Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reading: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

     Read an excellent short novel this week called "Chasing Francis" about a disillusioned pastor visiting an uncle in Italy who is a Franciscan. It ends up being a creative look at St. Francis' life and some of the things he can still teach us today. Interestingly, Francis lived in a transitional period of history as the Renaisance was about to take hold - this has some intriguing comparisons with our current modern/postmodern change in thinking. Simply written, engaging, but with some real depth of wisdom. So superior to the other book I quickly read through this week by guitarist Doyle Dykes - he really felt compelled in his biographical sketches to hit people over the head (repeatedly) with the Bible.
     Also read a most disturbing article in the latest National Geographic about child brides. It's shocking to realize how many women/girls in the world do not have basic human rights. Some of the examples shared were very tragic. The picture I've included shows a police woman who had the 'audacity' to arrest a man who had stabbed his 15 year old wife multiple times for disobeying him. This officer was later killed by the Taliban.
     We attended the KW Symphony today [see, my musical tastes are broader than you thought;)]. It was the last performance to include the main bassoonist, Cedric Coleman, who is retiring after playing with the orchestra for 37 years. Beth remembers going to the symphony in high school and seeing him. Plus he was a patient on her floor a couple of years ago. It was an excellent concert featuring Gustav Holst's 'The Planets' and what made it so great was the introductions given by the conductor Edwin Outwater. He has a wonderful manner, a neat sense of humour, and a wealth of musical knowledge (of course). It's been a while since we've been, but it was so fantastic that now we're tempted to buy a package for next season.
     That was a much better use of our Sunday than last week when we walked back and forth to the Frederick Street Cinema to see "Pirates of the Caribbean - part 4". Whatever, at least it was good exercise. This past Saturday we went to the Mennonite Relief Sale in New Hamburg - got a few things in the Ten Thousand Villages tent but we were disappointed that most of the booths were just selling food. That night we had Mom & Dad and Aunt Marilyn & Uncle Don over for supper and a game of dominoes - I spent a couple of hours mowing the grass, sweeping the deck and cleaning off the patio furniture so we could sit outside while I barbecued. We always have a nice time with these folks - lots of laughter.
     Listened to a bunch of old CCM stuff this week: some was cheesy and lame (Joe English "Lights in the World", Mylon LeFevre "Brand New Start" & "Look Up"), some was cheesy but decent (Randy Matthews "Plugged In") and some was still great after all these years (Chuck Girard "Take it Easy"). Also listened to The Choir's "Deplumed" which I think is phenomenal.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's Raining Music

    So I had the opportunity to lead the music last Sunday - messed up in a couple of places (once pretty noticeably I think) but overall it was a good experience and I got some positive feedback. Looking forward to trying some more, knowing it will get easier with more and more practice.
    Then we rushed home to celebrate David's birthday. Sometimes it's hard to believe that our oldest child is now 25 years old. It was a nice celebration and I think he was pleased with his gifts - portable 500G hard drive, monitor, flying jacket (on order).
    Walked back and forth to the Frederick Theatres to see "Thor" for $4 on Tuesday night. It was mildly entertaining but nothing special. Got quite soaked walking back in the rain, even with the umbrella. It's been pretty dark and depressing this week as we've been having a lot of rain, the sun finally reappearing by Thursday evening.
     Our Thursday night house church/study group volunteered to serve a meal at the Ray of Hope Community Centre in downtown Kitchener on Friday night. We spent Thursday peeling potatoes in preparation. Then on Friday we ended up serving over 100 people a ham and scalloped potatoes dinner. Everything went smoothly - Beth and 2 other ladies got the last minute things ready that afternoon (she had the day off) and I helped with serving the vegetables and meat. It was a good experience and I hope we can do it again. The folks there seemed very appreciative.
     Saturday we headed across the border with our friends Dan & Ellen, and our son David, to see a concert in Oxford, Michigan. We stayed overnight in a motel in Port Huron - visited a mostly vacant outlet mall nearby. Is that a sign of the times in the U.S.? The concert was amazing - a duo to start: Frank Vignola & Vinny Ranniolo. Unbelievable speed and very entertaining. Their version of Flight of the Bumblebee is astounding! Then Phil Keaggy, who is probably the world master JamMan user - he layers/records up to 6 sounds and plays along. A couple of very nice instrumentals and some great vocal selections as well. Later I realized there were at least 5 or 6 more of his classic tunes I would have loved to hear. Next up was Doyle Dykes who is one of the best fingerpicking guitarists around. Picked up his new book which includes some of the wonderful stories he shares from the stage. He also brought along his daughter Haley who has a powerful voice and was a nice addition. Then Doyle called back the other guitarists and they took turns soloing through The Sounds of Silence and When You Say Nothing At All. The concert lasted over 4 hours and needs to be in my top 10, though I don't know who I could bump out of there;)
     8 albums worth of walking (in the rain) this week [my legs are sore!]:
Rez Band - Appendectomy (one of the best album covers ever)
Darrell Mansfield - Get Ready (great rock a-la Boston)
Swirling Eddies - Let's Spin and Outdoor Elvis
Doyle Dykes - Chameleon
Over the Rhine - The Long Surrender (smoky jazz, not so much my thing)
Budgie - Bandolier (favourite rock band from my teenage years)
Chuck Girard - self-titled, first solo release, fantastic Beach boys-styled vocals
     Read through Frank Shaeffer's "Patience with God" this week - not very impressed. He's pretty snarky and paints both fundamentalist atheists and Christians with a broad black brush. Fundamentalist anybody can be a pretty easy target I guess, and while he makes some good points I would have appreciated a more reasoned, balanced and thoughtful approach to the important issues he brings up. He sure likes to overstate things: "I recite the Nicene creed with complete incomprehension." Really? Complete? It's obvious in other sections that he does have belief, even though it's a struggle - nothing wrong with that, but too bad he generates way more heat than light here. Not very helpful.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Enjoying the Ride

     We had a pretty nice Mother's Day celebration at our house this week. The kids helped me cook and clean up the meal for Beth and my Mom. Beth received money towards the purchase of a bicycle, as she'd really like to get back into biking (which means I guess I'll end up getting back into biking).
     Monday was an historic night at our house. First Beth taught me how to mix up hamburger patties (her famous secret recipe - well, everyone I know who's tried them really likes them) and fry up leftover potatoes. Then I showed her how to navigate around Facebook and Hotmail, setting up accounts for her. She's checked in every night and is up to 35 Facebook friends. Beth received her first forwarded email but it was excellent (and she of course forwarded to a few people herself). It included this great line:
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather we should skid in sideways, Chardonnay in one hand, chocolate in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO! What a ride!"

     Wednesday evening was my first time leading a practice at church as I'm kinda in charge of the music this Sunday. I was pretty nervous about how things might go as I'm finding there are a lot of things to adjust to and to know, but it seemed to go really well and I felt much better by the time we were finished. 
     Beth is away at a ladies' retreat this weekend so Friday night I invited all the guys from our house church/small group to come over to our place for some games and snacks. There ended up being 10 of us altogether and we had a great time playing Wizard (an expanded version of 'Up and Down the River'). In our second game, in a group of 5 (the first game was all 10 of us playing together) I pretty much smoked my competition, always getting the number of tricks I predicted, and scoring 450 points by the end of the game (mmm, maybe I should have been a more gracious host).
     This week I continued listening to some T-Bone Burnett.  His 'The Strange Case of Frank Cash' on "The Animal Years" is so awesomely clever. Also gave a couple of listens to the first Fleet Foxes release (they have a new album out this week but I decided a while ago that I can't buy a new release by anybody unless I've given appropriate time to their last one). They've got some pretty amazing harmonies - I've gotta check out their lyrics more closely. I gave a first listen to Ashley Cleveland's "God Don't Never Change", which is her take on some classic gospel songs - they're okay, but they just made me want to dig out my Kaiser/Mansfield acoustic blues stuff. So I did and was impressed all over again - this is fantastic musicianship. Glenn Kaiser can really play the blues guitar, he and Darrell Mansfield have great voices, as well as some great blues harp/harmonica. I was surprised how many of the songs mixed in with the oldies were written by Glenn - some of them should be classics as well. Waking up in the middle of the night with his 'Cornerstone' tune running in my head.
     Just finished reading 'The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales' by Peter Rollins. He writes modern parables that have surprising twists on many traditional biblical stories Christ told. They're quite short, then include a commentary, and many of them are very thought-provoking. I purchased it on my iPad for only 99¢. It's for the Kindle app - I'm certainly finding better deals at Amazon than at Apple's iBooks store. And now the Kindle reader seems to be able to track the number of pages in books as well, which is a nice feature.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Elections, IKEA & Good Art

      Well I was pretty surprised (and a bit disappointed) with the election results last week. I've been upset at the tone of current political discourse in Canada - attack ads, name-calling, fear-mongering (mainly on the part of the Conservatives under Harper), along with a disregard for parliamentary procedures/rules. I agreed with a Maclean's writer that a message needed to be sent that we the people don't support this kind of behaviour. But obviously very few people felt that way, or else there were other more important issues for voters, or maybe they just voted locally and really liked their Conservative candidate. I've been saying for a while now that I don't mind minority governments as then members have to learn to work together and even make compromises. I'm less comfortable with one party having complete power to make decisions that affect the whole country. At any rate things have definitely changed and I guess we'll see how things work now. It certainly is interesting to see the results - Liberals on a steep decline, most women MPs ever, youngest MP in history (19 years old and making over $150,000!).
     On Monday we went to IKEA and I've decided I don't like that store much at all. It just seemed to be one problem after another. You write down what aisle and bin to look in for items in the warehouse but when we got down there several things were sold out. The worker wasn't helpful, leading us to look for something else that was nothing like what we wanted. Near the end of our time there we were looking for aisle 41 and when I asked someone (around aisle 36) she told us it was back at the beginning, beside aisle 1! And of course once you get your furniture home you spend hours putting it together yourself. Fortunately we were shopping for Josh and Joel so the construction fell to them.
     I'm really enjoying a book that was recommended by musician Tom Prasada-Rao called "Crossing to Safety." It's about the special friendship between 2 couples back in the 1930's. The husbands are university professors and one wife ends up with polio. The author really captures cottage life (one of the settings) and reminded me of the years I enjoyed at Fairy Lake near New Liskeard. He writes lovingly about the intricacies of the relationships and how they deepen over the years. It makes me want to appreciate the friendships I have, and grow even closer to others - which really means simply spending more time with people.
      In that friendship vein, I read a great quote today: “The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ’stuff’ could be more than a private hobby.” J.R.R. Tolkien, on his friend, C.S. Lewis
     Listened to Mark Heard's "Mosaics" this week and realized (again) what a great songwriter he was. Plus his cover of T-Bone Burnett's 'The Power of Love' is just that - powerful. That led me to listen to some old T-Bone - "Trap Door" (6 song EP which is great) and "Behind the Trap Door" (6 song EP which is not so great). That's not much music for this week so that means I must not be doing enough walking.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Life is Good

     Beth needed to go to Toronto to Princess Margaret Hospital this week to talk to the dentist there about her lack of saliva problem, which resulted from the radiation she had to her neck area during treatment for Hodgkin's disease way back in 1984. Dry mouth is not fun and has caused lots of cavities in her teeth as well. The meeting was pretty disappointing and frustrating as the doctor was not very compassionate/interested/helpful, saying there's really nothing that can be done, but that Beth really should have been administering regular flouride treatments for the last 25 years - which nobody had told her.
     We stopped at the Square One mall in Mississauga on the way home and I ended up getting quite a few new clothing items, even though we were looking for stuff for Beth. The best thing was that we found a framed Tom Thomson print that was 1/2 price and will look fantastic in our living room.
     We put a fair bit of time and energy into preparing the presentation about our lives for the Friday night small group - scanning old pictures, constructing Keynote, making notes, trying to condense 70+ years (20+20 single years plus 30 together), figuring out who would share what. In the end it was very well-received (though maybe a bit long) and was a great exercise to go through. The conclusion seems to be that we've been through a lot, but God has been gracious and we've come "through it all" (only Andrea Crouch fans will get that reference I guess) with our faith intact (and stronger).
      I read through the children's classic (1929) book 'Swallows and Amazons' - it's a classic but I'd never heard of it until a month or so ago. I really enjoyed the story but am curious why so many old children's books have 4 children in the family (2 boys, 2 girls). Listening to some Terry Taylor music this week - he's been in Facebook news as his family faced a financial crisis and his fans came through with $40,000 (yes, of course I contributed). He had a nice post thanking everyone for their support. I listened to The Swirling Eddies 'The Midget, the Speck, and the Molecule' and Daniel Amos's 'Mr. Buechner's Dream'. Beth and I listened to a new David Wilcox live recording from March on our trip to Toronto and it just reaffirmed to me that he is simply the best songwriter and performer ever.
     Beth and I have done lots of talking about the internet - her unfamiliarity with cyberspace and maybe the need for her to become more conversant with it, along with wondering if I use it too much. I always counter that most of my surfing is reading so it's not necessarily a waste of time. Then this morning I came across this great quote:
Speaking decades before the debates over Twitter or the wonders of Google, Malcolm Muggeridge seemed to foresee the possibilities of too much information.  "Accumulating knowledge is a form of avarice and lends itself to another version of the Midas story," he wrote.  "Man is so avid for knowledge that everything he touches turns to facts; his faith becomes theology, his love becomes lechery, his wisdom becomes science.  Pursuing meaning, he ignores truth." (A Slice of Infinity 4/29/2011)
I thought this was pretty profound, and prophetic. It makes me want to ensure that my pursuit is for truth and not just more information.