Wednesday, January 18, 2023

99.9% Is Not Enough

My wife and I recently watched a testimony video where a guy enthusiastically spoke of his conversion for about thirty-five minutes.  And by “enthusiastic” I mean he maybe took three breaths during that thirty-five minutes.  It was a great and amazing testimony (Video here).  

But I’m not sure it was all that inspiring.  One of the things he said what that at one point he actually heard God say “Isaiah, I won’t accept just 99.9% from you.”  I’ve heard this from preachers before, that God wants ALL of us.  Every last piece of us should be willing to serve God in whatever way He wants.

I totally get it.  Jesus gave everything for us so we should be willing to give everything back. 

But I also don’t get it.  I mean, it’s obviously not a requirement for salvation, so what is it?  From his story and how he talked, I doubt this Saldivar guy ever did anything with less than 105%.  The apostle Paul was the same way, zealously persecuting the Church and then God whipped him around and he just as zealously pursued God’s way. 

What about the most of us who aren’t constantly exploding with energy at everything we do?  Or those of us who have been let down so consistently by people (including the church) that even trusting someone 25% is a big deal?  I’ve been increasing my trust in allowing God control over my life over these past decades, and while I trust Him more than any person, I’m still nowhere near even 80%.  So where does that leave me?



Wednesday, January 11, 2023

2022 Entertainment Roundup

It’s time once again to write a year-end round up for my own amusement.  Pardon me if I’m not scoring high on the excitement meter because I’m finding it difficult to be excited about anything lately.  The old They Might Be Giants lyric keeps going through my head: “Now it’s over, I’m dead and I haven’t done anything that I want / Or I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.”  Them TMBG boys used to make some great albums…  Speaking of “used to”, two highly-cherished bands released albums in 2022 after (in one case) decades of silence and both were just kind of “meh”.  If my temperament was better then I might have found these albums as enjoyable as many others seem to have found them. 

One surprising new band that blew my socks of is Frost… in 2006.  Their Milliontown album was phenomenal, and their follow-up was almost as good.  Eight years later they released a disappointing collection of songs and in 2022, five years later, they released Day And Age.  I didn’t have high hopes and I wasn’t disappointed in my lack of enthusiasm.  It was a decent album but I haven’t found myself wanting to listen to it since it was released, meaning my score of 7 is probably spot on.

But five years between album releases ain’t nuthin!  How about fourteen?  Can it really have been fourteen years since King’s X released XV?  While this band’s first five albums rank them as one of my favorite bands of all time, everything after 1994’s Dogman have been inconsistent.  Some I liked, some grew on me, some don’t get much play.  It was not with much anticipation that I listened to Three Sides of One and it’s… decent.  Right now I have it at an 8 and it’s still in my vehicle, hoping that it will grow on me.

But fourteen years between album releases ain’t nuthin!  How about THIRTY ONE?!?!?  Yes, the original Chagall Guevara album came out in 1991 and I still listen to it now and then.  I tempered my hopes and backed their Kickstarted and waited.  And waited.  And so on.  Eventually the album came out and… well?  Two songs had been released before during the previous decades (and one of these was a cover), leaving a mere seven original songs.  Some of these are quite strong, but I can’t help feeling like I got the short end of the stick.  It gets a 7, being docked one point for being a glorified EP.

What else is there to complain about?  Hmmm… the much hyped Troika is pretty good (7) but not deserving of all the gushing people heaped on it.  I very much enjoyed stumbling upon Prehensile Tales by Pattern Seeking Animals (8), which is a variation of late-era Spock’s Beard with solid songwriting.  I’m looking forward to investigating their other two albums.  I finally listened to the first Knifeworld album (8) and found it unusual and interesting.  Shades by Ty Tabor (7.5) was nice, a bit better than his last album, to my ears at least. 

I also caught up on some older albums.  I tried Frosting on the Beater by The Posies a few years back and nothing happened.  Fortunately I tried again and found most of the songs thoroughly enjoyable, a solid 9!  Sometimes it’s not the music but where you are in life.  All Right Here by Sara Groves was also highly enjoyable, but the other two early albums of hers I listened to in 2022 were not nearly as satisfying.

And then there’s Matt Bisonette.  He’s currently a touring bass player for some big, big names (in the 70s) but in his past he’s played in Jughead and Mustard Seeds, two Christian-leaning bands I’ve dearly loved.  So I was very glad to find that Spot (7) and Raising Lazarus (9) fall very much in their style of upbeat, positive, carefree, distorti-power pop and that he is, in fact, a practicing Christian… practicing more than in just empty words.  He has quite a few more solo albums which I’ll explore over the next year or two.


In my reading life 2023 was the year of Clifford Simak.  I read 14 novels and 9 non-fiction books (for a whopping total of 23, the same number that I read in 2022, but far less than my peak of 50 in 2007).  Half of the novels were my Simak.

Lemma tell ya… when this guy is at his A game he comes up with some imaginative stuff!  His book City is considered a sci-fi classic, and for good reason.  It is a bittersweet, timeless story of a world that’s gone to the dogs.  Literally.  Mankind bred dogs to be able to talk and created self-replicating robotic arms for them before slipping off to Saturn and other dimensions, leaving dogs to argue if this ancient myth of “mankind” is actually based on reality.

Goblin Station was a wacky comic book, with a well-read cave man, the ghost of William Shakespeare, maybe a wolfman?  It was pretty madcap, but not zany.  But even better was another classic, the lonely The Way Station (I’ll be reading that one again) and Ring Around The Sun, which was an early novel based on Simak’s themes of alternate dimensions and the economy.  Yes, the economy.  I should also add that most of his writings have rural settings.  Based on a few pages in Ring Around the Sun I’m pretty sure Simak was a fellow INFJ.  So wonderfully unique… so uniquely unable to ever fit in with 99.99% of the worlds population. 

In the early summer I enjoyed Amish Zombies from Space by Kerry Nietz, the sequel to Amish Vampires in Space.  He kept it PG, even with the violence, like a good Christian author.  I’ve been waiting for 2023 to read the final book in the series: Amish Werewolves of Space (what? You were expecting Amish garden gnomes?)

I received the Mike Lindell autobiography What Are The Odds as a gag gift from my kids but I like reading autobiographies so the jokes on them.  It was a great read… about as fun as it gets these days.  I re-read Perelandra by C.S. Lewis after a three+ decade break.  Some people love this book but not me.  The first 2/3 of the book is fairly decent but the last third has no action of any kid and is pretty much a long allegory with few guideposts to help the reader along.  The Jewish Gospel of John by Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg was an excellent interpretation of this meaty gospel, postulation that its original audience was the Samaritans, which would explain many of the “problems” people have had with it over the centuries.

I guess my 2022 reading time was pretty enjoyable… another thing to be thankful for!



Monday, March 21, 2022

Album Review - Terry Scott Taylor - This Beautiful Mystery

How many times am I going to write about Tim Chandler?  Apparently at least once more!

Recently Tom Willet created and posted a video about Tim as part of a series of outstanding deceased Christian musicians that are horribly underappreciated, musicians that should have had an impact on the world at large but didn’t even make a huge splash in the CCM community.  The first two highlighted musicians were Mark Heard and Tom Howard, if that gives any indication.  While the video was good, it was the comments from his fellow musicians, people that lived and played with Tim, that really stirred my soul.

And this leads me to the reason for this article: the new Terry Scott Taylor album (or double album) This Beautiful Mystery.  I’ve been hesitant to vomit my thoughts out into the digital world because I’m not 1000% enamored with the new album, but that’s one of the things Tim liked about me, that I would tell him my thoughts on his music without a fanboy sugar coating.  If it’s amazing I’ll say so in the album reviews I used to write.  If a band turns in a stinker I’ll just not write a review.  This is why I’ve been hesitant to write this quasi-review, because everyone else online has been gushing about how glorious this album is, and I’m left scratching my head wondering if we’re listening to the same set of songs.

When I first heard This Beautiful Mystery I was struck with how few rockers there were, how the overall tone of the album teeters on maudlin.  Then I caught myself thinking “Tim would have probably done such and such on this track” or “Whoever is playing bass on this one isn’t really adding anything.”  Then I realized that such thinking is unfair.  Tim isn’t playing and whoever is shouldn’t try to be Tim.  It would be like an American trying to do a British accent.  They could get close but eventually they’d say “apartment” instead of “flat” or some such and the whole farce would fall down. 

Terry has said that Tim “gave me courage to venture beyond my supposed creative limitations and in so doing, lose my self-conscious restraints and give into a kind of wild abandonment.”  That is the missing element on This Beautiful Mystery.  If Tim had been alive he would have most certainly contributed on most, if not every, track on the new Taylor album and likely would have helped shape the songs, pushing Terry to swing for the fences.  As they stand almost all of them play it safe and despite Rob Watson gussying them up with his keyboard orchestrations (that unfortunately often sound a bit dated sonically) the songs fail to excite my aural neurons.

I listened to both discs a number of times and felt underwhelmed. I’m no enemy of slow songs but there were just too many of them.  Eventually I remembered that, like turning DOWN the bass will actually boost the guitar, often times removing a weak song from an album will increase the overall listening experience.  What if I removed the weaker songs and created my own “This Beautiful Mystery” of only those songs that appealed to me?  I printed off a list of the song titles and listened again, rating each song on a 1 to 10 scale.  Then, being the dork that I am, I listened to a few tracks at random and rated them again, not looking at my original score.  Seeing that the ratings matched I decided that it wasn’t necessary to endure the entire double album again.

Out of 21 tracks there were just eight that I rated a 5 or above.  I listened to these by themselves and found that instead of a ho-hum slogging through I have excitement now when listening to the album.    It’s just about on the level of “John Wayne” and “Knowledge and Innocence.”  If a strong handed producer had been brought in I’m sure some of the “cut” thirteen tracks could have been tightened up to make a full album.  I’m sorry if this sounds harsh (especially to Terry should he ever find himself reading this) but I have to call it like I hear it.  This Beautiful Mystery is a great album hidden inside a mediocre one.

In case you were wondering, the eight songs on “my” version are:

Signs and Wonders (this one has the most Tim-like bass part)

The Meek

The Everlasting Man

The High Tech Tribulation Force

The Very One I Love

A Great Good Is Coming

Worried Waters

Under The Mercy