Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas

As you no doubt have noticed, the rush of Christmas is here.

For me, this time of year brings about a dozen special concerts, performances, and worship services, which means additional planning meetings, late-night rehearsals, extra e-mails and phone calls coordinating musicians and their holiday traveling schedules, special music to learn, charts to prepare, and creative components to implement and execute. For most of us there are end-of-the-year meetings and Christmas parties happening almost every night. Some stack on top of that final exams, final papers, and final decisions about next year: classes to register for, budgets to turn in, and resolutions to be made about spending more time with family. We all go Christmas shopping for other people's Christmas lists and still manage to pick up what's needed for our own Christmas decorating for hosting our Christmas meals, all of which is fueled by our favorite Christmas coffee- coffee that requires a deeper (Christmas) mug with each door opened on the Advent calendar- the calendar that reminds us that although Christmas is "only" 7 days away, those 7 days will actually feel like one really long day when it's all said and done, just like October and November did.

But I'll stop there before this makes us even more weary. Here's the advice I'm giving myself, maybe you'll find it helpful too:

It's going to be a crazy week- it will help a lot if you can just accept that now.

These will be loooong days with little sleep. Pour another cup of Santa's White Christmas and smile because pretty soon you'll be on vacation at the beach with a book you've always wanted to read but couldn't because of all the books you had to read. And don't turn your cell phone on silent, that's not even close to good enough. Drop that stupid thing in the junk drawer at home and leave it a million miles behind- along with the notion that you might be "needed" while you're away. No one needs you. Go on vacation and be on vacation.

Finally, although it can't be said without stepping into a cliche, don't forget that super-human productivity is not what you were created for. No matter how many flocks of sheep you're tending right now, so to speak, or how many miles away you may feel, remember that the Light of the World is there in the dark, noisy, and far-too-overcrowded manger of your heart and He wants your worship more than your work.

God, give us grace to put no confidence in the flesh and to be satisfied in your spiritual rest.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pregnancy, 11 Weeks

Here's an update of what our baby looks like this week! It's not our actual ultrasound, but it's representative of what our looks like. No offense, it's just that I'm still a little uncomfortable posting my wife's uterus online for the world to examine.

Our God reigns. Stand in awe of the work of his hands.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Miracle

My wife and I have been praying for over 3 years that the Lord would bless us with a family. Various health complications kept us from being able to get pregnant, and our doctors have been saying that it wouldn't happen without the aid of a miracle drug. Not that there's anything wrong with medicine (and given enough time, we may have considered those alternatives) but something about calling a drug a "miracle" doesn't sit right with me. We chose instead to wait and pray.

Today we're six weeks and five days pregnant. We got the ultrasound done yesterday. The picture above is a baby in the sixth week of development. I didn't have the ability to scan our actual ultrasound picture, so I ripped this one off google images, but it's almost identical to the picture we have on the fridge of our own little less-than-one-centimeter baby. The amazing thing is that even at this early stage, we could clearly see (with the doctor's pointing finger) the little guy's heartbeat (or, maybe girl's heartbeat).

The miracle we want to point to at the end of these seasons of drought isn't a breakthrough in medicine, it's the One who gives and takes away. If our lives, our getting pregnant or not getting pregnant, can somehow point to the real Miracle Maker, then we'll stand in awe of Him and be satisfied.

Medicine's great... but... this is a true miracle.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Evolution is Evolving

Not so long ago, brilliant physicists, mathematicians, astronomers, and biologists were discovering some of the most critical scientific laws of the natural world: universal gravitation, the laws of thermodynamics, planetary motion, and taxonomy- and none of them professed a faith in evolution. In fact, many of them believed in the Creator God of the Bible: Kepler (planetary motion), Pascal (mathematics), Boyle (chemistry), Newton (physics), and Linnaeus (biological taxonomy). Evolution took off just a little over 100 years ago, but these men in the 16/1700's were clearly not at a disadvantage, nor are any of their theories or laws any less relevant today because of the development of this relatively-new faith.

And faith is really what evolution boils down to. A scientific "theory" by definition is something that makes a grand prediction based on evidence that has been tested, repeated, and observed. Despite what evolutionists want you to believe (again, a key word), their own "scientific theory" is far from meeting these most basic scientific requirements. Furthermore, when evolution is used to explain not just the biological world but the big three questions of life (How did I get here? Why am I here? Where am I going?)- particularly these last two- then it is no longer operating in the realm of science but of philosophy. And that's a problem for a lot of really significant reasons.

First of all, that's not what science was ever meant to do. That science is now casting predictions and theories beyond the realm of nature will have dire consequences in the near future (did I just use the word "dire"?). Observing the chemical makeup of a star is one thing; telling us that because the star is 10 billion light years away, we see it, therefore the universe is at least 10 billion years old, therefore the Bible is false, therefore there is no God, therefore... well that's quite a different system from science altogether.

Second, the idea that evolution should explain belief is a contradiction in terms. You don't explain beliefs; that's what makes them beliefs. I can give you astounding evidence for the Creator God of the Bible, but I don't expect that will make you believe (as telling as the evidence is). Belief is not a realm of understanding; it's a matter of faith.

While there's a lot more to say, as I've been trying to sort through this issue lately, the bottom line seems to be this: evolution is not a theory, it's an alternate faith- a faith in a world without God. The faith of evolution gives naturalists (again, a philosophy) a "way out" from the God problem ("God delusion," as leading atheist/evolutionist Richard Dawkins called it). Dawkins is famously quoted saying, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." In other words, science has found a way to explain- intellectually- all the things that centuries of brilliant men (i.e. Newton, Pascal) understood to be acts of a Divine Intellect in a great, foreseeing Creator. In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, he says, "Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myth, and the Genesis story is just the one that happened to have been adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Eastern herders... Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation... The one thing that makes evolution such a neat theory is that it explains how organized complexity can arise out of primeval simplicity." (Dawkins, 450-451)

Evolution is evolving from a scientific theory to an all-encompassing worldview that requires faith in evidences unseen... that sounds a lot like a religion to me, and considering the repercussions of that are a little bit scary.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dr. Gage's Blog

I added a new blog to the sidebar that you might be interested in checking out.  It's a new website by Dr. Warren Gage, one of my professors at Knox.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hope Can Hurt

This was one of those perfect journaling mornings; when I wake up feeling a little melancholy, I get a dose of sunshine from a happy wife's happy greeting, I get in the car and hear the song I carefully cued last night to be the soundtrack for this morning's drive ("Your Love is Strong" by Jon Foreman), and I sing along with a bleary throat and with my tear-filled eyes fixed on the sunrise over my hood.  But, unfortunately, at that moment when I realized "this is a journal morning" it was too late- I had already left it at home.  So, if you don't mind the transparency, I need a journal this morning...

What I didn't tell you about my melancholy morning is that it began with a melancholy evening.  
My good friend (and yours) Dan just got engaged this past weekend to an absolute sweetheart.  Dan and his fiance were here in town last night to celebrate with family, so I was honored with a chance to see them for the first time in a while.  You know those friends who leave and then come back- when you're hanging out, it's like they never left.  Talking and laughing is just so... normal... and right.  Everything's back in place it seems, and for a while you forget what life was like missing him, if only for a couple hours at his engagement party.  

At one point I went to the restroom (don't worry, the rest of this sentence won't be so creepy) and had a sort of deja vu/reflective moment (okay, maybe that's creepy afterall).  But the point is that I closed the door to the restroom and suddenly remembered being 13, closing that very bathroom door for the first time.  The familiar loud creaks of the wood floors, the nostalgic smell of the house, and the voices of my "family" in the other room.  It's not my home.  But it felt like home to me.  

Returning to the party and seeing Dan there, I half expected to be returning to a game of Mario Cart or continuing the ongoing game, "Dan do the raptor!"  But the "grown up" Dan is laughing with his bride-to-be... and I couldn't be happier for him.  

As it came time to say goodnight, the happy forgetfulness of what life was like without him slowly began to drop like a smile.  As I made the rounds of hugs and handshakes and walked out to my car, I felt like a kid running away from home.  Like I had to make a purposeful choice to tear the normalcy from my own grip and leave it behind for the sake of the call forward.  I guess it's not that unlike ministry, or any area of calling; I want to feel safe like I'm home and never take another risk.  But God's not finished with Dan and Christina in CA yet- and he's not done teaching me perseverance yet either.  So, for the sake of that call forward, we said goodbye.

There's a certain hope in melancholy days.  I can't speak for others, but it always seems to rear its head in the midst of the happiest times, like my good friend Dan's visit home.  It's not sadness; it's painful hope for what's to come.  

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Peculiar People

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9 (KJV)

The word "peculiar" here probably means, "set apart" or "particular" people- those who are God's own. But I find that our contemporary meaning rings true as well: God's people are peculiar; as in, "strange" and "unusual" people- especially when they're praising Him.

This is a topic close to my heart, and something I've wanted to write about for a while but haven't made the time. As a worship leader, I know perhaps better than many how "peculiar" God's Church can be when they "show forth [His] praises."

Every evangelical church that I've led worship in, no matter how big or small, how charismatic or traditional, how old or young- every church seems to have the same un-usual suspects:
  • There's the stoic gentleman who usually sits off to one side (rarely in the center section, unless it's on the extreme aisle). His job is to examine everything that's done in the service through a theological or philosophical lens and ask "why" questions after the service.
  • There's the pact of senior citizens who, bless their hearts, just want to see and hear something familiar. They sit together in the back (so the music won't hurt their ears) and center (so they can see the pastor).
  • There's the high school student who was dragged out of bed five minutes before the service started. He and his family sit in the back and off to one side because they're usually late.
  • There's the charismatic hand-raiser and somewhere behind him/her is the reluctant hand-raiser. The first chord hits and the charismatic's hands are in the air ready to praise God while the reluctant hand-raiser begins to break out into a cold sweat as he prepares to overcome his fear and raise his hands- a warm-up process that will take 2-3 songs.
  • The girl who dreams of being a pop star and styles everything she sings with Mariah Carey trills and slides.
  • The compulsive harmony-singer. Usually this is a girl, but I've known some guys too. They love harmonies so much they'll add them even when they don't belong.
  • There's the defiant man or woman who disproves of "contemporary" music and so makes that known by crossing his/her arms, stares daggers at the leader, and refuses to sing. For some reason (to make a statement?), nine times out of ten this person sits front and center.
  • There are the sing-loud-and-proud-even-though-I'm-tone-deaf people who are distributed equally throughout the room (and we love them for it).
  • The weepy worshiper. This person wears his/her heart on their sleeve and sings through tears each and every Sunday, blotting his/her eyes during instrumental breaks.
  • The opera-trained worshiper. They come in both male and female, but they could be a block away and still out-sing everyone else in the room (including the people on microphones). When there are hymnals involved, their eyes are glued to the page as they perfectly execute the four-part harmony written for them.
  • There's the sincerely broken and hurting person who's just lost a loved one, has had a hard run in life, or is otherwise downcast. They cry in worship not because they're a weepy person, but because it's the first feeling of comfort, safety, and hope they've felt all week.
  • There's the family with young kids who struggle to make it to church on time because of the mile-long "kid checklist" they had to accomplish on their way out the door (everyone's brushed, fed, wearing all items of clothing in the appropriate places, etc). Their singing is faint and tired because they feel like shipwreck survivors before church even begins.
  • The junior high love birds, holding hands during church. They don't hear a thing all day... but they're there and sometimes their lips are moving to the lyrics.
  • The sign language lady. This is sometimes a man, and almost always a charismatic congregation, but this non-deaf person worships with their hands, signing every word as they sing, much to the fascination of everyone within eye-shot.
  • There's the gigging musician in the congregation who thinks about issues related to showmanship, sound engineering, and production during worship. He's the guy who sits halfway back and worships while he watches like a hawk every chord the leader plays on the guitar.
  • There's the lovable but strange guy who is so awkward in worship that he often makes a scene during the music portion of the service (but those who know him don't even notice after a while). He has a deep love for the Lord and a big heart, just no self-awareness.
  • There's the comatose worshiper (who is easily confused with the meditative worshiper, below) who looks like he's about 3 seconds away from death. He either doesn't sleep on Saturday nights or he has the personality of a wall. Tip for worship leaders: nothing you can say or do will shake this guy up, so it's best just to leave him alone.
  • The meditative worshiper is the guy (or girl) who stands perfectly still with his eyes and mouth shut; he looks like he's asleep but you know his heart is meditating on the Lord by the occasional eyebrow furrow (he's thinking, not sleeping).
  • The worship leaders in the room are basically a conglomeration of all of the above. Ironically, we're probably the worst people to have to lead in worship because we're aware of all of these things going on around us (which you can imagine makes it a little hard to focus).
Peculiar people is an understatement! Church is full of crazy people who express worship to God in such bizarre and diverse ways. It's a cacophony of sounds and personalities; a melting pot of expressions and style... but... it... is... beautiful.

I've tried to quit worship ministry twice in my life (the grass is greener; pride; tired of confrontation and other reasons typical to ministers). Both times the Lord gently broke my pride and called me back, but do you know what He used both times to bring me to that place of breaking?

Take a look:
video

That's 1,000 voices singing to God Almighty, in all of their peculiar ways, with all their quirks and craziness- brokenness and all- opera singers, harmony singers, tone deaf singers, and all the rest. God used that very sound- the sound of his children worshiping- to break me and affirm my calling to this ministry. It's beautiful. There's no other sound like it, and I pray I live and die with its echo in my ears.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bon Iver

It's been a while since I've written a legitimate blog post. And there are at least a half dozen things I'm waiting for time to write about, but this one will be quick...

A new (at least to me) underground/indie artist caught my ear this morning. His name is Bon Iver. If you're a fan of mello acoustic guitar, raw, imperfect but soulful indie artists (perhaps in the Glen Hansard vein), Bon Iver might be your man. Check out the two songs on his myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/boniver
and see if you agree.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Steve Martin and Michael Caine co-star in this classic comedy about two con artists who schmooze wealthy and corrupt women in order to take them for all they're worth. Each have separately made a fine living off of stolen pearls, cars, and cash, but when both cons begin to prowl in the same French Riviera, fierce competition and hysterical comedy ensues.

The ever-so proper Lawrence Jamieson (Caine), is a master of con artistry. He has no time for chasing smaller victims; his eyes are roaming for extremely wealthy and wounded prey. When he finds such a woman, he plays on her compassions, telling her that he is a prince from an impoverished country and only- say $50,000- will save his people. In tears of sympathy, the woman gladly serves the greater good and helps his cause. Now $50,000 richer, Lawrence simply picks up and moves on to the next town.

Freddy Benson is in the same line of work, but is far less suave. He's more a hustler than an "artist." He's satisfied, for a while, with smaller game- a free dinner here, $20 there; but when chance leads him to the same wealthy town as Lawrence Jamieson and he sees the British con-artist making 10's of thousands of dollars, his appetite changes.

Knowing that Lawrence is the far superior con, Freddy asks him to be his mentor. Lawrence, unhappy with the new competition for his turf, decides to take Freddy under his wing with the secret ploy to drive Freddy away to greener pastures. "Perhaps," Lawrence thinks, "the best way to rid myself of this nuisance is to bring him closer." And so the training begins. Freddy learns to slick his hair back; to glide in his walk; to suavely tuck one hand in his coat pocket while the other hand raises a glass of champagne to the sapphire moon... And again, comedy ensues....

But sooner than later, it becomes clear to Freddy that Lawrence is taking advantage and not treating him with fairness. When working a "victim" together, Lawrence schmoozes the lady while Freddy is forced to play the mental monkey-brother, Ruprecht (see youtube clip on sidebar).







So, their feud will be resolved, the two decide, by a not-so-friendly competition: after agreeing on a woman, both will go to work trying to win her affections (and her wallet) while pretending not to know each other. Whoever gets her will be declared the winner. Freddy approaches their target as a paraplegic war vet who's grandmother is on her death bed and in need of surgery money. Lawrence, playing along, becomes the renowned German psychiatrist who alone can cure Freddy of his disorder, emphatically stating that Freddy's is a psychosomatic, not neurological, paralysis. So a battle of wits begins as the two cons try to out-con each other in order to win the prize.

(Warning: the next paragraph will spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it and plan to)
After continually upping the stakes and nearly destroying each other, the two cons arrive separately at the same airport where the woman has fled. Both come with a different story about why the woman they've been chasing is now getting on a plane and about to take off. By the time the two cons realize that the woman they were chasing had been playing them from minute one, the plane was already in the air. She had spun them around to dizziness and proved to be the better con.

It's a great comedy with a surprising twist (well, now that I spoiled it, maybe not so much). But it's definitely a classic 80's movie in my book- well worth owning on DVD.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Ted: "Bill?"
Bill: "What?"
Ted: "Strange things are afoot at the Circle K."

I watched this movie religiously as a kid. It became the first movie of my young life that I could quote from beginning to end without missing a beat. In fact, I even learned how to play most of the soundtrack on the guitar. That's how much I loved this movie.

In 1988, Bill S. Preston "Esquire" and Ted Theodore Logan are dim-witted students at San Dimas High School whose only dream is to have a most triumphant rock band ("Wild Stallions"). But the band is going nowhere because, while they practice a lot, neither of them actually know how to play an instrument. And as for their high school career, they are destined to "flunk most heinously" unless they get an A+ on their oral History report. If they flunk out of school, Ted's father will send him to Alaska for military school, which would be the end of the band- and, as it turns out, the end of world civilization as we know it today in 2688.

While Bill and Ted are still contemplating the most "non-triumphant" possibility of flunking out of school and losing their band, Rufus (2688/present day) is getting into a time-traveling phone booth to begin his journey back to 1988. There he will help Bill and Ted get an A+ on their report and thus save the world as he knows it. If the band falls apart, the basis of their whole culture in 2688 will be lost (perhaps similar to America without the historical influence of Greece).

Only hours before their report, Bill and Ted travel back in time to capture "personages of historical significance," including Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Billy the Kid, and Socrates (pronounced "Soh-craytes"). Each of these figures from history speak in Bill and Ted's oral report, earning them an A+ and a second chance to make their own history through the music of Wild Stallions.

It's a ridiculous movie even in its day, but it's good fun nonetheless.

Next up: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Party on, dudes...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Money Pit

I had never seen this movie before but it was recommended as an 80's movie I should add to my list.

It's about a guy and his girlfriend trying to settle down into a new house, but the house they buy has problem after problem (thus the house is called a "money pit"). I thought the plot was promising, especially being a relatively new home owner myself and understanding the woes of home maintenance. And it was mildly entertaining and somewhat funny in parts... But in the end, it's just a dumb movie.

It's really not worth much more discussion...

Next up: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wargames

Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy star in this 1983 classic about a computer wiz and his girlfriend who accidentally nearly start World War III.

David (Broderick) is an underachiever in school but brilliant with computers. He hacks his high school database to change his F's to A's; he hot wires phone booths to bypass the need for quarters; David does not wait until next spring to play the newest games, he hacks into the game programmer's computers and plays them before they're publicly released.

The trouble begins when David is scanning (hacking) random computers in search of new games and stumbles upon one system with a whole list of password-protected tactical war games. After some research, he finally cracks into the system and chooses to play one of the games on the list: "Global Thermonuclear War." David and his girlfriend Jennifer (Sheedy) laugh innocently as they play, launching missiles from the Soviet Union to the U.S. and moving submarines and jet fighters into attack formation around Los Angeles and Seattle.

But as it turns out, the game they hacked was not a game; it is a sophisticated war simulation program of NORAD's supercomputer/defense system. Meanwhile (in real life), believing the nation to be under heavy nuclear attack, the U.S. Department of Defense prepares its nuclear arsenal to respond in kind.

Soon realizing the Pandora's box he's opened, David attempts to shut the game down but to no avail. The "game" simulation he started is designed to play out war strategies, learn from its tactical mistakes, and play until it wins. In this case, winning means the annihilation of the U.S.

And so a battle of wits and a race against the clock begins: David must escape FBI custody long enough to stop the computer and convince the General not to return missile fire on Russia and begin WWIII.

My synopsis has massive holes, but it really is a clever movie- sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Well worth the price of admission when it comes back to theaters in August for a 25-year anniversary showing.

Next up: "The Money Pit"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big

Awkward adolescent Josh Baskin wants to impress the popular girl, Cynthia, at a carnival and so bravely attempts to join her on a thrill ride there. Unfortunately, his short stature forbids him entry, according to the “must be this tall to ride” sign. Defeated, and on a whim, Josh places a quarter in the nearby wish-granting "Zoltar" machine and wishes to be big. Amazingly, his wish is granted...

Suddenly, 13-year old Josh (David Moscow) is transplanted into a 30-year old body (Tom Hanks). Now living life as an adult, Josh must get a job, pay for an apartment, and make new friends- most of all in the arms of corporate-ladder-climbing Susan, an unhappy middle-aged woman who finds her own “inner child,” so to speak, in a relationship with him. Josh finds success as a toy designer (naturally) and finds equal success as a lover. But ultimately, with the help of childhood best friend Billy, Josh remembers that the adult life and the ladder he's climbed is just a convenient lie and that his real place is home, playing stick ball, riding bikes and singing “shimmy shimmy coco puff” with his buddies. Once again at the Zoltar machine, his wish is granted: “I want to be a kid again.” The transformation takes place as he walks down the street toward home- all to the swelling accompaniment of strings. A touching ending to this fantastic story.

Tom Hanks is brilliant, the writing is fantastic, the music will make you want to cry, the message is profound... Remembering my disclaimer, I must say this is one of the GREAT movies of our generation. If it's been a while, you really should watch it again.

Next up: Wargames.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Karate Kid

This being the first of several entries about my Summer of 80’s Movies, let me first disclaim whatever I may say with the admission that I have little to no authority when it comes to what classifies a good or a bad 80’s movie. Besides, that’s not the goal. I mean, I was only 2 when The Karate Kid first hit the big screen and 12 when I first became a fan of the trilogy; what could I possibly say except I remember watching these movies religiously when I was a kid and I loved them.

Part 1 is the coming-of-age story of Daniel Larusso, a Jersey teen who moves to the suburbs of California and meets the elderly Mr. Miyagi, his apartment’s maintenance man and, as it turns out, karate master. The story is about how Daniel overcomes the hateful rage of his bullying classmates with a defense of honor (which requires a swift kick to his opponent’s face called the “crane” technique). Elizabeth Shue plays Daniel’s “flame” as it were, but “Johnny,” Cobra Kai Dojo’s top student and Shue’s x-boyfriend, stands between them. The drama climaxes at a karate tournament where honor overcomes revenge (Daniel son lands a peaceful front kick to Johnny’s nose and is thus crowned champion).

In Part 2, Mr. Miyagi receives a letter informing him that his father is gravely ill. Daniel, being Miyagi’s closest friend, goes with him to Okinawa to lend support in his time of mourning. While in Okinawa, Miyagi faces his past: a woman whom he had loved and those who had stood between them decades ago. Meanwhile, Daniel falls in love with a girl and spends the better part of the movie defending her honor. In the final fight-to-the-death scene, Daniel defends her, defeating the vengeful foe with a honk of the nose (as Miyagi modeled at the beginning of the film). In my opinion, Karate Kid’s Part 2 is typical of most part 2’s: a waste of time except as a bridge between outstanding parts 1 and 3.

Part 3 was always my favorite as a kid. Daniel and Miyagi return from Okinawa only to find their apartment complex has been sold, leaving Miyagi without a job and both without a place to live. As the two are getting started on a new life selling bonsai trees, John Creasy (the bad guy from part 1) wants revenge and calls in a favor from friend and fellow karate superstar, Mr. Silver of the Cobra Kai Dojo, to destroy Miyagi and his naive student. Mr. Silver comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, deceiving the appetative Daniel into leaving the more passive method of Mr. Miyagi (who refused to train him for a tournament) for his own more aggressive fighting method. Of course a new girl is introduced, one who knows better of Daniel, even when he loses his way. Together, she and Miyagi try to remind Daniel of who he is, but he's caught hook line and sinker by what his new pal has empowered him to be. At a turning point, Daniel realizes his mistake and tries to leave Silver’s dojo but finds himself in the middle of a fight against three Cobra Kai masters. But don’t worry: the 180-year old Miyagi comes and beats them all into submission and then agrees to train Daniel son for the tournament. In the end, Daniel wins by a take-down/punch combo and the crowd goes wild (after having his rear handed to him for 12 rounds).

The perfect start to the Summer of 80’s Movies, I must say.

I leave you with a quote from Mr. Miyagi: “For person with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death.” Think on that, friends... Think on that...

Next up: Tom Hanks in "Big."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer of 80's Movies

If you were tuned into this blog last summer, you may remember our exploration of the world of classic rock in "Summer School of Rock." This summer, I'd like to do something a little different.

That's why I'm declaring this the "Summer of 80's Movies." The goal is simple: pop some popcorn, watch as many 80's movies as possible in the next month, blog about them, and hear your comments. And of course movies are more fun with friends, so you are more than welcome to pull up a chair and watch them with me if you're so inclined.

I was born in 1982, so I only vaguely remember a handful of 80's movies from my childhood. That means that I need your help in choosing a movie list. I will do my best to get through them all this summer, but I'm sure there will always be more movies than time. They don't all have to be "classics" either, just reminiscent of that era.

Here's the list so far:
1. Back to the Future (trilogy)
2. Goonies
3. Summer School
4. Stand by Me
5. The Karate Kid (trilogy)
6. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
7. Ghostbusters, Part I
8. Big
9. The Money Pit
10. Wargames (which I saw is making a 25-year anniversary appearance in theaters soon, parenthetically)

Just post your suggestions and I'll get started this weekend.
First up: Karate Kid, parts 1, 2, & 3.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Running to Stand Still" : "I Am Still Running"



















There have been times as a songwriter when I have inadvertently "written" a song that's already been written. It may be a song I heard months ago, one time, forgot about, and then watched it subconsciously re-surface through my own pen. I innocently call the song my own, but really it's someone else's idea regurgitated.

But there have been other occasions when I've purposefully modeled my writing after a song I admire, or even written a creative "response" to that song. This is common practice among contemporary poets- reflecting and reacting to each others work in writing, and to a lesser extent this is true of music as well, but the majority of mainstream musicians are too self-centered to notice other artists' words, much less learn from them or pose an intelligent response.

In both cases above, I take a great song, chew on it, and spit it back out with my own pen. In one case accidentally; in the other, on purpose.

I have a theory that I need your help testing. In order to do so, you'll need to download "I Am Still Running" by Jon Foreman (it's well worth it, I give you my personal money-back guarantee). You'll also need "Running to Stand Still" from U2's Joshua Tree, but I assume you already have at least one copy of that on your shelf.

Whether accidentally or purposefully, subconsciously or artistically, Jon Foreman has re-written U2's classic "Running to Stand Still." The idea first struck me on the way to lunch this afternoon, listening to Jon Foreman's song from his new "Winter" EP. Testing my hypothesis, I repeatedly swapped CD's from Jon Foreman to Joshua Tree; Joshua Tree to Jon Foreman, back and forth and back and forth. What caught my ear? Well, below are the reasons why I believe Jon Foreman has purposefully (not accidentally) written a contrapuntal response to U2's "Running to Stand Still."

Beginning with the surface issues, then digging deeper as we go:
1. The title. "Running to Stand Still" and "I Am Still Running." A play on words? Still (motion)/still (time)? There's a striking similarity in the title, and even more striking counterpoint; to me, the titles suggest the same truth in harmonic perspectives: sinful addiction raging for escape on a "steam train" of deliverance (running from sin, but standing still), and addiction still hoping in a deliverer (still running from sin, or perhaps, standing still in "open arms"). Remember that musical term "counterpoint" (two or more melodies harmonically intended to be played at the same time)- it will be important again later...

2. Jon Foreman, as you know, is the lead singer and principle songwriter for Switchfoot. Bono has already been popularly referenced in their song "Gone" ("Hey Bono, I'm glad you asked- life is still worth living...") and Jon names U2 as one of his top two influences (second only to Elliot Smith). We know that Jon Foreman has been influenced by the Joshua Tree album, so it's not hard to believe that he may have admired and modeled his song after "Running to Stand Still."

(Digging deeper into musical analysis):

3. Both are in the key of D major.

4. Both employ a slow, driving train feel.

5. Not only are both in the key of D, both follow an almost identical chord pattern: I - IV in the verse and chorus; I - IV - bVII in the bridge (which is not common in pop music). U2 adds a V chord, which is mysteriously missing from "I Am Still Running" until the end of the bridge. Also, Jon Foreman adds a ii chord, which is not found anywhere in "Running to Stand Still." Nonetheless, the principle chords are identical.

6. Both are track 5 on their respective albums. Coincidence? I remember reading an article a long time ago about artists who purposefully place important (or favorite) songs on a certain track number with every CD they release. I'm not suggesting importance in this case as much as the intentionality and care artists and producers take in selecting a track order. While I'm willing to consider that the Jon Foreman/U2/track 5 case is a coincidence, it's not possible that these songs just landed in this order accidentally. It's a carefully considered process. Oh, and by the way, Jon Foreman was also the producer of his album (which means he got the final say on track order).

7. Both use a Dobro (a kind of steel guitar played with a slide). Not significant proof at first consideration, but when you listen you'll understand how they're played in a similar way. Melancholy, longing, cold, rain... these are images evoked by the Dobro. Lots of songs out there have slide guitars in the mix, but in this case the technique was so similar to Joshua Tree that it was the first trigger of this whole theory (the first thing that made me pause the CD and say, "hey, I've heard that before...").

(Digging deeper: this is where it gets a little scary, honestly):

8. Conducting both songs in a slow 4/4 pattern, you'll notice something fascinating in measures 7 and 8:
"Maybe run from the darkness in the night" (U2)
"I am still running" (Jon Foreman)
What this means: if you were able to play these songs at the same tempo simultaneously, they would match textually (remembering, of course, that they would also match in key and chord structure). In other words, if I were to run these two songs through ProTools, equalize their tempos and play them together, they would (in theory, and as their titles further suggest) be contrapuntal (two songs in perfect "counterpoint" designed to be played together).

There are other less reliable observations related to the EP as a whole that make me believe it has a strong Joshua Tree influence, but I'll let you decide based on the evidence above. Am I hyper-analyzing this? Or is it possible that Jon Foreman wanted to make a subtle but profound statement: In 1987, Bono said we are running to stand still; I remember how I was running then, at "17 years young," and "I am still running" today.

Amazingly, I have an opportunity to meet (and possibly sit down and chat with) Jon Foreman in a few weeks at my annual songwriter's conference in Colorado. If I can work up the gall, I want to ask him for the truth on this. To me, the design is just too intelligent to have been an accident.

"I Am Still Running"

You remember me before I learned to run
At the kissing tree before I learned my guns
We were 17, 17 years young
I am still running, I am still running

I had no idea the pain would be this strong
I had no idea the fight would last this long
In my darkest fears the rights become the wrongs
I am still running, I am still running
I am still running I am still running

Build me a home inside your scars
Build me a home inside your song
Build me a home inside your open arms
The only place I ever will belong

I am still running, I am still running
I am still running, I am still running


"Running to Stand Still"

And so she woke up, woke up from where she was lying still
Said I got to do something about where we're goin'
Step on a steam train, step out of the driving rain
Maybe run from the darkness in the night

Singing ha la la la de day
Singing ha la la la de day

Sweet the sin, But the bitter taste in my mouth
I see seven towers but I only see one way out
You got to cry without weeping, talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice,

You know I took the poison, from the poison stream
Then I floated out of here

Singing ha la la la de day
Singing ha la la la de day

She runs through the streets with eyes painted red
Under a black belly of cloud in the rain
In through a doorway she brings me
White gold and pearls stolen from the sea
She is raging
She is raging and a storm blows up in her eyes
She will suffer the needle chill
She's running to stand still

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Disney Vacation 2008

Julie and I just got back from six days in Disney- a quick but refreshing vacation. Every summer we make it a point to get away to "the happiest place on earth," and this year may have topped them all.

We spent the whole day Wednesday at Epcot and never once felt tired. In fact, after the fireworks we were disappointed to leave. Normally standing in 100 degrees with 4 million other people is enough to knock us out cold after only 5 hours; in the past, we've always left after lunch and come back later for the fireworks. So it's sort of amazing that this is the first year when we were there from 9:00am to 9:30pm, riding all the rides, seeing all the countries, shopping in all the stores, eating like pigs (I speak for myself)... and still wanted more when the day was over.

Epcot wasn't all we did in Orlando; one of our favorite hang-outs is Downtown Disney. It's a way we can get more Disney "magic" (as Julie would put it) without the price tag of park admission. If you've never been, you should check it out next time you're in Orlando. There's a huge Virgin Records store I look forward to visiting every summer. Most years I'm lucky to escape with less than $80 in new music, but this time I only bought Jon Foreman's Fall and WinterEP's and a gift for my brother's birthday (P.S. You must get Jon Foreman's EP's... more on that another time). There's also an AMC movie theater, which we visited three times during our short trip: Wall-E (Excellent), Hancock (Very Fun), and Wanted (not suitable for you kids, but adults who liked the twists of Fight Club and the special effects of The Matrix will probably enjoy this one too).

Another of our favorite haunts is Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk at Disney's Beach & Yacht Club Resort. Jellyrolls is a dueling pianos hall that has become a hot spot of annual tradition. Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane" is always our one and only request. (See video clip here)

video
(We weren't allowed to use video cameras, so I was only able to sneak a few seconds, but you kinda' get the idea)

I could go on and on (there was also pool-side tanning, movies in bed, lots of sleeping in,
shopping, eating out, fireworks every night, the hotel arcade, and other sites and attractions like City Walk and Celebration).

I had to at least give a brief report of the trip and upload a couple pictures before I felt like I could sleep tonight. If you happen to be interested in more photos from our trip, I've added a new album on facebook titled "Disney Vacation 2008."

See you real soon,
Ryan

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Observations of a Convertible Life, Pt. 2

I smelled something funny driving home yesterday.
The smell of something burning under the hood...











































Follow this logic with me:

Ryan drives his in-law's convertible for one week

+

Convertible overheats and smokes like Vesuvius

+

Ryan has a nightmare that the car burst into flames Clark Griswald-style

=

Ryan returns convertible to in-laws driveway, pouring water into the radiator every 2 miles



And now... we wait...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Observations of a Convertible Life

Follow this logic with me:
Ryan's in-laws own a Sebring Convertible

+

Ryan owns a... not a convertible

+

Ryan's in-laws left the country (and their convertible in their driveway) for 2 weeks

=


(Scroll Down)
































Don't worry, I learned a sweet odometer trick from Ferris Bueller... they'll never know.

So I boosted the car on Wednesday night and have been driving it everywhere since. Already I've observed much that is new and different about the convertible life. And the first of those observations was just that- that driving a convertible is a lifestyle, not just a car. It doesn't matter if it's an old man Sebring or a chick-magnet Corvette; what matters is the top is down and the scope of the world around you is suddenly larger than life. With that, I give you my observations of what life is like behind the wheel of a convertible:

1. I am suddenly self-conscious about everything from the volume of my music to how long I linger when I examine my nose in the rear-view. I'm like a fish in a fishbowl.

2. I am, accordingly, growing a sizable ego as I irrationally imagine myself to be on everyone's mind at all times.

3. It's louder than a rock concert when you're driving 70 mph next to a semi-truck hauling metal trusses on I-95.

4. Consequently, the max volume of your radio must be capable of shattering the windows of nearby buildings.

5. South Florida is hotter than it looked from the air conditioned cab of my Saturn.

6. "The wind in your hair" really is a credible expression of elation. I find myself frequently laying my head back on the headrest and taking deep, contented sighs.

7. When taking said deep, contented sighs, breathe through your mouth. The smell of exhaust will eventually make you throw up.

8. In my typical closed-in, selfish hurry, I forget that there's a sky with massive and glorious clouds above me that remind me how small I am and how big God is. It's no longer stressful sitting at a red light; it's devotional time with the Lord. Makes me wish I had looked up from the red lights more often in life, but that's another (more brooding) blog topic for another time...

9. Those little pebbles of rock that big trucks kick up hurt when they miss the windshield and hit you in the side of the face.

10. Somehow the open air makes me want to drive even faster than I normally do. It's probably because 40 mph feels like 70. 70 feels like 100...

11. 100 feels like 130. 130 feels like 150. 150 feels like...

12. Now you can kill two birds with one stone: commute to work, work on your tan.

13. You can listen in on everyone else's order at the Starbuck's drive thru (which doesn't sound all that amusing, but trust me, it is).

14. To reach the little transport tube at the bank drive thru, I've found it's far easier to lean over the door of a convertible than to squeeze through the window of an ordinary car. Some say pull up closer; I say get a convertible.

15. When the top is down, you can't talk to a friend on your cell phone but you can talk with every bum, newspaper guy, and flower salesman who approaches your car. You have no choice in this matter.

11 more days until I have to return the car... See you on the road.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A New Critique

I wrote my first critique of "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends," Coldplay's new album, far too soon. Now that I've had two weeks to live with the CD, I'd like to try again.

The CD opens with "Life in Technicolor," beginning with an ethereal sample reminiscent of U2's opening track of Joshua Tree, "Where the Streets Have No Name": Fade in, organ, electric guitar with delay effects, and then gradually layering other instruments and sounds. This first track acts as an epic instrumental introduction to the second track, "Cemeteries of London." This same sample will be repeated at the end of the final track, so if you happen to have the CD on repeat, it will play from end to beginning almost seamlessly.

Something else I found interesting: you may notice more U2 influence than ever before in Coldplay's new songs. There are at least a dozen moments in this CD that are patently U2. As it turns out, when Coldplay set out to make a new record with a new sound, the legendary producer Brian Eno answered the call. Rolling Stone reports that Eno, whom we know as the co-producer behind Joshua Tree, wouldn't allow Coldplay to revert back to their old tricks in the production of this record (tricks like singing in falsetto on every song, for example). His influence makes this the most unique Coldplay CD to-date.

The second track, "Cemeteries of London," lays a sort of Middle-Eastern/Jewish riff over an Irish rhythm for an interesting sound. Eclectic as it may seem, it's all tied together with Coldplay's signature guitar tone and Martin's vocals. You may also notice a heartbeat at the beginning of the track (perhaps to signify life and death, the grand theme of the album). I have yet to find its counterpoint later in the album, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere. I love the piano tag at the end.

Track 3, "Lost!" is reminiscent of X&Y, even using the same organ patch as heard in "Fix You." Nevertheless, it's catchy and easy to nod your head to. I applaud the producer, or writer or whoever said, "no, no, don't use that chord, use this one" in this song. They substitute less common chords for what would have otherwise been a very conventional vi-IV-I-V pattern. Instead of returning to I, they use a iii chord in its place, building tension through the verse which finally resolves to I in the chorus. Their choice of chords and leading tones is just outside the box enough to make a simple idea new and interesting.

Track 4, "42" begins as an eerie, drug-hazed, Beatles-reminiscent ballad only to break out in a wicked drum beat around 1:35 (4/4, accents on 2 and the & of 4), and then transition to a happy pop song around 2:45, only to return to the same, somber place in which it began. It may still grow on me, but for now I stand by my first impression: "weird" and "schizophrenic." I understand why they did it (to portray the dead/living message of the song), but it's my least favorite song on the album.

Track 5, on the other hand, is one of my favorites (second only to "Violet Hill"). In counterpoint to "Lost!", "Lovers in Japan"
does employ the conventional vi-IV-I-V pattern in the chorus, but it's worked for millions of hits before- why not now? A hammered dulcimer and pulsing kick drum provide the rhythmic backbone for the more fluid ambiance typical of Coldplay (and Brian Eno, for that matter). At 3:57 a whole new idea begins, which to me adds to the duel nature of the album. They really have fifteen tracks on this CD not ten because several tracks introduce multiple ideas that could have been stand-alone songs. I suppose this schizophrenia is meant to subconsciously present the listener with a choice between living the life (vida la vida) and "death and all his friends," as the title prompts.

Track 6, "Yes," is moody and driving. It was on this track when I first thought, "this CD might have been a little
over-produced," but it's such a cool song I can hardly complain. The strings that had been lying low to this point on the album take a more central focus on this track, again employing some Middle-Eastern modes. "Yes" also breaks off to a whole new idea at 4:05, which again struck me as strange and unnecessary.

Track 7, "Viva la Vida" is the title track and first hit single. It's a great representation of the whole album, really; the strings are in full force, it's got the kick-drum drive (heartbeat) prominent throughout the record, and some "oo's and ahh's" over ethereal samples that is both typical Coldplay and representative of a reformed approach in production.

Track 8, "Violet Hill." I may get some flack for this from some of you avid Coldplay fans, but I have decided that "Violet Hill" is Coldplay's best song to-date. And that's all I have to say about that for now.

Track 9, "Strawberry Swing" is like its title suggests, lilting and fun. To me, it's like The Beatles meets Phil Collins somehow. Still, you can't help but wish you were in a convertible singing this song back to a sunny blue sky. I make a beach mix every couple years... Strawberry Swing will definitely be on the next one. The song ends with an Edge-esque guitar riff.

Track 10, "Death and All His Friends" can be broken down to three sections: 1. A quiet piano ballad, "so come over, just be patient and don't worry," 2. a borderline cheesy pop instrumental break followed by a great line, "I don't want a cycle of recycled revenge; I don't want to follow death and all of his friends," and 3. the repeated sample from track one, this time with the impressive addition of vocals. 3:30 to the end is what the whole CD seems to have been gesturing towards; it is the defining moment of the whole album. "In the end, we'll lie awake and we'll dream of making our escape."

Schizophrenic as it may seem, I am greatly impressed by the various colors and contrasts Coldplay employs to create a CD that's more than just a collection of songs, but one narration of an epic story. It starts and ends in the same minimalistic sample/cycle, revealing the circle of "recycled revenge" that is clearly at the heart of the record (the history of war and mistakes we are bound to repeat if we don't learn). Death's voice is in the sorrowful, tension-filled chords of songs like "42" and "Yes"; Life's voice is in the heartbeat-pulse of kickdrums like in "Lovers in Japan" and "Strawberry Swing." Somehow the clash of these two forces reverberates in the sympathetic strings of violins, cellos, and electric guitars.

The album is a goldmine of artistic expression with many layers yet to be discovered, I'm sure. I give it an A-, counting only the cheesy drum beat from 1:50-2:15 of track 10 and the album's generally-meandering ideas against it.

P.S. I love the album cover, a French painting from the Romantic era by Eugene Delacroix.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cults

I'm taking a class this summer called "Theology of the Cults." Our primary text is published by the Nicene Counsel
(http://www.nicenecounsel.com/)
titled Confronting the Cults by Gordon R. Lewis.

There are many "secular" definitions of what classifies a cult, unfortunately many are so broad that they would include (by definition) loyalists to political figures, fans of the Braves, followers of any philosophical thought, and Christians. Lewis defines the term "cult" as "a religious group which claims authorization by Christ and the Bible but neglects or distorts the gospel, the central message of the Savior and the Scripture."

In order to bring further clarity to the issue of classification, another publication of the Nicene Counsel, a DVD entitled "The Marks of a Cult," says to simply remember the four basic symbols of arithmetic: A group may be classified as a cult if it: (+ - x /)
+ Adds to the 66 books of the Bible by words or personal interpretations.
- Subtracts from the deity or the Persons of the godhead.
x Multiplies works to the already-finished works of the Lord Jesus for salvation.
/ (couldn't find a division symbol) Divides the loyalty of their followers between God and their organization.

The cults specifically addressed in the book are theological cults (as opposed to mind-control cults): Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism (Latter-day Saints), Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventists, Students of Unity, and Spiritualists. Each of these have committed one or more of the above heresies and yet claim to be "Christian" (which is why Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, are not classified as a world religion but a cult of Christianity). The New Testament warns against false prophets and teachers rising up from within the church (Acts 20:28-30; Matthew 7:15-16; 2 Peter 2:1) who will "secretly bring in destructive heresies." Maintaining the appearance of godliness, these groups are successful in leading many people astray.
How many times has a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon knocked on your door? What are we called to do in that situation? I used to open the door and engage them in discussion. But, quite frankly, now I just ignore them. But what does the Bible tells us to do?

For one thing, we should keep in mind 2 John 1:10, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him a greeting." This does not mean "ignore them"; it simply means, "don't invite them in." On the other hand, we should also bear in mind that the primary call of Jesus on every Chrisitian follower is to be a witness and to make disciples.

As much as I want to ignore the inevitable argument that stands knocking at my door (on my day off, usually), my responsibility is to "be ready" to share the love of Christ with "whoever demands a reason for the hope that is within [me]." Let's face it, they've come to tell me what to beleive, not to hear what I have to say. But still, I never know how the Holy Spirit may have prepared that person to hear the Gospel message before they were led to my doorstep. It's not my mission to judge who will hear and be saved, just to be a witness.

I recommend the book and other materials by the Nicene Counsel, if you're looking for good information on the cults. They also have some very worthwhile documentary DVD's on the topic.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Top Ten Graduation Songs

It is that blessed time of year when high school seniors everywhere kiss their childhood goodbye with a cap and gown ceremony and a song that will carry the moment's memory for all time. The song is one of the most important elements of any graduating class. To have a song that memorializes the mark you've left is like a proverbial initial-carving in the tree of life.

Okay, with exception to the ridiculous "tree of life" comment, you must at least admit the nostalgia that sweeps over you when your class song comes on the radio. According to teachers.net, 10 class songs stand out above the rest.

Here are the 10 songs that have been named (for better or for worse) "The Greatest Graduation Songs of All Time":
10. Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Theme from Cheers
9. Stand by Me - Ben E. King
8. Lean on Me - Al Green
7. The World's Greatest - R. Kelly
6. I Believe I Can Fly - R. Kelly
5. I Will Remember You - Sarah McLachlan
4. Graduation - Vitamin C
3. The Best of Times - Styx
2. A Moment Like This - Kelly Clarkson
1. Time of Your Life (Good Riddance) - Green Day

Are you satisfied or angry with these nominations? What would you add or subtract?

For what it's worth, teachers.net went on to include these titles as honorable mentions:
Here's to the Night - Eve 6
Times to Remember - Billy Joel
Closing Time - Semisonic
Sunscreen - Baz Luhrman
Never Say Goodbye - Bon Jovi
Graduate - Third Eye Blind

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In Joy and in Sorrow

One night a couple months ago, I was driving with the windows down on the way home from the beach during one of our mild South Florida "cool" fronts, singing along with Dave Grohl, "Ain't it the life, ain't it the life..." Flying my hand up and down in the cool wind outside my car window, I sang along without a worry in the world. It was the same week my wife and I paid our final credit card payment on a debt we'd been carrying for over 2 years. It was easy to talk to the Lord during that time- to say, "God, Your ways are perfect and I trust in You."

Any day we think to look up from our road rage to see the majesty of God's creation, praise and petition seem to roll off the tongue almost effortlessly.

Only days later, my grandfather passed away. Limited by words, I have to simply say, "we were very close." At his bedside, only 7 hours before he died, my wife and I, along with my dad, uncle, aunt, and grandmother, sang hymns of praise- through trembling voices, weak with sobbing: "When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." "All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided; great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto me." "And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll."

It wasn't an "ain't it the life" moment. There would be no "hand flying" out the window on the way home. It wasn't effortless praise... it cost something. And yet somehow through the sorrow, I heard my lips repeat, "God, Your ways are perfect and I trust in You."

It struck me that God is God through times of joy and sorrow. Other "gods" require us to sacrifice one or the other, and yet our Heavenly Father is faithful through them both. Pause and give Him praise today- not because things are necessarily "right," but because all other ground is sinking sand.

Monday, May 12, 2008

MySpace

I'm at Knox right now, taking a 20 minute break from studying. My last final exam of the semester starts in an hour and a half. I needed a mindless distraction, so I figured I'd post something new. Besides, it's been a while since I wrote anything and my "list of things to ramble about" is growing longer by the day.

Near the top of that list of things to share with my worldwide web community of 2 is to invite you to check out my new MySpace page: www.myspace.com/ryanbrasington. I only had time to get it up and running, so it's pretty bare bones for now, but I hope to use it as a place to post new music I'm writing and network with other writer/musician friends. I'll probably set up a facebook account this week too, but for now add me to your MySpace friends list and make me feel important. Hope you dig these and future tunes posted there.


More frequent blogging (not to mention my social life) to commence in T-minus 1 hour... Pray for me in this exam- it's going to be a beast.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Social Escapes

Whether it's a holiday dinner with the in-laws, a painfully boring meeting, or just an obligatory coffee with a person you can't stand, we all need strategies for escape. Would you walk into a burning building without knowing where the fire exits are? I didn't think so... So don't enter that next meeting until you've considered the following escape routes:

1. Bathroom break. Whether you actually have to "go" or not is beside the point. This is one of the most valuable cards in your deck, but you can only use it once, so plan wisely. If it's a dinner with the in-laws, I recommend saving the restroom break until the after-dinner conversation has begun. Until then, the food is enough to keep me stress-free.

2. Cell phone games and text messages. This is a good way to pull yourself out of a conversation, especially in a large group setting. Nothing says, "Yeah, I'm listening, oh but wait, something important just came up" like a sudden grasp of the cell phone followed by five minutes of furious typing (be sure to keep a furrowed brow and nod occasionally)... whether an invigorating game of Bejeweled or texting an SOS to a close friend, this trick is sure to buy you at least five minutes of emergency alone time.

3. More sugar. If a coffee meeting gets stressful, always be mindful of the condiment table located at the front of the coffee shop. That table could be your oasis when the conversation turns uncomfortably personal or awkwardly lame. Take a sip of your brew, make an irritated face, and simply excuse yourself with the statement, "Needs more sugar," and you're free! Just be sure to come back with a new conversation starter or else it's all for naught.

4. Messy shirt. This one's only for those rare but most desperate situations when, for example, you've already used your "coffee needs sugar" escape, your cell phone interruption, and your bathroom break... then there's only one thing left to do: you must sacrifice your shirt and "accidentally" drop your food (or your coffee) down your torso- be sure to make a small scene in the process (for effect). This will not only permit but oblige you to excuse yourself from the table and buy you at least ten minutes away. If you're really good, you'll remember when you emerge from the bathroom that you have an extra shirt in the car (this takes careful planning and forethought but can afford you another five minutes).

5. If all these tactics still leave you clawing at the walls... better find the wine and keep it close, my friend... I'm afraid you're in for the long-haul.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

TCO

When I was in college, I led worship for a campus ministry called TCO (Tallahassee College Outreach). Looking back, those were some of the best times of my life. Sure, the temptations and struggles of college life were also there. But all in all, I realize that the Lord tethered me to His grace, walked me through some of the best and worst times of my life, and used this college ministry, TCO, to keep me pressing on in faith.

At the beginning of our weekly Sunday night meetings (before worship and a message), we would occasionally show "motivational" videos, usually promoting a retreat or group trip. The videos were homemade and, I might add, ridiculously funny. On the video banner to the right is one such video. It was created by my friend Brad Schmidt and features two of my other good friends, Ryan Todd and Dan Morris. If you know these guys, you'll find the video hilarious. If you don't know them... you'll more likely find it creepy...

Here are a couple others for your viewing pleasure, featuring such celebrities as Carter Brown, Rick Hunter, Brad Schmidt, Jeremy Schwab, Tony Cortiz, Ryan Todd, and of course, the one and only Scottish-accent-speaking Dan Morris. Enjoy.

Jesus Himself has told you to go on the fall beach trip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMf9EOtqWZs

Cupid and Friends:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtcjZbmyvtw

Cupid and Friends, Part 2:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQ859lrhTyc&feature=related

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Hamburger to Die For







Last night, my wife and I were watching TV and scoffed at a commercial that advertised a new quadruple-layered chocolate cake apparently available now at Publix. It's not that I'm the picture of health; my scoff was, rather, a response of disbelief at the blatant advertising- and America's shameless acceptance- of what was, perhaps, the most deadly-looking mass of gluttony I have ever seen. The commercial woos you in: the icing, thick and smooth, slowly caressed by the knife of a baker whose fiendish grin betrays his secret knowledge that this will most certainly kill whoever eats it. Everyone knows that Americans have horribly unhealthy eating habits, but are we even trying to hide it anymore?

With that said, allow me to be a complete hypocrite: I love Five Guys Burgers and Fries and will glady stare death in the face if only I can taste one of their fresh, juicy, double-stacked burgers with a side of cajun fries. As a matter of fact, I would eat there every day if it weren't for the nagging aches I get in my chest when I'm finished.

If you haven't been to Five Guys Burgers and Fries... seriously, go. Take a defibrillator, but go. Experience the best burger for your buck anywhere. For those of you in the Ft. Lauderdale area, there's one in the 17th Street shopping plaza (East of US1) near Moe's and another in the Publix shopping center on Atlantic Blvd. and Rock Island in Margate.

Indulge yourself. Try their double-stacked burger with all the free toppings you can fit in your mouth, a beverage, and their famous cajun-style fries (the regular fries are good too, but I promise you'll like the cajun better). Whatever you do, DON'T click this link before you go: http://www.fiveguys.com/Images/Nutrition%20Fact%20Spreadsheet.pdf

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Come on Down!"

Today was my day off, so I caught an episode of The Price is Right while I trudged my way through a stack of long-neglected bills. The bright, classic game show colors, the pencil-style microphone, and of course, the WAY over-zealous contestants make The Price is Right one of my favorite game shows- especially on a lazy morning like today. For an example of a crazy contestant, I give you exhibit A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJy8yBopnqE

Well, we all knew that Bob Barker's retirement would spell "face lift" for the favorite game show of senior citizens everywhere, and some of us were even optimistic that his replacement would bring it a timely shot in the arm for the younger audience as well. But after watching 3 or 4 episodes with Drew Carey as the new host, I've abandoned my optimism for the singular thought, "What in the world was the network thinking?" He is simply a terrible host for this show.

If you're ever home around 11:00am on a weekday, watch Drew Carey on The Price is Right and tell me if he doesn't appear to be mocking the whole experience- the show, the contestants, and even his coveted new position as host. There's no passion. No joyful lift in his voice when the wheel starts spinning toward "$1.00." Not even a smile or enthusiastic wave when Rod (or whoever it is now) says, "A new Carrrr!" None of that. Just a smug look that says, "That's right, I just got a massive pay raise to watch these idiots win toaster ovens and bedroom sets for an hour every day."

If you've seen the show recently, tell me if you feel the same sense of abandonment from father Bob, or if you disagree with me entirely. Maybe I'm being too hard on the guy, I don't know.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Worship

This morning I received an e-mail forum from a good friend and fellow musician where he asked the group to respond to various critiques regarding the purpose and place of elements like instrumentation, style, and technology in churches' corporate worship services. His overall observation had to do with the age-old debate and general disunity that exists among churches' worship music. I think his e-mail can be fairly summarized: "Whether it's a rock song or a Bach concerto, it's my responsibility to worship the Lord with all my heart." The numerous responses are too lengthy to post here, but in summary the issues they tackled were: 1) the distinction between private and corporate worship, 2) music reflecting the culture in which you worship, 3) the issue of worship services looking like a big "rock show" and not much like a worship service, 4) worship leaders being diverse in their musical content, and 5) whether or not we should use some instruments in the worship service that are tied to ungodly purposes or memories of sin.

Below was my response. I hope it makes sense out of context. I invite your comments as well.

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Not to over-simplify the problem, but for the sake of brevity, it seems to me (and playing off of many of the responses already given) that this “divided church” is the result of 1) misguided worship leadership, and 2) selfish worshippers. That’s not to say that all churches “divided” operate in those extremes, but I would argue that all churches gravitate toward these poles- some, by the grace of God, less or more than others. Leaders forget their followers for their own idea of what’s best and worshippers forget the body of which they are a part; that is, Worship Pastors can tend to view the quality or style of the music (for example) as more important than the people they are leading, and the worshippers can tend to forget that Sunday morning is not intended to be their own, personal “in-the-closet” time of worship. There’s a sense in which the corporate worship experience is a selflessly shared responsibility between the Worship Pastor and the worshipper, where each one sets aside his or her own “preferences” for the good of the body. I think this is what [Nancy] was getting at...

[Our unity in worship] is easier said than done because it really has very little to do with the content of our programs and everything to do with the Holy Spirit breaking pride and selfish motives in our hearts. Thus, the conversation continues- not as a quick fix, but as the Holy Spirit slowly works sanctification in each worshipper's heart.

With that said, I also wanted to weigh in on at least one of the other questions raised:

Saxophone? Drums? Electric Guitar? Saying nothing of preferences: “Yes, yes, and yes.” For every vile memory the Enemy has attached to those instruments of death (before knowing Christ), our Redeemer intends to use those same instruments now to cultivate life (since we know Christ). Isaiah 2:4 says, “He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” It’s a picture of God turning weapons of war into tools of the harvest (as opposed to simply throwing the sword away in an effort to forget that the war ever happened).

If the electric guitar was, in a sense, a sword of the Enemy when you were at war with God, then God’s desire is to turn that “weapon of war into a tool for the harvest”- to see many come to know Him. God has a heart for redemption; He loves to take the standards used by the enemy in our past and to raise them again to new purpose for His Name. So, with that in mind, it seems appropriate not to discard the music that came out of the 70’s, but rather to redeem it for God’ Name.

Thanks for including me in this discussion. I look forward to growing in my knowledge of Him through our conversation.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Would You Like to Make a Donation?

"Welcome to Arby's, may I take your order?"
"Yeah, I'll have the #2 please, with a Coke."
"Will that be all?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Would you like to donate a dollar to the Foundation for Starving, Crippled Orphans with Malaria Fund, sir?"
"Uhhhh..." (looking around nervously and hoping no one's listening): "no, thank you."
(with a sigh of disgust): "Your total comes to $5.71."

I mean, it is only a dollar, right? Would it kill me to throw in an extra buck? Maybe my distaste for the question is less about the money and more about the principle: I want to say, "Listen, man, I just came here to eat lunch- take it easy!" But now, because I came expecting food (and not to solve world hunger on my lunch break), I have to choke down every bite feeling like a complete jerk and utter degenerate.

With that said, it makes me wonder what Jesus would have done- in the serious way, not in the ridiculous "I have a neon WWJD bracelet" kind of way. I mean, if my lunch meeting that day had been with Jesus, and He had been standing behind me in line when the guy asked me to chip in a buck for orphans- or hurricane victims- or, whatever, would I still stand on my conviction that "I came here to eat, not to be a servant"?

I'm not saying I'm convicted to open my wallet for every donation box out there; I'm not even saying Jesus would have put a buck in that Arby's jar... all I'm saying is: "am I willing?"