This is what we do for the joy of the King,
For His peaceable Kingdom,
For a world in despair.
And this is why we bring any hope we can give,
Any bread from the table,
Any touch of His hand.
This is what we do.
This is where we go.
This is why we sing.
This is how we live.
This is who we are.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Great Job, Dave Yaden!

We just watched our friend Dave Yaden performing on The Regis and Kelly Show this morning. He's Josh Kelley's keyboard man, and plays for us at First Christian every weekend he's in town.  

Dave's an unbelievably talented young man who really loves the Lord. His many friends in the music business call him "Reverend." He takes his faith with him wherever he goes.

It's a blast to watch him play. Click here to see Josh's outro on this morning's show and to see Dave in action.

Way to go, "Reverend!"

Cadaver Update

I learned from Becky's comment to my Blue Shield of California post that what I thought to be a cadaver was really a "medical mannequin."  These things are quite cool.  They have names. They have biographies. They talk.  They bleed. They have complete medical histories!  

"If students provide the right treatment, the mannequin improves; if they provide the wrong treatment, the patient's condition worsens."  (BBC News) 

They can have heart attacks--the bad ones in which the heart stops beating.   To these "robo-patients" medical students can administer medicines like epinephrine to get the heart going again.  (If they get the dosage wrong, Madeline the Mannequin dies.  Uh-oh!)

Very cool.

But I still think the commercial stinks.

It's Just Not Natural . . .

This morning was pretty rough.  Bob Ewing and I went up to Garden Grove to attend the funeral services of 24 year-old Richard Gamache. "Ric" was the handsome son of one of our choir members at church. He was killed in a very freak accident on an all-terrain vehicle last Friday. This is a guy who was extremely athletic--an avid surfer, and a football, track, and baseball star. He'd just finished a 5-year stint with the Navy.  (Four of those years were at Camp David where he served the President and his family during that time.)  

You just don't picture a guy who's received commendations from the Department of Homeland Security and who's been honored for his work in anti-terrorism, being thrown from an ATV and landing on his head like a rag doll.  Such a tragedy.  It's just not at all natural for parents to sit through a funeral for one of their children--especially when they're as vitally alive as Ric Gamache had been throughout his twenty-four years.  

The service was at a funeral home.  There wasn't nearly enough room for the huge crowd of friends and family who were there.  Bob and I arrived right on time, but it was standing-room only in the foyer.  We only heard bits and pieces of the memorial.  I kept thinking, This SHOULD have been at our church.  Because we were really out of hearing range of what was going on in the chapel (there were speakers in the foyer but they weren't working!!), we were able to stay pretty aloof emotionally--that is, until they played the 80's CCM classic, "Friends" by Michael W. Smith over a DVD of Ric's life.  I'd forgotten how much that song always managed to "get to me."  (I have always associated it with the deeply emotional time when we left my Sabbatical ministry in Louisville to return to Johnson Bible College.  That was a very rough time--especially leaving all of our Louisville friends.)

Ric had many friends from Maryland who flew here for his services...many of them were Navy guys who were clearly having a rough time "letting go."  It was tough to watch.

His mother, Dienna Rogers, did an amazing job thanking everyone for being in attendance.  She was so calm and collected--far more so than I would have been if one of my girls was lying in a casket 6 feet away from me.  

Why am I posting this?  I guess just to remind us never to take "this moment" for granted. Whether it's with our friends or our family, our time together is precious--even if we think it's in abundant supply.  

Love you all.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Am I Just Dense?

I watched this weird Blue Shield of California insurance commercial tonight.  (Watched it 3 times in a row trying to understand it.)  Has anyone else seen this and knows what I'm talking about?

Here's the "story line" of the commercial:  A  young college girl enters and takes a seat in an empty lecture hall--empty except for the sheet-covered CADAVER on a slab in the front of the room!! Then, at some point (curiosity gets the best of her??), she gets up from her desk, goes up to the cadaver--an old man, I think--and lifts up his arm to look at his hand or something. (The hand looks like it belongs on one of the Muppet characters.)  End of commercial.

It's absolutely the strangest commercial I've ever seen.  In listening to the voice-over, I think BSC is attempting to brag about the efforts it's going to to give students some incentive to go into nursing. They're certainly not talking about insurance. Maybe they should invest a few bucks into advertising that makes sense?

Last Night's AMERICAN IDOL Show

In a word -- Y A W N !
In six:  "Those girls were really, really mediocre."

New Respect for Ryan

Lyn recorded yesterday's Regis and Kelly Show for some reason.  When I got home from the concert last night she was watching it--their interview with Simon Cowell, specifically.  During the interview, Simon had some pretty crude things to say about Ryan Secrest.  Of course, Ryan wasn't there to defend himself or to toss the banter back in Simon's direction.  Simon just went on and on, making a monkey's butt out of himself.

Then this morning on my way to the gym, I was listening to KIIS-FM. Ryan played back a good portion of the interview--the parts about pigging out on chili and the "chihuahua on the leg" reference. Rather than ranting about Simon or trying to come up with some I-can-top-that story, he good-naturedly owned up to pigging out on chili and cookies and laughed off the whole "annoying dog" bit.  I know the AI team is accustomed to a lot of back-and-forth below the belt banter at times.  But even when you're used to crude insults, it's got to get old.  I just thought Ryan showed a lot of character and grace by letting it roll off his back. (I suppose it's altogether possible the whole thing was pre-planned by Cowell and Secrest for some spicy PR spin for the show.  Hopefully, that wasn't the case.)

Anyway, kudos to RS for seeming to be a bigger man than Cowell the Scowl.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mozart Lives

The man's been dead for 217 years.  He only lived for 35 years!  Yet, there have been very few people who have had the kind of continuing impact on civilization like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Tonight, my friend Alvin Mundo took me (again) to one of Robert Kapilow's  "What Makes It Great" concerts at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center.  This unique concert series is as much about education as it is about fine performances.  (When you tell people about them, their eyes glaze over and their breathing gets coma-like.  Frankly, hearing "about" these concerts makes them sound as dull as death, but really, they're  fantastic: entertaining and inspirational at the same time.)  

Anyway, tonight's program featured Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra.  Performing it was the Riverside Philharmonic Orchestra with a beautiful young clarinetist, Deborah Avery, as soloist.  (The link is here just to let you hear the music of the 1st movement, if you're interested.  The soloist and orchestra on the video were not in tonight's concert.  The video soloist is actually pretty darn annoying with all her moving around--but the music's great.)

As the performance was unfolding, I was once again reminded of how much I LOVE hearing a fine orchestra.  This sounds so "music nerd-ish" to say, but I genuinely believe that there is probably no more skilled assembly of people in any kind of human organization.  Certainly not in the arts.  (Since I've never played in an orchestra in my life, I think I'm being objective in saying this.)  

Orchestral players are amazing.  They spend years of their lives in solitude practicing, practicing, practicing.  They develop their brilliant musicianship on an individual level; then they transfer those skills to the ensemble--either a full orchestra or a small chamber group. The goal of the orchestra player is not "winning."  It's not getting the limelight.  It's not "standing out from the rest." The goal of the orchestra is to bring to life, in real time, the creative spirit of the composer.  

So, as this young orchestra played so beautifully tonight, Herr Mozart enjoyed immortality.  

The concerto was written just three months before his untimely death.  (To hear it, you'd think he was at the peak of a long and brilliant career--not the sunset of one that was woefully short.) Tonight his brilliance and compositional genius were on public display because of the 25 young men and women whose dedicated and focused talents were able to roll back two centuries.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Made Me (and Ken Burns) Cry

Last week when I was on my Oscars movie-watching quest, I had some down time between a couple of films.  So, I hit the local Barnes-Noble store and found this incredible book in the "super discount" section.  (I paid $6.98 for it!)  The book was Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, a novel about the Battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of the principal commanding officers of both sides

I've been a Civil War buff for a long time now, but hadn't really read anything about it in quite awhile.  So, I thought, hey, for 7 bucks, I'll read it--after all, the guy won a Pulitzer for it in 1975.

Whoa.  This is one INCREDIBLE book.  The Pulitzer people and I aren't the only ones who think so.  In fact Ken Burns, creator of all those amazing PBS films ( on jazz, the Brooklyn Bridge, baseball, the West, etc.) had this to say about The Killer Angels:

A book that changed my life . . . I had never visited Gettysburg, knew almost nothing about that battle before I read the book, but here it all came alive. . . . I wept.  No book, novel or nonfiction, had ever done that to me before.

(Austin Baker, if you're going to be president of the U.S.A. one day, you really ought to read this!)

In our own time of struggle over the "war" in Iraq, this is a good book to help gain perspective about the tragedy of all war.  In fact, one paragraph toward the end of the novel really stood out to me. Writing from the point-of-view of  Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (commander of the Battle of Little Round Top) Shaara says:

In the presence of real tragedy you feel neither pain nor joy nor hatred, only a sense of enormous space and time suspended, the great doors open to black eternity, the rising across the terrible field of that last enormous, unanswerable question.

The Gettysburg Address - Lincoln autograph

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dario won for ATONEMENT

Well, my favorite flick didn't win the big one (no surprise!), but its original score did.  Dario Marianelli's music was really wonderful, and his acceptance speech last night was short, sweet, and humble.  I look forward to buying the soundrack!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Way to Go, Lisa

It was fun seeing Lisa Dondlinger playing violin in the Oscar production number "So Close" tonight.  If you TiVo'd it, she's next to the harpist on the stage. . . . Smiling as usual!  For those of you who don't know her, she plays for us at church every time we use strings. (She was also Miss Iowa in the 1998 Miss America pageant!)  Job well done, Lisa!
It's 11 a.m. Sunday morning.  Bruce is preaching his final sermon for the weekend...which happens to be the final sermon in his series, MONEY MATTER$.  I really appreciated the "be a river not a reservoir" concept.  That is, we are not to store up or horde away our money, but allow it to flow through us to benefit others.  (Goodness knows, money tends to "flow through" my pocket easily enough, but I don't think that's what Bruce had in mind.)

In my early-morning, "horizontal" thoughts today, I was pondering the giving habits of American Christians.  I couldn't help wonder what our giving would really be like if we didn't have the whole "tax deductible contribution" incentive.  How generous would we really be?  That's a pretty sobering thought, because I have to think we'd see a huge reduction in giving to church and charities if that were the case.  I wonder if it would affect my own giving.

Lord, help us not to allow our generosity to be motivated by IRS deductions.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tomorrow's the Night!

Twenty-four hours from now, it will all be history!  

I know I'm probably the only person in America not associated with Atonement who's hoping for it to win big.  I'm pretty sure it's not going to happen. (Sadness!)  But that's'll still be fun watching the stars in their strapless gowns deal with the cold rain and wind out on the red carpet!  Hollywood Boulevard probably won't be the most hospitable locale for the Gig of Gigs this year.
Go Daniel Day-Lewis!!

"Idol" Fans - Inquiring Minds May Want to Know

These look like mug shots, don't they?

Anyway, I found this interesting article in the LA Times this morning. Richard Rushfield predicts it's all gonna come down to these two guys.

Are We Still "At War?"

I feel kinda bad writing such a completely serious post--especially in the wake of my FurReal dog-blog yesterday.  However, this is a question I've been  pondering for several months now.  Are we still technically "at war" in Iraq?  

If you read my blog at all,  you're probably thinking:  "You fibber! Just a couple days ago, you said you were through talking about politics!"

Well, this isn't about politics.  I'm not giving opinions or making any kind of analysis. And I'm not trying to be cute or clever. I'm simply asking a very serious question that I've not heard anyone else ask before.  I just want to know the answer.  I welcome any input you might have.   

Every day--dozens of times a day--I hear or read the phrase "the war in Iraq."  There are people who are solidly committed to this "war" and there are people who oppose it to the depths of their souls.  It's certainly one of the hot issues of this presidential campaign.

I guess I must have a pretty narrow definition of war.  To me, war involves battles, air assaults, campaigns, cannons, army vs. army engagements, and anything else associated with traditional "warfare." Which begs another question:  Are those things happening now? Obviously we still have armed troops in Iraq.  Lots of them.  And these troops are fully prepared to engage in any kind of military confrontation as deemed necessary.  But are there actual battles occurring? Are there strategically planned campaigns?  Is there any ongoing combat involving battalions of American soldiers?

It seems to me that our role has changed drastically since the initial battles took place five years ago.  Maybe when President Bush said, "Mission accomplished" on that aircraft carrier he was more correct than he's been given credit for being.  (Perhaps he SHOULD have said "Mission One accomplished.")  To me, it seems that now our purpose for being there is basically peace-keeping, not warfare. So if maintaining peace and incubating democracy is our current function, why does everyone keep referring to it as a "war?" 
You can still read about "battles" occurring in Iraq.  In fact, I googled an article from just a couple weeks ago (February 11) on current "battles" in Iraq.  The big difference is that nowadays Iraq's battles seem to be mainly internal, religious-based skirmishes between the conflicting Islamic groups, the Shiites and Sunni. (Last year I read an incredible piece in Time called "Behind the Sunni-Shiite Divide."  It is an amazing article that carefully describes the insane (and even silly) hatred between these groups.  I strongly recommend reading it.)

So yet another question arises:  Can hatred of that scale really be suppressed or controlled or prohibited? Are we being collectively naive to think that the country of Iraq can ever come to a point where Shiite and Sunni leaders will sit down and peaceably govern their nation?  I wish I knew.  In my gut, it seems like a noble but futile dream. 

In our own history we learned how futile it is to "prohibit" anything on a national scale.  The whole Prohibition period (1920-1933) was a nightmare in this country.  The buying and selling (and making) of alcoholic beverages became illegal--a federal offense!  They made a Constitutional Amendment to launch it (the 18th) and another one to repeal it (the 21st). Some things just can't be controlled.  The ingredients to Religious Hatred (a "God Idea" plus an unyielding doctrine plus religious fervor plus prejudice), like whiskey (grain plus water plus sugar plus yeast plus heat), are "natural" and impossible to control by legislation or prohibition.  And Reason certainly doesn't seem to work with the Iraqi factions.

I truly believe that our troops are doing a good thing--a GREAT thing--by being where they are. However, part of me can't help but wonder if  a "lasting peace in Iraq" is really possible.  Or if it is possible, will it require so much time that the services of the children and grandchildren of our current troops will be needed to accomplish it?  

So, I repeat the question:  Are we still at war?  or are we at Wishful Thinking? or are we at a genuine Crossroads of Change in the Middle East?  I wish I knew.  

Sober thoughts for a Saturday.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mandy Believed

Okay,  I was posting the "ibuprofen" entry below when the Regis and Kelly show came on. Kelly Ripa and her husband Mark were hosting today.   Anyway, they brought out this cute mechanical FurReal dog that responded to "sit," "lay," "speak" and other commands.  Mandy, our Westie looked up at the TV and reacted as if it were a real dog...whining, hopping around, wanting to play.  Wish I'd had the camera handy.  

(The "dog" they had was a golden lab, I think, but I couldn't find a picture.)

My Kingdom For A Handful of Ibuprofen

Headache.  Big-time.  It didn't help that I woke up at 4 and couldn't go back to sleep.  I s'pose the low barometric pressure that brought us this lovely winter storm doesn't help.  I long for the "old days" (about 4 months ago) when I would let myself go to the Wal-Mart Ibuprofen bottle and take 4 tablets at a time.  (Sigh!)  Fortunately, I figured out that those things weren't doing me any good for the long-haul.  (My stomach started screaming at me.)  After our beloved Cindy Olson (chiropractor par excellence) told me that new research has revealed a strong connection between ibuprofen and heart disease & cancer, it's been easier to say no to Advil and its kin.

But I still miss the almost-instant pain relief.  Guess I'll go dust off the Tylenol bottle.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Grandkids

Just some pics to share the joy of a grandpa's heart.  Haley and Lexi, a.k.a. Thing 1 and Thing 2 at Disneyland.  (Kristi posted this on her blog a while back.) "Thank You, Lord, that they're happy and healthy again!"

Emily looking very relieved as Grandpa "burped" her during a feeding 2 weeks ago.

Love those girls

The Shingle Is Down

Some of you may have wondered where my "politically-themed" posts went.  Well . . . I deleted 'em.  Although I don't regret anything I wrote, and though there's that disclaimer over to the right, I've decided to let the professionals take care of the political commentary and analysis (or ranting and raving) for me.  Since this whole political season is showing every sign of being stranger than Britney Spears, I'll reserve my ideas and impressions for private conversations.

About Those Words Up In The Corner

While our Worship Arts team was in Chicago last summer (for the Willow Creek Arts Conference), I came across this book by Brian McLaren, an author I'd never read before.  I was captivated by the title, but even more so by the subtitle:  "Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything."  So I purchased a copy during a break between workshops and started reading right away.  I was blown away.

Perhaps a more "correct" title would be "The Secretive Message of Jesus" but that doesn't have as much pizzazz.  The message itself wasn't really  a "secret" (as long as listeners "had ears to hear). The real secret was in the method of delivery.  The book is all about the subtle, secretive, hidden ways (all those parables!) that Jesus used to deliver His message of the Kingdom of God.  While Jesus' Kingdom Message was not intended to remain hidden, it would always be paradoxical and in direct contradiction to any kingdom of this world.   
It's truly an amazing book that really opens one's eyes about Jesus and His mission (and ours). As McLaren asks on his DeepShift website, "What does it mean, in today's world, to be a follower of God in the way of Jesus?"

My small group at church is courageously working its way through this challenging book.  Like the original audiences who heard His words, we find ourselves struggling at times with all the deep ramifications of what Jesus was saying and doing.  The words of that poem in the corner ("This Is Who We Are") are really the lyrics to a song I wrote in response to McLaren's book.  I wish I could say they were reflective of the real me. I fall short of them every day.  But I keep them right there as a personal reminder of what I am (we are) supposed to be as followers of this amazing Person.

Attention Baseball Fans . . .

The Tampa Bay Rays are planning this new $450 million "sailboat" stadium, projected to open in 2012.  Right next to the marina in St. Petersburg!  Cool.   Wonder if they'll call their concession stands "galleys?"  Billy and Austin, maybe you can catch a game there before Austin "sails" off to college.  (Or will it be BACK to college that year?)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Buffalo Win--Against All Odds!

Tonight at our Drama Ministry Team meeting, we were chatting about that hysterically funny "Weiner Poopie" YouTube video I posted a couple weeks ago.  One of the team members mentioned an amazing clip about a herd of water buffalo he'd seen that made a huge impression on him.  When I got home I checked it out.  He was absolutely right.  

The video shows a group of buffalo accidentally wandering into the turf of a tribe of lions.  The lions attacked a young buffalo and settled down for a nice lunch.  Well, the other members of the herd had other ideas.  They stepped up and saved the young animal.  Click here to see this incredible film (Battle At Kruger - about 8 minutes).  Be sure to stay with it, watch it unfold.

It's like a little "parable of nature" because it totally demonstrates so many of those New Testament "one another" verses:  
  • accept one another;
  • be devoted to one another;
  • honor one another; 
  • bear one another's burdens; 
  • be compassionate to one another;
  • love one another.
A great analogy of the church that "gets it."  The thought that came to mind:  "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

It's an unbelievable little clip.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ATONEMENT: Amazing! My Best Picture Choice

Talk about saving the best for last.  

This is a phenomenal movie.  I knew absolutely nothing about it before we went, and I'm so glad that was the case.  Lyn had heard just a crumb of the premise, but wasn't sure if what she had heard was accurate.  For both of us, the revelations were delicious!  It reminded both of us of The English Patient, but with a much more intriguing (and interesting) storyline.  And the brief but mesmerizing appearance by Vanessa Redgrave was the icing on the cake.  Watching her face as she delivered a gut-wrenching monologue at the end of the film was worth the cost of the ticket.

Everything at every level was superior--cast, direction, cinematography, storyline, scope, performances. Everything.  And the score!  I've never heard a typewriter used as a musical instrument before, but it happens in the first five minutes of the film, and it was brilliant.  My only complaint about the film would be some confusion regarding the war scenes.  (Turns out it was the aftermath of the Battle of Dunkirk, but that wasn't set up for the audience at all.  You'd have to be a real history buff to figure it out as the film rolled.)  

The young actress Saoirse Ronan did a remarkable job as the jealous, "scorned" younger sister. She definitely deserved her nomination for best supporting actress.  James McAvoy and Keira Knightly were equally brilliant, but their roles were more "ensemble" than "leading," so they didn't really qualify for anything--unfortunately.  

So, after my Oscar Movie Weekend Marathon, here are my votes:
  • Best Direction -  Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood (would be Joe Wright for Atonement if he were nominated)
  • Best Actor -  Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
  • Best Actress - Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth:  The Golden Age) - a guess!  [Learned afterward that Elizabeth:  The Golden Age was pretty much a stinker of a movie.  Thus, my guess is pretty much a "wasted vote."]
  • Best Supporting Actor - Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton) or Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)  A toss-up  
  • Best Supporting Actress - hmmmm tough one... Tilda Swinton was awfully good in Michael Clayton;  as I mentioned earlier, Saoirse Ronan was remarkable in Atonement. Again, a  toss-up for me.
  • Best Score:  Dario Marianelli (Atonement)
  • Best Screenplays:  Christopher Hampton (Atonement - Adaptation);  Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton - original)
  • Cinematography:  Seamus McGarvey (Atonement) or Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood)
  • BEST PICTURE:  Atonement --  Definitely!   Second choice would be There Will Be Blood
According to Entertainment Weekly's "handicapping," the odds are all over No Country For Old Men being the big winner this year.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Definitely . . . Maybe

Just for fun, Lyn and I saw Definitely . . . Maybe this afternoon before doing Atonement.  About 11:45 this morning Lyn said, "I think it would be fun to see Definitely...Maybe today."  I knew nothing about it, but I'm always ready to see a movie.  So off we went.

Wonderful film.  I totally, recommend it--no reservations.  It's a guy-perspective romantic comedy and just a great show.  Nothing heavy, but well-written, heart-warming, and well-acted. The idea of a dad telling his daughter the whole background of his meeting and marrying his wife (from whom he is about to be divorced) is very intriguing.  I love Abigail Breslin who stole America's hearts last year in Little Miss Sunshine.  She plays Ryan Reynold's daughter. Reynolds (and the entire cast) do a great job with this film.  

I seriously doubt that it will receive any nominations next year, but it's one of those flicks people will enjoy for years to come.  SEE IT!

Michael Clayton -- Yeas and Nays

Last night we saw Michael Clayton at the local "cheap theatre" here in Huntington Beach. (Where they use 25-watt bulbs in their projectors.) The opening voice-over of Tom Wilkinson was stunning.  (How often do director's have audiences sit in darkness staring at their film's title? Well, it worked, because the timbre of Wilkinson's voice drew you in like the 1st chair cellist of a symphony orchestra doing a solo.)  You knew from the first word that Michael Clayton was going to be one wild ride of a story.  

It was wild.  Maybe a bit too wild.  

I'm not a big fan of jigsaw puzzles.  When someone dumps a 1,000 piece puzzle on a table, my innards draw into a knot.  (Other folks shout "Hallelujah!" at the prospect of a puzzle, but for me it's instant heartburn. Different strokes.)  Anyway, I felt there were so many loose, disconnected pieces of the film coming at me so quickly that I was attempting to assemble a mental jigsaw puzzle--at gunpoint.  I made it to the end with a fairly complete "picture," although I had a few missing pieces.  (They must have fallen into my popcorn bag.)  

This would definitely be a good one to see a 2nd time.  I think the guy sitting in front of us was on his 3rd or 4th viewing.  He would giggle to himself a second or two BEFORE a significant plot revelation or one-liner occurred.  I wanted to swat him on the back of the head.

We'd heard so many friends and family talking about how wonderful MC was that I guess we'd built up our expectations too highly.  I wish I'd gone into it with negative expecations (like I had with There Will Be Blood).  

It WAS a good story.  Actually, a great story.  Maybe  that "25-watt" projector made everything blurry and indistinct, because I kept longing for more clarity and focus on important story elements. (For instance, I just KNOW I saw three horses in the "little red book" that Michael found in Arthur's flat, but I can't be sure of it.  That would certainly explain the unusual equestrian trio that caught Michael's eye and saved his life on that wooded hillside.)

Tom Wilkinson was absolutely marvelous.  He and Javier Bardem are the only nominated supporting actors I've seen.  They were both great, but if this were a two-man race, I'd cast my vote for Wilkinson.  (Probably because Bardem scared me spitless!)

As to Mr. Clooney.  Well, let's just say I appreciate jigsaw puzzles more.  I know my older daughter (and maybe younger?) will want to be removed from the will for that comment. When he and Wilkinson did scenes together, it was like he was just helping an actor run his lines.  His best scene was the confrontation with Tilda Swinton (Karen, the U-North Diva) at the very end of the film.  And that taxi ride while the end-credits rolled?  Why?  I could watch Meryl Streep in a taxi for an hour or two, but 15 seconds is plenty for George Clooney (in my opinion). Thankfully the credits themselves were at the opposite end of the screen!

Was that mean?

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Okay, today we had the Sunday brunch at Five Crowns in Corona del Mar--I love it there, 'cause Lyn and I look like kindergartners next to most of the clientele.  And because they have good food.

So I assumed.

Today, I thought I'd be a little daring.  (Kristi's always encouraging everyone in the family to try new things, so I thought why not.  This is Five Crowns.  Renowned chef. Good stuff.  Right?) I already knew I wanted the Chicken Chutney.  I've had it before. LOVE the fruity chutney sauce. And it's one of the cheaper items on the menu.  Since I nearly always get the garden salad, I considered going for a soup to be different.  They used to have a lime tortilla soup I loved, but replaced it with a "mushroom bisque."  SURELY, if they replaced a delicious lime tortilla soup with it, it had to be pretty good.  Correct?

I've always been kinda leery about mushrooms--mainly because they're just so blah tasting.  So I asked our waitress (a lovely young woman who frankly looked WAY out of place at the more "mature" FC) for her opinion about the bisque in question.  Well, her already beautiful face took on shades of Best Christmas morning and 16th birthday as she moaned and said, "Oh, that's delicious.  And so hearty!"

Sold me.  I couldn't wait to get me some hearty and delicious mushroom bisque.  I wanted that Best Christmas/16th birthday feeling.

It came in this cute little porcelain pot thingy with a lid on it. (Porcelain pot.  THAT should have been a clue.)  I opened it up and it looked innocent enough.  I took a bite and didn't feel anything at all like I was experiencing a milestone holiday.  (Well, maybe Lowest Grade In 12 Years of School Day.  Or Lost My Best Friend EVER Day.)   It was like eating a spoonful of ground up bicycle tires.  Bicycle tires that knew their way around a chicken farm.  Tires that had spent YEARS around a chicken farm.

I don't blame the cook.  I don't blame the belongs-at-Dukes-or-Chart-House waitress.  I blame those nasty mushrooms.  And maybe my taste buds.  Anyway, mushrooms can just stay in the forest as far as I'm concerned.  Under tall trees.  Far away from civilization.  Far away from me.

Green Room Reflections

I'm sitting at my desk, hearing all the hubbub in the Green Room plus Bruce's voice faintly sounding in the hallway as he preaches.

At the end of our "worship time" this morning, Kristi spontaneously tagged on the chorus "God Is So Good."  Not only was it a perfect punctuation to a very moving period of sung worship, but it brought back over 30 years of flashback to me.  As a teen-ager, I used to sing that song around campfires during life-changing weeks of Christian service camp.  We sang it in college.  We sang it in chapel.  It's been sung in every church where I've been privileged to serve or attend.  It's been food for my soul on hundreds of occasion in my life.

And what a simple, profound message it has.  God is Good.  It doesn't get any better than that for any of us who are the beneficiaries of that goodness!  Last time I checked, that included everyone.  Thank You, Lord.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Juno Rocked!

Juno was definitely a breath of fresh air after the two gritty films I saw yesterday.  

Ellen Page (who will be 21 later this month) virtually sizzled onscreen as she played the quirky 16-year old Juno MacGuff.  I loved the fact that screenwriter Diablo Cody chose to create a very likable lead character who refused to take the "easy" way out of a tough situation--teenage pregnancy.  When she learned that the baby growing within her body actually had fingernails, the idea of an abortion lost its appeal-of-convenience to the offbeat but very intelligent Juno. 

I especially appreciated the fact that, while a heartwarming and entertaining film, Juno delivers some important messages to young women who find themselves in a similar situation.  As she worked out (on her own) the details of finding an adoptive family for her baby, Juno demonstrated a major life lesson:  problems--especially the big ones--don't have to be reacted to emotionally and destructively; they often can be solved objectively and compassionately.   When eggs break, make omelets.  

Although I don't think Juno is "numero uno," I believe it's a darn good movie.

Two Down

I had a blast yesterday afternoon with the first 2 installments of my weekend Oscar Movie Marathon.  Went to Bella Terra, ate an Asian Chicken Salad at Pei Wei then headed to the BT Theatres.

I honestly knew nothing about either of the films I was going to watch.  I'd heard some general reviews, but without any storyline detail.  I never saw a trailer to either of them.  I DID know that both were based on existing material, but that was it. (Whether that material was a book, short story, or true life experience I had no clue.)  I'd heard both films hyped on TV for their great direction and cinematography, but again, no details.  Truly, I was as blank a slate as I've ever been prior to watching a movie. 

There Will Be Blood was the first film I saw.  I recall hearing a couple reviewers going on and on about how boring the movie was, and how shocked they were that it was nominated.  So I was expecting to have trouble staying awake for the 2.5+ hour epic.  

One of my first impressions of the movie was the powerful "contemporary art music" that was the core of the score.  The opening bars of the music reminded me of one of the most startling compositions of the 20th century:  Polish composer Krystof Penderecki's Threnody To The Victims of Hiroshima, an orchestral depiction of the atomic destruction of the Japanese city in 1946. Needless to say, that brought me to the edge of my seat.  I thought to myself, "Good grief, what IS this movie about?"

About 20 minutes of grueling (depressing?) visual exposition passed before the first word of "dialogue" was spoken.  (Actually, it was a long but beautifully delivered monologue by the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis.)  I don't believe I've ever seen a Lewis film, but I've heard of his reputation as an actor.  Let me just go on record here to say that I will be shocked if any of the four other actors nominated could possibly have delivered a more spectacular performance. He is definitely worthy of Oscar gold.   Although you absolutely HATE his character (Daniel Plainview), you are completely swept away by his gut-wrenching, jaw-dropping rendering.  

The story is based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil.  (I found this out in the closing credits.) The film (and, I assume, the book) reveals the desolate world of the turn-of-the-century far west. You receive quite the education on the formidable (and dangerous) task of pulling oil from the earth.  I'm almost tempted to read Sinclair's book for more detail, but I think I've had enough exposure to Daniel Plainview for a lifetime.  I DO think I'll buy the soundtrack...I've never heard that kind of music used in a major film.  Everything from full orchestra to solo piano to string quartet to "mechanical." Quite unique.

For those of us in "church work" (I hate that phrase!), it should be noted that most of the tension in the movie is between a scary, weird-o minister (of the scary, weird-o "Church of the Third Revelation") and the scary, weird-o oilman, Plainview.  The actor who plays that minister is Paul Dano.  (He was Dwayne, the gothic teen brother in last year's Little Miss Sunshine.)  I thought he gave an incredible performance also...certainly worthy of a supporting actor nomination (which he didn't receive).  One of my favorite scenes is when the preacher manipulates Plainview into a "conversion" experience--complete with pseudo confession and baptism.  So much for high-pressure "evangelism."

Do I recommend it? Well, if you're willing to invest nearly 3 hours into an intense psycho-drama full of unlikable (but fascinating) characters, go for it.  It's definitely not a feel-good film, even though the final line is hilarious (and quotable) in its context. 

If you NEED a feel-good film, definitely DO NOT see No Country for Old Men!  I was angry when this came to an end because nothing really was "concluded."  Not even the "let the audience draw its own conclusion" type ending.   I don't require "happy" endings, but I do prefer some kind of closure.  That doesn't really happen with NCFOM.  
To be fair to the Brothers Coen, the movie's makers, I learned after watching the film that they had been completely faithful to Cormac McCarthy's book.  So I guess I should focus my discontent upon Mr. McCarthy.  I guess I'm a "structure snob" when it comes to books and screenplays.  I expect some "norms" to be followed.  [Spoiler Warning:  Skip to next paragraph if you plan to see the film "innocently."]   I was really bummed when the protagonist into whom I'd invested a lot of emotional energy, got "killed-off" two-thirds of the way into the film.  THANK YOU VERY MUCH, MR. McCARTHY!!!

A shout-out to the casting agents for the film, however.  I love the "realness" of the minor characters: the general store owner, the chicken farmer, the trailer park lady, and the mother-in-law.  They were all such fun to watch and listen to.

"Violent" would be an understatement in describing this movie. Perhaps a better title  for THIS film would have been,  There Will Be Blood--Again and Again and Again.  (Hmm...guess that wouldn't fly, huh?)  Mercy!  Like Bob Ewing (one of the ministers at our church) warned me before seeing it, "You'll never be comfortable around an air compressor again."  (If you've seen the movie, you know what that means!)  It would have been pretty unbearable if it weren't for the unexpected moments of VERY funny quips that are so typical of the Coens' films.  In spite of all the uneasiness that the film evokes, it does deal with some real-life truisms:  
  • Things don't always end well.
  • Victims are usually good, innocent people.
  • There are truly evil people out there.
  • Evil people are often extremely intelligent and crafty.
  • The love of money is the root of all (most) evil.
If you go see this film, just know you won't "like" the ending.  You may nod your head with the grim truth of it, but you won't like it.  

I hope.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Unexpected "Poetry" from Mr. Twain

Never read this before, but had to share.  It's more than 6 words, but the "excess" is worth it!

"Forgiveness is the fragrance
 the violet sheds 
on the heel that has crushed it."
-Mark Twain

The Six-Word Story

My friend Ken Read had a wonderful post on his blog recently.  He told about a report he'd heard on National Public Radio which featured a project asking people to summarize their lives in 6 words. SIX WORDS! Yikes!  For word-o-philes like me, that's more of a challenge than Lays'  "Bet you can't eat just one" campaign from years ago.

But the idea does give one pause.  The 6-word summary idea was based on the rumor that Ernest Hemmingway had written one himself (not necessarily his own) to demonstrate the concept.  His mini-mini-story was:  "For sale.  Baby shoes.  Never worn."   Wow.  The mind jumps into high gear filling in the spaces for that one.

I happened to read Ken's entry last week while Lexi and Haley were so sick and Haley was taking her turn at C.H.O.C.  I wrote him my 6-worder for the week:  "Two granddaughters.  In hospital.  Same week" or was it "Two granddaughters in hospital.  Really sucks" ?  Either one would have worked.  

Of course, the 6 words don't have to evoke pathos or pain.  Ken (a college professor) had some great ones of his own that he posted on his office door:
  • Gone crazy.  Be back sometime soon.
  • I'm not afraid to flunk you.
  • Students beware.  I am not organized.
  • Thanks for, gosh, just being you.
  • I'm stupid, but I'm not dumb!
  • Living forever!  So far, so good . . .
  • I love Jesus.  Jesus loves me.
Get the picture?  I challenge you to give it a shot.  I'd love to see what you come up with.  (See, Kurt . . . That's ONE way to get comments!  :o)   )  

So based on my post last night, my 6-worder for this weekend:  "Gonna see some movies.  Can't wait!"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Oscar, Meet Valentine

My sweet wife--The other day I mentioned that I thought it would be fun to see all five of the Oscar Best-Picture nominations before the Academy Awards next week.  

So this morning she calls me and tells me she's been working on a schedule for me to get in all of the Top Five!
She's not really interested in seeing There Will Be Blood or No Country For Old Men, so I'll catch them on my own tomorrow afternoon.
We'll see the other three together Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  (Oh no!  When will I blog?)

From the feedback I've gotten from "real people" as well as reviews I've read, I'm going into the experience thinking that Michael Clayton will be the one to beat. We'll see!

Anyway, this will be a fun "Valentine Week" treat for us to share together--well, 3/5ths of it together!

Thank you, Sweetheart.  I Love you!    

Okay . . . PLEASE Don't Look At The Time Stamp

You stinker!  You looked . . . even after I said please!

No, I'm not so addicted to blogging that I wake up in the middle of the night with the urge to blog.  Actually, I'm having a Garlic Festival of sorts in my stomach!  I'm not really sick again...but all the garlic we ate at our Programming Team lunch yesterday was a bit much for my already "delicate" system. All afternoon and evening yesterday I reeked of garlic from my pores and breath.  (And the bulk of it was from the salad dressing!  Delicious, but Turbo-charged!)  Then our small group met for a Valentine's dinner outing last night--again ITALIAN!!!  (I only ordered minestrone, but when it came I looked at it for about 10 seconds and asked the waiter to box it up for me.  It was a no-can-do situation.)  After going to bed,  I was tossing and turning and moaning and having weird dreams; so I decided I'd let Lyn have some peace and quiet for a while.  Thus I came downstairs and treated myself to a couple of Tums and a few minutes at the iMac.

I would have blogged last night, but I left my laptop at the office yesterday afternoon.  Since we had 3 hours of American Idol to watch last night (my undying thanks to the "Techno-Muse" for DVR!!), I wasn't about to come into our little isolation chamber of a home office and work at the desktop!) 

Poor Josiah!  If you watch AI, you know what I mean.  With all the apparent talent in the new Top 24, I'm sure Randy, Paula, and Prince Simon made the right choice regarding him.  But it was still heart-breaking to see his rejection in HD.  Like Kristi said yesterday, he seems like one of those "wounded soul" musicians.  As a dad, it's hard for me to not be concerned for his emotional health.  Hopefully, in the intervening time since Hollywood Week and the broadcast, he's had some nurturing from his family and friends.  No kid that fragile needs to be living out of his car, no matter how free-spirited he may be.  Correction:  noBODY needs to be living out of a car, period.

Ahhh, yes.  It IS officially Valentine's Day now...So let me be one of the first to wish you and your loved one(s) a wonderful day.  Just go easy on the garlic!!!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anne Lamott Quote For the Day

Another of my very favorite authors is Anne Lamott. If you haven't heard of her, you MUST check her out. She's Christian but extremely edgy!! (And ouch-y!) Love her. (Don't let the photo scare you. She has a lot to say about the hair in her books!)

I recommend you start with her Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.

In the wake of my entry yesterday on aging...thought I'd share this Lamott-ism with you today.

"All the older people who are thriving have stayed physically active--there are exceptions, and everyone knows someone who smoked two packs a day and had a few social beers with breakfast every morning who lived to be 85, but you have to assume that this won't be you. "
From Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Time Is Right

When I saw this picture on the Drudge Report tonight, it struck me how utterly mind-boggling it is that Barack Obama is so close to becoming a political party's nominee for the highest office in the land.  I have to confess that in spite of  strong differences with him on many idological issues, the fact that he's in this position fills me with a great sense of pride in our country.

I was a young teenager during all the Civil Rights events of the 60's.  I remember as a young boy seeing those infamous "colored" drinking fountains in department stores and movie theatres. At those same theatres, there were special doors (to the balcony stairs!) for "colored" people. It was the 2nd semester of my senior year of high school that schools were integrated for the first time. I'll always remember my new friend, Lorenzo Wilkerson, who sat behind me in Humanities class.  It was such an eye-opening experience to get to know this special young man.

I can't help feeling like this situation's time has come.  Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863--145 years ago.   The Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1964--44 years ago.  Interestingly, that same year Irving Wallace wrote The Man, the best-selling novel--controversial at the time--about the first black president of the United States.  (However, THAT president--Douglas Dilman--assumed the office.  As the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, he only became president through freak accidents and a surgery-related death of the President, Vice-President, and Speaker of the House.)  Even Wallace hadn't imagined a nominated and elected African-American president.

However this political season happens to unfold, the history books will have a lot to say about it--particularly if the charismatic senator from the "Land of Lincoln" becomes the next POTUS.

"Educational" Flashback Concert Tonight

The students and faculty of APA (Academy of Performing Arts) did a great job tonight.  To attempt to reproduce note-for-note two significant vintage (1965) rock albums was no small feat.

Hats off to this fine program at Huntington Beach High School!

Age is Relative -- The Story of Rose

What is "Age?"

How old do you
have to be 
before you're OLD?

Why do so
many people
fear growing old?

I stayed home today...either a "sick headache" or some type of virus hit me yesterday afternoon while we were at Jennifer and Brian's baby-sitting Emily!!   (Yikes!)  Worse than being sick was the guilty fear that I might pass along some kind of bug to my 3-month old granddaughter.  Not a good feeling.

Anyway, most of the symptoms are gone now and I'm starting to perk up a bit.  I MIGHT even go to the office this evening to do some things I'd meant to do today.  Also, we're having a music concert at church tonight--presented by the Huntington Beach High School Academy of Performing Arts.

While I was sick, I was feeling really old.  (I've always been that way--even when I was in my 20s or 30s:  when I got sick, I felt ancient.)  

"Old" is such an emotional and subjective word.  No matter what decade in life you are experiencing, certain things and situations bring on the "old" sensation.  When I started graduate school, I was 25.  I remember how ancient I felt being in some classes with college Freshmen.  Nowadays, 18- and 25-year-olds seem practically the same age, but back then, there was a HUGE difference.

Because all of us struggle with feeling old from time to time, I thought I'd share this story I received in an email a couple years ago. You may have gotten it too, but it's worth reading again...especially on days when you feel like Methuselah.


(Author unknown)

The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know.  I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.  I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.  She said, "Hi handsome.  My name is Rose.  I'm eighty-seven years old.  Can I give you a hug?"  I laughed and enthusiastically responded, "Of course you may!"  and she gave me a giant squeeze.

"Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?" I asked.

She jokingly replied, "I'm here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids."

"No, seriously," I said.  I was curious as to what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

"I always dreamed of having a college education and now I'm getting one!" she told me.

After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.  We became instant friends.

Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop.  I was always mesmerized listening to this "time machine" as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went.  She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students.  She was living it up.

At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet.  I'll never forget what she taught us.  She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. 

As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.  Frustrated and a little embarrassed, she leaned into the microphone and simply said, "I'm sorry I'm so jittery.  I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me!  I'll never get my speech back in order, so let me just tell you what I know."

As we laughed, she cleared her throat and began, "We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.  There are only two secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success.  First, you have to laugh and find humor every day.  Second, you've got to have a dream.  When you lose your dreams, you die.  We have so many people walking around who are dead and don't even know it!  There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.

"If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don't do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old.  If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything, I will turn eighty-eight.  Anybody can grow older.  That doesn't take any talent or ability.  The idea is to grow up by always finding the opportunity in change.  Have no regrets.

"The elderly usually don't have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do.  The only people who fear death are those with regrets."

She concluded her speech by courageously singing The Rose.  She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives.

At the year's end, Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago.

One week after graduation, Rose died peacefully in her sleep.  Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it's never too late to be all you can possibly be.