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Archive for the ‘Musicians’ Category

Insecurities and the Seven Sons of Sceva

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Humanity, Musicians, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on June 27, 2014 at 12:43 am

“But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?'” Acts 19:15

This verse (along with the passage from which it comes) has run through my head about a hundred times in the past week. Believe it or not, we’ve been on vacation, but my insecurities are no respecter of calendar dates, locations, or accommodations. I’m never surprised (though never ready) when feelings of unworthiness and personal contempt raise their ugly heads and say hello.

Without boring you with too many details (ask my wife: vacationing with me is about as exciting as watching paint dry), I started off our trip alone, flying to North Carolina to cover for Michael Card, who was teaching an intensive Bible seminar at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville. It’s unfortunate that many folks my age (43) and younger don’t have a knowledge of or appreciation for Mike’s music, writing, and teaching, but the older (50 and above) folks know a good thing when they find it; many of them follow Mike across the country for his concerts or Biblical Imagination conferences or even around the world (he had just gotten back from a tour in Ireland in May and takes a group to Israel every year in January).

Mike’s “fans” tend to have more gray hair, available time, and discretionary funds than most, all of which equate to big expectations when they’re shelling out $429 a pop at one of the premier conference centers in the country to hear arguably one of the best Bible teachers in the world. The topic for last week was the Gospel of John, for which Mike has just finished a new book and album (pre-order yours here). The good news was he was able to teach Monday-Thursday; the other news was, due to a mistaken double-booking, he was going to have to leave late Thursday night and needed a pinch-hitter to wrap up the week.

Overlooking the Smoky Mountains at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC.

As Mike and I have done conferences together off-and-on for 12 years now, he asked me if I would fill in for him. Without really considering the dynamics, I said I would. I flew out Wednesday night, sat in on three sessions on Thursday, and then Mike and I executed a brief baton pass toward the end of the Thursday evening meeting. It went well, but I still had two sessions by myself on Friday morning and 120 folks who, without intending to be evil, had to be asking the demon’s question with a twist:

“Jesus I know, and Michael Card I recognize, but who are you?”

Fast-forward to Sunday morning. After leaving The Cove Friday afternoon and flying to Denver that evening, I met up with Megan and our two youngest daughters and drove to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park to pick up our two oldest daughters who had just finished RYM Camp with our City Presbyterian Pyretics group (major props to youth director Jarod Mason and intern Laura Parsons for coordinating and chaperoning). From there, we drove to Colorado Springs and up to Eagle Lake Camps, where Megan and I met and invested ten years (1992-2001) of our lives, and where I was to speak at staff chapel on Sunday morning. (As their two older sisters had three years previously, our two younger daughters were also set to attend camp this week.)

With Maddie, Millie, Katie, and Chloe on the deck of Lilly cabin at Eagle Lake northwest of Colorado Springs, CO.

As you might imagine, the crowd was much younger than at The Cove; instead of 120 senior citizens, I was looking down the barrel of 120 wild-eyed high school- and college-aged students who will spend the rest of the summer caring for over 2,700 kids from all over the country. The energy was overwhelming, as was my self-doubt. I had worked weeks in advance on my message, but now that I was onsite, I wondered if it would actually connect; most of these kids would have been in diapers (if they were even born) when I was at Eagle Lake in my twenties, and it’s never pretty when an older speaker attempts to play hipster (which I didn’t) to reach a younger audience.

While many of the staff had apparently heard of me (it’s not hard to be a camp celebrity just by virtue of having lasted ten years at one), I couldn’t help but imagine them saying to themselves:

“Jesus I know, and some counselor I heard a story or two about from twenty years ago I recognize, but who are you?”

Who are you? Luke records that the evil spirit asked the question not of Christian believers but of “itinerant Jewish exorcists” who “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits” (Acts 19:13). In other words, these “seven sons of Sceva” (great ska band name!) were trying to coast on the coattails of Jesus and Paul, but the evil spirit would not be fooled. The result wasn’t pretty: “The man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16).

The story is a reminder as well as a warning. Whether speaking to a weekend conference or camp audience or to our family and friends on a daily basis, are we doing so as followers of Christ or as Christian posers? Are we ministering out of the overflow of our relationship with Jesus, or are we name-dropping the Savior and his apologists in hopes that – somehow – His power will transfer anyway? As the passage records, there are few more dangerous sins than the sin of presumption.

The question of “Who are you?” is as pointed an accusation Satan and his agents of evil can throw at us, as there is no more powerful attack than one that attacks our person. But this is when we remind Satan (and ourselves) of who the Lord says we are. Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9-10 are helpful:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In case you were wondering, the two sessions at The Cove went better than I hoped (there’s no more honest compliment than conferees confessing afterward that, yes, they had been disappointed you weren’t the original speaker, but they saw God’s hand in it and were glad and grateful after all). The talk at Eagle Lake seemed to hit home (there’s no more humbling thanks than when semi-awkward 19-year-olds try almost too hard to convince you that your message was exactly what they needed that morning). Whew.

The good news of the Gospel is that, while feelings of insecurities may be frequent and no fun, they can keep our poser potential in check if we confess them to Jesus so He can remind us who – and Whose! – we are. To do otherwise – to “fake it ’til we make it” despite our insecurities – will leave us naked, wounded, and in a vulnerable state that we will only want to hide from others and from God.

Leonard Bernstein’s Mass

In Arts, Musicians, Oklahoma City, Thought, Young Ones on April 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

Our two oldest have been rehearsing their hearts out for this performance in a couple of weeks. Proud of them for their efforts, glad for them for the opportunity. Tickets available.

Review: Les Miserables

In Arts, Holidays, Movies, Musicians, Thought on December 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm


Most people interested enough to read this review already know the musical storyline of Les Miserables (here's a quick refresher if you need one), and the movie (thankfully) is quite faithful to it. That said, I'll jump right into my observations and you can accept or reject whatever you like (feel free to leave comments below concerning either).

Hugh Jackman is always good, and while his acting is stellar as hero Jean Valjean, I was hoping for more vocally. Jackman is a huge talent and I'm not sure anyone else (in Hollywood, that is) could have pulled off half the performance he does, but his voice is not nearly as full as his Broadway or West End predecessors, particularly on the higher stuff ("Bring Him Home" seemed really pinched vocally). Still, he is very smooth to watch and completely believeable, both as convict and Christian, and while the only other Jackman song that somewhat disappoints vocally is "One Day More," it's probably more due to the choreography than anything (Jean Valjean seems slightly emasculated as he repeats the song's main line from the window of a moving horse-drawn carriage).

Russell Crowe is way out of his league as Javert, and there are some downright painful moments watching and listening to him play the self-righteous constable pursuing Valjean. My sense is Crowe got it in his mind that, because of Javert's strict adherence to the letter of the law, he was going to act and sing that way…and he does. Unfortunately, his face needs little help help playing dull, and his voice is just not interesting enough to be interesting (for those who know me, imagine if I were playing the role and you'd get about the same quality of performance).

Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" is indeed powerful and amazing to watch, but as much because of Tom Hooper's directing choices as her performance (though she is fantastic). As he did with Valjean's conversion scene at the beginning of the film, Hooper goes all Scorsese and films one long take with Hathaway's Fantine. What makes this effective in both scenes is that he has Jackman and Hathaway sing close up and right into the camera, which makes for a very intimate experience. Make no mistake, both Jackman and Hathaway make the most of these scenes (easily their best, and will surely earn them Oscar nominations), but they are most definitely elevated by Hooper's direction.

The other Hollywood-recognizable names in the show (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, and Amanda Seyfried) all do well enough, and the kids who play Cosette and Gavroche are wonderful. But as is always true with live theater, the secondary and background actors in this movie are really the ones who steal the show, as they had to rely on talent (and not just name alone) to actually get (and keep) the job. Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Epinone), and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) all turn in top performances, and it was a nice touch to have the original (and personal favorite) Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, play the role of the Bishop who forgives Valjean.

Much has been made of how Hooper went about filming this musical, recording the vocals live on set and then replacing the piano that tracked the actors with a full orchestra later. While this approach certainly benefits Jackman's and Hathaway's aforementioned key scenes, it also causes a fair amount of what feels like phasing at times, particularly when Jackman starts too many songs with spoken (rather than sung) lyrics or when Crowe is simply trying to keep up. Here the music suffers, and even if the audience may not know the show's score at all, I imagine they may feel a bump or two.

We took all four of our girls (9, 10, 12, almost 14) as they are all big fans of the soundtrack, and I was probably more uncomfortable with the few sensual scenes than the greater number of violent ones. That said, none of the scenes (sensual or violent) are graphic or gratutitous, and all are contextualized to the story being told; redemption, after all, requires redeeming what is not supposed to be. We want our kids to see, feel, and talk with us about these hard things even when they're hard to watch, but some parents may not share our conviction on the matter. (Note: The film's rated PG-13 for those who care about such things.)

One of the good discussions we all had on the way home was the end of the film and its transition of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from a call to revolution to a call to Heaven. As Jean Valjean peacefully passes away (escorted by an angelic Fantine), he joins the ranks of those who fought and died on the side of the revolution in celebration of new freedom and spiritual existence. The scene is hardly ethereal or weird, but it is a big one and presumes a universalist take on salvation, namely that everyone who has died has (of course) gone to a better place. As our kids asked questions and pointed out the problems with this assumption, we had the opportunity to discuss how a sentimental universalist view of Heaven may make for a warm and fuzzy movie ending, but it does not line up with true and accurate biblical theology.

Is Les Miserables worth 157 minutes of your life? Yes. Is it perfect? No, but impefection never stopped Jean Valjean (and it shouldn't stop you from going to see and hear his story). Leave a comment and let me know what you think if/when you do.

Have Biblical Imagination, Will Travel

In Calling, Church, Friends, Musicians, Places, Theologians, Travel on May 18, 2012 at 6:28 am

Off again this weekend, this time to Willowick, OH. Here's a new video with Mike filmed at March's Biblical Imagination conference in Normal, IL, for a peek at what this is all about.

When Presbyterians Rock

In Church, Musicians, Places on March 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I always have a good time visiting different churches and meeting some really neat people as part of our Biblical Imagination conferences. This weekend, we're in Normal, IL, and I got a kick out of my fellow Presbyterians' attempt to rock.

When Presbyterians Rock

(For those not in on the joke, you usually don't put a digital piano up on an x-rack.)

On the 10th Anniversary of September 11th

In Musicians, Places, Thought, TV on September 11, 2011 at 5:16 am

Never mind the fact that it’s my favorite U2 song and the single greatest performance in the history of SuperBowl half-time shows, but I remember how healing and powerful U2’s 9/11 tribute was in February of 2002. Even watching it now, I’m blown away by the visual of bright hope emerging from the dark background of tragedy.

Maybe this (among other reasons) is why, ten years later, my sense of grief is not as personally paralyzing as it seems for others. Some may roll their eyes, but in reflecting back, I think Bono and the boys helped me deal with it then…not completely unaffectedly I’m sure, but in a way that allowed me to move on.

“Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We’re still building, then burning down love
Burning down love, and when I go there
I go there with you, it’s all I can do”

For those struggling with today’s 10th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, I hope this can be of some comfort to you. (Thanks to my friend, Al Li, for reminding me of this tribute.)

U2: A Recap

In Family, Musicians, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on July 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Girls Outside Busch






In Calling, Church, Musicians, Places on February 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

Calvin (cropped)
I just finished up the weekend at Bible Fellowship Church in Sebring, Florida, as part of the Biblical Imagination conference with Michael Card. We had 90 folks from all over the state join us for 24 hours of teaching, listening, and learning together from the book of Luke. I'm very tired, but, as my father would say, it's a good kind of tired.

In reflecting this morning at the hotel before we (the Biblical Imagination team of Ron, Holly, Susan, Mike, and me) drove to Tampa to catch flights back home, I wanted to share a little about a man named Calvin whom we met here in Sebring.

Calvin has the build of a small NFL wide-receiver: broad shoulders, wiry but strong (in fact, I grinned when he came to Mike's concert last night in a football jersey as it just seemed to fit). Though he looks young from a distance, when you get face to face, you realize he's older than he first seemed – probably in his fifties – as the lines in his face run deep and there's a depth to his eyes that makes you want to hear his story.

While I didn't get all the details, the gist is that Calvin (who has St. Louis roots) spent 22 years incarcerated before he came to Christ in the last six years of that time. He got out of prison and is now being helped through a ministry here in Sebring called Little Lambs led by John and Eileen Sala, who were also at the conference (John, a native of Brooklyn, had once been in prison as well).

All through the conference, Calvin sat with the Salas and soaked up everything Mike and I taught about Luke, biblical imagination, and responding to Jesus. Warm, kind, and with a great smile, he asked questions, interacted, and even contributed a few observations that blessed all in the room. In response to our last "assignment" at the end of the conference, he shared a parable of his life that brought tears to the eyes of many as he described growing up as a boy who never really knew love.

After almost every song that Mike played at the concert last night, Calvin had some kind of one-word verbal response – "Yes" or "Amen" or "Thank you" – that he felt free to share because of the acceptance of God and those in the room. Toward the end of the concert, as Mike was introducing "Freedom" (my favorite song from his new "A World Turned Upside Down" album), he commented that of all the people in the room, this one might mean the most to Calvin, who beamed. The lyrics are as follows:

I am lost and I am bound
and I am captive to the shame that keeps on holding me down
And all I need to be found is freedom

I am tired and I am dying
and I am trapped inside a cage I've made of hopelessly trying
But the door would open and I'd be flying if I could find freedom

Freedom, freedom
All the burdens we have borne, all the losses that we mourn
Cry out for freedom, freedom

Prison walls and bolted doors
Something keeps on telling me that I was made for more
That there is Someone Who can restore my freedom

A gentle voice I can't evade
speaks in the darkness of the heart and whispers "Do not be afraid"
You can be free, the price was paid for your freedom

Freedom, freedom
From the darkness of the night, from desolation to delight
Freedom, freedom
The chains are broken, the door is open – He is your freedom

It was a beautiful, beautiful picture of the gospel – certainly in Calvin's life because of his story of imprisonment, but also for the rest of us whom Christ has freed from our own "cages of hopelessly trying." I was too tired to cry, but I wanted to – thanking God for what he has done in Calvin's life, in the lives of those there, and in my own as well. The weekend let me speechless as – in the words of Luke – I am both "amazed and astonished" at God's love for me, a sinner.

Christmas Eve Assembly Goes Digital

In Family, Holidays, Musicians, Young Ones on December 24, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Some do Christmas Eve assembly with wrenches and screwdrivers; I do it with Photoshop and InDesign. Here's the U2 concert poster I put together tonight for the girls to unwrap together on Christmas morning. Since this concert will be their first real rock show, we thought such a milestone merited a customized promotional piece they can hang in their rooms to build anticipation (not that that will be a problem – they're all already big fans).

Just training them up in the way they should go…or something.

U2 Poster

Coming to St. Louis in 2011

In Calling, Church, Education, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians on November 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

Mike Teaching (with logo)

In case you missed it, the website I've been working on for musician/author Michael Card's Biblical Imagination Series just went live this weekend. I used Clover Sites to create it and am impressed (still) with how easy and well-thought-out their content management system is (I've worked with plenty of lousy ones in the past and this was a dream).

For those in St. Louis, we're bringing the conference to Chesterfield Presbyterian Church all day on Saturday, January 15th, with Mike doing a concert on Sunday the 16th. The cost is only $58 for the conference AND concert ($78 if you want Mike's new book and album coming out next year as well – see site for details), and I can personally vouch for the quality of the experience (though the emcee/education guy's a little suspect).

Whether you've read the Bible for years or are just starting out in the Scriptures, this one-day conference would be well worth your investment in cultivating greater biblical literacy and love for God and His Word. Hope to see you there (and please help spread the word about the new Biblical Imagination website and Facebook community – thanks).

Music Week 2010

In Education, Musicians, Westminster on September 24, 2010 at 9:12 am


Here are the songs from this year's Discerning Ear Project in Ethics class. The gist of the project is that the kids bring in music (MP3s with lyric sheets) and explain it as fitting in one of three moral categories (good, bad, or neutral); thus, we spend the week listening, discussing, and debating meaning and morality.

After they spend a week wrestling through the difficulties of trying to categorize their music (dualism example: If there's some good and some bad in the song, does that then make it neutral?), we then talk about a more Reformed way of approaching things, asking what we can affirm in each song, what we should challenge, and (and this is where it gets dicey), what our listening responses should be in light of passages like 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23, and others.

There was plenty of new music this year that I wasn't familiar with, but I confess nothing really stuck out enough to make me want to instantly (or even eventually) download it. Take a look through the songs and bands and let me know what I ought to take a chance on the next time I have some iTunes money.

  • 100 Years by Five for Fighting
  • Accidents Can Happen by Sixx A.M.
  • American Honey by Lady Antebellum
  • Apologize by One Republic
  • Away from the Sun by 3 Doors Down
  • Beauty from Pain by Superchick
  • Bicycle Race by Queen
  • Billionaire by Travie McCoy (featuring Bruno Mars)
  • Black Rock by O.A.R.
  • Buddy by Musiq Soulchild
  • California Stars by Billy Bragg and Wilco
  • Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
  • Chicken Fried by Zach Brown Band
  • Chop Suey by System of a Down
  • Cleaning this Gun by Rodney Atkins
  • Dance Anthem of the 80’s by Regina Spektor
  • Dead and Gone by T.I. (featuring Justin Timberlake)
  • Dear Life by Anthony Hamilton
  • Dynamite by Taio Cruz
  • Eclipse (All Yours) by Metric
  • Everything by Michael Buble
  • First Date by Blink 182
  • Ghetto Gospel by Tupac (featuring Elton John)
  • Grassman by Dodgy
  • Handlebars by The Flobots
  • I Am the Walrus by The Beatles
  • I Run to You by Lady Antebellum
  • I Was Made for Lovin’ You by KISS
  • If It’s Love by Train
  • If You’re Reading This by Tim McGraw
  • Imagine by John Lennon
  • Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars
  • King of Anything by Sara Bareilles
  • Lasso by Phoenix
  • Laughing With by Regina Spektor
  • Live and Let Die by Guns ‘N Roses
  • Love the Way You Lie by Eminem (with Rihanna)
  • Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by The Beatles
  • Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
  • Mr. Brightside by The Killers
  • My Generation by Nas and Damien Marley
  • My Heart by Paramore
  • Narwhals by Weebl’s Stuff
  • Needle and Haystack Life by Switchfoot
  • Not Afraid by Eminem
  • Play the Song by Joey & Rory
  • Pray for You by Jason and the Long Road to Love
  • Put Your Records by Corinne Bailey Rae
  • Roxanne by The Police
  • Scapegoat by Epik High
  • Second Chance by Shinedown
  • Show Me What I’m Looking For by Carolina Liar
  • Sing for the Moment by Eminem
  • Snuggle Song by Schnuffel Bunny
  • Sorrow by Flyleaf
  • That’s What Youth Is by No Brain
  • The Cave by Mumford and Sons
  • The Man Who Can’t Be Moved by The Script
  • The Show by Lenka
    Tricky by RUN D.M.C.
  • Queen Jane by Bob Dylan
  • Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles
  • What I’ve Done by Linkin Park
  • Where is the Love? by the Black-Eyed Peas
  • Unthinkable by Alicia Keys
  • Vengeance by Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Yellow Submarine by The Beatles

We Interrupt Our Normally Non-Scheduled Weekend…

In Arts, Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Musicians, Nature, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Young Ones on September 17, 2010 at 12:13 am

Here are some groovy events – several of which I'd love to see a familiar face at if you're in the area – that I'll be part of in the next six weeks. (If you or anyone you know has questions about the conferences, click the links or let me know and I'll fill in details.)


Applefestival 17-18: Griggsville Apple Festival (Uptown Square, Griggsville, IL)
I've written about this cultural tour de force before, but words and pictures just cannot do justice to my hometown's annual fall celebration; you just have to be there. That said, I'm once again looking forward to more time on the farm (now in harvest mode) since our Labor Day visit two weekends ago, as well as to seeing some former high school classmates from back in the day (when you graduated in a class of 30, it doesn't take much to have a yearly class reunion each September).

Camping 24-26: Annual Fall Family Camping Trip (Babler State Park, Wildwood, MO)
We always schedule this trip the weekend following Parent/Teacher conferences (after talking with parents for six hours straight and the struggles many of them are having in connecting with their students, I'm usually newly motivated to spend time with my own kids). New activity this year: the family bike ride, as all six of us are bike-mobile (now we just have to figure out how to get all six bikes there).


Tour2010logo 1-2: Tour de Cape (Downtown Pavilion, Cape Girardeau, MO)
Speaking of bikes, I've been pseudo-training (about 30 miles/week) to take my first "century ride" this weekend with a couple of co-workers (both of whom are much better bikers than I am). I've never before ridden 100 miles in a day, so we'll see how much Advil it takes to do it when it's all said and done.

Biblical Imagination 8-10: Biblical Imagination Conference with Michael Card (Fredericksburg, VA)
I wrote about this not too long ago, and it seems a little strange that we're less than a month out already. I'm pretty stoked to hang out on the east coast with Mike and company. This is the first conference of what I hope are many to come, so if you're too far from D.C. this time around, hang in there: odds are we'll be coming to you soon.

TwentySomeone 15-17: TwentySomeone/ThirtySomewhere Conference (Memphis, TN)
My good buddy, Mitchell Moore, is a pastor at Second Presbyterian in Memphis, and he's asked me to come down to speak at a retreat for peeps in their 20s and 30s. Revisiting the material (as well as working on some new for the next book) has been really fun, and I'm still "smokin' what I'm sellin'" (figuratively speaking, of course) in terms of making the most of these decades. Megan and the girls are coming with me, and we'll sight-see around Memphis on Saturday afternoon.

Relevant 22-24: Megan at The Relevant Conference (Harrisburg, PA)
The good news: I'll be home (and probably won't leave the house if I can help it); the other news: Megan won't be. As she did in Colorado in July, my wife will be taking in another blogging conference – this one of a more devotional than technical nature – in Pennsylvania. I'm interested to see what comes out of her time there, as well as to what degree the two conferences overlap and supplement each other.

That's all for now. We now return you to our normally non-scheduled weekend…

Biblical Imagination: New Opp w/ Michael Card

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Musicians, Theologians, Writers on August 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

When I was 14, a friend of mine gave me my first Michael Card cassette, Scandalon. The year was 1985. Though quite different from the music my friends were listening to at the time, I was desperate for anything that spoke of my new friend, Jesus, who had just introduced Himself to me a few months earlier.

Thirty days later, I had worn out the tape.

While I enjoyed the richness of Michael’s distinct voice and memorable melodies, I was more intrigued by the words and phrases that made up his profound lyrics. Sadly, growing up in my small-town Methodist church, I had not heard much about (let alone begun to understand the meaning of) “the stone that makes men stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Scandalon), or that “the Lamb is a Lion who’s roaring with rage” (The Lamb is a Lion), or that when we follow Christ, we are following “God’s own fool” (God’s Own Fool). I was fascinated.

Though little of the language made sense to me at the time, I kept listening (though I had to get another tape—where were CDs when I needed them?). I also began reading (barely) the Scriptures, which I didn’t understand much at first, either. But whether listening to Michael (and others), or “semi-reading” the Bible, the imagery of it all stuck with me, dancing in my high school-aged head at night, sparking a hunger and thirst within me not only for this imagery’s meaning, but for being able to respond to its meaning. That’s what the power of creativity can do…and that’s what it has done in my life.

In 2002, as the program director for The Navigators Glen Eyrie Group, I booked Mike for a series of conferences/concerts at the Glen and insisted he be part of planning them. This was surreal for me and new for Mike (he had never had the opportunity to actually speak into the planning of a retreat for which he had been booked), and together we created the Scribbling in the Sand Conference on Creativity.

Twenty-five years since that initial listen to Scandalon and five years since our last conference days, I'm flying to Nashville this weekend to hang with Mike, as he has asked me to join his team as a creative adviser/collaborator/teacher for the next stage of his ministry. Mike has just signed a four-book deal on the topic of biblical imagination with InterVarsity Press, has a new album coming out in February, and wants to converge all these together in a weekend retreat/conference experience beginning next year.

Because of our friendship and past ministry together, he's asked me to help, both as a facilitator and as a co-teacher like we used to do back in the day. I'm thrilled, especially since a majority of the teaching he's doing these days is in the summer, which works well with my own teaching schedule during the school year at Westminster Christian Academy.

As a friend of mine mentioned as we were having breakfast this morning, God does not waste a thing in our lives. Indeed, to trace the hand of God through all of this has been yet another significant lesson in the reality of God's sovereignty and the importance of our faithfulness in the littlest of things. I don't know all that lies ahead (whether with Mike or otherwise), but I do know that God does, and he has proven himself trustworthy far too many times throughout history (the world's and my own) to doubt him.

I'm sure I'll have more after the trip, but in the meantime, thanks for any prayers you may offer on my behalf. Pray I'll be faithful to what God (and Mike) may be asking me to do as part of this new opportunity, as well as to what I'm doing now here in St. Louis.

For Sale: Old School (But Good as New) MIDI Rig

In Musicians, Technology on June 26, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Maybe it's just because we had a yard sale this weekend or the fact that I've finally come to grips that it's the end of an era, but I'm putting my old school (but still good as new) MIDI rig from back in my music days up for sale on Craig's List. Let me introduce you:



  • Alesis DMPro 20-bit expandable drum module (with power cord) – $300
    This was one of the last pieces I bought and quite a step up from its D4 predecessor. I used a lot of sounds off this one for the last band album, but would have liked more time with it to really turn it loose.
  • Alesis D4 16-bit drum module (with power cord) – $100
    The first drum module I bought, mostly for the Phil Collins gated snares. Not nearly as complicated as the DmPro, which was good since I was trying to figure out to make this work with everything else outside of my Ensoniq SQ-2 controller/sequencer.
  • Alesis DataDisk universal data storage module (with power cord) – $50
    The first module I ever bought. It's really nothing more than a glorified 3.5" disk drive, but it not only saved but played MIDI sequences directly, which made me feel like I knew what I was doing a bit.
  • DBX 166A compressor/limiter module (with power cord) – $150

    Compression makes all the difference in a music mix. I couldn't have told you the reasons, but I could usually tell when there was too much or too little compression going on from what I heard. This unit, then, was what got tweaked.
  • Ensoniq Footswitch Model FSW-1 – $5

    This was what I used for my sustain pedal on my first Ensoniq (I later got another one with the second SQ-2 a friend gave me). Basic foot switch that worked for other functions as well.
  • Key Midiator MP-128 2 input x 8 output MIDI router (with power
    cords) – $35

    Nothing really fancy, the Midiator was one of two MIDI routers I used to try to sort signals once I started sequencing from a laptop. The digital interface is a serial port and made the whole setup look so, well, computerish (which used to be cool).
  • Lexicon Reflex dynamic MIDI reverb module (with power cord) – $150

    Lexicon makes good reverb units, and while this one wasn't high end, it did the job live. It was nice having this in the studio to throw on an instrument or two, but it wasn't studio level quality for vocals (though its more expensive brothers were).
  • Nexus Plus 2 input x 8 output MIDI switcher (with power cord) – $35

    I used this – the analog version of the aforementioned digital MIDI router – exclusively to route MIDI signals before a laptop was involved and I was sequencing everything on-board the SQ-2. Very old school feel with the set of eight three-position switches.
  • Roadgear 4-space rack – $75 (or free with purchase of at least four

    This was my first and only module rack and I was so giddy when I had to buy it because it meant I had more than one module to handle. By the time I got up to four, you would have thought I was opening for Howard Jones or something.
  • Roland JV-880 multi-timbral synthesizer module (with World Expansion
    Board SR-JV80-05, PCM1-04 Grand Piano 1 card, and power cord) – $200

    This was the workhorse and the most complete piece I ever bought. The piano, horns, strings, basses, and organs were all great on this unit, but when I bought and added the World expansion board with bagpipes, that was the pinnacle.

As it says in the listing,
all units are fully-functioning and in pristine condition (no scratches
whatsoever on faceplates; all buttons, knobs, and lights original and
intact). They've only had one owner (me), and I took really good care of
them while they were in my charge (they were, after all, like friends in a way, as we spent a whole lot of time sharing "ideas").

Musically, these modules are real "meat and potatoes" units, and their sounds still keep up with the newer (and more expensive) sound modules today. Financially, I've priced them to move, as they're easily less than half (some barely a quarter) of what I paid for them. Personally, since these tools were important to me, I'd like to find someone who will give them a good musical home in which they get plugged in and played more than they have with me in past ten years.

If you know anyone who might like to get his/her hands on some great retro keyboard gear for a really good price, send them the link. And, if you'd like to hear some of the music I made back in the day with all this gear, click here and download 15 of my songs for free. Either way, I hope someone enjoys the music…then, now, and in the future.

Concert Review: Jewel

In Musicians, Places & Spaces on June 12, 2010 at 7:19 am

Thanks to Megan's nifty networking, we enjoyed free tickets/backstage passes to see Jewel when she came through town last weekend. We were big fans when she first came out 12 years ago or so, but hadn't really kept up with her music that much since (to our loss). Wow. What a performer.

The concert was at The Sheldon, which was a nice venue – pretty simple and basic – that allowed Jewel's storytelling and songwriting to nicely color the evening. Her new stuff was as good as anything she's done, and even though she's shown up on the country charts in recent days, she's ever the singer/songwriter who feels most at home with a guitar, a mic, and a crowd.

Here's a little video montage of the evening Megan put together, along with a few thoughts after the show from me. My performance is hardly as animated as Jewel's as we were standing in the lobby after the show and I felt a little self-conscious talking to the camera with everyone milling around, but you get what you pay for.

I'd write more, but since it's almost a week since the show, here's a review that does a nice job summing up my own musical observations. Nice evening all around.

Summer 2010 Preview, Etc.

In Books, Calling, Education, Family, Humanity, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, TV, Vacation, Web/Tech, Westminster, Writers on May 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Sitting here on a Sunday night listening to some Lucinda Williams and doing a little writing. It's been a while since I've done a summary post of sorts, so since Megan and the girls are out of town and we're collectively an entire season behind to really make the LOST finale worth watching, here are a few things I've been thinking about and/or looking forward to:

School: This week is finals week, so I'll be spending most of my time grading. The good news is, unlike the past three years when I was evaluating projects and papers, I'm going into finals week with nothing other than finals to grade, so that should make for a little less consuming week in general.

In other school news, I've signed on for another year at Westminster, but my role is changing a bit as I'll be leaving the world of freshmen New Testament behind for fourth section of sophomore Ethics and one section of senior Worldviews next year. I'm glad for the transition all around.

One last note on the school front (this time the homeschool front), we're going to be entering a new stage of education here at home. This fall, our two oldest girls will be full-time students at Central Christian School in Clayton, while Megan continues leading the Classical Conversations group and homeschools our younger two (here are details from Megan's perspective).

Summer: In addition to writing (more on that below), my primary goal in June is to hang out with the little ladies, read some books, and get a few projects done around here. In addition, I'll help coach our Westminster summer baseball team for a week in June, as well as get trained on some new school information software, as I've been asked to be a mentor teacher to the rest of the staff this fall.

July ups the ante considerably in terms of travel, as we're planning a family trip to Colorado Springs, as the girls are now old enough (somehow) to attend The Navigators' camping programs (Eagle Lake and Eagle's Nest) we helped lead back in the day. I'll try to see as many folks as I can in a few days' time before I jump on a plane from Denver to Portland for my third year as part of Westminster's Summer Seminar. This time, I'll be investing ten days with 25 soon-to-be seniors in Washington state instead of South Dakota, after which I'll fly back to Colorado and then we'll all drive back to Missouri.

August sees staff reporting as earlier as the week of August 9th, but I'll have a few publishing projects to edit and design from the Washington trip, as well as a fair amount of prep work to finalize for my new
Worldviews class. Orientation starts the 12th and the first day of class is the 16th.

Studying: Despite baseball high-jacking my time and energy, I've been reading in a couple areas of interest this spring, not the least of which has been the study of the end times, or eschatology. N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, has been helpful, as has revisiting my notes from seminary (particularly Dr. Dan Doriani's notes from his Epistles and Revelation class). Of the three years I've taught Revelation to my freshmen New Testament classes, I feel like I've done the best job this year.

I'm also finishing up a couple books on education, namely John Dewey and the Decline of American Education by Henry T. Edmondson III, Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, and The Secret of TSL by William Ouchi. It seems I've been reading these for a while (and I have), but there's been some good content that's come as a result.

Looking ahead, I have some Worldviews reading to do this summer, including (Re)Thinking Worldview by J. Mark Bertrand; The Compact Guide to World Religions edited by Dean C. Halverson (ed.); The Journey by Peter Kreeft; Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey; and The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. Should be fun.

Writing: Now that my second book, Learning Education: Essays & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching, is finished, I'm turning back to finishing the ThirtySomewhere manuscript this summer. I'm still looking for a formal publisher to get behind it, but now that I've experimented with the self-publishing gig a bit (and am still experimenting), I may go with what I've got at some point this fall and see what happens. We'll see.

I plan to continue blogging here, though I really wonder how much people are interested in anything longer than 140 Twitter characters these days. Speaking of which, I've enjoyed Twitter enough to keep using it, but there again I just have no way of really knowing how far the medium's actual reach is so as to invest more time in it. Oh well.

Guess that's it for now. There's more, but this is long enough. I'll try to post a few more thoughts later on this week (nothing brings out literary creativity like the desire to avoid grading). Have a good one.

Concert Review: Jason Aldean

In Marriage, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Thought on March 29, 2010 at 1:37 am

And now for something completely different…

Megan somehow scored free backstage passes, a private "concert"/photo op (with eats and drinks), and free tickets to the Jason Aldean concert at the Family Arena in St. Charles Saturday night. I don't know how she finds this stuff, but I've learned over the years not to ask too many questions so as to not attach myself as an accomplice in whatever illegal activities she may engage in for a cheap date night. But I digress…

Let's be clear: while I appreciate the lyrical cleverness of country music, I'm not that big a fan of the musicality of the genre. Still, a free concert's a free concert, and since "She's Country" at heart, Megan and I went and enjoyed the gig. Jake Owen ("one of People magazine's sexiest men in country music" – oh boy) was the opening act, but everyone was clearly there for Aldean.

Rather than write a detailed review that no one may particularly care to read, I thought I'd record a video blog (vlog) to pseudo-capture the evening. What follows are my hardly technical, barely coherent, and honestly raw thoughts on the show.

Thanks to Megan for her filming/editing job, as well as for treating me to more culture than one man should be allowed to experience in a night.

O Canada (revised)

In Musicians, Places, Poetry, Sports, TV on March 2, 2010 at 8:42 am

A friend of mine in Colorado is in a fun but fierce battle with a Canadian friend of his over the outcome of the Olympic gold medal hockey game in which Canada beat the U.S. My friend asked me to write a parody of the Canadian national anthem to use as ammo.

Here's the original (click here to listen):

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Below is my version (click here to sing along). Keep in mind the following is all of 5 minutes of work, stereotypically-dated by my coming of age in the 80's (so take off, eh?):

O Canada!
Our home and TV land
True luck that we have Captain Kirk's command.

With glowing hearts made warm by beer
and McKenzie brothers two!
O Canada, we raise remotes to you.

God keep us warm, laid back and free.
O Canada, we love to watch TV.

O Canada, we love to watch TV.

Other lyric suggestions?

We Were Young and We Were Improving

In Family, Friends, Musicians, Places, Poetry, Sports, Thought on February 16, 2010 at 11:38 pm

When we moved from Colorado back to the Midwest five years ago, Megan got her first real taste of my tiny hometown's passion for all things basketball and baseball. While she mocked it a bit then, she's since come around to a more accepting position, which was helpful this month, as I was invited back to Griggsville to join in celebrating the career of my junior high school coach, Ken Stauffer.


Coach Stauffer's coaching legacy includes 1,130 wins split between Griggsville's seventh and eighth grade basketball teams, countless regional and sectional trophies, two state basketball championships (with more appearances),
and induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of
. He retires with something north of a .750 winning percentage with only two losing seasons over his 38-year career. (For the record, the 7th and 8th grade teams I played on were a combined 39-2. Booyah.)

 Junior High (25 years later)

Speaking of those teams, here are seven of the eight guys in my grade who played for Coach Stauffer all through junior high school. Six of the seven of us went on to experience continued team success in our high school years, and as this was the first time all of us had been together in Griggsville in 25 years, a picture seemed appropriate.


As part of the celebration, the school had pulled out a lot of old trophies and pictures, one of which I had completely forgotten about from 1982, but that Megan and the girls found particularly humorous. I was one of two fifth graders to make the eighth grade team that year, and though I didn't get to play in the tournament, I went on to enjoy good success in both junior and senior high baseball later (my only real credential for what I'm doing this spring…ahem).


All that to say, it was a fun weekend at home honoring Coach Stauffer, seeing old teammates, and reliving a few of the glory days. Granted, Megan reminded me of her original Uncle Rico post, and my girls couldn't quite believe I was once the age that my oldest is now, but to quote my favorite Midwestern poet:

That's when a sport was a sport
And groovin' was groovin'
And dancin' meant everything
We were young and we were improvin'

Laughin', laughin' with our friends
Holdin' hands meant somethin', baby
Outside the club, 'Cherry Bomb'
Our hearts were really thumpin'

Say, "Yeah yeah yeah"
Say, "Yeah yeah yeah"

— from "Cherry Bomb" by John Mellencamp


File Under “What Was I Thinking?”

In Musicians on December 3, 2009 at 10:48 am

Not sure I get the ending, but why have I not listened to Regina Spektor before now?