Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blue Ocean Faith - book review

I believe in the Church.  Now, I do not believe in the Church the same way I believe in Jesus... but it is close.  It is close because I do not believe it is possible to be a follower of Jesus outside of the community of faith.  Community is central to being faithful.  At the same time, Church is full of cultural bits and as culture changes, the institutional expression of Church changes too.  We are in the midst of huge changes culturally and that is impacting the institution of the Church in significant ways.  Indeed, I believe that we are facing the birth of a new incarnation of Church that will be radically different from the institution in which I was formed and by which I'm employed.   So, my eyebrows usually go up when someone mentions a book that might be giving a glimpse of the not quite here yet...  Blue Ocean Faith by David Schmelzer promised to be one such book.

Let me begin by saying this book frustrates me.  A lot.  And I think I'll likely be proposing it to my church board for the next all church study book. 

So, what about it frustrates me?  The author speaks to a post-Evangelical audience.  I am so post post-evangelical that those arguments have no interest for me whatsoever. 

The argument whether or not we should be centered set vs. bounded set is not one I even see worth entertaining.  Indeed, if you need to question who we need to exclude... I don't have time or energy for you.

He writes about a third way when facing controversial issues that allows for room to differ over non-essentials and then defines the essentials as dogma - the ideas included in the Apostolic and Nicene creeds and says that if one does not hold those ideas, then they're talking about a different faith than Christianity.  I'm not sure about that.  Indeed, I come from a tradition that specifically rejects creedalism in favor of Statements of Faith which a very thoughtful friend of mine said must always be written in pencil.   The author defines disputable issues as those that bring together competing implications from dogma and over which otherwise faithful people might reasonably disagree.  I like the intent here... but fear we might disagree over what is disputable.  Schmelzer includes the issue of LGBTQ folk here.  I cannot see that as disputable.  Indeed, reject those folk and you're talking about something other than Christianity in my mind.  The bottom line is that I'm not sure how one defines the essentials vs. the disputables.

Perhaps most important of all, the author sees this new movement of the church standing on the statement - Solus Jesus (as opposed to sola scriptura).  I like that... but I fear we might have a lot of very different understandings of who Jesus is.  The implications of that range of images is very serious.

I observed earlier that Schmelzer is writing to a post-evangelical audience.  This became most apparent as he embraces ideas that more mainline churches have held for a long time as if they are new ideas.  He treats centered set as if it is new (he does give credit to a theologian from Fuller who wrote about it in the 70's) but in my circles it was part of the discussion in the 1980's.  He speaks of joyful engagement with secular culture when the mainline church never rejected scientific inquiry, the arts, etc. etc.  He calls for ecumenism when the mainline church embraced that wholeheartedly in the 50's and went on to wrestle with the even larger issues of interfaith connectedness. 

Finally, the book doesn't really address the institutional questions with which I struggle daily.  What does the coming Church look like?  How does it work in society?  What forms might worship take?  Ministry?  Do we have trained leadership and if not, what happens to a body of knowledge and wisdom that has been gained through centuries and requires a kind of commitment to it which lay folk don't have time or skills to address?

So... what do I like?

Their six distinctives are a good start... and especially for those in the post-evangelical world.  I have a bunch of younger friends who grew up in evangelical churches, left as they became more mature, and have been inoculated against church, thinking that all real Christian churches believe and act like the ones they abandoned.    There was no convincing them that something else exists out there where their gay friends would be welcomed, women can hold leadership, they don't have to leave their brains in the parking lot, and real faith is not identified with white middle class Republicanism.  This may have helped...

The dsitinctives are:
  1. Our primary framework is SOLUS JESUS
  2. Our primary metaphor is CENTERED SET
  3. Our approach to spiritual development is CHILDLIKE FAITH
  4. Our approach to controversial issues in THIRD WAY
  5. Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL
  6. Our engagement to secular culture is JOYFUL ENGAGEMENT 
In a good ecumenical orientation, there are some pieces they carry with them from their evangelical backgrounds such as picking 6 neighbors/acquaintances to pray for each day...

I like his pointing at Francis as providing a model for the Christian life... and his call for a real embrace of diversity. 

So... it is worth a read, especially if you're coming from an evangelical background and feeling as if there must be something more.  If you're looking for hints as to what the next incarnation of Church might look like... you'll be a bit disappointed I think.  I love to visit other churches when I'm travelling and will look for a member church of this organization as I travel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Monster 7 Red Microphone by Sire - review


Sire Monster 7  Red

I’m doing a review here of the Monster 7 microphone built by Sire, a company known for its very high quality basses built to Marcus Miller’s specs at a crazy price point to quality ratio.  I received the mic for free from the company and was asked to share my thoughts about the mic.  There was no requirement that I give a positive review for the mic so these thought are my own and represent my honest assessments of the mic.

OK, now some background.  I play as a side player on acoustic guitar and on fretless bass with a number of different folk, play fretless bass in a church band at Cambridge Drive Community Church in Goleta, CA (outside of Santa Barbara), and produce a small acoustic music series at the church called Cambridge Drive Concerts.

No microphone reproduces exactly what goes into it.  Each adds a little bit here and takes away a little there, giving each model its own sonic signature.  As a result, no microphone is perfect for every singer.  Some sound better with a given voice than others.  Then there are other characteristics such as pick-up patterns, susceptibility to pops and handling noise, gain available, how robust the construction, proximity effect, etc. etc. that also contribute to how well a mic works under given circumstances. 

So I have a couple of personal mics and we have a couple of other choices for the 4 singers in the church band and the performers at our series.  My first test was to line up 5 different mics and then have the 4 singers from the church band go down the line, singing through each.  They shared their opinion of which mic they preferred for themselves and the members of the church band shared their opinions.

Heil PR35, AKG 535, Monster 7, Heil PR20, ECM-80


The line up was a Heil PR35, AKG 535, Heil PR20, the Monster 7, and a Gauge ECM-80 - all some pretty good mics.  Just for information we have more than one of a couple of those mics and in addition have an Audix OM3 and an old Ibanez mic from the 70’s built to compete with a Shure SM58 that we left out of the line-up.  Other than the Monster, the price points range from the mid $100’s up to about $375.   We have a very high quality sound system through which we were testing the mics.

The four singers are each fairly different.  There are two males: both baritones but with fairly different tonalities; and two females: a richer alto voice and a thinner soprano.

The first surprise was that for 3 of 4 singers, the Monster was either the first or second choice.  It sounded very good with each voice.  Only one singer (one of the males) strongly preferred a different mic above the Monster.  For the other singers it was always I like the _____ and the Monster the best.  The listeners agreed in large degree with the thoughts of the singers.  The Monster sounds most similar to the AKG 535 or the Heil PR35 from our choices – two excellent mics at the higher price points.  Indeed, those two mics re always my first choices for the concert series.  The Monster does have significantly less handling noise or susceptibility to plosives than the PR35 and slightly better than the 535.  Sire says it has a cardiod pick-up pattern and it seemed very similar to the Heil in that respect.    

In the end, we ended up chosing a Monster on the lower female voice, the Heil PR 35 on one of the males (although we may cycle it out and replace it with a second Monster),  the AKG for the higher female voice and the other male singer strongly preferred the bigger low end of the Heil PR20. That is the line up we used this past Sunday and will going forward with the possibility of swapping the PR35 out for the other Monster 7.

My second test was at a fundraiser concert for a wonderful singer/songwriter who has been struggling with the financial burden of a serious illness.  We had 10 acts – male and female singers, some of whom are touring pros, a couple of professional producers, a couple of journeyman performers, and one who is a highly skilled amateur.  We had three set ups on stage – the two primary set-ups had Monster 7’s as the vocal mic and the third (at the grand piano) had the Heil PR35.  I asked the performers to let me know what they thought about the mics.  One did.

Again, it was apparent that everyone sounded good with the Monster 7 although I did notice a bit of thinness on one of the thinner female voices.  She may have benefited from something with a more hyped low end.  It was nothing that I couldn’t fix with a little EQ adjustment though.  That is exactly what I did - bring the bass up a tiny bit - and all was good.  We did have problems with plosives from a few of the performers.  I didn't pay close enough attention to tell if that reflected some difference between our two Monsters, if the problem was there with both, or if it was just a reflection of less than perfect technique on the part of the singer.  The Monster was still less susceptible to plosives than either Heil.  One of the female performers said that she felt the Monster was very sensitive to distance and that she had to be right on top of it and on axis for it to sound good.  I didn’t notice that as being more so than any other mics we have.

Here's a little video from the concert... the singers are on Monster 7's and the recording was done on an Iphone (thanks Lars!).  The primary singer/guitarist is Rebecca Troon with vocal back-up from Penny Nichols and Susan Marie Reeves with Dale LaDuke on accordion and me on bass.  It gives a taste of the mics...


All in all, I think the Monster 7 Red by Sire is a great mic and would be worth considering at any price point in those represented by our possible choices.  I believe they will be marketing the mic in a box of two for something like $130.  At that price point, it really is a no brainer…  I should say that the mics that were provided to me came without clips.  The mic is a bit fatter than an SM58 so you may need to go with a clothespin type clip or search to ffind one that fits.  I found a clip designed for some kind of wireless mic that fit very well.  Add another $20 for two clips and you're set. 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Biased Press

There have been scores of recent articles decrying the bias of the press against Donald Trump.  As proof they compare the percentage of negative articles written about Trump during these first months of his presidency vs. the percentage of negative articles written about other presidents.  Regardless of the veracity of those numbers, the argument falls down for two reasons or at the very least requires significantly more investigation before those numbers really mean anything.

The first is that while there clearly are news outlets with bias (Fox News is clearly one, but so is MSNBC), as a general rule, the news media is biased towards the sensational.  In a world where they compete with the internet and truly fake news, they look for the sensational to catch the attention of an audience.  Whatever one thinks about Donald Trump, he pours out the sensational each and every day.  Stories that under normal circumstances would be front page - the attack by the Turkish president's  body guards on US citizens on a Washington DC street - barely get any mention because there simply isn't room.   It can be argued that the overwhelming coverage of his campaign by the mainstream press was the equivalent of millions of dollars worth of free advertising and clearly contributed to his winning.  Donald is always on the news because he is always doing something sensational.

Now, this leads to the real question... how many of those sensational actions of DT are negative?  If one president does 50 negative things while andother does 100, doesn't it make sense that the second one would have  twice the negative articles?  If one acomplishes three major legislative intitiatives while another accomplishes 1, doesn't it make sense that the first one would get 3X's the positive press?  So, does DT do 40% more negative things than did a given previous president?  I would argue, "yes."  I'd be hard pressed to come up with anything I could point to as a positive thing done by the current administration  and the negatives roll off the tongue.  From everything that I can see, reality has a negative take on DT's administration.

One might argue that the reason that is so is because I am a stooge for the mainstream news, the "enemy."  Actually, my local paper (which I do read) is one of only two I believe that endorsed Trump for president.  If there is a biased outlet, it is that one and it is clearly pro-Trump.  I do read some articles in the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian online but I am aware of what the "other side" is saying.

Clearly I am not pro-Trump.  My avatar on Facebook still says "resist" and will until this administration and the spineless Republican legislators who keep putting power before country are gone.  I was never one willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because I agreed with almost nothing he promised during his campaigns and find him as a person utterly with redeeming qualities.  That does not stop me from acknowledging that the rise in the stock market increased after his election (maybe a good thing).  The point is that if I saw something that looked positive, I think I could grudgingly agree it was there. 

Nope... the press is not biased against Trump nor are they out to get him.  He simply is an easy target who keeps doing  ridiculously stupid things.  As long as that continues... that is what we will see in the news.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything - book review

If by some chance you haven't read anything I've posted in the past, I am a leftist.  I half joked that Bernie Sanders was not liberal enough for me... and it was only half a joke.  I am a child of the 60's.  The Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement were important parts of my formation.  I am also a Christian and a pastor of a Christian church.  I believe in radical transformation.   I believe we are on the cusp of significant change as a culture, as a world, and in the Church. 

When this title by Becky Bond & Zack Exley, Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything,  presented itself as a possibility for a book review,  I envisioned 5 Easy Steps to Changing the World... or maybe even 5 Really Hard Steps to Changing the World.  I was hoping that the book would pick up where Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything left off and do a better job of providing direction than Tom Sine's, Live Like You Give a Damn did.  As a parenthesis, if you haven't read Klein's book, it is a must read for anybody concerned about the direction our world is going.  I was hoping for some insights that might apply to the Church and to churches as we seek to navigate this turbulent time.

I got what I wanted... sort of... and didn't get what I wanted... sort of...  The book claims to not just be a re-hashing of what happened in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and then proceeds to be exactly that. For those who are interested in understanding how the Sanders campaign worked and why it was as successful as it was, this book is a must read.  For whoever decides to run for the Democrats in 2020, it is likewise a must read.  For change smaller that a presidential campaign, the book requires a bit more work to make relevant.  Still, there are some key ideas that speak to anyone involved in working for significant change whether on the macro level or the more local one.  A couple that jumped out at me are:

  • The first is that change can happen... but if we want to see real change we have to embrace something big that includes all of the issues AND we must envision radical change rather than incremental change.  People are willing to work if they are inspired.  Incremental change doesn't inspire folk. 
  • Personal contact is central to everything
  • Institutions and practices that used to work just get in the way now.
  • Let volunteers run with their gifts.
  • Be willing to make mistakes.
  • Expect pushback even from folk you expected would be on your side.
 So... a good read to learn about the Sanders campaign with a number of serious ah ha's for anyone concerned with leading social change.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.



Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Problem with Health Insurance

Health insurance is complicated... who knew?

In the bass guitar world technology has been pushing the limits with lighter weight, smaller cabinets, massive power, and more low end extension.  My 6 pound head can run rings around the 65 pound heads of my youth and my 34 pound cab puts out more low end than the refrigerator sized (and weight) cabs of that same time period.  Still, common wisdom is that you cannot have cheap, light, loud, and low all in one package.  The laws of physics still apply along with basic economics.

In order to fix our medical care system, we must first acknowledge that the rules of math apply.  It is not possible to have everyone covered with good comprehensive coverage at lower prices that are affordable to everyone without government funding and government interference.  Lower priced plans with reduced coverage are only helpful until they are not.  Cutting payment to physicians or other providers can only go so far before the math no longer works.  A for profit entity has a bottom line commitment to the bottom line... and something eventually has to give in order for the company to make its profits.  All that adds up to one inescapable conclusion.: before the ACA, the system was broken.  Too many people were not insured.  Too many people went bankrupt because of medical bills.  Too many died because of lack of care.  Treatment plans were often chosen by bean counters rather than because of efficacy.  The training of physicians is expensive and favors some specialties over others regardless of actual social needs.  The nature of healthcare makes it impossible for it to respond to market pressures in the same way that other industries do.

The ACA attempted to fix some of the presenting problems without addressing underlying issues.  It succeeded in that small way and would have been more successful had the Republican Party not worked so hard to obstruct it.  (We hear how the CBO's numbers were so off... but that ignores the fact that their numbers were based on the plan actually being adopted while 29 states refused the Medicare expansion part of the program).  Because the ACA sought to work within the then, current system of for profit private insurance companies, etc., it could never deliver the product it promised of affordable, comprehensive coverage for all.

To get the product that a civilized country deserves requires a complete overhaul from top to bottom including training of physicians, funding of medical research, decisions regarding what care is provided (and not provided), how funding is allocated and what fee structures look like.  It will take years to accomplish... possibly decades... but if we do not begin the process, we will see our broken system continue to deteriorate and all but the very rich will suffer.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Sermons now on YouTube


The church I serve has begun to put videos of the sermon up on youtube each week.  The program has raised some interesting issues.  

First, there are the aesthetic questions.  We’re using an inexpensive camera (Zoom Q4n) and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible so there is one camera angle with a bit of fisheye to the image.  The camera allows an AB or XY microphone arrangement so we tried both to see what would give us better sound.   I also quickly learned that a dark jacket works better against the background of the sanctuary.  Watching myself also has me thinking about how I move when I'm preaching, what I do with my hands, etc. etc.

The more important questions have had to do with the shaping of the sermon itself.  I preach from the lectionary.  For those unfamiliar with a lectionary, it is a list of 4 scripture readings for each Sunday of the church year in a three year cycle.  The readings include an historic passage (usually from the Old Testament), a Psalm, a gospel passage, and a reading from the letters in the New Testament.  The passages are chosen to fit together (in the eyes of those who put the lectionary together) and are intended to go through all of the major themes of the Bible over the three year cycle.  More liturgical churches read all four lections each Sunday.  Because we’re in the free church tradition, we have no such expectation.  Indeed, using the lectionary at all is a choice I make.   From the 4 readings,  I choose two passages for each Sunday and preach on the second one.  It seems important to me that we, who call ourselves Biblical Christians, read at least two passages each Sunday.  (many more conservative churches don't really read any passages from the Bible, instead just proof-texting during the sermon to prove whatever preconceptions they already hold).  Again, being in the Free Church tradition, I am not compelled to use the lectionary and indeed, there are times when I stray from it.  Still, for me, it is a discipline that forces me to preach on passages that I might not choose otherwise and to wrestle with themes that are uncomfortable for me.  Of course, I do still pick from among the four readings. 

All of that said, I try to choose passages that I think relate to the context of Cambridge Drive Community Church.  And I try to construct a sermon that speaks to the issues with which we’re living at the moment.  A sermon out there in the ether is divorced from that context and may or may not speak in the same way to someone watching in a very different setting.  While Cambridge Drive is by no means homogeneous theologically or otherwise, I can reasonably expect that someone might watch one of these sermons who comes from a very different place culturally or theologically than those sitting in the sanctuary.  And the folk in the chairs in our sanctuary know me well enough to know how to take things, when I'm joking, what struggles the passage imposes on me... To what degree do I try to generalize my sermon for those outside?  Should I avoid context specific remarks, knowing that doing so might make the sermon less effective for those in the congregation while making it more effective for some hypothetical watcher from elsewhere?  Do I downplay the relationships I have with my congregation to make a sermon more general or do I just allow the outside to overhear what is going on here?

I spoke with a friend this morning about those questions and she asked whether my sermons have changed since we began videoing them.  I responded that I'm not sure... but I am certainly being more thoughtful about what I say and how I say it.

In any case... the sermons are now up there for any to see...  Here's the link to the channel 

And here's the sermon from February 5 for an easier look...


Let me know what you think...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tiny Desk

Many of you know that back in the late 90's I performed in a duo with my daughter under her name, Alexis d, mostly around the Hudson & Pioneer Valleys in upstate NY & Massachusetts.  It was one of the most musically satisfying times of my life.

Life goes on and things change but Alexis and I still perform occasionally and still write every now and then.  This year, we have submitted a song to the NPR Tiny Desk Contest

Check it out...


Here are the lyrics...


V.
Don't know where I'm going
Not sure where I've been
It's the biggest hot mess
This thing I'm in
I call up experience
My blessings and my sins
But I still don't know,
The next step or when.

Chorus
We can talk about the future,
We can wish about the past
But all I want
Is the gift I know'll last

V2
I've traveled around the world
I've sure seen a lot
I've been granted riches
So others envy what i've got.
But all I know,
Is when I look at you,
That's got to be the best thing
I could ever choose.

Chorus

Bridge
Let's spend a little time
Just us two
That's the present,
I'll give to you.

V3
I might be lost
I might get found,
I may be up
I've certainly been down,
Truth be told,
Only one way to be,
Only one place,
That's where you're with me.

Chorus
Bridge
Tag

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trump, Streep, and what happened

Most of us have heard at least exerpts from Meryl Streep's Golden Globe speech where she reamed the president elect for mocking a disabled reporter. 

Here's the referenced video from Trump...

So, here's the argument we're hearing from the right wing... "Trump makes these same movements when he is making fun of people who are not disable, like Ted Cruz.  Therefore, he is not mocking the disabled reporter."  They often go on to acknowledge that Trump is rude, but state emphatically he is not guilty of mocking a disability.

I find that one of the most ridiculous defenses I have ever heard.  Let me give a parallel example.  If I called someone a "retard" who did not have a mental deficiency and then turned around and called someone who was intellectually challenged a "retard" would that mean I wasn't making fun of their disability?  No.  Indeed it would be worse because in the first instance, where I used that slur against someone without a disability, I was holding up the disabled person's condition as a slur.  The intellectually challenged person becomes the living embodiment of the slur.  

That is precisely what Trump was doing when he used the same movements in mocking Cruz.  He was saying "Cruz is comparable to one of those people who are worthy of disdain and mockery."  That he used the same movements when mocking someone who actually has a disability does not make it less offensive.  Indeed, it is more offensive.

There are no excuses. That behavior clearly sets an example for others and normalizes behaviors that are despicable.