Thursday, March 29, 2007

That Old Time Classical Music...

I'm exhausted.

Not my body, but my voice. For the last eight weeks I've been rehearsing with the Axtell Oratorio Society. This is the 50th year this group has performed Handel's complete Messiah, and that's a pretty big deal for a town about about 700. The society now consists of more than just people from the town of Axtell, and quite a few people from surrounding towns such as Minden and Kearney make the trip to Axtell on Sunday for rehearsals. Kearney just built a new performing arts center(pictured below), so it seems fitting to move the performance from the Kearney high school to the new center, especially for the celebration. The performance is this weekend and I'm excited to see how it will all come together.

I haven't been in a choir since college and worship leading is hardly conducive to keeping my high register in shape, so I was a bit rusty. But something in me still loves the stuffy ole' traditional choral music. And there is also something all together separate about being part of a musical organization that's as old as this one:arrogance, elitism, humilty and love of music all rolled into one place. It's a lot for a newbie like me to take in. Music people are weird, my mother always says. And meeting all these new people proved her right. We are weird... in an entirely weird and different way.

In the end of this whole experience I will take with me a hatred of the runs in For Unto Us a Child is Born (seriously, was Handel a masochistic when he wrote that?) and a love for the significance of the word "Amen". I'd forgotten the joy that comes with performing difficult classical music and as a kid, I'd always wanted to be part of it this event. I finally made time this year.

My favorite? Worthy is the Lamb/Amen Finale. It's by far the most satisfying song to sing. Musically, though, my favorite moment is in O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion - the word painting on "Arise" and "Behold" is a stunning and wonderful to sing.

Enough gushing; I have rehearsing to do. I don't want sloppy phrasing on the 50th anniversary of this thing!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction is fun and quirky with a little bit of heart and a little bit of strangeness.

But hey, I like quirky.

Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal are an unlikely on screen pairing but I was completely won over by their bizarre scene where the "meet cute" plays out.

Some critics criticized the movie for having the wrong ending. I completely disagree. Yes, ending it the way they did made it more "typical Hollywood" but it also allowed for you to remember that selfishness can only be conquered by unselfishness. Which is a lesson everyone needs to be reminded of. This is a movie definitely worth renting.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A New Focus

I've been knocked out this week with a pretty bad cold, but that didn't keep me from the Colbert Report last night.

Rich Cizik was recently appointed to the office of Vice President for Governmental Affairs with the National Association of Evangelicals. And after doing some reading, I'm excited to see what this guy is going to do to the NAE, an organization that has so much influence it's a little frightening.

As Colbert mentioned above, Cizik has a different focus from the main dominate issues Evangelicals have been so coal about these last 20 years or so. As his shifting focus in the right direction, I think, namely to "green-friendly" living. As an employee of a lighting company, I've been hearing this buzz term for a while. In fact, I just finished the design on a "green-friendly" lighting catalog we are marketing to California customers, who now have stricter state regulations on the type of lighting they can use. (And make sure to pick up the most recent copy of Relevant magazine; it has a quick and simple article on going green in a month. It's a great read.)

Some of the more conservative and outspoken evangelicals have come out against Cizik for not putting issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and abstinence to the forefront. Because the evangelical culture has done such a "bang-up job" bringing about great moral changes in these areas, by all means, let's continue to point fingers in judgment and talk, talk, talk about these issues instead of actually doing something. *removes tongue from cheek*

This is the problem I have with being labeled a Christians. The mouth-pieces we've allowed to become our representative have simply done a very poor job of showing who we are, but they've also failed to represent who we should be. The NEA is taking a step in the right direction in appointing Cizick, whose views on global warming are refreshing and nearly unheard of among the power Christian-Right. He also has some interesting things to say about Christians and political parties here. Here's to hoping this focus stays up front.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hash Browns and the Gospel

I'm procrastinating everything lately, and it's not pretty. Unless it's directly in my sight, taunting "finish me!" or "do this!" I'm simply ignoring it. I don't know why, but what I'm discovering is that if I would simply do it I would save the energy I'm expending by thinking about not doing it. And to top it all off, I stubbed my toe on the coffee table this morning. Badly. Now the left side of my foot is very black and blue and it hurts. A lot. Between procrastination and complaining, it's not been the best day. (I don't even think I can get my left shoe on.) So, yes, I spent some time on the couch this afternoon with my foot on a bag of Mr. Dell's hash browns, which is another excuse to procrastinate.

Ignoring the things I need to do has no value. It's the same in my knowledge of God. That knowledge has no value if I don't act upon it. It seems the evangelical sub-culture has tried so hard to fit into the world so not to offend anyone that it's resulted in us (in a sense) doing nothing. We've failed to proclaim the truth of the gospel, which in reality is one of the most offensive schools of thought out there. Offense comes with the truth. Yet it's offensive to change the message of the gospel so that it's seems less offensive.

What good is my belief and knowledge of God if I keep it to myself? If I try to fit into the world so people will see Christians aren't different or crazy, then I am not only procrastinating but I'm not being true to the gospel. I am different. I am crazy. I believe that a man who walked this earth thousands of years ago was the son of God, took my sin upon his back and died in my place, then rose again and told the world to spread the news. That is crazy. That is different. Witholding that truth to those I know is no different that me sitting on the couch with a bag of hash browns on my foot ignoring the fact that I am playing my guitar and singing a solo in church tomorrow and I haven't practiced yet. More importantly, it's much worse.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

-John 21: 19:15-19

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Cranes

I spent last Saturday with my brother who lives by Overton, Nebraska, a small town about 45 minutes from where I live. As the evening approached, we decided to take a drive to see if we could capture some photos of the rural farm life he lives. And then I realized I almost missed it - the cranes.

The famous sandhill crane migration has begun.

We'd found some old abandoned buildings and farm equipment to shoot pictures of when I heard it - the sound of the cranes flying in the thousands, their calls echoing through the valley. Their wingspan alone (six to seven feet) was breathtaking to watch as they flew overhead and landed in a nearby field. But my favorite moment was when the sun set as we drove down a road to see them standing prouding on top of a hill, with the backdrop of yellows and reds behind them as they danced.

Kearney is a hub for crane migration, in particular the cranes love the Platte River. Each year for about six weeks, we are treated to the sight of fields covered with the majestic cranes as the rest and gain strength for a long migration north. It's estimated that around 500,000 sandhill cranes pass through here during March and April.

Until you've seen a field covered with thousands of cranes, until you've seen them fly in packs overhead, until you've heard the way they speak and see them dance, I can never fully describe the true experience of the sandhill crane migration. It's one of the reasons I love Nebraska, and once again reminds me of how big this earth is and how we humans are just one small part.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Death of Good Coffee

I was driving through my neighborhood grocery store parking lot when I discovered this:

For a while now I've been wondering what the little building was to become. The sign finally went up.. this town is getting it's third Starbucks.

Not that the other two really count. One's on the University campus, and the other is in our SuperTarget, so it's not really the same. But I must say, my heart sank. Not because I dislike Starbucks, because I don't. In fact, I like their coffee just fine. But it's just more sad news for my favorite local place.

Barista's Daily Grind is the epitome of what a great coffee shop should be. An indoor/outdoor choice of seating, many, many flavor choices, beautiful atmosphere, homemade scones and desserts, owned and started by a local, etc, etc. (And they top every cup with a chocolate-covered espresso bean!) So I love it there. It's the perfect place to read peacefully, write, or just have coffee with your friends.

But they are in trouble. They made deals to franchise in 21 other locations, and the law firm they hired to draft the franchise agreement was in violation of several federal franchise laws. So they lost a lot of money because of someone else's negligence. They've hired a law firm to sue their previous law firm. As of March 6th, the bank now owns Barista's, as they are hundred's of thousands of dollars in debt.

At the time Barista's opened several years ago, there was only one other coffee place in town, another local place that's since closed after trying two different locations. Bartisa's took a really ugly corner lot of the downtown area and made it simply beautiful, and brought in a great deal of business. Even my Seattle-dwelling, coffee-expert cousin approved when I took her there.

They also do great wine-tastings in the summertime, and enclose their outdoor patio during the winter to fire-up the outdoor heaters to make it warm and cozy no matter the weather. It's the kind of place where you can run into an old high school science teacher attempting to run her dog down. Or see a guy play an acoustic guitar that uses bass strings for his E and B strings (while he plays the harmonica). Or appreciate the mural painted by a local artist, or where you
you can walk through beautiful gardens and around water fountains just for kicks. Barista's really is a place like no other.

I realize my two, three stops a week don't do much in light of their large debt. But the second I saw the Starbucks sign, I drove across town to get a cup of Barista's. Their coffee is better, and I'd rather support the little guys anyway.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Captain America

Captain America Killed Outside Courthouse

The comic book character was first published during WWII, a time when America was polverized. Much like it is now, so says the co-creator Joe Simon. Captain America was created to be an adversary of Adolf Hilter, and while we all (most of us anyway) now agree that Hilter was indeed an evil man, many Americans at the time saw him as a hero. Tonight on Nightline,
Simon was interviewed, where he said he sees many similarities to then and now.

"We really need him now," said Simon.

I'm very interested in the different ways Captain America seems to symbolize where American's mentality is at today. The newscast briefly suggested they killed the character off because of his politics, but went no further in explaining this possibility. What is interesting to me, though, is that back then this character was created. Today, we kill him off.

I don't think we need Captain America now. My first thought after the co-creator said we needed Captain America was that it was simply another idol to bring about false unity. And Amerca doesn't need another idol. We're a little too "healthy" in that department.

...i repent of trading truth for false unity...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I Almost Ran Over Derek Webb

I've never come across a Christian musician whose work as meant as much to me as Derek Webb's. He's the Charlie Peacock of our generation (and oh how I wish Charlie recorded more. I don't care for his voice or style, but his lyrics are amazing...). However, my history with Derek Webb's music is a little rocky.

I listened to Caedmon's Call (the group he used to be in) a lot around 6-7 years ago. So we I heard Derek was launching a solo career in 2003, I rushed out to buy his first album, She Must and Shall Go Free. Only to discover... I hated it. A little too country for me, really not what I expected, but mostly I just didn't get it. Some of his music made me uncomfortable, but I've since learned that's the beauty of Derek Webb. (I now love the record... wisdom comes with age, I guess.)

So when his second album, i see things upside down, came out, I didn't purchase it right away. I think I finally picked it up late in 2005, ready to give him a chance, and his lyrics affected me in a great way. He was sharing much about himself and the Christian subculture that I myself was going through and having my eyes opened to. More than anything, it just felt good to know someone else out there felt like I did and had seen what I had seen.

Then came the great Mockingbird, & One Zero, and somewhere in between these two CDs I picked up The House Show. While personally I love i see things upside down the most, Mockingbird is by far the superior album, both lyrically and musically. I love One Zero because it feel like he is sitting next to me singing. I love The House Show because he shares the stories and reasons behind the songs.

When I discovered Derek would be in Lincoln last Friday, I immediately made plans to go. I took the afternoon off work and stayed with my friend Suzie. It also gave me the change to introduce her to his music.

It snowed about 12 inches in the eastern part of the state, but thankfully the concert was still a go. We drove around the Haymarket to find a parking space (usually a challenge in the downtown area of Lincoln) and as we drove through a section of parking right by the bar where he was playing, Suzie stopped for two people crossing the street. (No easy task considered the horrible road conditions.) As she slide to a stop, narrowly missing these two guys, I immediately recognized him. Yes, we almost ran over Derek Webb. This would only happen to me, I assure you.

After located a parking spot and trekking through the snow, we were able to enjoy a tremendous evening of beautiful music in a really cool old historic building. He played three new songs: This Too Shall Be Made Right, I Don't Want To Fight, and I think the other song was called The End. He opened with This Too Shall Be Made Right and went into a set of:

A King & A Kingdom
Rich Young Ruler
My Enemies Are Men Like Me
New Law
I Don't Want to Fight
The End
Nothing is Ever Enough
(special request from an audience member, which Derek was afraid he might not remember. But of course he did fine.)
Nobody Loves Me
Saint and Sinner
Wedding Dress

Of course it wasn't enough it nearly hit the guy, because as we left the bar, Derek was leaving at the same time. Dying to meet him, I introduced myself. Derek was flattered I'd driven an hour and a half to see the concert and I never would've guessed it, but that man has the biggest, most magnetic smile I've ever seen. It's like twice as big as his head. Completely awesome. He was very sweet, and running down to Scooters for coffee. It was still snowing a little and very windy so anything to warm up was a good idea. Derek told us he comes to Lincoln a lot because his brother and some other family live there, so he's come to expect it.

All in all, it was a wonderful night of music and it was completely awesome that not only did I almost run him over, but I also got to meet him. How lucky am I?