Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review - The Year of Living Bibilically

My darling wife picked up the book The Year of Living Biblically because she thought I would like it. Does she know me, or what?

The concept is that the author is going to live a year of his life attempting to follow the Bible as literally as possible. He decides to spend eight months following the Old Testament and four months following the new, coinciding roughly to their respective lengths. The contents were quite entertaining though sometimes irksome.

For example:

Although he was always interested in "religion" his plan is to take this extreme approach to show how silly the Bible can be. He's a self-proclaimed liberal New Yorker (where even their conservatives are liberal by midwestern standards) who has a Jewish heritage and writes for Esquire, a men's magazine (or rather a magazine for adult males who haven't embraced what it is to be a man). So he does stuff like wear all white clothing, won't touch his wife after she menstruates, strictly observes the Sabbath and won't eat fruit if he isn't assured that it's taken from a tree more than four years old. The man was OCD to begin with so all these rules give him more room to flex this muscle.

He also tries not to lie, attempts prayer (which he likes but only really embraces a kind of "continual thankfulness"), and generally tries to be good. He also builds a tent in his apartment and sacrifices (almost) a chicken.

A.J. Jacobs spends 400 pages on the first eight months as he reconnects with his Jewish heritage. He visits many different expressions of this faith and attends a variety of ethnic festivals and celebrations. He is genuinely interested and it shows. Halfway through he wonders if he will come out of this year with a genuine faith, as did this reader, but so far he is clinging to his agnosticism.

He then spends a paltry 150 pages on his New Testament months and of these many pages are spent looking back to the Old Testament. His heart just isn't in it. Instead of the entertaining exploits of his Old Testament excusrions he interviews fringe groups like snake handlers, a group of openly gay yet otherwise conservative Christians, Red Letter Christians and attends Jerry Falwell's mega-church. Apparently even though he could travel to Tennessee to view snake handling and Isreal to visit his a cult-leader-like religious ex-relative he couldn't find time to visit a normal Christian church. Soon into his New Testament writings I lost hope that he would have faith and in the end he consigns himself to being a hopeful agnostic, more thankful for the blessings in his life than he was before but still without belief in God.

All in all, an entertaining read that was a bit rushed and incomplete. I give it four out of five fig leaves.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A New Blog?

I might be adding a new "resolution" to my pack. My current list includes writing and recording four songs this year (#1 is halfway recorded) and writing three short stories. The "short stories" bit may be exchanged for completing so many chapters of a non-fiction book I started a few years ago but the point is that I'm writing something more than CD reviews.

However I've recently come across a need for a conversational apologetics "curriculum." You know, something that sounds like a discussion. Something like a blog. My two older sons are a bit at a disadvantage spiritually in that they attend public school and I didn't really become serious about their spiritual education until recently. So I've picked up a few things from Answers In Genesis and some books that were formative for me in my early faith but these all tend to get bogged down in details. I want details, just not an excruciating minute level of details or three examples of the point they are trying to make, complete with pronounceable names of long dead scientists.

So unless someone has a good suggestion of something they have personally used it looks like I might be writing up my own. And I'm pretty busy right now so I'd love it if someone could spare me another writing assignment. Please?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quick Review - The Mustard Seeds - III

The Mustard Seeds started out as the brainchild of the Bissonette brothers (Matt and Gregg, bass and drums respectively). Not to slight the other blokes in the band but Matt and Greg have played with the likes of David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, Rick Springfield, Ty Tabor, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Boz Scaggs, Pat Boone, Santana, and Richard Marx. PAT BOONE, BABY!! But Gregg is a busy session/live drummer so eventually he decided to earn some money and split. The current lineup is George Bernhardt, Doug Bossi and Jorge Palacios.

A few years back I picked up their self-titled The Mustard Seeds album. Pretty good, similar to Jughead, but a bit lacking in depth. They have more than made up for this lack on their third album in 2008, creatively titled III and released independently. The album starts with "Lost In Flight," a brief a cappella song rich in harmonies. "Complicated World" digs in with heavy low-tuned distortion and a gusty, swaggering riff topped with creamy vocal harmonies. Sure, these boys take after King's X but King's X hasn't created an album this gorgeous or filled with intelligent Christian lyrics in decades. "To Die For" could be a Foo Fighters song (without the screaming) from back in the day when Grohl could write a good song... powerful and punchy, this song is one big yearning of the day we finally see Christ face to face ("All I need to do is die to meet you.") The mid-tempo rocker "Dorian Grey" packs in more lush vocal harmonies while "Oxygen" cranks up the distortion while layering on more encouraging vocal melodies and lyrics such as "Wherever I walk You're the crutch I lean on / You're the air that I breath / You're oxygen." "Hunting With Cheney" is another rocker, this one showing a Libertarian-leaning bent, leading to the slow, encouraging "Move On" which pairs clean guitars, orchestral strings and lyrics such as "Just get up off your back side and / Move on, move on, move on." "Maybe Next Year" is another slow cooker packed with hope for better days, sliding into three solid heavy songs that could have been on the Jughead album. The final track, "Outer Space", adds in some inventive and spacey sounds before launching into a final round of ear-tickling vocal harmonies.

Is if this isn't enough they include one of the best "hidden" tracks I've heard in years. Yes, it's the Might Mustard Marching Machine. Crowd noises adorn a marching band playing snippets of various songs off the album which an each musician is given a few moments on the mic to thank their family and friends in a post-game mode. It's all good fun. Oh, and be sure to try the saltwater taffy. I hear it’s incredible.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quick Review - Lonely Avenue

I'm going to lift a page from Adam's blog and write a brief paragraph about a few albums that are getting spun (olde fashioned term that has no meaning in this digitial age) in my life instead of doing a full blown 400+ word review like I used to do when I wrote CD reviews for cold hard cash.

The first to get such a treatment is Lonely Avenue, the newest Ben Folds album. Over the years I've enjoyed some of his albums, specifically the Ben Folds Five albums and his first solo album and the one he did with William Shatner and the little EPs he put out. But for the last five or six years he's been quite unsatisfying. It's almost like he knows his latest work is subpar and tries to defuse negative reviews with the first song, "Working Day" in which he dogs nobody bloggers who say bad things about his music. If the shoe fits, buddy... He also takes a scathing stance against Levi Johnston, the young man who impregnated Sarah Palin's daughter. And by "scathing" I mean Ben totally rips this guy a new one and repeatedly calls him a farking (insert other term) redneck. Ben... how old are you? Have you not made mistakes in your life? What number of marriage are you on? Oh, wait... you're so intent on distancing yourself from your own redneck North Carolina past that you charge full speed against anyone that reminds you of such.

Melodically there's some good things going on but the angry lyrics full of unneeded profanity make this a difficult listen. Only the song "Claire's Ninth" is as good as the songs on Ben's first solo album, lyrically. I'm a bit sketchy on the details but all or most or some of the lyrics on this album were written by Nick Hornby, an auther known best for the music-novel High Fidelity. I read it a few years back and it must have not made much of an impression on me because I've not felt inclined to read another Hornby book since. However Hornby captures Fold's lyrical voice perfectly. Or Folds wrote the lyrics because I'm not finding a huge leap in lyrical quality, not that Folds was a slouch in that department, if you like the dour kind of thing.

All in all a disappointing album that will steal no more of my time. I’ll give it a six.

And lookee there… I’m just about hitting the 400 word mark. I guess you can’t teach an old aardvark new tricks.