Herculean Tasks – otherwise known as Senior Projects

My son, Austin, has a task he must undertake. Like any ancient hero of old, this task must be completed in order to advance “beyond.” In his case, it’s called a Senior Project.

Students at Shallowater High School, here in Shallowater, TX, must complete a project their Senior year. This project must be something that they would not have done otherwise. Something that will stretch them a bit. Something that educate them in a new field… and they must invest at least 18 hours into the project.

In her Senior year, my daughter chose to turn the animated movie Mulan into a staged musical, complete with full cast, props, arrangements of the songs from the movie and sound effects. Her project took over 250 hours and was a big success.

My son also chose to venture into the arts. Being a child of the millennial age, he has grown up watching more YouTube than broadcast television. It came as no surprise that he wanted to create a YouTube channel of his own music videos. Voilà! A senior project is born.

Each senior must enlist the help of a mentor in the process. Austin was able to recruit one of YouTube’s more popular artists, Justin Robinett, as his mentor. Justin has been very helpful and as I write this, Austin is finishing up the mix on his 3rd video. He has two more to go to complete his project.

You can find Austin’s videos on his YouTube channel – ProbablyNotAustin. But for your enjoyment, I present his 2nd video in the series… Don’t Worry be Happy by Bobby McFerrin.

The End of an Era and the Wheel of Time

WheelOfTimeAnd so an era comes to an end.

I started reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan in the early 90’s. Last week… over two decades later… I finished the 15th and final book in the series. I find myself already missing the world of Two Rivers, Tar Valon and Andor.

If you enjoy fantasy fiction and are ready for a real reading challenge, The Wheel of Time is waiting for you. The series includes 15 books (one of which is a prequel that was written toward the end) and 11,916 pages. Would you rather listen to the audio books? No problem… it’s only 461 hours and 25 minutes long. That’s over 19 days of non-stop listening.

The Story

Before you jump in, let me tell you a bit about the series. First off, the scope of the story is so far reaching it is impossible to sum up in one page of writing. It starts off simply, focusing on just a handful of people in one geographic area called “Two Rivers,” a small hamlet in this new fantasy land. Before all is said and done, Jordan takes you through a multitude of lands, countries and continents exploring their culture, customs, people and leadership/royalty. Not only that, Jordan introduces you to over 700 characters, the majority of which have recurring roles. It becomes increasingly hard to keep up with who is doing what. He must have kept copious notes to be able to craft such a detailed landscape and cast.

In the time in which the novels are set, humanity lives under the shadow of a prophecy that the Dark One (Shai’tan) will break free from his prison and the Dragon will be reborn (Rand al’Thor) to face him once more, raining utter destruction and chaos on the world in the process of saving it from the Dark One. The Dragon Reborn is accompanied, mostly, by his companion ta’veren (those born with unnatural, influential luck) – happy-go-lucky Matrim Cauthon and blacksmith/wolf Perrin Aybara. Also coming out of Two Rivers and intertwined with the three in the story are Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara. These two go on to be extremely important characters throughout the storyline along with Lan Mandragoran, the Uncrowned-king of fallen Malkier, Moiraine Damodred, an Aes Sedai sister of the Blue Ajah… and 695+ other people. As I said… this is a challenge. The series moves ever so slowly toward Tarmon Gai’don, or the Last Battle, which is the topic of the final book (A Memory of Light).

The Author

Oliver Rigney, Jr., under the pen name Robert Jordan, released the first book in the series (The Eye of the World) in 1990. He wrote voraciously, releasing one novel per year through the first seven volumes… keep in mind that each book averaged around 800 pages. After that, he slowed to one volume every 2 years. In late 2005, Jordan was diagnosed with terminal heart disease. From that point on, he worked tirelessly to finish up his notes on the direction the series was to take. He wanted to make sure that his story was finished utilizing the vision he had set. After his death in 2007, Jordan’s widow chose Brandon Sanderson to complete the anthology. Sanderson stepped up to the plate and hit a home run, expanding the outline for the final book into 3 full novels to completely flesh out the story that Jordan had begun.

It’s hard to adequately express the scope of this series and the job Jordan has done. As with anything even approaching the size, there are slow moments in the series. Some books are better than others. Some are shorter, but not many. All in all, it’s a great ride and I would strongly encourage fans of the genre to read it. Most likely, if you enjoy fantasy fiction, you’ve probably already read it. Even if you’re not into fantasy, give the first book a shot. It will hook you.

If you like e-books, this is where you start. I will end with the quote that appears at the beginning of every book of the series:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not a beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

Acappella Classic’s Last Concert… of 2014

George and gangMarch 7, 2014 was a fun night. I had the wonderful opportunity to take the stage once again with many of my old friends. Acappella Classic was in concert in Longview, TX and the joint was definitely jumping.

I was joined by founder Keith Lancaster, bass Rodney Britt, lead vocalists George Pendergrass and Steve Maxwell, baritone Robert Guy and tenor Kevin Schaffer. As far as I can tell, this was the only scheduled appearance of “Classic” in the 2014 calendar year.

The event took place on Friday evening, but most of us arrived around lunch on Wednesday. The next couple of days were packed with rehearsal, laughter and food. It’s really hard to get anything done when all these guys get together. We spend way too much time laughing and telling old stories.

The event was a full house. We sang at Pine View Church of Christ, which officially seats 750 or so. We had 850 or so in attendance. It was one of those nights that you just hope the Fire Marshall doesn’t show up. It probably would have blessed him if he had, but only for as long as it took him to shut us down.

As usual, satan always throws a hitch in the plans. We conducted a quick sound check on Thursday evening… without lights. Friday afternoon, we cranked up the system (with lights) and promptly started blowing fuses. After 3 different attempts with 3 miniature explosions and a couple of busted speakers, the system was finally working. We didn’t get a chance to sing on the system until 5:30, with doors opening at 6:00. In other words, we didn’t really get a chance at all.

That proved rather interesting, as there were several songs that we never had a chance to completely rehearse. One, in fact, that I don’t think we ever sang until that night. Sure, we’ve sung them all many times before… but it’s a bit different with each configuration. Memories fade over time.

Consequently, we made some mistakes. I don’t think most of the crowd even knew it, though – unless someone realized that we completely skipped the bridge of Criminal on the Cross. Or sang the middle section of Holy City twice. Roll with the punches… that’s about all you can do.

For those interested here is the set list for the evening:

Longview setlist

That set list is pretty accurate with one exception. After Teaching the Truth in the first set, we immediately launched into For the Lost. It was basically one long song. They fit together very nicely.

Also, thanks to Randy Lamp for the concert shot. That’s me that you can’t see standing right behind George. Lord willing, this will not be the last time you see us together, but who knows?

LCU MasterFollies 2014 Results

MF2014Facebook is increasingly becoming a great place to have group chats, usually within a single comment. Here is a single comment with the stream of conversation that happened all within a few minute’s time. Got an event coming up that you know will pull an online audience? Try Facebook and see what happens!

To read the conversation and see the results, hit the “xx Comments” button in the lower right hand corner.

The Church and the Art of God

finger of god

God creates.

He is the ultimate artist.

We are made in God’s image.

The Church should do more to reflect God’s artistic nature.

There. That could be my entire post in four lines. So you can stop now if you want. But I will continue.

I’ve been reflecting on the role of the arts in our corporate worship and church community. Certain events have spurred my thinking on this, events such as a Gungor concert (which was an amazing event in itself), a recent letter from our church eldership addressed to the youth committee, my work in the studio for Chasing David and similar work with my quickly-growing children (now 18 and 20) as they pursue their artistic endeavors through music and video.

I was raised in a church community that was cerebral-oriented. Sure, we had pretty good singing (it was an a capella church), but for the most part the focus was on teaching. Education was king.

Don’t get me wrong. I think a thorough examination of scripture and growth in the Word of God is of utmost importance. The trouble is, our church (and I feel 90% of the rest of the churches in America) spends an overwhelming majority of their corporate worship and bible class time catering to those who need some form of spiritual mental exercise… or at least those who think they do because that was the way they were raised.

With the notable exception of a few churches like Willow Creek (Chicago) and North Point (Atlanta) and their associated churches, our church experience on the whole seems to neglect the creative arts. Yes, we may have a few good songs during our worship time and they are meaningful and moving. And often formulaic. Maybe that’s not bad. Maybe musical liturgy has a place. But I digress.

The depth and breadth of what God has created is astounding. He paints such beauty across the sky in a west Texas sunset or sunrise that it’s almost breathtaking. The mountains that stretch across our continent are sculpted with a dramatic precision which nothing can come close to matching. The movement of weather patterns across the world is an intricate dance of material that is at once impossible to hold and powerful enough to level towns. The ebb and flow of ocean currents crashing against our beaches and shoreline create movement and flow that is simply mesmerizing.

And this is only what we can see. Until relatively recently, there were a multitude of astounding works of art that were only visible to the eye of God. The Hubble telescope has opened a vista of majestic art millions of light years from our tiny world, art that boggles the mind. For whom was that created? The flow of blood within our own bodies and the way it interacts with our musculature and skeletal systems… for the most part, this is still beyond our view without massive disruption of living tissue. Who gets to see this amazing interplay? The dance of uncountable atoms bouncing off each other in everything… the essence of all existence… who gets to stir that paint? Who gets to mix that clay?

Don’t even get me started on the music of creation. It is everywhere.

Again I say, God is the ultimate artist. We are made in the image of God. We are a people made to paint, mold, draw, dance, flow, interact, sing, and play. The ultimate offering of praise is to return our painting, molding, drawing, dancing, flowing, interacting, singing and playing to One who made it all and finds it beautiful.

What does that look like in our church community? I have some ideas, but I’d like to hear you tell me…

Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church

I ran across an excellent article by Manuel Luz, the Creative Arts Pastor for Oak Hills Church in Folsom, CA. I thought my readers might find it interesting and applicable. I hope you enjoy it. Please look at his bio below. He has much to say on this topic and more.

keep-calm-and-practice-7-habitsMy last blog post, 81 Things You Can Do To Be A More Artist Friendly Church, is easily the most popular to date. Thousands of you hit that post, and I appreciate the many reposts and comments and likes. I think it’s because it hit a nerve for many artists of faith, as well as those who lead them, both inside the church and out.

I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a short list of principles and practices that drive the list. I’m not big on “How To” books and articles without also understanding the deeper, more substantive “Why” issues. Because without a proper understanding of the foundational tenets, you can just as easily misunderstand, manipulate, and abuse the artist of faith instead of encourage, disciple, and applaud them. So here’s a short list of driving principles and practices behind becoming an Artist-Friendly Church.

1. Don’t Treat Artists of Faith Like Commodities

I was talking to a friend recently and I mentioned that I often mow my neighbor’s lawn. We both agreed that it was a good thing to do, one of those simple acts of being Jesus to those around us. But then he added, “So do you think you can get him to go to church?” I replied kindly, “I don’t mow his lawn because I have an agenda for him. I mow his lawn because it’s the right thing to do.”

The evangelical church, steeped in centuries of pragmatic modernism, is utilitarian by nature. It is often results-oriented and agenda-driven—which are not necessarily bad things in and of itself—but as a result, it has a tendency to value the arts not for the sake of beauty and as an personal expression of faith, but as a vehicle for a message. In other words, the arts are seen as a commodity to be used, not as an expression of life lived in Christ.

If art is commodified in the church, so then is the artist. Too often, the church treats the artist of faith as someone who can be put to use. As a result, artists often feel used, taken advantage of, or valued only for their ability to further the agenda of the church. Musicians and visual artists are valued only to the degree that they fit into the worship service. Theatrical artists are only valued when the Easter or Christmas play comes around. And poets, dancers, sculptors, etc. often find no place at the table. Clearly, something is askew when artists of faith aren’t able to express themselves in their own faith communities.

But something different happens when you simply validate the artist that God made him or her to be, and encourage that person to dig deeper into that calling. Acceptance and approval is the two-faceted language which speaks to artists of faith.  The Artist-Friendly Church accepts artists for who they are, not for what they can do for the church. (Hit it here for a more in-depth discussion of this.)

2. Create and Lead Authentic Arts Communities

The calling of the Artist-Friendly Church should be threefold. One, be a venue for the art (a place, a way, and a time). Two, be an audience for the artist, for the church needs artists to fulfill their God-given role in the body of Christ, to reflect, to interpret, to express, and to inspire. And three, be a Biblical community with the artist, offering friendship, encouragement, training, and discipleship.

I really do believe that you must have all three of these to have a fully functioning arts community in your church. It is important to allow your artists to express themselves to the church, to give them venues and opportunities and audiences. At the same time, you can’t give artists carte blanche in your congregations either—That would be disastrous. Artists can be temperamental and self-absorbed and be quite demanding of your time. Artists are messy. But then, simply living in community is a messy thing.

Artists need grace-filled leadership in order to thrive, both artistically and spiritually. The Artist-Friendly Church has leadership that patiently and lovingly validates and encourages as well as grows and disciples the artist. Such leadership understands the importance of inviting artists into inclusive and authentic Biblical community.

3. Understand and Teach a Theology of Beauty and Creativity

When you think of the word “Creative,” do you think of God? For most, the answer is yes. Now, think of the word “Creative” again—does the word “church” come to mind?  Why not?

Deeply imbedded in the DNA of an Artist-Friendly Church is a foundational understanding of our place before God as creative beings. The first five words of the Bible describe God as the Eternally Creative One, and as we are made in His image, we are both endowed with a creative disposition and charged with a creative mandate. There is far too much here to cover in a blog like this, but let’s simply say the the Artist-Friendly Church has a well developed theology of the arts, and it undergirds all of it’s programs and ministries, from what happens in children’s classrooms and youth assemblies to what goes on in the worship service to what adorns the walls of the lobby. The Artist-Friendly Church indwells a vibrant expression of this theology, teaches it from the pulpit, models it in the services and programs, and spills it out into the community.

4. Uphold Excellence While Ruthlessly Ridding Perfectionism

No one doubts the power of the arts to emote, elicit, and engage. And sitting here at the beginning of the twenty first century, the modern church is once again beginning to see the importance of Excellence in the Arts. (See this link if you want to read more on the dangers of Christian art being mediocre, derivative, out-of-touch, overly sentimental, or propaganda-driven.) “Excellence,” as stated by Willow Creek Community Church, “honors God and inspires people.”

But there’s a huge difference between excellence and perfectionism. Excellence is an understanding that you are doing the best you can with the people and resources God gave you. Perfectionism is the unrealistic drive to try to attain an unattainable standard.  Excellence honors those artists of faith who seek to be excellent. Perfectionism dishonors artists of faith by creating unreasonable demands. Excellence is fueled by grace; Perfectionism is fueled by legalism. And some artists of faith, those who are already driven by these demons, often find themselves in an abusive relationship with the church when the church strives toward perfectionism.

We need to understand what the true product of ministry is. The product of a creative arts ministry, just like any other ministry, is the hearts of the people. Great art then is a by-product of hearts which are growing in Christ. The Artist-Friendly Church focuses on the hearts of the artists, not the art. But here’s the thing—it’s only when you focus on the hearts that you have the potential for ridiculously great God-honoring art.

5. Encourage Artists Of Faith To Go Out Into The World

One of the questions often asked to me when I speak on faith and the arts is this: “What do I do if there’s no place for my art in my church?”

And my response is typically not what they are hoping or expecting—for me to criticize the church. Instead, I remind that person that the church is not the end game. In other words, as Christ followers, we should always see ourselves as being called out to make a difference in the world, and that extends to our roles as artists as well. If that is the case, then we should also view our artwork as subversive expressions of the Kingdom of God.

Writer Andy Crouch rightly asserts that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it.” In other words, it is not enough to critique or copy or consume our culture.  To change culture, to make a difference in the world, we must also create culture. (For a more in-depth discussion, I encourage you to read this blog, Being IN the World.) So one of the roles of the Artist-Friendly Church is to be outwardly focused—to encourage artists of faith to boldly take their artistic expressions out into the world and let them shine.

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Churches are often hotbeds of criticism. You can never please everyone, and that’s a hard pill to swallow for senior pastors and elder boards, who naturally just want everyone to get along. So some churches adopt an unspoken culture of risk aversion. They avoid things that might elicit controversy or change. But a culture of risk aversion is a killer to the Artist-Friendly Church.

Artists are risk takers by nature. Whether it’s in the way they dress, or the way they express their art, or how they see the world, or even how they make a living, many artists are risk takers. Artist-Friendly Churches create a culture where it is safe for individuals and ministries to take calculated risks and originate change.

7. Finally…

At the expense of appearing self-promoting, much of this is discussed in greater detail in my book, Imagine Thatwhich I recommend as a resource for the Arts Leader, Artist of Faith, and especially for Small Group Study.

Also, I only had Six Habits, but I thought that sounded strange.

Manuel LuzManuel Luz is passionate about worship, coffee, the Oakland Raiders, and the intersections of faith and the arts.  A songwriter, author, speaker, and creative arts pastor, Manuel’s first published book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (Moody Publishers) is a practical and personal theology of the arts. Check out his blog, “Adventures in Faith and Art” (Manuelluz.com), or his four solo CDs (iTunes or CDBaby.com).

The post, “Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church,” is a follow up to the blog post, “81 Things You Can Do To Be a More Artist-Friendly Church.”

Choosing My First Concealed Carry Pt.2

As I mentioned at the close of Pt.1 in this series, my search was on for smaller options… a gun that could easily be concealed under my tucked-in shirt or in my pocket. I began researching the .380 caliber.

There is a plethora (love that word) of “pocket carry” .380’s out there. The more I looked, the less I liked. Every .380 I looked at or actually had an opportunity to hold seemed more like a pop gun. In some cases, even a toy gun… until I laid my hands on the Sig Sauer P238.

Sig Sauer P238

sig_p238_hdThe P238 is heavier than any of the other .380’s I’ve seen. That’s great, because it significantly lessens the recoil. The .380 may be a small caliber, but it can still kick pretty good in a lightweight gun. The P238 takes it without hardly a bounce.

It’s also the only single-action .380 pistol on the market (that I know of). All the other options in this line have double action-only triggers, and some of them have quite heavy pulls with a long draw. No fun for firing. Being single action, the P238 shoots like a dream.

On top of all that, this is Sig Sauer. Pretty much everything they put out is of extremely high quality. Even though the P238 is a small gun, it just feels right. It’s based on the Model 1911 and sits in your hand with that same substantial feel… even though it could disappear in a big hand pretty easily.

Needless to say, I was very impressed by the P238. Imagine how I felt when I found out there was a Sig in 9MM that was almost the same size?

Sig Sauer P938

SigP938Not much more can be said about the 938, as it is very similar to the 238. The frame has been increased in size to accommodate the larger 9mm round, but if the two guns sat side by side on a table, you’d be hard pressed to see the difference. Internally, the recoil spring is a flat coil, not wire, which allows for more coils and better energy handling. The only time you’ll see that is when you break it down for cleaning.

Otherwise, there’s not much difference. The 938 is slightly longer, but not noticeably so. Still, there is enough difference that a holster molded for the 238 will not work with the 938. The biggest difference comes once you pull the trigger. The 9mm packs a bit more punch than a .380, so your recoil is a bit more noticeable… but not overly so.

The P938 is almost the perfect marriage in pocket-size and power. You will pay for it though. This is Sig Sauer, after all.

At this point in my research, I realized I had made the circle back around to considering 9mm, so I looked at few more, including the Kahr CM9. It was October and time for the annual Lubbock Gun and Knife Show at the Civic Center. I thought that maybe I might be able to find a good deal.

The Choice

P238 DesertAnd so I did. After considering all the options available, I went in looking for either a Springfield XD-S, a P238 or a P938. There were hundreds of booths and thousands of guns available. The deeper I walked back into the displays, the more willing the salespeople were to make you a good deal.

I ended up with a Sig Sauer P238 Desert model. Since I was at it, the same dealer gave my wife a good deal on her gun. She prefers revolvers, but that’s another post. I’ve been carrying the P238 for months now and I absolutely love it. It makes the rounds from my pocket to my ankle to my tuckable holster with ease.

If you are in the market for a small concealed carry weapon, I highly suggest getting your hands on a P238 or P938. It may make you a true believer, as it did me.

The Acappella Show on Chap Radio

LCU-logo3I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on Lubbock Christian’s Chap Radio. Shawn Hughes brought me on for his program, The Acappella Show. We had a great time talking about the group Acappella, their history, how I became involved, my influences, the state of a capella music in general and many other passing thoughts. He sent me a copy of the show and I present it here for your listening pleasure. At least I hope it’s a pleasure. Save 30 minutes and give it a listen. Let me know what you think.

Choosing My First Concealed Carry Pt.1

Over the past 3 months, I’ve gone through the process of obtaining my concealed carry license and my first firearm. It’s been a long and laborious procedure.

Getting the license itself was not problem. I scored a 245 out of 250 on my shooting proficiency test and the written test was not a challenge. The extended length of the process was due more to my inability to make a decision and choose the gun I want to carry.

The weapon that I utilized to train and certify was a borrowed Springfield XD-M 9mm. I loved the feel and performance of the semi-automatic handgun, even though it had one FTE (failure to eject). Because of that experience, my research began centered on small, 9mm semi-automatics. I had no idea how dizzying the experience would be. I believed I had narrowed the field to three guns. In reality, it was only the beginning.

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Old Tech Ain’t Always Bad Tech

LG220CI consider myself to be slightly behind the bleeding edge of tech innovation. I’m not one of these guys who will jump on some new gadget the day it comes out, but I know about it and I’ll probably have my hands on it before too long. Being 50+ in age, I’ve seen my fair share of new gadgets. I remember well how amazing it was to have a fax machine and sit around staring at it waiting for orders to come in. And I fully realize that the smartphone I carry has more technology in it than Apollo 11 carried, and has had for several years.

That’s why I am slightly surprised how much I’ve enjoyed my new 5-year old clamshell flip phone.

“Le me splain. No. There is too much. Le me sum up.” My contract with AT&T has passed the two year mark, so I am free to either upgrade and get stuck for another couple of years, or go elsewhere. As I was considering my options, Google lowered their prices on the Nexus 4 by $100. That made the Nexus basically the same price as a new phone with new-contract pricing. I jumped.

I love my Nexus 4, but that’s another blog entry. As Inigo Montoya said, “there is too much.” I began to research options other than AT&T. They’ve been good to me and I’ve been with them almost a decade now. Still, they are pretty pricey in the grand scheme of things. After some research, I settled on Straight Talk as the best option for me, but I did not want to just jump and port my number into their system without some further testing.

Which led me to my clamshell. Straight Talk’s lowest level of service is called “All You Need” or something similarly silly. It includes 1000 minutes, 1000 texts and a pitiful 30MB of web access for only $30. That’s the equivalent of one meal at Montelongo’s for my family. I figured it’s worth a test.

I did not want to buy a new phone just to try their service. As I looked through their offerings, I ran across a refurbished LG 220C. It was free with the $30 one-month plan. Why not? I can try out a 2nd line for a month just to see if Shallowater and Straight Talk are a good fit.

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