Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kansas City Vacation

This past weekend I took a brief vacation to Kansas City. The main event was the wedding of a good friend from college, Jon Young, but I also had the opportunity to visit family and explore a bit of Kansas City, a place I had not visited before.

I arrived by air on Friday, early afternoon, and without trouble claimed by bag, picked up a rental car, and checked into my hotel. It was hot in Kansas City (ninety-seven degrees!) and humid too! 

A short while later, I drove to nearby Leavenworth, Kansas, where my cousin Greg, his wife Melissa, and their thirteen-month-old daughter, Ava, make their home. Leavenworth is where they make their new home, I should add – they just moved there three weeks ago. Melissa gave me the tour of their house, a comfortable two-bedroom on a quiet street, and then Greg and Ava returned from a grocery store run.

Ava and Greg
I helped Greg distract Ava (out in the backyard, see the picture) while Melissa finished dinner, and then we all sat down to eat chicken tacos from the crockpot. I enjoyed the chance to see them all for a few hours and hear about their settling into their new home. I headed back to my hotel for the evening, taking a few minutes to visit the hotel pool before turning in for the night.

The following day was the wedding day, but not until four, so I took the morning to explore Kansas City. As I was staying at one of the official wedding hotels, I had been given on arrival a gift bag from Jon and Natalie (his bride) containing a few snacks and a welcome letter indicating some of their favorite tourist spots and restaurants in the area. As I said above, this was my first visit to Kansas City, so I took advantage of their suggestions.

My first stop was Loose Park, a large urban park with extensive gardens and walking paths. My only exercise in the last forty-eight hours had been a few laps in the pool, so I took a stroll on one of those paths, circling the park’s perimeter. The path led me past a few Civil War-era markers (Kansas City being an active location during that conflict).

Jacob Loose, the park's namesake
A view of Loose Park paths and some Civil War markers

Lunch was at a burger place in the Westport area of Kansas City, also recommended by the bride and groom, and then I headed to the one place in Kansas City of which I had previous knowledge – the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Though I love Chicago, one thing it does not have is a municipal performing arts center, so it is something I only get to see when I visit other cities. I spent a few minutes at Kauffman, taking pictures and taking in the grandeur of the relatively new facility.

I drove back to my hotel, changed, and headed to the wedding, held in a church not far from the hotel. I was almost immediately greeted by another good friend from college, Nathaniel Olson, who was serving as an usher.

My old roommate, Nathaniel, ushering

Given that both the bride and groom are professional musicians, I was not surprised at the quality and quantity of music that Jon and Natalie included in their service. They were successfully wedded, and exited the church to a shower of bubbles.

All of us guests made our way to a nearby country club for the reception. I found my table with several other Wheaton grads, with an excellent view of the bridal party’s introduction. It was a fun party – good food, a DJ who may have been having the most fun of anyone, and a photo booth. It was also really fun to see some of those Wheaton friends for the first time in over a year in some cases.


As things were winding down, I said goodbye to my friends and headed back to my hotel, tired but refreshed by all the day’s activity. The following day I again without trouble checked out, returned my car, and flew home to Chicago. It had been a most refreshing weekend.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Taylor Swift and the Future of Music

Taylor Swift, of "We were both young when I first met you" fame, wrote a thoughtful, heartfelt column featured in The Wall Street Journal yesterday. Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg View responded to her in today's Chicago Tribune.

For those of you who did not follow those links, a summary of each: Taylor Swift expressed optimism in the face of declining sales across the music industry. Bershidsky expressed pessimism, noting that the changing methods of accessing and even discovering music signals that the music industry's heyday is past.

I should pause here and note that this conversation is specifically about the music industry, and not the broader shifts in the role of music, let alone the arts in general, here in our twenty-first century globalized society. (Shout out to Tony Payne, my boss at Wheaton College, for his recent essay on the WHY of the performing arts, for that general perspective.) And that is not my specific area of professional expertise; I focus more on presenting the fine arts, if you will forgive me for using such a broad term.

That being said, I agree with Taylor and her optimism. The music industry is not the only industry undergoing extreme changes. Retail. News. Travel. Education. Ministry. (Yes, I know those last two really should not be considered "industries.") All of those areas and more would be unrecognizable to people who worked in those fields a century ago as they are today. But I would not consider them dying.

Certainly, social media and the constant flow of information has reduced our attention spans (I will not say how many times while writing this I have broken away to look at my Twitter feed). But that does not mean we as humans beings actually prefer quantity over quality. It just takes a higher quantity of interactions with something for us to realize its quality. And, as Taylor writes, each successive interaction needs to be inventive, or boredom will ensue.

And I think that need for constant creativity is a reason for optimism. We will never get to the end of all there is to see and hear and smell and taste and touch in our world, and thus we will never get to the end of creativity. I believe that that is because human creativity comes the infinitely creative Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ. And I think those of you who do not share my faith tradition will accept my point that we will never get to the end of creativity.

Without question, the economics of the creative enterprises is changing. But that does not mean that the heyday of the music industry or its counterparts must be past. But the bottom line and popularity must not be the ends. The end must be to celebrate the creativity, the diverse creativity, of the people with whom we share our world, and that becomes increasingly easier as our world becomes more and more connected. If the music industry can support that effort, it can become an agent of healing the brokenness in our world. It is no substitute for the redemptive power found in Christ, of course. But I believe in common grace, and it is my prayer that musicians from multiple-Grammy-winner Taylor Swift to the five-year-old beginning piano student, and the firms and technologies that bring their music to other people, will be channels for that grace.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reading List 2014: Status to Date

On New Year's Day, I made a list of a dozen or so books I wanted to read during 2014. I added a few titles to the list over the last few months as well. With 2014 now half over, I would like to share the completed titles from my list, in order of completion:

J. I. Packer, Knowing God
Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
Bruce Ellis Benson, Liturgy as a Way of Life
Harold Best, Music Through the Eyes of Faith
Jimmy Greenfield, 100 Things Cubs Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die
Jeffrey C. Davis and Philip G. Ryken, editors, Liberal Arts for the Christian Life

I am a little behind where I would like to be at the halfway point of the year, but at least I average more than one book per month! I will report back after Christmas with my second-half reading.