Thursday, April 21, 2005

U2 Brings Magic and Majesty to Denver

It was my first concert.


Well sure, I've been to some smaller-venued Christian stuff, but nothing that could touch this.

Not even remotely. No way.

This was music and magic on a titanic scale.

This was a religious experience. This was like church. Really loud church.

It was either the perfect first concert experience, or the worst because all who come after will be judged by this one.

They're doomed.

U2 is, without question, the greatest band of my or practically any generation. Ever. Period. These four men who have been playing together since their earliest days as a church youth group band have a chemistry and longevity nearly unequaled in the pantheon of music history.

Denver has always held a special place in the hearts of the lads from Dublin. It was here that the now famous "U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky" was filmed. Over 20 years ago, in 1983, a staggeringly young U2 treated 4,400 rain-soaked, shivering fans to a 19-song show that would go down as one of the most electrifying and defining concerts in rock history.

Last night at Denver's Pepsi Center, that electricity crackled again.

Opening to the explosive "Love and Peace" from their brand new CD, "How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb," U2 quickly segued into the pop, radio-friendly "Vertigo" while Bono pranced around a stage constructed of a motif of concentric glowing circles.

They played a lot of the new stuff and it was fabulous.

Bono plucked a young child from the crowd and walked around the arena with him while singing "Miracle Drug" and later the band performed stirring renditions of "City of Blinding Lights" and "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own."

Blankets of fiber-optic lights unspooled from the ceiling, embracing the stage in an orgasmic display of light and images.

Digging back to their previous CD, Bono began "Beautiful Day" on his knees which followed hard upon "Elevation."

But what blew our minds and proved to be the true triumph of the evening was the old stuff. Stuff they haven't played live in decades.

The goose-bumps started with "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and spread over our bodies at the first strings of "Where the Streets Have No Name."

In a sort of frenzy, we screamed ourselves hoarse, hands beating the air, hopping up and down like it was Pentecostal church service.

I dialed numerous friends and family on my cell phone and subjected them to portions of the concert that were undoubtedly unintelligible, but I couldn't help but share the energy and dynamism in arena.

The highlights tumbled one after another. "New Year's Day" crashed into "Sunday Bloody Sunday" as The Edge miraculously found new ways to chop at his guitar strings.

The miracle of the night was that classic anthems like "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "Mysterious Ways" sounded just as fresh and relevant as the newer songs.

The music was interrupted only a few times for Bono's now famous and poignant sermons which turned into a participatory action as he pleaded for an end to war, for religious tolerance, and for compassion for those perishing in the Third World.

Huddled onstage as if trying to decide what song to do next, U2's encore consisted of a slew of songs, both old and new, cored around their famous--and angst-ridden--relationship with their simultaneously very private and very public Christian faiths.

In the final moments of the concert, The Edge donned an acoustic guitar for a beautiful unplugged version of "Yahweh" which was followed by "40," a song that's lyrics are taken directly from Psalm 40. Used for years as the closing song at U2 concerts, the words "How long to sing this song?" continued to ripple from the mouths of the fans as we floated from the venue and out into the serendipitously rain-soaked Colorado night.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A New Pope Greets the World

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany and the late Pope John Paul II’s closest advisor has been chosen as the first Pope of the new millennium. The first Pope from Germany since the 11th century, Ratzinger has chosen the name, Benedict XVI. He greeted roaring crowds in St. Peter’s square, describing himself as a "simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Powerful Play Goes On…

A great man was buried today. His Holiness, John Paul II has left his earthly throne and now kneels at the throne of He whom he served so well.

And this Protest-ant finds himself strangely and deeply affected by his passing.

The Holy Father’s death has had an almost gravimetric pull on my mind and heart these past days. I find myself devouring any and all news I can get about his life, his service, and the sumptuously elaborate pomp and ritual that surrounds his burial and the selection of his successor.

When Princess Di was killed, I watched in bewilderment as thousands of people mourned her with gregarious displays of passionate emotion. I didn’t get it. I’d never understood why people would allow themselves to become so agonized over the death of one they knew only from TV and magazines. They’d never met her. Most weren’t even British. What could she have possibly meant for them to get so worked up over her? But I missed the point. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t affected. What mattered was that there was something unique about her life that touched them, deeply and personally. And if I didn’t get it, or judged them as slightly off-bubble, well, that was an indictment of my smugness, not their sentiments.

I didn’t understand it until Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a tragic horse riding accident. It threw me off balance for days. When news reached me that JFK, Jr. had perished in a plane crash, I was morose for weeks. Why? I didn’t know either of them. I never even followed their careers with anything more than a passing interest. But none of that mattered. Something within me called out to something within them…something I never even knew existed until the right circumstance excised it. Something in me saw images of myself in them, or images of who I hoped I might be, or the sort of random, unprocessed, subconscious symbiosis that goes almost totally unidentified let alone unacknowledged in our lives everyday.

My feelings about the Pope’s death live somewhere in that metaphysical world—nebulous and indefinable, yet very tangible and palpable all the same.

It is perhaps odd to some that I find such great sadness in the Pope’s passing. I am not Catholic. In many ways, I was raised to have a deep distrust of all things Catholic. The crucifix was little better than a pagan idol. “Catholics aren’t really Christians,” was a phrase I have heard on more occasions than I can count. Older now, and hopefully a bit wiser, I recognize those views for the well-intentioned but misguided fallacies that they are.

And yet, I still wonder at my own sadness.

It may very well have something to do with the spiritual and practical shifts in my own faith. Raised Pentecostal, I have found myself deeply dissatisfied with my inherited version of Christianity and have begun, over the past two years or so, to explore more traditional forms of Christian spirituality (more on this in upcoming blogs). While it was certainly uncomfortable in the beginning, I no longer feel as if my fellow congregants at the Episcopal church where I attend are staring at me, muttering to themselves and each other, “Look at that one. Did you see the way he genuflected? Obviously one of those Charismatic types out to see how the other half lives. Really! Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch—how hard is it?”

As the beauty and gracefulness of church liturgy becomes more and more a part of my weekly and even daily worship, I find that I feel as if I am linked to a far larger and greater community. The liturgical calendar binds me even beyond the sacred commonalities of our salvation to the Lutheran worshiping in Sweden, the Methodist in Chicago, the Anglican in Great Britain, and yes, the Roman Catholic in Italy.

Perhaps it is that.

Perhaps that is only part of it.

Perhaps it is something more.

There was another deeply troubling reminder of mortality this week. Peter Jennings, long-time anchor of ABC News and a personal hero of sorts, announced that he has lung cancer and will be leaving the news desk to begin radical treatment to save his life.

Perhaps, that is what is affecting me the most—the idea of fading greatness, or more specifically, fading impact. That lives lived well have both natural and eternal impact but that the greatest of these lives and the greatest of these men will, like me, die and become food for worms one day. Will someone recognize my passing? Will I leave behind a legacy of greatness or service? Will my life touch those on earth and resonate in heaven?

I don’t need the pomp, or the fame, or lines winding to my casket that can be seen from space, but something in me does cry out for the impact. Something in me desperately needs to make a difference. Something in me desperately needs that I leave this world better than I found it. Money and power—what are these? If I cannot point to the lives of those around me having been made better, richer, more significant, and even everlasting because I knew them, what will I have truly done?

While tragic for the individuals themselves and painful to those of us who love and admire them, reminders of mortality are not the harbingers of evil we so readily ascribe to them. They are necessary cues inserted into the velocity of our lives. That our lives are, in fact, finite—they have a beginning and they will have an end—and we have only so long to make an impact on the world around us.

To quote one of my favorite movies, Dead Poet’s Society quoting one of my favorite poets, Walt Whitman, “‘O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.’ That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Today, as the Pope was buried, there was no doubt from any quarter that he contributed an elegant verse.

How will mine read?

And when will I stop talking about service to others and actually begin...

Stogies and Space Exploration

The 21st Annual Space Symposium, put on every year by the Space Foundation (, a national nonprofit organization that vigorously advances civil, commercial, and national security space endeavors and educational excellence, ended last night. More than 6,500 participants attended the premier gathering of the space industry which featured a wide array of speakers and panels addressing critical policy and programming issues confronting the civil, commercial and national security space sectors. More than 1,000 companies, organizations and institutions from all 50 states and 12 foreign countries descended on Colorado Springs’ Broadmoor Hotel ( for the week-long event.

Not only does my wife work for the Space Foundation and more specifically, the Coalition for Space Exploration, but my company, Motion Pixel Lab provided the lion’s share of the event’s video production. This gave me unprecedented access to the event and allowed me to spend each evening, a gin and tonic in hand, moving from one hospitality suite to another, chatting with government officials, high-ranking military officers, astrophysicists, and of course, astronauts covering the industry from the Apollo program to the Shuttle, which is poised to return to flight in mere weeks.

The keynote speaker of last night’s closing ceremony dinner was Col Fred Gregory, USAF (Retired), and Acting NASA Administrator for only a week longer before Dr. Michael Griffin is sure to be confirmed in the post permanently. There is a wonderful sense of freedom and security that comes when one knows the end is right around the corner. Gregory’s speech was a rousing and often shockingly irreverent call for America to stop wallowing in complacency and mediocrity and embrace the risk and danger that is inherent in pressing the frontiers of space exploration. It was the best speech I have heard anyone deliver in a very long time. I spoke to the editor of Space News ( following the ceremony in which he told me it was the single greatest speech delivered at the symposium in the 14 years he’s been attending.

All that was perhaps lead-in just to say this: last night, I had the best cigar of my life.

Following the closing ceremony, my wife and I were looking forward to heading home and dropping exhausted into our beds. For both of us, these last two weeks have been a blur of activity and we’ve barely exchange a dozen words to each other. However, there were a few surprises left, yet.

First was an enchanting personal tour and Broadmoor history lesson given by Silas, the manager of the Hotel Bar. Crafted to reflect the opulence and elegance of the finest establishments in Europe and the Orient, the Broadmoor was first opened in 1918, charged with providing a level of service and overall excellence unattainable anywhere in the United States. The Broadmoor continues to be one of the nation’s premier hotels and hosts foreign dignitaries, American presidents and even the Fibbs’ on their honeymoon!

However, the highlight of the evening was when I was treated to a Gurkha Grand Reserve Cigar at the Hotel Bar. Composed of a blend of 1940 pre-embargo Cuban and Dominican leaf, and wrapped in a sumptuous Cameroon Maduro wrapper, the Gurkha Grand Reserves are then infused with Louis XIII Cognac. They are vacuum-sealed in a glass tube that is then dipped in wax to further seal the freshness. The result is an extremely rich, sumptuously creamy flavor with a hint of spice and a pleasantly light finish. The cigar is widely no longer available as the 60 year old tobacco leaf has been used up. This cigar has sold for as much as $250.00 per cigar!


No doubt I’ll be smoking another, less opulent cigar somewhere around mid-May when the shuttle-orbiter, Discovery, lifts off its pad at Cape Canaveral and ushers in a new era of heavenly exploration in which humankind is destined to set foot on Mars.

Here's to all the dreamers...and that guy, 60 some years ago, who wrapped one hellova cigar!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Orlando Bloom is a crusader in Ridley Scott's upcoming epic, "Kingdom of Heaven."

If you haven't already done so, please check out the trailer to "Kingdom of Heaven" (simply click on the title above). It may be residue from the class I am currently teaching, but this is one epic film I cannot miss.
Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus