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Showing posts from 2012

The Gospel According to Les Misérables

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Les Misérables comes to us in many formats: The Victor Hugo novel, the stage production, and the various movies and TV miniseries. In 1998, I got my first exposure to the story by watching the non-musical film version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. I was blown away. What an amazing story.  A skilled pastor could base an entire series of sermons on Les Mis.

I recently saw the new version, directed by Tom Hooper and starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe.  It was fantastic.  Here are a few unorganized thoughts:

1. Many have commented on the story and talked gushingly about how it's an illustration of Grace vs. Law, with the logical conclusion that grace is superior. But let's tap the brakes and take a second look. Javert (the police Inspector) existed because society needs someone to uphold the law.

Likewise, both Law and grace are equally important components of the Gospel. God is a just God, and demands justice. If sin is committed, someone’s gon…

Sandy Hook: The Solution to the One Thing That Caused This Tragedy

Reading about the mass killing of kindergartners at Sandy Hook was heartbreaking for me, as I am sure it was for you. 

On a different level, I was also saddened while reading comments on Facebook and at the bottom of news stories, calling for changes to keep such massacres from happening. 

The tone of many of such comments was that they couldn't understand why people couldn't see that the clear cause of these incidents is _______________ (fill in the blank).  Unfortunately, many who believe there is a clear-cut answer to this problem have very different views of what the main problem is. 

Additionally, once you do focus on that one problem, then you find that there are people who disagree very strongly about how to address that one problem. For example, let's take the availability of assault rifles and handguns.  For some, common sense dictates that everyone carry a gun, to either prevent a shooting in a public place, or to stop it quickly once it starts. But to others, …

Math Formulas We Can Really Use

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If any cry of anguish is universal across generations, it's this one, said by kids in Algebra classes throughout the land: "Why do I have to do this stuff? Am I ever going to use it in real life?"

Kids and adults alike acknowledge that we use elementary-school math in real life on a daily basis. We add, subtract, multiply and divide quite frequently. But when teachers start replacing the numbers with letters, and are introduced to terms such as "variable" and "polynomial", then those instructors meet resistance from students, and their protests often center around the idea that this kind of math will do them no good in the real world.

A lazy adult will simply affirm the students' suspicions by admitting that complex algebraic problems don't make their way into everyday life. It's an easy thing to say, but the truth is that life is full of situations in which formulas are required or at least helpful.

Here are some math formulas that ring …

Obliviots

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Sit back and let me tell you a story:

One day a couple of years ago, I made a trip to my local supermarket. I encountered 4 different people during this single trip; together, those 4 individuals confirmed for me what I always suspected:  people can be very selfish, and have no idea that they are. 

1. When I arrived in the parking lot, I wanted to turn into one of the lanes so I could park, but the car ahead of me had to go forward or somehow get out of my way. Alas, that driver didn't see things my way, so he just...kinda...stayed...where...he...was for a while. He didn't seem to care that someone might be behind him.

2. When he finally moved, I drove toward an empty parking space that I had spied on the way in. It turned out to not really be empty, because another person in another car in the adjacent space went wayyyy past their yellow line and effectively took up two spaces. And they were in a smaller-than-average car, I might add. There was no need nor excuse to take tw…

The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Part 5

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I'm going to post a few links to Youtube clips of my favorite tunes that have been criminally unknown or underappreciated. This is Part 5. click here for Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

In no particular order:


Sam Moore, from 60's R&B legends Sam and Dave, showed in this late 80's recording that his voice was as strong as ever. He played an R&B singer in the movie John Cusack/Tim Robbins comedy "Tapeheads" and was featured singing this song in a sparsely-populated nightclub. While the movie is extremely funny, this song is as serious as it gets.  The powerful lyrics, combined with incredible vocals and a nice sax solo by Junior Walker, make this one irresistible.



"The Flame", by Spyche


Technically, we can't say this song is unknown, as it was a big hit for Cheap Trick. But this version, by a local Dallas musician with a day job, is a big improvement over the original. Take away the Cheap Trick over-emotive vocal, and strip away the over-production…

The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Part 4

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I'm going to post a few links to Youtube clips of my favorite tunes that have been criminally unknown. This is Part 4.  Part 1Part 2Part 3
In no particular order:

"Old Habits Are Hard To Break" by Ronnie Milsap


John Hiatt wrote it and recorded it, but no version can compare to this one. Milsap's vocals here are as good as anything he's ever done. If you didn't know he had done syrupy ballads before, and heard him here for the first time, you'd swear he was a lifelong bluesman. This story of a man appealing to his female friend to get out of a destructive, soul-killing, relationship grabbed me the first time I heard it. It may be my favorite recorded song ever. 


"Only Human" by Rosanne Cash

Many years ago, I noticed a consistent theme in Rosanne Cash's music: it's extremely important to her how people treat each other, and when someone is less than considerate to her, she's going to say something about it. this is epitomized in "…

The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Part 3

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I'm going to post a few links to Youtube clips of my favorite tunes that have been criminally unknown. This is Part 3.  Part 1Part 2Part 4.

In no particular order:

"It Ain't Real If It Ain't You" by Mark Gray


Mark Gray was a country singer who never caught on, but this is a gem. His vocals are as soulful and meaty as it gets. Sadly, country fans probably ignored this song in order to pay attention to some line-dancing nonsense. I still have the 45 for this one.


"Nail It Down" by the Meat Puppets


I may be wrong, but believe that Dwight Yoakam's friend Pete Anderson produced this one. Straightforward rock and roll.



The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Part 2

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I'm going to post a few links to Youtube clips of my favorite tunes that have been criminally unknown. This is Part 2. Part 1Part 3Part 4. In no particular order:



"Infested" by Course of Empire

I don't know if I'll ever understand why this one didn't make this band famous. It had a cool video. Course of Empire had a great regional following and a great stage presence. The sound fit in at a time when Grunge had brought back crunching guitars.   Ah well.
"Infested" needs to be cranked up to be properly enjoyed.




"Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps" by Doris Day

The two songs on this page could not be any more dissimilar. Still, a great song's a great song. This one's from the pre-rock era, early 1950's.  It has an irresistible melody that's not easily forgotten. "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" will stick in your head.

The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Part 1

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I'm going to post a few links to Youtube clips of my favorite tunes that have been criminally unknown. This is Part 1.
For the rest of this series: Part 2Part 3Part 4.

In no particular order:

"Penny To My Name" by Eva Cassidy
Eva Cassidy had one of the greatest voices I have ever heard. She recorded in a friend's studio and sang at local places near her Maryland hometown, but only became well-known after her death from cancer at age 33. "Penny to My Name" tells a heartbreaking story of a young woman trapped in a hard marriage, with young kids, barely scraping by while running a gas station and dealing with a drunk for a husband. What's really heartbreaking is that she's living in a place that many people want to escape to, but she has no appreciation for the gorgeous view she enjoys daily, and she only wants to see city lights and get away from what she thinks is an unexciting life.



"Don't Change On Me" by Ray Charles



He looks young he…

Eyes on My Father

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DING!  With a swing of the bat, the little white ball, headed toward the catcher’s mitt, was forced to do an about-face, and was now outfield-bound. The 11-year-old batter, realizing the ball was well-hit, was determined to stretch this one into a double.  As he rounded first base, the right-fielder reached the ball. The runner headed toward second as the outfielder scooped up the ball, transferred it to this throwing hand, then let it fly toward the infield. As the runner slid into second, the ball came in, just a tad late.  Jacob was safe with a double. With a big smile on his face, he stood up and looked toward the dugout, where his dad, the team’s manager, was standing and cheering. The son’s eyes locked in on his father’s, and they shared a proud smile.  Neither noticed the noise around them, but it sure was loud.


That loudness was a combination of 40 or so adults cheering, clapping, and yelling not-very-helpful instructions to the players. Half of them were parents on Jacob’s t…

Book Review: Wild Grace, by Max Lucado and James Lund

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"Wild Grace" by Max Lucado and James Lund, is a spinoff of Lucado's book, simply titled "Grace".  The difference between the two is that "Wild Grace" is specifically targeted toward teens.  I asked for and received a free copy from Booksneeze for review purposes, thinking that perhaps my oldest two kids, age 11, might benefit from it. As it turns out, some of the stories conveyed in "Wild Grace" touch on topics, including drugs and pornography, that my kids aren't quite ready to read about, so I'm reviewing this from my point of view, not theirs. 
But even though it's not quite right for preteens, I came away very impressed with the book. It's interspersed with stories form the bible and with stories from modern-day believers who have experienced God's grace in countless ways. In one particularly stirring story, a man talks of his introduction to internet porn as a teen, and the ways that God came through at the time, an…

Top Ten Best TV Sitcom Characters of All Time

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The title says it all. Broadcast TV only:

1. Lucy Ricardo
2. Homer Simpson
3. Barney Fife
4. Radar O'Reilly
5. Johnny Fever
6. Edith Bunker
7. Louie DePalma
8. George Costanza
9. Carla Tortelli
10. Mork


I don't have a Bottom 10 list, but I'm sure Urkel is on it.

NOTE: As I write this, I'm in the middle of writing a piece about last night's (10/16/12) Presidential debate. I needed to do something not so serious for a short while.

Two Years Later

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Tuesday marks the 2nd anniversary of the passing of my friend Tim Wright. In a way, I lost him before September 18, 2010, as he was pretty much unconscious the last several weeks. But I did go see him a few days before he died. My friends Bill and Brian played guitar as we sang worship songs, and I held Tim's hand as he lay there. He didn't have the appearance of a man with a brain tumor; if you didn't know any better, you'd think he was just napping.

The next day, September 19, was a Sunday, and my oldest son Jacob was baptized. I loved the timing. Tim did wonderful work in the lives of people during his life, but here, less than 24 hours after his passing, I witnessed the continuation, in the form of Jacob's baptism, of the mark Tim left on the world. I say that because, while I'm not a perfect father, anything good that happens as a result of my parenting can be credited at least partially to Tim's influence on my life. So it was an honor to kick off Ph…

Truisms for September 10

1. One can never be too old to benefit from watching Mr Rogers.

2. Lefty-loosy, righty-tighty.

3. The size of a person's pickup truck is inversely proportional to the chances he's a cat owner.

4. "Are you better off than 4 years ago?" Is an incredibly stupid question which brings out the selfishness in people.

5. "Man on Fire" is a criminally underappreciated movie.

6. Too many people treat their political affiliation on the level of their religious belief. Their loss.

7. If forced to make a choice, I'll take Queen Latifah over Queen Elizabeth.

8. The nation of Kyrgystan really should buy a vowel.

9. Nine truisms in one blog post is a good number.

Book Review: Surfing For God

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The title and subtitle: Surfing For God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle, pretty much sums up what this book is about. Micheal Cusick offers an explanation for the fascination that men have with pornography and sexual images. Most of us have heard this fascination explained with something along the lines of "men are more visually stimulated than women; it's how we're wired."  But Surfing For God offers a radically different reason: we are made to worship God, and we men are finding a sort of substitute--something that promises to fulfill that need, even as it's guaranteed not to keep that promise.

It's an intriguing idea, one I've never heard before. I'm still digesting it, but I will say that the author makes a compelling case, using Scripture and science to back up his claims. I will say that it fits together well with many other recent attempts to explain why men do what they do. In fact, "Wild at Heart" author John…

Watching Perfection As It Happens

We all have our "thing." My thing is that I love watching someone excel. To do something very well, in my opinion, glorifies God. This clip shows each of the 27 outs that made up Felix Hernandez's perfect game today, and it's a site to behold:


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Millions of Believers Can Be mobilized. Now What?

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OK, my fellow followers of Jesus. We have shown that we can mobilize and have millions do something all on an appointed day. Now that we know we can do this, let's do something that will really make a difference.

I mean it.

Any ideas? Give free groceries in a lower-income neighborhood? Go to a gay bar and tell people how much Jesus loves them? Pass out school supplies to needy kids? Give free bibles? (Side note: when purchased in case quantities, the cost per bible is about one-third that of a chicken sandwich.)

Seriously.

These things have all been done on a small scale from time to time. But now we know we can mobilize as a nation. What can we do that will make a positive difference, all in one day? Something that focuses on Jesus and not an "issue"?

Then, we need a celebrity Christian with a Huckabee-like following.  Not that I know any.

Why I Won't be Eating Chick-Fil-A on August 1

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Conan O'Brien recently remarked that it's a shame that our nation is divided along line lines of where you buy your fried chicken sandwiches. Of course, when he said it, it was funnier. But I'm having a hard time finding this episode funny any more.

As you no doubt are aware, Mike Huckabee appears to have gotten a lot of support for his declaration of August 1 as Support Chick-Fil-A Day. Clicking http://www.isupportchickfila.com/ will take you to the Facebook page he has set up, inviting people who agree with CFA CEO Dan Cathy regarding same-sex marriage to show their support by spending money at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1.   Over half a million have agreed, by "Liking" the page, and have pledged to go.

I won't be one of them.

For the record: I love Chick-Fil-A. I also hold a biblical view of same-sex relationships. Just a guess, but I'll bet Cathy and I vote very similarly. Additionally, I am very disturbed at the reaction from pro-gay individua…

Review: The Beauty Book, by Nancy Rue

Reviewing this particular book may seem a little strange for me. However, I have a young daughter, now entering that age of transition from little girl to ....well, that next stage should be interesting.

One of the key elements of this next stage is that girls tend to pay more attention to how they look. It's no surprise that our culture has skewed this just a bit. It's my job as dad to help my girl understand what's important and what's not when it comes to outward appearances. Nancy Rue's "The Beauty Book" is a great way to help keep things in perspective.

Rue has written some fiction books featuring a character named Lily. This book, while non-fiction, uses Lily and her friends to help the reader focus on God’s idea of inner and outer beauty.

It's not a preachy book. It's appropriately fun, full of quizzes and other activities. And as I said, it keeps a focus on the right thing: how God created beauty, and how if we keep His perspective on the t…

Soccer = Vanilla Ice

With the buzz related to the exciting finish to a championship soccer game in England last week, we get to be treated once more to accusations that Americans need to get on board and appreciate soccer, to be point of elevating it to a major sport.

This is a good time to address a few common misconceptions regarding Americans and soccer:
1.  If Americans would just give soccer a chance, they'd enjoy it more than baseball, football, or basketball.
Look, it's not like Americans haven't tried. First, we played it in both organized (league) and unorganized formats as a kid (Exhibit A: note all the youth soccer leagues throughout the nation). I played it for 3 or so seasons myself. In fact, I played it as young adult in a league for one season. I've attended games by local professional teams (I live in the 4th-most populated area in the US, and we have a couple to choose from). I've had my kids play in leagues. I have watched it on TV.

And yet, with all that, I sti…

Star Wars vs. that other movie

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Lots of folks are being clever with today's date, and associating it with Star Wars. (May the 4th = May the fourth be with you: get it?)

When Star Wars made it to theaters in 1977, I was 12. I went, got so bored I barely made it to the end of the movie. A few weeks before or after, a movie called "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" came out, and I loved it. It was a powerful story, far superior to Star Wars.

To this day, I don't get why, of those two movies, one became iconic and the other is barely remembered. I have never seen another Star Wars movie since, although I may sit down and watch them since my boys are about old enough to get into them. Hopefully, I'll find them more interesting than I did the first time.

I'm sure that Star Wars is more popular because of the effects, the use of music, the bad guy you love to hate, the light sabers, and the talking robots who seem human.  Sadly, the thing that is missing from Star Wars is the human-ness. 

Book Review--Here's Lily

Nancy Rue's "Here's Lily" is not the type of book I'd normally read or review, but I have a 10-year-old daughter who fits right into the target demographic for this and Rue's 100+ other books.

The title character is a 6th-grade redhead who, like most other girls her age, faces concerns about her body image, popularity, and friendships. Rue takes her through these challenges in a warm, caring way, without falling into melodrama. 

Compounding the normal tween/teen issues is a near-tragedy which affects Lily in many ways. Throughout, the love of Christ and the stabilizing presence of good parents promise comfort, wisdom, and guidance, and that alone makes this book worth the price. That said, "Here's Lily" isn't just a book with a good message. It's funny, entertaining, and never boring. 

Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze program enabled me to have a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Book Review--"Love Does" by Bob Goff

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Readers of Donald Miller's excellent book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" were introduced to Bob Goff, a man who I'd swear is a fictional hero if Miller didn't insist he was a real person. Goff sounds like he's too good to be true.

The Good
The stories in Miller's book are pretty amazing: his kids invited themselves to meet with the leader of every nation in the world, and 29 presidents, kings,  and princes took them up on it. Goff started a New Year's day parade in which several blocks of neighbors participate. He managed to push through several judicial reforms in Uganda which resulted in kids being freed and witch doctors being put out of business. And that's just the start.

Bob Goff is a real person, and he's the real deal; he loves Jesus and has a desire to use what he has to show the love of Jesus in tangible, life-changing ways to as many people as he can. One cannot help but be inspired by reading these stories, and the life les…

Blue Like Jazz--the Film, opens this weekend

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This is a rewrite of last week's review, as it appears on Burnside Writers Collective:


By making a small contribution to last year's effort to fund the making of "Blue Like Jazz" via Kickstarter, I put myself in line to receive an invitation to the Fort Worth premiere on March 21. This showing was part of a 30-city tour in which Donald Miller, the author of the book by the same name, appeared in person, accompanied by director Steve Taylor and lead actor Marshall Allman.

I went in guessing that the movie would likely stray far from the "Safe for the Whole Family" boundaries that many Christian-themed films seem bound to. And as it turned out, I was right: the PG-13 rating was earned. The story in the movie (which bears little resemblance to the book) is about a young man who renounces his faith before rediscovering it in a fresh way. This necessitated the depiction of various sinful behaviors and attitudes. There are a few naughty words, m…

Book Review—Crater, by Homer Hickam

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