Sunday, March 23, 2008

An Opportunity to Make a Joyful (?) Noise .....

He is risen ... Christ is risen, indeed ...

A pretty-full house for early service and a filled-to-capacity house for late service this morning at First Prez-Midland, and I don't think anyone went home disappointed. The church's staff and ministry did themselves proud today, and the message of Christ's resurrection - and our salvation - was loud, clear and compelling.

There was a little something for everyone ... including me. A small notice in the church bulletin said, "Those who have sung the 'Hallelujah Chorus' and would like to join with the choir in this great anthem, please come to the chancel during the singing of 'Because He Lives'"

I had ... so I did. As I have done for the past three Easters - and for the only time in more than thirty years, I sang that awesome piece with a choir. And not just the choir this morning, but accompanied by brass and organ.

I was a tenor in high school, and I don't quite have the range now, that I did then. The lump in my throat - not the result of stage fright but, rather of exhilaration - didn't help either ... it was a wonderful moment. And even as I mangled this note or that, I didn't care ... I was making a joyful noise, nonetheless. And, I enjoyed it so much that I came back and sang at late service, as well.

Perhaps what I felt was something like what Edward Hoagland * once described ...

"Though I'd seen mobs behave savagely, some of my experience was of the moments when, on the contrary, a benign expressiveness, even a kind of sweetness, is loosed. When life seems to be an unmixed good, the more the merrier, and each man rises to a sense of glee and mitigation, alleviation, or freedom that, perhaps, we wouldn't quite dare to feel if he were alone. The smiling likeness, infectious blitheness, the loose, exultant sense of unity in which sometimes, the mass of people as a whole, seems to improve upon the better nature of the parts."

"This intrigued me."

"Just as with other natural wonders of the world, to which one relinquishes one's self, instead of feeling smaller, I often felt bigger when I was packed into a multitude And taking for granted the potential for mayhem of crowds, of which so much has been written, I was fascinated instead by the clear, pealing gaiety."

"It manifests itself, for instance, in the extraordinary quality that singing by a congregation acquires. The humdrum and unlovely voices gradually merge into a sweet, uniquely pristine note, a note angelic-sounding, hardly believable. Looking about, one can't see who in particular might have such a voice. Everybody in the pew has an expression as if he were about to sneeze, and squawks just a little. It is a note created only when hundreds sing ... it needs them all. No single person is responsible, any more than any individual in a mob lends that its bestiality."

"It's like riding in surf. It's like a Dantean ascent ... one circle up. Suddenly, we like all these strangers, even the stranger in ourselves, and seem to see a shape in life, as if all the exertions of the week really were justified and were a source of joy."

Alleluia ... Amen


With thanks to Florence Sherwood, Chorus Director at Dallas Senior High School, Dallas, Pennsylvania, for her wonderful talent and her incredible patience.

* And HERE is a little more on Edward Hoagland.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Won't You Join Us, Sunday? .....

Tomorrow is the big day. "We are the Easter people," Pastor Jim Miles of First Prez-Fort Stockton reminds us ..... and that is the day we mark tomorrow, the day for which we have prepared all week, the day for which we live at all times. It is a cause for celebration, a time of faith and fellowship, for prayer and passion, for thought and thanks.

Won't you join us?

First Presbyterian Church of Midland will hold a pair of Easter Sunday Services at 8:15 and 11:00 a.m. in our main sanctuary. Greg Pysh, our Minister of Music, always does a great job ..... but they pull out all the stops on Easter Sunday, and members of the congregation will be invited to join the choirs for the final, glorious musical offering. In between the two, we will have an Easter Sunday Brunch from 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. in our Lynn Fellowship Hall. Guillermo Torres is our Food Services Director, and he and his staff set an excellent table ... a table that has a place for you. For the youngsters, there will also be a Butterfly Release at 10:00 a.m. in the Family Life Center Courtyard.

The church is located at 800 W. Texas Avenue ... that's the corner of Texas Avenue and A Street, on the western edge of downtown Midland. There's plenty of parking outside and plenty of room inside.

Won't you join us?

Friday, March 21, 2008

More Than One Interesting Topic .....

... for discussion might be found in the announcement from Santa Fe that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, is endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for president, calling him a "once-in-a- lifetime leader" who can unite the nation and restore America's international leadership. HERE is the complete story from

The discussion here, in the Permian Basin, should be especially interesting. Yes, there will be talk about the impact Richardson's endorsement may - or may not - have upon the Hispanic vote ..... and I suspect that will also be a big part of the national discussion.

But there is another point of local discussion that should be interesting ..... what impact this may - or, again, may not - have upon the energy industry. Richardson has served in a variety of government capacities at the state, federal and international levels, including U.S. Secretary of Energy. Those who have developed oil and gas properties in New Mexico during Richardson's tenure as governor there, might be willing to share their thoughts on what today's endorsement might bode for them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Won't You Join Us, Thursday? .....

Today is Maundy Thursday, the beginning of what is called the Sacred or Easter Tridium, a three-day period that marks the Last Supper, then takes us through Christ's betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, then his crucifixion and death at Calvary, and his resurrection two days later. First Presbyterian Church of Midland will hold a Maundy Thursday Service tonight at 7:00 p.m. in our sanctuary, which can be entered from Texas Avenue, just a short distance west of the intersection with A Street.

We will also hold a Good Friday Service at 7:00 p.m., a come-and-go Prayer Vigil on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., and Easter Sunday Services at 8:15 and 11:00 a.m. (with an Easter Sunday Brunch in between, from 9:00 - 10:30 a.m.)

Won't you join us?

Why, Yes, As a Matter of Fact .....

... we DO have a teenager in the household ..... why do you ask? :-)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Adding Flavor to Wednesday Nights .....

... is the return of a new season of Top Chef. This is a movable feast - Season Four takes place in Chicago, with sixteen "cheftestants" whittled-down week-by-week as they compete to out-flavor, out-cook and out-do one another. The winning chef receives $100,000 in seed money to help open a restaurant, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, a gourmet dream vacation in the French Alps, and the title of "Top Chef" ... at least for this year.

I'm no great fan of the 'reality TV' genre, but this is one of the exceptions. The kiddos like it, too, and we were all glad to see
Nimma get the heave-ho in Week 1 ... she was such a whiner!

For us, the high point of the first week was the Quickfire Challenge for each contestant to create a signature deep-dish pizza (this IS Chicago, after all). So some contestants talked about their Chi-Town connection, while others stressed their New York roots, or their Italian heritage ..... then, the two winners turned out to be contestants as far removed from pizza havens as you could imagine -
Richard from Atlanta, Georgia (though he IS a NY native); and Mark from Invercargill, New Zealand (who has since moved to NY).

Sadly, the show also promises to have some other, unofficial contests ... like who can be the biggest character (my vote is for Erik at this early stage), and who can get more words bleeped-out in a single episode (with the early edge in this one going to Andrew).

A Piece of the Action II .....

It's still spring break, the family is still away on a trip, and I've still got the place to myself ..... what a great opportunity to enjoy a little action ... er, action movies, that is ... the kind that are a little too violent for My Favorite Landman, and not-at-all age-appropriate for the kiddo (and barely age-appropriate for me).

My second batch of DVD rentals were, like the first, long on action ..... but they were also long on story, and long on star-power, which set them apart from the first batch.

The first was
American Gangster, Ridley Scott's cinematic portrayal of Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington), a real-life kingpin from Harlem who smuggled heroin into the US on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War, and the efforts of detective Richie Roberts (played by Russell Crowe) to bring down Lucas' drug empire. Those stars and the director all brought with them award-winning talent, and it showed. American Gangster went on to become the first crime saga to gross over $30-million its opening weekend, and the best opening weekend for both Washington and Crowe. It went on to earn a spot on dozens of critics 'Top 10 Films of the Year' lists. Of the films I've rented so far this week, I'm tempted to buy my own copy of American Gangster to watch again, sometime.

My other rental, this time around, was
Beowulf, a motion capture film based on an Old English epic poem, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, using the same technique he employed with his 2004 film, The Polar Express. Like American Gangster, it was long on action, long on story and long on star power, offering the voices and MC images of Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie (the topic of this earlier post by me), among others. The Beowulf saga is one of the most famous in the history of western literature, and it is filled with plenty of colorful and lusty characters ... especially blood-lusty characters. I thought it was a shame that the scriptwriters - who reportedly found the poem's narrative unreliable on some points - decided that their modern sensibilities could improve upon a work that has endured for centuries, concocting a storyline that left me shaking my head at times ..... for example, they introduce Christianity into the saga, then they blame that faith for erasing true heroes from the world - even as they, the writers, erased any character's heroic characteristics from the script. That being said, the film is a visual, often visceral treat ..... GREAT eye candy, but no longer a great story.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

R.I.P. 'C' .....

Arthur C. Clarke, a visionary science fiction writer who won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future, died Wednesday in his adopted home of Sri Lanka, an aide said. He was 90. HERE is the rest of the story from .....

When I was young, science fiction enthusiasts would often tell us about the 'ABC's' of the genre - Isaac Asimnov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur Clarke - and how one needed to be well-versed in their works. My enthusiasm for 'A' and 'C' came earlier and has dwindled some over the years, while my enthusiasm for 'B' came later and has retained much of its original vigor.

What impressed me most about Clarke was the depth of intelligence and information he brought to even his most speculative pieces, which allowed him to contribute to the advancement of science fact as well as science fiction. I also appreciated his sense of humor, which encompassed even practitioners and enthusiasts of the genre such as himself ("Tales from the White Hart," for example).

What impressed me less was his - to me, at least - inability to create characters that matched the depth and breadth of the technology that filled his stories. I still think one of the most complete human characters he ever created was the HAL 9000 computer ..... and HAL's closing exchange with Dr. Chandra remains one of the most poignant scenes Clarke ever created - for me, at least.

True, Clarke's output had diminished with his advancing years and declining health. But I suspect that there will always be special, easily-reached places on our bookshelves for his works, long after we have reached the distant future that found form and meaning through his vision, and his words.

Why Spookyrach Loves Her Job .....

... and I love reading about it. HERE is Reason #238.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Did Anybody Else Catch This .....

... and was anybody else bothered by it? I don't usually get to watch The Today Show, getting the kiddos ready for school, then heading out the door myself. But the office is closed this week, and I'm back to watching daytime TV, among other things.

Apparently, Today now includes a segment from Saturday Night Live, featuring clips from recent SNL skits (you can see them under the 'Featured Video' heading on SNL's website). Okay, that's fine ..... I'm not complaining about the content, but the placement. This morning, did they have to segue straight from a report on calls to search for more bodies at Charles Manson's old ranch, to the SNL segment. Judging by his intro, Matt Lauer thought it was a bit of a stretch, too. I mean, couldn't they have run the SNL segment later in the show, next to the 'breaking news' of the McCartney/Hill divorce settlement, for example?

A Piece of the Action .....

It's spring break, the family is away on a trip, and I've got the place to myself ..... what a great opportunity to enjoy a little action ... er, action movies, that is ... the kind that are a little too violent for My Favorite Landman, and not-at-all age-appropriate for the kiddo (and barely age-appropriate for me).

Thank goodness for DVD rentals! So far, I've already had a chance to watch a couple of films I really did mean to catch while they were in the theaters ... but never got around to it ... their limited stay on local screens didn't help, either.

One was
Hitman, a film adaptation of the popular video game series of the same name. Considering the source material, it should come as no surprise that the movie is a little long on violent action, and short on storyline - most of it, IMHO, borrowed from a variety of sources, everything from the Jason Bourne series to Dark Angel. What did surprise me about the actual film was that it didn't seem to portray a strong church-connection for 47's Organization, which I thought was suggested by the trailers for the film. The movie was okay, worth the cost of a rental ..... though maybe not the cost of a pair of theater tickets, a couple of sodas and a barrel of popcorn.

My other rental was
Shoot 'Em Up, a "ramped-up action film on steroids" that made the jump from theaters to DVD faster than a speeding bullet. Again, long on violent action (with more than a little sexual overtone), and short on storyline. But the choreography and editing is first-rate. The website suggested, "the script started off with the shoot-outs and then had a plot thrown into it, and not the other way around," which may not be far from the truth. IMHO, I think the script - such as it is - features some great, sometimes hilarious lines. In his review in Hollywood Reporter, Frank Schreck found the film "all very silly, but also undeniably fun." Me, I agree with him. Roll the film, suspend the disbelief, then sit back and enjoy the ride ... especially if you liked Clive Owen's character in Sin City.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Start of Holy Week .....

..... found me in the pews of First Prez-Midland, and it was a good start. I enjoyed an above-average Palm Sunday service, due in part to the contributions of fifty young men and women who form the choir of Carroll College, a 167-year-old school dedicated to 'providing a superior educational opportunity for their students, one grounded in the liberal arts tradition and focused on career preparation and lifelong learning ..... and to demonstrating Christian values by example.' They are in the midst of a spring break tour of communities in Texas and New Mexico. The music presented by these young
singers and musicians included one movement, "Agnus Dei," from the "Requiem" of
John Rutter, a modern composer whose work was unknown to me before this morning. Here is a recording of 'Agnus Dei,' courtesy of LuxAeterna36 on YouTube. By the way, Maundy Thursday service is at 7:00 p.m. Won't you join us?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I Scoop Frank .....

Normally, I would be tipping my hat to the proprietor of Books, Inq. The Epilogue on just about all matters bookish, but not this piece from The Onion, "Novelists Strike Fails To Affect Nation Whatsoever" ...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Rolling A 6, Bidding A +10 Farewell .....

Gary Gygax, a pioneer of the imagination who transported a fantasy realm of wizards, goblins and elves onto millions of kitchen tables around the world through the game he helped create, Dungeons & Dragons, died Tuesday at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He was 69. HERE is a complete report from the New York Times' Seth Schiesel.

There is also
this video tribute from the folks at Wizards of the Coast, which in 1997 acquired Gygax' company and its trademark game, which had become a commercial phenomenon, selling an estimated $1-billion in books and equipment, and being played by an estimated 20-million people ..... including me.

I enjoyed it. By the time I arrived at college, only a year or two after the game was introduced, it was already a staple on campuses around the country, and remained so for many years afterward. Over time, my 'mad monk' character gained a lot of powers, and I gained a lot of friends ..... and these were 'actual' friends, people across the table from from you, staying-up and winding-down after mid-terms, or sharing a long cross-country trip on the band bus. Gygax always stressed the social experience of the game, sharing the adventure - and for some of us, a pizza and beer - which I found to be superior to the virtual acquaintances one forms in today's generation of online RPG's. It also left more to your imagination than you are allowed through a computer program, and some dungeon-masters elevated their craft of fashioning a fantasy world to something approaching art.

My active participation - and even my interest - in D&D eventually faded as I gravitated more and more to the board games produced by Avalon Hill and SPI. But I never completely let go ..... and I suspect, cloistered somewhere, in some long unopened box, the mad monk awaits.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Won't You Join Us? .....

Wednesday evening, March 5, First Presbyterian Church of Midland will host Ron Hall and Denver Moore, two men whose amazing story became the book, "Same Kind of Different As Me. Their presentation is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the main sanctuary ..... but there are a number of reasons you'll want to come early!

Denver Moore was born in rural Louisiana, and after several tragic events went to live on a plantation with his aunt and uncle, who were share croppers. Sometime around 1960, he began a life as a homeless drifter until a judge sentenced him to ten years' hard labor in a Louisiana penitentiary. After that, his road brought him to Texas, where he spent years on the streets of Fort Worth. It was in Texas that he met Ron Hall, whose life had already seen a number of successes in education, business and art ..... but was about to take a very different turn. (Read more about them

IMHO, the book that arose from their story is a must-read ..... "A dangerous homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery," says promotional copy for the book, "an upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel, a gutsy woman with a stubborn dream, a story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it." And, apparently, there are others who share that view. Moore and Hall's website reports they have received more than twenty inquiries from screenwriters, film makers and producers, and have signed an option with Mark Clayman, the producer of "Pursuit of Happyness."

You are cordially invited to come hear their story in person ..... but, like I hinted earlier, don't wait until six-thirty to arrive. Before the presentation, there will be music and praise from
Tru Lite Christian Fellowship, which is partnering with First Prez for this event. The churches are planning on a big turnout, and a closed-circuit feed from the sanctuary will be fed onto the big screen in the adjoining fellowship hall. Copies of Moore and Hall's book will also be available for sale before the presentation.

First Presbyterian Church is located on the northwest corner of Texas Avenue and A Street, on the western edge of downtown Midland. Additional parking is available across the street from the church (on the east side of A Street, and the south side of Texas Avenue).

Won't you join us?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I'm Just Not As Excited .....

... over the prospects of tomorrow's primary, as I might have been. Last week, Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson predicted a record turnout for Tuesday's balloting ..... and I plan to do my part, and contribute my vote to the totals.

But, while I still will have a full slate of candidates from which to choose, some decisions have already been made for me (and for other voters in the Lone Star State). Only a fraction of those who announced their candidacy, are still running a viable campaign. Many of them have since announced their withdrawal, and offered their endorsement for one or another of a dwindling pool of active candidates.

And that does raise one spark of local interest for me ..... the other day, I spoke with a longtime energy company pro who planned to vote for Hillary Clinton tomorrow - not out of any great respect for Ms. Clinton, but out of concern over New Mexico Governor Richardson's endorsement of Clinton's opponent. What role, I was asked, might Richardson have in an Obama administration ..... please, PLEASE, PLEASE, not energy secretary.

Getting back to my earlier point ..... I find myself leaning towards the idea of a single nationwide primary ..... everyone goes to the polls and decides the same issues among the same pool of viable candidates. Sure, the candidates would pay more attention (and spend more money) in the 'BIG' states ..... but is that any different from what's going on now? I mean, how much time and money are the candidates spending on Rhode Island and Vermont right now, while Texas and Ohio are up for grabs the same day?

Anyway, those are my thoughts ..... what do YOU think?