Monday, July 30, 2007

Panda poop to become souvenirs - World Environment -

This article about the upcoming Olympics from MSNBC, Panda poop to become souvenirs, is presented without comment because I didn't dare finish this inscription on the souvenir: "my parents went to the Beijing Olympics and all I got was ..."

The first line of the article, though,is worth quoting: "Nothing says 'I love you' like a photo frame made from panda poop."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Desert Island Discs Part Six – All Right Here and Add to the Beauty by Sara Groves

This week I cheat. I can't decide so, for now at least, I'm going to squeeze as much of these two albums as I can on a compilation CD and call it my desert island pick.

As I mentioned in my review of Add to the Beauty, I have almost given up on CCM. So much of it seems to be slick, over-produced and mostly interested in not offending anyone. It's like they want to make sure that the point is so clear that someone scanning the radio can't help but catch that the song is about Jesus. There are, however, a few exceptions, artists that I continue to listen to. Jars of Clay, Derek Webb, Andrew Osenga and Phil Keaggy are on that list (and all three of them have taken a detour away from the big-time CCM industry.) But Sara Groves might be my current favorite. Ever since I heard All Right Here, her first nationally released album and third overall, I was sold on her music. I went back and found her first two independent albums and enjoyed them too. Her most recent album, Add to the Beauty, is also so good that I couldn't leave it off the list. I was trying to decide which album be my choice I realized that I needed to include "First Song That I Sing" from All Right Here. That song has such a simple yet elegant message and energy that I couldn't resist making sure it was on my list. All Right Here is a quantum leap better than her first two albums and it features wonderful writing, singing and production. The songs all seem to come straight from Sara's heart (with a path through her brain to make them cool and thoughtful.) The themes are about the value and love of family and friends and trust in the Lord and she explores them in a way that gets to me almost every time I hear the album.

I was slightly disappointed with The Other Side of Something, the album between these two. That album almost made me think that Sara was going to be another CCM casualty but I was wrong. Here is what I said about Add to the Beauty in my review nearly two years ago: "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." I still agree with that assessment. She nailed it on both of these albums.

There are four friends joining me on my Desert Island journey. Check their developing lists:

My Complete Desert Island List (so far):

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My book is on Amazon!

My forthcoming book, Helping our Children Grow in Faith, is now available for pre-order on Amazon - check it out!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Download an EP from Andrew Osenga for free

Go here to get Andrew's new CD, Letters to the Editor, Vol 1.

I did and I like it. Go ahead, do it now. You can thank me later.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Like looking in a mirror

Desert Island Discs Part Five – Phil Keaggy's self-titled album

I must admit that so far this list has been a trip through my favorite artists, picking a favorite CD from each. So today I continue that trend and give the nod to an artist that I've been a fan of since about 1974. That year, as a student at Calvin, I helped host a Christian rock band called Wing and a Prayer, a short-lived offshoot from the seminal Love Song. As I was hanging out with the guys, bass player Jay Truax asked me if I'd heard of Phil Keaggy. When I told him I had not he told me that I absolutely had to hear his album. So, when I saw Love Broke Thru, Keaggy's second solo album, at my local Christian book store I picked it up. What I heard was a great album with an amazing guitar player and a sense for melody that was very much like Paul McCartney. It was better than all the other Christian music I had heard by a long shot.

I have followed Keaggy's career ever since and it's been quite a journey. He has had his ups and downs but never really hit it big in terms of sales in the Christian music industry – or the mainstream industry for that matter. So when he dropped out to go independent a few years back that allowed him to be a lot more, well, independent. His releases throughout the years have perhaps been uneven (although I really like most of them.) I realized that my desire to have him put out more of his stuff was a mixed blessing when, as an independent, he was allowed to release things whenever he pleased. Having an editor is a good thing and some of his recent releases are not as strong as some of his earlier ones. However, back in 1998, while he was still signed to a CCM label, he released his first regular vocal album in quite some time and it was great. He must have realized that he was onto something with this album because he titled it simply Phil Keaggy. Usually artists only self-title albums if they're first albums or if they have a special personal connection with them. This is the case with Phil Keaggy. It includes great songs and great arrangements played and sung well. The opener, "A Sign Came Through the Window," really gets things off to a great start with a cool acoustic riff and a driving beat. "Tender Love" sounds like one of those great album-closing McCartney power ballads. "Under the Grace" is a beautiful song, perhaps one of Keaggy's best. All in all, I find myself really enjoying this album whenever I put it on.

There are many other fine PK albums – Crimson and Blue with it's Cream-flavored guitar-heavy rock; Beyond Nature and The Master and the Musician, perhaps his two most fully realized instrumental albums; Ph'lip Side and Town to Town, the vocal albums that really caught my imagination in the late seventies; Find Me in These Fields, the mid career album where it all came together nicely – and I could have been happy with any of these on my island but I had to pick one and I picked Phil Keaggy. For people new to his music this is a great gateway album.

There are four friends joining me on my Desert Island journey. Check their developing lists:

My Complete Desert Island List (so far):

Monday, July 16, 2007

Caritas: Samson or Spider-Man?

Caritas: Samson or Spider-Man?

The blog post linked just above is worth reading. Really. I don't know the author, Greg Stevenson, but I think that he and I would get along well.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Desert Island Discs Part Four – Yes’ Fragile

Here is one that I'm not yet sure about. I know I want a Yes album on my list and I've got it narrowed down to four of them and I'm having a tough time deciding. The four albums in question are Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans and Going for the One.

Fragile was Yes' fourth album, their second released in the US (I believe) and the first one to really make a splash over here. It's that album that first brought them to my attention. I was a senior in high school and I'm not sure where I heard it for the first time but once I listened to the cool acoustic guitar intro and the organ solo in "Roundabout" that I was hooked. That song is like a microcosm of everything that Yes can do right. The singing is great, the playing is unreal, the bass line is sing-able and the lyrics are mostly incomprehensible. You can understand all the words, you just have no idea what they mean. But you can tell, just by the way Jon Anderson sings them, that they're really deep, you know what I mean? And the titles of the songs - "Heart of the Sunrise," "South Side of the Sky," "Long Distance Runaround" – these are the kind of songs that you can listen to while contemplating the universe. At least that's the way it struck me when I was 17. This album also had a solo track by each of the five members of the band. Cool stuff and perfect for 1972. This is the way albums ought to be. It even has great artwork. This was their second album with Steve Howe on guitar and their first with Rick Wakeman on keys. All the pieces of the classic line up are in place and the music just soars.

Then, I heard somebody say that they can actually play this stuff live! I was stunned. No band could be that good! But they were – and, in fact, they still are (I've seen them five times.) And during their peak creative period in the 1970s they made some magnificent albums and the four I listed are all brilliant. Close to the Edge, the follow-up to Fragile, is just three songs, two on one side of the vinyl album and one on the other. The band started playing around with longer and longer song forms until, with Tales, they had gone "Over the Edge" and had a double album with just four songs, at almost 20 minutes per song – one per album side. But here's the thing – they were all good! It took a while to wrap my ears around those long songs but once I got them I loved them.

Rick Wakeman left the band and they put out a good album, Relayer, (as opposed to one that was completely mind blowing) with Patrick Moraz on keys and then they made a bunch of solo albums. I was surprised when their next album, Going for the One included Rick Wakeman again (playing pipe organ in spots!) It was great and it had a rockin' song by bassist Chris Squire ("Parallels") and what may be their best long song, "Awaken." The history of the band goes on and on and, while they had some great albums since then (like their mega-hit 90125 with the catchy "Owner of a Lonely Heart"), this is the period which really defines the band.

How do I choose? I have good memories of listening to all these albums. So I'm picking the one that first caught my attention, Fragile. Truth be told, I have so many live versions of "Roundabout" that I'm almost sick of it. But, when I forget how often I've heard it, when I just sit back with headphones and listen to it like I did in 1972 when I was wearing it out from playing it so much, then I remember why it's so good. This is what progressive rock music ought to be about. So, while I'd probably be content with any of the four, for today at least I'll pick Fragile as my desert island album of the week.

There are now four more friends joining me on my Desert Island journey. Check their developing lists:

My Complete Desert Island List (so far):

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why Do 'People' Misuse Quotation Marks?

Check here for a story from the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald about my daughter Bethany and her "blog" of unnecessary quotation marks. The author gives a bit of background to the blog and pretty much just says how cool Bethany is. I've noted this blog before in a post and also in the blogroll at the side of my page. It's nice to see that it continues to get "noticed."

Permanent link to the author's blog.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Desert Island Discs Part Three – Eric Clapton’s One More Car, One More Rider

So far in my desert island list I've gone to my favorite artists and picked which CD of theirs I'd most want to take along. That is as opposed to looking specifically at CDs and judging each on their own merit. I expect to think about things this way for a few more weeks since I've already started and it makes sense to me to do it this way (and it's easier). So this week I turn my attention to an artist that I first became familiar with when as an eighth grader I heard "Sunshine of Your Love" on the radio. This was 1968 and that song served as my intro to blues-based guitar music. I listened to friends' copies of Cream's Disraeli Gears (which will likely show up on this list down the road) and
soon bought Eric Clapton's album with his new band, Blind Faith. I've missed only a few of his albums since – and there have been a lot. So picking one of Clapton's solo recordings is a challenge. The obvious choices, perhaps, are Layla (although it is really a Derek and the Dominoes album so I could get away with picking that one later too,) his two mid-career highlights, 461 Ocean Boulevard and Slowhand (but I think they are not his best,) or the album where he seemed to find his way as a guitar hero again, Journeyman and the album that re-launched him into the mainstream, Unplugged. But, having seen Eric's show less than a year ago and having paid attention to him for quite some time I think that, live at least, he's in as good a place as he's ever been. His shows are consistently great and he's got a wealth of material to choose from. That is why for this week's pick I am choosing his most recent live album, One More Car, One More Rider.

Like Matt, I'm a bit wary of choosing a live album because they can be little more than greatest hits compilations with clapping. But this 2-disc set shows Eric with a crack band playing at the height of his game. He does an acoustic set which features what I think is the definitive version of "Change the World." It blows the studio recording completely out of the water. It also gives added life to the songs from Pilgrim which suffered from a bit of production woes – the use of drum machine, for example, and Clapton's guitar tone made the album, which had some great songs, feel a bit brittle. But on One More Car songs like "River of Tears" have an amazing amount of emotion. Clapton's singing is spot on and his guitar just soars. Add a killer set list, ending with a wonderful rendition of "Over the Rainbow" – yes, that "Over the Rainbow" – and you have what I think is Clapton's best album.

The version of the album that I bought came with a DVD of the whole show too – and you get to see the late Billy Preston in the band singing his hit "Will it Go Round in Circles" which isn't on the album. You should see it just to watch Billy dance.

There are so far three more friends joining me on my desert Island journey. Special thanks to new list makers Matt and Jim for playing along. Check their developing lists:

My Complete Desert Island List (so far):

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Instant Karma - The Campaign to Save Darfur

Instant Karma is not just your usual all-star tribute album. All the net proceeds go to the Amnesty International Fund for Darfur. Others have written about the crisis with much more authority than I. Suffice it to say that things are very bad there and have been for a while. So buying this album will help send some money toward that situation but the situation is complex and it will not be easily remedied. Nonetheless, I'm glad that people are raising awareness about it.

Some of those people are the artists on this wonderful new compilation album, Instant Karma. Yoko allowed these artists to record songs from John Lennon's solo career without paying any royalties so the organization (Make Some Noise) could release an album of other artists covering Lennon's music. Over 50 artists participated – so many that there are alternate versions of the album in the US and the UK , bonus tracks available at some stores and at itunes. I downloaded the bonus version of the album from itunes because it had ELEVEN extra tracks. I actually didn't buy this album right away when it came out because, frankly, most of the artists don't get me real excited but I started sampling tracks and heard more and more that I liked and, when I clicked on the Postal Service version of "Grow Old With Me" I just had to get the album. And I'm really glad I did.

Almost without exception I like every one of the 34(!) tracks on this record. Now, it is no secret that I like the Beatles so I was already a fan of these songs (and I, of course, have the original versions). But most of these artists put a new twist on their versions and made me enjoy them in a new way. U2's version of "Instant Karma" is great, of course but, believe it or not, so is Duran Duran's! (OK, maybe it's not "great" but at least it's pretty good.) Christina Aguilera singing "Mother?" This is an idea that I might have paid money NOT to listen to but, you know what? She does OK. I was really surprised by how much I like Big and Rich's version of "Nobody Told Me" and Regina Spektor haunting take on "Real Love" is wonderful. I'm not a Green Day fan but I like what they did with "Working Class Hero." Jakob Dylan (Bob's son) and Dhani Harrison (George's son) do a fine job on "Gimme Some Truth" with Dhani's slide guitar sounding like a cross between his father and Derek Trucks. The list just goes on and on. The Fab Faux (a high-class Beatles cover band) does "I Don't Wanna Face It" like the Beatles might have done it if Lennon had written it when they were together, complete with a typical McCartney bass line (patterned after "Rain") and delightful guitar double leads (like "And Your Bird Can Sing.") That one's definitely a highlight for me. Truth in advertising: I don't care much for Lenny Kravitz version of "Cold Turkey." But of the other 33 tracks, even bands I had never heard of caught my ear.

This says something about the strength of the original material, much of which comes from the period right at the end of Lennon's life; Double Fantasy, the album that just hit the charts when Lennon was shot in 1980 and the posthumously released Milk and Honey (which Lennon was making when he was shot and is really the twin to Double Fantasy.). Actually, these were both Lennon/Ono albums with John and Yoko alternating songs. So there are only 7 Lennon songs on Double Fantasy but 5 of them are on Instant Karma (more, I believe than from any other Lennon album). There were only 6 Lennon songs on Milk and Honey (including the gorgeous "Grow Old With Me" which Lennon never properly recorded – all we have is a demo) and 4 of them appear on Instant Karma. So it's pretty clear that Lennon was in a really good place musically when he was killed. It's a shame that he wasn't able to make more music. Fortunately, we have his recordings (including the revelatory 4-disc Anthology) and we have this wonderful album of new takes on his old songs. Even if you don't like compilations and tribute albums this one is worth getting.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Christian Homemaking

According to this article "Starting this fall Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will offer a program in Christian homemaking." I checked the seminary's website and discovered that, sure enough, there it is. A woman can get a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities with a concentration in homemaking. Here is what the website says: "The College at Southwestern endeavors to prepare women to model the characteristics of the godly woman as outlined in Scripture. This is accomplished through instruction in homemaking skills, developing insights into home and family while continuing to equip women to understand and engage the culture of today."

Now I have absolutely nothing against being a homemaker. I want to make sure I say that loudly and clearly. I was raised by a full time homemaker (my mom) and if that is the choice that a man or woman wants to make then I think that's great. There really is little more important than raising children and if one of the parents can stay home and do that then I think the child benefits.

And I appreciate that Southwestern is putting their money where their mouth is – that is, they're offering a course that teaches women to fulfill the roles that they believe they are most suited for. And because I can I feel the need to point out the redundancy on their website where they write that
women will learn "Biblical foundations for biblical womanhood." I wonder what other kinds of foundations there are for biblical womanhood?

And I will even have fun with the fact that, at SWTS, you can actually get the Mrs. Degree that so many women and men have laughed about for years. I also imagine that they aren't real excited about the decision of my church, the Christian Reformed Church, to allow women to preach and lead churches. I'm thinking they won't be right behind us on that decision.

But here's where I will comment: one of the required courses is a three-hour course entitled "Biblical Model for the Home and Family."

So the mind wanders a bit as I try to come up with what that Biblical model might look like and who, for example, in the bible we will want to model our family after.

  • Adam and Eve – one of their sons killed the other – not a great model to use I guess.
  • Abraham – aside from trying to help is often-wayward nephew, Lot, Abraham lied about his relationship to his wife and had that whole episode on the mountain with his son Isaac (which I'm thinking left Isaac feeling just a tad bit insecure.) Even with that, Abraham might be our best example although we know little else about his parenting.
  • Isaac – two sons, Jacob and Esau. They didn't get along so well – in fact Jacob ended up leaving so that Esau wouldn't kill him.
  • Jacob – twelve sons and a daughter. The very essence of a dysfunctional family. Some brothers conspire to kill or sell their sibling into slavery.

Well, maybe that's not being fair – after all, I'm just picking a choosing. I could more easily select David. Oh yeah, his son tried to kill him and then there is that whole Bathsheba thing. How about Samson! He and Delilah had a nice relationship – well, maybe not nice in the modern Christian family sense seeing that she betrayed him and everything. Surely there must be some example somewhere of a family that is a model for us in the Bible. Isn't there? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Now to be fair, there are some things we know about parenting in the Bible. We know that Jesus parents let him wander all around Jerusalem without supervision.

So now that I have all the snarkyness out of my system, I can get a bit more serious. As I write this I'm having a hard time figuring out if I really want to write about gender essentialism (restricting the roles of women) or about how to read the Bible (as an instruction manual as opposed to a way to find out about God, us and our relationship.) I think the two are related – if one reads the Bible with a find-the-moral-lesson-in-each-passage mindset then one might come away with a bad case of gender essentialism. If SBTS has come up with some good ideas for how I and my wife can make our home better then perhaps we should BOTH take the class! And rather than call it a "Biblical Model" how about if we see it as advice on this topic from someone who tries live his or her life as a servant of the Lord.