Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

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rolling-stones-blue-lonesomeBlue and Lonesome – Rolling Stones

****

In their first studio album in eleven years, the Rolling Stones return with an album of twelve mostly Chicago blues covers, the type of music that they cut their teeth on when they started out. Having been largely introduced to the blues by my brother-in-law, I really enjoyed this album; it was one of my favorites for 2016. To read more about the blues music from a Christian perspective check out Stephen Nichols book Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation.    

This wasn’t the album that the band intended to record. While in the studio to record new material, they would play a few old blues songs to warm up. They had so much fun playing them they recorded this album with co-producer Don Was last December over just three days. As an added bonus, Eric Clapton, who was recording in the studio next door, came over and played guitar on two of the songs. Overall, the album feels like a labor of love for the Stones, who are joined by bassist Darryl Jones, who has been playing with the band since 1993, and pianist Chuck Leavell.

Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the album:

Just Your Fool – This song was written by and recorded by Buddy Johnson in 1953 and a Chicago blues version recorded in 1960 by Little Walter. This is the first of four songs on the album credited to Walter, a large influence on Jagger’s harmonica playing style. It’s Jagger’s harmonica that is the first sound you hear on the album. Richards’ and Woods’ guitars and Watts’ drums propel the song along. A great start to the album.
Commit a Crime – This song was recorded in 1966 by Howlin’ Wolf. It later showed up (titled “What a Woman!”), on 1971’s London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, which included Stones Charlie Watt and Bill Wyman. The song features some great guitar work as Jagger spits out that a woman poured poison in his coffee. He’s gonna leave her before he commits a crime. Jagger adds some excellent harmonica work here.
Blue and Lonesome – This slower sad song was recorded in 1959 by Little Walter. It again features Jagger on harmonica, who Richards once referred to as probably the best blues-harp player that he had ever heard, up there with Little Walter.  The song also features some excellent guitar work.
All of Your Love – This song was Magic Sam’s debut single in 1957 as “All Your Love”. He updated and retitled the song “All of Your Love” in 1957, just before his death from a heart attack at age 32. The slow blues song opens with some excellent guitar work and beat provided by Watts and Jones, which sets the pace for the song. Leavell adds some tasty piano work in the middle of the song and Jagger adds a brief harmonica solo before the song ends with a guitar solo.
I Gotta Go – This song was recorded in 1955 by Little Walter with the Jukes. The song opens with Jagger on harmonica and gets going right away, propelled by Watts’ drumming. It’s a real toe-tapper, and it’s impossible to stay still listening to it. He’s got the blues and he can’t stay here no more. A great take on the song. One of my favorites on the album.
Everybody Knows About My Good Thing – The newest cover on the album, this slow blues song was recorded in 1971 by former Mighty Clouds of Joy member Little Johnny Taylor. The song opens with great slide guitar work from Eric Clapton, which makes this song another highlight for me. While the focus in on the guitar work, I also enjoyed Leavell’s piano.
Ride ‘Em on Down – This song was a 30’s era original by Delta blues legend Bukka White, then titled “Shake ‘Em On Down”. It was recorded with this title in 1955 by Eddie Taylor. It starts with some great guitar work, and a driving beat from Watts, which sets the pace for the song. The song features a blistering guitar solo mid-song and a harmonica solo from Jagger near the end.
Hate to See You Go – This song was recorded in 1955 by Little Walter. He got his start in Muddy Waters band before going solo in 1952. He would die at age 37 and is the only artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame specifically as a harmonica player. The song immediately grabs your attention with a driving beat propelled by harmonica, guitar and drum.
Hoo Doo Blues – This song was recorded in 1958 by Lightnin’ Slim, a good example of his stripped down, swampy style. The song opens and features Jagger on harmonica, and the slower beat is driven by Watts’ drumming and Jones’ bass.
Little Rain – This song was recorded in 1957 by Jimmy Reed. The Stones have long admired Reed, having covered his “Honest I Do” on their first album. This is a slow blues song featuring some excellent guitar work before the bass and drum kick in behind Jagger, who adds a lengthy and restrained harmonica solo.
Just Like I Treat You – This song was recorded in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf as the B-side to his single “I Ain’t Superstitious”.  It starts out with a great beat right from the start, and amazingly sounds like it could fit nicely on a mid-1960’s Stones album (reminding me of 1964’s “It’s All Over Now”). It features some nice guitar work, tasty piano from Leavell along with some harmonica work from Jagger. One of my favorites on the album.
I Can’t Quit You Baby – This song was written by Willie Dixon for Otis Rush, who recorded it with him in Rush’s first sessions in 1956. You may recognize it as a heavy blues cover from Led Zeppelin’s debut album, which they built off Rush’s 1966 version. This slow blues song begins with a guitar and the bass drives the slow beat. He can’t quit her but he’s gonna have to put her down for a while. The song features some excellent guitar work from Clapton, and Jagger offers some of his most expressive singing on the album. Continue reading


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My Review of The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

the-resurrection-of-gavin-stoneThe Resurrection of Gavin Stone, rated PG
**

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is pretty standard Christian movie fare. It contains some good attempts at humor but is overall rather slow and predictable.
This faith-based film is directed by Dallas Jenkins and written by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell (Mom’s Night Out).  The low-budget film had an estimated budget of just $2 million (compare that to the $20 mil Jennifer Lawrence was paid for the film Passengers, for example). But let’s face it, most faith-based films are just not very good, inspiring this recent story from The Babylon Bee “Holy Spirit Empowers Man To Make It Through Christian Movie”.
Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) stars as the arrogant and self-centered Gavin Stone, a former child star of the sitcom Family Life, whose life has been in a downward spiral since his mother died. His latest drunken episode has resulted in him being sentenced to do 200 hours of state mandated community service hours to be served at Masonville Bible Church, a megachurch in his hometown of Masonville, Illinois. Note:  the church used in the film is actually Harvest Bible Chapel in nearby Elgin, Illinois. Harvest Pastor James McDonald was an executive producer for the film.
Instead of mopping restroom floors, party-boy Gavin portrays himself as a Christian so that he can play the part of Jesus in the church’s stage production, being directed by Kelly Richardson (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), the pastor’s daughter. D.B. Sweeney stars as Pastor Allen Richardson. Gavin sees the play as a way not only to get out of hard work, but also a way of getting closer to Kelly, who doesn’t comes across as a very likeable character.
We meet three local church guys (stereotypical Christian characters written and played for laughs), who help Gavin. He in turn then helps them to be better actors in the play. One of the guys is Doug, a tough biker, played by WWE (formerly the World Wrestling Foundation) Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels.
Gavin has a difficult relationship with his father Waylon, played by Neil Flynn, who he moves back in with while he does his community service work.
The acting performances from Dalton, Johnson-Reyes, Flynn and Michaels are solid, as is the directing by Jenkins. The story is predictable and the film will appeal to Christians, but will not get much interest from non-Christians. The film was somewhat entertaining, but pretty slow. Themes include grace, forgiveness and redemption. You might want to rent the film when it comes out on video or streaming, but best to save your money on seeing it in the theatre.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

My Devotional Books for 2017

voices-from-the-pastVoices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings. Edited by Richard Rushing. Banner of Truth. 428 pages. 2009
****

The author writes that over the past fifty years there has been a great resurgence of interest in the writings of the Puritans.  I was personally introduced to the Puritans about twenty years ago by my pastor through the wonderful Puritan reprints of Dr. Don Kistler and also via The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Richard Rushing has developed this book of daily readings extracted from some of his favorite Puritan authors (a second volume was recently published). His prayer is that these readings will stimulate the reader to explore further the writings of these spiritual giants.

Each of the short readings (approximately 350 words), begins with a Scripture verse. The author selected the verse according to the theme of the reading. While some of the devotions appear almost as written, others have been condensed by the author so that several pages form a single devotional reading. At the end of each reading is the Puritan author and a citation from where Richard Rushing pulled the reading.  I plan to use this wonderful resource as a part of my devotional reading for 2017.

60-days-of-happiness60 Days of Happiness: Discover God’s Promise of Relentless Joy by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 304 pages. 2017
****

Respected author Randy Alcorn states that our problem isn’t that we want to be happy. Rather, our problem is that we keep looking for happiness in all of the wrong places. He writes that this new book, drawn from selected portions of his acclaimed 2016 book Happiness, will take you to God, the primary source of happiness in the universe. The book then connects the secondary sources of happiness back to the God who created them and graciously gives them to us.

The author has reworked the material from Happiness to present it here in a fresh and different way. I have not yet read Happiness, which is nearly 500 pages in length, though have read his small God’s Promise of Happiness, which encouraged me to read this medium sized book. For this book, the author and editor have selected subjects that most lend themselves to personal growth and worshipful meditation on God and his Word, which will be an excellent way to start 2017. Each of the 60 daily readings begin with a scripture verse and an inspirational quote (Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, etc.), and end with a prayer. I am using the book for daily devotional reading, though it can certainly be read straight through as you would a regular book. Whether you have read the larger Happiness and would like to return to the subject in a devotional format, or whether you haven’t read Happiness but want to learn what God and his people have said about the subject of happiness throughout the centuries, I think you will enjoy and be blessed by this new book. Continue reading


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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”                                                                                 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

this.n.that-smallIN THE NEWS:

  • Christians are the Most Persecuted Group in the World for Second Year. Perry Chiaramonte writes “The upcoming report from Italian-based Center for Studies on New Religions, determined that 90,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs worldwide last year and nearly a third were at the hands of Islamic extremists like ISIS. Others were killed by state and non-state persecution, including in places like North Korea.
  • Faith on the Hill. Aleksandra Sandstrom writes “The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center.”
  • Here’s Who Will Pray at Trump Inauguration. Kate Shellnutt writes “Donald Trump has enlisted a larger, more diverse lineup of clergy than usual to pray him into office at his upcoming inauguration ceremony.”
  • Supporters Rally to Russell Moore after Trump Criticism. J.C. Derrick writes “A reported backlash against Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has turned into an outpouring of support for one of President-elect Donald Trump’s leading evangelical critics.”
  • Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus. Brett McCracken writes about Martin Scorsese’s new film Silence, starring Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield from Hacksaw Ridge, stating “In stark contrast to the response of the Catholic church to Last Temptation, Scorsese was recently invited to the Vatican to screen Silence and meet Pope Francis.” Check out this related article Meeting Marty Scorsese from Mako Fujimura.
  • Good TV Viewing. After hearing about The Crown from several people, we decided to check it out, enjoying some binge-watching over the New Year’s weekend along with the long-awaited new season of Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • Luther on Trial. Max McLean joins The Eric Metaxas Show to talk about his new off- Broadway play Luther on Trial.
  • Golfstat Founder Mark Laesch Stays Positive as Time Runs Out. Mark Laesch was two years ahead of me in high school. I remember watching the lefty point guard direct the varsity basketball team. I was recently saddened to read that he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Despite that, he maintains a strong faith.

Continue reading


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My Review of Patriots Day

patriots-dayPatriots Day, rated R
***

Patriots Day is the emotional, powerful and ultimately inspirational depiction of the events surrounding the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 and the heroic efforts to find the bombers.

It is the third film that Mark Wahlberg has worked on with director Peter Berg, 2013’s Lone Survivor and 2016’s Deepwater Horizon being the first two, all of which are based on true stories. The film’s title is taken from the Massachusetts state holiday that commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. It is celebrated on the third Monday in April, and the Boston Marathon is held that day. Peter Berg wrote the script with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer.  This is the first of possibly three movies about this historical event, the second being 2017’s Stronger starring Jake Gyllenhaal, based on Jeff Bauman’s book of the same title, and Boston Strong, currently in development.

Most will be familiar with the tragic events that the film is based on in which two Muslim brothers set off bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing four and wounding 264 others. Berg begins the film with a twenty minute sequence that introduces us to the many characters who will play major roles in the drama over the next few days; it can be a bit of a challenge to keep them all straight.  The film follows authority figures, ordinary citizens and the terrorists from the night before the violent attacks to the resulting manhunt.

The film features a strong cast. The lead role is Boston police sergeant Tommy Saunders (a composite of real officers), played by two-time Oscar nominee and Boston native Wahlberg (The Fighter, The Departed).  Because Saunders has been disciplined, he finds himself at the center of the bombing when makeshift explosives go off at the finish line of the marathon. Golden Globe nominee (True Detective) Michelle Monaghan portrays Tommy’s wife Carol. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) in a relatively small role portrays nearby Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. Golden Globe winner (Roseanne) John Goodman portrays Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and Golden Globe winner (Taking Chance) Kevin Bacon portrays Special FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) and brother Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) play the bombers well, with Tamerlan’s American wife being played by Melissa Benoist (Supergirl).

After the bombing, we see the investigation and week-long manhunt take place, which kept the entire city of Boston paralyzed with fear. This includes the attempted getaway of the brothers, including a carjacking and the abduction of Northeastern student Dun Meng, portrayed by Jimmy O. Yang. Actual footage is effectively used throughout, adding realism to the film.

The film is rated “R” for the intense bomb sequence, the following horror, including gruesome visual images of the injuries, and a significant amount of adult language.

This well-made film shows how the city of Boston – first responders, police, FBI agents, emergency room doctors and nurses, etc. – all came together in response to this tragedy. It was both chilling and inspiring. The acting was solid with the focus on the story. When the public confidence in law enforcement is low, this film shows those in such roles in a positive light. The cinematography and visual effects are done very well, complimented by Trent Reznor’s musical score. The film ends with a brief look at some of the real-life survivors of the tragedy.


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5 Helpful Resources to Help You Learn More About Yourself

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I have benefited greatly by completing personality assessments, as well as implementing the work of Marcus Buckingham on strengths and Susan Cain on the power of being an introvert. All of these resources have helped me to not only better understand myself, but my team, those I mentor, family and friends as well.

Here are five resources that have helped me the most and you can find of value as well:

1. Discover Your Strengths/Strengthsfinder – Marcus Buckingham, Donald Clifton and Tom Rath

now-discover-your-strengths-copystrengthsfinder-copy
I was first introduced to the modern “Strengths Movement” when I saw Marcus Buckingham speak at a learning conference several years ago. I had initially looked forward to seeing Jack Welch speak at that conference. When he had to cancel due to a health issue, Buckingham was a last minute wonderful replacement. The long-time best-selling Strengthsfinder assessment (which has now been used by more than five million people), was first included in Buckingham’s and Donald Clifton’s 2001 book Now Discover Your Strengths. I continue to find the Strengthsfinder assessment to be valuable in learning about myself and others, and have used it at work and we have used it as a church leadership team.  My top five Strengthsfinder themes are Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony and Achiever.

  1. go-put-your-strengths-to-work-copyGo Put Your Strengths to Work – Marcus Buckingham

Buckingham’s strengths concepts really came alive for me with this 2007 book. The learning organization that I was a member of hosted Buckingham’s book tour for this book, and I have read and discussed this book with several groups. This book helped me to understand the concept of activities that “strengthen” or “weaken” me and others. This encouraged me to find work for my team members that would strengthen them. The book also introduced the concept of strength and weakness statements. When I look back on business books that have had a positive impact on me this one would be near the top.

 

  1. standout-copyStandOut – Marcus Buckingham

As I mentioned, Buckingham and Clifton developed the original Strengthsfinder assessment. Buckingham states that the purpose of that assessment was to be descriptive and affirming. He and Clifton wanted to provide a way to describe the best of us and to make us feel good about our style. Buckingham states that the challenge is that once you have a positive language to describe yourself, what do you do with it?

What careers should you pursue? What techniques should you call upon to capitalize on your strengths and outperform your competitors? What should you share with your manager to help him or her help you do your best work?

In recent years, Buckingham has focused less on measurement and more on what could be done to increase employee engagement, strengths and performance.
StandOut, published in 2011, was based on extensive research, statistical testing and analysis of the world’s top performers.

Where Strengthsfinder was descriptive and affirming, StandOut is prescriptive and innovating. The new StandOut assessment (an updated version StandOut 2.0 was published in 2015), measures you on nine strengths roles, and reveals your top two. My top two are Creator and Equalizer.

  1. myers-briggs-mbfMyers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). There are many personal assessments available. Although I have not completed it, many in my church have benefited from the Enneagram assessment. In the organization I work at, the PACE Palette assessment was very popular a few years back. I still find it as an excellent tool to use with a team.

The assessment that I have found most helpful is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment. There are many free versions online you take. Here is one free version.

The MBTI offers 16 types that are referred to by an abbreviation of four letters. My type is INTJ, meaning that I test as an introvert. The first time I took the assessment several years ago I remember being very concerned that the analysis included with the short online version of the assessment I took indicated that those who hold my profile are not equipped to be good leaders. As with any assessment, keep the results in perspective.

  1. Quiet (2)Quiet by Susan Cainquiet-power

Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was an eye-opener for me. Like the other resources mentioned in this article, it helped me to better understand myself and others.  If you are an introvert, work with or are married to an introvert or have children who are introverts, I highly recommend you read this book. It includes insights that are equally helpful on and off the job. Although I have not read it yet, Cain has recently published a version of Quiet for kids and teens, entitled Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts.  

These are five resources that I have found to be helpful in learning more about myself and others. What resources have you found to be valuable?


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My Review of Hidden Figures

hidden-figuresHidden Figures, rated PG
**** 

Hidden Figures is a true, inspirational film that you will love.  It is directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.  It tells the story of some key – and hidden – figures in NASA’s efforts to win the space race against the Russians in the early 1960’s. The film features three African-American women, known as “colored computers”, who work for NASA in the Computers Division at the Langley Research Center. The setting is the Mercury Project, the launch of astronaut John Glenn (portrayed by Glenn Powell), into orbit, and his safe return.

Oscar winner (The Help) Octavia Spencer has received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan. Dorothy does the work of a group supervisor but is held back from receiving the title, pay and recognition of that position. She experiences racism from her supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man films), who doesn’t believe an African-American woman should be a supervisor.  Janelle Monae (Moonlight) portrays Mary Jackson, an aerospace engineer who has to take her case to court to be allowed to take classes to pursue an advanced degree. She is striving to overcome all of the obstacles on her way to becoming the first female African-American Engineer at NASA. Oscar nominee (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson, an incredible mathematician. She is the only African-American woman working in the Space Task Group. We see her have to fight to have her ideas heard. She has to run across the NASA campus to use the colored ladies restroom and she can’t drink out of the same coffee pot that others in the Space Task Group do. Her performance may be Oscar worthy.

Two-time Oscar winner (Dances with Wolves) Kevin Costner delivers a solid performance as Al Harrison, the head of the Space Task Group.  Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) portrays Jim Johnson, who romantically pursues Katherine, and Golden Globe winner (The Big Bang Theory) Jim Parsons portrays Katherine’s supervisor Paul Stafford, who puts one obstacle after another in Katherine’s ability to do her job.

I really enjoyed the music in the film. The film has received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch. Williams also served as one of the producers of the film.

There are many instances of faith being displayed in the film (a scene in church, prayer at the dinner table, etc.).  The romance between Jim Johnson and Katherine is lovely, and should be an example to the younger generation, along with the work ethic portrayed and the emphasis on education.  The film shows the racism and the pursuit of civil rights in the country in the early 1960’s. The film also includes some real-life footage of space launches, a speech from President Kennedy, etc.

The film tells the inspirational story of these three brilliant and driven African-American women who battled race and gender biases. It features excellent acting performances and is a refreshing PG-rated film that all can enjoy without worrying about content issues.

Highly recommended!