Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A Hobby-Based Look Back

My biography indicates that in my spare time I enjoy attending concerts, cooking, reading, and traveling, so to recap 2017, I will summarize my accomplishments in those areas.


The irony is that managing concerts, as I do, sometimes makes it difficult to attend them. Nonetheless, I was in the audience for several concerts in the last year and a few in particular I really enjoyed.

In April I heard Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 Reformation, appropriate given this Reformation 500 anniversary year, as well as Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with Yafim Bronfman.

In December I heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Nikolaj Znaider, perform Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. On both occasions I was hearing these symphonies performed live by a professional orchestra for the first time, and on neither occasion did they disappoint!

Over the summer I attended a couple performances at the Grant Park Music Festival in Millennium Park, including, in August, one featuring the Mariachi Cobre, which may have been only the second time in my life I had heard live mariachi music, at least in concert.


Naomi and I are regular Purple Carrot users, and a few of the recipes we have gone on to reuse, particularly the delicious (and simple) red bean burger. We have been introduced to new ingredients and new twists on familiar meals. One of my long time favorite recipes, which I first learned when Naomi and I were dating in college, is a zucchini and kidney bean chili. I am also now very partial to the use of dates as a sweetener, though that is more for baking than cooking; my skills are very much still in the cooking realm.


I read eleven books from start to finish this year and read bits of some others, but I really do want to increase that total in future years. Three in particular are:

  • John Bateson's Building Hope: Leadership in the Non-Profit World, anecdotes and experience-based advice on many facets of the non-profit institution
  • Andy Crouch's Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, a compelling analysis of the ways power is often abused and how it could and can be used for so much good instead
  • Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie's The Piestist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity, an encouraging look at the principles of pietism and how they can inform most other traditions


In addition to my home state of Illinois, I found myself spending time in Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont this year. (I also changed planes in California but I am of the school of thought that that does not count.)

My visits to Hawaii, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont were my first times in each of those states. The Hawaii trip was Naomi's and my honeymoon in January to the island of Kauai, and it was very much the perfect time of year to go and an all-around enjoyable trip. I chronicled the Vermont trip in detail previously on this blog.

What's Next?

I already have tickets for two CSO concerts in 2018, we are due for our next Purple Carrot later in January, I have two books waiting for me on my desk to read, one of which I am sure I will take on our January trip to Florida, and after that who knows to where else I will take books for the plane ride - New Orleans and Canada are on our list!

I hope 2017 had many satisfying moments of those things you enjoy doing in your spare time, and that 2018 will have no less!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Music and Meditation for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 24 | The Fourth Sunday of Advent

"Love Came Down at Christmas"

  • Words by Christina Rossetti (1883)
  • Musical setting by John Rutter (1971)
  • Performed by the Cambridge Singers and the City of London Sinfonia on The John Rutter Christmas Album (2002 Collegium)

Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely, love divine
Love was born at Christmas
Star and angels gave the sign

Worship we the Godhead
Love incarnate, love divine
Worship we our Jesus
What shall be our sacred sign

Love shall be our token
Love be yours and love be mine
Love to God and neighbor
Love for prayer and gift and sign


For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Music and Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 17 | The Third Sunday of Advent

"Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying"

  • Words by Philipp Nicolai (1599), translated by Catherine Winkworth (1858)
  • Music by Hans Sachs (c. 1513); hymn tune is WACHET AUF
  • Performed by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist on the album Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with the Dominican Sisters of Mary (2017 De Montfort Music, LLC and Sony Entertainment)

Wake, awake, for night is flying
The watchmen on the heights are crying
Awake, Jerusalem at last
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past
The bridegroom comes, awake
Your lamps with gladness take
Alleluia! And for his majesty prepare
For you have come to meet him there

Zion hears the watchmen singing
And in her heart with joy is springing
She wakes, she rises from her gloom
For her Lord comes down all glorious
The strong in grace, in truth victorious
Her star is risen, her light is come
O come, you blessed one
Lord Jesus, Son of God
Alleluia! We go until the halls we see
Where thou hast bid us sup with thee

Now let all the heavens adore thee
And men and angels sing before thee
With harps and cymbals all are peal
Of one pearl each shining portal
Where dwelling with the choir immortal
And angels round thy dazzling glow
No eye has seen nor ear
Has yet been trained to hear
What joy is ours
When we rejoice and sing to thee
Our hymn of joy eternally


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen.

The Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Music and Meditation for the Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 10 | The Second Sunday of Advent

"Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus"

  • Words by Charles Wesley (1744)
  • Music by Rowland H. Prichard (c. 1830); hymn tune is HYFRYDOL
  • Performed by Fernando Ortega on the album Christmas Songs (2008 Curb Records)

Come, thou long-expected Jesus born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone
By thine all all-sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne


These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I will come to you." If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

John 14:25-31 (ESV)

Almighty God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

The Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Music and Meditation for the First Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 3, 2017 | The First Sunday of Advent

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

  • Words are a twelfth-century Latin hymn, translated by John M. Neale (1851)
  • Music is by Thomas Helmore (1854), based on plainsong phrases; hymn tune is VENI EMMANUEL
  • Performed by Enya on the album And Winter Came (2008 Warner Music Group)

O come, o come, Emmanuel, to free your captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice, O Israel, to you shall come Emmanuel

(Sung once in English and once in Latin)

The following stanza, attributed to Henry Sloane Coffin (1916), is not sung in this track but I provide if for your meditation here at the close of a tumultuous 2017:

O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease, fill all the world heavenly peace
Rejoice! Rejoice, O Israel, to you shall come Emmanuel


For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced from the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:16-21 (ESV)

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now and in the time of this mortal life in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

Thursday, November 23, 2017


On this Thanksgiving Day, some of the things for which I am most thankful (and surely this is an incomplete list):

  • Naomi, my wife (pictured below)
  • Ed and Becky, my ever-supportive parents
  • Paul, my brother, Velia and Dorothy, my grandmothers, and my entire family
  • Gerald, my boss at Calvary (and Todd, his boss and our senior pastor), and Tony, my boss at Wheaton (and Michael, his boss and our dean)
  • Ana, Cassidy, Cheryl, Cindy, Collin, Danielle, Ellie, and Madison, whom I have the privilege of having as direct reports at Calvary and Wheaton
  • My colleagues at Calvary and Wheaton, too many to name for fear of missing someone
  • The privilege of serving on the staffs of these two organizations, and for all the invaluable kingdom-building work in which I can take part
  • The provision of new facilities for the Conservatory of Music
  • Friends from my college days with whom I can still talk by phone every so often, and the encouragement those calls are
  • First-time visits to four states in the last year (Hawaii in January, South Carolina and Oregon in May, Vermont in July)
  • The privilege of serving on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Overture Council Executive Committee with Erika, April, Danielle, Elliott, Haley, John, Jonathon, Kristin, Belinda, Claudine, and Jessica and our ongoing growth and success
  • The generosity of many people, some of whom are at most second-degree connections, taking time to provide professional development advice
  • Timely and helpful words of wisdom and counsel from Derrick and Gayle and Kirk
  • The many thoughtful, reasonable voices, even with whom I disagree, speaking with charity and humility and using their platforms to inspire hope and determination in the midst of so much divisive, negative rhetoric
  • The relentless, limitless, abundant, and undeserved grace of God

I'm thankful for Naomi, my bride of 15 months and counting, this Thanksgiving

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The New Center for Music and the Arts

It has been just over a week since the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music moved into its new home, the Armerding Center for Music and the Arts. Smiles (albeit tired smiles in some cases) have dominated everyone's faces. Despite the grueling final weeks of packing and preparing and hoping for as seamless a transition as possible, everyone is happy to be settling into the new facilities.

About $30 million and a year of construction has found the Conservatory with twice the amount of instructional space as before, and four times as many restrooms! My boss's office is at least twice the size it was before. We went from two floors to four. Instead of views of parking lots and dumpsters, our windows now give us a view of the quad and the fountain (including some practice room windows). We have dedicated hospitality space. Everything is light and airy and freshly painted and polished.

Last Thursday, the first day of classes in the new building, we had a music major convocation right after lunch in the new Armerding Recital Hall, with faculty and staff present as well as all the students. Our dean, Michael Wilder, gave us some instructions on how to make the most of the new space, and then we sang some hymns. In between, the stage managers adjusted the acoustical curtains, from fully extended (i.e., fully absorbent) to fully retracted (i.e., fully reflective). The difference was astounding as the room resonated with 150 voices singing "When In Our Music God is Glorified." I wish it had been recorded, or maybe actually I don't, because no recording could accurately capture that moment. Students, faculty, and staff alike had tears in their eyes (in mine, too) as we sang "There Is A Redeemer" to close our convocation and listened to voices resound in that space.

Our dedication event is Friday, November 3, at 3pm on the Quad, and is open to the public. But what is even more exciting is that this project is only half finished! Fundraising is well underway for Phase II, the construction of a new 650-seat concert hall with adjacent choral rehearsal hall, joined to Phase I (the new facility I've just described) by a two-story glass atrium. Phase II as also has a price tag of about $30 million, and thanks to an extremely generous anonymous gift earlier this month, we are now almost halfway to that second $30 million. Equally significantly, many of the current music students are contributing of their means to the project. I witness more students every day bringing their contribution envelopes to the administrative suite where I have my office. The dean said at convocation that at this moment "we are at halftime, and we think we're winning!"

I couldn't agree more. It was a little less than 9 years ago, during my sophomore year as a music major, when the $9 million addition to Edman Chapel opened. That project included a new instrumental rehearsal hall, which I was able to enjoy immediately as a member of the Wheaton College Symphonic Band. The first few days in Armerding brought back some of the feelings I had sophomore year - only greatly magnified by the greater scope of the Armerding project and by witnessing the enjoyment of the next generation of music students. These are the young men and women who are training for service in churches, concert halls, and schools around the world, and it is most satisfying to see them settle into their new and improved place of study and training. Come visit and see it for yourself!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

In Memoriam

Ever since the calendar turned to October, I have been thinking a lot about my paternal grandfather, Joseph/Jose' Rubio, from whom my parents gave me my middle name. He passed away ten years ago today. I was just a few weeks into my freshman year at Wheaton College, and I am still moved by the kindness of my new roommate Sam, my new friends (including Naomi, now my wife), and professors who had all just met me, and also by the support from afar from my high school friends (my youth group cohort had a group message on Facebook going for a while during our freshman year at various colleges).

A few random things to share in his memory...

1. This piece I wrote about him four years ago this Christmas.

2. Naomi asked me at dinner the other night what I remembered about him. There is a lot I remember, but one of the first memories that came to mind was from one day when I was perhaps 11 or 12 and accompanying him on some errands. On the way home, he noticed a man selling watermelons off the back of his pickup truck. Knowing that my grandma and I loved watermelon (as does he, and my dad, and, well, everyone I am related to), he pulled over and bought two. Why I remember that so vividly is beyond me.

3. I also remember his funeral, which will have been ten years ago this Wednesday. It was at the Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago. A bagpiper friend of his had approached my dad after hearing of his passing and offered to play for the recessional, to which my dad responded, "He would be honored." And so as my dad and I along with some of my dad's cousins carried the casket from the church following the funeral mass, this gentlemen stood at the curb and played "Amazing Grace." Here is a video of a solo bagpiper doing just that, not the same bagpiper as my grandfather's friend, but the same solo bagpipe voice.

I miss you, Grandpa.

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 MLB Postseason Predictions

My predictions are again this year based loosely on the competing teams' head-to-head records and factoring home field advantage. I still do not have a future as a sports journalist (plus I am quite happy with my current career). But just for fun:

American League Wild Card: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees
Prediction: New York Yankees

National League Wild Card: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks
Prediction: Colorado Rockies

American League Division Series: New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox
Predictions: Cleveland Indians in 4, Boston Red Sox in 4

National League Division Series: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals
Predictions: Los Angeles Dodgers in 5, Chicago Cubs in 5

American League Championship Series: Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians
Prediction: Boston Red Sox in 6

National League Championship Series: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers
Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers in 6
*Yes, it pains me to say that, but that is what my methodology returns

World Series: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers

Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers in 7

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Beauty in the Broken

The last week was a difficult one for my colleagues and me at Calvary Memorial Church, and for much of our congregation as well. Two Friday nights ago, Gillian Lundgren, a fifteen-year-old daughter of one of our staff, took her own life. I did not personally know her well, but I did know her, and found the news an utter shock, not least as someone who works with students in my other and previous jobs. Not 36 hours later, our senior pastor, Todd, in a breaking voice shared the news with the congregation during our Sunday services.

Then came Monday morning. It quickly became clear to me that all of our employees, the majority of whom might not even be fully aware when we host memorial services, were not only devastated by this tragedy but already going above and beyond the call of duty to prepare for the Thursday evening visitation and Friday morning memorial service. There was a communal dedication and attention and effort given to this task that I have never before experienced.

Needless to say, all of us dearly wish we would not have had that work to do this past week. On this side of eternity, however, our task is to be the hands and feet of Jesus when (not if) tragedy comes. And I think that is just what we saw this week: the redeeming power of the Lord Jesus energizing our work. It was the Holy Spirit driving our collective accomplishment of hosting over two thousand guests for the visitation and the memorial service, allowing the Lundgren family and hundreds of Gillian and her parents' friends and peers to mourn the loss and yet hope in the promise that she, to quote her obituary, "is now whole and in the presence of her Heavenly Father."

In the midst of this awful tragedy, the grace of God flowed and was manifested in our staff community's rallying to the cause to support our colleague and friend.

This coming Monday will likely be a "normal" day at work for us staff. There will be emails to read and write, meetings to attend, sermons and lessons to prepare, congregants to meet and visit, programs and events to plan, bills to pay, and more. But there's the grace of God in that, too. The grace that redeems our brokenness, sanctifies our work, and enables us to minister to those who are still grieving and to proclaim the power of gospel, bringing the only real hope we have into a dark and broken and yet beloved of God world.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time."
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vermont Vacation

Last weekend, Naomi and I spent four days vacationing in the Green Mountain State, Vermont. It was the first time there for both of us. Naomi had registered to run the Mad Marathon, so we made a long weekend trip out of it.

We flew Southwest Airlines to Manchester Boston Regional Airport, New Hampshire, on Friday, and after lunch in Manchester drove to the Seasons Resort in Warren, Vermont. The Seasons was a quiet and convenient location to base our Vermont explorations. It is just 10 minutes driving from the start and finish of the marathon in Waitsfield, Vermont, and an hour or less from the other locations we visited.

The Seasons Resort, Warren, Vermont

The Seasons is about half a mile from the Warren town center, so after check-in we went to see the town. Warren has all of 1,705 residents, per Wikipedia, and the town center is, proportionally, a quarter-mile stretch along which one finds the real estate agency, the general store, the inn and restaurant, the post office, the fire station, the town hall, and one church. No stoplights. Very peaceful, and I enjoyed morning runs along the main street and through the adjacent residential streets twice during our vacation.

On Saturday, we went to Waitsfield (population 1,719, also no stoplights, but does have a busier and denser central business district) for packet pick up, where the race staff gave me some tips for the best spots to spectate, and the Waitsfield Farmers Market, which is also a craft fair and had samples.

That afternoon, we went a little farther up the road to Waterbury, Vermont, where we saw our first stoplight in 24 hours and visited the Green Mountain Coffee store and museum at the Waterbury Amtrak Station.

Sunday was race day! As an aside, the forecast had called for lots of rain over the weekend, but we had very little. A short shower here and there, but none during the race morning. After seeing Naomi off, I enjoyed driving around to the various spectator points and joining the other runners' friends and family members to enjoy a beautiful morning in the mountains of the Mad River Valley.

She's off!

3 mile mark!

In the afternoon, we went back to Waterbury to visit the Ben and Jerry's Factory, and have some ice cream. After, we went to Montpelier to stroll the main street and have dinner at the Positive Pie. I had a delicious burger and also decided who I would vote for in the next elections.

Ben and Jerry's Factory, Waterbury, Vermont

The party of deliciousness

On Monday morning, we went to Burlington, Vermont's most populous city, and the least populous city that is the most populous city of a state (Montpelier is also the least populous state capital city). We strolled the main outdoor shopping district and then walked over to and along the Burlington shore of Lake Champlain. Lunch was at New Moon Cafe, an indie version of the Panera Bread concept.

Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont

Tuesday we cleaned and packed and checked out and headed again to Montpelier to get coffee and tour the Vermont State House, which allowed self-guided tours.

Vermont State House

Then we were on the road back to Manchester for lunch at the Portland Pie Company and then over to the airport for our flight home. It was a great vacation! I highly recommend Vermont if you have never been.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Overture Council Completes Its Wildly Successful Eighth Year

A year ago today, I publicly (i.e., via Facebook) announced my appointment as Communications Chair on the Executive Committee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Overture Council.

A week ago yesterday, I marked the end of the first year of my two-year term as the Overture Council marked the end of its wildly successful eighth year at our end-of-season celebration.

With obvious, bias, let me brag a little on what transpired in our eighth season.

Soundpost: Exploring the World of Composition

The Overture Council's signature program is Soundpost, a pre-concert series featuring guests talking about music from different angles each year; this year, from the angle of composition. We had such guests as musical theater and film composer Sam Davis, as well as CSO musicians, providing a unique exploration of music. These events are a key component of our audience development mission and we brought many new patrons to Symphony Center.

Civic Orchestra Pre-Concert

The Overture Council has an ongoing relationship with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, part of the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We started a new custom this year of meeting for a happy hour before each Civic Orchestra concert and then enjoying the concert together. These were possibly some of the most-appreciated member-specific events, and a valuable perk of membership.

Membership Growth

We ended the season with approximately 150 members, a new high point, representing a diverse selection of Chicago-area young professionals.

Speaking of which, are you a Chicago-area young professional? Consider joining us for our ninth season! Annual dues are $50, we require a minimum contribution the CSO of $50 and attendance at two Symphony Center events, and that is all for great benefits including invitations to special events, ticket discounts, and more.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Listening

I have done a handful of recaps of my reading on this blog over the years, and I have done a handful of concert reviews as well, but I have never done any report on my podcast listening. Probably because it has only been the last year or so I have actively listened to podcasts. But in any case, here we are...

There are probably ten different podcasts of which I have listened to at least a few episodes over the last year, but here I would like to highlight the three that I listen to regularly and attempt to hear every episode.

This podcast began in March 2016, just under ten years since the end of the Emmy-winning series The West Wing concluded its original run on NBC. The West Wing is without question my favorite TV show, having discovered it midway through its original run when I was a teenager.

The hosts of this podcast are actor Joshua Malina, who was part of the show's main cast for the last four seasons, and musician/composer Hrishikesh Hirway. Each week's episode focuses on one episode from the show, in sequence, and in addition to discussing the plot, production, and trivia of the episode, the hosts and their guest discuss related public policy and sociocultural issues. More often than not, an issue explored in the original episode of The West Wing is either still an issue today or else still relevant in some other way. Guests have included The West Wing cast and crew members as well as current and former real-life political, military, and NGO figures.

Listen to the 1 minute, 23 second intro episode, "0.00 Cold Open" for the hosts' explanation of their project.

This podcast began just last December. The co-hosts are Ed Stetzer and Lynn Cohick, both Wheaton College faculty members. Each week's episode examines one of a myriad of theological issues, from the major timeless questions and creedal statements, exegetical commentary, comparative theology, and everyday Christian life. Highly relatable and gives a fresh introductory look at the different issues.

To date all their guests have been other Wheaton College faculty, but they've promised to have guests from other institutions and organizations as well.

Church Politics

This podcast began just this past May. The co-hosts are Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House as well as for the 2012 re-election campaign and is now a consultant and author, and Atlanta-based lawyer and political operative Justin Giboney. The first few episodes were groundwork, including two insightful podcasts examining the history and current focus and status of the Democratic and Republican parties, and thereafter they recap the week's political news and examine the issues based on their Christian convictions. Worthwhile listening for Democrats, Republicans, Christians, and those of other or no faith tradition all.

The podcast, presented by online arts and culture curator platform Forth District, does not (yet?) have its own website, but the first episode can be found at the Forth District website.

What podcasts do you listen to regularly?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Points and Miles

Last year, I began following The Points Guy, a combination travel blog/financial advice/life hack website. It has given me significant insights in how to leverage my own use of credit cards and loyalty programs to, as The Points Guy himself might say, turn everyday activity into exciting rewards. What follows are musings on my own use of credit card and loyalty program rewards.

Credit Cards

I currently carry three Chase credit cards. (I began banking with Chase in college and they have always taken good care of me and made me feel like a valued customer -- even as a comparatively low net worth young adult -- so I am happy to give them the opportunity to service all my banking needs.)

Chase Freedom, since 2015
Chase Freedom Unlimited, since 2016
Chase Sapphire Preferred, since 2017

Chase Freedom has rotating bonus categories; each quarter purchases in a category or two of merchants earns 5% cash back, over the usual 1%. They are usually everyday-purchase categories, like gas (as was the case in the first quarter of 2017) and groceries (as is the case in this current second quarter).

I picked up the Chase Freedom Unlimited to use for my non-bonus category spending, as this card has a universal 1.5% cash back on purchases.

Chase Sapphire Preferred is my first higher-level card. I use it for its bonus categories, restaurants and travel (and the travel category is broad, it even includes local public transit fares), where it earns 2 points per dollar.

Having the Chase Sapphire Preferred means that not only can I get cash back on my Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited purchases, I can combine the Chase Ultimate Rewards points from all cards and transfer to travel partners. I transferred 40,000 of the 50,000 points sign up bonus on the CSP to Southwest Rapid Rewards to redeem for my wife's and my flights to Vermont this summer. Which brings me to...

Airline Loyalty Programs

Living in Chicago, I am fortunate to be in the hub/focus city of three major U.S. airlines: American, Southwest, and United. I've chosen to primarily split my air travel needs between Southwest and United. I like Southwest because of the ability to easily and freely change flights as needed, plus of course the free checked bags, and United because of the diversity of its product, the potential for great mileage redemptions, and its international network access, as my wife and I desire to travel internationally during our lives -- and, of course, as a Chicagoan, I like to give my business to Chicago-based companies.

Since becoming a United MileagePlus member a couple years ago, I've earned close to 25,000 points (some through flying, and some through MileagePlus Shopping portal and the MileagePlus X app), and earlier this year redeemed for my first award flight, and found Saver Award availability to get me to Charleston for my grandma's 80th birthday party this month.

And, as I mentioned above, I moved 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which I could do once I obtained the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, to Southwest Rapid Rewards for a pair of round-trip flights to Vermont.

What credit cards and loyalty programs do you use?