Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2008 Vampire Weekend

They are preppy, they are music teachers, they are the New Yorkers who make up Vampire Weekend. The name has nothing to do with anything "Twilight" related. It is however, derived from an indie flick made by the lead singer Ezra Koening back in his Columbia University days. The members of VW may look like they make up an add for Tommy Hilfiger, but there is more than just a slick surface. Vampire Weekend's music is intelligent, catchy, classical, and infused with some slick Afro-Pop beats.

I have to admit my wife was the one who got me into these guys. She always has a knack for finding cool indie tunes. We fell in love with Vampire Weekend before the buzz was in full effect. A year before the album was released they had a handful of singles floating thru cyberspace and the video for Mansard Roof quickly caught our attention.

The video was cool... it looked nautical, it looked European, it didn't look anything American.

My wife and I have never seen Vampire Weekend live, but they are definitely on our list to go see.

Campus is a song that takes us back to a time when we first met at Valley Forge Christian College.

"Then I see you
You're walking cross the campus
Cruel professor
Studying romances
How am I supposed to pretend
I never want to see you again?
How am I supposed to pretend
I never want to see you again?"

Our college romance was a little controversial to say the least, but that story is saved for another day, another blog.

Vampire Weekend may be the band that people love to hate because they're from New York and because of all the buzz, but to us they are a brilliant band that takes us back to when we first fell in love.

Here is the Mansard Roof video in all it's Nautical glory.

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2007 MuteMath

Before MuteMath released there self-titled debut album there was some controversy surrounding the band in Christian circles. The band had a falling out with their label because they did not want to be marketed to Christian bookstores and media they wanted to be marked to the mainstream.

Some people might have problem with that stance on their marketing strategy, but it made me like MuteMath immediately.

All to often we put so much energy to reach people who have already been reached, we need to go beyond the comfort zone, and MuteMath does just that.

Musically the band pushes the limits of what is typical. They even have a song by the name, with lyrics that strike a chord, "Can we break the spell/ of the typical." The band is a techno orchestra of Macs, timpani drums, and a vintage Rhodes piano (plus a keytar...yes a keytar).

Seeing MuteMath live is what really sets this band a part and what makes them so important.

I remember taking a trip to Philly with my wife, to see MuteMath at our favorite venue, The TLA on South Street. Such a cool intimate setting, with a great sound, and not a bad seat in the place. Probably because there are no seats, its standing room only. When we saw MuteMath our senses went on overload.

We were mesmerized.

I've never seen a band play with such energy, I've never seen a band play each other's instruments with out missing a beat.

MuteMath is not just a live show but a live experience.

The sound is totally eclectic, mixing elements of classical, electronica, and voice talents which has a timber of the 80's rock legend Sting. From the musical synergy of Control to the experimental sounds of Break The Same. They have hooks, they have pop sensibility, all without being to over produced or contrived.

MuteMath is a band that loves to make creative music that sounds and looks good.

Check out this live show from Conan, which features keytars, piano-handstands, and some crazy jams. This is just a glimpse of what this band can do live.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2006 Arctic Monkeys:: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

It is amazing how fast technology changes things. You pretty much can split the decade in half before and after iTunes. Although the iPod was originally released in 2001, it was the online store iTunes that really changed the game and made purchasing music online the medium of choice. The days of the Virgin Megastore and Tower Records were experiencing record lowes in sales, and closing many stores. Itunes however, sold it's 1 billionth song in 2006 (The Speed Of Sound by Coldplay) after being launched in late 2003.

Online music was mainstream and it changed how bands generate buzz.

Arctic Monkeys took full advantage of this idea and instead of going thru a major record company, getting on the radio, and selling CDs. Social websites would be the new radio, a new form of word of mouth, and new and powerful way to get the music out.

The boys from the other side of the pond, (yeah they are boys AM was formed when they were 16) used when was cool, to allow for real time interaction with the band and their fans.

And it worked, the sold over 300,000 albums when Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not was released officially.

The sound of Arctic Monkeys is similar to the New York based band The Strokes but less pretentious, which is really surprising considering they hail from England (remember Oasis anyone, those blokes were always going at it with each other.) The album is punchy with catchy, danceable rock tunes, like I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor, and Dancing Shoes. It has been a long time since Rock was this fun.

The album is a fast 40 minutes long, which talks about teenage angst, love, and and some guy named Mardy Bum, which is a song that features throwback jam session. The cool thing about the Arctic Monkeys is that they don't know that they ARE cool. Whatever People Say... is the album that The Strokes, The Vines, and whatever other "The Band" never made, but Arctic Monkeys did.

I remember when I bought the album, actually it was one of the last CD's I would buy in the store, Marisa and I just picked it up on whim at Target. We then hit our second favorite spot Starbucks for some coffee. It was cool rainy night, perfect weather for a band from the UK. Even to this day there are times when we go to Starbucks and Arctic Monkeys just take us back to that night of musical discovery that makes us want to talk with English accents.

Side note... One of the reasons I wanted to check these guys out was because I was listening to Relevant Magazine Podcast featuring Rob Bell (author and Pastor) and he talked about how much he loved this band. Thanx Rob for tip.

Check out this video from back in 2006.

The band talks about how the internet fueled there debut success and also how being compared to Oasis is pretty cool thing.

They may not be up on the charts in The States with Taylor Swift and Kanye (insert joke here) but for those who are fans of good music, know about the Arctic Monkeys.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2005 Hillsong United:: Look To You

Music is a big part of my life. Growing up my family would take trips to go to the mall or to the Jersey Shore and music was always playing. My parents would play music from Bob Dylan and The Beatles, to Sly and the Family Stone and Motown. I also remember when my Mom would drive me to school when I was younger and would listen to the radio station (AM radio of course) that played Christian music, with acts like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.

I noticed that although music that had a Christian message was good and positive, it didn't have the same production level of the more main-stream music on the FM side of the dial.

Christian music can sound pretty generic.

I would hate as a teen when I would go to the Christian Bookstore (Anyone remember the Salty Fisherman) and they would have big posters saying, "If you like this secular band checkout this Christian band." Why can't music by Christians be original and brilliant!?

That was about to change.

I remember being at a Youth Retreat about five years ago and the band played these amazing songs, with great lyrics, musical arrangements that ebbed and flowed, and guitar solos!
I asked what are these worship songs...?

I've never heard worship music like this before... they said it was Hillsong United.

I immediately bought my copy of Hillsong United's Look To You, and I was hooked.
The first track of track Salvation Is Here opened with a soaring guitar lick that was reminiscent of U2's Pride (In The Name Of Love).

They weren't trying to sound like other bands, but rather being inspired by other bands...big difference.

The crunchy guitars in the following track Tell The World, had a specific arrangement that I've never heard in worship music before, it was well thought out and passionate.
They even managed to have Jesus mentioned in the lyrics and not sound cheesy; believable and empowering.

Not only was the album grand in scale and scope but throughout the album songs are atmospheric and tremendously honest. Deeper is a song that features a hypnotic drum beat coupled with a Rhodes piano that takes you to another place.

United managed to have the lyrics, the arrangements and the production be brilliant and original.

Hillsong United has been a stable for our music in our Youth Ministry for many years. There is such anticipation for me and my wife each year as they release another album. The band's follow up album United We Stand, maybe their best album, with songs like Take It All and Inside Out, but Look To You was the album that opened my eyes to the next level of worship music.

What makes the most significant impression on me was seeing them live.

The frustrating thing about Christians is that sometimes when someone gets on the platform it can be more about hype than the Holy Spirit, for Hillsong they are truly authentic in their worship; on and off the stage.

They play with passion, not hype.
Passion is different than hype.
Passion has no agenda, hype always does.

They play, they worship, and they let God...

Check out this live clip of Tell The World way back in 2005...
Aussie Mullet Spoiler Alert!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2004 Keane:: Hopes And Fears

First off let me just say that 2004 was an amazing year in music. The Killers debuted with Hot Fuss and new-wave throw back to bands like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode. Arcade Fire came out of nowhere (Canada actually) with an eclectic sound that was totally original and inspired. Hey, they even made violins cool, sorry Yellowcard, you guys are still not there. Franz Ferdinand had the catchiest guitar lick in the song Take Me Out that made even British people want to dance. And speaking of dancing, Kanye West changed Hip-Hop in College Dropout, infusing spiritual lyrics, playful pop elements in Rap as well as brightly color polo's with popped collas.

Even the 90's had a revival of sorts with Green Day's American Idiot, an epic punk-rock opera ala The Who. Gwen Stephani of No Doubt debuted her solo effort with a music fusion of pop, hip-hop, and reggie sounds in Love, Angel, Music, Baby.

Gwen is cool, Lady Gaga notsomuch.

And we can't forget the supergroup mash-up of Scott Weiland, Slash and the boys of GNR in Velvet Revolver. Oh yeah, not to mention little known band called U2. Who had a dizzing hot album in How To Dismantle an Atomic with slick songs like Vertigo and City of Blinding Lights, and not to mention the heart-felt Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your own.

What a year for great music, it reminds me of the year 1991, with such creativity and diversity.

It was really was an unforgettable year, especially since that was the year that I married my friend and beautiful soul-mate Marisa.

For me personally, a gem of an album that might have fallen thru the cracks on the billboard charts was Hopes and Fears by Keane. A piano-pop band from Sussex England that fancies vintage instruments like the Yamaha CP-70 piano. A traveling piano with electric pick-ups that had a run in the 70's and 80's before companies could perfect the sounds in the modern keyboard. Many bands now use this type of piano since Keane brought it out the musical closet.

My wife loves the music of Keane and the unique sound of the CP-70 piano, as we traveled from York to Kansas City and back to purchase this vintage piece; 2000 miles in 1 1/2 days. Yeah, I'm not joking either, you should've seen the Avis attendant's face when we brought back the car. (Unlimited milage indeed.)

We have seen Keane numerous times throughout the years and even got to meet them this past year in DC. They are humble down to earth group of musicians who love music and don't take their fans for granted. They even had a contest this year for fans to create a music video from the album Hopes & Fears. The winners received a signed copy of the special edition of the CD as well as other exclusive goodies from the band.

Check out this cool fan-made video that features everyone's favorite avatar game The Sims.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2003 Zwan:: Mary Star Of The Sea

The best Smashing Pumpkins album that never was. Billy Corgan famed front man for one of the most credible and intelligent bands of the 90's. The Pumpkins were Billy Corgan, and Corgan was the Pumpkins. He was a musical genius, who was sometimes his own worst enemy. Aren't all musical geniuses. However, the love lost between bandmates and drugs broke up the band in the late 90's.

You saw the great art-grundge music of the 90's fade away as hybrid-rap rock took over.
Limp Bizkit anyone???...yeah...definitely glad that phase in music is over.

The Pumki...err... I mean Zwan released an album in 03 that was bright, upbeat, and spiritual.
For Corgan, this was a different take on music from Pumpkins past.
A welcome change during a time when everyone needed Hope in the wake of war and terrorism.

For me, the album was the soundtrack of summer love, between myself and my soon to be wife Marisa.

We played this album out during the summer of 03, as we traveled for picnics in the park, sushi, and trips to the mall.
(yeah we like to shop...what can I say, fashion has it's price.)
We would listen to Corgan croon as we drive to and fro between Camp Hill and Philly.

The song "Honestly" was our song.

Even now when I listen to the album it just takes me back to the time when the ministry has not yet consumed our lives, fresh out of college and free. (Don't get me wrong I love being a pastor, but it is definitely a calling.)

It was a great summer.

It was our summer.

Check out this clip from Letterman way back in 2003. Take it away Paul.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2002 Coldplay:: Rush Of Blood To The Head

Coldplay's Rush Of Blood To The Head was epic, before epic was over used as much as awesome. It was the album that catapulted this British troupe to be accepted in The States as the U2 for a new generation. From the opening banging piano chords on Politic to the hip drum beat on In My Place, this album was special from the first listen.

I still remember the night when I bought the album on South Street in Philadelphia at a now closed and extinct Tower Record's Superstore.

There was something special about a CD back then. The anticipation of opening the plastic, and sometimes frustration of getting it actually opened. I guess that was part of the drama and fun. I remember the smell of CD book, and reading the liner notes as my brother drove thru the streets of Philly.

I love iTunes, I love the convenience and the price.

But I miss going with friends to the local CD store and discovering new music. It was a shared experience I miss these days in the world where MP3 is king.

One song captured my ears and senses and was unlike anything I have ever heard before. I remember telling my brother "Dude, play it again! Play it Again! I love this song!"

Clocks was the song that changed everything.

It made people care about a British indie band and made them mainstream.
It made piano a crucial part of any new band that wanted to be taken seriously.
It made Chris Martin cool.

(Cool enough for Gwyneth Paltrow to marry him.)

I'll never forget seeing them for the first time with my brother in Philly later that year.
As much as their music captures your heart, the band's passion is unmatched and it captures your soul.

I never saw anyone play like that before.

It left an indelible impression on me.
I knew one thing, as a musician myself, if any thing is worth playing, it's worth playing with passion.
I want to play with passion the way Chris Martin does.

Now singing on the other hand... I know one thing, I'll never hit that falsetto like him... LOL.

Check out this interview with Coldplay from back in 2002.
Where Chris Martin was challenged by his Grandfather's words to "Do It Now," as inspiration for the title "Rush Of Blood..."
He also talks about his passion for music.

Also look for his dialogue on the song "The Scientist." A brilliant piano ballad, that is the jewel of this album.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Ten Albums Of The Decade... 2001 Ryan Adams::Gold

Ryan Adam's Gold was a throwback Rock and Roll album chock full of retro-inspired ditties. Not to be confused by the insipid crooner Bryan Adams (ugh remember that lame song from the Robin Hood movie, the one with Kevin Costner...yikes!), this Adams brings an Americana sound to 2001. You can hear inspiration from The Stones to Bob Dylan.

This album maybe out of left field, but this album really defined a year for me when I was a Junior at Valley Forge Christian College.

I remember seeing him in concert with my brother at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia. If you have not seen a concert at The Tower, it is a must; beautiful architecture and acoustics. The cool thing that happened at the concert, that I have never seen before (and i've been to alot of concerts) was that Ryan Adams interacted with the crowd in such a open and authentic manor.

He gave away guitars! Like four of the them! Free... to fans with a whimsical comment that Ryan Adams thought was worthy of a six-string engine.

Above all, the reason that this album gets my pick for album of the year is for the opening track on the album, "New York New York." Im from Philly, and I am definitely not a fan of New York, but I am a fan of this song. It is a catchy, well crafted song, with loads of heart.

The eerie thing about the video for "New York New York" was that it was shot on September 7, 2001. A few days before 9/11. This video features Adams under the Brooklyn Bridge with the Two Towers in view practically throughout the whole video.

It reminds me of New York... New York in another place and time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2000-2009 Countdown

As we approach this new decade in 2010, I want to do a top ten countdown of my favorite albums leading up to the new year. Starting with the year 2000 I will pick my album of the year, and end with the album of the year in 2009. Some albums you might agree with, others maybe not. Each one of these albums are significant to me and my experience, so let the discussion begin...

For the year that started off the new millennium it's definitely not an album of the same name by the Backstreet Boys, or any other boy band. Im definitely glad that phase is over.

My album for 2000 is U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind."

What an amazing album! U2 opens up the decade with their classic sound of epic guitars ala The Edge and moving lyrics that inspire by Bono (ready to save the world...again).

In the late 90's U2 really got away from their signature sound, and in "All That You Can't..." they return to what people loved in albums like "War" and the "Joshua Tree." Every time I hear the first couple of bars in "Beautiful Day" it just takes my ears for a ride.

Funny thing about this U2 album is that I was in a pretty bad car accident that year; totaled my car actually. I got hit by a speedy pizza delivery guy... I think I was kinda hustling too. I was ok, spent the day in the hospital, but upon leaving the hospital the next day I was at the junk yard getting my car CD Player with my U2 album still inside.

I had to get that album. It was just that good...and still is!

U2 released a couple of other albums later in the decade, still good...still U2, but nothing capture my heart and soul like this effort from the boys of Dublin.

Notable Songs:
Beautiful Day
Stuck In A Moment...
Walk On

Monday, December 21, 2009

Primal Mark Batterson's Latest and Greatest Effort

Primal is Mark Batterson's latest book, and to be honest, I didn't know what to expect with this one.

I loved "In A Pit..." for challenging me to chase lions, the big hard, and scary things in life. (A great book for church planting).

The interesting thing about "Wild Goose..." his second book, is that I had to keep buying it because I gave away like 5 copys. I would just have these "Wild Goose" Holy Spirit inspired conversations with my friends and I just felt compelled to give the book away.

Primal is a book that cuts right to who you are and forces you to look in the mirror of your soul.

One of the most challenging things about being in the ministry is being yourself.

Some of the great things that Batterson does in this book is help you find the you, the you that may have gotten lost in everyday life. Primal gets to the essence of what it is to be a believer, the Real, Authentic, and Primal side of Christianity, when today being a believer can get lost at times in the Rehearsed, the Manipulative, and the Polished.

In the details of his latest work, Batterson is as well thought out as ever, using more scientific reference material to drive home points as well as touching personal elements to inspire.

What I loved about reading this book is that Primal brought me be back to who I've always wanted to be, the person that God created me to be.

"My prayer is that this book will take you down two thousand stairs back to that primal place- the place where loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all that matters." (pg 11. Batterson)

Thank you Mark for taking me on a quest of rediscovery.

Let your quest begin...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Proud Brother & A Moving Film

There is a new movie out on DVD this week, The Book of Ruth. Movies come out all the time, and sometimes it can be hard to keep up, its even harder at times to find something worth watching. For movies based on the Bible its even harder to find something that is quality. Sometimes movies based on the bible can rely too much on the message and forget the fact that God calls us do to things with excellence.

The production of a movie is just as important as the message.

The Book of Ruth is a movie that can stand on it's own merits of production and message.

I maybe a little high on the film because the writer of this film is my brother, Salvatore Di Salvatore (yes, that name is not made up, its legit).

I don't think there is someone I respect more. Upon graduating Regent University he had a call and dream; and he never gave up. Many students after graduating give up their dreams for a paycheck and stability. For Salvatore, (Jack as I call him) he never compromised. The ministry is not easy, and when you follow the Holy Spirit, it can be down right scary.

Jack never gave up on his dream and there were so many times when it would've been easy to do so. Especially when people tell you too, advice is not always good advice.

My brother is an inspiration to me, because i think we all have dreams, and sometimes life gets in the way.

Never give up...
Never give up on your dreams...
Never give up on things God is Calling you to Do...

Thanks Jack for reminding us not to give up on our dreams... on my calling.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I love this time of year, it is the most wonderful time of the year, as we come all ye faithful to remember a silent night. This little drummer boy has always loved rocking around the Christmas tree as we count down the twelve days of Christmas. I hope we have a winter wonderland and possibly get to have a sleigh ride or two during a white Christmas. As many of you deck the halls remember the first noel and the joy to the world that Jesus brought away in a manger in O little town of Bethlehem. Now don’t be a mean one Mr. Grinch and have yourself and merry little Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent: Drum

Let the drumroll begin... It's National Drummers Day! Whether it is a legit day of remembrance or just something silly that a local radio station promotes (WJTL) let us make a joyful noise! I'll promote any day that celebrates drummers, especially since I Am a Drummer.

I have been playing drums since I was sixteen when my parents got me my first kit. I'll never forget that Christmas. I pretty much ran thru the streets of Philadelphia yelling for joy. My neighbors definitely knew I got a drum kit that Christmas day, and probably many days after that. (and not because of the yelling)

There have been many influences that has shaped my drumming growing up.

Keith Moon of The Who. No one plays live like Keith.
Lars Ulrich of Metallica. Metal and being a teenager go hand in hand, and he is one of the best.
Jimmy Chamberlin of Smashing Pumpkins. A mix of jazz and rock for a sound like no other.
Ringo Star of The Beatles. An underrated drummer who always played with joy. (Probably because he was just happy to be there.)

I love Christmas music. One of my favorite Christmas songs is "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," by Bruce Springsteen. I love the beat that Max Weinberg plays during the breakdown during the bridge. My wife Marisa calls it "The Al Beat." I would play along to that song in the back seat of my parents car on my Dad's headrest as we would travel to see our relatives. Im sure it was annoying but my parents never seemed to mind, after all it was "The Boss" on the radio.

During this time of the year, nothing makes feel as proud to be a drummer or gets me choked up than to hear the song "The Little Drummer Boy." For this drummer who grew up playing in church and still plays in church,

this is my song, and for many of you other drummers out there, it's not just my song, it's our song.

Check out this clip from the classic movie "The Little Drummer Boy."
Wait for the 3:29 mark for the line "Then He smiled at Me..." Uh...that just gets me. A simple story, but a moving story, especially for this drummer boy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Smarter Christians...Not An Oxymoron

Today marked the end of a great semester in Theology for the VFCC Satellite Campus at Gettysburg Master's Commission. I have had the privilege to teach Theology for a couple of years now. It is challenging but always inspiring. This year proved to be no different.

My goal is to always challenge the students to think.

It is not about regurgitating facts or doing busywork. The class is about opening your mind and allowing God to inspire. Today's Christian can be lazy in how we think and process our salvation. Your testimony is important, but it is not the only way to explain what you believe. When your story and the knowledge of HIS-tory come together, the possibilities are endless.

What I loved about this class were the times when students would ask tough questions. Sometimes I even found myself telling them that I will get back to them with an answer the following week.

Im telling you, this class kept me on my toes.

A well thought-out question may have more wisdom than having a text book answer. Christianity is not a formula. It can be simple. It can be tremendously expansive.

Don't Stop Asking Tough Questions...
Don't Stop Believing... (que Journey)

My hope for Christians is to be humble in what we learn and gracious in how we apply it.

Got a tough question...?

May we remember the words from Isaiah, the prophet, "Come, let us reason together."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Prodigal Son Returns & The Sixers Throw A Party

Growing up in Philly I was raised on two things; Church and Sports...Philadelphia Sports to be exact. It is expected to love all of your Philly teams Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, and Sixers, no matter what. Thru the good, the bad, and the excruciating, you keep the faith. My Dad taught me that.

In my life time (29 yrs) there are few pro surperstars who have had the heart that transcends sport in Philadelphia. For the die hard Flyers fans remember Eric Lindros, or better yet, remember Eric Lindros' Dad...'nuff said. Then there was the Notre Dame product Ricky Waters, four words people, four words, "For Who, For What!?" That dude just didn't get it. The Philles aren't safe either, how about that Von Hays. I remember taking a picture with the then famous Philly, it was a cardboard cutout, and that pretty much sums it up for Von Hays.

The year 1996 changed every thing, when an outspoken and passionate rookie had the nerve to cross-over Michael Jordan and steal our hearts.

Allen Iverson was a sports star who was unlike any other at the time. He was himself and didn't apologize for it; what 16 year old doesn't love that? He changed a football town into a basketball town when he lead The Sixers to the Championship Series in '01. The Sixers were the only team to beat the Lakers that year in the playoffs, but sadly The Sixers didn't win enough games against LA to win the the series.

Iverson maybe known for alot of things, the tattoos, the off the court drama, and of course his infamous press-confrance about...what....what we talking about..."We Talkin' Bout Practice!"

The quote that I choose to remember that defines Iverson for me is, "Who Wants To Go War With Me."

That is the Allen Iverson that I know and love and missed for three years. He returned to his his original team in a humbling and emotional press-conference. It was obvious that he had grown, he had learned, and had brought passion back to a team that needed someone take them back into battle.

The Sixers lost against Denver in Iverson's first game back with his home team against his former team. (Yeah, he played for Denver, and why does our heart always go to Denver, Dawkins anyone.) The arena was packed, it was jumpin', it was the first sell-out in a LONG TIME. In the end The Sixers lost the game, but it didn't matter... I didn't matter at all.

The prodigal son was back home, and ran into the the open arms of a city, the city of Brotherly-Love. Welcome back Iverson, welcome home.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Someone Who Changed My Life

My friend Jason Fitch leaves today to plant a church in the south...the way down dirty south. Tulsa to be exact. God bless him, not my calling to go that south, that is definitely too close to Dallas for this Eagles fan. But for Jay, Tulsa is a perfect fit.

We met when I was youth pastor in East Berlin PA, and I think they are still waiting for the wall to come down over there in EB. I'll never forget that first day we chilled at Panera Bread, people toss around concepts like DIVINE APPOINTMENT, a God ordained encounter; but for me and Jay it definitely was.

I've never met a pastor like Jay before, he really broke the mold of a typical pastor. He is a brutally honest guy, with good taste in music and I liked him immediately. Jay became a HUGE support to me when I would face some of the toughest times in ministry.

He always believed in me, even when others did not.

I do not know where I would be on my pastoral journey if it wasn't for Jay. He changed my life, and now Jay leaves to change a city.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jay-Z ain't got nothing on Martin Luther... He's got 95 thesis but the pope ain't one!

I have no idea who made up this music video, but this is pretty funny, and yet...informational. Brilliant take on Jay-Z's 99 Problems, and flip it to Maritn Luther's 95 Thesis. I haven't seen this much history in a rap since Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" jam from back in the day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful.Mom.Breast Cancer

This year has given me more of a moment to pause and give thanks than any other year. Last year my Mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and it was a big scare for her, for me, and the family. I am Italian and a Mother in the Italian household is the life blood of the family. Probably because no one else can cook...or clean as good her for that matter :-)

Thank God the doctors found the cancer early enough to the extent of it being very treatable.

Lately there has been alot of talk about the government encouraging women to get tested later in life for breast cancer. The suggested age was 40, and now the suggested age is 50.

Ten years may not sound like alot, but did you know that cancer doubles in size every 100 days?

Let me just say that we need to value the women of this country even if our government does not.

I am thankful for my Mother, she is amazing, and an inspiration to me.
I know there are many other amazing Moms out there, some who might even have breast cancer, let me just say that you are valuable, you are amazing, and there is hope.

This holiday season be thankful for small miracles that turn into big miracles.
This holiday season tell your loved ones that you value them and love them.
This holiday season give thanks to the Lord for He is good.

Friday, October 30, 2009


There are a couple of things in this world that I really love, music, sports, and that Starbucks Coffee. Yes, there is a difference. I have a little routine in the morning before I go to the office. Take my wife Marisa to work, get some snacks to get her thru the day, and then... get some Starbucks.

This day was a little different, or should I say, my routine hit a interesting speed bump.

I was in line to buy my Soy Latte and there was a woman in front me who ordered some items as well. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Then the Barista asked her to buy some VIA (Starbucks instant coffee, yes it is pretty good) for American troops over seas.

I expected a typical excuse then followed by a typical no.
She proceeded to pick up a HUGE handful of VIA.

In my surprise, I said, "Wow...That's Awesome!" (Christians like to say awesome a a lot) Going back to my little Sbux experience, in the moment of being inspired, I bought a 12-pack for the troops too; still no where near as much VIA as the woman bought.

If this lady went thru the motions and said no I probably would have too. However, because of her Epic gesture of generosity I gave too (ok I used the word epic, I just didn't want to be that guy who says awesome a lot).

I don't know what this woman believes, but her actions are making me notice how she lives.

My hope is that, we who believe, can live and give in a way that people will notice and be inspired.

For this woman it was Starbucks VIA, what will it be for you?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Story Behind The Song "God Of This City"

There are certain songs that strike a chord. There are certain worship songs that seem to transcend a worship service. "God Of This City" is one of those songs. The first time I heard this song it empowered something inside of me. It's not just filler for a worship service, but it is an anthem for how you want to live your life. How you want your life to be a light in a dark place.

The story of this song comes from an Irish band called Bluetree, birthed out of a worship service at a bar in Thailand.

Upon playing in the city of Pattaya, the band couldn't help but be impacted by the culture of sex-trade and prostitution that seemed to be overwhelming. How do you find God in such a place? The lyrics for the song came during a free flowing worship time, and God began to move in that service. How cool is it to see God move in a bar, in that kind of a place, that so many people would see as hopeless. Even though we live in a world changed by sin, God's love for his creation never changes. God's love never fails.

May we not be afraid of the dark places.
May God's Love and Compassion shine thru, may it shine thru us.

Greater things are yet to come.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What Type Of Person Are You When They Get Your Order Wrong?

I am on the go a lot. I eat out eat out a lot. I do try and eat healthy though...but perhaps that is another blog. I was at Panera Bread today for a meeting, and I ordered a pumpkin muffin and coffee. What I got was a pumpkin Muffie instead of a pumpkin Muffin.

Not what I ordered.

The barista was nice and her manager was over her shoulder so I didn't make it a big deal. But seriously a muffie??? Do I want to be that-guy who eats a muffie? Eating a muffie is like eating quiche. This little muffin mishap got me thinking. What type of person are you when they get your order wrong?

Are you the type of person to return a wrong order, or eat away and make the most of it?

Storms Sleep and Wet Feet

"Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

This passage from Matthew always fascinates me.

Why would the disciples freak out like this?

Why was Jesus sleeping?

This was not the first storm that came across the Sea of Galilee. Storms came often and without warning at times too. So this was not unusual for the disciples to face something like this. They probably faced storms like this before.

Sometimes it's the unexpected storms that scare us the most.

I remember having to mentally prepare myself when I would have to get a needle from my pediatrician when I was just a little guy. I would run around the nurses and the doctor saying... "I just need to relax! I just need to relax!" After all it was a big needle. Hey, after all this was a big storm. I have faced needles before, the disciples faced storms before...

Especially Peter, Andrew, James, and John- after all they made their living as fishermen.

Maybe Jesus was sleeping because he trusted his well seasoned fishermen/disciples.

Maybe Jesus has faith in us even when we don't have faith in ourselves.

The funny thing is that the disciples run a to Rabbi who does not have the training that they do in handling a storm on the open seas. Thats like going to a Dentist to fix your car when you need to go to a Mechanic. It doesn't make sense. The thing that I love about Jesus is that though we face storms and trials, even if we faced them before, he is still there for us. To bring us peace, to calm the seas, to ease our fears.

There are times when we have to face storms.
There will be times when we are afraid.

May we remember that Jesus has faith in us to handle the storm.

But isn't it good to know that Jesus is in our boat to back us up when we get freaked-out.

The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dude Perfect With A Cause

You may have seen them on ESPN, The Tody Show, even Regis and Kelly, but the internet sensation of "Dude Perfect" is all a buzz in the media. Six guys from Texas A & M University, with alot of time on their hands, are making incredible trick shots.

And these shots are LEGIT!

These videos are amazing to see, and they are actually true trick shots.

They are not doctored in any way. The videos have been tested by numerous sources and it is found that these shots are not fake. Aside from the great entertainment value of seeing amazing shots (just think of the Michael Jordan/ Larry Bird McDonald's commercials of the 90s), these "Dudes" have a cause.

The more people visit their videos and their website the guys donate money to Compassion International to sponsor children in need.

Dude...that's perfect.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Redemption For Lights-Out-Lidge

Sequels are hardly ever as good as the original. The epic run for Phillies last year was life changing for this fan of 29 years who has never seen a World Championship in Philadelphia. All that changed as the Phillies beat Rays as Brad Lidge closed out the win in the World Series, and I no longer felt like a loser anymore because now my city is a winner.

The run this year to the playoffs was good, not great, especially for Phillies closer Brad Lidge. He was not "Lights-Out." He was not perfect in 41 saves as he was last year. He blown many saves in the regular season and it looked as if ghosts of Albert Pujols past were coming back to haunt once again. The homerun that Pujols hit in the NLCS back in 2006 off of Lidge is still orbiting space.

Should Manager Charlie Manuel remove this Closer for the playoff run?

Would Brad be "Lights-Out" once again?

Could Lidge face his demons?

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Charlie Manuel has faith. Faith despite what tough Philadelphia Media couldn't see. Charlie was certain that Lidge could rise from the ashes of over 10 blown saves during the regular season. Charlie has hope that Lidge could prove the "Philly-Faithful" wrong and closeout the series against Colorado in "Lights-Out" fashion.

Charlie saw what many of us could not see.

The Philadelphia Phillies, nicked-named the "Fightin's" clawed back with clutch hitting from Utley, Howard, and Werth in the final inning to erase a two run deficit. The game, and possibly the Phillies playoff hopes were riding on the arm of Brad Lidge. Could he seal the deal, and have the team leave the snow for the sun, as they pack their bags for a rematch against LA in the NLCS?

Lidge came through and got the save, because his manager had faith.

May we have the courage to prove our critics wrong.

May we all have faith in what we cannot see.

May we all be true believers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pattern or Routine...

We do things everyday. We have responsibilities everyday. Some things that we do may require more thought than other things we do, with that said, are we following a pattern or a routine?

The New Oxford American Dictionary definition for pattern is "a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in certain actions or situations." The definition for routine is "a sequence of actions regularly followed." These words are very similar but there is a key word that distinguishes the two definitions, intelligible.

How many activities do we participate in with no thought or love? Laurence J Peter says, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore that going to a garage makes you a mechanic."

May we be Christians who think about how we love and live. May we be Christians who follow the Pattern that is far better than a routine.

It is written in Ephesians 5:1-2 (msg) "Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What The Beatles Are To Rock Music U2 Is To Worship Music

Looking back on rock music before The Beatles it was single driven, with simple musical structures, and not much substance in the lyrics. Case in point, the ever popular song, "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window,"... 'nuff said. The year 1964 changed everything thing, as The Beatles crashed the shores of America and introduced themselves with the performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. In the years to come The Beatles would progress as a band and release music that was album driven, complex, and thought provoking. Even today The Beatles continue to remain timeless as their remastered music catalog tops the charts once again.
Looking back on worship music, before U2 it was single driven, with simple musical structures, and not much substance in the lyrics. Case in point, the ever repetitive, "Lord I Lift Your Name On High,"... 'nuff said. The year 1987 changed everything, not overnight, but with a powerful and long lasting ripple. It was started with one album that would become the canvas for modern worship music as we know of today. With the release of Joshua Tree, U2 would cement themselves as one of the most popular bands of the 1980's and today. The influence was huge as U2 would mix raw emotion, spiritual metaphors, and a guitar sounds that were iconic and beautiful. There are three songs off of Joshua Tree that would be a color palette for worship music today, the soaring "Where The Streets Have No Name", the introspective "I Still Haven't Found What Im Looking For", and the epic "With or Without You".
When I think of some of the most popular worship songs today, the influence ripples back to U2. The soaring "I Am Free", by Jon Egan of Desperation Band has a similar structure to "Where The Streets Have No Name". The structure of quiet verses that build into climatic choruses, coupled with an echoing guitar sound made famous by The Edge, really make this song soar. The rhythmic and introspective "Mighty To Save", by Hillsong has traces of "I Still Haven't Found What Im Looking For", all over it. The lyric by Rueben Morgan of Hillsong, "Everyone needs compassion everyone needs forgiveness," so honest and true, mirrors Bono's lyric "You broke thorns and loosed the chains, carried the cross and all my shame." It is as if the song "Mighty to Save" answers Bono's lament in "I Still Haven't Found What Im Looking For". The worship song that continues to top the charts is Chris Tomlin's "How Great Is Our God", a song that is as epic in message and composition as U2's "With or Without You". When you think of Chris Tomlin you think of "How Great is Our God", and when you think of U2 you think of "With or Without You". It is no accident that all three of these artists Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, and Desperation Band are at the forefront of what modern day worship music is today.
The Beatles changed Rock music and U2 changed worship music. Bono was right when he said, "It's time to take you to church," as "I Still Haven't Found What Im Looking For", began to play to 80,000 people at Fedex Field, he didn't just take us to church, he changed church.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Modern Day Rudy

I love football. I love Eagles football, but what I love the most are great football stories. I remember watching the movie "Rudy" with my Dad, which featured a walk-on whose dream was to play in a Notre Dame football game, and got his chance. "Brian Song" is another moving true story about two NFL players from the 60's. Featuring Gail Sayers, an African-American running back who helped his White teammate, Brian Piccolo with his struggle with terminal cancer. Every time I see that movie, every time I hear that theme song, I am buckets... and so is my Dad. (Side note: see the original with Billy Dee Williams and James Caan from 1971, the remake from a couple of years ago pails in comparison.)

What I love about football is not so much great Eagle wins, epic Cowboy losses, or even beating my brother in fantasy football. What I love are true stories of people overcoming challenges and beating the odds that inspires us all. Matt Ziesel is a 15 year old high school student with Down Syndrome who overcomes the odds and scores the only touchdown in his team's blowout loss. The final score may not be remembered, but the final play of this game and the courage of one player will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thank God For Real Heros

Today's American music is definitely frustrating. Where Top 40 radio plays the same stuff over and over again; sped up and generic. Seriously... Lady Gaga, really?! She make Britney Spears look like... well, let's just say they won't be remastering their music after 30+ years (Thank You Beatles). A band worth mentioning in the midst of this garbage (not the 90's band, they actually were pretty good) is Skillet. In their latest music video Hero they feature Real Heros, which include Fire Fighters, Doctors, and Marines. These are people that need to be recognized, looked up to, and have celebrity status. These are the people that make a real difference every day. I love the line from the song, "A hero is not afraid to give his life..." a great line from a great band that has been around for more than 10 years, plus they Rock!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Video Blog: Skit Guys- Lost and Found... Brilliant sketch on God' Love

I've always related to the parable of the prodigal son. I don't know if it is because I am a second child and can relate to a story of two brothers. There to was a time when I worked in a college cafeteria, not a far cry from a pig troff. The skit guys banter is really well done and I love the simple truth from this parable: God's love never fails.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Problem with Hillsong and Hillsong United

I've been listening to Hillsong's Faith+Hope+Love and its good. I've also been listening to Hillsong United's A_Cross... and its good too; both albums good... not great. Hillsong and Darlene Zschech transformed modern worship back in the 90's with the anthem "Shout To The Lord," a well written worship song with Pop sensibilities. It was huge. Year after year Hillsong would produce albums that would influence churches around the world.

As the new millennium came, worship music had become an epic force as top CCM artists like Michael W. Smith and the Newsboys even started to produce worship albums. Hillsong seemed to be one among many. Around that same time in the early 2000's Hillsong spun off a youth worship band called United Live that would eventually dawn eponymous Hillsong tag, and become Hillsong United. Slowly building momentum fronted by Marty Sampson and Joel Houston, they would eventually change modern worship again with Hillsong United's "Look To You," and make an even bigger splash on the CCM scene with the follow up "United We Stand." United's music would break the cycle of repetitive mindless melodys of songs like "Open The Eyes Of My Heart," and craft worship songs with compelling music structures and thoughtful intelligent lyrics. They weren't trying to be christian band trying to sound like a secular band. They were a band that sounded original, complex, and all together inspiring for a younger generation.

Recently, both Hillsong and Hillsong United have been producing albums every year but now certain songs make it on both albums but are done slightly different; watering down the level of excellence with each album with filler to make two full albums. It is strikingly noticeable on the latest two albums. Hillsong United have grown and many of the members of the band are featured on the newest Hillsong effort. They appear on the album even more than Darlene Zschech, in fact. Which is surprising for she was the one who put Hillsong on the map in the 90's.

For those who are not in the worship music culture, this blog may sound myopic and shortsighted. However, as a lover of music and as someone who rediscovered that love for worship music with the on set of Hillsong United and other modern worship acts like David Crowder Band and Desperation Band. Im simply stating a opinion that no one likes filler on an album, even a worship album. And if Hillsong and Hillsong United would have combined both albums "Faith+Hope+Love" and "A_Cross..." with only the best songs off each album, you would have one masterpiece of modern worship. Instead, they produced two albums that are good... not great. I don't think Hillsong and company would ever produce just one album with only the best of both; the two bands are huge money makers. I just wonder what the impact would be if they did.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Well Thought Out Christian on CNN

Gabe Lyons co-author of the book "Unchristian" answers some thought provoking questions about the changing perceptions of Christians. The perceptions of what outsiders think of Christians are not very good. However, Lyons presents some well thought out ideas of how to be a relevant Christian in America's changing culture. He is definitely someone I'd love to have lunch with, yeah...I'd buy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Message In A Bottle...

There has been much-ado about coffee these days. The continuing debate between Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts... taste vs. value. However, I have discovered something, or maybe noticed something is a better way phrasing it, that sets one a part from the other. The big difference between the java giants is... a smile. Starbucks, service with a smile. Upon getting my Verona-grande-black coffee, a simple unpretentious smile from the barista seemed to make the whole experience just a little brighter. And I as enter my vehicle with Pandora radio on... Message in Bottle just happened to be playing by the witty crooner John Mayer. Interesting. We send lots of messages in different ways, sending a smile is a pretty good start.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Official Position On Vick

I was recently talking to someone who said, I've asked peoples opinion's on Vick but never shared my own thoughts on the topic. Well...I guess its time for me to get in line with all the other opinions and chime in. I do not have any obscure random thoughts of wisdom on the subject.

I will not parallel Vick against others who have done crimes and seemed to have gotten off with a slap on the wrist or not even a slap at all.

Two words say it all, Second Chance.

Albeit, American's may have bad taste in music and movies, but we are a forgiving Nation. Michael Vick is doing and saying all the right things, which is a good start, but I believe its the new company he keeps that is changing people's opinions.

It is amazing, how the influence of one man redeeming another man makes such a difference, (not Jesus, not this time) I am talking about Tony Dungy. The respect, the character, and the integrity of one man can be so honest and true, that it carries over to another man who seems to be lacking in all of those areas; changes the perspective.

The Message Bible Says in Colossians, "Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don't miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out."

Thank God for the Tony Dungy's of the world, who do not put down, or cut out, those of us who need a second chance. When was the last time you brought the best out in someone who was not deserving?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

10 Things That Will Keep Your Church From Being All It Could Be

1. Lack of Identity and Vision
2. Lack of Excellence
3. Lack of Exposure
4. Lack of Welcoming Atmosphere
5. Lack of Kids/ Youth Events
6. Lack of Good Preaching
7. Lack of Genuine Worship
8. Lack of Intentionally Reproducing Leaders
9. Lack of Intentional Outreach
10. Lack of Continued Pastoral Growth and Assessment
-By Rich Fogal

A number of these items are no-brainers. One that sticks out to me is 4. Lack of Welcoming Atmosphere. I imagine a number of Pastors would say, "our church has very nice people, we always welcome our first time visitors..." However, it says welcoming atmosphere...not welcoming people (however the goal is to have both). I recently went to a local supermarket and they had a parking space for expecting mothers. My wife really appreciated that, and we drove right in and parked with smiles on our faces. I think our churches need to pick up on ideas like this, more spaces reserved for people than clergy. I believe today people want to FEEL more welcomed than actually be welcoming by MORE people. That can be intimidating. In selling a house it is said that a good idea is to have fresh cookies baking as people view your home, what a welcoming and inviting smell (plus everyone loves cookies). It's all about atmosphere. When was the last time your church smelled good?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

mistakes and second chances


Benjamin Franklin said, 'I haven't failed, I've had 10,000 ideas that didn't work.

Thomas Edison said, 'of the 200 light bulbs that didn't work, every failure told me something that I was able to incorporate into the next attempt.'

At the last company I worked for you would not be fired for being wrong, but you would be fired for not having initiative. It had a positive attitude to mistakes. It was a great company.

-Paul Arden

The thing that I love about my parents that had a profound impact on my upbringing was the fact that they provided an environment that allowed me to fail. Mistakes are a part of life... a part of the greatest redemption stories in cinema. I believe in second chances...the Philadelphia Eagles believe in second chances. God believes in second chances, after all that's why He sent Jesus... to give His creation a second chance. He is a great God.