God is Sovereign . . . even over Google Maps

I try to refrain from posting much personal here, but this is too amazing to keep to myself!

This evening, I was planning on attending a Crist Family concert. Between church and the concert, I was going to go to a recital by several children from my voice teacher’s family, at their church. I had never been to their church before, but I was under the impression it was on or near a certain divided four-lane highway.

I went to Google Maps, put in the church’s name and city (since I didn’t have an address), and Google Maps gave me an odd route through back roads. I thought for sure the highway would get me there, so I tried to customize the route—yet Google took me back to those back roads.

On my turn onto the final back road, I heard a terrible grinding noise and my car started shaking wildly. I was able to stop it. I stepped outside, and found that the front passenger wheel and tire had almost entirely disconnected and was about to fall off.

I called AAA, and then started listing my reasons to be grateful. The tire didn’t come all the way off. No structural damage was done. I wasn’t hurt, and nobody else was, either. The husband and wife who owned the house even came out—the husband took a look at what was wrong, and the wife brought a glass of ice water. (It was 89° outside, sunny, and humid, so that was a huge blessing.) And, if anything had to happen, it happened on the only lightly-trafficked residential street on the whole route. All the others had medium to high speeds and heavy traffic, and if it had happened anywhere else, there are high chances that there would have been a collision and injuries.

After AAA was on its way with a tow truck, I asked the husband and wife to confirm that the church was down their street, as per the map. They gave me a funny look and said that no, it was down a few other streets and turns. But their son commented that if I did walk down the street, it would dead-end into the church’s yard.

After the tow truck picked up the car, I walked down the street. It was probably less than a mile, though it sure felt like longer with a sunny and humid 89° temperature! I was expecting a post office box for the church, figuring it was the mailing address even if not the parking lot entrance. But there was no mailbox—just a path through the forest to the parking lot. I made it inside in time to catch the final few songs of the first half, and all of the second half. As I’d been hoping might be possible, my friends were even able to arrange to get me home afterwards.

So all in all, I have far more to be thankful for than anything I could complain about. I’m safe, nobody else got hurt, and it happened on a slow-moving dead-end street.

But in the back of my mind, something didn’t seem quite right. I just realized what it was. Why would Google Maps have sent me down a dead-end street that didn’t even take me to the church?

So I put in the same information—the church and city—and ran the same map again. This time, it said to take the 4-lane highway!

God is even sovereign over Google Maps.

Read More

Saturday News Roundup #68

In the News

  • Earlier this week, BMI honored the most-played Christian songs in 2010. Five Southern Gospel songs were honored: “He Locked the Gates” (Kingdom Heirs), “It Pays to Pray” (Greater Vision), “Life Goes On” (Talley Trio), “Stuff of Life” (Booth Brothers), and “When the Trumpet Sounds” (Triumphant Quartet). Rodney Griffin, who wrote two on the list (“He Locked the Gates” and “It Pays to Pray”) was one of three honorees for Christian Songwriter of the Year. Griffin appeared to accept his honor, and Triumphant Quartet also appeared to sing “When the Trumpet Sounds.”
  • The March AFA Journal featured the Todd Allen Family. [EDIT, 2/22/13: Broken link removed.] This is the same family that performed a special version of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as a male barbershop-style quartet at last year’s National Quartet Convention.
  • Brian Free’s mother, Frances Free, is hospitalized after suffering a massive stroke last week. Brian’s father James passed away last October.

60 Second CD Review: Joy in the Journey (McKameys)

Over the years, the McKameys have produced a number of strong albums. Joy in the Journey is their strongest since I discovered and started paying attention to Southern Gospel seven years ago. Four highlights:

  • I Have a Great Savior. Several reviews called this a weak track; I find that puzzling. Though it’s a new song, written by Rebecca Peck, it has the musical and lyrical feel of a hymn. It’s a great fit for the McKameys’ voices, and one of the strongest tracks on the project.
  • Joy in the Journey is a cheery, encouraging convention song penned by alto Sheryl Farris.
  • When Faith Steps In. This story-song, by Squire Parsons’ daughter Leigh Parsons Sexton, is a clear stand-out and was an obvious pick for first single.
  • God Doesn’t Think Like Me is a power-packed fusion of a chorus that feels like a big ballad with the McKameys’ distinctive harmonies.

Blog Updates

This week, I totally revamped the menu. The Home and pages links have joined the categories in the main red menu below the logo. Social media, post by email, and RSS links are now where the old menu was.

Random contest: What two graphic design changes did I make to the site this week? The first person to correctly list both wins a free CD—the Crist Family’s debut project, Worth the Trip. The winning entry is the first to accurately list both!

Also, during the recent preparation/launch of SouthernGospelBlog.com’s YouTube channel, I kept thinking that I could and ought to take our video presence to the next level. The leading news websites in other industries usually have their own video players. While having YouTube as a free option was helpful for this site’s first four and a half years, I decided to make the dive and pay for custom video hosting. Our genre deserves the same level of quality other industries have. Custom hosting also allows better security and the ability to offer exclusive footage. And call me a geek if you like, but YouTube’s compression algorithm is as horrible and lossy as JPEG compression!

Our YouTube account will remain active. Even once current and past videos have moved to our higher-quality custom channel, YouTube will continue to host our Essential 25 and Southern Gospel 101 playlists.

Open Thread

As usual for the news roundups, consider the comment section an open thread!


Read More

Announcing: Culture section on The Biblical Bookshelf

Several weeks ago, I announced a new website, The Biblical Bookshelf. At the time, the site only included book and film reviews.

I recently considered adding a culture column to SouthernGospelBlog.com. It would have included current events, politics, church life, humor, and apologetics. I consulted with a sampling of frequent readers and got mixed feedback. So I decided it would be easier to modify the mission plan of a just-launched site. So, starting this week, the Biblical Bookshelf will include book reviews, film reviews, and cultural commentary.

I mention this since many of you who might not be heavy book readers might have more interest in the new column. The opening post examines whether the recently discovered Hebrew metal codices claimed to date back to Christ’s time are forgeries.

Read More

Off Topic: Introducing The Biblical Bookshelf

Due to having an out-of-town guest this weekend, I haven’t had the time to finish sorting through all the submissions for the SG 101 – YouTube Videos upcoming post. So if you have any other ideas today, certainly head over and comment – it’s not too late!

Meanwhile, since there don’t seem to be any news stories to speak of waiting for us from over the weekend, I’ll do one of my incredibly rare off-topic posts. Last week, I launched a new website, the Biblical Bookshelf, offering book reviews for a Christian homeschooling audience. While the target audience differs notably from this site’s, there is enough overlap that it’s worth mentioning. And besides, it proves that I am indeed quite capable of writing scathing critiques when necessary!

Read More

Screen Door on a Submarine

Over the last 48 hours, we’ve had enough serious theological discussion to last . . . well, till tomorrow, anyhow. On a lighter note, here is a Christian barbershop quartet offering their take on one of Rich Mullins’ best-remembered songs:

Could you see any Southern Gospel group pulling this off? If so, who?

(Here’s the original artist rendition.)

Read More

Somewhat off-topic: Free church music resources

While I’ve never conducted a formal survey, I know from emails and comments over the last few years that many of you are church musicians. So I thought I’d pass along a resource useful to those of you who are, even if it’s not specifically pertinent to the genre.

Sovereign Grace Music, a church network that intentionally develops songwriters and worship teams for its churches, hosts an annual conference on church music. They offer about 160 free messages, from the last eleven years of the conference, here and here.

Some of the messages are specific to worship in churches using a contemporary format—but many of us, myself included, attend such churches even if our musical preferences lie in this genre. Other messages have broader applicability; there are messages on songwriting from writers like Stuart Townsend, Keith & Kristyn Getty, and Bob Kauflin, messages on technical aspects like mixing, sound system maintenance, and in-ear monitors, messages on individual instrument and vocal techniques (including adult and youth choirs), a message on music copyright laws, and, above all else, a broad assortment of messages forming a theological base for worship.

While I would doubt any of us would agree with every single view expressed in every single message, this looks to be such an abundance of value that it’s worth passing along.

Read More

Election Day

Most of this site’s readership lives in the United States. As our country heads to the polls today, we recall the failings for which so many of our elected leaders must give account. Yet may we be even more mindful of the fact that, for our votes as well as our other actions, we must one day give account before a higher tribunal, a supreme Judge. So as we exercise our right as a citizen, let us do it while mindful of our responsibilities as a Christian.

Read More

Off Topic: DVD: The Free Ride

Normally, when I do an off-topic post about a DVD or book release, it is in the form of a review. But, in the interest of full disclosure, this will be less partial than a review since I volunteered during filming, was an extra in a closing scene, and am good friends with several of the cast and crew.

Many stories can be told in twenty rhyming lines and four minutes. A few cannot. For those, the incipient potential in the independent Christian film movement has intrigued me for several years. I have reviewed two here before, The Runner from Ravenshead and The Widow’s Might. Both of those have been nominated for Best Feature Film in the leading Christian film festival, the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. (Last year, The Widow’s Might won the Best of Festival prize.) The Free Ride, released by Sanctum Entertainment, is one of the nominees this year.

The story centers around a former professional bicycle racer who was evicted from the sport after using performance-enhancing drugs, and his son who is dying from a rare disease (for which the only treatment is one his now-unemployed father cannot afford). The father is offered the chance to take part in a race with a cash prize that would pay for the treatment.

The story is well crafted, accessible, and, crucially, coherent. While some films feel overly episodic (incidentally, the largest reason I did not feature The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry here), this film’s scenes flow smoothly together into a single, compelling narrative.

Virtually all the actors, including the two main characters, were amateurs. But the writer/director knew he would likely be working with amateurs, so he wrote fewer of the emotionally charged scenes one finds in other films. But in those scenes that require passion and emotion, the actors pull off believable performances—and the story is strong enough that it doesn’t need good acting to carry a weak narrative.

(Spoiler alert) I will admit to a bias for movies with happy endings, and this movie has an ending that brings to mind It’s a Wonderful Life. So if you’re looking for a depressing film where everyone ends up dead or hating each other, look elsewhere. (End spoiler alert) The film is family-friendly, with none of the language or nudity that poisons run-of-the-mill secular releases. The only thing I noticed that would raise a few eyebrows would be the main character’s cigarette use at the start of the film; this is presented as a flaw in what starts out as a very flawed character, and is (visually, though not verbally) resolved later in the film.

The Free Ride is a heartwarming family film that I am delighted to recommend.

Read More

Off Topic: DVD Review: The Runner from Ravenshead

The Runner from RavensheadTo me, the essence of what makes music compelling is not the melody, the arrangement, or the quality of the vocal—though all three will affect whether I like a piece. The heart is the story that is told in that four-minute time span, those twelve, sixteen, or twenty lines. This is why my efforts in Southern Gospel—apart from running this site—have been focused on studying the craft of songwriting.

But as everyone who has put pen to paper and attempted to form a song has eventually discovered, not all stories can be told in sixteen lines.

Ever since shortly after creation, cultures have had songs. Though styles have changed, songs have been a constant through the six thousand years of earth history. But the format in which those longer stories are told has changed through the centuries—oral traditions, books, magazines, and films. As our culture seems to allot a steadily decreasing amount of time for reading, films are becoming the primary method through which those longer stories are told. And even as YouTube shortens the average cultural attention span, feature-length films are becoming the last bastion of in-depth storytelling in our culture.

For several years, I have been watching the development of the independent Christian films movement with interest—enough, in fact, to contemplate starting a separate site solely devoted to covering this small but growing genre. But there just aren’t enough news items or DVD releases yet to sustain a steady stream of posts on the topic. So (to my regular readers), please pardon an occasional deviation from our typical topics of discussion.

On to the film. The Runner from Ravenshead is an allegory. The five actors are all siblings under the age of ten; their parents wrote, produced, and directed the film.

I have seen so many poorly done allegories, whether on film or elsewhere, that I am generally rather skeptical of the genre. Almost always, there is either a strong story but the application is a stretch, or the application is so much in the forefront that there isn’t much of a story at all. All too often, allegories do all your thinking for you.

The Runner from Ravenshead is one of those rare exceptions. There is an engaging story that is enjoyable on its own merits. And the allegory could be interpreted on several levels—on one level, as a story of salvation, and on another, as a picture of the trials those who are already Christians face on an ongoing basis.

The acting is convincing. Each of the five children played more than one part (more on that later), so it does take the first 10% or 15% of the film to really establish who’s who in your mind. But the children did such a good job at keeping roles separate that characters are clearly defined by the end of the first third. Especially for children, and even more for children in their first film, the actors do an incredible job portraying a wide range of emotions, from despair to frustration to embarrassment to joy. (And it doesn’t hurt anything that what another reviewer aptly termed “the cute factor” is through the roof.)

One of the first things that caught my eyes about the film was the fact that the soundtrack was recorded by the Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra. Perhaps that might not ring a bell for the person on the street, but I hear that and two things immediately come to mind—the Gerald Wolfe arrangement of “Oh Holy Night” and the Kim Collingsworth piano solo “How Great Thou Art,” both of which feature the Prague orchestra. The soundtrack quality does not disappoint; though never overwhelming the dialogue, it adds a rich texture throughout that only live orchestras can create.

The film was made in Oregon, and the scenery is diverse and breathtaking, from mountain vistas to marshes to sets built to match the childrens’ height. Between the locations, the acting, and the score, the film feels more like a major-budget Hollywood production than a tiny independent film produced on a shoestring budget.

Like any other film, there are a few week points; two bear mentioning. First, it’s not clear until probably ten minutes into the film that the opening scenes are part of a daydream. An opening shot prior to the daydream sequence would have gone a long way toward establishing this; as it was, I spent the first ten minutes of the film wondering where it was going, rather than really grasping the storyline.

Second, the fact that each child has at multiple major roles in the film is more a drawback than a selling point. Between excellent costuming and excellent acting, the actors and directors did a decent job of keeping roles separate, but it still would have been a little better to have separate actors for each role (provided, of course, they were similarly talented).

Songs and scripts written by adults for children frequently sound more like something an adult wants a child to say than something a child would naturally say. With one minor exception, a brief scene where the dialogue seemed somewhat above what children that age would naturally say, the film did an exceptionally good job of keeping the emotions and verbal exchanges true to the age and ability of the actors. Not that it’s childish; it’s childlike. And the truth gets through; the film’s most memorable moment, other than the closing scene, is an exchange in which a sell-out in league with the bad guys challenges one of the good guys for granting mercy, and the necessity of mercy is expressed in a clear and simply beautiful way.

There are very, very few films, Christian or otherwise, to which I would give an unqualified recommendation. Whether from Christian or secular producers, virtually every film seems to have either a weak storyline, a weak presentation (due to acting, production, or both), or weak morals (whether from inappropriate language, apparel, or storyline). It’s not that The Runner from Ravenshead is without a few minor flaws—every movie has a few goofs—but while those are just enough to merit bumping a half-star off of a perfect rating, this film is still strong enough to earn an unqualified recommendation.

Rating: 4.5 stars. Available from: Producer.

Read More
Page 1 of 3123