Monday, April 14, 2014

42nd Street: A Review

In this month's volume of "When Swing Was King," our ministry in nursing homes and senior living centers which combines original big band music, hundreds of photographs, an interesting and fun commentary, and (most important of all) the development of personal friendships, we include in the mix of 12 songs a lively recording of "42nd Street" by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

It's a terrific song, instruments only. But we know the lyrics well from a homemade recording we have enjoyed for years of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in a New York nightclub. The vocalist in that performance was Vince Fitzpatrick, a fellow who we came to know later as a good friend and pro-life colleague in the Washington area. He is now known, by the way, as Father Vince Fitzpatrick. That's right; Vince went from nightclub crooner to becoming a Roman Catholic priest. Great story, right.

But back to "42nd Street."

After last Thursday's "WSWK" presentation at Immanuel Assisted Living Center, I decided to see if the film version of "42nd Street" (made way back in 1933) was available anywhere. And it was -- right here on Amazon for a $1.99 rental.

We found the movie fascinating, much more profound and compelling than what we were expecting from a musical. Yes, there were big and elaborate musical numbers from Busby Berkely and featuring the talents of Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers in the chorus. But the primary plot of the film was quite serious with themes of love, ambition, despair, and jealousy front and center. We were particularly impressed with the characters of Julian Marsh (played frantically by Warner Baxter), the doe-eyed innocent (Ruby Keeler) and the much abused stage manager (George E. Stone.)

The movie was based upon a novel by Bradford Ropes (forget about it -- a copy is available on eBay, but starting at $1,500) but the film follows Ropes' basic plan. It shows the plight of successful Broadway director Julian Marsh. Marsh was the Great White Way's biggest light but he has lost his fortune in the stock market and is desperate to mount a successful stage production of a musical extravaganza. But it won't be easy. It's the Great Depression. And he's broke and physically ill. Will he even survive?

The leading lady (with a real prima donna attitude) is in love with a broken down vaudeville player, her former partner. But she must hide that relationship as she pretends to be sweet on a rich rube who is the play's angel. In fact, mobsters are called in to drive her real lover out of town to protect the show's interests. But that's not all. There's an intriguing subplot involving the talented rookie (Ruby Keeler) and the romantic juvenile (Dick Powell), a raft of clever one-liners from Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers and company, and then those remarkable big stage musical numbers.

We loved "42nd Street" and may well travel it again with friends soon.

Here's just one scene as a teaser. I'm sorry, it's colorized but don't worry. The Amazon film is in its original black and white.

Vital Signs' Latest Reading (And Listening) Projects

Among the learning, stretching, encouraging things that Vital Signs Ministries has been offering lately are 1) a reading/discussion regimen involving the authors C.S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, Jarram Barrs, and Howard Hendricks. And 2) a listening/discussion regimen which features four of the general session lectures from the recent conference sponsored by the Rochester L'Abri.

Here's how they each work.

A few friends of Vital Signs have joined several people from Faith Bible Church in a commitment to one of two reading tracks. They are both quite different but some have actually signed up for both. The first track is reading the seven short books of C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. The schedule calls for us to be finished with the first three by the end of May and the next four by the first of September. And as a reward of sorts, we are having a barbecue dinner for participants at the end of both.

The second track requires the reading of three books: Heaven by Randy Alcorn (to be finished by the end of May), The Heart of Prayer by Jarram Barrs (to be finished by the end of July), and the short but wonderful Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks (to be finished by the end of August.) In this project too, there are discussion sessions set over coffee and/or a light meal following the reading of each book.

The listening/discussion project involving the L'Abri lectures is a different kind of thing. We began last Monday night with 7 people listening to an audio tape of “The Biblical Basis for True Spirituality” by Jerram Barrs. We had some notes prepared but those sheets then served to encourage the listeners to take their own notes too. And the resultant discussion over coffee and dessert was very stimulating and helpful.

Tonight we will listen to “Spirituality According to Francis Schaeffer” by Bill Edgar. It looks like we will have 13 or 14 crowding into our living and dining rooms tonight for that one. And then there will be “Three Theories of Everything” by Ellis Potter as the lecture for April 21st and we will finish off on April 28th with “The Christian Life: An Other-Centered Walk” by Dick Keyes.

At Vital Signs, we know that the Christian must never stop growing. And reading great books, listening to fine lectures and sermons, and discussing these matters with stimulating, trustworthy friends are excellent paths to growth. So let us know if you would like to be involved in such activities in the future. And, as a matter of fact, it's not too late to be involved in these! Contact us at

Tolkien Talks to His Son About Sex, Marriage, and Fidelity

The astounding popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien and his writings–magnified many times over by the success of the “Lord of the Rings” films–has ensured that Tolkien’s fantasy world of moral meaning stands as one of the great literary achievements of our times.

In some sense, Tolkien was a man born out of time. A philologist at heart, Tolkien was most at home in the world of ancient ages, even as he witnessed the barbarism and horrors of the 20th century. Celebrated as a popular author, he was an eloquent witness to permanent truths. His popularity on university campuses, extending from his own day right up to the present, is a powerful indication of the fact that Tolkien’s writings reach the hearts of the young, and those looking for answers.

Even as Tolkien is celebrated as an author and literary figure, some of his most important messages were communicated by means of letters, and some of the most important letters were written to his sons.
Tolkien married his wife Edith in 1916, and the marriage was blessed with four children. Of the four, three were boys. John was born in 1917, Michael in 1920, and Christopher in 1924. Priscilla, the Tolkiens’ only daughter, was born in 1929.

Tolkien dearly loved his children, and he left a literary legacy in the form of letters. Many of these letters were written to his sons, and these letters represent, not only a hallmark of literary quality, but a treasure of Christian teaching on matters of manhood, marriage, and sex. Taken together, these letters constitute a priceless legacy, not only to the Tolkien boys, but to all those with whom the letters have been shared.

In 1941, Tolkien wrote a masterful letter to his son Michael, dealing with marriage and the realities of human sexuality. The letter reflects Tolkien’s Christian worldview and his deep love for his sons, and at the same time, also acknowledges the powerful dangers inherent in unbridled sexuality….

Excerpt from Albert Mohler’s essay, “From Father to Son: J.R.R. Tolkien on Sex.” Read the whole essay on Mohler’s blog right here.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Reflecting On "An Inspector Calls"

J.B. Priestly’s most famous play, “An Inspector Calls,” has long been considered an expression of Priestly’s strong (if naive) socialist views. There was certainly a reason, for instance, that the play was considered inappropriate for wartime Britain and therefore made its 1945 debut…in the Soviet Union.

However, despite what unfair hatred Priestly felt for the British upper class, for capitalism, and for individualism, “An Inspector Calls” still stands as an excellent drawing room drama, one that effectively explores morality, responsibility, self-deception, and the virtue of mercy. Left-leaning politicos will certainly find their presuppositions encouraged by the play, but I would suggest that the grievous faults revealed in the wealthy and self-centered family of the Birlings are not products of a political class. No, they are sins — sins of the classic biblical description: greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, wrath, and gluttony. These originate not from politics or class but from the fall of Adam.

Remembering the awful reality of the human condition (“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”) provides the clearest and most beneficial perspective of “An Inspector Calls.” Indeed, it allows the audience to appreciate the most important elements of the final scenes.

Like often happens when an artist effectively captures reality, he presents a work that goes beyond his own philosophic prejudices. And this is what happened to J.B. Priestly in “An Inspector Calls.” Though the playwright may have been aiming only at a political target, he managed to hit something truer and more universal.

I write these thoughts because Claire and I enjoyed watching a 1982 BBC production of “An Inspector Calls” on YouTube the other night. And we think you might find it an interesting, stimulating experience too.

"If God Is Good" (And He Most Definitely Is!)

One of Randy Alcorn’s best books, If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, is on sale at the Eternal Perspective Ministries website. I recommend the book highly…and, at this price, you would do well to order a couple more for friends and your church library.

Here’s a bit about the book taken from the EPM site.

Every one of us will experience suffering. Many of us are experiencing it now. As we have seen in recent years, evil is real in our world, present and close to each one of us. In such difficult times, suffering and evil beg questions about God—Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering? And then, how can there be a God if suffering and evil exist?

These are ancient questions, but also modern ones as well. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and even former believers like Bart Ehrman answer the question simply: The existence of suffering and evil proves there is no God. In this captivating book, best-selling author Randy Alcorn challenges the logic of disbelief, and brings a fresh, realistic, and thoroughly biblical insight to the issues these important questions raise.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

On Alec Guinness, Genius, and Introversion

The wise and winsome Gina Dalfonzo is a busy writer, editor of, and the creator of Dickensblog. Her essay at today's BreakPoint is a classic. It is a wonderful appreciation of British actor Alec Guinness and yet also an insightful exploration of the challenges presented to introverts in a modern age that celebrates flash, glitter, and celebrity.

Here is an excerpt:

One of the finest actors of the 20th century was also one of the most elusive. Sir Alec Guinness, born 100 years ago today, had the chameleon-like gift of disappearing completely into each character that he played. So completely, in fact, that this very prominent actor often appeared to be hiding in plain sight…

My fascination with Alec Guinness began when I picked up a copy of his first book, “Blessings in Disguise,” at a used bookstore. Being on a British classic film kick, I thought I could learn a lot about the genre from one of its greatest stars. But I didn’t really know what to expect. Some readers, like le CarrĂ©’s interviewer at “The Guardian,” claim that Guinness reveals nothing at all about himself in his books.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What I found in that book surprised and delighted me. Far from just another celebrity penning just another vapid celebrity bio, I found a man who could really write. I found a person who loved books, music, art, and life. And I found a personality that was charming, thoughtful, astonishingly humble, and very funny. His tales of mishaps onstage, on set, and on his ship in World War II frequently had me in stitches.

I found a man of deep faith, as well. I had known Guinness was a Catholic, having read the touching story of how his conversion began while he was playing Chesterton's priestly detective. But I hadn’t known just how much that faith shaped his thinking, his behavior, and his life, until I read his own quiet but fervent words about it…

These elements carry through all three volumes of his memoirs (plus a “commonplace book” of quotes, musings, and anecdotes). Guinness writes honestly and yet guardedly, like a man who’s willing to share much and yet still keep something to himself. This reserve, which puzzles or repels some people, is one of the things I found myself liking most in him. Somehow, in the reticent pages of a memoir by an elderly British actor, I had discovered a kindred spirit.

For an introvert, this can be an experience as rare and exciting as finding a diamond in the street. In her bestselling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,” Susan Cain makes a convincing case that extroversion has been the “cultural ideal” for the past century. Thus, many of us grow up believing that shyness and reserve are something to outgrow or simply push past; if we can’t manage it, we feel weird and isolated. Standing up, speaking out, putting it all out there . . . that’s what gets rewarded and encouraged. People get nettled when they think you’re holding something back—as demonstrated by le CarrĂ©’s casually brutal comment about Guinness.

But shielding and protecting your “center” doesn’t mean you don’t have one. It may simply mean that you know you have something worth protecting. I certainly think this is true of the man I met in “Blessings in Disguise” and its sequels…

If you'd like to know a bit more about Gina Dalfonzo, check out this brief interview.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Endangered By Huge Ships? There's Help Available.

How much would you pay for a joke?

Or, for that matter, if you were a captain of a small boat which frequently traveled in the ocean paths of tankers, cruise ships and aircraft carriers, how much would you pay for helpful guide like this one?

Of course, the reason for the purchase doesn't really matter.  After all, it's a matter of supply and demand with the supply being extremely limited. (Cornell Maritime Press no longer exists.)

Amazon is offering 7 new copies from $446 with 12 used copies starting at $249.97.

And, if you want a few laughs, you'll want to troll through the reader's reviews at the Amazon page. Among my favorites (though I must admit, I didn't go too far down the list of over a thousand entries!) are these:

* Given that there is a huge ship bearing down on me RIGHT NOW I am extremely disappointed that I cannot get instant download.

* I bought How to Avoid Huge Ships as a companion to Captain Trimmer's other excellent titles: How to Avoid a Train, and How to Avoid the Empire State Building. These books are fast paced, well written and the hard-won knowledge found in them is as inspirational as it is informational. After reading them I haven't been hit by anything bigger than a diesel bus. Thanks captain!

* This book really is one of the best huge ship avoidance references I've come across, not just for the effective methods it teaches as to avoiding huge ships, but also for exploding some of the huge ship avoidance myths that many of us take for granted. For example, do not charge the huge ship at full speed in an attempt to scare it off. This may work with coyotes, but it is less effective with huge ships.

* Captain Trimmer presents a rather novel technique for avoiding huge ships - move your boat out of the path of the huge ship. I know what you're thinking, this goes against conventional wisdom, but Trimmer presents significant empirical evidence to support his theory. Indeed, over the long run, moving out of the way will dramatically decrease the number of huge ship collisions you will have to endure in your daily life.

* I was very excited to find my copy of How to Avoid Huge Ships in the mail three months ago. However, I was very disappointed regarding the length of this "book". The book begins with a lengthy forward as well as a dedication followed by only 2 chapters....Chapter 1. Turn Left-----And Chapter 2. Turn Right. While statistically accurate and fundamentally helpful, the two chapters really left me wanting more. However, I was satisfied with the results of the book seeing as I have not had any encounters with huge ships since.

* Read this book from cover to cover. Still got hit by a huge ship. Am very disappointed in misleading title.

* I have read this book three times and I am still running into HUGE ships. I feel like I understand the concepts detailed in the book, but seem not to be able to apply them while on the water.

* If you only buy one book on avoiding big ships this year then it should be this one. In a world awash with a plethora of inferior and mediocre large vessel evasion media this tome is simply the apex. A must buy for the big ship avoiding enthusiast in your life

* The good captain's earlier works Steer Away from Lighthouses and The White Whale: A Case for Letting Go were both very important additions to the sailing lexicon. This book is no different, giving invaluable advice to those of us who have spent many leisurely boating trips dashed under the prow of huge ships. That being said, the slogan "If you buy this you will miss the boat!" is not helping sales.

Tearing Down Christianity...From Within

There’s a new book out from theological heavyweights Norm Geisler and David Farnell, an important book that has such seminary presidents as Al Mohler, Paige Patterson, John MacArthur and Richard Land talking.

Wanna' listen in?

Dr. L. Paige Patterson, the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “Comparing the biblical prophets to contemporary preachers and professors has presented me with my keenest disappointment. The former spoke boldly and confidently; the latter with the lisp of compromise. The prophets spoke with a certainty about the musings of the God of Abraham. The latter showed the effects of a desire to be ‘academically recognized or politically kosher.’ The offspring of the prophets, men like C.H. Spurgeon, appealed to the souls of men and saw many come to Christ.

"Many of the current compromised evangelicals do little for the church and the common man and accomplish mostly the crippling of the evangelical students who read their books and study with them. By their fruits you shall know them.

"The Jesus Quest: The Danger from Within by Norm Geisler and David Farnell faces the strange spectacle of evangelical compromise and asserts in the face of this slippage the historical doctrine of the full trustworthiness and, yes, inerrancy of God’s Word. Tracing the history of the sad debacle of evangelical compromise through such historical events as the Downgrade Controversy and the searches for the historical Jesus, the various authors frame precisely the impact of such disintegration and proceed to state a fresh and compelling case for historic belief.

"Surrounded by the Vienna Boys Choir of light-voiced quasi-evangelicals, I appreciate the booming bass tones of the genuine, uncompromised voices of these contemporary prophets of God. The Jesus Quest will do nothing for the popularity of these contributors, but it may well do wonders for the church of the living God."

Albert Mohler, Jr., President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees. “If we do not confess that the whole Bible is totally true and trustworthy, then we have set ourselves upon a project of determining which texts of the Bible reflect God’s perfection, if any. We will use human criteria of judgment to decide which texts bear divine authority and which texts can be trusted. We will decide, one way or another, which texts we believe to be God speaking to us.

"But if we affirm the inerrancy of Scripture without hesitation or reservation, then we must read it accordingly. Ways of reading Scripture that are at odds with its inerrant nature must be honestly assessed and relentlessly eschewed. That is why I am thankful for The Jesus Quest. In this book, Geisler and Farnell examine the particular historical and philosophical approaches being used in the recent speculations of man set over the eternal self-revelation of God. Key to understanding the Bible and its presentation of Jesus as the Christ is a proper hermeneutical humility that submits to God’s Word by taking him at his word in Scripture.

"To this end, Geisler and Farnell argue convincingly for the reliability of the New Testament books, its writers, and the God who inspired them. Along the way, they helpfully canvas the hermeneutical controversies within evangelicalism, criticize the skepticism of biblical criticism, and deconstruct the deconstructionist attempts to reframe the Scriptures. I appreciate and commend their spirit, scholarship, and sensitivity to the needs of the church as it lives ‘by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’(Matt. 4:4; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17)"

And finally, one more excerpt from the several forwards to The Jesus Quest that were written by seminary presidents. This is from the President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, Dr. Richard D. Land. “Dr. Geisler and Dr. Farnell are to be commended for producing and collecting these important essays addressing a real and growing threat from within evangelical scholarship to the complete veracity and authority of the Word of God. Dr. Geisler, philosopher, theologian, and apologist, and Dr. Farnell, New Testament scholar, are uniquely prepared by academic training, scholarly pursuit, and interest to identify the nature of these threats by the ‘new’ evangelicals and their dangerous flirtation with erroneous philosophies, higher criticism, and faulty hermeneutical methodologies.

"These ‘new’ evangelicals have forced the evangelical world to once again ever more carefully define what once were clearly defined words and concepts, which were then undermined and redefined downward by a new generation putting question marks at the end of Holy Scripture’s truth declarations.”

The Best Biblical Movie Ever?

Most people think of director Cecil B. DeMille in connection with the film “The Ten Commandments,” and rightly so. It is considered by many to be the greatest of all biblically based epic films. But there was another, earlier film for which he deserves to be remembered—perhaps even more so than for “The Ten Commandments.”

That film is “The King of Kings,” which was released in 1927. Though a silent film, few motion pictures have spoken so powerfully, for so long, to so many. Newly remastered as part of the distinguished cinematic series, The Criterion Collection, motion picture historians have written that during the creation of this film, DeMille was allowed to work “with one of the biggest budgets in Hollywood history, DeMille spun the life and Passion of Christ into a silent-era blockbuster. Featuring text drawn directly from the Bible, a cast of thousands . . . The King of Kings is at once spectacular and deeply reverent—part Gospel, part Technicolor epic.”

Blockbuster though it may have been upon its initial release, “The King of Kings” became a blockbuster of a wholly different order of magnitude in the years following. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in the spring of 2011, educator and author John Murray has said that “because it was produced as a silent film, Protestant and Catholic missionaries alike were able to use [“The King of Kings”] for decades to share the Gospel with non-English-speaking peoples.” This led to an absolutely astounding statistic. Given this set of circumstances, viewership of “The King of Kings” was “estimated at over 800 million people by 1959.”

Murray then goes on to state that “the most powerful story related by DeMille in his autobiography about the influence of ‘The King of Kings’ involved a Polish man named William E. Wallner.” The story that Wallner had to tell was a harrowing one….

Read the rest of this extremely interesting and uplifting report of “The King of Kings” and its spiritual impact here at BreakPoint. And note that this post is but an excerpt of Kevin Belmonte’s book, Miraculous: A Fascinating History of Signs, Wonders, and Miracles.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book & Music Notes (Weekend Edition)

* Scott Johnson over at PowerLine not only mentioned a short story by Sinclair Lewis that I had never heard of, he quite decently provided a link to it. Thanks, Scott; the story (“Young Man Axelbrod”) is a gem.

Here’s a brief excerpt to serve as an introduction:

And at sixty-five Knute Knute Axelbrod was like one of his own cottonwoods, his roots deep in the soil, his trunk weathered by rain and blizzard and baking August noons, his crown spread to the wide horizon of day and the enormous sky of a prairie night. This immigrant was an American even in speech. Save for a weakness about his j's and w's, he spoke the twangy Yankee English of the land. He was the more American because in his native Scandinavia he had dreamed of America as a land of light. Always through disillusion and weariness he beheld America as the world's nursery for justice, for broad, fair towns, and eager talk; and always he kept a young soul that dared to desire beauty…

With a longing for music and books and graciousness such as the most ambitious boy could never comprehend, this thick-faced farmer dedicated himself to beauty, and defied the unconquerable power of approaching old age. He sent for college catalogues and school books, and diligently began to prepare himself for college.

* “To understand why Putin took Crimea, read his favourite authors” (Colin Freeman, Telegraph)

* “Chick Webb: ‘The Lord Gave Me Some Years To Play’" (Vital Signs Blog)

* “Getting Upset About the Wrong Things in Disney Movies: A Christian Tradition” (Brian Brown, aleteia)

* “The library of the future” (Jane Fagan, Mercator)

* And here's a couple more articles from Breitbart's Big Hollywood on the new movie, Noah. --- “9 Problems with Aronofsky's Noah” by Ben Shapiro and  “Noah Review: Brilliantly Sinister Anti-Christian Filmmaking” by John Nolte.

* Okay, this YouTube video isn’t a quick thing. But if you want a delightful, thoughtful hour and a half, connect your computer to your TV and watch, listen, and enjoy this performance by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (directed by Sergiu Celibidache) of Anton Bruckner’s haunting Symphony Number 8 in C minor.

The performance was filmed in Suntory Hall in Tokyo, October 1990. (And yes, you could always play the music in the background while you’re reading. No one will know you are using this complex, ethereal beauty for mere background music. I won't tell anyway.)