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Snow kidding! These "kids" now range from 17 to 23

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Simple Plans a review and reminiscense

Listening to an old CD is like going into the way back machine.   When I pull out Billy Crockett's Simple Plans

I'm transported back to 1999 when it came out.  It  was released on August 31, 1999, just a few days prior to my oldest daughter's release.  So back in my newlywed apartment days I first heard this album.  I have it both on c.d. and cassette, so I probably first heard it on cassette and then picked it up in a cd bargain bin sometime after that.  I am glad I did ,as we no longer have a functioning cassette player in the house.  I found this out much to my chagrin earlier this week when trying to listen to Crockett's  earlier Red Bird Blue Sky, which I have only on cassette.  Don't even get me started on vinyl.

There is much to love about Simple Plans,  from it's delightful cover art to the fact that it's dedicated to Habitat for Humanity,  the fact that the music is evocative of so many styles of music while maintaining its own distinct sound. One of the things I like most about the album is that the music is so reminiscent of the work of so many of my  favorite Christian artists, particularly, the late Rich Mullins,  Allen Levi and Noel Paul Stookey, best known as the Paul from Peter , Paul and Mary and also Bob Bennet. Michael  Kelly Blanchard and Michael Card.

I just started  playing the album and will give you a few reflections as I listen.

For the shaping of a shelter, where everybody can come home 

Simple plans, the title song ,starts things off.  It catches the ministry of Habitat for Humanity in a musical nutshell .  It is soothing musically and also spiritually energizing.  This song reminds me of Spider Droid and my trip to Joplin Missouri a few years ago where we helped with construction and clean up after the tornado.

Oh remember the fish and the loaves,  how love has a math of it's own 

The very catchy "what you got" is a reminder that we are just pieces in God's redemptive puzzle.  It is a perfect tie in again to ministries like Habitat for Humanity that rely on volunteer efforts.  We may think that we have relatively little to bring to the table, but by a "just bring what you got" mentality we can see God do so much beyond our own meager efforts.

You may live on borrowed time, broken heart and troubled mind, God thinks your the keeping kind

My friend Don Brorsen and I used to call songs like no strings on love, what's your point songs back when we were deejaying together in college,  We called them this because they repeat the moral of the story lyric so many times.  We sometimes meant this term derisively, however the repetition works nicely on no strings on love.  Don, like all of us, lived on borrowed time , dying of cancer earlier this year.  He also was familiar with broken hearts and troubled minds, I am not sure if he ever heard this song  but confident it would have ministered to him if he had. This song is the most Stookeyesque of the set.  It is fast paced, but deep , thoughtful and provocative.

I will remember the hands of Christ, touching the broken, the scandalized.

If No Strings on Love is the most Stookeysque of the tracks on Simple Plans, Love The World is hands down the most Mullinsesque. Crockett performed BGV's for Rich Mullins self titled debut Album in 1986 and also played guitar and toured with Mullins in later efforts.  Just a few years after Mullins untimely death, Mullins presence  is palpable on Simple Plans and most evident on this track as well as the cover artwork.

What  I see in you is shining in your eyes written on your face ... and I will be the lucky one for all I see in you.

All I See in You seems to be an intimate song about a friendship that I would love to know the whole story about.  It reminds me of the power that encouragement brings and how well placed words can have a lifetime of benefit.  I remember when I was engaged to Amy, I was briefly unemployed and felt bad as I had no job. When I shared that concern with her, she said I'm not worried, you always work.  That confidence in me has helped me many times in retrospect when difficulties have come.  Knowing that Amy is in my corner, has been enough to keep on punching through.

What have you learned that means a difference to you? 

Billy Crockett and Allen Levi are the only 2 artists I know who have the consistent ability to be simultaneously irreverent, silly , poignant and thought provoking.  There songs are like  poetic lasagna with many layers weaved throughout.  Tap on Your Shoulder from the fast pace to the Stookyesques "Tap Tap" is the most fun song on a very fun album. 

All of my children will be who they will be and I will be there with them to the end.  

While there may be too much hoe down in All of My Children for my wife's liking, I like the simple message that God made us special and loves us very much.  It's a very Big Idea.

I find my guitar and I walk to the light and I vow to be the man I'm made to be tonight. 

Following Hammer Thumb , a brief instrumental interlude that shows off Crockett's mammoth guitar abilities ,  Mark and Sammy is the one song on the album that has not aged well.  This is mainly due to the fact that Crockett uses the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa from 1998 to sing about doing your best and playing at a high level.  Unfortunately how could Crockett know that McGwire and Sosa's achievements would be tainted by allegations and admissions of steroid use?  It is my sincere hope that Crockett did not use PED's or fill his guitar with cork to complete this album.

It all turns doesn't it turn, daylight to darkness and daylight back again 

It All Turns is a modern lullaby, a soothing song about the beautiful cyclical nature of life.  It is like the book of Ecclesiastes from a glass half full perspective.  

Nobody wants to be the last in line.

Jesus mixes things up.  He took the hierarchy of his day and stood it on his ear.  In his vivid descriptions of what it means in our society to be last, Crockett shows how powerful Christ's contention that in the kingdom of heaven the last will be first, really is.

The problem with many records is that they are  not produced to have one cohesive message.  The songs are not laid out in any order and are usually a hodge podge thematically.  I do not feel that way about this album.  The overall message I get from Simple Plans is that of a modern epistle about God's role in our lives, and ours in His mission.  Like most epistles, Crockett ends his with a benediction called Traveling Mercies.  

My favorite lines from the song are ...

Go in peace

live in grace
trust in the arms that will hold you
go in peace
live in grace trust God's love

That is a message suitable for 1999 , now and the future.  

Christmas traditions

When I was  a stay at home dad and home educator, Christmas was a 2  week break in the action.  My wife would be off her job  and we would have plenty of time to spend as a family for the holidays.   Now that I am working full time, and my wife has taken over the schooling portion of our lives everyone else in our family still gets a two week break ,except me.   I get Sunday's and Monday's off per usual but still have to work my regular Tuesday through Saturday with the exception of Christmas and New years day off. Sure we get to leave 90 minutes early on Christmas and New Year's Eve ,  but must make those 90 minutes up in the week we take them off, which is not exactly like getting them off.  I don,t say this to complain, I am very thankful to have a job.  I just say it as a point of contrast to what I am used to.

Getting so little time off, means there are some traditions at Christmas that I don't get to participate in and others that I do.  This past Saturday, Amy went with the kids to her sister.s house for the second annual family baking day.  While I worked and later while I OD'd on Netflix at home, they worked hard making multiple Christmas treats for later consumption.

After a regular day at Church yesterday,  and then helping out at  a local soup kitchen we did one of my favorite Christmas traditions, watching Its A Wonderful Life as a family.  Usually we watch it on a videocassette that predates my marriage by 10 years.  I have been married almost seventeen years ,so the videocassette is more than a quarter century old and not exactly a pleasure to watch.  Earlier this year I bought a DVD copy of my all time favorite film, and it made quite the difference in the quality of the product.

Today, we are spending the entire day out and about and doing some holiday related events. Last year we volunteered  several times at the Northern Illinois. Food Bank, Last Christmas, we invited some relatives to volunteer with us.  I was unable to go because of work.  This year we scheduled it on the Monday b4 Christmas so I could attend as well.  With another group of volunteers we assembled food to fill fill 20000 backpacks for a school backpack program which provides about 12000 meals.  Jesus gave so much to us by coming as a baby and then dying for our sins.  Giving love through volunteering and meeting the needs of others is a great way to celebrate Jesus.  After the Food Bank and after eating at one of Bunny Girls favorite restaurants, we went to one of our favorite libraries which is where I am typing this post. About twice each year we embark on what we call Library week.  Because of my work schedule, I am not always able to attend anymore.  A few hours doing what Rollers do best Librarizing , is fun and festive no matter the season.  In a few hours we are off to start what may become a tradition or just a warm holiday memory.  Amy's older brother has invited his relatives with children to a indoor fun center (roller rink, bowling alley, laser tag, bumper cars, and arcade.)  We took my side of the family there last summer for Cousins Day when in addition to the things I mentioned, there was also outdoor activities such as mini golf, bumper boats and batting cages.  It was a blast then, and should be more than 64000 ounces of fun which would make it tons of fun.

 Traditions and memories are important at Christmas time.  I hope your holiday traditions, new and old, help you experience family, fellowship and the true meaning of Christmas 

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