Saturday, December 23, 2006

And To All A Good Night!

The presents are finally wrapped, and we'll be leaving tomorrow for our annual Christmas Tour de Bama. It certainly couldn't come too soon! Here are a few parting thoughts:

  • The Yellow Jacket basketball team delivers an early holiday gift: Georgia Tech beats UGA, 78-69. (The Jackets now lead the series, 100-83.)

  • In the latest installment of the Hog's Head PubCast, Travis recaps the important events that occur at Christmastime in each of the Harry Potter novels.

  • Jeff Meyers defends Christmas against uber-Reformed Scrooges.

  • Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my new favorite piece of Yuletide trivia. Santa Claus can be controversial in certain religious quarters, but the real St. Nicholas was a very cool guy. Not only was he known for acts of kindness and charity, but (according to tradition) he was also present at the Council of Nicea -- where he punched the heresiarch Arius in the face! So awesome.

  • And on that note, Merry Christmas!

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    Deathly Hallows?

    J.K. Rowling Announces Title of Seventh Harry Potter Book

    (H/T to Travis, who has some initial thoughts on the significance of the title.)

    Book Reviews in Brief (Very Brief, Even)

    I had heard some of the buzz about this book, and with the release of the film adaptation at hand, I decided to give it a read. The buzz: Christopher Paolini was home-schooled his whole life and completed high school (via correspondence) by age fifteen. Opting to delay college entrance, he began writing what would become Eragon. By the age of nineteen, his book made the New York Times Bestseller List. (As did the second installment of his planned trilogy, released in 2005).

    To be blunt, the book definitely reads like it was written by a teenager. It's not bad, but it would have been much better in the hands of a more mature writer. All the Tolkien-inspired staples of the fantasy genre appear with little adaptation, and hints of Star Wars are also present. (When young Eragon returns to his adoptive home to find it destroyed and his guardian uncle mortally wounded, I halfway expected to find stormtrooper tracks.) The dialogue is painful at times, and the frequent anachronisms in the writing kept pulling me out of the story. Nevertheless, Eragon was a quick read, and I'll probably check out the second installment. The movie, however, will definitely be a renter, due to the abysmal reviews it has received.

    The Catcher in the Rye
    Somehow I made it through both high-school and college without reading this book. After reading it, I don't feel like I missed anything.

    Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination
    Eugene Peterson's short work on the Apocalypse was both interesting and enjoyable. It is not an exegetical commentary, nor does it address many of the usual questions that stem from reading Revelation (i.e., what's the deal with "666," what about the Rapture, what is the nature of the millennium, etc). Rather, Peterson provides a series of meditations on the "last words" that John gives on topics including worship, the church, evil, judgment, salvation and heaven, with particular emphasis on the pastoral implications that the vision has for each. I was particularly impressed by Peterson's ability to tie the Revelation's various themes and symbols back into the rest of the canon. Even those not interested in the minutiae of eschatology will likely find this book edifying and stimulating.

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    An Early Christmas Present for Jackets Fans

    QB Reggie Ball Academically Ineligible, Will Miss Gator Bowl

    Taylor Bennett, this is your time to shine!

    Break a Leg

    Usually, when I hear of "drama" in a church service, I get nervous. You just never know what might happen. However, I wish it would occur more often in local church services if this is the type of drama to which they refer:

    Watch a dramatic performance of Hebrews 9 & 10.

    It reminds me of Bruce Kuhn, who I first saw at Urbana 2000. He and two other talented folks performed the Scripture readings for each session of the conference.

    If only there were more people using their gift of public speaking/drama to display the LORD's glory through such powerful presentations of His Word.

    If I remember correctly, a drama student at BSC did something similar at an InterVarsity meeting after we returned from Urbana, and I believe some folks at our old church attempted something like this one Easter Sunday, using a gospel account of Mary at the tomb.

    So, it has been done--just not regularly. Has anyone else had the opportunity to appreciate something like this in their local church?

    HT to Barb.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006


    I had begun preparing my acceptance speech for receiving Time's Person of the Year award for 2006 -- but I decided that if I accepted it, I wouldn't be in a good position to mock this selection as a total cop-out.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006


    For the past few years, my office has done a white elephant DVD exchange at our Christmas Luncheon. My track record has not been stellar, and that streak was continued this year when I brought this jewel home:

    Of course, my contribution was Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, so I probably deserved what I got. Maybe.

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Behold the Lamb of God (2006)

    Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God has established itself as an integral part of Team Redd's Christmas festivities. In addition to enjoying the album, we've also had the privilege of experiencing the Christmas musical live each year since its inception, including each of the Nashville shows. Each year's concert is magical, and this year's was no different.

    Nashville, TN -- 12/6

    For the third straight year, the Nashville concert has been held at the historic Ryman Theater -- an appropriate venue for the army of talented musicians that Andrew enlists each year. Writing a review of the show is an interesting task, since the show is basically the same each year ... but really it isn't. The performance of Behold the Lamb of God remains fantastic and fresh each time, and each year a different nuance of instrumentation or lyric catches my attention. Even the "in the round" portion follows a familiar pattern each year, from Andrew's "hobbit" references to Derek Webb, to the obligatory Andy Gullahorn comic relief song, to the displays of mind-boggling instrumental prowess by musical guests. But again, these well-worn grooves never become tiresome.

    Here are a few notes from this year's show:

    (Note: There are way too many guys named "Andy" involved with this performance, so Andrew Peterson will be designated as "AP." Also, some of this might be non-chronological.)

  • AP performed an opening song ("The Far Country"), and he then introduced the evening's format. In honor of the special evening, AP had written a limerick for each of the "in the round" performers. He assured us that the word "Nantucket" would not appear in any of his rhymes.

  • Derek Webb's introductory limerick referenced his successful journey with the One Ring to Mount Doom. Before playing his song ("A King & A Kingdom"), he explained that "in the round" is really just Nashville-speak for "if you hate the person who's currently playing, you won't have to wait long to hear someone else."

  • Sandra McCracken joined Derek for her number ("Shelter"). AP used her introductory limerick to stress the fact that Derek married up.

  • Randall Goodgame talked briefly about his latest collaboration with AP, a children's album called Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies. Basically, the album is to help kids remember that God made them, and also that they could be eaten by animals at any time. Randall sang "Bears," with BGV's provided by AP, Andy G., and Andy Osenga.

  • Eric Peters made a long-overdue BTLOG appearance, complete with his usual self-deprecating humor. ("[Playing with this assortment of talented musicians] I feel like a piece of spoiled lettuce in an otherwise delicious sandwich.") Of course, he then proceeded to belt out a terrific performance ("You Can Be Yourself").

  • Andy Osenga arrived at the show straight from the hospital, as his wife had given birth to their second daughter just two days prior. Osenga is an amazing dude, because he can flat-out wail, both vocally and on guitar. He delivered a great song ("New Beginning," with a few lines rewritten to align with his daughter's birth) and also indicated that he was returning to the hospital after the show, to take his new daughter home for the first time.

  • Andy Gullahorn lamented the fact that he was performing without his wife, Jill Phillips, who was vocally-impaired due to illness that evening. Nevertheless, Andy G. was terrific. He described his song "More of a Man" as being "basically about the feminization of man," noting how marriage and fatherhood have carried him far from his days of hunting and working on a farm, ushering him into the world of Dora the Explorer, salads, and Gilmore Girls on DVD. As with many of his songs, Andy G. makes the transition from comic to poignant almost seamlessly.

  • Ron Block, of Alison Krauss and Union Station fame, sang a rollicking country/Gospel number, with lyrics punctuated by blistering lead guitar breaks. He's just as phenomenal on guitar as he is on banjo (which is very).

  • Sara Groves played two of her songs. I'm not too familiar with her work, but I enjoyed her set.

  • Pierce Pettis also played a couple of unfamiliar songs, which were both really good. It has been a real treat to see Pierce join AP at the Ryman for the past three years. He truly is a brilliant songwriter.

  • After a brief intermission, Andrew and friends presented Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. If you haven't heard this album yet, you really have no excuse, since you can stream it through AP's website. This album highlights why AP is one of the finest songwriters around. Instead of taking a familiar approach to Christmas, AP begins in the Old Testament and establishes the narrative context for the coming of Christ. (Yay for narrative!) And it doesn't hurt that he has plenty of talented musicians to support him in the telling of The Story.

    In addition to the artists above, AP's band included Garrett Buell (of Caedmon's Call) on drums, Cason Cooley (as seen on Conan O'brien) on bass, a string section led by the illustrious Marcus Myers (of Silers Bald), Steve Hindalong on percussion, Josh Coffey on mandolin, Kurt Heinecke (of Veggie Tales) on various flutes and whistles, the superb Ben Shive and the incomparable Gabe Scott. (Ben and Gabe were probably tied for most instruments played during the night.) Part of the enjoyment was watching the ballet of seamless instrument transitions between and during songs. Sandra sang the lead vocal in Jill Phillips' stead for "Labor of Love," and she did a fantastic job. Actually, everyone involved did a wonderful job. With all the vocal talent available, the harmonies were lush and glorious. And the musicians had plenty of opportunities to shine, especially during the instrumental versions of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "The Holly and the Ivy."

    Each year, we often get asked why on earth we trek to Nashville to see a concert, and sometimes we end up asking ourselves the same question. But as soon as the show starts, we know the answer. And once the show ends, a new question forms: how long until the next concert?

    (As an added Square Peg Alliance bonus: we ran into Matthew Perryman Jones at dinner before the show. And I have to agree: McDougal's Village Coop has some of the best chicken tenders ever!)

    Fayetteville, GA -- 12/8

    Providentially, the question of "how long until next time" was answered quickly, as the BTLOG tour made a stop just south of Atlanta. In past years, the Christmas tour has been a stripped-down version of the Nashville show, but this year there wasn't that much stripping down. Instrumentally, the string section was missing, as were Ron, Steve and Kurt. Pierce, Randall, Sara and Andy O. were not present either, but the rest of the vocalists were, including a recuperated Jill Phillips. Needless to say, the touring band was still a musical ensemble of extraordinary magnitude. The format was similar to the Ryman show, although each artist (except AP) played two songs in the round. I won't re-hash the concert in detail, but here are some highlights:

  • AP kicked off the night with a new song called "Four Loves" (which, incidentally, is not based on the C.S. Lewis book).

  • Derek also played a new song, and Sandra quipped that she always hears his songs for the first time at concerts.

  • Andy G. cracks me up. He played the same song as he did at the Ryman, but with slight variations on the intro story. The deadpan delivery kills me every time.

  • In addition to possessing mad mandolin skillz, Josh Coffey plays a mean fiddle.

  • Eric Peters filled in for Andy Osenga, and I was curious how Eric was going to handle some of the vocal wailing parts. But he absolutely nailed them. It was pretty awesome.

  • I cannot reiterate how much "the man" that Gabe Scott is. Not only does he play multiple instruments during the show, he's also intimately involved with the support roles that make the show happen. I expected to see him working with the stage set-up/breakdown, but I didn't expect to see him working the merch table after the show. What an awesome guy.

  • One final note: The concert was part of the Dickens Village that the hosting church presents each year. It was kind of surreal to hear street urchins announcing an Andrew Peterson concert with fake British accents.

    We certainly enjoyed both shows, but, alas, the BTLOG tour steams on, leaving Team Redd behind. If AP and friends happen to come near your area, please check them out. As for me and my household, we'll have to make do with the cd version until next year.

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    Crisis Averted

    My hole-punch returned to my desk just as mysteriously as it disappeared.

    Friday, December 08, 2006


    It appears that my hole-punch disappeared while I was taking yesterday off from work. I hope it isn't returned encased in jello ...

    Calvin Johnson Named Top Wide Receiver in College Football

    Tech's Calvin Johnson receives Biletnikoff Award

    Monday, December 04, 2006


    Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Although I've spent most of my life in churches that observe the season, only in recent years have I begun to appreciate what Advent is supposed to be. It's not just a countdown to Christmas; rather, it's a vital part of the larger drama of God and His people, re-told each year through the liturgical calendar. As Christmas "celebrations" become more crassly commercialized each year, I look to Advent as a much-needed antidote, for it is a season of expectation and longing for the deliverance that will be realized only in the coming of the Lord. Also, Advent reminds me that Christ's Church extends far beyond just me, as this season has been observed by countless numbers throughout history and across the world. Advent, as part of the Church Year, helps keep things in perspective.

    But, rather than re-hash what others have already said well, here are links to a few folks offering thoughts on the Advent season:

    Jeff Meyers has a couple of explanatory posts on the season, especially helpful for the liturgically-challenged, here and here;

    Touchstone has a piece on the importance of celebrating the darker side of Christmas. (H/T Smilax);

    Ben Witherington encourages us to redeem the time, noting how Christians have lost sight of the significance of Advent as the start of the liturgical year; and

    Finally, the Boars Head Tavern Advent Blog is open once again, and looks to be a great source of reflections and resources for the season.

    (BTW: The cool Advent wreath above was Allison's doing.)

    Friday, December 01, 2006


    Tech's Calvin Johnson named first-team all-American for the second year in a row.

    Georgia Tech has had tons of football players named all-American in the past, but Calvin is one of the few to win the honor twice in a row. Let's hope he gets the chance to make his awesomeness manifest tomorrow!

    (Linebacker Philip Wheeler made second-team all-American, which is also pretty cool.)