Dwee Do Bop Ba Dee Ba Di Dop

Last night was the best family excursion ever! Since Meg's boy Kc is here for the week, we celebrated with an evening on the town. We had dinner at Yat's (yummy fast food Cajun) and desserts at The Jazz Kitchen. I haven't had so much fun in ages. I had a great almond pear dessert, got to see my friends play in the Midcoast Swing Orchestra, and even danced with Kc.

I love watching jazz musicians play. No other musicians are as supportive and encouraging of other talents. No egos, just music, please. I love seeing how excited they get by someone else's solo and improv. Love jazz. Love it. The best part was when Everett Green stopped by the Kitchen and got pulled on stage to sing. He starts this random minor bluesish tune that no one else knew and you could tell the musicians were trying their best to come in at an appropriate time. Watching them completely improv the entire thing was incredible. It makes me smile. My favorites to watch and hear are the string bass (flying fingers!), when a trumpeter uses a mute, and the brushes on the drumset. Sweet.

There really couldn't be anything better than spending a relaxing evening with friends and family, listening to fantastic music and people watching. Lots of laughs. Lots of good times.


On the Joys of Working Retail and On Men Who Are Often Creepy

Working retail has given me many interesting experiences, especially involving the various types of men with whom I am forced to interact. Most are among the awkward type, but there have been the few and far between of decent guys. There has been 1) the "I just had to come back and tell you how beautiful your eyes are" line; 2) "Do you ever tango? I need a partner" (said by some guy in his 60s!), and 3) The several straight employees who have asked me out ("I'm making meat loaf tonight and can't eat all of it. Want to come?" Uhh no thanks??). I finally quit wearing my name tag because it seemed to just invite unwanted attention. I guess if they know your name they assume you're more accessible. Remaining anonymous is key to maintaining your distance. Basically, if you're a guy and you're shopping at a kitchen store you're either taken and with your fiancee, gay, or a creep.

Today's Event #1:

I'm helping a this guy and his wife at the store tonight. We're standing there waiting on something, making small talk, etc., and the guy makes a comment about my hair. I don't know why he felt compelled to talk about my hair, but I politely respond with something like, "No, it really is my color. Got it from my dad," but not too nice hoping he'd get the hint to stop talking. Well he didn't and kept making other random hair-related comments like, "Oh think of all the money you're saving." Huh? Ok whatever. I've always hated it when guys comment on my hair and sometimes hate my hair because of it. Tonight was especially awkward because this guy said all this with his wife standing right there. Hello! Does she appreciate it when you hit on store clerks in her presence? The worst part was that she wore a close-fitting hat with that I-just-survived-chemotherapy look about her. I couldn't believe the guy's nerve. Could he have been any more insensitive?

Today's Event #2:

We had a visiting manager checking out our store today. Late 50s, extremely effeminate. He was so excited to be there and was way too talkative for my patience level. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. At what point in your life do you realize it's empty? When are success and achievements measured in values that extend beyond the next paycheck? Do you get to this point, realize you have nothing to truly live for, and then push it all behind so it will be less painful? As a man, even if you are oriented differently, don't you still want to be a man, to be proud of your work? When you have no family to provide for, no legacy to leave behind, no grandchildren to play with, what makes your work valuable?


On Nothing At All

My goal for this week has been to avoid all deep thoughts as much as possible. So far my plot has succeeded but that leaves me with nothing interesting to post. Obligation to updating compels me to procede nonetheless...

...I think I've mentioned before my addiction to Half Price Books, but I'll say it again. I LOVE HALF PRICE BOOKS. This week's collection addition: A book called The Lovely Bones and U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. Yeah for cheap finds!

...I made dinner tonight. My pound cake turned out to be a disaster thanks to the convection fuction of the oven deciding to not bake thoroughly! 2 teaspoons of Neilsen-Massey vanilla wasted in an ooey gooey glob. But failure was offset by a two thumbs up from Grandma C on the salad dressing. Trust me, that's a rarity and those moments usually go down in my history as a red-letter day.

...I'm currently reading Love the Lord Your God with all Your Mind by J.P. Moreland. It's been a decent read, although a bit wordy. I don't understand why authors take up entire paragraphs to tell you they're returning to the same subject chapters later. Why the suspense? Just surprise me when I get there. Anyways. I've especially enjoyed the chapter on empty minds. Yes, there goes my resolve to have no deep thoughts for the week... I like what he says here:
Expose yourself to ideas with which you disagree and let yourself be motived to excel intellectually by the exposure. Spend time around those who do not simply reinforce your own ways of looking at things. THere are two advantages to this. For one thing, we can learn from our critics. For another, such exposure can move us to realize just how serious the war of ideas really is and how inadequately prepared we are to engage in that contest.

...I found myself in situation this week and were I had absolutely no idea what to say. I was talking to a friend about Veritas, and he was surprised that "intellectual Christianity" was possible. "But Jesus opposed organized religion," he said. Organized religion? Who said anything about organized religion? I thought we were talking about intellectualism. Insert smile and nod. "Well, get me a quote on that and then we'll talk." Then he attempted to convince me that attending a presentation by the female Unitarian poet he's bringing to campus would be a much better use of my time. What, then hearing three days worth of Rich Ganz? Uhh, maybe next time.

...Oh and the three sisters got to spend some sweet bonding time in the pool this week. Yeah for a hot sun and splashing without disturbance! Thanks, Aunt Beth!


Book: Gilead

Gilead is the memoir of an aging, Midwestern pastor. Afraid he will not live to see his young son grow old, John Ames sets out to write down his family history. Ames's stories, ranging from the humorous to the poignant, are interrupted by insights into human nature and bits of wisdom for his son. The book is structured as a long letter to his son, without a single chapter division. The beauty of the prose and endearing characters are so convincing that you forget the book is actually a novel and the creation of genius Marilynne Robinson.

It is truly succulent and requires adequate reading time to savor its details. I've never read anything so honest and so beautiful in its simplicity. Ames is a man who is passionate for ministry, but nevertheless just a man who struggles along with the rest of us. Reading it is like sharing the most intimate conversation with a life-long friend who opens up the deepest part of his heart. It will take a second read through to capture the overlooked details.

I love this quote where Ames is discussing communication, relationships, and the barriers which lie between them.

In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceeding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable-which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live.

I also enjoyed this quote where Ames is warning his son against following popular theologies for the sake of doubt.
Don't look for proofs. Don't bother with them at all. They are never sufficient to the question, and they're always a little impertinent, I think, because they claim for God a place within our conceptual grasp. I'm not saying never doubt or question. The Lord gave you a mind so that you would make honest use of it. I'm saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own, not, so to speak, the mustache and walking stick that happen to be the fashion of any particular moment.

This is a man who looks back on his life and is satisfied that he has glorified God and is still learning how to enjoy Him forever. I hope I am as fortunate.



Movie: Peaceful Warrior

The critics don't seem to be thrilled, but I found it a fairly fascinating film. I agree with reviews which say it's too spiritual and too like other sport movies, but at the same time, those are the elements which make this film unique.

Based on the life of gymnast Dan Millman, the movie chronicles events surrounding an injury which breaks an arrogant, pompous jerk and shapes him into a real athlete. It is unlike other sports films because it is about a single athlete, where many of them are about teamwork and group victory. This is about a man who must face his worst enemy: himself.

There are a lot of themes. The journey to manhood. Facing inner conflict. The breakdown of pride. Maturity. There are a lot of taglines that summarize its spirituality, many of which didn't escape the cliche. "It's the journey that brings happiness, not the destination." "You must find [it] from within." "Knowledge is nothing. Wisdom is everything." "Focus on the moment, because the past and future do not matter." A very Buddhist approach.

Even though there were many points of the film's spirituality which I disagree with, there are still truths in what was said. Anyone who has been in a kind of performance understands the demons that are within and the struggles that exist against doubts and fears. Learning how to clear the mind to be displined is something that only the performer can do. The problem is the danger a clear mind has in emptiness. The mind must be filled with the Holy Spirit who helps guide the direction of its focus. "There is purpose in everything," was a line that appeared often. Yes there is purpose, but only when fully realized within the context of God's will and God's purpose.

Having said that, I think this movie demonstrates the beauty of common grace. Human nature is the Greatest Common Factor in life. It does not change because we are all fallen and yet we are all made in the same image of God. Because of God's grace, all people are capable of achieving both outward physical ability and introspective wisdom and insight. But without redeeming grace, it is like chaff before the wind...



A Cry for Normalcy

Remind me to raise normal children... if I ever get the chance.

Today was the start of the second piano camp for elementary students. One day down, four more to go. Never have I been with a more egotistical group of kids. I don't know if it was first day jitters or a persistent habit.

One boy, commenting on his inability to figure out paper clips, "I go to the school for the gifted, so you'd think I should know how."

Another girl, "I'm going in August to Italy and then Lebanon, the country not Indiana."

Another, "I'm going in two weeks to Scotland. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, you know."

Yet another, "I've gone to Disney World every year of my life." (We went to Disney World once in my life and I don't recall ever wanting to return.)

Me, making small talk asked, "So what school do you go to?" Answer: "I go to Park Tudor." Ok babe, you're 11 and you're already out of my league.

Good grief! Whatever happened to camping trips and playing in the park? Do all kids have to one-up the other, or just these particular wannabees? Getting kids to play instruments at a young age is fantastic, but not if it puts their childhood at risk. I want my kids to be smart and be able to play piano, of course, but more than that I want them to be respectful and able to enjoy the life God gave them, whatever kind of life it is.


Happy Fourth of July

Hope everyone had a fabulous and safe celebration! The weather did strange things but at least the fireworks were still visible.

Speaking of fireworks...

How did the 1812 Overture become an American tradition? I will never understand why it is played every single Fourth of July. It is a patriotical paradox... Written by a Russian. About Russia's victory over Napolean. Remember those bells at the end? That's supposed to be the village churches pealing out Russia's victory. Do you know La Marseillaise, the French national anthem? It appears throughout the piece but ends up succumbing as traditional Russian folk tunes take lead. I laugh every time I hear it played. If only the anti-French, anti-Communists knew the truth...

Actually, in 1812, the White House was burned by the British. We were still fighting for a new freedom, which was less than 30 years old. So to play a piece that celebrates the victory of an enemy during the Cold War... seems like treason to me. Comparatively, it be about as bad as playing the Osama bin Laden theme song, if he had one.

So, why don't we play more American pieces in its place? Don't get me wrong. Love the music, just doesn't fit our Independence Day. We could play, for instance:

Aaron Copland. Fanfare for the Common Man. A work which celebrates the equality of all mankind and criticizes income taxes. And it was written to honor American veterans.

Charles Ives. One of the most patriotic American classical composers. "Boston Common" from Three Places in New England quotes over 1,000 patriotic and march tunes.

Louis Gottschalk. Composed The Banjo. Was kicked out of the French conservatory for being too American.

More Sousa. More Stephen Foster. More jazz.

So go have a happy Fourth. And listen to lots of American music. And long live freedom!


New Music

Under the Iron Sea
by Keane

I picked up this recently released sophomore album of British Keane last night. It's much heavier and darker, both philosophically and musically, than their first album Hopes and Fears. I think they did a great job of not repeating elements, while still keeping their unique sound. I still hear traces of minimalism but this time it's fused with more electronic music and overall maturity. I read a review that criticized them for being too influenced by U2, which is possible with the track "Is It Any Wonder?" but is imitating U2 such a bad thing? This album bears angst weight but not in a silly highschooler manner. I think Keane is up to something and it will be interesting to see where they go next. If compared to U2, both are deeply questioning, but Keane has a bleak outlook on the world (ironic because album number one was titled "Hopes"). This is a decent review, but I still prefer to read user reviews from Amazon.

A sampling of what Keane's talking about:

I don't want to be old and sleep alone
An empty house is not a home
I don't want to be old and feel afraid
And if I need anything at all
I need a place that's hidden in the deep
Where lonely angels sing you to your sleep
Though all the world is broken


Sometimes it's hard to know where I stand
It's hard to know where I am
Well maybe it's a puzzle I don't understand
Sometimes I get the feeling that I"m
Stranded in the wrong time
Where love is just a lyric in a children's rhyme, a soundbite...
Nothing left beside this old cathedral
Just the sad lonely spires
How do you make it right?
Oh but you try

-Is It Any Wonder

Where will I meet my fate?
Baby I'm a man and I was born to hate
And when will I meet my end?
In a better time you could be my friend

-A Bad Dream

Who is the man I see
Where I'm supposed to be?
I lost my heart
I buried it too deep
Under the iron sea

I don't know where I am
And I don't really care
I look myself in the eye
There's no one there
I fall upon the earth
I call upon the air
But all I get is the same old vacant stare.

-Crystal Ball

Interesting stuff, huh?