Monday, November 27, 2006

Ready to fly...

...or at least I will be after an inadequate amount of sleep and a shower. Got my bags packed (one, really; the guitar is a pretty simple deal), and it's not even midnight. Could be a record. Not one to brag about, really, since I have to leave the apt. at 6:45, but still a marked improvement over the past. I checked the weather in Cape Town and traded some long-sleeves for T-shirts. Looks like a hot week ahead (I'm glad I have Fahrenheit numbers to look at, otherwise I'd be getting out the calculator).

I checked the TSA list of allowed items; very interesting reading.

I found $40 I had tucked away at some point during last year's trip; that's always a treat.

Now to treat myself to a taped episode of "Studio 60" (I'm up anyway). I'm choosing to be patient with the weak spots, such as the often klunky portrayal of the Christian character on the cast-within-the-cast; I can't help feeling they did their research on Christians by watching TV, but I'd like to know more on that point. A nice effort nonetheless. It is a fact that Victoria Jackson was not shy about professing her beliefs while she was on SNL, though she didn't get the chance to do it during the show, for obvious reasons. In an interview I read with her in the Wittenburg Door (a Christian satire mag--yes, they know it's misspelled--I wasn't there to help), she came off pretty sharp, especially given her bubblehead image.

Also, as Mad TV pointed out last week in a wicked satire, "Studio 60" does have a hard time avoiding an exaggerated sense of self-importance, given that it's not about life-or-death situations like on "ER" or the international balance of power as on "The West Wing." It's a TV show about a TV show. On the other hand, on a spiritual and social level, TV shows can make a pretty big impact on shaping our thinking and emotions, and so ultimately, our beliefs and actions. Like blogging when you should be sleeping or watching TV as you planned.

So much to little time

As “zero hour, 9 a.m.” (8:50, actually) is less than 32 hours away, I have to admit I don’t feel as ready to go as I would like or even as I think I ought to be…but Lord willing I’ll be on that plane ready or not, and glad to be there.

The great news is I’m fully funded thanks to some generous folks whose support is definitely appreciated. And the other forms of support I’ve received already, from the generous responses to my request for a ride to the airport, to prayers and good wishes, to patience in listening to me rattle on about my plans, are as important and highly valued.

Looks like we’ll have a good crowd for Saturday’s songwriting workshop and the concert that evening. The workshop has been the thing I have fretted over the most, and feel the least prepared for (hence more fretting), but I am trying to remind myself it is not all ON me or ABOUT me.

A song by my friend Audrey Hatcher Woodhams speaks to me as much today as when I first heard her perform it at the Koinonia Coffeehouse during a writers night hosted by Rob Frazier of Belmont Church:

(Audrey Hatcher Woodhams )

Why should I be discouraged?
And why should I be afraid
When my God is on my side?
My God is on my side

And He goes before me.
He stands behind me.
He watches over all my ways.
And He walks beside me.
He lives within me.
I am surrounded in His embrace,
Surrounded in His embrace.

Why should I feel forsaken?
And why should I feel alone
When my God is on my side?
Yes, my God is on my side.

(c) 2002 BMG Songs/ASCAP

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Choose to be thankful

Had a good time over Thanksgiving, seeing family and a couple of Chattanooga-area friends. I even braved the Black Friday shopping melee, at least to check out some prices, etc., but not early. The lines were still long around noon at a few places I visited, but I sensed the hardcore shoppers were already back home in bed.

It occurred to me that we may have the two holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas in the wrong order…maybe it would make more sense to find out all the stuff we got for Christmas, then express our thanks for it all?

But then I realized a couple of things. We’ve got so much to be thankful for, especially in America, that we don’t need more stuff to add to the list (generally speaking). And the best way to celebrate a holiday full of giving is with the grateful attitude we choose on that Thursday on Nov. right before we stuff ourselves (again, generally speaking). So Thanksgiving makes a nice warmup or prequel to Christmas. The challenge is to keep the attitude even after the tryptophan has worn off, and prices have gone back up to normal, and the really cold weather has arrived.

I’ve begun to take pictures with my new camera but haven’t downloaded any to be able to post. I’ll have to use work computers for that until I get a new pc myself…my current home machine is too obsolete to handle the software (if specs are to be believed). I chose picture quality and control over the sound recording feature of the other one I was looking at. I’m still not familiar enough with it to get great pics, even in the full-auto mode I’ve been using, but I’ll have about 5 hours in the airport in D.C. on Tuesday to practice. You have to be careful what you shoot at an airport though…as I found out by experience…’nother story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Two weeks!

Two weeks can be a long time, or a short time. When you're waiting on a contractor to finish your remodel, two weeks is a long time. When you're waiting to get on a plane and make a 24-hour journey across the ocean, two weeks is a REALLY short time. Especially when it's actually two weeks minus one day. And counting.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Some days it just doesn’t pay to be rich & famous

[This has nothing to do with S. Africa; scroll down for that topic]

John. Faith. They had it all. Then they tried to fly just a little closer to the sun…attempting what only an elite few can do well: comedy. Not as easy as Leno and Letterman make it look on TV, is it, folks?

Trouble is, most people are apparently not taught to analyze the evidence before they come to conclusions (I do it by nature and thanks to reading lots of C.S. Lewis, but I’m not claiming perfection in this or any virtue). News and entertainment tend to come to us preconceived, previewed, and predigested. Hence the penchant for the masses to misconstrue raw or partial information...apparently the approach of the general public is “shoot first, ask questions later”...if they ask at all. And thanks to the media & the Internet, molehills become asteroids. It makes me worry how we maintain any traces of a democratic government (or do we?). John & Faith have found this out the hard way, though they should already have known.

Unlike many in both cases, I believe these two were simply trying to be funny...but I also believe there was enough revealed in their attempts at humor that were as offensive as what their accusers claimed.

First John Kerry tried to tell a joke and left out a small but crucial detail that not only ruined the joke but sounded like an insult to our troops. Unless it’s been removed by now, you can see it on YouTube (try not to let the title affect your judgment: ”Kerry Belittles U.S. Troops”
…and if you have, say, a few years of nothing else to do, you can read the 11,000 comments the video generated just on this site alone.

Thanks to a fellow blogger :

According to a “Kerry aide,” he was supposed to say this:
“I can’t overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.”

That’s a clear reference to Bush, who Kerry implies is dumb. But it came out like this:

“You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Kerry's response to the uproar of angry protest was that it was a “botched joke” and that he was insulting the President, not the troops. I accept that explanation (though insulting the guy who beat you is pretty cheap). We’ve all been there, right—you’re telling a funny one, you get to the punch line and get that sickening feeling when you realize that, instead of laughter, you’ll soon be getting looks from your listeners that first say “I don’t get it” then “You’re a dork, but nice try.” Kerry doesn’t think the troops are stupid...he protested that the Republicans were taking advantage of both his mistake and the public’s eagerness to be manipulated by oversimplifications. No argument from me on that. In America we call it politics, and unfortunately it seems to work, as all parties have found.

Trouble is, he also seems to think the fact that we’re in Iraq is directly related to Bush’s intelligence and/or past academic prowess. But no President ever has been a one-man show, and the "leader of the free world" cannot afford not to rely on advisers. So while I admit I cringe a little at things like "nuke-ya-ler" and I do sense we'd all be in better shape if Bush were more analytical, I believe academics are only part--maybe a very small part--of the necessary leadership qualities for President, which include the ability to make an emotional connection with the public and with his staff. So Kerry’s joke-as-intended is kind of an arrogant use of oversimplification, too--"If only he were an intellectual like me...." Right. And who was Kerry's audience? Not hard to get an “amen” when you’re preaching to the choir. But it is kinda hard to make another person look dumb when you mess up a fairly simple jab. Reminds me of the guy in Interpersonal Communication class back at UTK who, in an "honesty exercise" involving notes to every other class member, called me a "dweed." I was more puzzled and amused than insulted ("is this a frat thing?").

As for the CMA (Country Music Assn.) awards on Monday, when they announced the winner of an award she was up for, she behaved on camera in a way that someone might if they a) were upset at who won, namely Carrie Underwood or b) were trying to pretend they were upset, as a joke. Message boards like the one at came alive with a debate over which was correct, and of course YouTube had its part until the video was pulled--it’s on now.
She finally put out a statement that she was just joking around and everyone should get real.

"The idea that I would act disrespectful towards a fellow musician is unimaginable to me," Hill said. "For this to become a focus of attention, given the talent gathered, is utterly ridiculous. Carrie is a talented and deserving female vocalist of the year."

Gary Borman, Hill's longtime manager, added that the singer's reaction was meant as a joke.

"I've worked with Faith for many years now, and the idea that she would ever insult or undermine another artist, let alone another human being's success, is absolutely preposterous," Borman said. "Those who know her know that she's incapable of such actions. She was being playful while the nominations were being read and playful after."

My "humble and correct opinion": she was joking, but that in itself was disrespectful.

Let’s look at the evidence she was joking. First, there’s not much chance she didn’t realize when she was on camera; there are red lights, there are monitors, there are floor directors, there is a certain way the cameraman relaxes when he’s been told he’s done, etc. She’s no novice to this.

Second, they were anouncing the nominees, she looked around as if to say “where’s that voice coming from? Tee-hee.” The attempt at humor begins.

Then, when Carrie Underwood’s name was called, she did what a shocked and horrified person might do…but out of order, and very quickly. In reality, a person told something shocking would 1. drop their smile 2. widen their eyes 3. say something like “what?!” and THEN 4. throw up their arms in angry/helpless resignation and storm off. She did the arm thing first; have you ever seen anyone do that? You don’t give up and then register shock (Faith, pay attention; this could help you in your next movie). I’ve seen the notorious video a few times; I don’t agree that her acting was all that convincing. But I get the joke. It’s just what everyone secretly wants to see at an awards show, right? Like car wrecks at NASCAR.

Finally...why would Faith Hill even care at this point about one more CMA? She makes a bazillion dollars a year as a pop star, has a pop star/cowboy as a husband, has beautiful kids and at least one huge home, makes women cry and applaud every 2 minutes on “Oprah’ (“Oh, she makes her own toast—my hero!”).... Is it possible she’s realized by now that awards are kind of pointless compared to what matters? Is it possible she has had enough experience being treated like a product/goddess that she’s realized stardom is kind of silly? Hey, making fun of it works for Bono.

However, what she did WAS kind of rude was that, even if she didn’t take it seriously, she knew there were people there who did, especially Carrie Underwood, for good reasons or bad. Does she go to weddings and offer bets on how long the marriage will last (out loud)? Also, her statement that she can't imagine that she could disrespect another artist (even by accident?), and then failing to see why other people COULD imagine it, is the very definition of arrogance, which by nature makes us blind to our potential faults. In her profession this seems to be an occupational hazard and a job requirement at the same time. It's the natural result of being unduly worshipped by millions and living the elevated lifestyle she does...and you have to have a high tolerance for adulation to get there in the first place. As with most celebrities, the amazing thing is that she's still, according to people who know her, generally a nice person. In fact, I'm sure in many way she really is still just a “Mississippi Girl”, and I don’t doubt she’s a fine woman...but really, does she think she’s the same person she was 15 or 20 years ago? Not likely, and no reason she should be. But it's hard not to believe your own p.r.

So, Faith, John...nice try, each of you, but let’s leave the comedy to the professionals (Lord knows most of ‘em need the work). Or at least rehearse the jokes a little more. I'll be glad to offer my consulting a price you'll find very affordable.

Y'all come!

Poster for Summer Songwriting Workshop, designed by Ricky de la Cruz, Cape Town

Monday, November 06, 2006

Living Hope: "Purpose Driven" and "faith-based"

Just ran across some interesting stories online about Living Hope.

This one even has pictures from the 2005 Brentwood BC team visit--my friends are famous! :D
"From Tennessee to Africa, churches work together to address AIDS"

This one is about the power of faith-based organizations, regardless of where the money comes from:

"SOUTH AFRICA: Faith makes a difference in AIDS care"