Thursday, June 30, 2005

U2 - Keyboards under the stage

This link answers a question I've had for a while - how does U2 get the keyboard sounds when they play live? I wondered if it was an under the stage keyboard player or taped ekyboards. Here is what the posting at @U2 says:
"Terry Lawless is (again) providing keyboards from under the stage (think 'City of Blinding Lights,' for example); "

Shirley MacLaine - just as strange as ever

According to
"“Bewitched” star Shirley MacLaine isn’t a fan of the TV series that inspired the flick. “I didn’t like the show itself, but what I loved was that ‘Bewitched’ made witchcraft acceptable to the public,” the new-agey actress told the Toronto Sun. MacLaine plays the role of Endora, who in the TV version was played by Agnes Moorehead, who died in 1974. MacLaine, who believes in past lives and such, said: “I never met Agnes in person, but I talked to her recently and she’s doing fine.”"

Shirley MacLaine made headlines when her book Out On A Limb was published a number of years ago outlining her "interesting" beliefs. One wonders exactly how she talked to Ms. Moorehead.

By the way, the name of the witch she plays is Endora - this is a Biblical reference. Anyone know it?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


From the CRC web page:

Citizens in more than 80 countries worldwide will be donning the increasingly familiar white wrist band on July 1 to show solidarity in holding world leaders to the Millennium Development Goals, which would cut global poverty in half by 2015.

The first “White Arm Band Day” takes place just five days before the G8 leaders convene in Gleneagles, Scotland to discuss poverty in Africa. Cancellation of debt to poor nations, fair trade and more and better aid will be the focus of the talks.

Governments are feeling the pressure to make responsible choices by campaigns such as Micah Challenge, the worldwide Christian campaign under the Global Call to Action Against Poverty umbrella. The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) is a major supporter of the Micah Challenge campaign, a sister campaign of Make Poverty History in Canada and The One campaign in the United States.

“Wearing the white band is the first step for a lot of people”, says Karen Bokma, CRWRC social justice coordinator. “To really raise our voice against poverty, every person needs to sign the campaign petitions as well.”

Monday, June 27, 2005

A More Profound Alleluia – review

I have finished A More Profound Alleluia edited by Leanne Van Dyk and truly enjoyed it. The different essays compliment each other well and the overall effect is not that of an anthology but, rather, it reads more like a single-author book, which in this case, is a very good thing. All of the authors address their topics with a sense of authority (the people who are writing clearly know their stuff) and sensitivity to a number of Christian traditions. There were things in each chapter that made me stop and think. I highly recommend it.


I continue to be impressed with these guys. They are each (including their manager) giving a million Euros towards eliminating poverty in Africa. That's five million Euros or about six million dollars.

Read more here

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A More Profound Alleluia - post #2

I continue to read A More Profound Alleluia edited by Leanne Van Dyk.

In every chapter there has been some line that has deepened by understanding of either worship or of theology. As I was thinking back on the book today I considered this line from John Witvliet’s chapter: “The Holy Spirit is the forgotten participant in the Christmas drama.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Christmas. In fact, my wife and I have written eight Christmas plays for kids, six of which are already published with two more in press (you can see the newest one here) and John’s right. We’ve never once mentioned the Holy Spirit in any of the plays.

This summer we have to write a short play for families to use at home to be published in The Banner. I’m guessing that the Holy Spirit will show up in the play somewhere.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation

My daughter Bethany pointed me to The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation because she is preparing to teach Public Speaking at the University of Georgia in the fall. It's a fun site and has a really cheesy version of the Gettysburg Address if it was presented in powerpoint format. Pretty funny. The point, of course, is that we have a wonderful speech that gets seriously dumbed down because of the use of presentation software.

I use powerpoint a lot in my classes so this got me thinking again about it. I like to think of myself as a thoughtful powerpointer. I use it to organize my thoughts and to give my students a map for where I'm going. I wondered if my classes were dumbed down because of powerpoint just like the Gettysburg address was in this example.

Then I had a thought - I wonder how many of the people standing in Gettysburg "got it" when Lincoln delivered his speech? I wonder if they only sort of heard what he said, if they really didn't follow it or if they left saying - what was the point of that?

Just because a speech is wonderful oratory doesn't mean it accomplished it's goal. One reason why this speech works so well is that we've read it again and again. Maybe an outline on a screen (hopefully not as dumb as the one in this example) would have made this great speech connect with the audience even more than it did?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A More Profound Alleluia

As I mentioned earlier, I’m reading A More Profound Alleluia, edited by Leanne Van Dyk and I’ve really been enjoying it. In the second chapter, "Confession and Assurance – Sin and Grace", William Dryness writes about that part of worship in which we confess our sins and hear the assurance of pardon. After the assurance, in many congregations the people are encouraged to pass the peace of God. Dryness says that when people turn to one another and say “good morning” it is a missed opportunity. He says:
When we look at one another and say, “the peace of the Lord Jesus be with you” we are extending to one another the reality that, having been reconciled to God, we are reconciled to one another.

I like this a lot. For the first time, I realized that this act of passing the peace is much more than just a churchy way of saying hello. It is a significant act of rejoicing in the unity that we have as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Bad Preaching and Bad Art

Thanks to Beth at U2Sermons for this quote:
"Trying to change the way art itself works, for the sake of the so-called 'service of the Gospel,' just does a disservice to both. Art is a terrible preacher. If you want to preach, be a preacher. When you try to force art to preach, you get bad preaching and you get bad art." --Colin Harbinson at the Rencontre Europeene d'Artistes, Paris, June 2005

This speaks to much of the issue of CCM that I’ve referred to more than once on this blog. This is one reason why I prefer worship music to CCM lately – the artistry of worship music is in it’s appropriateness to worship where CCM is often made with an eye toward evangelism. I think that what happens is little evangelism but we get a lot of people who are already in the faith listening to the music because it makes them feel good.

There are, of course, some bright spots on the CCM scene but a couple of them have left – Phil Keaggy and Charlie Peacock to mention two of them. I also like the stuff that Jars of Clay and Watermark have done. But these aren’t the people who get on CCM radio. This also speaks to why I’m so moved lately by the music of U2, David Wilcox, Over the Rhine, Sandra McCracken, Ric Hordinski and others. There is a lot of good stuff out there that is worth pursuing.

There is also a lot of excellent worship music being written lately - and I'm not just referring to the plethora of Praise and Worship music that is being sold in Christian Book Stores. I'm thinking at least as much of the music that is being written in the Iona community by John Bell, by the music of New Yorker Jorge Lockward, the Reformed University Fellowship community in Nashville lead by Kevin Twit and by other modern hymn writers who are doing remarkable things in worship music.

By the way, I’m presently reading A More Profound Alleluia edited by Leanne Van Dyke and I’m really enjoying it – comments on that later.

Also look here or here to see a picture of my father's day cake

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Our lawn is yellow. This is not an unusual occurrence in the summer. In fact, it is a usual occurrence for our lawn in the summer. That’s because generally we don’t sprinkle. We don’t have underground sprinkling so we have to schlep a hose around the yard and then turn on the water in order for it to get wet. That seldom happens.

I prefer to think that if God had wanted a lawn to be green he would have sent rain. It really is, from a theological perspective, somewhat presumptuous of us to water our lawn. It’s as if we’re saying that we don’t trust God. The way I see it, you can tell how holy someone is by seeing how dry and yellow their lawn is in the summer. I am clearly the holiest guy on the block.

By the way, this often works in the winter as well – I trust God to send sunshine to clear my driveway of snow. Yup, it’s all a matter of having faith.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

another surprise

A few days ago I wrote that my son is only interested in classic rock. He just came home from work and put Eisley on in his room. I'm shocked.

Emergent leaders respond to criticism

Kent pointed me to this site which has a fairly lengthy letter from a series of leaders in the emergent church movement responding to criticisms of their work. Much of it is well intentioned and nicely articulated. One of the ten points is that people should respond to their writings after actually having read them – always a good idea. (I’m especially sensitive to that given the at times unfair critique of the letter that some of my Calvin College colleagues placed in the Grand Rapids Press regarding the visit of President Bush.)

I certainly don’t think my little blog entry regarding Dan Kimball’s book (and his subseqent response) counts as one of the major criticisms that he has faced – and, frankly, I was unaware that there was so much criticism out there. But, since I’ve already engaged him in conversation about it, I’ll make one additional comment about the letter.

The fifth point reads as follows:

Fifth, because most of us write as local church practitioners rather than professional scholars, and because the professional scholars who criticize our work may find it hard to be convinced by people outside their guild, we feel it wisest at this juncture to ask those in the academy to respond to their peers about our work. We hope to generate fruitful conversations at several levels, including both the academic and ecclesial realms. If few in the academy come to our defense in the coming years, then we will have more reason to believe we are mistaken in our thinking and that our critics are correct in their unchallenged analyses.

Why should those of us in the academy only respond to those in the academy and not to the people writing these books? It seems to me that this point says that we won’t listen anyway so we shouldn’t engage in conversation with the church professionals. I find this request puzzling at least and a bit troubling. Is it that academicians expect a different type of discussion and are playing by different rules than these writers? Are we reading “popular” writings and criticizing them because they’re not academic writings?

Still, much of the letter is well written and interesting. After recently attending a somewhat standard contemporary worship service (in what I think is the Willow Creek / Saddleback format) I’m thrilled that people are looking to the more traditional church to get back some of what has been tossed aside and if that is the outcome of the emergent conversation then we will be blessed by it.

EDIT: Bethany's comment made me re-read the paragraph that I quoted and I agree with her. The paragraph is a call for academic supporters to respond to academic critics rather than a call for academics to quit bugging them. This makes sense now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Lazy Blue Tunas - One Trick Pony - June 16

My band, the Lazy Blue Tunas will unveil four new songs tomorrow night at the One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids - well, new for us anyway. It promises to be another fun night of rockin' so come on out. While you're at it, say "Happy birthday" to Bethany.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Reflection and Renewal

In addition to my position in the Education Department at Calvin, for the last 14 years my wife and I have also directed children’s ministries at our church, a job which has some real benefits. We get to know some children over the course of a number of years so that now, kids who are graduating from college were in our programs since 2nd grade. We get to see kids go from being held in their parents’ arms at baptism to participating in children’s worship and Sunday School, to being active members of our worshipping communities. In addition, many of them help out in our programs as leaders or teachers passing on some of the things they learned from their teachers. It’s a real gift for us to have been in this church for so long in this position.

But, church staff positions are draining and, because we have a staff position the church has left it up to us to fit vacations in. We’re not very good at that and so, consequently, over the past 14 years we’ve missed probably less than 20 Sundays, and even when we’ve missed we’ve often made sure that things are covered.

This summer, however, we asked the church council for two months with no responsibilities for refection and renewal, which they granted us. Today marks the first Sunday. It is wonderful. We went and visited another church with quite a different worship style and – here’s the best part – got there just in time for the service and left right afterward! We didn't have to plan for the day, nor did we have to put in extra hours thinking about the service ahead of time. Amazing.

We haven’t turned off our brains however and spent a good hour debriefing on the service we attended afterward. We have been challenged to think about how children fit into worship at a church with a very contemporary style – this isn’t clear to us at this point. We know that the church we visited has some active programs for children but when there is a contemporary service, very slick and professionally presented with few of the trappings of traditional church, is there a place for children to be included? They can watch and sing along but is there more to it than that?

Paul McCartney in Red Square

Even though Paul McCartney in Red Square doesn't come out for two more days I got a copy last week and finished watching it today. Generally, this is nicely done. However like Macca's other recent concert videos, this one has almost no shots longer than 2 or 3 seconds. This makes the video more exciting but leads to a bit of a frenetic pace and doesn't really let you focus on the band and the players. It would be nice to have at least one McCartney video that focuses on the stage and lets you see what's going on without tons of quick cuts and shots of the audience loving the concert. Also, I think that Paul's voice is starting to show its age occasionally. But I'm certainly not going to criticize him for still rockin' at a ripe old age. That part's just cool.

One real nice touch here is that Paul focused this DVD on what made this concert (actually, two concerts, as a concert in St. Petersburg about a year later is also presented here in a shorter film) unique - where it is being filmed and the songs that he does for these shows. There is a lot of film of the place, of PM visiting sites in Russia, spending some time with Vladimir Putin and the setting itself, as well as a few Russian talking heads speaking of the impact of the Beatles on them 30 years ago and how wonderful it is to see Paul now. This, unfortunately gives the video a sort of self-congratulatory tone which McCartney videos often have. In this case, though, it is an historic concert so I guess it's OK to be pleased with yourself for filling Red Square with fans who were not allowed to buy most of the songs you're playing when they came out!

Finally, during the European leg of McCartney's world tour he replaced about five songs from his Back in the US tour with five other songs (some of which he hadn't ever performed live - like "She's Leaving Home" or "Two of Us") and he made sure that these songs were included on the DVD. Also, the St. Petersburg concert was part of a Europe-only tour from last summer and it also included some songs not seen elsewhere (like "Helter Skelter" and "I've Got a Feeling") and the short St. Petersburg video includes those songs.

So, if you're a Macca fan, buying this is a no-brainer. If you're only a casual fan then here is a chance to see Paul perform many of his biggest hits live in front of a very appreciative audience.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Is Coldplay the next U2?

I went to my local Best Buy on Tuesday and picked up the new Coldplay album, X & Y, partly because I couldn’t resist all the buzz about it, partly because it was cheap ($9.99) and mostly because I knew that at least one of my daughters would really appreciate and the other would at the very least be interested. Just to complete the picture, my son listens primarily to music made prior to 1979 (which means he really digs my Yes and Allman Brothers albums for example) and my youngest daughter is only moderately interested in any music that isn’t Superchic[k].

I had previously thought that Coldplay was mostly a lot of chord thumping with whiny vocals but I’d revised that by listening to Parachutes a few times lately (although Rush of Blood does reinforce my previous notion a bit). I also heard in the media that Coldplay is the band “most likely to be U2” in the future so I certainly couldn’t resist that. I even heard that they had a picture of U2 put up in their studio while they recorded to remind them what they were shooting for.

So, I’ve heard the album a few times now and it is growing on me. There are certainly some similarities to what U2 do well – a quirky vocalist who sings over a thick layer of sound, a bass player and drummer who can really drive a song with their kinetic playing, a sense of not being afraid to reach perhaps a little too far in trying to make a statement and, finally, a sense of soaring melody that can get in your head and stay there.

There is a big difference, though. U2 has a well-documented faith-based lyricist who’s thoughtful and compelling songs have a kind of real depth and weight that give U2 a sense of urgency and moral authority that are hard to come by any other way. When I listen to a U2 song (or at least many of them) I feel challenged to be a better person. When I listen to a Coldplay song I feel like I’ve heard Chris Martin sing about his relationship. It isn’t that all Coldplay songs are about relationships and all U2 songs are about God – but at their core, U2 is playing with much more important stuff than Coldplay is. I’m not sure I want Martin to get all political and everything – after all, how many songs about fair trade do we really need – but the style of the songs they do aches to have some important lyrics to go along with them. It’s not a surprise, then, that the song that has bee singled out by rolling stone as the high point of the album is the most scaled-back song of the lot - the hidden track "Til' Kingdom Come". It’s hardly the most elegant or the most melodic, but it’s the one where the music better fits the personal character of the lyrics.

It’s good to remember that this is only Coldplay's 3rd album and if there was one word that I think characterizes both War (U2’s third album) and X & Y it is potential. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

CCM, worship music and Bono

I've written about my love/hate relationship with CCM before here and here so this is hardly a new topic for me. It's amazing though how, when I go into a Christian Book store and look at the music section, much of it leaves me cold these days. It just seems that someone somewhere has unnecessarily and unnaturally restricted the allowable topics in the music so that it has no soul anymore.

So it was great to read that Bono more or less feels the same way. Beth at U2Sermons pointed to an audio clip of Bono in which he is pretty harsh on much CCM and then mentions that worship music, on the other hand, is something he's interested in. He says:
"God is interested in truth, and only in truth. And that's why God is more interested in Rock & Roll music than Gospel."

It's a pretty short audio clip and it's really worth listening to. The fact that Bono calls much of CCM "happy-clappy" says that he's heard enough of it to have formed an opinion. He characterizes God's reaction to much of the music as - "please, don't patronize me!" As is often the case, Bono's offhanded quips cut to the core of an issue much more than my paragraphs do.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Long Strange Trip in an Ice Cream Truck

Reading Phil Lesh’s book (see my earlier post) made me remember that I never did read Dennis McNally’s history of the Grateful Dead called A Long Strange Trip and, seeing as how my local library had a copy on their shelf, I figured I’d read it too. (Actually, I interrupted Marva Dawn’s Is it a Lost Cause to read it, which is probably only fair since I interrupted Jeremy Begbie’s Sounding the Depths to read that – so I’m in the middle of three books.)

McNally has been the Grateful Dead’s publicist since 1984 so his book has some personal weight behind it, like Lesh’s book, and McNally is actually a writer so I had some real hope for this one. I’m finding that I’m enjoying it a bit less than the Lesh book possibly because Lesh’s writing voice is a bit more conversational but also because Lesh could concentrate just on his own story and doesn’t have to try to “tell it all.”

However, one of the things that was in both books that I really enjoyed was that the original plan for Grateful Dead records (their own record label which they started in 1973) was going to bypass the regular record industry and sell their records out of the back of … ice cream trucks.

Sometimes I miss the 70’s.