Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Just Call Me Milo

I just found a couple of web sites which made me chuckle (silently, of course). One claims to tell you your "elvish" name, and the other claims to tell you your "hobbit" name (should be quite popular during the next couple of months). Apparently my hobbit name is Milo Boggy-Hillocks! Who knew?

I think I prefer my hobbit name to my elvish name. Of course, it's all nonsense, but "good fun" nonsense nevertheless. Then again, if I start to grow hair on the backs of my feet (to match the hair on my chest), I may start to take it more seriously.

Coarseness and Discourse

I just came across Christian musician Steve Camp's blog. It's very well designed (putting my Blogspot blog to shame).

In this blog, in this post, he expresses his opinion that "society in general has become very coarse. Foul language is part of every day speech. Subjects that were once too private and personal to mention, are now a matter of public discourse, talked about and joked about openly. Words and terms that no decent person would have once used in public are part of our common speech and are voiced in our schools to our children."

He's right about that, and as much as I wish that my record was spotless, I have to admit that I've occasionally let an "f bomb" fly. In my defense, I do not usually do this casually, the way that some people do. It's usually an expression of anger or frustration.

This morning, I experienced an episode of incontinence related to my health problems (specifically, a hernia which has not been properly treated for the past decade, due to financial difficulties and due to the fact that I only recently went on Medicaid). I was waiting for the paratransit van on which I have come to depend, thanks to the two strokes I had in 2011 and 2012. I started to realize that I should have relieved myself before leaving the apartment. I'd just barely made it inside when I began to defecate on myself. What a mess! I spent the next half hour or more cleaning up after myself. During this frustrating experience, I yelled that "f word" a few times.

I know that Jesus understands our infirmities. He knows that this is not a perfect world, and he knows that there are limits to our abilities in terms of always behaving like perfect little Christians. Still, I am making an effort to control my language. Profanity and obscenity do indeed coarsen our culture, just as Steve says in his blog.

Regarding my health, please pray for me, for endurance and more.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Addiction Is Harmful

Lately, I've been made aware of a new fad, known as the electronic cigarette. Here in Bellingham, there's a business ( which sells such products across the street from the place where I do my banking. The claim is that electronic cigarettes are not carcinogenic (which is saying something, if true, since cancer can even be caused by sunlight, which is normally considered to be health and desirable, and also by charred steak or burnt toast).

The electronic cigarettes can be flavored with all kinds of flavors (banana split, for instance) which were never associated with tobacco cigarettes. See this page for more information.

Long ago, when stores sold candy cigarettes, people objected to them on the grounds that they were clearly aimed at kids, and they made smoking seem harmless, and they therefore seemed to increase the chances that kids would pick up real cigarettes when they were old enough to do so. But they were not available in anything close to the flavor range now being offered with electronic cigarettes, and as candy, they pretty much failed, although in fairness, they tasted as good as the was lips which were also sold to kids.

Let's say that e-cigs are not carcinogenic. Does that mean they're harmless? Virtually all of the companies which sell them feel obliged to put a disclaimer or warning on the package, stating that they are addictive. Of course, some people get addicted to coffee or cafeinated drinks, and that doesn't stop people like me from drinking such things (partially because I have never noticed any particular addiction to such things to the point that I felt a craving or an unpleasant sensation related to not getting my coffee or cola fix).

If you can use electronic cigarettes without any noticeable detrimental effects, and if you can afford them, I say go for it. But never allow anything (even the natural act of sexual intercourse or the normal act of shopping) to become such an addiction that it hinders your ability to control your life and your budget.

Fortunately, when I was a kid, my parents' opposition to smoking kept me from ever doing anything other than to try them a few times. (FYI, the experience mystified me, since I wondered why anyone would want to do something which caused him or her to cough heavily, the way I'd seen my smoking paternal grandparents do when they visited us). But some people were not that fortunate. Even my own brother became a smoker to the point that he was addicted, although some would argue that that was the least of his problems vis-a-vis addictions, since he also became an alcoholic.

If e-cigs can help people like my brother to withdraw from the aptly named cancer sticks, in a manner similar to nicotine patches, then that would seem to me to be a good thing. The anti-smoking ads run before some videos on rented DVDs may be a bit over the top (and possibly ineffective, since anyone who's ever seen The Bucket List is very likely to think that the characters played by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson looked mighty good for people who were ostensibly dying of cancer), but I grew up hearing horror stories from my mother, about people who'd had to have holes surgically cut in their throats (i.e., a tracheotomy) because they had gotten lung cancer. So an avoidance of tobacco cigarettes is definitely a good thing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Kerry Livgren and the Gospel

During the late seventies, the style known as "progressive rock" was very popular. There were bands like Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and others. There were also keyboard-oriented bands which still rocked pretty hard since they still featured heavy doses of guitars, in addition to keyboard synthesizers. Styx, Kansas and others were examples of that style.

Kansas was one of my favorite bands of that type, so I was thrilled when I learned from a friend that Kerry Livgren had recently committed his life to Christ. When I was living in Boston, I learned that Kansas would soon be playing at the Boston Garden, so I tracked down a guy Kerry had recently mentioned as an influence on his new Christian faith walk, and I found the guy's phone number.  (His name was Kenneth Boa, and he'd cowritten the book "Seeds of Change: The Spiritual Quest of Kerry Livgren".)

I called him, and told him I really would like a backstage pass to that concert, since I was working as a merchandise transfer clerk at the Harvard Coop (one of the most successful record stores in the Boston area at that time).

I got the pass I had requested, and I met Kerry that night. I remember that it was a bit strange. It seemed pretty clear to me that there were band members who did not share Kerry's faith. (Dave Hope also became a Christian around that time.) There was a guy who walked around backstage with a big boa constrictor around his neck. I went to the concert with my friend Andy Pratt, who had also become a Christian, and who remains one of my friends to this day.

Later, Kerry formed a Christian rock  band called AD. They were great, and they continued the musical excellence which could be heard on the first Kerry Livgren album with an overt Christian message, Seeds of Change.

As a keyboard guy, I thought it was great that Kerry had become a Christian, and I was later thrilled to learn that Rick Wakeman, another keyboard hero specializing in progressive rock, had also become a Christian, after a long and well publicized history of drunken, dissolute living.

To hear Kerry Livgren's testimony, check out this YouTube video.

By the way, I share a couple of things with Kerry: I'm a keyboard player and songwriter/composer, and I just had two strokes (in June 2011 and February 2012 respectively). His YouTube video about his own stroke is a good antidote to anyone who thinks it could never happen to them. Strokes kill a lot of people every year, and they affect well-known people like actor Kirk Douglas.

ASFB and Mind Garage

Back when I was worked at the record department for the Harvard Coop in the 80s, the most popular contemporary Christian  musician was Amy Grant. So that's who people tended to mention when I told them that I was into Christian rock music.

Well, I liked Amy, and I had in fact been a buyer of her very first album when I lived in Sioux City, Iowa. But I always thought that it was unfortunate that people unfamiliar with Christian rock music thought only about relatively unadventurous musicians like Amy Grant when I would mention the phrase "Christian rock".

If one bought everything one could get one's hands on in terms of that genre (as I did), one would be made familiar with truly adventurous artists like Mind Garage (seen in this YouTube video and this one), the All Saved Freak Band, and others who were about as likely to show up in a standard secular record store as a professional kazoo act. Even Resurrection Band (a/k/a Rez) rocked with a ferocity unknown to fans of Amy Grant.

While typing this blog entry, I've been enjoying a recording by a band called the Sons of Thunder, from this web page. The band is from West Virginia, according to the band's web site. This is NOT the band of the same name which was based in Bethesda, Maryland. I think that they could have avoided confusion by calling themselves The NEW Sons of Thunder (the way Barry McGuire's group was named The New Christy Minstrels), since people interested in learning more about that older Christian rock band could get information without being diverted to sites for the Virginia band. But my main interest in the Maryland band comes from nostalgic memories, since they invited me down to their Maryland house after Randy Matthews had told me that they were looking for a keyboard player, after I had moved to Brocton, MA after graduating from high school in 1974. The Maryland band put on a cool concert featuring multimedia elements similar to those being used by a lot of psychedelic bands at the time. But I must admit, based on the audio and video recordings on the web site for the Virginia band, that they rock a lot harder than the Maryland band did. Check out the videos at this page.

Friday, November 23, 2012

RIP Helpinstill and Barcus Berry

Back in the seventies, when I was first looking into the possibility of focusing on a music career involving pro-quality performances on the piano, there were very few options available to piano players who wanted to be able to rock out and be heard by the kind of audiences common at that time. Regular microphones tended to cause significant problems with feedback, which could be painful to hear if one was an audience member. But people were working on the problem. There was the Barcus-Berry piano pickup, and there was the Helpinstill, which was used back in the day by musical artists like Leon Russell.

Amazingly, there is still an active web site for Helpinstill.  I was interested enough in the Helpinstill that I took a trip from College of the Ozarks to the Six Flags amusement park near St. Louis, just to see what benefits it might have to offer. They kindly let me try out their piano there, and I was amazed to hear the sound of a grand piano coming at rock music volume levels from the P.A. system.

These days, that's not so amazing, and there are digital pianos which manage to capture the sound of grand pianos, with significant advantages in terms of speed of setting up, and of course, in terms of such issues as tuning. (The Roland V-Piano Grand is my current favorite.)

Still, the Helpinstill pickup was quite a boon for people who were tired of being limited to the Rhodes, the Wurlitzer and other electric pianos which sound very little like real pianos.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

We Are All Expatriates

I was just reading the Wikipedia bio of the writer known as Paul Bowles (who shared his surname with my maternal grandparents). He was described as an "expatriate". Reading the definition of that term reminds me of a Larry Norman song, "Only Visiting This Planet", in which Larry sang, "This world is not my home. I'm just visiting this planet."

Larry died in 2008, at the age of 60 (four years older than my current age).

Life is short. I always knew, when I heard evangelists talking about this fact, that they were right. But somehow, the reality of the situation seemed remote to me when I was still a teenager. Now, after two strokes in as many years, not so much.

Nothing is guaranteed in terms of longevity; and indeed, it's true that no one gets out of this world alive. So don't base your hope on the incredibly, incredibly unlikely idea that modern science might one day find a cure for death. Put your faith in the only one to ever conquer death: Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Weeping and Its Virtues

There are some people, including my current roommate, who seem to think that I have a taste for the macabre. I seem to gravitate towards stories of human tragedy, even tragedies I've never personally experienced.

Take Chicago. If one takes any time at all to dig into the city's history, one can't help but learn about tragic events, such as the Iroquois Theatre Fire (which took the lives of many young children) and the sinking of the Eastland (one of the most tragic maritime disasters, perhaps even worse than the sinking of Titanic, in the sense that it was the result of bad engineering and poor planning, and it happened such a short distance from the city of Chicago itself). And then there was the 2003 porch collapse in Chicago, which was a sad and tragic ending to what should have been an enjoyable get-together.

Reading about the 1958 school fire at Our Lady of the Angels was like being there and hearing the screams of the children trapped inside that inferno.

I think that I am drawn to such stories partly because I believe that they enable me to cultivate empathy and compassion, and partly because they remind me of just how fragile and transient life on this earth can be and is. I am so looking forward to heaven, when I believe that all our tears will be dried and replaced with unspeakable joy.

Think I'm deluded? You're free to believe what you want to believe. But here's how I look at it: If I am wrong, I have little or nothing to lose. On the other hand, if others have foolishly chosen to live only for the moment and for themselves, they will forever regret having chosen to do so.

The Excellence of Michael Omartian

I just came across a YouTube video with a tune from Michael Omartian's album Adam Again. Check it out (via this link) if you've never heard of Michael (which is likely only if you're a lot younger than I am or if you never checked out the credits on the numerous CCM albums recorded and released back in the 70s).

Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about Michael. As you can see from the article, Michael had some pretty impressive credits to his name, not just in the CCM world but in the world of big-time secular hits. Steely Dan, Billy Joel and numerous other big-time music stars relied on the keyboard and production skills of Michael Omartian. For a while there, Michael had a regular column in Keyboard magazine, a publication which was notorious for ignoring the world of CCM. I'm proud to say that I did my best to hold them accountable for that omission, but guys like Michael made it a lot easier for me to make my point, which was that there were some excellent musicians in the field of contemporary Christian music.

Back in the days when I still thought it might be feasible for me to have a successful career as a Christian musician, Michael Omartian was one of the people who kept that desire burning in my heart and mind.

In the Christian world, Michael's star was later eclipsed by his wife Stormie, who I must admit was one gorgeous woman, but she did not seem to have the musical talent that Michael had.

This link will take you to another YouTube video featuring Michael's music.

If there's any doubt about Michael's talent, check out this YouTube link to a clip featuring him on a version of the Stevie Wonder tune My Cherie Amour.

Monday, November 12, 2012

That's Spotted Richard to You and Me

When I was in Chicago (before moving to the Pacific Northwest), while shopping for groceries at the Potash store at 875 N. State Street, I looked down and saw Heinz Spotted Dick pudding. I did a double take, for obvious reasons, since I am normally not in the habit of seeing male genitalia on the shelves of the grocery store! LOL!

Maybe I now know what inspired the producers of Fear Factor to feature an episide (which I personally found to be a bit on the revolting side) in which people sat around the campside, eating various types of animal genitalia.

Cut In Two

If you've ever read Steve Hodel's book about the murder case involving the woman (ironically) named Elizabeth Short, and nicknamed the Black Dahlia, you've undoubtedly seen the haunting photos of the victim, who was discovered by the side of the road, cut in half at the waist. It's a sobering image of what men and women are capable of doing to one another. But it's also a sobering image in relation to the scriptural passage (Romans 12:35-48, particularly verse 46) with which I have illustrated this particular blog post.
To see an enlarged version of the above image so that it can be more easily read, just click on it.

How could a loving god do such a thing to a human being? That's the kind of question one might expect from someone who's bought into what I like to call the "false gospel of wishful thinking". A more appropriate question, it seems to me, is, "How could a loving God be indifferent to the suffering of people abused by pseudo-authorities in his name?"

If you read the scriptural passage I have quoted here, it should be clear that the person Jesus was describing was an abusive man (or woman) who used his or her authority to treat people like garbage. Unfortunately, I have been acquainted with some sorry excuses for pastors, who seemed to think that their job titles were blank checks which entitled them to abuse members of the flock (forgetting the fact that Jesus told Peter to "feed my sheep", not to lord it over his sheep).

Abusive pastors don't much like being reminded of passages like this one. Some of them may even respond with excommunication, instead of showing the humility followers have a right to expect from them.

By the way, as an interesting "coincidence", I did something I very rarely do when I am using Blogger, after writing the bulk of this blog post: I hit the "next blog" link at the top of this page. The very next blog featured the following images, which referred to sexually abusive Catholic priests, but the first image seemed equally applicable to abusive Protestant pastors, whether the abuse had anything to do with sex or not.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pimp Is Not A Verb

Lately, I've noticed a disconcerting tendency to use the word "pimp" as a term which refers to fixing up things to make them look really spiffy. An example of this type of social aberration was the show known as "Pimp My Ride".

Here's my question: Since "pimping" apparently refers to taking something which is in poor condition and fixing it to improve it, what in the world does that have to do with the original meaning of the word "pimp"? A pimp, for goodness' sake, is a person who exploits (and sometimes abuses) men or women who sell (or more accurately rent) their bodies for sex.

Also, if taking something which is in poor condition and fixing it is now to be known as "pimping", should we now describe Jesus Christ as a pimp? After all, Jesus is the ultimate fixer of souls in need of repair.

I think that it says something rather sad about certain individuals that they use the word "pimp" as if it's a good thing to be one. Pimps are criminals in societies where prostitution is still illegal. They are not good people worthy of emulation or adulation.

Of course, for those inclined to reinvent and redefine words, perhaps we should accommodate that tendency by creating a new show about the political process. We could call it "Whore Myself Out".  Considering what some people do to win elections, that seems as if it would be fitting.

Self-pity is No Party

I recently saw a painting (at by an artist named Katie O'Hagan. The title of the painting was Pity Party.

The image reminded me of times when I have met people (such as Pastor Al Toledo of Chicago Tabernacle, or as I called him,"Pastor Al, the Masochist's Pal") who have seemed to be deficient in the compassion department. Such people have used phrases such as "pity party" to denigrate those who dared to be honest about their struggles, particularly in relation to the subject of depression.

Depression is no joke, and a pastor who claims to want to serve Jesus by loving people as Jesus loved people needs to learn to listen to people who are psychologically hurting, instead of dismissing their needs as unimportant.

Such a person needs to read Romans 12:15, which enjoins believers as follows: "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

No one likes being around depressed people, but that ought to be regarded as just a part of the job if one is a pastor, just as being around sick and physically hurting people ought to be regarded as part of the job if one is a doctor or a nurse. It's been said that "if you can't stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen". The "heat", in this case, is the unpleasantness one feels when in the presence of people who are sad or depressed or even a little bit angry because they have been mistreated. There's more to being a real pastor than just preaching an impressive sermon. It's what a person does in his office when only one other person can witness his manner of handling crises that makes the difference between real pastors and pastor wannabes.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Darn That Plarn

I recently learned something while checking out one of the people associated with one of my Facebook friends from Chicago. The woman was associated with a social network regarding environmentalism. One of the bloggers on that site had written an article about how she had knitted a purse making what was known as "plarn". Plarn is yarn made from recycled plastic shopping bags.

I thought that was interesting, since Bellingham had recently outlawed plastic shopping bags at grocery stores and other such places. I already thought the Bellingham bag ban was STUPID, and inimical to the interests of poor people, since folks who can't afford to buy plastic trash bags all of the time have often used those shopping bags for that purpose in the past, and since those bags usually came free of charge as a byproduct of the sales process.

Maybe instead of making plastic trash bags illegal, we need to teach people how to make better use of them, such as using them as trash bags, and knitting useful new products made of plarn. I'm just sayin'.

Those who are curious about the stupid Bellingham bag ban can read about it at the page marked by this link. If you feel, as I do, that that ban was stupid, then let Seth Fleet know about it, via an e-mail to