Monday, December 10, 2007

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone

This past week there has been no doubt that winter has arrived in central Illinois. It has already been an eventful one - Josh and I were driving through the snow last Thursday night and lots of church events were cancelled yesterday because of the ice.

I have a love/hate relationship with winter weather. I hate that it slows me down (having to scrape the car, making road conditions questionable - and thereby affecting my plans). But...once I've slowed down...I usually realize that it isn't so bad. In fact, sometimes it's a blessing to be forced into a slower pace.

This weekend as I've been driving, I've been amazed by what ice does - how it attaches itself to literally everything. Yesterday, I realized that it had somehow attached itself to individual blades of grass. I don't remember ever seeing this before (though I'm sure it's not uncommon)! How is it that huge trees have branches fall because of the weight of the ice - and yet individual blades of grass can be covered with a protective coating of ice. It's as though someone came with a wand and froze things instantly. It's totally fascinating and distracting to me! I was at a stoplight this morning near church, and there were several tufts of grass sticking out of the sidewalk that were covered. They looked like little icy sea creatures!

I had some fun yesterday experimenting with my new camera attempting to capture some of these wild images. (I'm no photographer, but the artist in me enjoys trying to see the world through a unique lens.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

YouTube Moments

I know lots of YouTube links get forwarded around, but there are a few that I found worth sharing.

First, I'm super excited about the Kenya projects our church has been able to participate in lately. As a follow-up to their trip, my friend Chris made some videos to show his junior high students. I watched them this past week in my office, and I was a mess.
  • Here's one that talks about what life is like for junior high age kids in Nairobi. The interviews with the kids at the end just floor me.
  • Here's a two-part piece that shows what the junior high kids' summer fundraising project was able to accomplish. (We're showing a short clip from this in our worship services this weekend.)

Second, a video from the Worship Arts team at Community Christian in Naperville about slowing down. I'm convinced that some of the best ideas are the most simple.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Songs for Advent, Christmas, and Winter

Most of you who know me know I love Christmas music. You also probably know I love making the mix CDs. Last year I made a mix and gave it to a handful of friends, and I was pretty happy with it. Here is the track listing with some explanations (that I wrote when I made it last year):

Songs for Advent, Winter, and Christmas
The themes of waiting & watching for the light have been really present in my thoughts this Advent season so far. I grew up in a church background that doesn’t celebrate Advent – so I’ve been discovering this season of waiting/anticipation over the past few years. It’s a really mysterious thing – to live in this place in time that we both know that Christ has come but will come again once & for all.

“But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief.
For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.
So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded.
Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk.
But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us.
Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever.
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:4-11 (NLT)

  • "O Come All Ye Faithful" – Rich Mullins
    Rich Mullins ranks as possibly my all time favorite songwriter. Ever. This song is from the album “Here in America” which is a bunch of tracks that were never officially released. I love the emotion of Rich’s piano playing here (usually I play air piano when I listen to it). And even though it’s just him & a piano – it sounds huge. Love it.
  • "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" – Sufjan Stevens
    Yeah, he’s a little weird. But he creates music that sounds cool & organic. And I really like all of his Christmas stuff.
  • "Prepare a Place" – Christine Dente’ w/ Michael W. Smith
    This is from a Rocketown collection from a few years back. It reminds me of a Taize’ style worship song – repetitive for a purpose.
  • "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" – Steven Curtis Chapman
    I love this arrangement. It’s hard to write new music to such a familiar text, but I think one does a great job.
  • "Anthem for Christmas" – Michael W. Smith
    The 1989 MWS Christmas album is my family’s all-time Christmas favorite. There’s lots of orchestra/boys choir – and very little MWS. This album is what the Christmas season sounds like to me.
  • "A Great Light" – Kendall Payne
    This uses 2 texts from Isaiah that I love (chapters 9 & 60 I think). The song is new to me this year – but I really really dig it. It’s from a collection by Don Chaffer from Waterdeep (Songs from the Voice).
  • "The Glorious Impossible" – Carl Cartee
    We used this in our Christmas services at church last year. It’s a fun one to sing congregationally – and I think it’s important to tell the whole story of Jesus at Christmas. This song does a good job of that.
  • "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" – Jim Brickman
    Simple, piano – can’t go wrong.
  • "No Eye Had Seen" – Amy Grant/Michael W. Smith
    This track with the next one are my favorites from the 1989 MWS album
  • "All is Well" – Michael W. Smith
  • "Jesus Born on this Day" – Mariah Carey
    I love the kids choir in this song – so real! And believe it or not, she wrote this. Something about Christmas brings out the class in everyone…
  • "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" – Charlie Brown Christmas
    Simply nostalgia
  • "Joy to the World" – Whitney Houston
    This may be one of my most favorite re-makes of a Christmas song – ever. It’s from The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack. I love the gospel choir, the brass, and the energy. I usually bounce up and down – with soul – while listening. (Sometimes I listen to it when it’s not Christmas.)
  • "I Saw Three Ships" – Sufjan Stevens
    A Christmas song you don’t hear all the time, performed by a wide variety of instruments.
  • "Stille Nacht" – The King’s Singers
    I think it’s really pretty in German. I’m sorry if the volume is at different levels for the choral tracks – but I couldn’t resist them…
  • "Christmas Hymn" – Amy Grant
    When I was a little girl I wanted to grow up to be Amy Grant. (Though I’m not crazy about her voice here, I really like the song itself.) This is another song that tells the whole Story.
  • "Here With Us" – Joy Williams
    This is one we’re using this Christmas Eve at church. I first heard it a year ago at the Willow Creek Christmas service. At the Hallelujahs, there were dancers – and it was one of those moments when the truth & beauty of the whole thing just “got me.” I was a bawling mess.
  • "Noel" – Millikin University
    Millikin is a small college near where I live. They have incredible choirs & every year they have a Vespers service in early December. Most of the evening is really reverent, but this is a guys piece they did the first year I went. It’s much cooler live – but still pretty fun.
  • "We Three Kings" – Jose Luis Madueno y Ricardo Silvas
    An arrangement I found this year while I was looking for world Christmas music
  • "Main Title from Home Alone" – John Williams
    I am not the biggest John Williams fan – but his score totally makes this movie.
  • "Song for a Winter’s Night" – Sarah McLachlan
    I love Sarah McLachlan – I got this on a compilation CD a few years back. It’s very wintery and romantic I think….
  • "Winter Wonderland" – Harry Connick, Jr.
    From the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack – it’s fun

I am working diligently on a new mix for this year - it's coming along. (If you haven't received this Christmas mix, let me know...I may be able to work something out.) I promise to update on the 07 version very soon.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Other Side of the World

As I mentioned previously, my best friends are in Africa right now. During their trip they've been blogging about some of their experiences, and I have loved reading their stories. This one about a woman named Elizabeth was incredible. It humbles me that God allows us to partner with Him to help people. I encourage you to check out their stories - and to pray for what God's doing in Nairobi, Kenya.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Combination of Intended Posts

I keep meaning to blog. Honest. I just haven't gotten around to it. So, here is the Cliff Notes version of the things that I've been meaning to blog about.
  • My best friend Melissa (and her husband Chris) are on a trip to Africa. I miss them a lot. I'm excited to hear more about their trip since they're visiting the neighborhood in Kenya that our church is involved with through CMF. They've really wanted to take a trip like this for a while, so I'm glad they're getting to do it. I'm only moderately jealous of their travel (which is an improvementfor me). Also, I miss them (well, mostly Melissa...sorry Chris).

  • Melissa got me a book for my birthday to keep me company. It's "The Year of Living Biblically" by AJ Jacobs. (If you're not familiar, it's the journey of a guy who tries to live the Bible as literally as possible for one year; he's not religious, but he is very funny.) I've been reading it like it's Harry Potter. It's very funny...and thoughtful about spirituality at the same time. I wish my blog could have his sense of humor.
  • It should be no surprise, but I have been LOVING the weather lately. Fall is nice because I'm happy if it's sunny, and I'm happy if it's raining. A few weekends ago, I had a glorious trip to Indiana for the Covered Bridge Festival where I was introduced to persimmon pudding. I have heard about this dessert quite a bit, and I was rather skeptical. (It doesn't sound good for some reason.) Fortunately, I thought it was awesome.

  • The book of Habakkuk is really great. I've read it several times over the last few weeks, and if you're not familiar with it I recommend it.

  • I've been trying to plan Christmas worship services lately - it's a good thing I don't mind listening to Christmas music all year long!

Okay...I think I'm caught up for now. I'll share a picture - and then I'm out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Links of Joy...and Joyness

I thought I'd share some interesting - yet thouroughly random links.
  • An article about what Sufjan Stevens is up to lately: a symphonic piece about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

  • An interview with a Major League Baseball pitcher about his struggle to follow Christ.

  • This last link requires a bit of set-up:
    Last summer, a bunch of my friends were highly entertained by a certain YouTube cartoon (involving unicorns, obnoxious repetition, and stolen kidneys) called Charlie and Candy Mountain. We were all pretty sure about 2 things: first, that this cartoon was made by guys with too much time on their hands and also that I was always completely irritated by the whole thing. However, today, I was reading about Heaven (for the upcoming worship series) and I came across THIS. Stunning. If anyone wants to explore how the creators of Charlie may have been actually commenting on the afterlife while making literary references to Orwell...go for it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Take Take a Cha-Chance

I frequently get songs stuck in my head, and usually it irritates me. However, today I decided to give in to it and see what would happen. See, last week's episode of "The Office" had a great scene with Andy asking Angela out by singing "Take a Chance on Me" to her - it was probably my favorite part of the episode. Then, I was in a store this week and heard ABBA's version of the same song playing in the background. After that, the song was stuck in my head. So, I decided to download it on iTunes. And let me tell you, it still cracks me up! (My favorite is the opening with the backing vocals singing "take a chance, take a chance, take take a cha-chance...") So far I've listened to it 12 or 13 times today, and I'm not tired of it yet.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fall in a cup

While central Illinois is still figuring out how to have fall weather, I have definitely started enjoying all things FALL! A new treat this fall - apple slush from the Apple Barn in Chatham. I don't know why I've never been to the Apple Barn before this year, but Josh took me a few Saturdays ago. We enjoyed looking around at the homemade food (and fudge!) and various fall items. We bought several food items to try (which were very good) - but on a whim, decided to try the apple slush. (We had hoped for hot apple cider, but they don't serve it early in the season.)
Let me tell you - apple slush is my new favorite drink. As you can see in the picture, it comes in 2 sizes - $.75 or $1. It is so great. I've had 2 so far this year (and fall is young).
(Yay fall!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Remembering Rich

On the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to talk a little bit about Rich Mullins, his influence on my life (musically and spiritually), and share a few lyrics. I'll be honest - I really want to write this entry, but I am intimidated by it - I want to do it justice. Oh well...bear with me as I ramble!

I was introduced to Rich's music by my parents. We always listened to music in the car - and often that meant mix tapes from my dad's friend in Nashville (of 80's CCM - Amy Grant, First Call, Wayne Watson, Larry Bryant, etc.). I think my parents still have the cassette tape of Rich Mullins' first album. When I look over the track list, I can hear every single track, in all of its 80's glory (and I can see my dad bobbing his head and singing along with "Live Right"). Despite some of the cheese in the arrangements, the power in the songwriting is as strong as ever.

Show me someone who makes a difference -
Show me someone who's brave when he needs to be -
I just need to see -
Someone who cares enough that he would risk his life
For the love of what he's come to believe.
But you say that a man like that wouldn't last in a world like this
Well, I believe that the world won't last
If a man like that don't exist

As the years went by, we wore out almost every album released. I am glad I was able to hear him in concert a few times. One was at Six Flags in St. Louis - on a youth group trip (his opening act was Steven Curtis Chapman who had a fabulous mullet at the time). I remember him singing "Screen Door" with the cup trick!

In the summer of '97 (right before my senior year of high school), Rich and the whole Ragamuffin Band did several concerts at a youth conference I was at (CIY). It wasn't a huge conference, and the whole group of musicians was on the campus for a few days. One afternoon, I saw Rich walking across the campus by himself. I worked up enough confidence to go over to him and say, "thanks for your music." (I was a shy kid.) He was really gracious. I've always been glad that I got to see him that summer - to hear his music and to be able to simply thank him.

Random tidbit: Rich Mullins is also how I got into Caedmon's Call. Their cover of "Hope to Carry On" is how I started listening to them.

I vividly remember coming home on September 19th, 1997. I walked in the door, and my dad was watching the evening news. He told me that Rich Mullins had died - and I didn't believe it. The car accident happened on an interstate only an hour or so north of us. It was a horrible accident, and I couldn't believe that he wouldn't be writing or recording anymore. So sad.

During college, Rich continued to be one of my most-listened to artists. His Jesus Record (demos and covers) was released one year after his death, which happened to be when I headed off to college. I listened to that CD a lot. My freshman year roommates called one of the songs "the Jesus-loves-the-whores song." To be fair, the lyric is "the whores all seem to love Him," but I never corrected them. I think it's safe to say Jesus does love the whores.

It's hard for me to pick favorites - but Winds of Heaven...Stuff of Earth and Never Picture Perfect would probably be some of the most solid albums for me. Everyone always says Liturgy, Legacy is the best - and that one is really amazing too. Those other ones just don't get enough love. "Somewhere" (which is what I named my blog from) is what I've always labeled as my favorite song of all time. The aforementioned Jesus record has amazing songwriting too. If you don't know "Hard to Get" - you should.

Rich Mullins was no saint. Nor was he the most amazing musician that ever lived. But I am SO grateful that he wrote music that brought out both the hard and the beautiful parts of life & faith.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Reasons why I'm excited about Caedmon's Call's newest album, Overdressed, which was released this week:
  • They've historically been one of my favorite groups. They haven't released an album in a few years. (There have been multiple greatest hits and even a worship album that only kinda count.) I have pretty much been waiting for new stuff since Share the Well.
  • Derek Webb decided to be a part of the group for this album (writing and musically). I'm really hoping to catch one of their spring tour dates, because (due to really unfortunate timing for several concerts) I never got to see them live when he was in the band the first time around.
  • Andrew Osenga helped write a lot of the album. I loved his songs on Share the Well - and then got into some of his solo stuff (and Normals stuff). I really dig his songwriting AND his electric guitar/high harmony skills. [If you don't have it already, I really recommend his free downloadable EP - Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1]
  • Bryan from has been liveblogging about the CD release since Monday - and it has been very fun to see/hear. I really like the details about the individual tracks from the CD - and the video clips.
  • One of the video clips from the LiveBlog: Live Cover of In God's Country

I am enjoying my first 20 or so listens...(it's on in the background at work)...and I may review it later. Right now, I'm just happy to have a new Caedmon's album!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Random Thoughts, Summit Notes, and Links

  • In the past few weeks, I have found my free time dominated by marathons of America's Next Top Model. I love TV reality competitions (see: Project Runway, American Idol, and lately Top Chef Miami). This one is super-cheesy AND it involves Tyra Banks (who is so horribly self-obsessed). And yet - I can't seem to get away!
  • I'm still not over Harry Potter. I can definitely sense the hype dying down, but I'm still excited to read reviews and ponder the full storyline. Here's one review of the 7th book - by Stephen King.
  • A couple of weeks ago, I was able to attend a satellite site of Willow Creek's Leadership Summit. This is the 2nd year I've gone, and it was excellent. Some highlights:
  1. Marcus Buckingham - My friend Melissa has sung his praises for the past few months, and he definitely did not disappoint. His big idea: putting your strengths to work - to increase the amount of time per day you play to your strengths and to manage around your weaknesses. To really do this, you have to identify your specific strengths. He suggests carrying around a pad of paper with two columns - I loved it & I loathed it. Another assessment is to finish this statement: "I feel strong when ________."
    "And the day came when the risk it took to stay in the bud outweighed the risk it took to blossom." -Anais Nin
  2. Colin Powell - He basically listed lots of "Powell Principles" - things that he has learned and implemented as a leader. The ones that stood out to me: Only People Get Things Done - spend a third of your time on the plan and then allow two-thirds for people to carry it out; Reward Your Best Performers/Get Rid of Non-Performers - when things are going poorly, the good performers notice first and are demotivated; Things Always Look Better in the Morning
  3. Richard Curtis - a British filmmaker and activist for human rights causes. This video interview was beautiful and powerful, and I doubt I could really do it justice. I felt bad trying to take notes - I really wanted to just take it in. It was really challenging to see how committed he is (as someone who doesn't have his faith figured out yet - in his words) to telling a better story.
  4. Bill Hybels' final talk on inspiration - that probably deserves its own post, actually...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Anticipating the Kingdom

This is from a daily thoughts and reflections devotional from Madeleine L'Engle I'm using right now - and I liked it a lot.

Thy kingdom come. That is what co-creation with our Maker is all about, the coming of the kingdom. Our calling, our vocation, in all we do and are to try to do is to help in the furthering of the coming of the kingdom - a kingdom we do not know and cannot completely understand. We are given enough foretastes of the kingdom to have a reasonable expectation. Being a loved and loving part of the body; praying together; singing together; forgiving and accepting forgiveness; eating together the good fruits of the earth; holding hands around the table as these fruits are blessed, in spontaneous joy and love, all these are foretastes.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Worship Link of the Day

I've meant to plug the different worship blogs that I have linked, but haven't gotten around to it yet. However, today I added a new one - From my first glances, it seems to be a regularly updated site that highlights and links to many other worship blogs. Looks pretty exciting.

But the big reason I'm excited about it is this:
I found a free mp3 download of a new song I heard last week by Laura Story (who wrote "Indescribable"). Here's the link to the download (though they warn that it won't be available forever.)

The song is "Immortal Invisible" - which is obviously inspired by the hymn of the same name. However, it's not a hymn re-write. It basically takes those two words (immortal and invisible) and expounds on them in the verses; the chorus praises God for being the God of forever. It's really easy to learn, so I could see it being really great congregationally. Also, I've been really fixated on the eternal nature of God lately - probably because of the Gloria prayer (Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Austin Awards

As I sit in O'Hare Intl Airport waiting for my delayed flight, reflecting upon a week in the capital city of the Lone Star State, I'd like to thank a few people I got to meet and acknowledge some other things that contributed to a memorable stay in Austin.

  • Biggest hit to my ego: A tie - Austin's frontage road system AND massive thunderstorms. I have frequently said how much I love navigating new cities, but both of these made me want to take it all back. Honorable mention goes to the guy from the hotel who tried to give me directions when I was very frustrated/on the verge of tears. Sorry about that.

  • Most consumed beverage on airplanes: Tomato Juice. I never ever drink tomato juice, but apparently I'm the only one. Virtually everyone around me drank this on the flights. Am I missing out? I'm curious...but not curious enough to try it.
  • Best non-living travel companion: Harry Potter book 7. I read the bulk of the Deathly Hallows on my trip south. I really didn't care about the strange looks from strangers as I laughed, cried, and shook my head as I read it for the first time. I also enjoyed re-reading large chunks of it today on my way home.
  • Biggest cricket ever: The crickets in Austin. Speaks for itself.
  • Southern hospitality award: Becky, the stranger who took my friend and I back to our car when we were hopelessly, utterly lost in a park at 10:30pm. When I told you I wished I could repay you somehow, you said to tell people how nice people from Austin are. Becky - I don't know about everyone else in Austin, but YOU. ROCK.

  • Best local food I tried: Tie - Chuy's and Amy's Ice Cream. To be fair, these were the only 2 local places I had the chance to visit - but they were both super good and very unique.
  • Austin's best attempt to redeem itself from a week of torrential rain: The huge double rainbow over the hills on Wednesday night. The hills were really pretty, and the rainbow was AWESOME.

  • Airport I don't want to see again for a long time: Chicago O'Hare. I spent an extra hour there on my way south (though I had Harry Potter to keep me company). So far today, I've been here 3 hours and won't leave for at least another hour.

All in all it's been a memorable week. Here's hoping I'll be home soon!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Notes and Thoughts from the Conference (so far)

This week I'm in Austin, TX at the National Worship Leaders Conference.

For the sake of sharing and processing, here are some assorted notes, sound-bytes and thoughts presented rather randomly. If something here doesn't have enough context to make sense or you'd like to talk about it more, let me know.

  • Scotty Smith: "Rather than turning the audience into god, let us turn to God as our audience"
  • Constant theme for me this summer: authentic worship brings justice and shows mercy in practical ways (see Zechariah 7, Amos 5)
  • I'm not a big fan of the multitude of moving images behind worship song lyrics - a little goes a long way. I also find that I am paying more attention to the images than the words (and they are rarely syncronized thematically).
  • Fernando Ortega + string quartet + meditative worship = refreshing
  • Shaun Groves: Analogy of our old self vs. our new self - It's like having 2 dogs. Which do you feed and which do you starve? This can be a practical self-examination question. If I do this/watch this/say this/etc., which dog am I feeding?
  • To be authentic as a worship leader, don't ignore your struggles (God's power is made perfect in our weakness)
  • Ross Parsley: Discipleship happens in doing ministry together (not just over coffee). Purpose bonds people.
  • Ross Parsley: analogy of worship as coming around the Family Table - when people from multiple generations are there, it shapes what happens. Church shopping is weird because in life, people don't choose their families. We must be concerned about the whole family, not just with what we like.
  • (More Ross Parsley) Discipleship process:
    You Do - They Watch
    You Do - They Help
    You Help - They Do
    You Watch - They Do
  • Marva Dawn is much better to listen to than to read (so you can see her whole personality & see/hear her heart for God)
  • Marva Dawn: "I'm not opposed to new songs...if they're theologically sound and musically singable."

There's more I could say - but it's been a tiring week...and tomorrow's the last day of the conference (and it's a full one). Hopefully coming soon: stories from my attempts to navigate Austin.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Midsummer Favorites

Summer goes FAST. Here are some of my reviews of what I've seen/heard/read this summer (so far - there is still plently of fun to be had).

  • Movie:
    I didn't expect this, but Ratatouille is by far my favorite movie of the summer. I had heard it was good, but I enjoyed it SO. MUCH. If you have seen it, I would love to talk to you about it and see what you thought. If you haven't, then I highly recommend it. I thought it was a beautiful film with a lot to ponder and enjoy. I am not into cuisine/food that much, but I connected to it as an artist quite a bit.
  • Worship CD:
    I got a worship CD from Mars Hill Church in Michigan (where Rob Bell preaches) a few weeks ago. It is a breath of fresh air. It's a recording from a local church - there's lots of spiritually rich content, the music is good and designed for congregational singing, it's fun (lots of different styles), and there are a lot of great original songs. You can listen to it streaming online - and all of the chord charts/lead sheets are available online for free. Great great great.
  • Book:
    This one's harder - because I've started several books - and have finished very few. (I'm still working on Harry Potter - and the Dan Kimball book I mentioned a few posts earlier.) I'm still going to say Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton - though I'm not far into it. I've already discovered that Rich Mullins had to have read this book (there are some definitely references to Chesterton in his lyrics).

And while I'm at it, here are some other things I'm excited about lately:

  • Playing in the municipal band. While this is a major time commitment, it has felt good to get back into the groove of playing with an ensemble. I'm also getting to meet lots of new people. It's amazing to play alongside people who have played their instruments and played in this ensemble for decades. We've played a wide variety of music so far & it's fun to play for the family (grandparents!) and friends who are loyal enough to endure the heat!
  • The Africa series at church. I knew it would be exciting, but it really is cool to be challenged by what's going on in another part of the world and pray together as a church about how to respond.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Toronto Travel Journal #4

I really wish I had a more creative format to this whole travel journal, but I am not feeling particularly inspired. My apologies.

Another day in Toronto, another day of shopping and eating!

The girls walked around the University of Toronto - which had some fabulous, old architecture. The forecast today was for rain, but there was barely a cloud in the sky. We took lots of pictures of the campus buildings & definitely hit up the bookstore. Not too far away was an upscale shopping area - Yorkville. The main street had the large, super fancy stores (Tiffanys, Louis Vuitton, etc.). We parked a few blocks in and walked around for a while. It ended up being a reverse of yesterday - Mary was really tired and Mom & I could've shopped much longer. We had especially good luck at a yoga store (Mary got a swimsuit & I got ridiculously comfortable - and cheap - flipflops) and Roots.

Probably my favorite stop of the day, however, was Pusateri's - a food market. It didn't look like much from the outside, but it was an upscale grocery in the heart of this neighborhood. It was amazing to walk through.

Tonight was another fancy meal - this time at Morton's - a steakhouse. It was excellent (especially dessert). On the drive home, Mary and I hopped out of the car because we saw that the Toronto Jazz Festival was still happening. We couldn't really see the people playing - it was housed in a tent (for the people who purchased tickets). We could, however, still hear a bit. We walked around for a while and took our time walking back to the hotel. I was glad we got to walk down Queen Street West one more time - it's a fun neighborhood that we've walked through almost every day here. Mary has been kind enough to let me use her camera on this trip. Tonight I took a picture of The Fat Belgian (just one of the restaurants nearby - including Joe Mamas and Hey Lucy). It's exciting to walk around a big city at night when it's still very much alive.

Tomorrow's the final day of vacation. We're going to attempt to get up a bit earlier than we have been. Plans are to hit up Tim Horton's one last time, visit the Casa Loma, and then head home.

See y'all in the U.S.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Toronto Travel Journal #3

Today was a hot day in the lovely city of Toronto. Mom, Mary, and I made some special memories - starting at Urban Outfitters (and all of their AMAZING Saved By the Bell t-shirts), then trying to find a Goodwill Store (that had been torn down), visiting a super cool Market, shopping every place we could find, and eating at Quiznos.

You might think that after all of this fun that we'd call it a day. But not us! We ventured to a new part of the city (Chinatown) to find Kensington Market - home to lots of vintage shops. Mary needed to go there. The heat, some blisters, some construction, and some map-reading deficiencies slowed us down....but we prevailed (just barely)! Fortunately, our hotel serves Diet Dr. Pepper.

Then tonight we got dressed up and were treated to a super-nice dinner at the top of the CN Tower. Despite the fancy surroundings, we remained true to our Clampton roots - eating too much, laughing a lot, and taking lots of pictures.

Quotes of the day:

  • Bethany: "Hey guys, look it's a Flatiron Building!"
    Mary: "That's not a flatiron"
  • Dad: "Look what I got today. I got a bag, a pen that lights up, a yellow sucker...and an iPod shuffle!"
  • Girl who gave Dad the iPod shuffle: "It plays music."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Toronto Travel Journal #2

It's late & I don't have too much to document, so I'll do bullet point highlights from the day.
  • We slept in and ate at Tim Horton's for breakfast. Good donuts.
  • It was a gorgeous day - and we walked around & shopped most of the day.
  • We tried to find the PATH (an underground walkway with shops that goes around a large section of downtown) - but the entrance we wanted to use was being blocked by the bomb squad. We will try it another day.
  • I had my first international driving experience. It was only 10 blocks or so. I feel empowered.
  • Mary and I were on our own tonight. We compromised on food choices - Subway for dinner and crepes for dessert. I had a dark chocolate and banana crepe...very nice.
  • Mary noticed an Umbra store - I'd seen their products in stores back home, but it was cool to see a bunch of their stuff in one place.
  • At Umbra, I found this book - "Toilets of the World" - it was actually pretty fascinating. A store employee saw me looking at it and said it was one of her favorite books.
  • I'm definitely getting my big city fix - which is a very good thing. The fact that it's a city outside the U.S. is a big bonus.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Toronto Travel Journal #1

I'm on vacation, kids! Pretty exciting. I'll try to keep a bit of a travel journal of all of the interesting things we do and some snapshots of the family fun.

After the 3 services this morning, Josh was kind enough to drive me to St. Louis through torrential rain. He also got to see me get stressed about not getting to the airport on time (I'm a bit high-strung when it comes to traveling by air). Good times so far...

I was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis to Chicago O'Hare leaving St. Louis at 3:51pm (Central) - connecting to Toronto by about 9pm (Eastern). I got to my gate in plenty of time - just to see that they'd changed my gate number. At my original gate number, I noticed a flight departing at a nearby gate that was going directly to Toronto. I chuckled about how much faster that flight would make it to Canada. Not too much later, the airline attendant paged a passenger with my last name for that flight. While my last name is pretty common, I thought - I'm a high-strung traveler - maybe I should just make sure I'm not doing the wrong thing. I went up to the counter and told the lady why I was confused. She somewhat listened, but quickly said, "Well, do you want to go straight to Toronto?" I was a bit surprised - but after a few questions, a lot of fast work by her (including getting my bag switched), and a text message to my family that I'd be coming sooner than planned - I was on a direct flight to Toronto! How cool is that?!?

(I landed in Toronto at 6pm Eastern. Turns out my flight out of Chicago was delayed and didn't arrive here until 10:35pm Eastern.)

So I got to walk around downtown Toronto and eat dinner with my family tonight - and already, I'm VERY impressed with this city. It's really clean, very pretty (right on the lake), and we've already seen some serious shopping potential. Yay vacation!

Other quick notes from the day:
  • Mary: "I left my pillow and blanket in the car because Dad didn't want me to carry it through the hotel lobby looking like the Clamptons."
    Bethany: "The who?"
    Mary: "The Clamptons!"
    Bethany: "You mean...the Clampetts?"
    Mary: "Whatever"
  • Note to self: wearing Illinois apparel will make you friends in large cities - even internationally (though the thousands of engineers in town doesn't hurt the odds). I made a friend on the airport shuttle who went to the U of I - and met another random Illinoisian in the restaurant. I was not surprised by this in Chicago (with my awesome orange and blue scarf) - but I didn't expect it in Canada

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's Right in My World

I just returned from 7 straight days of traveling (an unusual occurrence for me). I've been in several states for several reasons - but it's been really great. The first part of my trip (to Indiana and Kentucky) provided me a chance to relax and be with the Spear clan. I caught my first fish (there are pictures - will share if/when I am able) and went tubing for the first time. The second leg was the Willow Creek Arts Conference which is something I always look forward to. I got home tonight and my brain feels very full. The theme of the conference was Hallelujah: What's Right with the World - and I just wanted to process some of what I experienced. (To see some pictures taken at the event - not by me - go here and here.)

  • I am always challenged at Willow about the value of building relationships with non-Christians. This conference was no exception. Part of that message came via Dan Kimball, who talked about his new book, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church. After talking with lots of people outside the church, Dan came up with 6 things that people frequently think about the church - and I think he's right on in voicing these common hang-ups. I think a lot of these are big issues for people and I'm excited to read the book and dialogue with some people about it.
  • I got to see the arts team from Mosaic (a church in LA - where Erwin McManus teaches) twice at the conference. They have a dance/performance group, and I was reminded again of how much dance (especially when done with high skill and passion) moves me in a way I can't really explain. The dancers are able to express emotions in such a visible way that I wish I could come close. So amazing.
  • The Blue Man Group and their weird version of audience participation/engagement. Also, biggest toilet paper party ever.
  • A commitment to tell a better story with my life and to tell the best Story.

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That's burning up inside
(Sara Groves)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Praying with the Church

When it comes to reading, I have some definite habits. I don't mind reading non-fiction if its something practical (work or school or just interesting), but it rarely grabs my attention in a way that makes me unable to put it down. It usually feels like work to make it through a non-fiction book. Fiction, on the other hand, has a way of getting me to stay up all night reading and to take the book with me everywhere until I'm finished with it. I've been that way ever since my teen days (Christy Miller, anyone?) - and experienced it last fall with the Harry Potter series. There are times when I'm jealous of people (Melissa) who get jazzed about reading things that are very practical. Rather than read about church or ministry, I like to travel and escape and explore through books! Can you blame me?

However, this past week, I got this book ("Praying with the Church" by Scot McKnight). And I didn't want to put it down. I've messed around with fixed prayers for the past few years (which I've blogged about before). I think it appeals to me because it's different from what I grew up with - and it incorporates practices from church history that are rich theologically. What's great about this book is how simply McKnight gives the history of fixed prayers (from Israel's practice to Jesus and the first Christians, then through Christian history), makes a case for how they can be formative spiritually, and discusses how to get started in a very practical way. I love that he's from an evangelical perspective that stays away from this type of prayer; consequently, he handles the common reaction that people from that background can have (it's too Catholic, can be insincere, etc.).

A common theme for this approach to prayer is creating a rhythm of prayer that gives structure and centeredness to our days. And by praying prayers like the Lord's Prayer, we join Christians throughout the world (and throughout time) who are praying/have prayed the same thing.

So, I started doing morning and evening prayers again this week. I've already been blessed and challenged by it. I use Phyllis Tickle's volumes, The Divine Hours. Here's a hymn that she included that just blew me away (especially after praying the Lord's Prayer several times this week):

“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
You taught us, Lord, to pray,
But you alone can grant us grace
To live the words we say

How can your pardon reach and bless
The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrongs and will not let
Old bitterness depart?

In blazing light your cross reveals
The truth we dimly knew:
What trivial debts are owed to us,
How great our debt to you!

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls
And bid resentment cease.
Then, bound to all in bonds of love,
Our lives will spread your peace.

-Rosamond E. Herklots

Monday, April 30, 2007

Why I don't like country music.

If someone asks me what kind of music I like, my standard answer is, "Virtually anything. Except country." There are times when I wonder if I should say that. I really do enjoy most music. Some people include rap in the list of music they don't like - but I have to say that there are some rap songs I enjoy. (Not the super gansta variety - but I'm not categorically opposed to the genre.) But I do draw the line at country music. Perhaps I should clarify - it's more a distaste for mainstream country. Bluegrass and folk music - I have NO problem with. In fact, I've been discovering those genres more and more in recent years. But the question persisted, am I being overly judgemental?

Maybe I dislike country music because I didn't grow up listening to it. Or maybe because of all those 4H parties Bruns invited me to in college (long story).

But perhaps I'm hypocritical. I like the Dixie Chicks & some Martina McBride. And I have attended a Shania Twain concert (but I didn't buy the ticket). And Carrie Underwood is good (but of course). Then, not too long ago, Brandi put a Lyle Lovett song on a mix CD - and I really liked it! So, I wondered if I should reconsider my general dislike.

Then, about a week ago, I was driving through rural Illinois. The only stations that I could get were country stations. I submit to you 2 songs that I heard:

Exhibit A:
Yeah, an' I like my women just a little on the trashy side,
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed.
Too much lipstick an' er too much rouge....
An' I like my women just a little on the trashy side.
From "Trashy Women" - by Confederate Railroad

Mmmmmkaaaaaay. Not the greatest song ever. But, I'm a fair person. There are bad songs in every genre. But then, literally, the next song I heard was...Exhibit B. I'll start the lyrics from where I heard the song start (I had switched over to a different country station).

Exhibit B:
You know every guy in here tonight
Would like to take you home
But I've got way more class than them
Babe that ain't what I want.

'Cause I'd like to see you out in the moonlight
I'd like to kiss you way back in the sticks
I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers
(And at this point, I'm thinking...see...this is a much sweeter song. I was wrong to judge country music. But! Then the song continues...)

And I'd like to check you for ticks.

Excuse me?
Did he just say that?
Unfortunately, I heard correctly. ("Ticks" by Brad Paisley)

And I think I said to myself, outloud, "and THAT is why I don't like country music!"

Saturday, April 21, 2007

This post especially for worship ministers in Spfld - and - anyone else who still reads my blog

So - I was talking to a friend this morning - who teased me again for neglecting my blog. Daniel, when we spoke, I neglected to tell you about the post I made yesterday, although I'm sure it might not count as an official post (since it's mostly just talking about not posting and then giving a link). I'm sorry about that - but hopefully 2 new posts count for something.

My question - which is open for anyone who might be reading - is what should I blog about? I feel this pressure that my blog should be high quality. However, I will forego that if it is popular.

Possible options include:
  • The french horn
  • Stevie Wonder
  • TLC's What Not to Wear
  • American Idol
  • Shopping
  • My spring mix CD
  • Or...another topic of your choosing

(I know it's all pretty much fluff. I'm okay with that.)

So...let me know what you think.

Friday, April 20, 2007

It's been a while - aaaaand I'm lame

So, when asked, I've been saying I haven't been feeling the blogging thing lately. It's true. I don't think I've had much to say/share. UNTIL NOW! (just kidding)

I actually just wanted to share an article that my dad sent me this week. It's long - but really worth the read.

Pearls Before Breakfast

It's a story about a famous violinist who participates in an experiment - he played (incognito) in a DC subway station during rush hour. Peoples' reactions were interesting. I'd say more...but it's really just worth reading. (I know...lame blog entry...but you can't accuse me of false advertising.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Six Weird Things about Me

I was tagged by Brandi - so here goes!
  1. I am generally anti-condiment. If I have a choice, I'd rather not have ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. I was a picky eater as a kid (which I have definitely grown out of). But now I think it's more an issue of consistency than taste. I just don't like cold, wet things on burgers, sandwiches, etc. Some people might call it boring - but I say I'm a purist ;o)
  2. I have only experienced real anxiety in one specific situation - canoeing. It's the closest thing to a phobia that I have...and it's definitely irrational. I have canoed a total of 5 times in my life (once with family and then a bunch of times with the church youth group). It's not tied to a traumatic experience, nor is it a fear of water. There's something about the perceived instability of a canoe that really freaks me out.
  3. I memorized the entire McDonalds commercial from the 80's where the girl is playing Fur Elise in a piano recital and thinking about going to McDonalds afterwards. I'll sing it for you sometime if you'd like ("how I wish I were already there, instead of here, I hate this song...and then I would have a chocolate shake, a cheeseburger, and also - woops- and also fries...and I would eat the fries myself and not give any to my dumb brother...").
  4. If I need some time to myself, I take a long drive around town - but inevitably end up in Chatham (usually without intending to). Several of my friends know this, because the car is one of my favorite places to talk. So they've ended up in Chatham with me.
  5. I often sleep with one arm above my head. (To clarify [Kara] - that means resting on my pillow above my head - not in the air.)
  6. I've never had a cavity, I've never broken a bone (besides a pinkie toe - doesn't really count), I've never had stitches, I don't wear contacts/glasses, and I never had braces. (However, I've always wanted glasses - I thought they'd make me look smart. I hope someday I'll need some reading glasses.)
That was harder than I expected. I know there have to be weird things about myself that I'm forgetting - yes?
(I admit, after reading several of these [Brandi, Kari, Andrea] I'm starting to think that it's weird that I DON'T type or sign along with songs or thoughts!)

And I am tagging just a couple people - Kara & Bethany B.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Springfield in the spotlight

It was a little odd to see my hometown in the national media today. Mr. Obama decided to use the historic Old State Capitol as the location to announce his presidential candidacy - which brought quite a few people here this weekend. I was listening to AM radio in my car this morning and heard a Springfield DJ interviewing international media who were here to cover the event. Pretty amazing. It made me proud of my hometown and home state.

However, it the middle of all of the excitement, I came across an article written by a writer from the local paper. It's sobering - and yet it provides some perspective on the issue of race in Springfield. It's true we're the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, but we're also home to an infamous race riot just under a century ago. Here's the link to the article - It's Not a Day to Forget Our Shame.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

and everywhere I go I see...

I don't go see movies in the theater very often, but the past few movies I've seen in the theater, I've had an odd experience.

Example 1: Last December, I went to see The Holiday with some girl friends (it's a chick flick - w/ Kate Winselt, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, etc.). We weren't too far into the movie when all of a sudden (to my great surprise) - John Krasinski shows up on screen! (If you don't know who that is, he plays Jim on The Office.) Well, I got excited and said to my friend Kara, "I did NOT know he was in this movie!" As it turns out, he was only in one scene. I looked for him the rest of the movie, but he wasn't there. (Sadness.)

Example 2: This week, I finally made it to see Dreamgirls (I like a good musical, and it was a childhood ambition of mine to be a backup singer in a girls group). It was a pretty fast-paced movie - we're going through decades and singing and having fun. Then, over 2/3rds of the way through the movie - "Wait a second. What is Jim doing in THIS movie??" He was playing some artsy/hippie assistant to John Lithgow in one scene. I don't think he had any lines - but I don't really remember because I was so surprised that he was in Dreamgirls. Is it just me, or does that not make any sense?!? I was just waiting for him to look directly into the camera and make a goofy face (probably referring to Beyonce's outfit).

So, I'm thinking, what other current movies could Jim show up in? At this point, not much would surprise me.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Randomness & links

If you're anything like me, you've probably had some conversations/opinions about Christian radio. I was really interested to see that Christianity Today is starting a series of articles discussing Christian radio - its history, demographic, method of picking songs, and its future. The first installment is here.

I finally downloaded Sandra McCracken's hymn album today; I like it. Lots. You can stream it and read about it here.

A cool video made by a church up in Naperville here. (I give credit to the children's ministry staff for forwarding it to me.)

And a random observation - the total number of Sufjan tracks I've listened to on is 666. Kinda creepy, no?

Oh - and LOST is taking over my life. The Joshes and I are trying to catch up before the new episodes start next month (we're more than halfway through Season 2). Unfortunately, I still haven't seen the 2 latest episodes of The Office (the Christmas one or the one from last week).

Friday, January 05, 2007

Love Alone

Have you ever realized that there is a recurring theme in your life?

Lately, I feel constantly reminded that God is in the small things. And if I'm not watching Him, I may miss what He's doing or what He wants to do.

The Christmas season can be distracting in its flashiness and hectic pace, but the story of God's coming is in direct contrast. The devotionals I read and the "messy Christmas" worship series frequently spoke of how simple and poor Christ's birth was. Aside from Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, and Eastern magi, it was not noticed at the time.

I also had a spiritual moment yesterday during a hospital visit. An elderly man (who is in hospice and unable to communicate) wouldn't let go of my hand after I prayed with him. It's hard to explain, but I had this moment where I was reminded that when we serve, we serve Christ. It's a reminder that I need.

Then yesterday, I ran across this poem in one of my Advent devotionals. (From the author, I realized that they're actually lyrics from Amahl and the Night Visitors, which I had purchased a CD of for Spear's birthday last fall. These words are sung by one of the kings on his way to worship Christ.) It challenged me with this same idea...

The Child we seek
doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone
he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter,
his haloed head will wear no crown;
his might will not be built
on your toil.
Swifter than lightning
he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life
and receive our death,
and the keys to his city
belong to the poor.

-Gian Carlo Menotti