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Most Remakes Are Awful - A Couple of Exceptions

I'll go ahead and say it: most remakes of hit songs are unnecessary. That is, more often than not, a singer covering a well-known song is doing something that the world would be better off without. In most cases, they simply do an inferior job; the new version isn't as good as the original. It typically plays out one of three ways:

1. Sometimes, the remake is so identical to the original that you have to ask "what's the point?" 

2. Some artists will try to avoid that scenario by making such radical changes to the song that it becomes barely recognizable. And usually, that's a disaster.

3. Many artists fails to realize that their voice simply isn't right for a particular song.

As with all truths, however, there are exceptions.

A notable exception to #2 above is Chantay Savage's masterful reworking of the Gloria Gaynor's anthem "I Will Survive".  One listen of this slow jazz version will abolish any notions of this as a disco song.





For si…

What I Read in 2011

Because I write reviews as part of Thomas Nelson Publishing's Booksneeze program, I have posted reviews of most of the books I have read this year. Click the link to see the review.  I don't get all my books through Booksneeze, so I didn't write a review of every book I read.
I listed these books roughly in order, starting with my favorite, but I liked each one. The top 3 are pretty much interchangeable in terms of preference. Also, I reviewed two bibles and several children's books, which I didn't rank. 
My Favorite Books I Read in 2011: Unbroken
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me (this one has a comment from the author!)
Paper Angels (So does this one!)

Fahrenheit 451  (I read several times as a kid, but re-read it this year)
The Book of Man Beautiful Outlaw (this review got picked up by Burnside and generated some conversation)

Erasing Hell
Slave
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Too bad this one was Rated R; there's a great story in there if you get past the unn…

Storms of Life

It's the eternal question: why do bad things happen to followers of Christ?
I found an answer that works for me, in a portion of the story of Noah and the Great Flood, located in the 8th chapter of Genesis. This passage has given me guidance on how to react to the hard things in life.
It's important to remember that much of our Christian walk is described in the bible in pictures. The Flood was caused by an intense and lengthy storm, and storms often represent trouble in our lives. Read on for just such a representation:
Genesis 8:1
"And God remembered Noah, and all the animals, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided."

The first verse opens with a reminder that God doesn't forget His people, especially in storms. This truth applies even when the trouble is the consequence of our own sin. Often we have storms in life that we bring upon ourselves. Noah didn't cause this storm…

Three Cups: A Review

As a member of Thomas Nelson Publishing's Booksneeze program, I get the occasional free book for review purposes. My latest one is a kid's book: Three Cups, by Tony Townsley, Mark St. Germain, and April Willy. Three Cups tells a story of a child who is given a way to place money that is given to him: one cup each for giving, saving, and spending.

I got the book for my own kids, and sadly, it was a couple of years too late. The book is written at a level of a boy or girl who's around age 4 or 5. It's probably the type of book which is best read to a kid.
That said, it's a great little book, and the story is interesting enough that the kid who hears or reads it doesn't realize he's being preached to or being taught.

Yet, they are being taught an important lesson: it's good to know how to manage your money, and it's good to spend some, to save some, and of course, to give some.

I like this book a lot. Just wish I would have gotten it a few years ago…

Forgiveness: New Thoughts

A short time after I started driving at age 16, I got my first speeding ticket, and countless more followed over the next few years. As I was working low-paying jobs at the time, I had to find an inexpensive way to resolve all these tickets. (Don't bother telling me about the best option--simply driving at or below the speed limit like a good citizen--I am very aware of that.)  I tried deferred adjudication, I tried getting a lawyer to get it off my record, and I even tried taking the defensive driving option.

Each of these remedies has its pros and cons, but I have to admit that I rather enjoyed my annual trips to defensive driving class. After attending it several times, I have become so familiar with the material that I feel like I could teach the class myself.

Another teaching I have heard countless times is the sermon about forgiveness.  I've been a Christian for a long time, and it's been a frequent sermon topic wherever I've been. Because of my frequent and pr…

Book Review: December 1941, by Craig Shirley

Craig Shirley's "December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World" is a powerful account of the days leading up to, and the days immediately after, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent entry of the United States into World War II.

This 500+ page book (600 if you count the notes) has a very simple format: it devotes one chapter to each day of the month of December 1941. The chapters describe the events of each day, either directly or indirectly related to the coming war.

Of all the things I learned, I was especially surprised that, prior to December 7, the mindset of many Americans was not in favor of the United States entering the war. We are used to such things regarding the Vietnam war and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the image we tend to get of 1940's America is that of solidarity. In fact, the national mood changed quite a bit as of December 7, but even then, it wasn't a case of undisputed unity.

The stories and informat…

Heroes and Villains of the Bible--A Book Review

"Heroes and Villains of the Bible" is aimed at kids about the same age as mine: tween to early teen. The content of the book is right in line with the title. There are 50 stories, each about a different person in Scripture, and each clearly defined as a hero or as a villain. The first two, God and then Satan, are obvious. Some others in ensuing chapters are equally obvious: Moses, David, Daniel, Females are not to be left out, either: Esther gets a chapter devoted to her heroism, and Delilah is one of the villains.

Each chapter has high-quality illustrations which, at first glance, appear to be photographs. The text in each chapter is straight from Scripture (International Children's Translation). No extra narrative is given.

Interestingly,  there are a few lesser-known characters which receive some focus. Probably the most notable are Potiphar's wife and Herodias. I'm torn about the inclusion of these two in this book. On one hand, it's a good thing that m…

The Book of Man, by WIlliam Bennett: A Review

When I saw the title and brief description of "The Book of Man", and noted it was written by former politician William Bennett, I had zero interest. I later saw a clip of him promoting the book, and the short clip consisted of him complaining. He complained about feminism. He complained about the emasculation of men. He even complained about the fact that a woman was taking over as CEO of Hewlett Packard. Or maybe it was IBM.  At any rate, I'm not a big fan of complaining, especially professing Christians complaining that the world is against them and their values. So my interest in the book went to less than zero.

But then, by chance, I went back and read a more thorough description of the book. I found it wasn't 500 pages of one man's complaints about cultural changes. It is, in fact, nothing like what I thought. The Book of Man is a collection of essays, observations, true stories, and anecdotes about men. About the character of a man. About how the bar is ra…

Envying the Rich and Famous

I just read a comment by someone who expressed disgust at the opulence displayed by a Barbra Walters interview of a rich celeb who came from humble beginnings. Apparently that celeb should have given his wealth to charity. While I admire the good intentions of that comment, I also have some problems with it. My response:
----------
Hannah, I just re-read your comment. I’m not sure which specific wealthy persons were interviewed by Walters in the TV program you are referring to. But your disgust with their opulence got me thinking. Not having seen the show, I’m going to guess that what you mean by opulence. If I am wrong in the details, it doesn’t really affect my main point, so please follow me.

Rich celeb “X” buys large LA-area mansion. It needs work, so he hires contractor “A”, who employs Employees B, C, and D to come do the work. They knock out walls, put up sheetrock, install cabinets, apply paint, etc. Meanwhile, X also hires E, a 19-yr-old male who’s working his way through co…

Rangers Game 6 loss: I'm done

I'm a die-hard baseball fan, but after last night, I'm done for the year. This thing traumatized me. I'm frustrated, deflated, and demoralized. I had to put my kids to bed while one was in tears. I barely slept. I tossed and turned, then when I woke up, I was still shaking. No sport is worth this.
Game 7 is tonight. I thoroughly expect the Cardinals to win handily. But I won't be watching. I'm taking my wife out to a movie. The emotional investment I am making in the Rangers is not worth it; an investment in my marriage is a much better one.

3 Weeks of TV is just about enough

Unlike when I was growing up, we don't watch much TV in our house these days.  As a kid, I watched so much TV I actually had the schedule memorized. You tell me a network and time slot, and I'll tell you what's on, even if it's a show I don't like. 

But by my 30's, I had narrowed down my TV interest to just a couple of shows, and then when the kids came, we thought it best to keep it turned off. They still watch videos, of course, and I may watch a late-night rerun here or there. But for the most part, we keep it turned off.

The one exception, since the kids turned 5 or 6, is sports. We watch some football and some baseball, especially when the beloved Texas Rangers are on. Mostly, they play on Fox Sports Southwest. Because we don't have cable or dish, we don't get FSSW, so watching a Rangers game is a rarity. A few Friday night games during the regular season, and then the playoffs. For the second consecutive October, the Rangers are in the third round…

Book Review: Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge

John Eldredge's latest title, "Beautiful Outlaw" is his first since switching publishers. After a longtime association with Thomas Nelson, he's now writing for Faithwords, home of the great Billy Coffey . [Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the book for review purposes] The subject of "Beautiful Outlaw" is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Eldredge feels that many (most?) Christians have a distorted, incomplete, or one-dimensional view of Jesus, and he feels so strongly about this that he wants to set the record straight for all believers.

My take on this book is mostly positive. It's well-written, engaging, and anything but boring. The reader will be enlightened and encouraged to love Jesus more, because once you know Him, you can't do otherwise.

Eldredge takes many familiar stories about Jesus and expounds on them in an informative and inspiring way. I am praying my way through this book, asking God to reveal Himself to me, and, while I think …

Book Review: Jesus Calling Devotional Bible

If you're not familiar with Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling", I highly recommend it. It's a collection of many of her journal entries where she felt God was speaking directly to her. The words are presented to us in His voice, from His perspective, and contain wisdom which pertains to all of us.

As part of their Booksneeze program, Thomas Nelson recently sent me a copy (free for review purposes) of their new "Jesus Calling" devotional bible.It's the New King James translation, and the "devotional" portion is quite extensive, and very well done. A friend saw it at my house the other day and called it a "bible plus", an appropriate description, if you ask me.

A "devotional" bible can sound like a great idea, but result in something not so great. Bookstore shelves are full of devotional bibles which consist of the personal opinions of authors, or which seem to be a blatant attempt to capitalize on the popularity of some rece…

5 Great Things about the Rangers Regular Season

Great things about the regular season:

1. Rangers get the most wins ever for the franchise (96).

2. Michael Young gets 213 hits, tied for the lead. This is special, and probably underappreciated.  Each year, maybe 5 players in baseball get 200 hits. Young has done this 6 times.

3. Napoli and Beltre, two Angels rejects, help us beat the Angels.

4. The Rangers win the last 6 games, refusing to coast after they clinched.

5. We did it with several solid starting pitchers, not just one Alpha dog.

Book Review: "Paper Angels", by Billy Coffey

Billy Coffey showed promise with his first novel,  "Snow Day", which was good overall, and great in places. But the leap forward from "Snow Day" to "Paper Angels" is a giant one for the author. From the very beginning, this story had my attention, and it never let go.

The main character, Andy Sommerville, is a lifelong bachelor who owns a gas station. A severe injury puts him in the hospital and forces him to face many non-physical wounds from his past. Wounds which didn't so much shape him into the man he is as much as they derailed him somewhat from what he was made to be. As he is shown the meaning and importance of each of these hurts (represented by various mementos he had collected over the years), a new friend named Elizabeth helps guide him, addressing each wound by first peeling back the bandages that had covered them, sometimes for decades.

Most people have wounds that have stayed with us for years. What sets Andy apart is that he has a pe…

In the Potter's Hands

Isaiah 64:8 "But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand."

Some years ago, it was pointed out to me that our relationship to God is described in several metaphorical ways, all of which matter. Some authors/teachers have even been known to rank the relationship descriptions in some way--for example, in levels of intimacy:

Clay/Potter
Slave/Master
Sheep/Shepherd
Subject/King
Son/Father
Bride/Groom

While I cannot argue with the theology of such a ranking, it does have the unintended side effect of causing the reader to dismiss the relationship descriptions listed earlier on the list. It's just as important to understand the potter/clay dynamic between us and God as it is anything else. He mentioned that particular picture dozens of times in books by no less than 4 biblical authors: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, and John. Yes, He's our loving Father, but focusing only on Him as Father can lead us into missi…

Saying goodbye to one set of twins, and hello to another

"It's been ten whole years already? Wow! Hard to believe."

Many a father will say something like that while shaking his head in disbelief, when his oldest approaches the 10th birthday. It's a milestone, not just for the kid, but for the parents. It's a head-shaker because I am reminded that on that day, 10 years ago, my life changed forever. In some ways, it has passed very quickly.  In other ways, it seems like it's been every bit of ten years.

There are two distinct things, though, about the ten-year anniversary of my dadhood. The first is that I became a father of not one, but two little bundles of joy that Tuesday morning. Abby was born at 8:48, followed by her brother Jacob at 8:50.

The second is that their birth marked some rare joy in the midst of the darkest day in our nation's history.  As my wife was in labor, a nurse came in and told us that an airplane had crashed into a skyscraper in New York. I turned on the labor room TV i…

Cats are Better

As a former math teacher, I once postulated the following:

The size of one's pickup truck is inversely proportional to the likelihood that he is a cat owner.


For some unknown reason, many people do not like cats. My pastor says rotten things about cats, our only major theological difference.

Look, people. Cats are better than dogs. This is a truth that can be seen by comparing the top of the line cats vs the top dogs.

The chief cats are lions and tigers.

The best dogs can do is a fox, wolf or hyena.

Seriously, this is no contest. God said Jesus is the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5) and when an angel spoke so powerfully that it sounded like thunder which shook the foundations of the universe, it was said he had a mouth of a lion (Rev 13:2).

Was Jesus the hyena of Judah? I don’t think so.

I can't believe I have to explain this stuff.

Embracing Jesus' Words Selectively

This passage looks longer than I usually start with, but it's a quick read, and an interesting story:


Luke 4
v.15  And He [Jesus] began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
v.16-17  And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and ...He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
v.18-19  "THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,  TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD."

v.22  And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; ...

v.24  And He said, "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. "But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;

What Exactly Are You Looking For in a President?

Like it or not, the 2012 Presidential election season is just about upon us. Although I hate to hear the most vocal blowhards deriding candidates that have already announced, some of the criticisms are making me laugh in ways that were not intended. Some people are so married to their political party that a considerable effort is being spent on their part telling anyone who will listen how the recession is either Obama's or Bush's fault, how Bachmann is crazy, how Kucinich is funny-looking, how Palin is a ditz, how Obama blew his chance today (just after the stock markets spiraled downhill in response to the S&P downgrade) in his speech which was to have reassured Americans that the economy isn't tanking.

From what I hear, his speech fell short. Or it was well-received. Again, it depends on who you listen to. Pretty much anyone these days is delivering their evaluation of our President, and of those who want to be President, based on the personal agenda of the one doi…

Book Review: Thunder Dog

Thanks for Thomas Nelson Publishing's Booksneeze program, I received a free copy of Thunder Dog, by Michael Hingson and Susy Flory for review purposes. I got it a few days ago and devoured it in very short order. The book is Mr. Hingson's  account of his experience as a survivor of the attacks on the World Trade center in September of 2001.  He worked on the 78th floor of the first tower to be hit, and the bulk of the story is about his journey down the stairs, guided by his guide dog Roselle.

It's a great story by itself, but made much more interesting by interspersed glimpses in the life of the author, starting as a child whose parents refused to send to a special school for the blind. They insisted he live as normal a life as possible, which sounds great in theory, but a little scary in practice. For example, they let him ride a bike as a kid. A blind boy was allowed to ride a bicycle throughout the neighborhood. using his sense of where obstacles should be to guide hi…

My Top Five Movies of All Time

In no particular order, these are the 5 movies that have moved me the most.


The Fisher King
Schindler's List
Up
The Kid
Cinderella Man
The Princess Bride
Shawshank Redemption
Stranger Than Fiction

Yes, I can count, so I know that my Top Five list has more than 5 movies in it. Sue me.

Fahrenheit 451: Worth Re-Reading

When I discovered books as a tween, one of the first books I ever read was Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."  I have to admit I didn't understand its implications or more subtle points, so it didn't do much for me. A few years later, I read it again, and was deeply impacted. Obviously, I was still years away from being wise in the ways of the world, so there was a lot I didn't get. But I knew then that it was saying something powerful. Of course, being a high school student, I was assigned many other books which also attempted to say something profound. "Lord of the Flies", "The Good Earth", "The Grapes of Wrath". These and other works accomplished their intended tasks to varying degrees. They each had a point, which they communicated effectively.  Some, especially "Lord of the Flies" so completely lacked subtlety that they came across as preachy, and I did what I could to distance myself from such books.
A sad sidenote: …

A Pretty Neat Gift

About a year ago, I had just returned from a vacation with my family to Wyoming. It was a great time in many ways, but it was not restful at all. When you have 3 kids of single-digit age, it's hard to find a way to truly relax. They just want to go, go, go. I don't regret that we didn't chill out that week, but I knew that what I needed was something quiet and relaxing, even if only for a day.

The thought occurred to me that what I really needed was a long drive. But how in the world was I going to accomplish that? I did what I wish I would do more often when I realize I need something: I prayed about it. And not long after, I had a work trip planned to my company's facility in Maryland. As a new manager, my boss told me I should take some management courses, and I found one that was being held in Arlington, Va, just outside of Washington. It was a one-day course. Afterward, I would drive 3 hours south to Pokomoke City, MD, to our plant, and meet the people who I suppo…

Book Review: George Washington Carver

John Perry's biography of George Washington Carver sheds a revealing light on one of the more under-appreciated men in American history.  By "revealing", I mean that there is a lot more to Carver than peanuts.  From Carver's humble beginnings as a baby born to a slave who was later kidnapped, to the end of his life as a respected scientist, I learned many things I simply was not aware of.
Yes, he found over a hundred uses of the peanut (a tremendous feat in itself), but he also listed many non-peanut-related accomplishments on his resume.
Carver's life was nothing less than a never-ending obstacle course. He had to fight through the kidnapping of his mother, his own physical ailments due to premature birth, racism on a scale we are not exposed to in 21st-century America, lawlessness, very limited educational opportunities, threats of lynchings, and other very real threats to black men of that time.
Despite the daunting circumstances, Carver accomplished more th…

Songs I Am No Longer Ashamed Of

I confess: There was a time in my life that I developed an affliction known as music snobbery. In my transition from kid to young adult, my musical tastes changed. I went from being a fan of ear candy to a fan of tunes that had to actually have a little substance. My range was all over the place: country to R&B to Rock to New Wave. I loved it all, but I wasn’t into settling for music that pandered or sounded like it was made to be a product rather than art. Posers or slickness were unacceptable.
Because I read articles by, and made friends with, people who felt the same way, I began to put on the self-protective armor of the music snob. I made it clear to everyone I knew that there were a lot of very popular bands which I was way too cool to listen to. That music was for kids and idiots who were too dumb to know they were being duped by singers who knew how to push emotional buttons as a way of selling music.
In large part, this attitude was centered around making myself look cool i…

The Importance of Going For It: a Blind Man Shows Us How

As the saying goes, some are born great, and some have greatness thrust upon them.  The problem with the latter clause is that some interpret it as a mandate to sit back and wait for things to happen, when the reality is that we all bear a responsibility to use what God has given us, and take the opportunities when they are in front of us. Sometimes, we just have to go for it.

At a recent U2 concert in Nashville, a fan showed a certain level of "go for it!" and it resulted in a magnificent moment that, because we're in the Youtube age, we all get to witness.

As the story goes, a blind fan--Adam Bevell, from Arizona--was wearing a sign saying "Blind Guitar Player" while attending their show on Saturday, July 2. After the last song, the band waved to the audience, then headed out of sight, their evening's mission complete. But out of the corner of his eye, Bono saw the fan and his sign, and did a U-turn toward the fan. Less than 30 seco…