Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: For the Record

As this year is ticking quickly to a close, I felt it was time for me to put in my 2-cents about the music of 2011. I’ve seen many other best of lists, and wanted to throw my voice into the ring as well.

Anyone who knows me personally from time spent working together during my broadcasting career, or who serves side-by-side with me on the church worship team, or only knows me casually through Facebook posts, will know that I love music… but beyond that, I love to discover new music and introduce others to it. It’s like a second language for me. I monitor new releases every single Tuesday and utilize and Spotify to listen before I buy in my search of treasured projects. I love to be part of the smaller market share, on the cutting edge … U2 was my favorite college band while that’s all they were, four young college-age kids from Dublin with a couple of records out that had some great spiritual lyrics. I’m actually often saddened and ready to move on if and when my discovered artist wins the favor of the populace … not because I enjoy them less, but because I fear they will no longer be true to themselves enough to remain special and original and will instead make music that they’re told will sell to the masses. U2 has been the one exception. While the band has evolved and gone through musical seasons of style, this year they hold claim as the biggest touring success of 2011, and yes, I still follow them whole-heartedly as my favorite artist of all time.

Another artist whom I discovered two years ago when she was 19 and chasing pavements, added millions of fans this year with her release of 21. Adele’s 21 has become the biggest selling album of the last seven years and has enjoyed 43 straight weeks in the top five of the Billboard 200, setting a record for most weeks in the top five in the chart's 55-year history. Adele has a charm that’s undeniable; she offers no pretenses, other then displaying some occasional insecurity in her vulnerability to sing about her failed relationships at such a young age. That, I believe is why people love her so much. While this ability to relate gains the staying power of her fans, their original interest is in her voice, which alone is the instrument and in need of nothing else to make her music memorable. There was really nothing else like it on the radio in 2011. To make that case, "Someone Like You" is the first piano-and-vocal-only ballad to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Adele has nearly single-handedly turned around the music industry after 2010 saw album sales fall 13%, while sales averaged an 8% drop every year in the 2000s. In 2011, the industry experienced a 1% increase in album sales and more than a 3% increase in overall music sales. Michael Buble's holiday album sold almost two million records in the last several weeks to become the second biggest album of 2011 while Lady Gaga is expected to end up with the third highest seller. Gaga has only sold half of Adele’s sales even with the suspected inflation of sales during her album’s first week when Amazon sold digital copies for 99-cents.

So how does this have anything to do with my personal best of list? It lends clarification to why I have the top-selling record of the year, a popular artist and project, as my top record of the year as well. Otherwise, my selected Top 20 for 2011 list shares only 5 other records that generated enough sales to chart in Billboard’s Top 200 … and only 1 of those was in the top 100 (sales rank appears in parenthesis).

I won’t speak of each one individually, but having always felt that Charlie Peacock was underappreciated as a musical genius, I am very pleased that he garnered success with The Civil Wars. While Barton Hollow may not have charted high in sales, Jill Williams and John Paul White have gained tremendous attention and are ending up on many end-of-year best of lists. I find it ironic and disappointing that Charlie was not able to enjoy this success as producer within the Christian music industry. Congratulations to Charlie for his new success. Hopefully, he will experience even more.

My first 7 albums were extremely difficult to rank as all are amazing projects and deserve your ear. I would love to hear your thoughts, your disagreements, and your feedback on which of your favorite projects should have appeared on my list.

I can’t wait to discover even more great music in 2012!! Anyone care to join me?

1 Adele/21 (1)

2 The Civil Wars/Barton Hollow (153)

3 Gungor/Ghosts Upon The Earth

4 Fleet Foxes/Helplessness Blues (123)

5 Tedeschi Trucks Band/Revelator

6 The Black Keys/El Camino

7 Over The Rhine/The Long Surrender

8 Iron & Wine/Kiss Each Other Clean

9 Florence + The Machine/Ceremonials

10 Robbie Robertson/How To Become Clairvoyant

11 Coldplay/Mylo Xyloto (35)

12 Bon Iver/Bon Iver (100)

13 Death Cab For Cutie/Codes And Keys (143)

14 My Morning Jacket/Circuital

15 Steve Earle/I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

16 Eisley/The Valley

17 Jamie Grace/One Song At A Time

18 Ben Harper/Give Till It's Gone

19 Bruce Cockburn/Small Source Of Comfort

20 Amos Lee/Mission Bell

(Honorable mention: Peter Bjorn and John/Gimme Some; Edwin McCain/Mercy Bound; Tom Waits/Bad As Me; Needtobreathe/The Reckoning; Ben Harper/Give Till It’s Gone; Owl City/All Things Bright and Beautiful; Cake/Showroom of Compassion; Eddie Vedder//Ukulele Songs; Gregg Allman/Low Country Blues; Sam Phillips/Long Play project)


Culturally relevant thinking points

"Culture Shift" is a collection of essay-type chapters taken in part from the author's blog and adapted for this book, filled with talking points, or perhaps what are more accurately described as thinking points. In his first book, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, covers topics ranging from abortion to natural disasters to the role of the Supreme Court to dishonesty to popular entertainment to political shifts to racism ... and a few things in-between.

In his introduction Mohler states, "We must first understand our culture and its challenges because we are to be faithful followers of Christ and faithful witnesses to the gospel. We are called to faithfulness, and faithfulness requires that we be ready to think as Christians when confronted with the crucial issues of the day. This is all rooted in our love of God." A better understanding of the culture in which we live makes us more relevant with our message and the methods of communication we employ as believers. It's best to take these topics one at a time and think through their implications upon people of faith.

A highlight of the book is the chapter where Mohlers offers five theses for understanding the relationship between Christian morality and public law! They are:

1) A liberal democracy must allow all participants in the debate to speak and argue from whatever worldviews or convictions they possess.
2) Citizens participating in public debate over law and public policy should declare the convictional basis for their arguments.
3) A liberal democracy must accept limits on secular discourse even as it recognizes limits on religious discourse.
4) A liberal democracy must acknowledge the commingling (mixing together) of religious and secular arguments, religious and secular motivations, and religious and secular outcomes.
5) A liberal democracy must acknowledge and respect the rights of all citizens, including its self-consciously religious citizens.

Another highlight is the chapter on the age of dishonesty, discussing the cultural acceptability of lying by renaming it as misspeak or exaggeration. How the culture has shifted!

Be informed, become more relevant and stretch your thinking with this very important work.

I received this book for free for review from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Destiny Unto Death; Martyr By Grace

The title says it all, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy." What other character in history do you know that was all of these? You'll be hard-pressed I'm sure, if you can think even of one.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" is a thorough and detailed glimpse into Dietrich Bonhoeffer's childhood, relationships, theology and ultimate destiny as an executed martyr of The Third Reich.

"Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" is extremely well documented with letters and writings by himself and others. Many of these letters are while he was in prison between himself and his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer. Unfortunately the two would never be together again outside of prison and never see their dreams fulfilled for a life together.

Through author Eric Metaxas's biography, we learn how Bonhoeffer felt spiritually justified in his participation as a double-agent and key contributor in the strategies to kill Hitler. It was Hitler himself, who just weeks before his own suicide, ordered the execution of Bonhoeffer.

This biography allows readers a complete look into Bonhoeffer's life from the days before his birth all the way through complete words delivered in sermon at his memorial service.

Ultimately we come away with a view of this man, who died at only 39 years of age, as one who knew God's calling on his life and allowed himself to be used knowing the potential risk and ultimate cost.

The doctor present at his death said this: Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

"Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" was recently named "Book of the Year" by the ECPA, won the 2011 John C. Pollock Award for Biography awarded by Beeson Divinity School and a 2011 Christopher Award in the Non-fiction category. It is certainly not a read to be accomplished in a few sittings, but is so full of historical documentation and writings that it is certainly a worthy read and guaranteed that you will learn something new about Bonhoeffer, Hitler or both ... likely the latter.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Mother and son ... both back home.

This book’s biggest impact, other than the actual story, is the format that alternates chronologically-written brief chapters by Christopher Yuan and his mother Angela Yuan. Really, it tells two stories of God’s redemption as the book begins with Christopher revealing his homosexuality to his family which brought his mother Angela to such desperation she decided upon suicide. The writings reveal the “divine” happenings along the way God used to reconcile the family to each other and to Himself, as well as the mother’s heartbreaks as her son’s path led to criminal activity with drugs and imprisonment. So gripping is the mother’s tough love, that she was willing to accept anything it would take to bring her son back to her and to her God … and she prayed daily for it to happen. In the end, jail may have saved Christopher’s life. Angela prayed: “I’ll stand in the gap for Christopher. I’ll stand until the victory is won, until Christopher’s heart changes. I’ll stand in the gap every day, and there I will fervently pray.” Ultimately, her heart changed too and she learned to love her son for who he was, even without evidence of any change that she hoped for.

Homosexuality used to be just a word to me, a term that I knew dogmatically what I believed… but slowly God started bringing people into my life that put many faces on the word. Some of those friends may be reading this. This is not the forum to debate – even discuss - what I interpret God to say about homosexuality and what He has shown me through these friends, any more than it is the place to talk about things in my life those friends may differ on. I do want to share here the conclusion that Yuan arrived at. In the chapter “Holy Sexuality”, Yuan writes: “As I continued to read the Bible, I realized that my identity shouldn’t be defined by my sexuality. Paul said in Acts 17:28, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Christ should be everything – my all in all. My sexual orientation didn’t have to be the core of who I was…My identity was not “gay” or “homosexual,” or even “heterosexual,” for that matter. But my identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone.”

Today, HIV continues to weaken Yuan’s body and immune system and he may begin taking medication soon. He teaches at Moody Bible College and is part of the President’s Task Force on Homosexuality.
I highly encourage you to read this book … you’ll be amazed as you experience God’s mercy, grace and redemption in two of His greatly loved children.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Why New Atheism is Fizzling Out...

If you pick up Alister McGrath's book "Why God Won't Go Away" in hopes of getting a discourse on the merits and rationale behind Christianity, you won't. Instead, his work is more of a "situational report" (to borrow a term from another reviewer) on the state of New Athiesm. McGrath writes says "It's not my intention to argue the case for the Christian faith in this short volume, yet I can hardly fail to point out that the common Christian understanding of human nature over the last two thousand years is that we possess, and are meant to possess, a homing instinct for God."

The bulk of the work is spent dissecting the writings of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, atheist best-sellers who are commonly referred to as the Four Horsemen. McGrath sorts through the arguments of these men and identifies the weaknesses in their beliefs and positions, often finding their foundation unstable and often based on myths or facts taken out of context.

New Athiesm began to take prominence in position after 9/11, when a small group of people fanatically schemed such a horrible attack on our country, all in the name of their religion. The conclusion is drawn therefore that religion is violent, dangerous and deluded, yet there is no consideration given to violent men of history who made no claims of religion or belief in a God.

Another irony is that God often gets blamed for all the bad things in the world and "who would want to believe in a God like that"? Well...if an atheist believes that God does not exist, then he or she has no other way to explain away evil acts other than the depravity of man. You can't blame a god you don't even believe in.

Another point to consider is that New Atheism may not be as prominent as we are led to believe by media attention and spin. Events are attended by few, atheist blogs now regularly feature "agonized reflections on the failure of the movement to gain intellectual ground", and more books are being published asserting the reasons for Christian belief.

Sometimes the mission of these new atheists backfire. McGrath closes the book with a story about a young man who decided to learn more about God and ultimately give his life to Him after reading Dawkins' "The God Delusion". He says he found it unfair and one-sided so much so that he wanted to know what the other side of the story was... he says, "Without Dawkins, I would never have given God a second thought." This work is a worthy and easy read because as a believer it's always good to know what those who disagree with you are thinking. If you are not a believer, maybe you'll end up like the young man just mentioned when you dig a little deeper. After all, McGrath, the author, is himself a former atheist.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Maybe AC/DC was wrong and it's not the highway destination to brag about...

Francis Chan's new book released Tuesday, Erasing Hell, is not an easy read. Well, it is easy to complete as I did so in 2 days. It is not easy to enjoy or embrace.

The book is in answer to recent writings which suggest the doctrine of hell should be reconsidered since it is difficult to reconcile a God of unconditional and everlasting love, with a God of wrath and eternal damnation. Much of Chan's work is in direct response to Rob Bell's March-released work Love Wins. Many have labeled Bell a Universalist because of numerous of his comments, and the questions raised in his book. He challenges the reader to consider that love ultimately wins and that all will come to God eventually, even possibly after death. Hell is more about the injustices of the here and now than a future place of torment for unbelievers.

I have read both works and Chan's is much more thoroughly researched, even using writings from Judaism that represent Jewish thought and beliefs which were common during the time of Christ. Biblical references are considered in full context and relevance yielding stronger conclusions than Bell was able to accomplish convincingly.

A couple of my take-aways...

1) No one can know the answer to the questions posed with 100% certainty but conclusions can certainly be drawn that are uncomfortable. Yes, there is a hell and though it was created for the devil and his angels, people we know and even love will end up there. So, what are we doing about in response?

2) It is OK for us not to like it, for us to want not to believe in such a terrible place. However, we must understand that we aren't going to think like God because we aren't God, but rather a being created by God. The prophet Isaiah writes in chapter 55 (vv. 8-9) that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not like our own. We may not 'want' to believe that hell is the consequence for failure to accept God's Son and His sacrifice, His gift of love and grace, but 'can' we believe it ... just because He is God?

Chan challenges the reader to stop apologizing for God. After all, does a work of art ever get the opportunity to apologize for the artist? Chan writes, "Like the nervous kid who tries to keep his friends from seeing his drunken father. I have tried to hide God at times. Who do I think I am? The truth is, God is perfect and right in all that He does. I am a fool for thinking otherwise. He does not need or want me to "cover" for Him. There's nothing to be covered. Everything about Him and all He does is perfect. Yet sometimes from our human perspective, its tough to see exactly how..."

Chan summarily concludes that "God, as the Creator, is free to do whatever He sees best, He is compelled by none other than Himself."

Before you turn away thinking 'I wouldn't have done it that way' or 'Why would I want to believe in that kind of God?', consider a few final words from Chan. "Would you have thought to rescue sinful people from their sins by sending your Son to take on human flesh? Would you have thought to enter creation through the womb of a young Jewish woman and be born in a feeding trough? Would you have thought to allow your created beings to torture your Son, lacerate His flesh with whips, and then drive nails through His hands and feet?"

Doubt it that I would have. I'm glad I'm not God, and you should be just as relieved.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

If you could be any... animal?

If you could be any animal, which would you be? Remember that game? Maybe there's more to it.

Ever feel like you're prey, being stalked for the great kill by circumstances of life?

Stefan Swanepoel, born in the Serengeti (Kenya, Africa), has written a compelling life/business fable called "Surviving your Serengeti". While this was an easy read, application of the skills discussed will help one to navigate the Serengeti of life. Swanepoel takes visitors to his homeland on a journey, observing seven significant animals. He says that 'while the challenges faced by those that live and die on the Serengeti plains are certainly in a different realm than ours, the seven survival skills that the animals use to overcome their harsh conditions can help us rise above our own adversities and live a better life.' Readers learn about the endurance of the wildebeest, strategies of the lion, the enterprising crocodile, the gracious giraffe, the efficiency of the cheetah, the risk-taking of the mongoose, and the communication skills of the elephant. Fable aside, what we learn about these animals helps us see the beauty in God's creation and design. We learn very interesting facts about each.

After studying the seven animals and their unique survival skills, the question is posed "which animal are you?" What is your unique survival skill? It's the "one you would default to if you were one of the animals living here on the savannahs of the Serengeti."

Me? I'm an elephant. I love to make sure that all are moving in sync through great communication.

Having trouble knowing which animal you are? There is a quick quiz at

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Average Joe or G.I. Joe?

Ever feel like just a John Doe, or Jane Doe? Like just an average Joe?

The good news is that God chooses and uses the average Joe and converts them into a G.I. Joe when they least suspect it. The catch? They must be found ready and willing... not necessarily able. Much like reading through Hebrews 11 which reveals how many men (and women) were key parts of God's story simply because of their availability, their place in time, and their faith; Meeder uses exampls from the Bible as well as real-life current stories of family and friends to show how God can use us. His encouragement is that we not allow ourselves to be frustrated by the normal and the mundane, but instead to realize it is part of who we are in God's calling. We should be looking for those we can mentor, whether it be our children or a co-worker, a friend, and even has advice for those perhaps too young still to feel they can be a mentor...

"And don't think you have to somehow be a perfect man of God! No, just be an honest, grateful, growing man of God -- still in process. On the other hand, if you are younger, full of promise, and lacking gray hair, then listen up: find a mentor.... walking shoulder to shoulder with men of age and faith brings balance to imbalance, peace from chaos, and wisdom out of foolishness." Meeder is vulnerable and honest in his writings from the heart, sharing much he has learned in the journey and what God has shared with him. His work will be a blessing to your life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who's missing more? Reader or Author?

Truth be known, I had a hard time looking at the cover of this book each time I picked it up to read. Whether it was personal guilt from knowing that I had two arms and two legs, or disappointment with God that He would allow this seemingly cruel condition, or both, I struggled. By the end of the book, I realized that I was lacking more than Vujicic who had made peace with his imperfection. No, it wasn't easy at first, as Vujicic shares the struggle his parents had at his birth to accept him as their child, as well as the time he thought about jumping off the kitchen counter at age 10 in a suicide attempt. Still, as Vujicic grew in his relationship with God and learned to make the most of what he could not control, he grew in his acceptance of who he was and now includes humor in his writings and his public speaking... like asking a lady to give him a hand, having a friend place him in the carry-on compartment of an airplane to welcome fellow fliers or riding the luggage carousel at the airport just for fun. Vujicic embraces positive thinking throughout his story and encourages the reader to be intentionally ridiculous in the risks taken.

He writes:

But each of us has the capacity to add our own flourishes, to pursue our purpose, our passion, and our pleasures with reckless abandon and ridiculous enthusiasm... I've recounted my adventures as an airplane carry-on and an airport carousel rider, as a scuba diver and a stunt-man, as a fisherman, a drummer, and an orchestra conductor. My question to you now is: If imperfect me can have that much ridiculous fun, if I can push the limits and enjoy life so fully, what about you? ... dare to be ridiculous, and you will be ridiculously happy.

One of his favorite quotes comes from Marilyn Monroe and sums up his thoughts. "Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring."

His stories, his life and his challenges will help you stop feeling sorry for yourself no matter what your story or condition is and will inspire you to do ridiculously more with your life. So, go for it!

Videos of Vujicic's first movie role in "The Butterfly Circus" and interviews/speeches can be easily found on YouTube.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lite-Brite and Salty!

Despite the play on words (and spelling) that's the kind of world we should be leaving behind as Christians, especially as next Christians... one that has been lit up and salted.

I've always thought that if we could boil God's occupational responsibilities down to two requirements, they would be to 1) Redeem His creation and 2) Restore His creation. Seems He is always doing one or the other ... even if not always obvious at times.

In "The Next Christians", author Gabe Lyons makes note of the passage in Luke 4 where Jesus is quoting ancient texts that proclaim His annointing to proclaim good news to the poor, fredom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Lyons says "In other words, Jesus is saying, 'Enough of what is; I see things in terms of how they ought to be, and I'm here to do something about it'. Conclusion? So are the next Christians.

Next Christians are provoked to do something about changing their world, and not always with a religious slogan or identity posted somewhere. Next Christians serve for the common good, they join together in community to make a difference instead of isolating themselves. They don't work at jobs, they serve in vocations which they see as "occupational placement" for God's "greater mission." They are embarrassed by false representations of the Gospel and communicate "something authentic and true through their lives that gives pause to those who encounter them." They "create culture that promotes beauty" giving others a glimpse of the beauty of God.

Basically, true Christianity means we choose to be part of the world we are in and become part of the solution to make the world what it ought to be through being the salt and light that Jesus spoke of.

Lyons is great at giving many examples of people who have made very specific, sacrificial decisions to be part of this surge that is under way, but is careful to point out that first things must be first. Jesus Himself said to "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added." Lyons feels we must first and foremost relearn the Gospel story, "recovering the theme of restoration that runs throughout the whole of Scripture." The Gospel is: beautiful, redemptive, faithful, demanding, reconciling, all-powerful, restorative, atoning, grace-abounding, soul-quenching, spiritually fulfilling good news of God's love.

We must first be restored before we can help to restore our friends, neighbors or community.

This book will stir you, convict you, encourage you, challenge and inspire you. I dare you to read it. Just be careful though, because if you do, you may get a little too salty and make others around you a bit thirsty!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thanks Coach!

A review of Coach Wooden by Pat Williams.

Last October I was fortunate enough to hear Pat Williams address the student body of Liberty University on the “7 Sides of Leadership”. This made the decision easy when I learned he had authored this work on the leadership principles of Coach John Wooden, one of America’s most successful college coaches, having led UCLA to 88 consecutive wins, ten NCAA championships, and 38 consecutive NCAA tournament victories before his retirement in 1975. He coached many players who later played in the NBA. While I expected this book to be a refresher of Williams’ speech, even with the overlapping concepts, I was left with the challenge of implementing additional disciplines in my life. Williams’ 7 Sides of Leadership were to:

  1. Have a VISION
  2. Communicate your VISION
  3. Possess People Skills
  4. Understand that Character counts
  5. Have Competence
  6. Possess Boldness
  7. Lead with A Serving Heart

Williams writes about the great influence Wooden had on all those around him, making it clear that his list was directly influenced by Wooden’s 7 life-shaping principles:

  1. Be True To Yourself
  2. Help Others
  3. Make Each Day Your Masterpiece
  4. Drink Deeply from Good Books, Especially the Bible
  5. Make Friendship a Fine Art
  6. Build a Shelter against a Rainy Day by the Life You Life
  7. Pray for Guidance and Counsel, and Give Thanks for Your Blessings Each Day

My favorite of the seven is to “make each day your masterpiece”. While working in radio, I used to have a co-worker who would close each newscast with “make it a great day”. It sounded odd to me years ago, but now I get it. It means ‘make each day your masterpiece’. Don’t just passively ‘have a great day’ but understand that the quality of your day depends on you, it’s something you initiate.

Another most impressive take-away from Wooden is his relationship with his father, who is referenced at least 100 times in the book. Once Wooden was asked how he would like to be remembered at the end of his life and he answered without the slightest hesitation, “I would like to be remembered as a man who came as close as possible to being like my father.” What an amazing legacy.

This easy-read will both challenge and inspire you, sports fan or not. I highly recommend it and leave you with some additional Woodenisms:

  • The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.
  • Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.
  • Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.
  • It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  • Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Christian "Twilight"

I grew up watching Barnabas Collins on "Dark Shadows" so I have nothing against a good vampire story. In fact I enjoy them. However, mostly due to the hype, I have not seen the Twilight series. Still, while reading "Tandem" I could not help but tie its theme to the popularity of those books/movies. The problem I had with the book was that it jumped around a lot which made it challenging to follow. Once the reader learns that and presses on, the reading is enjoyable.

The story takes place in a small town in the south with murders and the apparent death of the killer in a house fire. Lauryn, who runs a family auction house, is busy caring for her father suffering from Alzheimer's disease. When Amede, a vampire alive for hundreds of years, receives a package from Lauryn, she hopes it will help her find her long long and estranged sister Eden. Thus, her visit to Abby Hills where these murders and animal deaths are taking place.

Vampires who are considerate of other humans and shy away from feeding on their blood? Vampires with morals? Well, sort of. If you're expecting Christian vampires or a clear presentation of the 'good news' however, the closest you'll come is in the final pages where this dialogue takes place:

*Amede (the vampire) gathered a breath and held her book close to her chest.

"There has to be something more. My father believed that something more was God."

"What do you think?" Lauryn's voice held no mockery and Amede could see she was listening.

"Think? You mean do I think reformed vampires get to go to heaven?"

She shrugged. "Maybe. Perhaps it's time to put Thomas Aquinas's theory into action. Better to believe in a redemption and go in that direction -- and by that I mean stop drinking even animal blood and let myself die like my fahter -- than to not believe and find out in the end after it's too late for forgiveness."

Lauryn observed her silently. "I truly hope you find what you're looking for, Amede."*

Certainly this book is an interesting concept, but the style of writing was not among my favorites. Albeit may be an unfair comparison, but if I want to read Christian-based fantasy I will still prefer C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien.


"Tandem" was written by Tracey Bateman, 320 pages, published by WaterBrook Press, released October 5, 2010. ISBN-10: 0307457176, ISBN-13: 978-0307457172.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Book Review: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain - Kevin Nelson

While I expected something more, I'm glad I took the time to press through the more difficult parts. Up front, when author Kevin Nelson approaches the subject he does so with the assumption that our brains developed over years of evolution. Still, he goes into great detail - much of the book actually - about how amazingly our brains work.

One example: "You are not actually “seeing” Mona Lisa when you look at the painting. The light reflecting off the canvas gets only as far as the retina on the back of your eyeball. The retinal image is upside down. The eye and brain convert the image to nerve impulses that are transmitted to the occipital lobe, where they are fabricated into a mental image; turning the Dora Maar of brain activity into the Mona Lisa of experience."

The other significant part of the book is spent discussing Near Death Experiences, comparing them to dreams, and raising the questions about whether NDE's are actually dreams during a super-REM state or whether they are "spiritual experiences", citing lots of studies, some conducted near-by at UVA in Charlottesville.

He makes this statement: "whether we think the brain creates an illusion of God or believe it is a receptacle for something untouchable and absolute, we should be able to agree the brain is the seat of spiritual experience." I was hoping for more "proof" from the book that we are born with a "God-shaped hole" that is part of the make-up of our brain but again much time was spent on NDE's and whether they are "proof" of a spiritual element in our brain. The Bible tells me that "eternity is written on the heart" of every man. That's where the God-shaped hole really is. One very interesting fact through testimony of those who "almost" died is that at that point, the body/mind relaxes and one does not feel pain but becomes calm and at peace. This must be a gift from God for each of us when the time comes to make that journey from this world to the next, His grace upon us as we leave.

Overall, I recommend this book, even if it is just out of curiosity that a neurosurgeon would be seeking evidence for "God" in our brains. Nelson concludes: "Whether to induce the experience of the divine is a decision too important for medicine to make alone. I can see these possibilities and so much more, glimmering ahead, still out of reach but getting closer. We are all of this world, and my experience optimistically compels me to believe that understanding the brain as a spiritual organ strengthens our quest for meaning and complements a mature spirituality. My deepest hope is that this quest will ultimately bring us to a new birth of wisdom."

Wisdom, we knew, comes from God, who gives it to all men who ask Him.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Back into Blogging

So I haven't been to this page in a little while, mostly focused on using Facebook and Twitter. However, I would like to get this page current with the others during this calendar year. Whenever I post about my music, my books, my media discoveries .... I shall plan to carry them over here as well. ... just in case anyone was following this page and not already one of my friends or followers.

Currently I'm reading 'The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain' ... a fascinating book about how our brain works and whether there is room in its design for faith! Will share more later.