30 April 2013

I Love Music

At best, I am a for my own pleasure musician. As long as I'm not soloing in front of other people, I enjoying singing or playing guitar (well, with the guitar, I would add ...and as long as the chords stay within a narrowly defined range). You won't get me to do so for anyone else, but I even (painfully) play a bit of piano to my own amazement.

I love music. Partly, it's my family heritage. My grandfather loved to play the piano and sing. I could be wrong, but my memory tells me that he couldn't tell you a "C" from an "F#" — he read and played shaped-notes. As a kid, I was amazed.

Music speaks to me. And mostly, it's the music itself more than the words. Our son and, especially, our daughter hear and learn the words of songs almost immediately — it baffles me. For me, even as a teenager, it's the music. My tastes are pretty eclectic ... light rock (especially from the 60s and 70s), blue grass, country, instrumental classical.... For worship, I don't mind, at all, praise choruses (as long as they're not mindless repetition) and CCM (I don't know what the current in vogue term is). I even like some Christian rap (think Propaganda), but in this case, it's the words, not the music, that I like.

The first time I heard Francesca Battistelli, I heard Free to Be Me on the radio and it immediately resonated with me, both the words and the music (okay, When I was just a girl.... doesn't describe my experience — LOL!):
‘Cause I got a couple dents in my fender,
Got a couple rips in my jeans;
Try to fit the pieces together,
But perfection is my enemy.
On my own I'm so clumsy,
But on Your shoulders I can see—
I'm free to be me
As much as I like all kinds of music, though, when it comes to worship, hymns are my preference. Yes, I like the music of (most) hymns. I enjoy a good 4-part harmony, in just the right range so that I can sing bass. But, it's the words that move me. I can hardly sing the third verse of It Is Well With My Soul without tears:
My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought: my sin not in part, but the whole — is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!
They don't have to be old hymns, either. Lynn DeShazo's Ancient Words is a moving testimony to the power of God's Word, the Bible. Keith and Kristyn Getty are writing and singing excellent hymns that present truth in ways that speak to present Christians.

In oral-preference cultures — cultures where, no matter what their literacy level, the preferred method for storing and passing on information is in stories — songs are used to teach, reinforce teaching, and to help people remember important lessons. Hymns have performed the same function for Christians and Jews for millennia. Here's an excellent example and an interesting story of one way hymns have been used to teach — the free download is an old hymn in a modern style:

Hymn Stories: The Church's One Foundation (+ Free Download)

Oh, and let's keep the running theme of this blog. One of the ways that I motivate myself when I'm running is with music. Not via an MP3 player and earbuds, but singing in my head — whatever happens to be there.

Run well, y'all,
Nairobi, Kenya

25 April 2013

Book Review: "7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness" by Eric Metaxas

In 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas endeavors to return readers to a clear and correct understanding of "manhood" by answering two questions: 'What is a man?' and 'What makes a man great?' Metaxas seeks to counter what he sees (and I agree) as misunderstandings of manliness as either brutish bullying to get one's own way or moral weakness in order to get along with everybody.

These questions are never addressed directly in the book after the introduction, but Metaxas seeks to provide an answer to them by giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of seven men that he believes deserved to be identified as great: George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), and Charles Colson. In doing so, he tries to set these men up as examples to be followed, as role models worth imitating.

I think he succeeds to a great extent. However, if one were to read the short biographies without reading the introduction, one might come away thinking that each of the subjects was a good man who largely succeeded in his own life, but might not catch the Metaxas' intent to identify true manhood.

Metaxas demonstrates that greatness is neither age-dependent nor country-dependent. Each died in a different decade of life — 60s, 70s, 40s, 30s, 50s, 80s, and 70s — and most reached their pinnacle of greatness near the end of their lives. One criticism, though, could be leveled against Metaxas because he limited his choice of subjects to those who came from the broader western cultures — the USA, Germany, England, Scotland, and Poland. He could have broadened the scope of his subjects by writing, for instance, on Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. (Side note: Mandela would have been an "odd man out" as all of the subjects of Metaxas' biographies have died — or, as a Kenyan friend has said, "They are past tense.")

At least one reviewer has already taken Metaxas to task for his heavy reliance on secondary sources. But, 7 Men is not intended to be a scholarly treatment of the lives of these men. Rather, they are used to illustrate Metaxas' thesis (in my reading of the book) that greatness, that true manliness is demonstrated when one stands firm on one's convictions even when such a stance leads to rejection, ridicule, suffering, and even death. In this case, reliance on secondary sources is not a detriment.
7 Men gives a good introduction to the lives of these 7 men who are admirable. But it goes beyond that to show the foundation of their greatness. This is a good read; highly recommended.

I read the Kindle version. Both the Kindle and the hardcover editions are scheduled for release on 30 April 2013. I received a pre-publication copy of 7 Men from the publisher, through their BookSneeze blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review. Disclosure

09 April 2013

Book Review: "Stress Test" by Richard Mabry

Life is good for Dr. Matt Newman. He has finished his last day in private practice. He's ready to start a new job tomorrow as an assistant professor of surgery at Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas — less stress, more regular hours, time for a life, and a happier girlfriend. As he walks out of Metropolitan Hospital after an emergency call and gets to his car in a deserted part of the hospital's parking garage, he's suddenly attacked, bound with duct tape, tossed in the trunk of his car, and driven off to his certain demise. When he escapes, Detective Grimes doesn't believe his kidnapping story but goes after Dr. Newman for the murder of Cara Mendiola, an IT technician at Metropolitan found dead in the trunk of his car. Defense attorney, Sandra Murray, takes his case but life goes downhill fast for Dr. Newman.

This is how Richard Mabry begins his most recent medical mystery. I've read 3 of 4 of his medical mystery series, Prescription for Trouble, and enjoyed every one of them. Stress Test was equally enjoyable. Mabry's treatment of the characters was consistent — if they had been actors, one would say they stayed in character. He does a good job of intertwining the lives of the characters to introduce some internal as well as interpersonal tension. For example, Ms. Murray has just broken off a relationship with Dr. Ken Gordon because he doesn't share her faith in God. She has concluded that all doctors are probably like Dr. Gordon — so wed to science that they can't have faith in God. Dr. Gordon becomes Dr. Newman's neurosurgeon when Dr. Newman suffers a serious head injury in his kidnapping. And, Ms. Murray not only takes Dr. Newman's case, she begins to be emotionally attached to him.

While Mabry keeps his characters in character, they are sometimes a bit shallow. For instance, it seems unlikely that someone like Ms. Murray, who is very good as a defense lawyer, would jump to the conclusion that all doctors were faithless just because Dr. Gordon wanted nothing to do with religion.

This is a "Christian mystery" so references to faith and God should come as no surprise. These elements are believable and portrayed as normal facets of life for the characters. Some might question Ms. Murray's breaking off of the relationship with Dr. Gordon because of his unbelief as odd, but it's not odd in the Christian world. Dr. Newman's faith grows throughout the story. Other characters have to confront their own lack of faith as the story progresses.

There were some plot quirks. For instance, near the end of the book, Mabry has Detective Ames saying that a certain deputy sheriff probably called the police dispatcher. She speculates that Detective Grimes had alerted the dispatcher to let him know about any calls related to Dr. Newman. However, just one screen later, Detective Ames says that the police got lucky because the deputy sheriff called the detective division rather than the police dispatcher.

All in all, this was worth reading.

There were some interface errors in the Kindle edition. Navigating to "Go to...Beginning" took me to the author's page at the very end of the book. Neither Kindle's X-Ray function nor real page numbers were enabled — perhaps that's because I was reading a review copy from the publisher but the X-Ray function, especially, would have been helpful.

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. See http://cmp.ly/1