Monday, July 31, 2006

the conversations are similar, only the countries have changed

So I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Santa Monica between meetings out in LA and there's a fascinating discussion happening regarding the horrific events in Lebanon & Israel. It's a conspiracy-fest, with assertions being made that, 1) the U.S. ordered Israel to attack Lebanon, hence explaining U.S. refusal (until this past weekend) to endorse a cease-fire. 2) That the Iraq war will end in 2009, as it was planned, with Cheney & Rumsfeld holding a document-destruction party on the eve of the innauguration, regardless of who is elected, so that no paper trail is left.

Now, like the majority of Americans today I'm no supporter of the war(s), much less the botched "let's not stop the fighting until we can stop it all" charade in Lebanon. But I hardly believe that the U.S. is ordering Israel's military. The war ending by 2009 has cynical political merit, but I don't see that happening either.

Anyway - this whole eavesdropping scenario was an eye-opener in hearing divergent opinions discussed in a public forum among friends. By the way, the assembled group I listened in on was very diverse - not simply a liberal cohort gathered to gripe. It's interesting to think that there are similar theories bandied about relating to the responsibilities of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, etc... in their roles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Jaw dropping musical experts in midst of mere mortals

About 10 days ago I went out on a Saturday night to see the amazing Ashley Cleveland play at a local club. Now, Ashley is one of those absolutely world-class singers that can do about anything and sound better than 99% of people opening their mouths. I've had the privilege to work with Ashley a couple times in my career and I'm still as impressed as ever with her craft and how she continues to get better.

Ashley's husband, Kenny Greenberg , is a similarly talented freak of nature. He's one of Nashville's most sought after guitarists and has gained great acclaim as a producer as well; I happen to think that he resembles a cheerier Hunter S. Thompson, which aside from his genuine graciousness, earns him more points in my book. Watching Kenny play is a pure joy, and he always seems to surpass any expectation I have for his amazing playing. Also in Ashley's band were bass player Michael Rhodes, another top level session player whose credits are too long to list; I understand that when the Rolling Stones were auditioning bass players a few years ago he was one of 5 to even audition. On Hammond B-3 organ that night was Reese Wynans, a member of Stevie Ray Vaughn's Double Trouble. Ken Lewis - an up and coming session and live drummer, held down the kit with Ashley for the first time and did a great job.

So I'm watching this set transpire and thinking that aside from NY or LA, maybe Chicago, if I were to walk into a divey bar & grill and saw a stage of late 40 - early 50 year olds playing blues and soul influenced rock, I'd instantly go to a cartoon image of my college buddies trying to recreate "Brown Eyed" Girl" or "Jumpin' Jack Flash". In Nashville, however, we're fortunate to get absolute world-class players almost any night of the week, stretching out and having fun, trying out new ideas and not taking themselves seriously at all. No ambition-riddled, trying-to-prove-themselves posturing, just some of the greatest musicians around having a blast.

After the show Kenny, another friend and I talked about new music (Thom Yorke in particular), and for the 13 years I've known Kenny he has only expanded his musical vocabulary - not only with new stuff but by mining classic, obscure things. It shows in his playing. He'll be in the midst of a 12 bar blues solo, and I can see where he's goign with it, and all of a sudden, WHAM! He pulls out some Radiohead-inspired blast or an angular, Roxy Music type riff that comes out of nowhere to broadside you. It's that amazing whiff of the unexpected that makes this band such a joy to see.

Now, as I was watching and being broadsided, I got to thinking about an article I'd been reading earlier that day. Disclaimer: what I'm about to state is an anomaly in my reading habits. You see, I've somehow received subscriptions to a number of publications this year, one of them being, to the delight and humor of my family, Scientific American. A couple asides:
1) Anyone who's ever witnessed my participation in science classes in the past would shake with laughter at the sight of me reading this mag, much less trying to comprehend much of it.
2) The magazine's title must be a shrinking population in recent years, with the White House declaring global warming an untested theory and stacking the FDA with big pharma lackeys. But I digress.

The cover story is called, The Expert Mind, and it tracks, particularly in champion chess players (another laughter-inducing proposition for me), the way the mind works in true experts. Several theories are explored, with the most fascinating asserting that true experts are able to assimilate more information from their long-term memories into a given context. An example: in a chess match, there may be 50,000 – 100,000 different possible moves during a given match. Studies showed that there is little difference between a merely good chess player and a grand master in terms of ability to see different options. The difference is in how the grand master can so quickly assimilate those options into the present moment to make the best move possible.

Watching Ashley Cleveland, Kenny Greenberg, Michael Rhodes, Reese Wynans and Ken Lewis play made me think of that, Kenny in particular. Many talented players could figure out how to do what he does. Very few can come up with that stuff on the fly, and assemble parts so varied in their influence and heartfelt in the execution.

And so, in the midst of the profane heat/humidity combo that is another Nashville summer, I will remain thankful for the experts in the midst.

A real dialogue

Last weekend I received a letter from a friend who works at Sojourners. It was an open letter tha had published, written by Dr. Martin Accad, Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beruit. Yesterday I received a follow-up that I sent to a few friends, among them my good friend Mark Oestreicher who posted the following on his fantastic blog. Thanks to Marko for clarifying many of my feelings as I read the exchange by these two men.

you may have seen dr. martin accad’s wonderfully raw and pleading essay on christianity today’s website last week, called Another Point of View: Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon. it’s absolute must-read stuff for any christian, and anyone interested in the world beyond their own front door or steeple.

but here’s the kicker: accad built much of his essay around comments made by a dr. david gushee. and, in a truly beautiful open letter, gushee responded this week to accad. an excerpt:

I hear the desperation and misery in your voice. I sense your fear for the well-being of your loved ones and your grief over those already torn to pieces by Israeli bombs. I hear your rage at the nation that is inflicting this suffering on your people, and at Hezbollah for starting this latest round of fighting, and at the feckless international community, and at global evangelicals, especially in the United States, and at the U.S. government itself.

I, personally, am struggling deeply right now to have any hope about many of the same things that you are struggling with. I think the United States government has been pursuing a disastrous foreign policy since September 11 and that now we are reaping some of the consequences of that mixture of unilateralism, militarism, Wilsonian idealism, and negligent incompetence. My sympathy for Israel—which is indeed deep, a mix of all kinds of factors, some rational, some emotional—does not extend to support for what has clearly become a massive and disproportionate military offensive. And when I read about Hezbollah, and Hamas, and Syria, and Iran, and the growing sophistication of the weapons being fired at Israel, and the emergent pro-Iran Iraq, and the tangled web of ties and dark plans that connect Israel’s enemies, I sense a coming conflagration.

then, accad responded in an open letter back to gushee. an excerpt:

David Gushee’s gracious response also, in his “Open Letter to Dr. Martin Accad” that Christianity Today published, gives me the desire to be picked up from the roadside despite my wounds. At the end of this weekend I have more hope, because I have discovered life in a part of the church’s heart that I had thought dead. Thanks, David, and thank you to the new friends I have made.

If so many in the church in the U.S. actually care enough to listen and respond to a Middle Eastern Arab Christian cry, then perhaps there is enough hope, will and faith in this church to lean over the wounded “enemy” in the Middle East so that the universal church can address injustice and somehow bring to a halt this deliberate targeting of faith communities.

these three open letters have become larger than their content. don’t get me wrong: they’re all worth reading purely for their content, to more clearly understand the current violence between israel and hezbollah and its impact on the lives of real people. but beyond that, accad and gushee provide us a model for dialogue in a public space. there’s almost none of this in the christian world, from people with widely disperate viewpoints. put jerry falwell and jim wallace on nightline together, and they’ll rip each other and both make ridiculous overstatements and repeat the same lines (created by some soundbite specialist) over and over and over until i want to take a sledgehammer to my tv and the whole notion of christian debate. hrmph.

but these two guys i’d never heard of — gah! that’s the kind of interchange i want with the people i disagree with (especially my brothers and sisters in the church with whom i disagree). makes me hopeful and frustrated at the same time.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Disappearing masons & mega-church malls

In Martin Marty's weekly email newsletter, Sightings, he discussed the waning presence of the Masons on American culture, as their membership has fallen from 4 million in 1959 to about 1.5 million today. Near the end of his piece Marty threw in the following observation:

"Now an abrupt end-note on the Zeitgeist: Recalling Dean Inge's old warning about how one soon becomes widowed if wed to the spirit of the times, it is time to ask about the future of currently prospering and often boasting leaders of religious movements that are overly tied to the new scene of pop culture, partisan political identification, and market-based choice of religious themes and strategies. Next time you pass a vacated Masonic building, think of the folly of swaggering today and ask: Who and what are next?"

I wonder what that could look like when plugging in terms such as:
- mega-churches - could these buildings eventually wind up empty and transformed into shopping malls? Are the already halfway there (the mall part)?
- emerging churches - by emphasizing community overphysical building, will some merely evaporate into the ether? There's one kind of church that's attempting the emerging thing in nashville that we've visited. the building they've met in is now shut down and despite being on their email list i've received nothing in at least 8 months.

There are plenty more to consider. I just appreciate the thought that one wed to the spirit of the times is soon widowed.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Kiss My Grass

Some good friends of mine recently received an anonymous note, presumably from a neighbor, telling them that their yard was a disgrace and a public eyesore. Now, friendship aside, I'd never call their yard that. It's a well-kept and lush garden that gardening experts have said allows the plants to thrive the way they were designed. My wife, Michele, and I assured our friends that the note- leaver was not only dead wrong, but an example of cowardliness. Not long after that, one of our friends' parents sent the picture posted here as a suggestion of a topiary design piece that they thought would enhancethe yard.

AOL For Free (and not just 1,000 hours)?

Saw this item today on music industry site

AOL chief Jonathan Miller is about to unveil a new business strategy to Wall Street that turns its back on selling and marketing the company’s 17-year-old dial-up (and high speed) access service in favor of bolstering its free, web-based content, which would result in price cuts for existing subscribers and thousands of layoffs. The plan would target such competitors as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen estimates that this plan could well cut AOL’s revenue from domestic subscriptions by 52%, or $2.1 billion at an annual rate. And operating profit could fall by $251 million, 14% of her estimate for this year. Time Warner's shares closed at $16.84 a share on Friday, down more than 11% from its 52-week high.

It's going to be interesting to see how AOL re-engineers itself. Talk about a bold move - intentionally cutting $2.1 bilion to re-focus and re-brand a service. AOL is also working on transforming Instant Messenger into a social networking application to compete w/ MySpace, Xanga, etc. Content is no longer king: content that allows for data collection to pitch to advertisers is the new model.

Some acquaintences of mine have a merchandiising company that handles a lot of bands, mostly punk, emo, metal and hardcore. They grossed about $1.6 million last year and project about $3M this year. The real value: the 800k customer names they have that have been roughly estimated to be worth $20+ million. T-shirts, beanies and wristbands are nice, but gimme info and watch the value soar. Come to think of it, what's the market value of

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lady Liberty gets a makeover

CLICK HERE to read about The Statue of Liberation Through Christ, a 72-fot tall structure unveiled in Memphis this week. In case you don't want to do the free login to the NY Times, here are some highlights:

"...a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and "Jehovah" inscribed on her crown.

And in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross, as if to ward off the pawnshops, the car dealerships and the discount furniture outlets at the busy corner of Kirby Parkway and Winchester that is her home. A single tear graced her cheek."

"Most of the customers at the Dixie Queen food counter near the church viewed the statue as a cheap attention grab..."

"Mr. Williams, a very successful pastor whose church, World Overcomers, qualifies as mega: it has a school, a bowling alley, a roller rink, a bookstore and, he said, 12,000 members."

" In another book, he said Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans's embrace of sin."

"I decree the spirit of conviction on this intersection..."

The intersection was outside the church, not inside at the corner of the bowling alley and the roller rink.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Return to blogger / over the edge tv commercials

It's been a looooongtime since I've posted - primarily due to work and family stuff, but I got a couple great articles sent to me today that are worth sharing, in case anyone still visits, like my friend MARKO, who kindly mentioned my blog last week. If you're just now visiting, know that despite Marko's claim that this blog contains "lots of liberal politics", this first link was sent by my dad, a fairly conservative person both politically and theologically. We've had self-shaping discussions through the years that have covered RC Sproul, Ollie North (during the Iran-Contra affair), Mozart, punk rock and more. We always come full circle to agree on the grace of God and an undying belief in the Chicago Cubs.

If I agree with Marko saying that I'm a great thinker (and of course I do), it can only be because of the influence of my dad and mom, who is even more conservative than my dad. All that said, THIS EDITORIAL by Ruben Navarrette was a powerful July 4th statement. As my dad reminded me, it was written by a guy (Navarrette) who "mentions that 3 of his 4 grandparents were born in the USA. All 4 of mine were born in Sweden. Two of yours were born in Sweden." Who's "more American", Ruben Navarrrette or me?

The second article was sent by my persoanl sensei JIM HANCOCK, who is far more thoughtful a person than I, and who keeps me on my toes in terms of new music. THIS EDITORIAL gives an overview of the amazing story of newly elected Newark,NJ mayor Cry Booker. Booker was a Stanford football star, Rhodes scholar and all around too good to be true guy. I've heard and read a few articles on him while he was campaigning, and now that he's in office I can only hope that the promise he radiates will be fulfilled in Newark.

On a completey other note, as I wrote this my wife has the TV on in the background (The Daily SHow) and we just saw a commercial for a Nashville strip club, hosted by a woman stating that she was "miss nude, blonde universe, 2006". I don'tknow if that means she's from a blonde universe and is nude, which I imagine is a lesser honor that if there's an actual nude, blonde universe, in which case she's a miss universe. Regardless, she was touting some club with a mechanical bull and the whole thing was so absurd that Michele and I just laughed in disbelief.

So there you go, liberal politics as informed by a conservative parent, and deep thinking while watching nudie bar commercials airing during The Daily Show. Why haven't I blogged in a couple months?