Monday, November 23, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Most of us have heard about Steve Anderson - the pastor in Phoenix who has been praying that Obama would die and go to hell. For the most part, people have written him off as being a crazy who is completely on his own at the lunatic fringe. Unfortunately, he is not alone at the fringe. He represents a growing movement. There was a t shirt and bumper stickers being sold on the web with the slogan, "Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8. Sounds innocent enough. Even the verse itself falls pretty squarely in the American tradition of political discourse - "Let his days be few; and let another take his office" (KJV) It becomes much more sinister when the following verse is read - "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

Nobody who purchased that t shirt or bumper sticker did so without reading the verse in its context. Nobody who wore it did so without knowing that they were calling for the death of the president of the United States. Ronald Kessler, who wrote a book about presidential security says that death threats against Obama are up 400% over George Bush. It is no wonder... people are hearing "death to the president of the US" from pulpits... and not only from radical Muslim imams in the Middle East, they are hearing it from "Christian" fundamentalist pastors in the US.

Let me say this as clearly as I can. This slogan is not funny or cute. It is heinous. These people are not "biblical" or "Christian." They are using proof texts to back up political ideologies and trying to bolster their cases by attributing their views to God. And finally, any Christian who does not condemn these misuses of the Bible and of Christian theology is culpable for anything that may happen.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

one voice - wrong voice

In academia, when multiple students hand in papers with identical sections, the automatic assumption is that either one of them copied from the other or both copied from a third source. The best that can happen is an "F." The worst is that the student is expelled from the institution. Imagine what would happen if 20 or 42 students handed in essentially the same paper?

That is more or less what happened in congress. An article in The New York Times reports that a written statement by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina on the health care bill was identical to one by Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer. And 20 Democrats and 22 Republicans used very similar language in statements they presented. Coincidence? Not likely. It turns out that the language was provided by lobbyists for Genentech, one of the world's largest biotechnology firms that just happens to be a subsidiary of a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche. Wilson & Luetkemeyer weren't even creative enough to make the words their own. They just parroted the lobbyists. 40 other representatives joined in the chorus.

Now, we wonder why health care reform has gotten nowhere. It is clearly because the discussion is controlled by those with large amounts of money and clear agendas that have little to do with controlling cost or providing the best health care possible. If these representatives had handed those statements in in many universities, they would be out before the end of the week. Let us at least call them on their irresponsibility and push them to represent us rather than the moneyed interests of big pharm and the insurance industry.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Have you signed yet? Affirm the charter here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

little green men

Evidently truth imitates fiction. One of my favorite books of all time is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It is the story of an expedition mounted by the Roman Catholic Church to encounter intelligent life on another planet. It is a wonderful book that shows how expectations color perception, understanding culture is crucial to meaningful communication, and how badly we can screw things up when we don't fully appreciate those two rules. I think all church leaders should read them both.

The Vatican just concluded its first conference on astrobiology. On the one hand, I more than a little puzzled at why this is a theological issue. On the other hand, I hope, but doubt, they came up with some good answers. At the very least, I am encouraged to re-read The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God again. - wonderful, provocative books.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sara Tavares concert review

We saw Sara Tavares and her amazing band last night at the Skirball Center in LA. The short version of the review is, "if you have the opportunity, GO! And be willing to drive a good distance to see her."

Sara Tavares was born in Cape Verde but spent most of her life living in Portugal. Her music is a wonderful blend of African, Portuguese, Brazilian, and US R&B.

The show attracted a very interesting crowd. There were significant numbers of Cape Verdeans there as well as Portuguese nationals - she asked. Then there was a large group that probably reflected the typical Skirball crowd - middle aged and up, middle class and up, white folk. And a smaller group of twenty somethings who know great world music. The venue is a wonderful one with reasonably good sound and a real sense of intimacy. I would guess it seats around 300. Every seat felt very close to the stage. I would certainly go there again to see another show. Every seat was full, at least for the period when people were actually sitting. It wasn't long before everyone was up, dancing to the music.

Her band is a drummer, percussionist, bass, ukulele/electric guitar, and herself on vocals and nylon string guitar. The band is as tight as any I have ever seen, pulling off wonderful polyrhythms without a blink and starting and stopping on a dime. Most important though is that they were obviously having fun. This isn't just a job for them, it is obviously a passion filled with joy and a true sense of community. I've seen many shows with great musicians who each seemed to be in their own world. Things sounded good but I didn't feel as if they were really playing together. It was more like the parallel play child psychologists talk about in young children. This band was a unit and they were playing together.

The ukulele was especially interesting as the player used a lot of signal processing and looped it on more than one song. It added a great sound and texture to the mix. (He has me looking at them online this morning). He played it on well over half of the tunes. The percussion player caused my jaw to drop more than once and he and the drummer seemed almost to be attached to one another.

Sara Tavares is a lovely presence on the stage, glowing... but never overpowering her excellent band. She is also a good guitar player and has a haunting voice. She was obviously having fun too.

Joy permeated the entire performance. Even a soulful ballad (like the one in the video below) exuded a sense of joy and beauty. The upbeat tunes, most of the show, had the entire audience wishing there was a real dance floor available.

I don't know were she is in her tour, but I highly, highly recommend seeing her if you can. And if you can't see her, there is a DVD available of a live performance. I haven't seen any of it other than the three clips on youtube but if her show last night is at all representative of that disk, it is well worth owning.

here's a clip from the DVD of a ballad - Nha Cretcheu

Thursday, November 05, 2009

little things & the melody of life

I'm in the process of changing picks. "What?" you think... "why would anyone worry about something as little as that?"

It makes a difference. The material, the shape, the edge of whatever strikes the string affects the tone and even what you can or cannot play. The little things are important.

I used to play with just my nails most of the time. I'm not a stereotypical fingerstyle player. I don't have the grace and touch that many of them have. Often, I used my nails, especially my index finger, almost like flatpicks. Occasionally, when I broke a nail, I would get an artificial nail applied at the nail salon and liked the sound and feel of the false nail but didn't like what it did to my natural nail or what happened when it was getting to the end of its life and began to catch the string on the trailing edge of the nail. OUCH! So as quickly as possible, I'd try to get back to my natural nail. And that worked OK. I tried fingerpicks and they just don't work and I considered just going to artificial nails as a permanent solution but didn't want to go there...

Then we moved to CA and I found myself playing electric guitar. The strings are much thinner and did terrible things to my nails so I went to a flatpick. Unfortunately, I hold the flatpick very close to the tip and my index finger nail hits the strings along with the pick... which damages that nail even more. So I began using a flatpick on acoustic as well most of the time... which just exacerbates the chips that I get from using the flatpick. So I've been using flatpicks... only they come in scores of sizes, shapes, and materials.

The holy grail of picks is made from real tortoise shell. Of course, it is illegal and immoral so I don't have any of them and never will. Word is that they sound amazing and are the best feel of any pick. Many modern pick companies are trying to replicate that sound and feel without killing sea turtles for the material.

When I used to play electric, I used these wonderful little ivory or bone picks that were made from the tops of old piano keys. They sound very organic and feel good but they are hard to find, break, and can be expensive. And of course, ivory has its own issues of legality and morality. I still have a few and I have a few bone blanks from old piano keys... I may end up going back to them.

I really like the V picks on electric guitar. I love the way they slide through the string and the fat solid pick just feels right in my hand. At $4 they're expensive compared to the $.25 pick you get at the local Best Buy but not compared to some of the other picks out there. I tried them on acoustic and they're OK... but the make a funny chirping sound as they wear so on to something else for acoustic.

I'm waiting for an order of Wegen picks. I've heard good things about them... that they approach the sound and feel of tortoise shell. I'm hoping they work well. We'll see. At about the same price as the V pick, I can easily justify a bunch of them.

There are a couple of companies out there making expensive picks. Blue Chip & Red Bear are the most visible right now and both are generating a lot of buzz and lots of true believers. At $20 for a Red Bear and $35 for a Blue Chip, they aren't throw away picks... but if they do what they say, maybe they're worth it. One of these days I'll order at least one of each. And of course, if I like them, I'll need two for each guitar case...

I could tell you that each material and even the shape of a pick change the sound of your playing and the way you play and I would be telling you the truth. There is more to it though... it is the small things that, added together, make up our lives. It is the little details, the little acts, the daily habits, that make us who we are. So, as I search for the right pick... I'm thinking of it as a metaphor for my life. Each day I make hundreds of small choices, many of them unconsciously, all of which affect the melody that is my life. They dictate who I will be and even who I can be. The little things matter.