Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sun Studio Tour: Black, White & Blue Suede Shoes

This summer, we were "walking in Memphis," strolling down Beale Street and listening to blues at the home of the "Beale Street Blues Boy" - B. B. King's Blues Bar. As an admitted Elvis fanatic, I had to go to the South's Mecca and so off to Graceland we went. It was a wonderful, albeit bittersweet, experience. However, it was an impromptu stop at Sun Studios and subsequent tour that would make the biggest impression on me from our time in Memphis.

Owner Sam Phillips had worked as a DJ for an Alabama radio station which had an "open format" that broadcasted music from both white and black musicians. Living in the 21st century, it's hard for us to get our minds around the significance of that; however, being allowed to play the music of both white and black musicians in the segregated South was of monumental significance in shaping Sam Phillips as a music producer and, in the larger context, rock-n-roll itself. In fact, the generally accepted first rock-n-roll record, "Rocket 88" was recorded by Phillips. The band was Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, a band led by 19-year-old Ike Turner, who also wrote the song.

Sun Studios recorded the "Prisonaires," an African-American blues group made up of prisoners in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. Phillips arranged for the group to be transported under armed guard to Memphis to record. A few weeks later, Just Walkin' in the Rain was released and quickly sold 50,000 copies. Their success was such they were allowed out on day passes to play around the state. The band became a favorite of then Gov. Clement and frequently played at his mansion. The group was reportedly the inspiration for a certain trio of jailbirds famously depicted in O Brother Where Art Thou.

Phillips' had a desire to record the music of the African-American community and did record B. B. King and numerous R & B pioneers. He discovered Johnny Cash, as well as a white boy with a black sound from right there in Memphis named Elvis Presley.

One of the best parts of the Sun Studio tour for me was the realization that Elvis' discovery wasn't by chance. Instead, Elvis fervently pursued a career in music. The story about recording a record for his Mom's birthday? Probably a PR mythology. The Presleys didn't own a record player and he could have recorded it cheaper at a local drug s tore. Elvis was trying to be discovered. Sam Phillips gets the credit, but it was his long-time assistant, Marion Keisker who championed the would-be singer. Elvis had recorded a ballad, My Happiness, but Phillips was looking for something new. Marion thought Elvis had something special and would bring his name up to Phillips at just the right time. She and Elvis had a famous exchange upon meeting: I said, "What kind of singer are you?" He said, "I sing all kinds." I said, "Who do you sound like?" He said, "I don't sound like nobody."

Unlike Graceland, where things are cordoned off and under glass, at Sun Studios you stand in the studio where rock-n-roll greats stood. On the same floor tiles. Under the same ceiling tiles. And you can hold the actual microphone Elvis used. It becomes to real to you.

When you hear That's Alright, Mamma juxtaposed with clips of music from that era, you realize just how revolutionary it was! Phillips gave a copy to a local DJ at WHBQ who had to play it 14 times in a row because of the overwhelming audience response. Elvis was persuaded to go to the radio station for an interview where the DJ made sure to include a question about which high school he attended as a way to let the audience know his race without directly asking the question.

It was providential that Phillips and Sun Studios were in Memphis, the home of the Civil Rights Museum, because they were part of that movement. As Michael Bertrand discusses in his book, Race, Rock, and Elvis, "An unprecedented access to African-American culture challenged Presley's generation to reassess age-old segregationist stereotypes." The recording of Elvis, a white boy with a black sound, the embrace of the music of Ray Charles by a white audience, and the merging of musical styles broke down the barriers of a segregated society. In that sense, in the '50s, there really was a whole lotta shakin' going on!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christian = Reader (or Should At Least)

Several years ago, my husband began a Pastor's Book Club at our church. We have just ordered our 50th book, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl. The previous 49 books have enlightened, entertained, challenged and, most importantly, educated the book club members.

In our 1st book, A House For My Name, we read an overview of the Old Testament that looked at infallible Scripture as divinely-inspired literature replete with imagery, repeated themes and revealing composition styles. It made me excited to open the pages of the Old Testament.

Our 4th book, When People Are Big and God Is Small, made us examine for whom we were living. Is ours an "Audience of One" where our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever or do we bow to others through peer pressure, codependency and fear? Far from a baptized psychobabble book, the author shows we are created with certain needs and desires that others' approval or self-actualization will not satisfy -they are God-shaped and only He can fulfill them.

Along the way, we have dealt with tough issues people living in the real world face every day through such books as When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, How to Be Free From Bitterness, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness and Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave.

We've read fun books that defend snarky satire (Serrated Edge by Douglas Wilson), strolled through history (33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties by Jonathan Leaf), and we now know that real men do read Jane Austen (Miniatures & Morals by Peter Leithart).

And there have been a few books that have stretched our minds and perspectives in wondrous ways - A Table in the Mist by Jeffrey Meyers and Saving Leonardo: A Call To Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals & Meaning by Nancy Pearcey just to name two.

If you are a Christian, you should be a reader! As Nancy Pearcey brilliantly shows in Saving Leonardo, we can only be salt and light to the world when we interact with that world! The Proverbs tell us, "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him." How do we examine a secular "ism" or belief system when we are ignorant of it? To transform our world, we must obey the words of Timothy to "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." To help you get started, here are some suggestions:

A House for My Name - Peter Leithart
Thinking Straight in a Crooked World - Gary DeMar
Hospitality Commands - Alexander Strauch
When People Are Big and God Is Small - Ed Welch
Biblical Healing for Modern Man - Frank Payne
God at Work - Gene Edward Veith
Serrated Edge - Douglas Wilson
The Battle Belongs to the Lord - K. Scott Oliphint
Market-Driven Church - Udo Middleman
My Life for Yours - Douglas Wilson
Blame it on the Brain 0 Richard Winter
The Lord's Service - Jeffrey Meyers
Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment - Gene Edward Veith
Everyday Talk - John Younts
A Journey in Grace - Richard P. Belcher
humility: the forgotten virtue - Wayne & Joshua Mack
When Good Kids Make Bad Choices - Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jim Newheiser
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense - N. T. Wright
Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity - Lauren Winner
Paedofaith - Rich Lusk
Angels in the Architecture - Doug Jones and Doug Wilson
A Table in the Mist - Jeffrey Meyers
For a Glory and a Covering - Douglas Wilson
How to be Free from Bitterness - Jim Wilson
Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming (& Environmentalism) - Christopher C. Horner
The Baptized Body - Peter Leithart
Why Baptize Babies? - Mark Horne
33 Questions About American History (You're Not Supposed to Ask) - Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Gross National Happiness - Arthur C. Brooks
Faith, Reason & the War Against Jihadism - George Weigel
Meltdown: A Free Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed - Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Running Scared: Fear, Worry & the God of Rest - Edward T. Welch
The Liturgy Trap - James Jordan
Whatever Happened to Justice - Richard Maybury
Depression: A Stubborn Darkness - Edward T. Welch
How to Argue with a Liberal & Win - Joel McDurmon
Jane Austen (biography) - Peter Leithart
Miniatures & Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen - Peter Leithart
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave
10 Books Every Conservative Must Read, Plus 4 Not to Miss & 1 Impostor - Benjamin Wiker
Five Cities that Rules the World - Doug Wilson
Rollback: Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse - Thomas E. Wood
Johann Sebastian Back - Rick Marschall
Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals & Meaning - Nancy Pearcey
Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl - Nathan Wilson

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Fiction Squared - Book Review: Heat Rises by Richard Castle

ABC Television is trying the old tried and true "play within a play" formula to promote the dramedy series, Castle. They are doing it with a twist, however, by using a literary tie-in. Castle has as its title character hot-shot novelist Rick Castle, who uses his friendship with the mayor to gain permission to tag along on crime scenes with an NYPD homicide team led by Detective Kate Beckett. Although initially his presence is begrudgingly accepted, Castle's mystery writing sensibilities make him a helpful addition to the team. Before long, sparks begin to fly between the writer and the detective, sometimes not in a good way as, much to her chagrin, Castle writes a racy detective series based on Det. Beckett.

The marketing gurus at ABC started producing the books their
title character was supposedly writing on the show as a nifty little promotional tool. Rick Castle will be seen towards the end of the season with the mock-up of his latest book featuring a New York detective named "Nikki Heat" who is shadowed by a hot-shot journalist named Jamison Rook. (The marketing department is sending a wink to their readers: In chess, "castle" and "rook" are interchangeable names for the same piece.) The books have plots loosely based on the series season just ending: Heat Wave (season one, 2009); Naked Heat (season two, 2010); and Heat Rises (season three, 2011), which had its debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List.

While I love the show, I had zero interest in the books until I came across a rumor Stephen J. Cannell, a writer whose work I have enjoyed for decades, might be one of the ghostwriters. The books were small, so I decided to give one a try. And with that, I was hooked. When I read the books, I actually hear the actors in the television show speaking the lines. The novels are written in the same style as the show and are a really fun read. If you're a fan of the television show, give one of the novels a try.

[Disclaimer: Unlike the television series, in the books Nikki Heat and Rook are romantically involved. The books are slightly racier than the show, but the writers keep it pretty PG. However, you have been warned.]

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties

Blame it on Memphis. I have been in a 50s and 60s state of mind since our brief vacation to the home of the blues in July. My husband found himself dwelling on that era as well and thus came this selection for his Pastor's Book Club of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties by Jonathan Leaf.

The P.I.G. series (as the Politically Incorrect Guides are affectionately known) give readers what Paul Harvey would have referred to as "the rest of the story" on topics ranging from American History, the Constitution and English and American Literature to Hunting and the South.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties is divided into three parts: The Social Sixties, The Cultural Sixties and The Political Sixties. Part One covers the student radicals, the sexual revolution and a chapter entitled, "Civil Rights to Uncivil Wrongs: From Freedom Rides to "Burn, Baby, Burn." Part Two of the book covers rock-n-roll, movies/TV, fashion and the space race. The final section explores the Warren Supreme Court, JFK's Camelot, LBJ's war on poverty, the Vietnam War and finally, "The Birth of the Counter-Counterculture."

This book is as entertaining as it is informative. No chapter is too long - just as you're ready to move on to another subject, so is the book. If you think you know all about the Sixties, Leaf's Guide may just prove you wrong.

And, as a member of the book club astutely noted, if you want to understand the underlying worldviews behind the radical sixties, our current selection should be on your To-Read List: Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals and Meaning.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Juliet by Anne Fortier

Anne Fortier's debut novel, Juliet, takes her reader to Sienna, Italy in both the present day and as it was in the 14th century. A re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet with shades of The Da Vinci Code (without the gnostic gospels element).

Julie Jacobs is mourning the recent loss of her beloved Aunt Rose when more grief comes her way. Her Aunt has left her entire fortune to Julie's superficial and shrewish twin, Janice. The only things bequeathed to Julie are actually from her long-deceased mother - a key, a secret and a passport in Julie's real name - Giuletta Tolomei. She discovers she is a direct descendant of the 14th century Giuletta Tolomei who lived in Sienna, Italy and was half of the ill-fated pair of lovers immortalized in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

As Julie travels to Sienna in hopes of discovering what treasure is unlocked by her mother's key, she learns the "Curse upon both your houses," may be alive and well these 600 years later. She soon meets a wealthy woman from Sienna who is insistent on befriending her (and introducing her to the lady's handsome nephew). Armed with ancient diaries, relics, a fresco and a 14th century painting, she sets out to understand the past as a way to understand the present and perhaps her future.

The book moves along at a quick pace and I actually found it to be quite the page turner (until the end, but that critique comes later). The chapters alternate between events in the present and events in the 14th century which seem to correlate and pushes Julie further into danger. The whole re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet was very appealing and works to a large extent. There are lots of red herrings and false turns to keep the suspense going, but there are also abrupt changes and storylines that are simply abandoned that mar the story as well.

The ending is rather disappointing. While it ends the way the romantic in me says it should ultimately, it felt rushed with new characters introduced and familiar characters almost rewritten (to the point I wondered if a new heroine had been determined!). The transition from Julie and Janice's relationship at the beginning of the novel to the one at the end happened almost instantly and was not supported adequately in the narrative. The change was too abrupt and hurt believability.

Nevertheless, this is overall a fun read. It has enough history, romance, intrigue and mystery to keep the reader involved, but also enough holes, character underdevelopment and farfetched storytelling to make its reader long for what the novel could have been. Perhaps the movie in development will fill in these gaps.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movie Reviews: The Fighter, True Grit, The Next Three Days and New In Town

The Fighter
Christian Bale's performance in The Fighter is incredible. His Oscar is well deserved. This movie will make you uncomfortable. It will make you wince. It will make you angry. In the end, it will make you glad you watched it. Mark Wahlberg's "Irish" Mickey Ward is another in what is becoming his trademark underdog roles. Wahlberg really championed this script and was right to do so.

True Grit
When you remake a John Wayne classic, you've already got a strike against you in my book. You just don't mess with The Duke. The Coen Brothers and Jeff Bridges didn't get that memo and the cinematic world is the better for it. This version of True Grit is grittier than the original and, for me, more poignant. Bridges' performance is outstanding and homeschooled Hailee Steinfeld is incredible.

The Next Three Days
You just can't go wrong with a Russell Crowe movie (The Quick and the Dead being a possible exception). This is an excellent suspense movie. It occasionally stretches believability to the breaking point, but it was clever, well-acted and had me on the edge of my seat, which is what I look for in this genre.

New In Town
While I love Harry Connick, Jr., I'm kind of holding a grudge against Renee Zellweger for the unceremonious dumping of Kenny Chesney. Nevertheless, this is a really cute, sweet movie. I don't need to tell you it's predictable - it's a rom-com afterall, but I will tell you it is surprisingly affirming of Midwestern values.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Top Ten Things I Learned in Memphis

10. Types of Elvis memorabilia could serve as a definition of ad infinitum.

9. The music of the 70s is the only thing about that era worthy of nostalgia.

8. The home of the Civil Rights Movement is a good example of how the South has put an ugly past behind her.

7. You don't listen to the music of blues musicians; you experience the music of blues musicians.

6. Young people need hard knocks in life to mature them.

5. Surrounding yourself with "yes" men is self-destructive. (see #6)

4. Barbecue is a noun, not a verb.

3. Barbecue is the genus; dry rub, sweet, spicy, etc. are species of that genus.

2. Memphis in the summer can serve as a staging area for transport to HELL!

1. Elvis is alive and well and living in Memphis, TN!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Prayer For Those of Us Easily Annoyed

I used to say (in an obnoxiously chipper voice), "I'm a people person. I no longer say this. The truth is - people annoy me. People behind the wheel of an automobile annoy me a lot. I wish I could find the humor in it and just shake my head and invent a Bill Engvall "Here's Your Sign" comedy routine. Instead, my temper flares and my blood pressure rises.

So, of course, a friend of mine had to post "A Prayer For Those of Us Easily Annoyed" to Facebook! I may need to repent...

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Here's a Great Article For Parents

While my hubby and I would have loved to have had children, I've written before about one of the advantages of not having them: we lack Parent Fog. It fascinates me to listen to parents talk about childrearing from my outside-looking-in position. A good friend linked to this article on Facebook and I think it is a wonderful word to parents. "The goal is to get them to love the standard. If you can’t get them to love the standard, lower the standard." Before you dismiss that as so much compromise, read the article.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Last Days Liars

May 22, 2011. Add Harold Camping's name (again) to a long list of false prophets proclaiming the end of the world.

I grew up with this viewpoint. Jesus was coming soon. Mine was the "terminal generation"/"Revelation Generation" and on and on it went. I'm happy to report my eschatological views have changed and I'm no longer thrown into emotional turmoil with the latest sensational proclamation from these doomsday seers. It infuriates me that another generation of young people are being fed this stuff. I know better now, but there was a time...

I could have drawn out in great detail the "prophetic events of the last days" - the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Millennial Reign, the Last Judgment. I knew all the steps in this dance, however I now believe if Scripture is the tune then that dance is not in time with the music!

There's a book by Francis Gumerlock, "The Day and the Hour" that reviews 2000 years of conjecture on the last days disclosing the dreams and delusions of those who believed their sect was the 144,000 of Revelation 7; that the 1290 days of Daniel 12 had expired in their generation; that the "Man of Sin" of 2 Thessalonians was reigning in their time; that the Rapture of the saints, Great Tribulation, and Battle of Armageddon were just around the corner; or that a millennial kingdom was about to dawn.

This is a great antidote to the Harold Camping's of the world. And if The Last Days is something that causes you anxiety, get a copy of Gary DeMar's book, 'Why the End of the World Is Not In Your Future."

This fiction continues in the church through repetition and assertion. In most circles it's accepted as absolute truth and people never know the Church hasn't always believed this. As Christians we are to search the Scriptures to see if something is true.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Book Review: The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

Ann Hood lost her daughter to viral strep and learned to knit following this tragedy. The Knitting Circle is her semi-autobiographical novel that follows Mary Baxter, and to a lesser extent her husband Dylan, in the weeks and months after the loss of their five-year-old daughter Stella. Mary's idyllic life is ripped apart with Stella's death and she finds going on overwhelming. Reluctantly following her mother's advice, Mary joins a knitting circle and as she gets to know the other members, all of whom have their own story of loss, the reader realizes what is being knitted is not just wool. With each knit or purl, the members are re-knitting their lives together.

I don't know how people without a strong faith survive loss. How do you process the unexpected death of a love one from violence, disease or tragedy? How do you make sense of it all? Strikingly, on several occasions one or more of the book's characters refer to each stitch as a prayer, almost as if they look at their project as a woven rosary. Faith imagery was applied to the knitting process throughout the book and I was struck by this given the lack of discussion of loss in reference to God. None of the characters are sure of heaven, but all want to believe it exists.

The book draws you in and it will make you weep, it will make you laugh, and it may make you uncomfortable at times as you encounter abortion, casual sex and four-letter words. The supporting characters weren't as well-developed as I would have liked and the ending is a little cliche'd, but overall I liked the book.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Copper River Grill - A Restaurant Review


To get a nice meal in our area, we have to drive into Lexington so my husband and I were very enthusiastic about trying the newly opened Copper River Grill. Unfortunately after two trips to the restaurant, we are back to driving into Lexington.

We had our first meal on what was actually our third attempt as the first two times we were faced with a wait of over an hour. (No food is that good.) The hostess was friendly and our server appeared at our table quickly. We both decided on sirloin steaks, Caesar salads and I chose the loaded mashed potatoes while my hubby preferred fries.

The salads arrived accompanied by a wonderfully warm, light and delicious croissant topped with their signature "Glacier Glaze" (think O'Charley's rolls). The Caesar dressing was a real disappointment, completely bland. The steaks were great cuts of meat, cooked per our instructions, but without any flavor at all, again completely bland. The mashed potatoes were flavorful, albeit a little heavy on both the butter and sour cream (and I love both!). My spouse wasn't thrilled with his fries. Including a coke for me and a glass of wine for him, our meal was a little north of $40 before tip.

Everyone has an off day, so we decided to give Copper River another chance. We visited again Tuesday with my mother joining us. Different menu selections, but same overall impression. We were again taken to a table quickly and a server took our drink orders immediately, but while the restaurant was sparsely populated we waited a good while for our assigned server to take our meal selections. This time we tried the house salad with honey-mustard dressing. The salad itself was fresh and the dressing was good. Things went downhill from there. Our selections were a club sandwich with fries, chicken tenders with mashed potatoes and a grilled chicken sandwich with fries. A trio of disappointing offerings. The club sandwich had an abundance of meat, but lacked flavor. The chicken tenders had nice flavor, but were greasy. The grilled chicken sandwich was bland. The sides were a repeat of our first experience. Unlike our friendly and prompt server on our first visit, this time we felt like we were interrupting her day.

I wanted to like the place. The building is inviting and the dining room has a wonderful ambiance. The fact is, however, you don't go to a restaurant just for the ambiance. The food should be good as well and at Copper River Grill it really isn't. Don't take my word for it, read some other reviews here.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Movie Reviews: The Tourist, Forever Shrek, Tangled and Get Low



Every once in a while a movie will surprise you - for me that movie was The Tourist. Angelina Jolie plays her trademark cool as ice mystery woman while co-star Johnny Depp surprises playing a tourist caught in a web of international intrigue who is vulnerable and at times seemingly overwhelmed by his circumstances. This Hitchcock-flavored movie offers twists, red herrings and a satisfying ending. The Tourist was nominated for three Golden Globe awards and deservedly so!

Our Netflix notices are sent to my husband's email account, but I'm the one who selects movies for our queue. My choices are generally well received, but recently I added a couple of cartoons to the list. As soon as the notification was received, I heard the disgruntled groan bellow from my hubby's office followed by, "A cartoon? A cartoon?!" Thankfully, the two I selected were entertaining animated feature films and even my doubting spouse admitted to enjoying them (well, at least a little).

Shrek Forever After is the concluding installment of the Shrek fairytale. What's so fun about
these movies to me is the deconstructed fairytale
becomes a traditional fairytale. As the movie opens, we get a glimpse into what "and they lived happily ever after..." looks like. The tedium of day-to-day living is taking its toll on Shrek and he finds himself pining for the good, o' days when he was an ogre of the decidedly unbeloved variety. Taking a cue from Capra, the film gives Shrek what he thinks he wants only for the ogre to quickly realizes his was a "wonderful life" just as it was. A fun, feel good movie.

The other cartoon I imposed upon my long suffering spouse was Tangled. The movie trailer had me giggling and my affection for Zachary Levi (star of the Chuck television series) put this film on my must-see list. It was thoroughly delightful. A sheltered princess who develops a spunky, take charge attitude and a hero who is a charming rogue with a heart of gold is right up this hopeless romantic's alley. (For an added bonus, they have thrown in a wonderfully animated duty-bound horse.)

The final film is a small, character-driven story starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill
Murray. Really that's all you need to know. These three actors give wonderful performances.
Duvall is my husband's favorite actor and this performance only reenforced that admiration. Bill Murray has evolved into a wonderful character actor and holds his own against the veteran Duvall. Loosely based on a real-life story, the film is more about the journey than the destination. The ending had a nice
resolution to the story, but was a little unsatisfying from a dramatic standpoint. See this film just for Duvall, Spacek and Murray's performances if nothing else - they're that good.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Read This Book! - "Good News For Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You DON'T Have To Do" by Phillip Cary


My biggest complaint about Cary's book is that it wasn't available 30 years ago! How marvelous it would have been to have some of these evangelical traps exposed earlier in my Christian walk rather than having to wrestle with them for years.

The back cover gives this description as to content:

Like a succession of failed diet regimens, the much-touted techniques that are supposed to bring us closer to God "in our hearts" can instead make us feel anxious, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Phillip Cary explains that discipleship is a gradual, long-term process that comes through the Bible experienced in Christian community, not a to-do list designed to help us live the Christian life "right." He covers ten things we don't have to do to be close to God, skillfully unpacking the riches of traditional Christian spirituality to bring the real good news to Christians of all ages.

Christopher Hall, the chancellor of Eastern University wrote my thoughts in his endorsement of the book:

Evangelicals worry about lots of things, including the state of our spiritual health. Phil Cary is worried too: worried that evangelicals are suffering needlessly because they have imbibed a consumerist spirituality that offers much but provides little. Phil's prescription for spiritual indigestion? A turning away from the self to the One who continually speaks a healing, saving word to us, Christ himself. This is, quite frankly, one of the best books I've read on the spiritual life over the past twenty-five years. I heartily recommend it.

This is a quick, easy read and for the Christian struggling with a myriad of "how do you know" questions - it is a shelter from those spiritual storms. Below are a couple of excerpts.

On hearing God's voice:

"Nearly all of my students have been taught to listen for God's voice in their hearts, but most of them seem not to have been taught the basics of God's word. Many of them, for instance, could not tell you the Ten Commandments if their life depended on it. So with hearts largely unshaped and uninformed by God's word, they are nonetheless expected to find God in their hearts. This kind of teaching is a terrible thing to do to them. It makes them dependent on nothing more than the thoughts of their own hearts. This is not the Holy Spirit's way of teaching...the Holy Spirit's way of teaching is to teach the word of Christ...They [the fruit of the Spirit] come into our hearts by the hearing of the external word of the gospel, which the Spirit applies inwardly to our hearts, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, reshaping everything about us from the bottom up. According to this biblical account of the work of the Spirit in our hearts, we won't get a sanctified heart by listening for the Spirit, but by listening to God's word."

On giving God control of your life:

"Perhaps the most important replacement for Christian morality in today's churches is the idea that you're supposed to "give God control" of your life. An older way of saying pretty much the same thing was that you're supposed to "yield your heart to God." And then there's the motto, "Let go, let God," and all the various ways that people think they're supposed to "let" God work in their lives. What I want to look at is. . . how very different these concepts are from the concept of obeying God, which is at the core of Biblical morality. . .The crucial difference is who's doing the doing. Obedience means doing what God says. "Giving God control" means letting God do it for us. That's a fundamentally different notion from obedience and it undermines the very idea of a moral responsibility. You're not morally responsible for what's done if you're not the one doing it. . .The misunderstanding on which much of the new evangelical theology is based is the idea that when God is working in you, then you'renot working. It's as if His working replaces yours, so you're not doing anything - you're just letting God do it. But that doesn't really work, because then you have to make sure that you're really letting God do it - and so you get all anxious about whether you're really doing that . . .

The game doesn't really work, but let's look at how it goes: We're supposed to give control to God, which means we're the ones in control to start with. That means it's ultimately up to us - God has no control unless we give it to Him. It's often put this way: "God can't work in your life unless you'll let Him." This is an astonishing bit of fantasy. Where in the Bible or anywhere else in God's creation did people get the idea that God was so helpless? If God can't do anything unless we let him, then God is not really God, and indeed He is les real than any person we know. After all, you don't have to "let" real people work in your life. They have an affect on you whether you like it or not, precisely because they're real . . . so saying God can't work in your life unless you let Him is basically saying He is not real.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

At the Movies: 11 Reviews

My favorites are covered last, but let's start with the Romantic Comedies:

Knight & Day - Cute little rom-com that comes off at times as a spoof of romantic comedies rather than an actual rom-com. It was fun, but only as a Red Box rental.

My Life in Ruins - Nia Vardalos probably hoped that lightning would strike twice in her second film set in Greece, however while the scenery is incredible, the story is just so-so. Richard Dreyfuss does his best to up the quality in a nicely done supporting role.

When in Rome - This was a really cute movie, but seemed to have two endings (and should have stuck with the first). It's an engaging little story that stars Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel who have a nice chemistry between them. (Plus "Pedro" from Napoleon Dynamite makes an appearance.)

Killers - Katherine Heigl plays a lovelorn lady who falls for Ashton Krutcher's perfect man. Their idyllic married life is turned upside down when his past makes an appearance in his present life. It's a lightweight, fun movie with Tom Selleck in a fun role as Heigl's father.

Now for the Family Friendly Fare:

Around the World in 80 Days - This is a family-friendly take on a classic with Jackie Chan as is usual charming self. (Several star-studded cameos are fun bits)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop - I resisted watching this. I expected sophomoric humor and pratfalls. There were indeed some juvenile jokes, but it also had a surprising sweetness to it. Fun movie.

The Princess and the Frog - Billed as Disney's "last princess movie," this fairytale set in New Orleans is full of good music and an engaging story. Based on its box office take, I'd be really surprised if Tiana really was the last princess we meet from the Mouse House.

Action/Suspense:

The Losers - Basically the "A-Team" with lesser known actors. Fun action movie, but not for youngsters.

Body of Lies - Russell Crowe and Leo DiCaprio are excellent in this story of middle east espionage. It does a nice job showing the often disconnect between the powers that be in offices back home running the war and the people on the ground actually fighting the war. Gripping, well-acted movie.

Robin Hood - This is one of my favorite stories, so I had high expectations. The reviews had been mixed, but I am rarely disappointed when director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe team up. I liked the way the Robin Hood mythology was handled and was surprised by how much I liked Cate Blanchett as Marion. [For another fun and lesser known Ridley/Crowe movie, try A Good Year.]

RED - This was such a fun movie! Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and an hilarious John Malkovich star as retired black ops operatives who find themselves on the wrong side of a hit list. The movie is action-packed as well as at times hilarious. I loved this movie!

Unstoppable - Fast paced, well-acted and suspenseful, this train movie will have you on the edge of your seat. Denzel Washington turns in his usual fine performance and Chris Pine holds his own with the veteran actor. (In fact, Washington is the one who recommended Pine for the role.) The more I see of Chris Pine, the more I like him. I think he will prove to be more than a handsome face and develop into a respected actor.

Now back to the Blu-Ray player. . .

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love or Lust? Considering Ammon & Tamar

Sex. There! I've got your attention.

I recently taught a children's Sunday School class on a passage that was all about sex. I taught it very tentatively, choosing my words and analogies with care. The Bible, however, isn't a bit shy about discussing sex. Sometimes you don't realize the passage is about sex until the end. Take for instance the passage on Ammon & Tamar.

In II Samuel 13, Ammon is physically sick over his half-sister Tamar. He tells his friend Jonadab, "I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister." At first glance, it would seem the story is about forbidden love, a biblical Romeo and Juliet. But the story is much darker than that. Jonadab comes up with a scheme to allow Ammon to be alone with his half-sister. Ammon's love turns out to be only lust as he rapes Tamar and then tosses her out like yesterday's newspaper. This event will not only destroy Tamar's life, but will ultimately cost Ammon his life and the life of Tamar's brother Absalom, as well as come close to costing their father, King David, his kingdom.

Such is the deceitful and destructive nature of lust. And such is the way we can distinguish between love and lust. A simple comparison of attributes is a quick guide for determining whether the "love" being professed is truly love or the impostor lust. Lust deceives. It manipulates. It destroys. It consumes. It is selfish.

Scripture lists love's attributes as longsuffering, kind, not envious, not proud, doesn't behave rudely, isn't self-seeking, is not easily angered, doesn't hold grudges, doesn't delight in evil but rejoices in truth. Ultimately, we're told love never fails.

Jesus told his disciples, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Love is self-sacrificing or as the Bible puts it, ". . . does not seek its own."

Good thing to remember on a day devoted to love.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Super Bowl Commercials - Winners & Losers

While the Packers and Steelers gave us a great game (for a change), the day after the Super Bowl it's still the commercials that are discussed most. Here in no particular order are my submissions for Winners & Losers of the Commercial Super Bowl:

Winners:

Mini-Darth (Volkswagen Passat)

Lifesaver Beaver (Bridgestone)

Resuscitations (Doritos)

Racing Beetle (Volkswagen)

Border Guards (Coca-Cola)

Rich Prison (Audi)

TV show favs (NFL.com)

Ozzy & Bieber (Best Buy)

Losers:

Simon Cowell (X-Factor) - The Brit may have waited too long. Steven Tyler has me saying, "Simon who?"

Richard Lewis & Roseanne Barr (Snickers) - They haven't been relevant for 15-20 years. Betcha most under 30 didn't know who they were and didn't get the joke!

Pant-licking (Doritos) - Just ick.

Cowboys & Aliens trailer - Now I know why Robert Downey Jr bailed on this film.

Thor - Huh?

Tibetan food (GroupOn) - Let's talk about suffering and make it fun!

You can see most of the ads here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

38 Years of Shame

Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday. It is the day set aside to commemorate Roe vs. Wade and the awful legacy that followed. It is a day in which Christians join together to pray for the end of our slaughter of innocents and to plead God's mercy on our nation for allowing this for now 38 years.

Our corporate prayer today in our worship service said:

"Let us pray for children being knit together in their mothers' wombs, for mothers and fathers, and for all organizations and agencies dedicated to valuing human life; let us also pray for women burdened by the guilt of having ended a child's life.

Wise and gracious Father, You are the Lord of life. We give You thanks for the gift of children. By Your grace, enable all people to embrace all human beings, especially the most vulnerable, as part of the human community, worthy of our protection and care. Empower parents to love their children and teach them of the Lord Jesus. Sustain all agencies dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable among us. By the power of the cross of Christ, enable all who carry a burden of guilt to repent, confess and experience the forgiveness of sins and renewal of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Every abortion has two victims - immediately the child and subsequently the mother who aborted that child. Assurance Care for Women and Girls offers help to women in crisis pregnancies as well as women dealing with the lasting trauma of abortion. Assurance also has started a ministry to the oft-forgotten person in this situation, the father. If you are dealing with a crisis pregnancy or the trauma of abortion, they will greet you with love and compassion and offer help.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

An Epistle to the Curmudgeon

[A friend of mine wrote this and I think it is incredibly insightful and well done. I reprint here with his permission.]

By William Smith

I, Marah, which in the English tongue is Bitterness, an apostle of Misery, to the disenfranchised, depressed, and generally ill-tempered, wish to write briefly to all those who follow me in all my ways and long to be like me in every respect. If you would be pleasing to our common lord, there are certain virtues that must be present and abound. One or two of these virtues is enough to accomplish much in the way of the miserable life. But you will be better served if you learn to incorporate all six of these into your life, adding one to another. There are, of course, many other virtues that could be mentioned, but these six should be sufficient to start you down the irredeemable path of Misery.

First, and primary to all other virtues, you must be discontent. Contentment, as one Christian Puritan wrote long ago, is a rare jewel. Discontentment, however, is like gravel: it’s everywhere. If you long to live a miserable life, never be satisfied with anything or anybody. Always be thinking about what you don’t have instead of what God has graciously given you. In other words, be ungrateful. Never see the good in anything anyone else does but always focus on how he or she fell short. Always ... and I mean always ... grumble and complain about everything. This increases and heightens the experience of discontentment, causing you to dip down to the lowest levels of this deep pit. The ecstasies of misery can only be realized if you verbalize them. Discontentment is sure to take you a long way to your goal of being miserable. If you are lucky and hang around some other people, you might even obtain some recruits. Misery does love company ... at least for a little while. Discontentment will make sure that your miserable cohorts will not measure up eventually and you will have to ditch them.

Along with your discontentment you must also be unforgiving. People offend and sin against one another. It is the way things are. Conscientious people know that sin and offenses cannot be justified by those who commit them, but they cannot be avoided either if you live in relationship with anyone but yourself. If you want to live a miserable life, never forgive. O, don’t say “I won’t forgive you.” By all means say the words, “I forgive you.” But whatever you do, hold on to that list of offenses so that the next time the other person slips up, you can drag all of that out again and use it to bludgeon the person to death. Let the other person’s offenses and sins control your life. Dwell on them day and night. Do let them go. Stay under their power believing that you deserve to be treated better and you will not rest until this other person doesn’t just ask for forgiveness, but crawls over broken glass to beg your clemency and then does everything that you demand of him until his debt is paid in your eyes (which can be never if you want to remain miserable). Unforgiveness is a MUST if you want to live a miserable life.

As you continue to cultivate misery in your life, you must also become proficient in blaming everyone else. Bad things have happened to you. People have sinned against you, sometimes in some evil ways. If you want to live a miserable life, let that define your existence for the rest of your days. If you don’t fulfill your responsibilities, it is because of that incident or those incidents. Instead of looking to the way God defines you (Misery forbid!), take the word of man spoken to you through their words or actions toward you. Whatever you do, you must NOT believe God. Also, when something goes wrong in your life because something you failed to do, look for someone else upon whom to lay the guilt. “He wasn’t there for me.” “They didn’t provide this for me.” Certainly other people have some responsibilities, but they need to know that they really have ALL the responsibilities for my life. Others are supposed to fulfill their responsibilities AND my responsibilities. When they don’t do both of these, well, I will blame them and excuse my inaction. Of course, no one can ever meet these high demands. They are impossible for any human. That is the beauty of it. That means I can always be miserable because this can NEVER be done. You will reach your goal of complete and utter misery if you always find someone to blame.

Increasing your misery must also include taking everything in the worst possible light. People say and do things that can be perceived in a number of different ways depending on the context. If you want to live a miserable life, you must always take everything in the worst possible light. Even compliments given to you must be understood as some type of leverage the person is trying to gain over you. He is being sarcastic or simply being “nice” to put on a good Christian face, but he really doesn’t mean it. The actions of others must be understood as being against you. (This whole epistle is probably about you! If you believe this, you are surely on the right track.) If something said is unclear, it is muddled for a purpose. This person is being deceitful. In order to be miserable, you must believe that everyone is against you. The very way they live their lives is an indictment of the way you live, relate to your spouse, rear your children, and eat ice cream. It doesn’t matter what they do, it is all against you because you think that everybody thinks like you; namely that YOU are the center of the universe and everyone is consumed with you like you are consumed with you. The fact that what they say and do might be harmless or even WORSE, trying to be kind, cannot be abided; not if you want to live in misery.

Another virtue of misery that must be developed is the ability to nit-pick everything everyone else does. Of course, no one can do everything right. Everyone understands this. But if you really want to be miserable, you must understand that no one can do ANYTHING right. Oh, they might get some stuff right, but there are always mistakes and even sins that pollute the whole action. In order to be miserable, you must nit-pick everything someone else does. If you do this in your own mind, then you get to enjoy the misery yourself. But if you actually give your “evaluation” to the other person, you can suck the life right out of him. And, if you do this to everyone around you, you can actually make everyone around you miserable (at least when they don’t run when they see you coming. You may only have one shot at this, so make it good.) Keep long lists of all the stuff people do wrong and mull over it day and night. Insist that people can only relate to you on your terms, which are quite meticulous and, on top of that, hidden from the other person. If he is ever actually informed about your likes and dislikes and tries to relate to you that way, some of your excuses for not liking him will be taken away. You must always demand exacting standards with little or no grace, and the other person must figure you out. If you act this way you will be sure to be miserable because you will have no friends. No one will want to be around you long, except those people who are just like you. And again, they won’t stay around for very long. This is a living hell, and in hell there are no friendships.

Finally, my miserable brothers, hang around people who do all of the above and try to “rescue” them when they don’t want to be rescued. You want to rescue the person who practices all of the above. You think, “No one really wants to live in misery.” How naive! Yet, like a good trooper, you are going into the battle and rescue the other soldier. But what you find is that this other soldier likes the mine field he is in and doesn’t want to come out. Nevertheless, you are going to try to drag him out. So, you hang around him trying to encourage him to come out of his misery. But misery is his joy. Misery is his life. Misery is his destiny. To come out of this miserable state would mean that he would have to take some personal responsibility and be forgiving and gracious to others. To do that would require something of him that he is not willing to give. It would mean that he would have to work and be busy about what he is supposed to be doing and wouldn’t have time to dwell on all of the mistakes of others, setting himself up as a false god. He likes this place of being an implacable, unmerciful god. Misery is his life. After a while his misery, like a virus, infects you. Your life isn’t as good as you deserve. Everybody else does mess up all the time and is probably out to get you. Just keep trying to rescue those who have no desire to be rescued and you too will find yourself in a miserable state as well.

So, make your depression and misery sure. Add to your discontentment, unforgiveness; to your unforgiveness, blame; to blame, suspicion; to suspicion, nit-picking; and to nit-picking, seeking to rescue the stubbornly miserable. If you do these things and such the like, you will pave the way for greater misery and depression. You will destroy your marriage, ruin friendships, disrupt and divide churches, and never realize joy. You will show yourself a true disciple of me, Marah, and our lord, Misery.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

2011 Generation

The Huffington Post recently ran an article on 20 Things That Became Obsolete This Decade and a Yahoo writer picked up on it and added her own thoughts on Things Babies Born in 2011 Will Never Know. Here’s the list (with occasional commentary – “hers” and mine)

1. Videotape

2. Travel agents

3. Separation of work & home. The revolution we were promised with the Internet is beginning to come into being. An increasing number of careers are no longer geographically fixed.

4. Books, magazines and newspapers. I mourn one of the three – books. I love the feel of a book in my hand, even the smell of an old book when you open its pages. However, practicality rules here. With my hubby’s ever-increasing library, we are looking at having to add-on or buy a new house! With a Kindle (or other eReaders), you can carry 1500+ books in the palm of your hand. The Huffington Post article believes bookstores are also headed to extinction. I hope not. I love perusing the clearance aisles of a bookstore and finding that hidden gem I otherwise would never have read.

5. Movie rental stores. A Netflix executive recently stated the company expects the streaming side of the business to become their prominent product in the rather near future.

6. Watches. That’s just one of the services our cell phones provides.

7. Paper maps. Three letters – GPS

8. Wired phones (landlines).

9. Long distance. (For my generation – remember when calling out-of-town friends/family was a big deal because of the expense?)

10. Newspaper classifieds

11. Dial-up Internet

12. Encyclopedias. We just took our set to Goodwill last week.

13. Forgotten friendsRemember when an old friend would bring up someone you went to high school with, and you'd say, "Oh yeah, I forgot about them!" The next generation will automatically be in touch with everyone they've ever known even slightly via Facebook” or other social media.

14. Forgotten anything else. “Kids born this year will never know what it was like to stand in a bar and incessantly argue the unknowable. Today the world's collective knowledge is on the computer in your pocket or purse."

15. The evening news.

16. Music CDs. Bobby is constantly reminding me not to buy a CD, buy the MP3.

17. Film cameras. Digital cameras have completely changed how we document our life. Click away - if the shot is bad you can delete it. No development expense.

18. Yellow & white page. They’ll continue to exist – as apps on your Smartphone.

19. Catalogs – Will continue in online form.

20. Fax machines

21. One picture to a frame. We have a digital frame to my Mom as a Christmas present a few years ago. It really brought home how extensively the “digital age” is changing even basic paradigms.

22. Wires to anything.

23. Handwritten letters. I hope this projection is wrong. Digital communication is quick, but ink and paper communicates so much more deeply. I believe the act of shaping the words with a pen shapes what you write – the thought process is different.

24. Talking to one person at a time. Unfortunately this one will be accurate. Skype to one person, text another and email yet another – all simultaneously. In fact, the Huffington Post article asserts calling itself will become obsolete in favor of digital means of communication.

25. Retirement plans. Yes, Johnny, there was a time when all you had to do was work at the same place for 20 years and they'd send you a check every month for as long as you lived. In fact, some companies would even pay your medical bills, too!”

26. Mail.What's left when you take the mail you receive today, then subtract the bills you could be paying online, the checks you could be having direct-deposited, and the junk mail you could be receiving as junk email? Answer: A bloated bureaucracy that loses billions of taxpayer dollars annually.”

27. Commercials on TV

28. Commercial music radio. Can you say Pandora?

29. Hiding.Not long ago, if you didn't answer your home phone, that was that -- nobody knew if you were alive or dead, much less where you might be. Now your phone is not only in your pocket, it can potentially tell everyone -- including advertisers -- exactly where you are.”