Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Favourites of 2011

     It's that time of year when people take a look back over their media intake for the past 12 months so I guess I'll take a shot at some of my favourites.
Concerts - Everything I attended this year was great but my favourites would have to be:
     Randy Stonehill performing in my living room
     The "Kicking at the Darkness" book launch - featuring Steve Bell, Glen Soderholm, Mike Janzen
     Phil Keaggy/Doyle Dykes/Frank Vignola
Books - I read over 60 books this year and many of them were very good so it's tough to narrow them down to a small list. Let's try a top 10 (but in no particular order):
     Doug Pagitt: A Christianity Worth Believing
     Ian Morgan Cron: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me
     Gary Schmidt: The Wednesday Wars & Okay For Now
     Jonathan Rogers: The Wilderking Trilogy
     Mark Hollingsworth: Embracing the Gray
     Wallace Stegner: Crossing to Safety
     Ken Follett: Fall of Giants
     Shane Claiborne: Irresistible Revolution
     Pete Peterson: Fiddler's Gun & Fiddler's Green
     Brian Walsh: Kicking at the Darkness
     I also finished reading through the Old Testament in The Message translation (usually over my morning cereal). Sad to say it took me over 10 years to accomplish this, although I have read through the Bible 4 or 5 times over the last few decades. I certainly found the last number of OT books (the prophets) to be difficult - so much judgement and negativity. I think reading it in this modern language version made it seem even darker. However I do find Peterson's introductions to each book to be quite wonderful.
Movies - I seem to go to movies as more of an escape so I certainly feel I didn't see much that helped shape or influence my worldview this year. I think the only one really worth putting on a best of list would be Tree of Life.
TV - The only shows I watch (and I do it on my computer) are Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory. Both make me laugh and that's basically why I watch them.
Music - I was often focussed on checking albums off of the comprehensive Music Listening List I created, so I feel I haven't listened to as much new music this year.
New releases that I gave some attention to were:
     Bruce Cockburn: Small Source of Comfort
     Ben Shive: Cymbal Crashing Clouds
     Jason Gray: A Way to See in the Dark
     Proto~Kaw: Forth
     Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What
     Steve Bell: Kindness
     Brooke Fraser: Flags & Albertine
     Bennett/Batstone/MacDougall - Jesus Music Again
     Burlap to Cashmere
  (P.S. I liked all of these - ie. no favourites)
New music I need to give more time to:
     Bill Mallonee: Power and Glory
     Sara Groves: Invisible Empires
     Gungor: Ghosts Upon the Earth
     Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto
     Leigh Nash: Hymns and Spiritual Songs
     Gillian Welch: The Harrow and the harvest
     Jill Phillips: In This Hour
     Randy Stonehill: Spirit Walk
     Josh Garrels: Love & War & the Sea in Between

Monday, December 26, 2011


     A week ago Sunday Beth and I led some children's music for the program that is run downstairs at church. It had been a couple of months since we had done this and I realized afterwards how much I had missed doing it. It's one of those things that comes fairly easily, is fun, and seems to go very well (judging by the enthusiastic singing and big smiles on the kids' faces). Musically, I guess I have just the right ability (that is, not a lot, but enough to pick good songs and keys) and confidence to pull it off. There aren't an abundance of times when I think "God definitely made me for this", but when I do it sure feels great. I need to lead the kid's music more often.
     One other time though when I remember feeling this very strongly, was 21 years ago when Beth and I decided we should take the kids (at that time it was only David (3) and Josh who was about a year and a half) up to St. Mary's hospital on Christmas morning and sing to the patients on her floor. Afterwards I remember choking back tears while thinking "this is what Christmas is really about" and "maybe this is why I learned to play guitar." Mom and Dad joined us, and over the years my Grandma Bieman and Beth's dad Wes have been part of our mini-choir. One of the reasons this works so well is Beth's nurse's heart, along with her familiarity with the hospital and patients. We've done it every year since, and although we're no longer 'young and cute' it's still very well-received and is an important Christmas tradition for our family. This year a couple of the nurses even joined in for most of the rooms we visited.
     The rest of the week seemed pretty uneventful. After school finished on Friday Beth and I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie which I thought was well-acted, clever, and more enjoyable than Mission Impossible. On Saturday we went out for breakfast and then got the house ready for hosting Christmas Eve. After the Christmas Eve service at church we usually have friends and family over for a big spread of finger foods. I've made my own potato skins the last couple of years and they turned out well again it seemed. The last few years we've invited our daughter-in-law Rachel's family and our friends the Wisemans. And of course Mom and Dad join us. Rachel's sister Jesse had a baby in November and it was nice to hold Hayden and see that I can still get babies to stop crying (by holding them against my middle but facing out, and bouncing up and down).
     On Christmas Day, after singing at the hospital, we always head over to Mom and Dad's for turkey dinner. Afterwards we watched some family videos from the past which always results in some pretty big laughs. Dad had bought a camera early on so we have footage of most of the kid's birthdays growing up. Several years ago I transferred everything into a digital format and put it on portable hard drives for the kids. This year I set up my projector and screen so we got to view them in a large as life format. We also played dominoes and had a light supper. Alison's boyfriend Pete came over from Newmarket and was quite interested in seeing some video of her as a little girl so we watched a few more family movies.
     I read a few books this week: Pete Peterson's "Fiddler's Gun" & "Fiddler's Green" have been on my 'to read' shelf for a while and Beth highly recommended them after reading them last month. I'm really glad I finally got to them because they're great storytelling and have kinda restored my faith in good fiction writing. I also read Margot Starbuck's "The Girl in the Orange Dress" which is a nice memoir but dealing with the struggle of dealing with rejection by fathers.
     Music listening included some Christmas stuff of course. I also gave a couple of more intensive listens to Ben Shive's "The Cymbal Crashing Clouds", which includes a book (very Brian Wilsonish - and great!) and a first listen to Gungor's "Ghosts Upon the Earth"(I like it!). I've read a few Album of the Year lists online, which gives me more new music to consider but I'll write more about that later.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Movie Week?

     So I ended up going to 3 movies in 8 days, which is a lot for me I guess. Beth and I saw a sneak preview of "We Bought a Zoo" last Saturday which I thought was okay but Beth felt was poorly acted. They had some problems with the projection system it seemed, as the movie was delayed at least 15 minutes. It was a nice surprise when we exited the theatre afterwards they handed out free movie passes Then we went to see The Muppet Movie on Wednesday for free. It was fine but didn't live up to the hype. Then yesterday Josh and I went to see the new Mission Impossible movie - again it was well-made and entertaining but it's not gonna change the world or anything. Sometimes I get a bit jaded about Hollywood, thinking of the exorbitant amount of money spent on making movies, regretting my support of such an escapist mentality, and wondering about the state of modern society ('bread and circuses' - have we really changed that much?)
     Last Saturday I got a start (finished yesterday) at cleaning up and organizing my office/desk at home. Bills and stuff tend to pile up it seems. I'm a big believer in binders for keeping papers organized (as opposed to file folders) so needed to spend some time getting things put away into their proper places. It was encouraging to start a new binder for retirement materials (2.65 years to go, but who's counting;)).
     I woke up early that day and couldn't get back to sleep so I got up and gave a more careful listen to Jason Gray's "A Way to See in the Dark." I had ordered the special edition in the summer and got it in September but really didn't give it enough time, so I sat down with the lyrics and really appreciated it. He does a wonderful job weaving in themes of light and darkness. My favourite song is the acoustic version of "The Name of God is the Sound of Our Breathing"(you can check out a live version in the video here).
     On Sunday we had some of Beth's family to our house for lunch. This doesn't happen often enough so it's always good to get together. We had potluck finger foods instead of the whole turkey thing and that worked well - a lot less cleanup for sure! I enjoyed getting to interact/play with our great-niece Jenna who is almost 4 years old now.
     Monday we attended a membership class at church and Tuesday we went over for a visit with Mom & Dad. I worked on helping Dad restore his email on his computer but it took way longer than I thought it would. Wednesday we helped Alison get the last of her teacher's college applications filled in and sent out. It's a lot of work (and money) just going through the application process - hope it results in some offers (she applied 4 places).
     Friday we went to MCC with our small group to help assemble school kits for shipment (mostly overseas). We had about 25 people come and we actually made pretty short work of the task. We watched a couple of videos about the work of the MCC Thrift Shops which are actually pretty amazing. They raise millions of dollars each year for the work of the Mennonite Central Committee.
     I read through Brian Walsh's "Kicking at the Darkness" book. Here's a portion of the review I wrote for my reading database:
This has rekindled an appreciation for Bruce’s great music and makes me want to delve back into his lyrics. Walsh does a wonderful job weaving themes that reappear in Cockburn’s work - windows, night vs. light, wind) and uses his words/images/poetry to articulate a robust Christian worldview. Examines 4 basic questions - where are we, who are we, what’s wrong, and how do we fix it. This is not a light read but is very rewarding for long-time Cockburn fans (like me).
      I also read Susan Isaac's "Angry Conversations with God," which is a pretty entertaining and creative memoir (she's an actress/comedienne). Favourite Christmas music listening this week was "Come Let Us Adore Him" a compilation with input from The Choir guys.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December - and the Busyness Begins

     It took 3 nights to Verathane the baseboards but it helped that they dried so quickly so I ended up putting all 3 coats onto a set of 3 or 4 boards each night. Then Dan came over last Saturday to begin cutting and attaching them to the walls. It took a fair bit of work just to clear the rooms out and cover stuff with plastic. I usually put furniture and things in the dining room but we needed access to those walls as well. Dan is quite amazing in his ability to work with wood. He did a fantastic job and the finished baseboards look wonderful. We worked for 13 hours on Saturday but that still wasn't enough time so he had to come back Sunday afternoon for a few more hours. I was basically just the helper/lifter/holder/getter of stuff, but Dan's real easy to work with. Beth and I couldn't be more pleased. There's still some work to do - staining & verathaning some cut ends that show, painting the front hallway as these baseboards don't come up as high as the originals.
     Sunday morning was our annual pilgrimage back to St. Stephen's Lutheran Church, the church I (and Beth too) basically grew up in. We attend on the first Sunday in December in remembrance of my sister Kelly who died 33 years ago at the age of 16. This was of course the biggest tragedy to affect our family. I was driving Kelly and I to a rollerskating event at Bingeman Park called "Jesus-skate" which was run by a good friend of ours. At that time (1978) the entrance crossed a railway track which didn't have a signal and we were struck (on the passenger, ie. Kelly's side) by a train. Kelly suffered brian injuries that led to her passing that night. I spent a few days in the hospital but my injuries were pretty minor really. Obviously this changed our lives in many significant ways. One of the major shifts was in our Christmas celebrations. Needless to say our Christmas in 1978 was very different - we certainly didn't feel we wanted to have all the traditional gift-giving and stuff so it ended up being very focussed on Christ and the deep meaning of the incarnation. I can remember saying (after the Christmas Eve service at the church in Hanover) that while it was definitely the hardest Christmas ever it also was the most meaningful. So ever since that time I really tried to avoid things that I think detract from celebrating Christ's coming (like gift exchanges). It's been an adventure over the years, especially when the kids came along (for most of their growing up years we laid on their gifts at birthdays, and gave presents to Jesus on his birthday), and my conviction has changed somewhat over time, but I'm glad to have tried to act counterculturally in this area.
     Sunday night Beth and I went over to Emmanuel Bible College to hear Sean & Aimee Dayton. He's a musician from North Bay that Jay Calder recommended to me a number of years ago now, and he has just released a new Christmas cd. The concert wasn't very well attended but the music was great. Helped us to get into the Christmas spirit - except we didn't really appreciate his encouragement to look to movies for holiday inspiration - c'mon!
     On Monday, December 4th we headed down to Hugh's Room in Toronto for the book launch of "Kicking at the Darkness" by Brian Walsh. He's been a Bruce Cockburn fan and a university professor for many years and has finally put a lot of his thoughts about Bruce and Christian art into a book that looks great. There were fantastic versions of many of Bruce's songs throughout the night by 3 groups: The Wine Before Breakfast band (from U of T), Glen Soderholm (and band, including the phenomenal jazz pianist Mike Janzen), and Steve Bell (accompanied by Mike). Plus Brian read from the book. It was a really wonderful night for someone who has appreciated Bruce's music for decades now.
      Tuesday Beth and I headed to York Nursery to pick up a (pre-cut) Christmas tree. We took the Cavalier from Alison and had no problem fitting the tree into the back (with the seat down of course).
     Thursday our small group went over to the Operation Christmas Child warehouse in Cambridge to help sort the donated boxes for shipment around the world. It's a great thing to be part of - we worked for 2 hours straight,  in a group of 5 and I was in charge of taping each box closed before sending it down the assembly line to be placed in larger containers.
     On Friday we scrambled to get everything cleaned and in place to host our Friday night small group. It was nice to have the living room filled and I lead some singing for the first time with this group.
     I got back to the gym a couple of times but then got busy again with the wood and other stuff so it's been over a week since I was there. Not feeling real great about that. I began listening to some Christmas music  - some of my favourites are Sixpence None the Richer's "The Dawn of Grace", Don Ross's "Wintertide", Bob Bennett's "Christmastide", and Kevin Ramessar's instrumental guitar cd. I've been reading Jonathan Foer's "Everything is Illuminated" which is creative and interesting but too vulgar at times.