Saturday, February 23, 2008

Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport – Richard Mouw

A week and a half ago I was about to take a trip to San Diego for a conference and knew I was going to carry my computer in it's backpack on the plane. I very much wanted to begin reading Can't Buy Me Love, the new book about the Beatles, which had arrived a few weeks ago but which I have not been able to start. That book, however, is rather thick and, as my computer is quite heavy already, I didn't relish carrying that book on my back through airports. I put that one in my suitcase (which I checked) and I looked for something thinner to take along on the plane with me. I went to the (rather large) pile of books that Laura and I have yet to read and selected Richard Mouw's Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport because it was quite thin and it had the word "airport" in the title so that seemed like an obvious choice. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it so much that I never took my Beatles book out of my suitcase.

Mouw's title refers to a scene in the Paul Schrader movie Hardcore in which a Dutch-American Reformed man from Grand Rapids is asked by a young woman what he believes. His response is that he believes in "tulips," referring to the acronym that has helped many of us remember and organize some of the doctrines that define Calvinist thought. Even though the movie character might have his theological head on straight he doesn't do a very good job of presenting his faith to this young woman. Mouw, however, does a splendid job of presenting the TULIP doctrine and of laying out the five points in a way that helped me think of them anew. While I have known this stuff for a long time Mouw's description is fresh and he brings great insights into how this doctrine fits into today's world.

Where Mouw really shines, though, is in the way he presents Calvinist beliefs as not a closed theology, designed to keep people out but rather as a particular view of scripture which, in his case, has been adjusted and affected by his experiences and by the writings of others. As I got to the end of the book I was reminded of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy. What I liked most about McLarens's book is that he seemed open to learning things about his faith from others – both Christian and non-Christian. Some probably think he goes a little too far in being open to other beliefs. While there were indeed parts of his book that caused me some consternation, I appreciated the spirit in which he wrote, a view that says that he has his beliefs but that he is willing to listen and learn. I believe that what Mouw lays out in his book is a "Generous Calvinism." Mouw isn't ready to compromise his beliefs but he is happy to listen and learn from others. He talks about his "hunches" and what things make him uneasy but does so with a clear love for the Canons of Dordt (a very old document laying out some of the basic tenets of Christian belief from a Calvinist perspective) but also a clear love for his brothers and sisters who don't share his theological perspective. It is this delightful tone which Mouw sets in this book that makes it so enjoyable and helpful. I highly recommend Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport both for Reformed folks who could use a refresher course but also for people who just don't get what Calvinists are really about or who think of Calvinism as a dreadful set of doctrines. Mouw's book is a great place to start a dialogue.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Hard Winter?

Think we're having a tough winter in West Michigan? Here is some data from Weather Underground

Statement as of 6:56 PM EST on February 19, 2008

... Record winter time snowfall set at Grand Rapids...
A record winter (dec through feb) snowfall of 87.6 inches has been
set at Grand Rapids as of 7 PM this evening. The previous record was
85.1 inches set during the winter of 1951-1952.

The record snowfall for February is 35.5 inches set in 1900.
Currently the total snowfall for February in Grand Rapids through 7
PM this evening is 34.3 inches. That puts February 2008 in second
place for the snowiest February on record. Since it is still snowing
at Grand Rapids it is more than possible that by midnight Grand
Rapids will also set the all time record for snowiest February on
record. February 2007 is now in third place with 33.6 inches of
This means that we've had the two worst Februarys in the last 100 years this year and last year. And note that this is only February 19 - we still have a long ways to go before winter is done. Maybe living in Holland and driving to Grand Rapids isn't such a great idea...

[EDIT] As of 7 AM on Feb 20 we broke the record:
... Record February snowfall set at Grand Rapids...

The record snowfall as of yesterday for the month of February is
35.5 inches which was set in 1900. The total snowfall for today is
0.3 inches since midnight.

Grand Rapids has now set the all time record for snowiest February
with 35.6 inches as of 7 am today.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Phil Keaggy – the Master and the Musician Tour at Calvin College – Feb 9, 2008

I'm stuck in the airport in Denver on my way home from the APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators) conference in San Diego so, as long as I'm here for a while (like six hours) I thought I'd write a bit about last weekend – the Phil Keaggy Master and Musician Tour that I attended at Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan – where I'm trying to get back to before the day is over.

It was the second night of the tour and it is a remarkable show. Thirty years ago Phil released his landmark instrumental album The Master and the Musician, an album that has been a favorite of mine since I bought it back in the 70's. To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary he assembled a wonderful set of musicians to recreate the entire album on stage. Ric Hordinski was brought in to play guitar and lead the band, Tom Shiness played guitar and other things, John Sferra was on drums and there was also a flautist, keyboard player and a bass player.

The concert opened with Phil introducing the show by saying that the flute and keyboard player, a married couple, would open with an instrumental piece – an airy moody non-melodic piece to set the tone. Next Tom Shinness played a piece on his harp guitar and then the band came out and began the album. The album is about 50-some minutes long but playing it on stage took longer because there is some chatting between the pieces and some, like "The Agora," "Follow Me Up," and "Mouthpiece" were extended. Almost all the songs were done note-perfect which, frankly, was a little strange. I'm not used to rock musicians trying so hard to perfectly match what is on the recording and it felt a little restricted. That, however, does not mean that I didn't love it. I've been a fan of Phil's for years and his playing was, of course, mind-boggling. The whole band did a great job but I was once again impressed with Ric Hordinski's playing – he drew the short straw on recreating some of the more difficult passages from the album and he did them really well. It was really cool to hear the whole album done this way. Ric said that he cut his teeth on this album as a young player so it was a special treat to have a hand in doing it on stage with Phil. You could tell that the music was challenging but that the band had a great time pulling it off. I got the impression that it went better in Grand Rapids than it did the night before in Cincinnati.

The second set, though, was at least as good and I loved it even more. Phil played some of his classic songs from the 30-year ago era, songs that those of us who have been his fans for decades have loved but haven't heard him play with a band in a VERY long time. He played "Love Broke Thru," "Let Everything Else Go," and "Noah's Song" as well as a couple of more recent songs. He came back for an encore with "Time" and "What A Day." These are the songs that I learned to play on guitar many years ago and still play and sing quite often. I attended the show with my three youngest children, who are 21 and 16 years old, and Meredith, the twenty one year old said "this was like the soundtrack to my childhood." The set was short but it was truly wonderful and that set is among my all time favorite Phil Keaggy experiences. I've heard Phil in concert a lot over the years – something like 20 times – but I've never heard his band sound as good on these songs. Back in the old days when he did these he didn't have a band that nuanced the music like this one did. It really was spectacular.

I had a chance to hear some of the soundcheck and to connect with Phil and Ric a bit and that was a real treat. I've met Ric a couple of times before and it was really great to touch base with him. I've heard him in concert by himself twice now (or maybe three times) and he's worth hearing if you get the chance. Check out his latest recording, The Silence of Everything Yearned For. Wonderful stuff.

So, if the M&M tour is coming to your town make a point of hearing it – it was a great evening.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Another Beatles book?

Another Beatles book? Yes, maybe the best ever. |

This is the second review that I read that said Can't Buy Me Love by Jonathan Gould is perhaps the best Beatles book out there. I recently got it and I'll be reading it soon. It will have to be very very good to beat Bob Spitz' biography of the Beatles (which I write about here among other places.) But, let's face it - the world is big enough for more than one great book about the Beatles so it doesn't have to be a contest. I'm looking forward to reading it.

EDIT: Ron asked for a link to the Amazon site for the book - here it is.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Catching up

I have been doing a lot of listening to music and watching DVDs lately and I haven't commented here about many of them so here is a quick summary of what's been going on.

Beatles – I'm near the end of the standard part of one of my trip-through-the-albums-in-order journeys. I just heard Abbey Road and Let It Be for the second time in my car which means that I will next turn to the two Past Masters CDs and then on to all the special ones like the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, Live at the BBC, the Anthologies, etc. so I still have a lot of listening to do. This trip has reminded me of how much I enjoy this music and of how much I'm ready for remasters – could they be announced today at the superbowl???

The Reminder by Feist – This CD appeared on many end of year best-of lists so I took a chance and ordered it and I'm really enjoying it. The combination of authentic, roots sounding songs and instrumentation with sometimes highly polished production gives the album a vibe that is different from what I'm used to. The best comparison I can make is Norah Jones' second album but that's not really fair to either of them. Leslie Feist's songwriting is unique and her vocals and very nice. Mostly though this is an album that feels authentic in a way that I really like.

A Place to Land by Little Big Town – I'm just getting into this CD but it is high on my playlist right now. Imagine the Eagles of their first four albums with a slightly more 21st century vibe and you get the sound of this band comprised of two men and two women all of whom sing. Sample the album opener "Fine Line" to see what I mean.

Classic Artists: Yes – This three hour documentary (four by the time you're done with the additional interview footage) on DVD is great for fans of the 70's supergroup that keeps coming back for the faithful to see again every once in a while. It follows the twists and turns of the personnel changes with interviews from the vast majority of key players while keeping it lively and interesting. Not much performance footage but I have concerts on DVD of theirs so I really wanted the overview and interviews. It's a fine addition to any Yes fan's collection.

Lost – I watched the season 3 DVD to get myself geared up for season four and it's great, of course. This is one of my all-time favorite shows. I hope the writers strike doesn't screw it up too badly. The first episode of the new season rocked.

Heroes – I'm still watching the first season on DVD. I like it a lot so far.

Upcoming Phil Keaggy concert – Phil's Master and Musician tour is coming to Calvin College next weekend. A friend from PA was trying to fly out to see it but he was unable to make it so I'll go with my kids. I'm pretty pumped about this concert, perhaps the first time Phil has toured with a band other than Glass Harp in over 15 years.

I've also been reading, mostly professional stuff, but I am partway into the Golden Compass and just can't get into it. Maybe I'll give it another shot before I give up completely.