Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Go Spartans! Beat the Dawgs!

The Michigan State University Spartans take on the the University of Georgia Bulldogs in the Capital One Bowl, Orlando, Florida, on New Year's Day.

I love my Spartans. I don't expect them to win, though. I'd say MSU's shot at winning is 25 to 30%. The Bulldogs, I think, are a more talented team (despite their 9-3 record which matches MSU's) and they are playing what is virtually a home game.

If MSU wins it will be because the defense plays perfectly, Ringer runs for over 100 yards, and Spartan receivers hang onto the damned ball. The receivers need to make Brian Hoyer's job a bit easier or it will be a sad day in Orlando for them.

Either way, I'm looking forward to the game. I'm proud of the Spartans. Go Green! Go White! Go State!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Death of a young wife and mom

It's odd how we can be so moved, devastated even, by the loss of someone we've never met. We are touched by celebrity deaths as if we were their acquaintances. That makes some kind of sense because there's an illusion of "knowing" a celebrity.

What is strange is how painful the death of a complete stranger. Three days ago a young (34) wife and mother of three children (two with disabilities) from our church died of cancer. She was only diagnosed in late fall. No one expected she would be gone so quickly. God took her two days before Christmas, perhaps the worst time for a family to lose a daughter, wife and mother.

I never met this young woman. My wife met her briefly because had worked with one of her children in Sunday School. My wife sobbed when we heard the news. I've been in shock. A little hole has been poked in souls. The sadness is palpable. Maybe it's easy to feel that family's pain because we are young(er) parents. I cannot imagine losing my wife at such a young age (or at all for that matter.)

When a young person dies, more questions are raised than get answered. Why God did you take her now? Why did you leave her young children motherless? Only God knows the timing of tragedies. All I know is that it is painful to imagine being in this family's shoes.

Quite possibly, the lesson for me is to be unceasingly thankful for the blessings of my beautiful, wonderful wife and daughter He has given me. Maybe I am supposed to remember that others are suffering and could use our support. This horrible tragedy is a chance for the rest of us to show love to this family in crisis. I hope that our family and our church step to the plate.

Deadly Sin No. 2: Gluttony

In the post-modern world, it seems that people really don't believe in sin. Certainly, things that many used to believe were sinful are acceptable behaviors today. To think of overeating, a very common practice in our culture, as sin is probably to some laughable.

Every year after Christmas, though, I know why the early (6th Century) Church identified "gluttony" (latin: gula) as a sin. I feel that "sin's" grip on my body. As wonderful as feasting can be, I feel poisoned after the holidays. Christmas is toxic.

Here's what I ate yesterday (sorry if this seems like too much information):

* Leftover Indian food for breakfast
* About a dozen shrimp
* 10-15 crackers, about 1/2 w/slices of cheese
* Some chips and salsa
* Small scoop of mashed potatoes with gravy
* Small salad
* 2 slices of ham
* Piece of cheesecake
* Some fruit salad
* 2 bottles of Guinness Draught
* 1 bottle of Modelo Especial
* Small glass of egg nog
* 1/2 bag of Smart Food (R) Popcorn
* Maybe 2 cookies
* 5 small cups of Diet Dr. Pepper
* 20 oz. (lousy) gas station coffee
* About 8-10 asparagus stalks

This doesn't include all the junk I ate on Christmas eve: potato chips; rhubarb pie; lasagna; more lousy coffee; pre-made garlic bread; Diet Coke. Yuck. Reading this makes me want to never eat again.

I want to cleanse this stuff from my body. I want all the sugar and fat and carbs and processed garbage out. Now!

I fully and completely understand the blame for how I feel lies with me. A little more discipline yesterday should have been exercised.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Have a safe, happy, merry, wonderful Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Black House Ceilidh

We had the opportunity to see (the second time for me) a great Christmas concert last night. The Black House Ceilidh performed at the Kerrytown Concert House last night and Friday to sell out crowds.

The Black House Ceilidh is a fantastic group. They play instruments you don't often hear in folk music: viola de gamba; highland bagpipes; viheula. The band members, as I understand, know each other through the Michigan Renaissance Festival where each regularly perform individually. Their sound (and stage dress) has a Renaissance feel, but there is a lot of celtic, English folk and Spanish in there sound. BHC do not mic their instruments; the show has a very clean, soothing feel because of that. Each person in the group is a very gifted musician with a wide range of influences.

Here's the band's myspace page:


The show was primarily a holiday program, but a few songs that were more broadly "religious" or with winter themes were part of the set. Their CD, Upon A Winter's Eve, is a perfect disc if you love more traditional Yuletide songs. I highly recommend you order it before the holiday arrives. You can get the CD or download the songs from these sites:


Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama gets it. Other Liberals don't.

The newest skirmish in the "culture war" flared up after President-elect Obama's team announced that evangelical mega-church pastor and best selling author, Rick Warren, would offer a prayer at the inauguration.

The controversy surrounds Mr. Warren's public opposition to gay marriage and his support of a constitutional ban on that practice in California:
[H]is role has angered gay rights campaigners, particularly since Warren supported California's controversial Proposition 8, which voters approved in November and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman - effectively banning gay marriage even though it has previously been legal in the state.

The president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese, wrote to Obama saying: "By inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans have a place at your table."
This isn't the only group to have criticized Mr. Obama's selection of Mr. Warren. The story is all over the news and, according to those stories, lots of left wing groups have expressed displeasure on this matter.

Of course none of the critics have bothered to talk about Rick Warren's work on AIDS. Here's just one of many articles on his ministry to AIDS-afflicted people.


In my view, President-elect Obama got it right in his response:

Obama responded to the furore at his press conference saying: "It is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans...It's important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues."
Liberal activists: just because your candidate for President won does not mean you are only the folks welcome to the table. For years, those of you on the left have bemoaned that the United States is not an inclusive place, that people are excluded from the rights and benefits of this country on the basis of race, nationality, religion and sexual preference (and that has been true in many ways.)

No doubt, you miss the irony of calling for the exclusion from President-elect Obama's inauguration of a person who has a different worldview from yours. Those that have cried the loudest about being excluded would love nothing more than to exclude so-called evangelicals from participation in the celebration of Mr. Obama's election for no other reason than they disagree with evangelicals.

You really don't want inclusion. You don't want a nation in which all can participate. You want everyone in this country to say, "Hey, whatever you want to do, however you want to live, that's fine by me."

Expecting -- demanding -- others not to agree with you, and then trying to prvent them from participating in certain events when they do not, is textbook intolerance. Spare me your speeches about tolerance because you don't practice. In fact, you don't even believe in it.

I'm not the a big fan of President-elect Obama. He says all the right things, though, on issues like this. We are all Americans. Somehow, someway, we have to find unity. When there cannot be unity of opinion or belief, at least we can agree to live and let live.

Missed a perfect teaching/loving opportunity

For a reasonably intelligent person, I can really be an idiot at times. My precious little kiddo was willing to help me shovel the snow this morning. There's a lot snow to shovel, believe me.

She just wanted to spend time with her "Daddy." She wanted my attention. She wanted my approval. She wanted to serve and be helpful.

What did I do? I got impatient. I snapped at her a few times because she was "in the way" or doing something wrong. I barked a few times out of the frustration of the work. It took a long time, even with her help. It is hard work. Ignoring the enormity of her heart, the sweetness of her intent, I focused instead on the task. Even then I didn't slow down enough to teach her how to help or even explain how she could help.

I did thank her. I apologized for being snapping a few times. I paid her a little bit of cash to reward her hard work, even though she hadn't asked for or expected it. I explained that I got impatient because the job took a long time (at least 1 1/2 hours) and was very tiring. Those are not good excuses. She's more important than the driveway.

Why do I do these things? Why do I forget what is important? Why do I value those things that mean nothing at all? Why do I hurt my family?

I love the smell of gas/2 cycle mix in the morning

We got buried in snow last night so neighbors were out this morning with their snowblowers, clearing their driveways. The carbon-sweet smell of burning gas/oil mix hung in the air as I was pelted in the face by tiny balls of hail.

Shoveling a really long driveway is back-breaking work. There will be a lot more for me to shovel when I get home. I need to get my own snowblower.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

These are words uttered by Eric Liddell, "The Flying Scotsman," in Chariots of Fire. Mr. Liddell was a devout Christian and an Olympic gold medalist. He was incredibly gifted but put his faith in God before his own personal goals and desires. He surrendered his chance at a gold medal in his strongest event because he wouldn't run on "the Lord's day."

Our family watched Chariots of Fire last night (my third time seeing it) and it was as if those words grabbed hold of me and shook me.

My wife and I -- more her than me -- have lately been trying to feel God, to experience Him on more than an intellectual or even doctrinal level. We have both been seeking heart knowledge moreso than head knowledge. I've not wanted anything mystical or supernatural necessarily. I just want to feel God in the details of my life.

My wife has been reading lots of great stuff. Just in the last few days, we've talked about or read about worshipping God just in the doing of our daily activities.

She read and related to me something by Parker J. Palmer and since I heard it, I've been asking God to help me give Him my work; every letter I type, every phone call I take, every conversation I have. Those mundane things are our lives. I've been all but begging God to show me how those things have meaning, to show me how those things can even be worship.

I am not there. Sitting through a conference this morning, I wanted to gouge my eyes out in frustration. Nothing of that could I see as having any significance. Hopefully someday I'll be able to replace the frustration and boredom with joy.

Eric Liddell's words shook me because he voiced what I hope to someday feel: God's pleasure. He felt his reason for being. He could feel God's love.

Someday perhaps...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tomorrow Never Knows: the first "Trip Hop" song

Trip Hop, according to allwords.com, is defined as:
  1. A genre of slow dance music combining elements of hip hop with melodic, often psychedelic, sounds and impressionistic lyrics
Etymology: A portmanteau of trip (in the sense "drug-induced hallucinations", alluding to psychedelic music) and hip hop.

Webster's online dictionary says:
probably blend of 2trip (high from a psychedelic drug) + hip-hop
: electronic dance music usually based on a slow hip-hop beat and incorporating hypnotic synthesized and prerecorded sounds

According to the wikipedia article on it, "Trip Hop" has its origins in England's Hop Hop and House music scenes of the early to mid 1990's. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trip_hop

In 1966, The Beatles recorded "Tomorrow Never Knows," which founds its way onto Revolver. Famously, it was the first pop rock record to use "tape loops." Paul McCartney picked up this trick in London's avante garde scene and shared it with his fellow Beatles.

In describing the yet-unreleased Revolver album, Paul credits himself with making the strange tape loops that would be used on the recording 'Tomorrow Never Knows.' This is confirmed by Beatles studio engineer Geoff Emerick - who, in writings and interviews, agrees that these tape loops were made at home by Paul, who then excitedly brought them into the studio for everyone to hear during the very early stages of the album project.

Of course, John Lennon did entire albums of tape loops and electronic sounds in the late 60's after falling in with Yoko. But the origin of their use in the group -- and popular music more broadly -- is Paul McCarntey.

The lyrics are almost the definition of psychedelic. Accounts vary, but John Lennon came up with the words to the song either influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead or Timothy Leary's The Psychedelic Experience.

The psychedelic lyrics, the low, rumbling bass, the heavy drums, the tape looped-sounds; all hallmarks of what is now called "Trip Hop". Once again, the Beatles were decades ahead of their time.

Oasis at the Palace of Auburn Hills, December 13, 2008

Playing to a half empty (but enthusiastic) arena, Oasis was in typical form meaning big, loud, brash, bombastic. The set list was (in no particular order):

Rock n' Roll Star
Shock of the Lightning
Cigarettes & Alcohol
Song Bird
Slide Away
Waiting for the Rapture
To Be Where There's Life
Morning Glory
Importance of Being Idle
Meaning of Soul
I'm Outta Time
Falling Down
Ain't Got Nothin' on Me
Don't Look Back in Anger
The Masterplan
Champagne Supernova
I Am The Walrus

Oasis always puts on a good show. I've seen better from them, though. This was the weakest of the four Detroit area shows I've seen. Still, it was very good.

Liam was his usual strutting self. As I was side stage, I could see him repeatedly motioning to the sound crew something about his microphone (either the PA or monitors.) He joked with the crowd and the people behind me couldn't understand that he said a tamborine was too expensive to give away but he could take cash or credit card for it. Nevertheless, before the evening was over he tossed 2 tamborines and 1 microphone into the first few rows. Nice souvenirs.

Noel greeted the crowd several times. He joked that the keyboard player, Jay Darlington, was "the Shroud of Turin," a hysterical comment if you've ever seen Jay (a Jesus look-alike if there ever was one.) Some exuberant but possibly confused fan threw 1 shoe on the stage, which ended up being great fodder for Noel who asked the crowd to "own up" to being the owner of the other shoe. At the end of the show, he walked off stage with the shoe and handed it to a security guard.

The new drummer Chris Sharrock sounded great. He's a stick tosser and twirler, a little unusual for Oasis.

As a huge Oasis fan, this show was a tad sad for me because there were so many empty seats. Oasis's booking agent should be fired immediately for booking them in a 22,000 seat venue in Michigan in the middle of a recession (and with no local radio support for the new album.) The Palace is simply too big for an Oasis show here in Detroit.

The fellas have a dedicated following here in America, but it's miniscule compared to the United Kingdom. Oasis is nothing more nor less than a big guitar rock and roll band. Why they don't translate here well is beyond me. They might be the most misunderstood band of the last 30 years. You either get them or you don't. Unfortunately not too many in Detroit get what they're all about or they would have packed the place to the rafters.

Monday, December 8, 2008

These memories do not lose their meaning

I was only 9 years old but by that time, my life had been deeply affected by the Beatles. To say that I was a huge fan is a tremendous understatement. The Beatles were and still are one of my great interests, a real passion. Their music and affect on western culture were things that I could talk about that helped me bond with my dad. The music was great, too. I loved it for its own sake.

I'll never forget my pop telling me ,"Sean, one of the Beatles was killed tonight." "What? Knock it off. Stop being a jerk, Pop!" "I'm serious," he said. "Someone shot John Lennon."

In the following days, I was glued to the TV. For months -- maybe years -- I saved all the articles I clipped out of the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. When I could get my hands on news magazines like Time -- we had those at school but not at home -- I clipped out the articles and photos from them, too. Probably within a month of John's murder, I chose him as my biography subject for a school paper.

My aunt bought a copy of Double Fantasy when it came out, which was just a month or so before John was killed. In the week before his death, I had already listened to the album on her record player. I remember "(Just Like) Starting Over" being on America's Top 40 or some radio show like that. Of course, after his death, I played that record every time I went to my aunt's house.

It really shook me, his death. I'm not so sure that I fully understood death, but the violence of it really stunned me. I could not fathom why someone would want to kill one of the Beatles, or anyone for that matter. The sadness on the faces of people all over the world, as seen on the news every night for a week or more, really caught my attention. As much as I knew that John Lennon had been known worldwide, until I saw the news coverage on TV, the immensity of his loss was not something I could have imagined. I missed Beatlemania entirely and did not have that as a frame of reference.

Twenty-eight years later I still remember that day. I remember the days and weeks that followed. These memories flood my mind every December 8 for the last 27 years.

While this certainly was an extraordinary (and horrendously tragic) event which is forever burned into my mind, it no longer holds any kind of sadness for me, at least not a sadness that I could feel or express. John Lennon was a brilliant man: funny, immensely creative; a great rock and roll singer; a humanitarian of sorts. Like many of the rest of us, he was also deeply flawed, a person burdened with a deep pain and sadness most if not all his life.

Unfortunately, John has become something of a god since his passing. Certainly, he was worshiped and adored as a Beatle, but he seems to have been elevated to deity status after his death. John never had the answer for himself, let alone for the rest of us. I appreciate his contributions to the world of art, music and pop culture. But he was a man, a brilliant one. Nothing more, nothing less. Human or not, we miss him nonetheless.