Thursday, January 26, 2006

Riding the Bus

Ok... I'm a Steelers fan. Not a rabid one, but a fan. I grew up in Pittsburgh and found my formation just before the glory days of the steel curtain. I was ready when Franco Harris, Joe Greene, etc. came along. My heart warms when I see a Steelers shirt, hat, or bumper sticker.

We've (see I said "we" even though I live in Santa Barbara!) had some good teams over the years but this one feels right. There still is a blue collar integrity to football played Steelers style and I think Jerome Bettis personifies that ethic. He was a franchise running back... one of the best in the history of the game but easily moved into a position as backup and elder statesman when that was what was best for the team. They have a long-tenured coach and lots of long tenured players in a time when many coaches and players play musical chairs as they move from one team to another every few years. They have a quarterback in Roethlisberger who would rather hang out with the guys at the pub that chase after silicone enhanced young women and live the lifestyle of a glamorous QB. They still don't have cheer leaders, after all, Steelers fans go to see football not, well, you know.

The Steelers are now on their way to Super Bowl XL in Bettis's home town of Detroit. I hope they win. It sounds like it could be a good game although many super bowls haven't been. And I have a church meeting scheduled for 5:30... just towards the end of the game Pacific time... do you think I should cancel the meeting?

Monday, January 23, 2006


I've been avoiding speaking too much about the president but I have to say that I agree with what seemed to be the majority of folk in this short video. I think the peaches would be a good thing. Check it out.

Africasize Me

Here is an amazing idea to raise awareness about poverty...

If you know anyone who has a spare 100K sitting around and could bankroll this, send them to this link and get them in touch with Ryan Kellermeyer.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

NAMM '06

For the past couple of years I've been able to wrangle a pass to NAMM - the big trade show for musical instrument merchandizers in Anaheim. It is a bizarre experience. It is HUGE with thousands of companies all pitching the newest biggest thing to music stre buyers, artists, etc. It is the very antithesis of music. The noise is oppresive... so much so that when you pick up your badge at the registration desk, they hand you ear plugs. One of the most popular booths was one where they were doing molds for custom ear plugs.

Then there are the people. I saw more silicone, more piercings, and more ink than I thought existed in the world. Gene Simmons (formerly of KISS) passed by a few times followed by a television camera, sound person, and an entourage. Many of the guitar, drum, and keyboard booths had "stars" signing autographs or performing. I didn't know who most of them were although many of the musicians who were performing were amazingly good. I did take a bunch of photos. Here are two of the most strange looking folk... I have no idea who or what they are.

I was there courtesy of the Lowden Guitar Company - wonderful people and the best guitars in the world (thanks George!). They brought with them a model from their new line - the 50 series that was one of the most beautiful guitars I've ever seen.
I played it too but it was too noisy to really hear it.

My friend Thomas Leeb was demonstrating Lowdens, playing his new F35 curly maple, and wowed the crowds with his amazing playing. It was fun watching the crowds. More than one person stood there with open mouth.

Alex DiGrassi spent a good deal of time at the booth too as he plays Lowden guitars and was picking up a new one. What a great guy.

I ran into a few friends and missed some others who were there. I also played two wonderful electric guitars - a Briggs and a Soloway. Either would be a great guitar to own. And I heard an amplifier that I would love to own - a Talos Basic. It was just wonderful sounding - maybe the best amp I've ever heard - organic and responsive.

The evening ended with a meal with the Lowden folk, lots of laughter, wine, food, and good fellowship. If the convention was the crass side of making music, that meal reflected the wonderful side - community. I hope I get to go again next year.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

some silly fun

go to gizoogle and enter the URL of one of your favorite web pages... or even this one and see what happens. It is fun fa shizzle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

a great book

I'm reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell for the 2nd time. It is a marvelous book that raises some very difficult questions.

The story takes place in the middle of this century... researchers have received radio signals of music from a planet in a nearby galaxy. The Jesuits mount a mission to the planet. The story plays off optimism and faith verses deep disappointment with God, religious ecstasy vs. horrible pain. It shows how easy it is to have preconceptions and expectations get in the way of real understanding and that misunderstanding a culture can bring about disastrous results.

In the paperback edition, there are study questions for a group to discuss and an interview with the author. She grew up Roman Catholic but converted to Judaism in her adult life. She says, "When you convert to Judaism in a post-Holocaust world, you know two things for sure: one is that being Jewish can get you killed; the other is that God won't rescue you." With that theology in mind, the main character becomes a sort of Jeremiah who feels as if he has been used and abused by God.

I think it should be required reading for church leaders.

There is a sequel too - The Children of God - that I'll re-read after I finish The Sparrow.


Alexis had her first post-surgery appointment with the surgeon yesterday. He said everything looks good and they are amazed that the swelling is so little. A number of the office personnel commented that she didn't look as if she was only 6 days out of surgery.

So I guess she won't stick that way.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


One of my favorite blogs to read is Heather Armstrong's. She is honest, poetic, at times a little outrageous, and very very human. One of her favorite topics has to do with life with their nearly 2 year old daughter. She writes with the wonder of one discovering something marvelous for the first time... which of course she is.

Anyway, I was thinking about her blog and reflecting on my experience as my now 23 year old underwent this serious surgery. It is amazing how much power your child has over you. They hold your heart in their hands for the rest of your life and have the same power at age 23 that they had at 2 weeks... without a thought they can rip your heart out and stomp on it (even if they haven't yet learned to walk) and not even realize it.

Going up to the surgery, I didn't sleep well and had an over-active imagination which thought of everything that could possibly go wrong from amputating a limb because they mixed up patients to the orthognathic surgeon making a mistake and my beautiful daughter ending up looking like Jay Leno. Of course, neither happened. Still, I do find myself secretly fearing that the swelling won't go down and she'll look like a hamster with its cheeks filled with seeds for the rest of her life... and I paid for it.

Parenting is difficult... and I'm guessing it never gets easier, not even when they have long since grown up and moved out. I suspect Alexis and John will always be just below the surface of my consciousness and I hope that with each change in their lives, I too will experience the wonder of doing something amazing for the first time. I'll pretend that nothing this hard will ever happen again.

prayers and results

thanks for all of the good thoughts and prayers that went our way. Alexis' surgery went well. The physician estimated 4-5 hours and it took a bit under 4 and he said everything went into place nicely. She is swollen and has a few bruises which will get worse until Sat. or Sunday and then begin to abate and her jaw is held closed by wires and rubber bands.

Of course now we begin the ordeal of recovery - 15 days of particle free liquids, then just liquids, then after 8 to 10 weeks soft food and finally about Easter, a more normal diet.

Monday, January 09, 2006


On Weds. 1/11, my daughter Alexis is having pretty extensive jaw surgery (4-5 hours worth). We had our final meeting with the surgeon today and I'm well into the panicking dad mode. If you pray, send some her way on Weds. and following. If you don't... good thoughts will do.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Walmart churches

We received some gift cards for Christmas and so, the other day we went shopping at one of my least favorite places in the world – Walmart. I hate the narrow isles, the cheap stuff, the size, the labor practices, and the business practices. At the same time, I understand the attraction. Where else can you go and while your tires are being rotated, eat lunch, buy groceries, try on some clothes, and check out a new faucet for your bathroom? And the prices are pretty reasonable. Still, nothing seems quite right. You can get clothes but they always feel like imitations of what I’d really like. And the tools aren’t the same quality as those from a tool store. The groceries are cheap but you can’t get those interesting foods that I like to have on my table. And service? They’re friendly enough but don’t expect someone to know the difference in quality between two brands or be able to recommend the perfect tool for an obscure job. And certainly don't expect them to know your name. Nope. They want to get you in, load you with stuff and get you out. And they put the mom & pop stores out of business. The mom & pops really have service. They’ll even tell you where to go to buy what they don’t have but they can’t compete with Walmart’s prices or convenience.

Let me paint with a broad brush here – too broad perhaps but still helpful. I think Walmart is a metaphor for many of the mega-churches. They too are huge and flashy and seem at first to have everything you could possibly want from recovery programs to sports teams to 4 different styles of worship so you can find the one that you really identify with. Don’t expect personal service. Nobody even knows whether you’ve been there or not. And don’t expect the real thing… no self-respecting post modern would be part of a big box church, that pomo worship is just a slickly produced imitation of the real thing. The kids ministry may have all of the bells and whistles but the kids don’t end up with a community filled with surrogate grandparents and aunts and uncles. They just have one more big program thrown at them. There may be amazing musicians but don’t expect anything edgy or artsy. It doesn’t work for too many people. And they rarely admit it, it may not even be purposeful, but they really are putting the mom & pop churches out of business. As George Barna and Bill Hull observed, the mom & pops have been feeders for the mega-churches. Yeah, they try. They have small groups to try to build community. Some have begun serious outreach projects like Saddleback’s AIDS initiative and others have wrestled with social justice issues like Willow Creek raising questions about institutionalized racism within their church. Bu no matter what they do... they are still Walmarts - big box churches.

The mom & pop’s are endangered. They don’t meet the needs of our culture and they never really put enough energy into discipleship and mission. They are on the way out and it is time.

There is another kind of store though – a boutique. Let me tell you about one of my favorites. Cathedral Music in Troy, NY. Klem only sells acoustic guitars and an occassional banjo or mandolin. He has everything from beginners instruments up but he specializes in high end, small builder instruments. Don’t go there to buy an electric guitar or an effects pedal or a drum set or a trombone. He doesn’t have them. But if you want the very best acoustic guitar in your price range, a friendly place to sit and play, great customer service, and competitive prices… go see Klem.

That is what we need in churches - boutiques. We need smaller churches that offer the real thing… so real that it is scary… and expensive. There won’t be any way to sustain it without serious commitment from all of the members of that community of faith. One boutique won’t fit everyone. You may have to search a while for the right one. And even when you find it, it won’t have everything. You may have to give up some expectations. There won’t be a children’s program with 100 5th graders and a singles group for 20 somethings that has a large enough population to do serious spouse hunting. And if the niche that the boutique meets disappears, it will disappear. But while it is there… it is the real thing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

listen up

When we lived in Albany, NY, my daughter Alexis and I played the acoustic circuit as Alexis d, released one CD, and recorded enough material for a second one that was never released. The first CD has been available at CD Baby for some time but now it is also available as individual mp3's there. We also have a few songs from the CD and a few of the unreleased ones available now as mp3s from Soundclick and more of the unreleased material will be added. So for only $.99 a track you can load up on Alexis d!

bad movies

The other night I needed to do some spacing so I turned on HBO and watched the movie that was on - Alexander. Well, it has to be one of the 5 worst movies I've ever seen. Overblown dialog, silly accents, Macedonians with blond hair and blue eyes... the only character I believed was Bucephalus (do you remember who that was from your ancient history?)

Other really bad films that come immediately to mind are Battlefield Earth and Alphaville. What are your worst movies?