Saturday, January 31, 2009


I have wanted a Steelers jersey for years, the problem was, which one?

While the Steelers have always had great players, they have often been at positions that don't have a lot of sex appeal. For example, Pittsburgh has been known for its linebackers. Everybody knows quarterbacks and running backs and even receivers, but linebackers? James Harrison received the award for defensive player of the year, the best in the league right now, but a lot fewer people know his name than even the middle bunch of QB's. So, I thought about his number... 92. And the other three linebackers are even less well known but are all amazing players and equally important to the Steelers defense - Foote, 50, Farrior, 51, Woodley, 56. I actually found a Farrior jersey at a local store but it was the away color - white and I wanted a black one.

I thought about Hines Ward's number too, 86. Now as a receiver, his position has a bit more sex appeal and more people know his name. The piece that attracted me to his number is that he is a workhorse. He does whatever is necessary for the team to win. And he always comes up smiling. He just exudes joy when he is playing.

Lastly, I thought about Troy Polamolu, 43. He certainly is the most well known of the Steelers defense. Anyone who watches football recognizes his mane of black hair flowing as he charges across the field. He plays with the same intensity and abandon that I enjoy in guitar players (think Jeff Beck). He is not a big guy - 5'10" and 207 lbs - but he doesn't hesitate to tackle one of the 250 pound running backs coming at him at full speed. It doesn't hurt that he is a man of faith - Eastern Orthodox. His number was easy to find so here we are. Tomorrow, I'm wearing my #43 jersey to church.

Go Steelers

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

a favorite (mis)quote

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.

There's also a negative side."

It is often attributed to Hunter S. Thompson, and actually is a misquote of something he wrote about the television business in 1988.

I don't know anything about the television business, but it certainly fits the music business...

Friday, January 23, 2009


I get to go to NAMM as a guest of Lowden Guitars and went for a day this year...

It is always an interesting experience as it reflects all of the best (some amazing gear, wonderful musicians, and some really great people) and the worst (talk about surgically enhanced women, self-obsessed musicians, and smarmy business people) in the music business.

This year, I didn't spend much time checking out electric stuff but it looked as if there were lots of new very simple circuit guitar amps with just volume and tone controls. That is the way I like them.

This year, like the the last couple of years there have been amazing basses with a bajillion strings and monster players demoing them.

But I was there to see some of the acoustics...

This is part of George Lowden's booth. Notice the new Pierre Bensusan signature model on the right - the guitar you can only see part of, sorry. George built two prototypes - one with a Adirondack top and one with cedar. Pierre took the Adirondack top guitar and the cedar one was at NAMM and up for grabs. Some dealer purchased it. I did play it. It was difficult to tell what it sounded like through the noise, but the fingerboard was a little wide for me. George said that "the devil is in the bevel" and that little design piece on the lower bout is very tricky. The two darker top guitars are redwood tops. George really likes redwood.

One of the fun points at NAMM is watching my friend Thomas demo his Lowden F35C. He is an amazing player and even in the din of NAMM, always draws a crowd of on-lookers who are amazed at what he can do with a guitar. Boy, does he beat that guitar...

I've attended NAMM 4 times I think and this was the first time that I saw empty booth spaces. Also, there was a lot of talk about different companies cutting back on staff and on distribution of their products. The economy is having a real impact. Still, there were some amazing instruments and some of the companies, including Lowden, are still doing well.

this week

Three pieces came together this week that really have me thinking. I went to see Gran Torino with my son. Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th president. I rented the film telling the story of Ernie Davis - The Express. And of course it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The four together got me thinking about the incredible ability we have as a nation to live towards our highest ideals. As a child growing up in a neighborhood not terribly dissimilar to the one in Gran Torino in roughly the same time that Ernie Davis was making history during the ministry of Dr King, I still never even imagined seeing a president with skin significantly darker than mine. I never dreamt of a president with a name that sounded so foreign. It was literally beyond imagining. When we sang the song - Only in America "a poor boy like me can grow up to be president," we knew it really only applied to some of the poor boys in my neighborhood. And yet, here we are.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that "the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." I don't know whether that is true in all places but I believe it is certainly true in the United States. We have done some horrible things through our short history as a nation. We have allowed our fears to overshadow our hopes more than once. This week I am hopeful that the best part of who we are eventually overpowers the worst parts, that our dreams are stronger than our fears, and that justice will roll down like an ever-flowing stream. This week I am reminded of who we claim to be, but more importantly, who we are becoming.

Friday, January 16, 2009

a smile

every now and then a story comes around that just makes you smile...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It doesn't work

Since 1947 Israel has been killing Arabs as a means of making their people safe. Radical Palestinian groups are still throwing missiles at them.

Since 1947, radical Palestinian groups have been attacking Israel to obtain freedom and redress for the Palestinian people. They are still living behind barbed wire and walls and still do not have a land to call their own with a functional government.

The strategy doesn't work. Neither one. For 60 years both sides have been pursuing strategies that do not bring peace, do not bring prosperity, do not solve the problem.

So what strategies would work? The crazies on either side actually have strategies that would work. There are crazy Zionists who argue that killing all of the Palestinians would solve the problem. And there are lots of crazy Arabs who argue that killing all of the Jews and wiping Israel from the map would solve things. They're both right. Completely annihilating one side or the other would stop the violence. The problem of course is that either "solution" is completely immoral and absolutely unacceptable.

Are there other solutions? I believe so, but nobody seems to have the political will or the courage to make it happen. Perhaps it is as simple as convincing the mothers of Israel and Palestine that they must love their own children more than they hate the other side's. And they must be convinced that keeping their children alive depends upon peace, not more bombs or missiles or bullets.

First and foremost, the Palestinians must have hope for the future. They must see that they will have a place of their own, education, jobs, and self-determination. Only Israel can give that to them. Until they do, the violence will not end and Israel's children will continue to die. And the Israelis must feel secure. They must be able to trust that their very existence is not threatened. They must know that their children will not need to take up arms just to survive. Only the Palestinians can give that.

Both sides must abandon their primary orientation to the other. The Palestinians must stop hating. Yes, Israel has done terrible wrongs to them. The entire world has done terrible wrongs to them going back to the Balfour Declaration. They must stop hating. Hate is not a healthy or a constructive lens through which to see the world and it has not served them as a people. And Israel must give up its fear. Yes, the fear has real reasons behind it. Nobody can read history and not understand the fear of the Israelis. Indeed, it was a healthy orientation that probably enabled the survival of the Jewish people, but it has become dysfunctional. It impedes them from moving forward and building a secure world.

Peace is possible but both will require leaders of vision and strength and both will require the support of the US and the rest of the international community.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Go Steelers

I'm a Steelers fan. That is not the same as a football fan. I only watch professional football when the Steelers are playing and only care about other teems to the degree that impacts the Steelers. I never watch college ball and haven't been to a high school game since I was in high school.

I know, it is a violent game. It is crazy to have 300 pound men running at full speed into one another. I know that it is a reflection of all of the worst values we have in our culture. I know it is an awful thing to do to young men and their bodies. (I have really mixed feelings when I look at my son who is built like a defensive lineman but only played football one year because of a knee injury at practice before they even played a game. He would be a stellar lineman... but probably would destroy his knees. I know that, but something inside me still would like to see him out there in pads. Maybe he could be a Steeler someday. Sick... I know that.) But... I grew up in Pittsburgh and somehow it gets in your blood there. Steelers are like religion in Pittsburgh and no matter how hard you try you can't get away from it. You may be a recovering Steelers fan, but the mark is always there.

Hey, at least the Steelers don't have cheerleaders. They are there to play football. Go to Hooters to see young women jiggle. The only thing that jiggles at Steelers games are the Iron City tumors of the fans.

I'm hopeful this year. The Steelers have the #1 defense in football. The offense has sputtered at times but yesterday they manhandled the San Diego Chargers on both sides of the ball. They played very, very well. Next Sunday they play the Baltimore Ravens - a team for whom Pittsburgh fans have little but contempt. They can beat them... indeed, they already have twice this year. And then it is the Superbowl.

I have told my congregation that if the Steelers go to the superbowl this year, I am going to wear a Steelers jersey to church that morning. First, I'll have to buy one though. So I have to decide which one. I have some favorite players- Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison... we'll see after next week.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

great story

Every now and then you read a true story that strengthens your faith in people. Sometimes they aren't true but they should be... and sometimes they are true.

Today, I followed a link from a discussion board I read to Rick Reilly's column at ESPN. The tag line is "There are some games in which cheering for the other team feels better than winning." Follow the link and read the story.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Toy

I got a new guitar today - a Silver Creek D160 which is a solid mahogany sides and back, solid spruce top dreadnought. Sometimes I play places that I feel a little uncomfortable taking my Lowden. It is a pretty expensive guitar that I couldn't afford to replace. I've tried lots of cheap guitars, usually with laminated sides and backs and solid tops, and while some were OK, they still sounded, well, cheap.

My son played violin and cello for a while and we purchased some extremely nice Chinese made violins and cellos that held their own against European and American instruments at 2-3X's the price. Then I bought a Kenny Hill nylon string guitar which is quite nice... and made in China. So, I know they can build very nice instruments there for low prices. Yes, I know about cheap labor and all of the arguments. I also know that if it came to paying an American price for a solid wood guitar, I would have just passed at this point.

Just after Christmas I saw a deal online for this al solid wood guitar at a ridiculous price - $254 shipped with a hard case. I checked out the online reviews and they were all good. So I took a chance nd ordered one, figuring that if it was a dog, I could send it back and planning to sell my Yamaha knock around guitar to bring the overall cost even lower.

The Silver Creek arrived today and I am astounded. I have owned tons of high end guitars and even more low end ones and this guitar holds its own with the big boys. Bottom line is that it plays and sounds great... easily as good as US guitars at 5X's the price. So once it gets electrified, it will become my main gigging guitar.

If this guitar is representative of the line, I highly recommend them to anyone at any level of playing who is looking for a guitar. It isn't going to give you status or appreciate in value but when you play it, everyone will turn their heads and folk who spent 5X's as much will go home and look online at Silver Creek D160

and here's the back...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

theology matters

I've been watching the developments between Israel and the Palestinians with deep pain and grief. While it is clear that Israel certainly has the right to defend itself, it is equally clear that the actions of both sides - Hamas and Israel - have been profoundly immoral and counter-productive to the ends either is supposedly seeking. The violence doesn't work and this situation is a prime example of that fact. It has been going on for decades and nothing is solved nor will it be until someone has the courage to stand and say, "Enough!"

That said, I want to address the issue of theology as we watch this. People often act as if theology is just a mind game that doesn't impact the real world except when talking about radical Islamists. I would say that theology - the way we understand God - is central to the way we behave and is critical in all of our interactions.

Regarding Israel, I have heard many Christians completely support their actions for one of two reasons - either saying that Israel is "The Chosen People" and basically can do whatever they want on "their land." Or... coming from some kind of dispensationalist stand that sees this all as a part of God's plan as revealed in prophecy and that peace in the Middle East is a bad thing.

Both are bad theology and result in the support of policies that are, let me say it flat out, sinful, immoral, and counter to the yearnings of God. Other theologies that we sometimes see at play are a deist view that God is in reality absent so our faith need not inform our actions at all or a theology commonly known as atheism which likewise allows for a variety of other kinds of moral structures for evaluating actions. Some have a theology that sees God as vengeful and concerned primarily about retribution. Finally there is a theology that sees mercy, justice, love, and community as the primary yearnings of God. Each would result in very different ways of evaluating the situation and in very different resulting actions.

For too long the church has neglected its role in teaching good, critical theology to church members, instead allowing them to be spoon fed garbage from popular authors with sensational visions of the future or allowed them to embrace some cultural theology that just reinforces whatever culture they happen to live in.

If the churches did and taught good, critical theology, we'd be standing up shouting for Israel and Hamas to stand down and to seriously work towards a permanent solution to the conflict and we would be using all of the leverage we have to that end.