Monthly Archives: May 2006

Songs I Never Get Tired of Hearing

I’ve got several thousand songs in iTunes, which enables you to rate songs on a scale of 1-5. In the spirit of Darwin, natural selection takes over to give the lesser songs the John 15 treatment (lopping them off), leaving me with only the better songs (and more disk space–that’s the real issue).

This unnatural selection leaves me with quite a few songs sporting a “5” rating, the highest. But among them are a handful of songs which, if I could, would get a “6.” These are songs which I never, ever get tired of hearing. When I hear the song, I stop and pay attention. They aren’t necessarily by my favorite artists. In some cases, I don’t care for anything else by these artists. No, there’s just something about these particular songs. They resonate with something in me.

For example, I’ve given a “5” rating to a number of Bruce Springsteen songs, like “Glory Days,” “Darlington County,” “The Rising,” and “Into the Fire.” I love those songs. But there’s something about “Born in the USA” which is on another Cosmic Level of Existence. It’s the only Springsteen song which makes me pay attention every time I hear it.

Here are the other songs I would put in this transcendent category.

  • “The Rose,” by Bette Midler (1979). Might be my favorite of all.
  • “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll,” by the Rolling Stones (1974). There’s something restrained (for the Stones) about this song, like a thoroughbred with a restrictor plate (to mix racing metaphors). Do you remember the TV awards show where they performed this wearing white sailors’ outfits in a plastic bubble which filled with bubbles as they performed?
  • “Never Been to Spain,” by Three Dog Night (1972). The lyrics say, “I headed to Las Vegas, only made it out to Needles.” The starting point could have been Lake Havasu City, Ariz., where I once lived. We always traversed Needles en route to Vegas.
  • “What’s Up?” by Four Non-Blondes (1993). I use a line from this song as a heading in the Anchor Church site.
  • “All She Wants to Do is Dance,” by Don Henley (1984). Love the bass line. Interesting nuclear-wasteland video, too. Don’t like anything else by Don Henley. In general, drummers shouldn’t sing. (Hear that, Ringo? Phil Collins? Tommy Lee?)
  • “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong (1968).
  • “Scarborough Fair,” by Sarah Brightman (2000). Yes, a Simon and Garfunkel song by somebody else. I love Sarah Brightman’s voice.
  • “Sweet Child of Mine,” by Guns N Roses (1987). Sheryl Crow’s version is very good, too–a 5, but not a transcendent 6.
  • “Old time Rock & Roll,” by Bob Seger (1978).
  • “Dancing in the Street,” by Mick Jagger and David Bowie (1985). A joyful, fun-loving song. “They’ll be swinging, swaying, records playing, dancing in the street….”
  • “More than a Feeling,” by Boston (1976). I still remember the first time I heard it: 1977, in a room in Wright Hall, third floor north.
  • “Don’t You Forget About Me,” by Simple Minds (1984). Icing on the cake: it concludes my favorite movie, “Breakfast Club.”
  • “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” by the Smithereens (1999).
  • “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” by NewSong (2000).
  • “I Can Only Imagine,” by MercyMe (2001).
  • “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” by the Georgia Satellites (1986). Good ol’ Southern rock.
  • “Transcendental Blues,” by Steve Earle (2000).
  • “With or Without You,” by U2 (1990).
  • “Beautiful Sunday,” by Daniel Boone (1972). A joyful song from the 1970s. Takes me back to Electronics class at Lake Havasu City High School.
  • “I’m a Bit**”, by Meredith Brooks (1997). Can I spell that out?
  • “Born in the USA,” by Bruce Springsteen (1984). Title track of one of my favorite albums.
  • “Colorful,” by Verve Pipe (2001). First heard this at the end of the movie “Rock Star” (the coffeehouse scene) and fell in love with it. Tracked down the original version on iTunes.
  • “The Way,” by Fastball (2002). First heard this in a Best Buy store, and loved it, but didn’t learn the title or artist for at least another year, when I stumbled across it on a borrowed CD.
  • “Heroes,” by the Wallflowers (1998). Better than Bowie’s version.
  • “American Pie,” by Don MacLean (1971). Doesn’t get old.
  • “American Pie,” by Slaughter (1997). Same song title, totally different song. Has the same restrained feel as “It’s Only Rock and Roll.”
  • “Take My Breath Away,” by Berlin (1986). Yes, the song from “Top Gun.”
  • “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” by Green Day (2004). The latest addition to this list.
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Complex Coffee

I stop at Starbucks most mornings on my way to work. I did today. They always have three coffees available–a medium or mild roast, a bold roast, and decaf. The three selections are scribbled on a chalkboard with brief descriptions. And the descriptions contain words like these: bold, smooth, soft, well-balanced, nutty, herbal, fruity, earthy notes, spicy, sparkling, acidic, light, robust, citrusy. And my favorite: complex.

starbucksI don’t know what those mean. I’ve never sensed any nuttiness in coffee. No hints of oranges or mangoes or any other kind of fruit. To me, there are two types of coffee: strong, and not-so-strong. And decaf versions of each. Okay, I should add a third type, the kind grandpa always had sitting on the stove in the farmhouse, a roast which I call Terminal Stomach Radiation. Starbucks has nothing similar, beyond stuffing a handful of Komodo Dragon beans into your mouth.

Life needs to be kept simple pre-coffee. I don’t want to enter Starbucks and be confronted with difficult decisions: “Do I feel like nutty, or smooth? How many earthy notes can I handle today?” Before coffee, I can barely locate my truck in the garage. I just want to say, “Gimme coffee,” and leave. Then, having consumed my morning brew, I’m empowered to make decisions during the rest of the day. Never mind that I usually get decaf. There’s a psychological thing going on which still perks me up, enlivens my senses, as though I’m still mainlining caffeine. Let nothing jeopardize that illusion.

Anyway, I certainly don’t want “complex” coffee first thing in the morning. I want it strong or not-so-strong, and I don’t want to put any further thought into the purchase. Thank you.

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Thoughts on Dad and Vets

A nice little Memorial Day twist at church this morning.

Lots of churches, on Memorial and/or Veterans Day, ask the vets to stand so everyone can recognize them. We’ve done that. But today, at the beginning of the service, Pastor Tim invited people to stand and mention someone they know, like a relative, who served in the military.

Tim went first. He mentioned his brother Matt, who served in the US Army (until, while on Christmas leave a few years ago, a drunk driver killed him). Other people stood and mentioned a husband, father, grandfather, brother, and others who served in the military–the relationship and the service branch. Sitting at the piano, I offered, “My Dad, and Pam’s dad, both served in the US Army.”

It was a neat way to do it. I liked it.

One of the things I like about going to Branson, Mo., is that most of the shows recognize military vets. Pam and I have taken my parents there twice, in 2002 and 2004, and it always made me proud to see Dad stand. Deeply, profoundly proud.

I’ve always wished that I had served in the military. In 1973, as a 10th grader with the Vietnam War still going, the prospect of being drafted was on my mind. But already, there was a sense that the war was winding down and I wouldn’t need to serve. So it’s not something I worried much about.

But I envy the worthiness, whether at Branson or at Anchor, to stand alongside other vets, acknowledging, “Yes, I served my country.” That’s not something you accomplish. Rather, it’s a gift that you give to your countrymen. That’s a gift I would like to have given.

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Prettying Up Our Yard

Wow, today was a hot one. Pam and I worked in the yard for several hours this morning. I hauled in four yards of mulch (two pickup loads), and we spread it all over. But it about did us in. We’re getting old, after all. Or I’m getting old. My wife is, of course, young and lovely and vibrant and full of energy and soon to read this entry.

Yesterday, too, was a day for yardwork, as we both took a vacation day. This week we planted about ten new bushes, brought in a couple loads of dirt, tore out two huge but ugly bushes, sprayed weeds, and committed other acts of improvement upon our suburban home. So right now, I’m feeling quite a sense of accomplishment. And I do believe it’s well-deserved.

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Okay, I Forced Myself to Finish “The DaVinci Code”

Well, I finally finished reading The DaVinci Code. The first half was exciting and intriguing, with the “gravitational pull” that I once heard Philip Yancey talk about at a writer’s conference, the momentum propelling you onward. Then you get to the middle, where Sir Teabing lays out a sordid history of conspiracy and repression regarding the truth about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. That part disturbed me because it was just so doggone heretical.

But after that, the book bogged down, lost its gravitational pull. And Dan Brown resorted to assorted implausibilities. I no longer felt eager, let alone compelled, to keep reading. So I forced myself to finish the thing, like stale chocolate cake after a full meal at Smokey Bones. Now I’m done and can happily move on to something else.

I’ve not yet seen the movie, which has been lambasted by every critic I’ve read. Of course, if they had given the movie good reviews, Christians would say, “Aha! Another example of the liberal media supporting an effort to discredit Christianity.” Jerry Falwell et al don’t know what to make of “liberal media” folks criticizing something which is, at heart, anti-Christian. Oh, what a complex world we inhabit!

Anthony Lane of the New Yorker is one of the top movie critics, and I devour every review he writes, whether or not I care about the movie. Lane is incredibly entertaining and dumps molten sarcasm on any movie (or element of a movie) he dislikes.Such was the case with “The DaVinci Code,” though in this case, Lane also skewers the book. You must read Lane’s review in the New Yorker. It’s a LOL read.

For example, in the movie Sir Teabing talks about the Council of Nicaea. Lane writes, “We get a flashback to the council in question, and I must say that, though I have recited the Nicene Creed throughout my adult life, I never realized that it was originally formulated in the middle of a Beastie Boys concert.” He mentions the appearance of a villain “hitherto suspected by nobody except the audience.”

Of the book, Lane says, “no question has been more contentious than this: if a person of sound mind begins reading the book at ten o’clock in the morning, at what time will he or she come to the realization that it is unmitigated junk?”

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Taylor Wins! (And So Do the Suns!)

TaylorKat.jpgWhen Ryan Seacrest announced that Taylor Hicks had won American Idol, I let out a “Yeah!” cheer. But it wasn’t as loud as the “Yeah!” I uttered a couple hours later when Boris Diaw made a last-second shot to put the Phoenix Suns ahead of the Dallas Mavericks. So I guess this aging soul still retains some manly-manly-ness. Considering how much American Idol has controlled my life this year, I was beginning to wonder.

The American Idol finale was a lot of fun. It’s the first one I’ve seen. Some great singing. Chris Daughtry singing with Live (note to self: check out Live on iTunes). Paris Bennet with Al Jarreau–wow, Paris is great! I was impressed with Carrie Underwood. The segments with Kelly Pickler and Wolfgang Puck were hysterical. Loved the three Brokenote cowboys. I’m a Meat Loaf fan, so I enjoyed seeing him and Katherine McPee sing together. Enjoyed hearing Lisa Tucker sing again (always one of my favorites). The segment with the five guys singing together was wonderful (much better than the counterpart with the women). Didn’t recognize Clay Aiken with his new ‘do until near the end of that song. The silly awards were fun. It was just a fun, fun event, and I unabashedly enjoyed it.

But it was nice to then flip over to TNT to rev up the testosterone again.

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Of Creeping Codgerism and Grumpy Old Guy

I think I am afflicted with what Anna Quindlen calls “creeping codgerism.” Or what I call Grumpy Old Guy Syndrome. I noticed it clearly during last Friday’s Battle of the Bands (see May 22 post). A number of times, things happened which, in most other churches, would be quashed as disrespectful of God’s House. When I began working with youth about five years ago, I got uptight about a lot of such things and drifted into the role of fun-stopper, or Guardian of the Building. I quickly chilled out, learning that much youth-type activity is harmless, and fusses should be made only about truly fuss-worthy stuff. But where’s the line?

Anna Quindlen wrote in her Newsweek column, “When I complain that my daughter’s skirt looks more like a belt, or that my sons keep vampire hours, those are the churlish carpings of a woman years removed from the days when her own dresses were sky-high and her idea of a good time was sleeping until noon.” I feel that way. Something wants to criticize today’s youth for their tattoos, their hair (whether long, short, or just wierd), piercings, and general youth-oriented behavior. Creeping codgerism afflicts me, and I don’t like it.

On Friday night, Grumpy Old Guy yearned to jump into action. I could use various rationale: what you’re doing is disrespectful of God’s house, shouldn’t happen on church property, could damage our property, is just plain inappropriate. Being in a position of authority, I had weight to throw around in such situations as these:

  • One teen carried a gallon jug of purple liquid, like grape Kool-Aid, as he moshed–running around, swinging the jug, running into people, and taking a swig now and then. A disaster waiting to happen. Finally, someone rammed him and a huge amount of grape slopped onto the sanctuary carpet, which we paid to have professionally cleaned just before Easter. Grumpy Old Guy wanted to go down there, look at the teens with a disapproving expression, go get some wet towels and carpet cleaner, then come back and clean up their mess, donning an Impatient Martyr demeanor in the hope that they felt duly ashamed. Treat them like little kids who just don’t know better. Don’t say anything; just bark silent disapproval and clean up the mess. But I didn’t.
  • Kids were smoking outside, as usual. I could say, “We don’t mind if you smoke, but not on church property.” That’s reasonable. But I didn’t. We used to fuss about this and put up “No Smoking” signs, but we don’t anymore.
  • Some kids in the sanctuary were throwing around a soft plastic ball, and occasionally it smacked against the wall. I watched them, thinking, “Should I stop them before they chip the paint or break a window? Out of respect for this room in which we worship God for three whole hours every week?” Grumpy Old Guy wanted to stop them. But he let it go.
  • The hallway leading downstairs, where the bands store their stuff, was littered with Gatorade bottles and other trash. Very messy. Disrespectful even. I didn’t say anything to anybody. But Grumpy Old Guy stewed about it.
  • Two girls sat on the couch in the foyer for the longest time, laying against each other and intertwining legs. By all appearances to Grumpy Old Guy, they were gay. Surely I could justifiably break up such PDA occurring in the church. But I didn’t. Right or wrong?
  • We moved the grand piano to the back of the sanctuary and surrounded it with stacked-up chairs. I heard someone playing, and rushed downstairs. A tall, skinny youth had climbed behind the chairs, lifted the lid, and was playing the piano–my piano. Over the roar of the band on stage, I yelled, “No. Stop. Get out of there.” Very terse, direct. He smiled at me sheepishly and complied. Grumpy Old Guy wanted to take a different approach, tell him with condescending sarcasm, “We blocked off the piano for a reason.” Grumpy Old Folks say stuff like that. But I just told him to exit, and left before he actually did.
  • And then there’s the lead singer who did a striptease on stage, just behind where our worship leader stood two days later as we sang “Lord I Lift Your Name on High.” Grumpy Old Guy was too shocked to move.

This type of thing is the price of doing business with this crowd, in this neighborhood. It happens. Last year, somebody broke a window in the sanctuary during the Battle of the Bands. There is always gum in the carpet (I found two pieces mashed down this year). We deal with it, don’t get unduly disturbed, and life goes on. And on Sunday, when we gather to worship, God still shows up.

We say the “church” is the people, not the building. We say the building is a tool for the Kingdom, not a sacred shrine. But events like this test that pretty theology, and I suspect most United Brethren people would fail miserably. Frankly, I carry too much traditional baggage, growing up in the days when you didn’t run in church and you certainly never sat on the altar. (“What?” you say. “You mean those days ended?”) I was taught one theology about the church being the people, but saw a different theology in practice. But if we truly view the building as merely a tool for ministry, something which can be used for worship, but which can also be used for a carnival (which we do, putting a huge rented moonwalk on the platform), then you shouldn’t get uptight.

Last Friday, I sensed the onslaught of “creeping codgerism,” as Grumpy Old Guy tried to break free to scold/admonish/shame/punish those youth and show his frustration/disapproval/disappointment/general annoyance. I’m glad Grumpy Old Guy didn’t win. But he’s there, lurking within me, and he’s not happy.

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Jesus and AIDS

Interesting interview with Franklin Graham on Time magazine’s website. He was asked what Jesus would say about AIDS. His answer:

In his day, there was leprosy, which was incurable. And Jesus healed lepers. He didn’t turn them away. That would be the same reaction today. But Jesus did tell people he healed, “Go and sin no more.” And I think that to a person with HIV/AIDS, he would tell them, “Go and sin no more”….I think there are times where a sinful lifestyle can lead to a disease in our bodies. I think Jesus would heal a person who drinks too much alcohol and ends up with cirrhosis of the liver and say, “Don’t go back and do that again.”

We’re very concerned today about not appearing judgmental, about not doing anything that might hurt someone’s feelings or self-esteem. But I think Jesus was probably far more concerned about the person’s heart than about their disease.

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American Idol Finale

Pam and I worked in the yard until 9 pm (thanks, Daylight Savings Time!), so we had to tape American Idol. But we watched it. The finale. Of course we watched it.

I doubt that the show changed anyone’s mind. Didn’t change mine. I think Taylor will win, and I want him to win. Some things in life are of transcendent importance, and this is one of them.

We’ll find out tomorrow. And after tomorrow, my life can ge back to normal. This addiction, this obsession, will at last be vanquished. Glory be.

P.S.–They practically coronated Taylor last night. If I were Kat, I’d be thinking, “Wow, everyone on the show really wants Taylor to win.”

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Anchor’s 2006 Battle of the Bands


Last Friday night, May 19, my church held its fourth annual Battle of the Bands, a competition for Christian hard-core bands in the Fort Wayne area. Pam and I have attended all three previous incarnations as volunteer workers. In the past, we’ve had 500-plus teens and young adults. This year, it was under 300, but more than enough to swarm over our church property. And there were 12 bands. We moved all of the chairs out of the sanctuary, cleared off the worship equipment and furniture, and let the bands take over.

Last Friday, I mostly hung out in the sound booth, which is located in an upper level room overlooking the sanctuary. I spent the evening taking photos and, in between, typing out lots of observations on my laptop. So here you go.

Pam and I arrived at 5 pm, which is when the doors opened. Bands were still lugging in their equipment. The show was supposed to begin at 6 pm, but timeliness is optional at these events. Terry Leatherman, one of the worship team guitarists, was already here. He’s one of the three judges tonight. I told him, “Wanna place bets on when the show begins? I say 6:45.” Terry said, “7:30.”

Well, it started at 6:30, so they showed us.

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