perhaps there are two ways to have a great album: 1) have such a killer selection of songs that the album reaches greatness just by the sheer heft of the material or 2) have an album that works as a whole, so that each song is better because of the company that it is in. I’m thinking of albums that really knock me out here – all of the albums that I’ve listed are albums that I put in some of the all-time-great-album category and, surprisingly, they seem to fall into both of these camps.

I’d love to hear some other examples of great albums and which of these categories readers think they fall into.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks, Bravery and Injustice

Rosa Parks’ death reminded me last night of how one person’s small but brave act can sometimes have consequences far beyond what one can imagine. The thing is, the actual thing she did – sitting – is not a big deal. It’s the context that makes it remarkable. I also think of the brave young man who stood up to the tank in Tiananmen Square for example – his brave act also had a ripple effect. He just didn’t move and, because of his bravery, moved many many people. Small things done to combat injustice can turn out to be big things. Sometimes we might think we have no power because the problems are too large for us to deal with. I'm not suggesting that the unknown student in Tiananmen Square changed everything in China. I'm not suggesting that there is no longer racial inequality in the U.S. because of Rosa Parks. But I am suggesting that their small acts of bravery were an important and necessary first step toward righting a great wrong.

I wonder which everyday injustices I am not standing up to. I wonder what things I should be stubborn about. I wonder what consequences my small actions can have.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Bono Interview podcast

Rolling Stone has a podcast of their interview with Bono available for download (along with instructions for how to set up your computer to get it) and it is, so far at least, a fascinating look at this conversation between Bono and Jann Wenner, longtime RS editor. I found many things in this discussion interesting, especially how, at times, Wenner seems unable to grasp some of the spiritual concepts that Bono was holding out. Bono suggests that when Dylan sang "how many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man" he meant it as a rhetorical question however, as a young man Bono wanted the answers so he asked God these rhetorical questions. Bono had to explain that a couple of times before Wenner got it - it seems that asking God questions that you really want the answers to was something that young Bono thought was a great idea and Wenner has never considered.

My biggest disappointment with the interview, however, is that when Bono is talking about the Psalms of David as the blues he starts to reference the song "Wake Up Dead Man" and quotes the first few lines. It sounds like he's ready to say more about this fascinating song (which may have been based on Psalm 44 - at least that is the suggestion made in .Get Up Off Your Knees) when Wenner interrupts him with a question about the Christian group that Bono, Edge and Larry found themselves involved with. It could be that Bono was finished with his discussion of "Wake Up Dead man" and that Wenner, reading the body language jumped in appropriately to keep him answering questions. But I wish I knew what else Bono was ready to say about that.

For anyone interested in U2's music or in Bono the person this interview is a must-hear.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Lazy Blue Tunas blog

The Lazy Blue Tunas now have their own blog!  Look here for future Tuna updates and setlists.

Lazy Blue Tunas - setlist - 10/21/05

Lazy Blue Tunas
Calvin College Class of 1975 Reunion

The Tunas played at Calvin College last night and had a great time with some of our old friends at the class of ’75 reunion.

It’s All Been Done
Look Thru Any Window
Change the World
No Matter What
Hotel California
Handle With Care
Pleasant Valley Sunday
Golden Slumbers +
I Want You Back
Got You on My Mind

New updates on the Tunas very own weblog at

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Add to the Beauty - Sara Groves

Two weeks ago I missed seeing Sara Groves in concert.  I was disappointed.  I almost talked to her.  I could have but I didn’t have anything clever to say since I had missed her set.  Mostly what I wanted to say was “hey, I’m Meredith’s Dad!” (because Meredith had just finished playing with Jars of Clay) or I thought about saying “I’ve mostly given up on CCM except for a very few artists and you’re one of them” but I heard somebody else say that to Steve Mason (from Jars of Clay) and it sounded really fan-like and I really didn’t want to be “that guy.”   So I just smiled and walked on past her.  I don’t even think she saw me smile.  

But I have liked Sara Groves ever since her album All Right Here came out a few years ago.  That album was just about perfect – the songs evoked a wonderful sense of caring for other people, a dependence on God’s grace and a gentle fragility that allowed the listener to feel like we knew people just like those that Sara was singing about.  The beautiful songs were complimented by Groves’ voice and Nate Sabin’s production that allowed us to hear all the emotion that the songs deserved.  

Her follow-up to that album, The Other Side of Something was again produced by Nate Sabin with some production by Charlie Peacock, but it suffered from a common disorder in artists that have a good quirky record -  popification (see my earlier posting about that term).  It was like someone – maybe the record company – told her she needed to be more mainstream in order to have a hit.  I don’t know why she went down that path but she almost lost me.  Sure, there were some good songs on there (like “Roll to the Middle” and the fabulously-funny-but-too-close-to-home “All I Need”) but many of the songs were too obvious and the production too slick.

So when I saw her new album, Add to the Beauty, I was cautiously hopeful.  So cautious, in fact, that I passed it up when I saw it on her merchandise table at the concert.  After thinking about it for a couple of days, though, I picked it up at a local store.  I’m really glad I did.  The old Sara is back.  I’m not sure the songs are quite as strong as on All Right Here, but they’re close (and, truth be told, that album set the bar pretty high).  Groves once again goes back to one of her favorite themes – that the love of God is needed to help us love each other.  In Add to the Beauty she doesn’t use a lyrical sledgehammer to make her point but does it gently with directness, grace and sometimes even humor, as in the delightful “To the Moon.”  With Brown Bannister in the production chair this time she seems to be back in a place where production doesn’t overwhelm the songs or scream “Look!  I’m trying to have a hit!”  Groves and Bannister hit just the right balance between art and accessibility.  With this album Groves shows that she has the potential to be an artist with a long and interesting career.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Yahweh and U2 in concert

I’ve been thinking again about U2 since I’m finally reading Bill Flanagan’s excellent book U2 at the End of the World.  I’m struck by a number of things (aside from how little Bono seems to sleep when he’s on tour) but especially the way the band continues to tinker with their show to make it more say what want it to say and to react to what’s going on in the world and in their lives.

That made, for me, a connection to the song “Yahweh”, one of my favorites from How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb.  I had some questions about the use of the Muslim crescent and the Jewish star a friend helped me sort through that.  What I haven’t seen anywhere, though, is the way the band changed the last line the night I saw them and, I assume, had been for the entire leg of the tour – perhaps for the whole tour.  The line on the album is “take this heart and make it break.”  An allusion that most people with a Bible background understand – PS 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

U2 usually uses “Yahweh” as the last song for the evening coming right after they sing “40,” a version of Psalm 40 with a bit of Psalm 6 thrown in for good measure. In concert, though, when I saw them, Bono sang “take this city’s heart and keep it safe,” That turn of the phrase turns the song from a personal confession (and quite a remarkable one at that) into a benediction. Bono once again changes the lyrics to fit the setting and does it in a way that blesses everyone.  I really like this band.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Water Walking

Father Ron Hatton wrote a post and here is where my thoughts went after reading it.  It’s not a direct response but it’s what I thought about.

Ron’s post reminds me of the talk I did this weekend.  We had a baptism in our church – we baptize infants – and I always get to present, on behalf of the congregation, a baptism candle and give a little talk while I do it.  I’ve done this for over 14 years now and I’ve almost never repeated myself because scripture is full of stories of the covenant.

This Sunday I told the story of Jesus walking on the water and of how Peter went out to him but started sinking.  Jesus reached down and pulled him up saying “you of little faith.  Why did you doubt?”  There is no answer given because the answer is that we are all of little faith.  We can’t get up on the water by ourselves.   Unless Jesus reaches down and pulls us out we can’t do it.  That same Jesus reaches down to all of us and in this baptism we are reminded that he is reaching down to little Alden as well.

It is only through the grace of Christ Jesus that we can do the good that we do.  It is through the covenant that Christ comes to us – not because we deserve it, but because he chooses to.  Our good works, whatever they are, are only our response to this gift of grace.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Meredith's Jars of Clay Adventure

Yesterday, around 11 AM, my daughter Meredith was practicing with her string quartet in the Calvin Fine Arts Center when someone came in to the practice room and asked if someone could play with Jars of Clay for the night’s concert.  Both violinists said they didn’t play by ear but Meredith, who had been playing along with “Like a Child” since 8th grade said, sure I’ll do it!  Soon Dan Hazeltine, the JoC lead singer came by and said “want to play with us tonight?”  “I have to play at a wedding at 5 but I could make the 8 o’clock show.”  “Great, soundcheck at noon – see you then.”

So Meredith quickly calls a couple of people and does the soundcheck where they suggest she play on three songs.  She does and then goes to get ready for the wedding.  We meet her at the wedding (which was very nice – congratulations, Jen and Steve!) and then we all went to the Prince Conference Center for the reception.  Meredith left a early (and so did we) and she hung out backstage with Dan, Matt, Steve and Charley while Sara Groves and Chris Rice opened the show.

Then Jars of Clay came on, did a couple of songs and then brought Meredith out to a huge welcome from her friends and family in the audience (it was a sold-out show) and launched into “Like a Child” which Meredith nailed.  It was like one of those dreams you have when the band says “hey come play with us” and then you do and then you’re great and the band raves about how good you are.  Yeah, that really happened.  Meredith played another song and then came back for the last encore.

Afterward we hung out with Meredith and her new friends for a while.  We were all impressed with what nice guys all four of the guys in the band are.  They treated Meredith like a special guest and talked about what fun they had playing with her in the band.  They jokingly said they were going to take her with them to Wisconsin for the next show. What a great night.  

EDIT: Here's what Chimes - Calvin's Student newspaper wrote:
A highlight of the show was when Calvin freshman Meredith Keeley received the honor of playing violin onstage with the contemporary combo. The band picked her out of a practice room, plopped her on stage and marveled as she played magnificently.

The crowd went wild to see one of their own performing with the Christian-rock legends, but Keeley never lost her cool and fit in perfectly, moving to the music and playing off of the other members beautifully.

Read the whole review here.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Cream: Royal Albert Hall, May 2005

Carolos Santana was once asked what he played when he practiced. Was it riffs, chords, songs? He replied that he just played one note over and over again until it plugged in to the universe.

That’s what I was thinking on the way in to work this morning with the new Cream album on the car stereo. Cream, the supergroup from the 60s with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker got together again for a series of concerts at Royal Albert Hall in May 2005. The CD and DVD of those concerts was released this past week and I’ve been enjoying them immensely.

To hear Clapton surrounded merely by a bass and drums puts him back in a setting he has not been in for quite some time. Clapton always assembles an outstanding band but he always has keyboards or some other guitarist (or two) to support him. In a power trio like Cream we get to hear what Clapton can do when he’s responsible for filling more of the sonic space again and it is like we really get to hear him play now. And it’s worth it.

While this geriatric version of Cream may not play with the fire that they did in the 60s they really nail a couple of the songs and seem to have replaced the musical excesses they were sometimes guilty of in the old days with a more measured approach to their old songs. Old songs like “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Politician” and “Sleepy Time Time” get wonderful readings from this batch of geezers that shows that they still understand how to play this type of blues-flavored rock with authority.

But it was a song that I don’t typically associate with Cream that really got to me this morning, the old blues standard “Stormy Monday,” reworked here as a Clapton tour-de-force. Clapton shows on this song that he is a master at this sort of blues interpretation, both as a singer and a guitarist. And for his solo he bends up to a note and hits it something like 20 times – apparently he waited for it to plug into the universe. It did.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Give me a 505

I used to write songs a lot.  Back in my high school and early college days I would crank them out like crazy.  It’s been a while since I’ve done that but I’ve wanted to again – partly just because but partly because it would be cool for my band to do a few original numbers as long as they’re good.

I also enjoyed helping Meredith edit a song she wrote and I thought I really added a lot to it and convinced myself that I was pretty good at that.  So last night I was visiting my father-in-law at the nursing home and while we’re sitting with him I heard a man from the next room crying out in a loud voice.  He would say the same thing about 20 times in a row and then change it to something else.  I wrote them down because I thought they’d make a great song:

“Please, somebody give me a chance.”
“Give me a 505.”  (pronounced five-oh-five)
“Somebody get me out of here.”

I have no idea what "give me a 505" means but it was said so loudly and with such a mournful tone that I thought it had to be preserved somehow.  So I’m working on it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

October - U2

Here is a nice reflection on U2's album October. I appreciate her take on the album as a whole as well as some of her reflections on specific songs. If you're a U2 fan (and if not, why not?) then this is worth checking out.

(And remember that U2 Sermons always has good stuff)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Collision - David Crowder Band

Thursday night I got a copy of the new David Crowder CD, A Collision, and I have played it a couple of times since then.  There is much to like here and much that is really interesting.  It is too soon to really write a review of this – I hope to write more later – but already Bethany and Meredith and I have had IM conversations about it.  Bethany called it a postmodern album which makes a certain amount of sense to me.  Bryan has been telling me how cool Sufjan Stevens is and Crowder covers one of his songs on the album and, yeah, there is a lot of emotion in that song.

The big sound this band makes never seems to have the definition that, say, U2 has when they really go for it.  So I like them best when they use a bit more of their dynamic range (which they do often on this album) and when they’re at their most whimsical – which Crowder seems to be almost continuously.

Crowder is getting some attention for this album – it was the #2 downloaded album on itunes this week!  I’m looking forward to further talks about it with my kids and lots more listens in the car.

EDIT: Bethany has a nice review up now on her blog.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Pocket Franistans

John W. Campbell, one of the first and most important editors of science fiction in the middle of the 20th century was said to have told Isaac Asimov that science fiction mysteries aren’t possible because the detective can always say “I can just take out my ‘pocket franistan’ and solve this crime by doing this…”

Asimov responded by writing a series of science fiction mysteries (most notably his Robot Novels) that didn’t use a pocket franistan. Asimov said, and rightly so I think, that the only way you can have really good science fiction mysteries is if you lay out the rules early on and then stick to them. In other words, if you’re going to let your detective have some cool gadget then you’d better make sure the readers know it soon enough in the telling that they don’t feel cheated when it gets used.

All of this brings me to last night’s season premier of Alias in which Michael Vaughn dies. Here’s the thing – I’m not sure I believe he’s really dead and, even if he is, I’m not sure he’s completely dead. He’s maybe only mostly dead. Over the four previous seasons of Alias, I have not been convinced, especially lately, that someone is not going to open his jacket and say, “wait a minute – maybe if I inject Vaughn’s corpse with this special Rambaldi serum he’ll come back to life!”

Consequently, I can’t really commit to feeling bad about Vaughn’s demise. I feel like Alias is at a turning point – in the next few episodes they can grab me and keep me for the season by proving that they have no franistans in their pockets or they can use one and lose me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Smart shuffle

The latest version of itunes has a hidden feature called “smart shuffle.”  This feature allows you to set the probability of having songs from the same artist or album appear next to each other as you randomly play your itunes.  I’ve had fun with this because one of the things I really like about itunes shuffle is that it takes the “what shall I listen to” issue out of my hands while I’m working.  I can have itunes on much of the day, get cool music continuously and not think about what I should play next. It's like Bob Radio. My daughter Meredith tells me that at least one other professor listens to my itunes too - apparently Bob Radio has at least one fan outside my office too.

Now that I have smart shuffle my computer puts me in a certain artist’s “zone” for a while.  Yesterday, for example, I heard most of the Aqualung album with a few other songs in the middle just for variety. Very cool indeed.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Blessing

Laura and I are writing about worship for kids and today I worked on the blessing.  This is one of those mysterious things that are sometimes hard to get a handle on.  Here are some of the things I wrote about it:

In many churches, as we close our time of worship the pastor raises his or her hands and speaks familiar words: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  These words, known as the Aaronic blessing, were given to Moses in Numbers 6.  God told Moses that these are the words Aaron was to use to bless the people of Israel.

Blessings have been given by a number of people in the Bible and it is clear that they have a weight to them that goes beyond just mere words.  In Genesis 27, for example, Jacob tricked Isaac to get his blessing.  When Esau discovered this he asked his father "Haven't you reserved any blessing for me?"  Isaac answered Esau, "I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?"  Today, if one of our children tricked us into saying something nice about them we’d just say we didn’t really mean it or we’d say “I thought I was promising these things to Esau” but there was something about the power of this blessing that Isaac gave Jacob that went beyond the words used.  There was something else happening here as well.

David Stubbs writes that a blessing is “a calling for the Holy Spirit to come and transform us.”  Being blessed by God, he writes, “means that we become holy, reflective of God and the purposes of God.”  There is clearly something more to a blessing then just a word of encouragement.  The power of the blessing seems to have been diluted somewhat over the years so that we really don’t expect God to transform us because of the words spoken.  But blessings given in the Bible suggest that these words are powerful and they have to power to transform us and to make us holy and reflective of God.  The actual nuts and bolts of what happens when we are blessed is mysterious.  Somehow, something special happens.  It’s hard to put our finger exactly on what it is but God is working in our lives in a way to transform us into his servants.  He is preparing us to do his work, to be his agents in the world.  We are blessed so that we can go out of worship prepared to bless others.

Because of this, the words of blessing at the end of our worship are often coupled with a charge, calling us to go out into the world as God’s servants.  God tells us “Go out into the world but know that I go with you.”  Just as God calls us and welcomes us into worship, he also sends us forth ready and able to do His work.  Many of the blessings that we hear come from the closings of Paul’s letters.  These letters were about a variety of topics, usually in response to specific needs and issues related to the people to whom Paul was writing.  In the same way, his words of blessing to them have the effect of saying “OK, now that I’ve told you about this, you need to go and do it.”  Just as the believers in Cornith or in Phillipi, we are given God’s blessing and sent out to do God’s work.


It took me a long time to finally get around to seeing the movie Ray even though some of my friends spoke very highly of it.  Now I see why.  This film has it all – a powerful story, a wonderful performance by Jamie Foxx and a killer soundtrack.  This is one of those films which, while you’re watching it, you’re thinking “wow, this is really really good.”  The performance of Jamie Foxx absolutely towers over this whole film.  Other supporting actors do well but go almost unnoticed as we see are captivated by the way Foxx recreates Ray Charles.  The transformation is so complete that it’s hard to believe he is lip-syncing.

The film does not gloss over Charles’ heroin addiction but presents it as just something Ray had to overcome and, at the end of the film, sure enough, he has and now all is cool.  There is no showing the divorce from his wife (which, if we just watch the film, never happens) or some of the other hardships of his life.  Nonetheless, taken on it’s own terms, this is a powerful film and performance.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

New DVDs

I am in the process of watching a few things I haven’t watched before – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Ray.  I finished watching the HHGG but not yet Ray.  I expect to have written opinions about both soon but if any of my readers wish to give me their opinions before I write, I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

U2 in Chicago 9-20-05

What a wonderful concert I attended last night in Chicago – my first-ever U2 concert.  Major thanks to my friend and colleague Ron Sjoerdsma for getting the tickets (nearly 10 months ago!) and for going with me.  The two of us were a couple of wild and crazy guys in Chicago – OK, not really – we sat in the third level and whined about how loud it was – but we both had a great time and U2 was fabulous.

Opening band Dashboard Confessional didn’t do much for either of us except burn a couple of cilia in our ears which we could have used later on.  By the time Bono and the boys hit the stage it was 10 PM Michigan time (and remember – we had a 2 ½-3 hour drive ahead of us) but I was wide awake and really impressed with the lights and the show.  I’ve never seen such a light show and the artistry and creativity were amazing.  The “City of Blinding Lights” opener was SO COOL and when Bono started singing “hello, hello” and crowd counted off “uno, dos, tres, catorce” I realized that I was in the midst of a LOT of serious U2 fans and that proved to be true all night.  The intro to “Elevation” was also full of crowd response.  The way Bono and the band worked with the crowd and seemed to be able to improvise things on the spot (while still being incredibly choreographed) was inspiring.

An acoustic version of “Yahweh” early in the night signaled that they were mixing things up from the Toronto shows and they did all night long, even playing “The Ocean” from Boy.  Too many highlights to list separately except I need to say that I’ve now finally heard “Pride” and “”Where the Streets Have No Name” live so I can be content that my concert life is now significantly more complete.

Home at about 2:35 AM and really really tired at work today but it was worth it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Lazy Blue Tunas setlist - 9/15/05


It’s All Been Done
You Were On My Mind
If I Needed Someone
No Matter What
Fountain Of Sorrow
Change The World
Look Through Any Window
Good Lovin’
Hotel California

Handle With Care
Pleasant Valley Sunday
Better Man
I Want You Back
Your Mother Should Know
Friday On My Mind
It’s Gonna Be Alright
Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End
Some Of My Lies Are True

Got You On My Mind 

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More Chaos

I’ve listened to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Paul McCartney’s new album multiple times over the last 48 hours and I’m convinced that this album has more depth than almost anything else he’s done since the Beatles. “Paul gets serious” is the tag line for many of the reviews that have come out this week and, to a certain extent that’s true. It’s tempting to just say that producer Nigel Godrich just got rid of all the cheesy stuff but that’s just not true. The sense one gets in listening to this album is one of vulnerability. Paul has never sounded this vulnerable on an album. In many ways, this is the album I sort of expected after his wife Linda died. Perhaps he needed to be happier to sing about how sad he was. A big part of this is the production, however – Godrich allows us to hear Paul sing without many effects on his voice and without going back and giving us pitch-perfect, no quivering vocals. We can actually hear that Paul is older and wiser for the first time.

Some have complained about a lack of rockers but I think that adding more up-tempo stuff to this album would have severely damaged the mood of the piece. It is interesting to read different reviews online – one reviewer singles out for praise what other reviewers call a misstep. For me, a few of the so-called weaker songs are among my favorites; “English Tea” and “Friends to Go” are among my favorites. There are a few melodic and chordal surprises on the album. The unexpected minor in “Jenny Wren” brings us up short and causes us to pay attention when we’d otherwise just let the song wash over us. The tempo changes in “Promise to You Girl” are surprising (although it is tied with “A Certain Softness” for my least favorite song on the album). On my first listen I found the first few lines of “Too Much Rain” are almost too much to listen to after hearing how emotionally open the album had already been – and that’s before I got to the stunning “Riding to Vanity Fair” and “This Never Happened Before.”

Overall, this album sits nicely on the shelf with McCartney’s finest post-Beatles work; Band on the Run, Tug of War and Flaming Pie.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The joy of teaching

I’ve been thinking a bit about teaching lately.  Yeah, I actually do that a lot – occupational hazard – but I’ve been thinking about enjoying teaching lately primarily for two reasons: a) I am teaching less than I ever have and b) my daughter Bethany is teaching for the first time and we talk about that a lot.  

For the last 8 years I’ve been teaching a wonderful course which had a LOT of student contact – five days a week, three hours a day with the same group of students.  It was intense but I loved getting to know the students.  On top of that, I have another course with content that I also really love (teaching religion in the elementary classroom) but far less student contact – only four hours a week for half a semester.  Now, because I’m department chair and have a course buy-out to do some writing, I only have my four-hour-a-week class and I find that I really relish the time in class.  I truly like the students I have this year (although we’ve only met three times so far) but I like the vibe we have going and it’s been a lot of fun to put a few new things in the course.  I look forward to each session – something I didn’t have the time to do when I was in class 19 hours a week.  (I know that teachers in real school are laughing right now but 19 college hours was at least as much work as a full week of full-time middle school teaching.)

Then there is Bethany’s teaching. I think she has some of the same teaching bug that I have.  We have a good time talking about the evils of grading and the buzz you get from having a class goes well.  Plus, today one of her students said “this is my favorite class!” (It works better with a southern accent.)   She was clearly pleased with that – who wouldn’t be in your first semester of teaching ever.  These are the things that remind me that, after nearly 30 years of doing this, I still enjoy teaching.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

I have only listened to the new Paul McCartney album one and a half times so I can’t yet write a complete review so here’s my short first-take:


Sunday, September 11, 2005


My daughter Meredith took this at the south pier in Holland a couple of weeks ago. I just thought I'd post it because it's been my computer wallpaper ever since.

You know youre a grad student when...

My daughter Bethany and her grad school colleague Becky(a U2 fan, by the way – 9 days until I see them in Chicago!) are developing a list of things that indicates that one is a grad student at the University of Georgia.  It’s a fun list.  Check it out.

Lazy Blue Tunas at the One Trick Pony

Lazy Blue Tunas – Thursday, Sept 15 – One Trick Pony, Grand Rapids, MI

Pete Bardolph will play a set at 8 PM, the Tunas go on at 9:00.  Lots of fun.  Come on out!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The twist

We got soft ice cream this afternoon on the way home from the nursing home visiting my father-in-law.  Laura and I got vanilla (no jokes please) and Lynnae got “twist.”  Twist is a mixture of vanilla and chocolate “twisted” together.  But they weren’t twisted. They were side by side.  Vanilla on one half and chocolate on the other.  The cone in the picture here is indeed twisted since the person making the cone twisted the cone as the ice cream was being dispensed but the one Lynnae got was just plain.  

Does this constitute false advertising?

Friday, September 09, 2005

New Orleans Photo Essay

Father Ron Hatton has a link to a fascinating photo essay on the last week in New Orleans. I didn't realize that, at least in the area where this person was, things got significantly worse there on Day 3 and 4 then they were at the end of Day 2. Things were bad at the end of Day 2, but not flooded. Worth looking at.

Monday, September 05, 2005

McCartney learns how to play Sgt Pepper' from U2! -

McCartney learns how to play Sgt Pepper' from U2! -

How can this be? McCartney played Sgt Pepper on the World Tour of 1990. I was there and I have the CD (Tripping the Live Fantastic) and VHS.

He played it on the world tour of 1992. I was there.

He played it on the Back in the US tour. I have the CD and DVD.

And he played it on the follow up tour of the world - including the St Petersburg show. It's on the Red Square DVD (see my review here).

He may never have played this version exactly before but still. McCartney has been known to revinvent history and this is a great example. He's not one to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The Word is Live - Yes

The latest Yes album is once again difficult to find in stores so I had to order it through Amazon which, in itself is cool in a “hey I got a package” kid of way but it means that it arrived about a week and a half after the release date so I was really ready to hear it.  This is a three-disc set called The Word is Live (a pun on a line in an early song – “the word is love.”)

First of all, the packaging is very nice although perhaps a bit strange.  The three discs are housed in the front and back covers of a book and the discs overlap by about 50% so the book is a lot shorter than other books which held two CDs.  That means, for example, that getting disc one out means you have to get disc two out first, a bit of a pain.  The third disc is in the back cover.  The book itself is something like 64 pages and is full of color pictures and fan memories which mostly fall under the “yes is soooooo cool” category and don’t really add to my understanding of the band.  A critical essay (even if it’s not critical as most essays in boxed sets aren’t) would have been nice.  Greg Lake from ELP wrote one and managed to point out that Chris Squire and Greg Lake were responsible for the cutting edge bass sound that they both became well known for and that Bill Bruford left Yes for King Crimson which Greg Lake founded, by the way.  My opinion of Lake wasn’t changed by this essay.

But I didn’t buy it for the book – I bought it for the music.  The point of this is to collect live tracks spanning the first 20 years of their career which are in some way different than the multiple live recordings already out there – and Yes has released a lot of them; Yessongs, Yesshows, 9012live, Keys to Ascension 1 & 2, House of Yes, Yes Symphonic, and numerous DVDs.  There are two tracks, the first two, that were previously released on the Live at the BBC set but all the rest are brand new, including a couple of tracks featuring Patrick Moraz on keyboards and also the Geoff Downes / Trevor Horn version of Yes.  Trevor Rabin shows up in four tracks at the end of the set.  Some of the tracks are songs that have been unavailable and were never recorded on a studio album or a live album before.  

The sound of the CD is one of the most disappointing aspects – it sounds like a bootleg recording.  One would expect, then, that the performances better be pretty good (or pretty rare) to warrant this and, indeed, they are.  Steve Howe absolutely rips it up on a couple of songs and this early recording of "Yours is No Disgrace" is full of fire.   Patrick Moraz was an amazing player and gets a chance to shine on “Sound Chaser”.  The early version of one part of “Starship Trooper” with Peter Banks on guitar is a revelation.

There is a lot to enjoy here and I’m just dipping my toe into the set.  All in all, this is a fine set and any Yes fan would enjoy it – I’m looking forward to spending more time with it.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Back Home - Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton’s new album, Back Home, has an interesting story behind it. It seems that Eric knew it was time to make an album and was excited about it but didn’t quite know what he wanted to do so he called his producer and collaborator Simon Climie and said that he wanted to get started. They had a plan, though, that whenever they got stuck they’d record a Robert Johnson song. It seems that the Johnson songs were so easy for the band that they finished a whole album of his music before they finished Eric’s new “regular” album. So, about a year ago, Me and Mr Johnson was released.

Clapton then turned his attention back to the new album and finished it up. With that sort of backstory, one would expect the album to sound a little unfocused, perhaps like there is no real central theme or concept that the artists were going for. It turns out that that’s only partly true because Clapton did, indeed, have a theme in mind. It seems that Eric is a happy guy these days with a wife and three small children and he wanted to write and sing about that. Now in the early 70’s he was completely broken-hearted, using drugs and his life was a mess. He made what is, perhaps the album of his career – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Can a happy Clapton make a great album?

Well, I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to, but he didn’t this time. However, this is a nice album and before I’m accused of damning with faint praise I don’t mean that in a negative way. There are some really nice songs in here and some fine vocal and guitar performances. “Revolution,” the first single is incredibly catchy. I dare you not to sing along the second time you hear it. The guitar solo on the Vince Gill penned “One Day” is amazing and quintessential Clapton. His cover of George Harrison’s “Love Comes To Everyone” is very nicely done, although perhaps too respectful of the original to be necessary. There really isn’t a blues tune in sight although “Lost and Found” comes close.

So this is hardly a barnburner but I keep putting the album on my stereo and I really can’t get some of the songs out of my head. It doesn’t have the passion of Pilgrim or the earthiness of Reptile. In some ways this album is similar to Slowhand which is hardly a great Clapton album but was one of his most commercial successes. If you’re a Clapton fan you might be disappointed with this album but if you’re not, this is one that really might get your attention.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A matter of scale

I have been thinking a lot about the hurricane victims and considering the problems faced by rescuers.  It seems to me that, aside from the inherent difficulties in rescuing people from areas that are horrible – flood, disease, etc. – a big part of the problem is simply a matter of scale.  There are just too many people who need help for this to be done quickly.  Let’s consider the super dome with 20,000 people inside.  They all need to be bussed out of there.  How many people can a bus hold?  Let’s say 40.  That means we need 500 busses.  If the roads are closed and there is one route in and we can only load one bus at a time, how long does it take to load a bus?  Let’s say 10 minutes.  That means 5000 minutes of loading – that’s 83 hours.  Even if we double the speed at which busses can load that’s two full days of just loading people on busses.  That doesn’t account for the idea that the busses may not be available or the fuel for them might not be available.

I’m not saying the people in charge are doing it right – I don’t know and I’m in no position to judge because all I see is the devastation and frustration of the people there.  But I do know that rescuing 100,000 people is a lot different than rescuing 10 – when the numbers get this big it is a whole different problem.  

I hope and pray that things get a lot better soon.