Thursday, May 31, 2007


Yesterday a brightly dressed man got off a DHL Express truck and delivered a package to my house that contained the galleys for my new book, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith. Galleys are the edited copy of the book for me to look at and decide if I agree with what my editor did to the manuscript. It also gives me a chance to fix mistakes and to make any changes I'd like to make. In some ways this is pretty easy – it's mostly reading and making red marks on the page when I'd like to change something. It's a lot like grading papers except I don't have to decide how good or how bad it is – I just have to decide if I like it. I also only have to read one of these instead of sixty, like I did at the end of the semester. Not only that but I like the writing in this case. Editing the galleys usually involves writing "yes" next to the place where Kristen (the editor) wrote "Is that sentence OK?" This indicates a spot where she edited and thinks she may have changed what I meant to say. So far (one chapter in) she's been right on target. There are also lots of places where she made minor changes that she didn't bother to ask about because that's what editors do.

I also get to find all the citations that I made that were incomplete – like places where I say "in this book, Berryman says…" and Kristen says "what page?" So I have to go find the page in the book with that particular line in it! Google Books is like the best thing EVER. It's a lot easier to type the quote into the "search in this book" place once you've found the book there than it is to re-read the whole book. After an hour with Google I only had two books that I had to actually page through to find the page I referred to. One of these books I had at home and found already.

So I'm taking a short break from working on my next book (which I'm just starting) to fix Helping Our Children Grow in Faith and get it back to the publisher so that they can go on to the next stage – page proofs. I've been warned that making changes at that time is expensive which I think is not-subtle code for "don't do it, buddy!" It's always exciting to get to the next stage in the publishing process. I was also told that I can expect to see artwork for the cover some time soon. Woo-hoo!

Monday, May 28, 2007

'Velvet Elvis' by Rob Bell

Rob Bell is the pastor of the enormously popular Mars Hill Church in Grandville, MI. I visited Mars Hill once a few years ago when Laura and I took a few weeks to visit other churches and, unfortunately, he wasn't preaching. I bet we had four or five people (who we saw there and knew) tell us that we should come back some time when Rob was preaching – we didn't even bring it up – they just told us that because it makes such a difference. Clearly, this church is as big as it is because of the charisma and the preaching of Rob Bell.

I've also seen (and appreciated) some of Bell's Nooma video series. Nooma is a series of short (approx 8 min) videos in which Bell talks about something. These are good discussion starter videos and, at least one of them gave me a new insight into scripture. Velvet Elvis is a lot like those. It is basically a series of short unconnected essays in the same style that Bell uses in his videos. This isn't a book that makes one particular point – it's a book of independent musings. Bell does this well and some of his insights are particularly good but the book never gets any traction on any particular subject. The chapters could almost be in any order.

Bell's writing style tends to be many short paragraphs.

Really short.

Like sometimes only a word or two.

He writes much the way he speaks.

If you pause briefly at the end of each of these mini-paragraphs you get a sense for the way he talks.

At least in the videos.

So it took me a while to get into his writing style which, frankly, bugged me for the first chapter or two. But once he got into some better content I was less irritated by the style.

Overall, Velvet Elvis is a fine book. It reads quickly and has some good information in it – perhaps not as much a you might think. If I get the opportunity I think I'll probably read his follow up book, Sex God, although I'm guessing that it is basically more of the same. That's not all bad but I was left wishing that there had been something in particular that I took away from Velvet Elvis other than a series of "that was cool" moments.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Punctuation Celebrity

My daughter Bethany has a goal of someday being a punctuation celebrity. She's getting closer to her goal. Her "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks has been noticed and linked lately by a couple of high-profile blogs. It even got mentioned in an online blog (scroll down to the May 23 entry) in the local Grand Rapids Press – which is especially great because the writer has no idea that Bethany is from West Michigan originally. It's not a "local blogger makes good" story, it's a "here's a cool blog" story. Maybe she'll write more now that she knows that the roots are local.

This is a lot of fun. "Way to go," Bethany!

By the way, I think this post is still my favorite from the quotes blog.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dutch Dance 2007

Tulip Time in Holland is over and I went to see Lynnae Dutch Dance many many times over the past week. Dutch Dance is an activity in which over 600 High School students line the streets of Holland and do the same dance. I know that it sounds really quaint and small town and everything but it really is fun to see so many kids doing the same steps completely surrounding Centennial Park downtown. The dance takes about 20 minutes. Here is what it looks like:
But, after seeing Lynnae do it ten times in the past 8 days (and I didn't see them all) I've had enough for now. So, this week I've been grading papers, doing a few other things and watching Dutch Dance. I'm ready to move on to other things.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bruce Hornsby at Tulip Time – Holland, MI, 5/5/07

I've never heard Bruce Hornsby play live before but I've wanted to for a long time so when the Tulip Time board announced that he was coming to Holland for a concert I was pretty excited. Not only do I enjoy his solo work but he was in the grateful Dead which gives him serious added coolness points.

Lynnae and I went together and, in addition to an outstanding concert, we each got a copy of his recent boxed set, Intersections 1985-2005. This is almost too good to be true (in fact, when I first heard this I double-checked with Hornsby's website and, sure enough – that's what it was.) I'm listening to the set now and I must say that I'm impressed all over again.

The concert was held in a local church (a BIG church – one that seats well over 2000) and it was just Hornsby and a piano for two hours and ten minutes. He is an absolute master at jazz/rock/pop improvisation. Since he was in a church he let us know right off the bat what the evening was going to be like by sitting down at the piano and improvising on "A Mighty Fortress" for about five minutes before moving seamlessly into one of his songs. That was typical for the evening – lots and lots of piano improv in the front, middle and end of songs of his that were rethought, reworked and twisted inside and ought as he played some of my favorites like "The Way it Is," "Rainbow's Cadillac," "Spiderfingers" and "Mandolin Rain." The crowd sat in silence as we were absolutely stunned by his mastery of the piano and heard a concert that was simply stunning.

To get an idea of what it was like, listen to the first track of Intersections, "The Way It Is." The way he starts with a piano improv and then slowly works in the theme of the song is amazing. Lynnae and I had a great time.

Spiderman 3 - review

I don't see movies in theaters very often and when I paid $8 to see Spiderman 3 on Friday night (opening day!) I remembered why – they're expensive! But I, along with my good friend and occasional movie watching partner Ron, couldn't resist the third installment in the Spiderman series because 1) we're geeks and 2) the first two were very good with the second one being among the best-ever superhero movies. So even though it had been a long week we were anxious to see what Peter Parker was up to now.

Both of us were disappointed. This is a movie that knew that it had to up the ante in special effects (which it did – almost to the point of distraction) and also in the emotional story, the thing that Spiderman 2 did so well. The problem with the third installment is that there was just too much stuff in it – too many villains and too many emotional issues. This movie was so packed with stuff that the storylines seemed to have a hard time finding any space to breathe.

This lead to some plot issues. I know that you're supposed to suspend your disbelief in these movies (it's about a guy who is bitten by a radioactive spider for crying out loud – if you don't come in to it with a healthy dose of belief-suspension you're in serious trouble) but even in Spiderman world some things here just didn't add up. I didn't buy the black gooey stuff, for example. It just happened to land near Peter Parker and it attached to his motor scooter when it crached as part of an asteroid. Come on. And if the guys who were running the super secret government experiment that turned Flint into the Sandman had spent another ten bucks on security that whole plot wouldn't have happened. This may sound like nitpicking but there was a cumulative effect here and because there was so much stuff like this in this movie that even the moment when Spidey figures out how to defeat the black gooey guy seems like a stretch – he didn't have nearly enough information to figure that out. In another movie we might have given him the benefit of the doubt but by this time we were getting pretty skeptical.

So it's not a lousy movie and it's a fun way to spend a couple of hours but director Sam Raimi raised the bar with Spiderman 2 and we have learned to expect more that this from him.