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Steven S. Billings

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

FIRST LIVE PERFORMANCE!

I sang the first three songs of the album last night at my church. They were well-received, thank God! I was SO nervous. I had been spending weeks practicing, and was in the church the night before for a couple of hours practicing some more.

It's amazing how difficult it can be to remember your own words. T.G.I.F. is exceptionally wordy, which presents a couple of problems: 1) it's hard to remember them all, because they flash by in a hurry, and 2) it's hard to find a place to catch your breath. When I recorded it in the studio I had to record the first line, stop, and then record the second line. But with practice I've learned to sing it straight through. I sure am glad for the guitar solo, though, because it gives me a little time to breathe! By the end of the song, I'm ready for some serious AIR!

The Evil We Love went very well. Those words flow much more easily to me, and it is a real fun one to sing. I could see people smiling and really getting into it. What an encouragement! My voice felt great and worked really well for me, clear through the dynamic and tonal ranges. All that practice paid off!

The Spirit in You seemed to be a lot of peoples' favorite. I could see some of them actually crying. Wow. It's just so amazingly humbling and rewarding to see God working through a gift that was originally a blessing only to me. This was a first-time experience for me. People have heard my recordings and seem to like them. But to actually perform them live and SEE people being blessed by them - well, that's an unbelievable joy.

All thanks and praise to God!

8:10 am edt

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

MEMORIAL DAY WITH THE MANNS
Clarisse

I enjoyed a wonderful day at Greenfield Village yesterday with my adopted family, The Manns. The weather was near perfect; not a cloud in the sky, with moderately warm temperatures. There was a Civil War remembrance going on at the village, so a lot of special events were taking place, complete with a period-style encampment, with demonstrations of cooking techniques, weaponry, etc. The day included rides on the train and carousel, and was topped-off by pizza at Pizzapapolis and Horacio Hornblower on the new HDTV. A good time was had by all. In the picture above, my goddaughter Clarisse was up to her typical "cuting." That little dear is simply brimming with delightful personality!

11:52 am edt

Monday, May 28, 2007

OUR LIMITATIONS

A poetic way of saying that the more we know, the more we know there's a lot more that we don't know. As only Oliver Wendell Holmes could say it:

OUR LIMITATIONS

We trust and fear, we question and believe,
From life's dark threads a trembling faith to weave,
Frail as the web that misty night has spun,
Whose dew-gemmed awnings glitter in the sun.
While the calm centuries spell their lessons out,
Each truth we conquer spreads the realm of doubt;
When Sinai's summit was Jehovah's throne,
The chosen Prophet knew his voice alone;
When Pilate's hall that awful question heard,
The Heavenly Captive answered not a word.

Eternal Truth! beyond our hopes and fears
Sweep the vast orbits of thy myriad spheres!
From age to age, while History carves sublime
On her waste rock the flaming curves of time,
How the wild swayings of our planet show
That worlds unseen surround the world we know.

10:20 am edt

Sunday, May 27, 2007

WHEN IT RAINS . . .

They say April showers bring May flowers,
But that ain't the name of the tune.
April showers bring May showers;
The flowers don't get here 'til June!

Oops! Musta been channeling Nypsey Russell there for a moment. hee hee!

Actually, we ended up with a beeeee-utiful evening here in Metro Detroit. I had my patio and front doors open, and was getting a lovely breeze earlier. That is, until the girl next door began conducting her break-up-with-the-boyfriend dialogue over the phone, right outside my patio door. I feel kinda bad for her, but not bad enough to sit here and eaves-drop on her pain.

More than one kinda rain, isn't there.

8:00 pm edt

Saturday, May 26, 2007

MUSICAL AIR BRUSH

I heard a fascinating interview Thursday morning with Cindy Crawford. She was in the studios of WJR with host Frank Beckman, and one of the last questions he asked her was about air brushing. (Frank began the question by say that Cindy looked as fantastic in person as she does on magazine covers.) Cindy's response was that she loves air brushing, and her reason was that photographs are "frozen in time," and that they need to be perfect because people will be looking at them for years and years. In real life, you are constantly moving and in different lighting situations, but in a photograph, that pose and that lighting will be set that way forever, so it has to be flawless.

It made think about the recording process, and how we try to get everything absolutely perfect. With photography you have Photoshop, which has the ability to perfect an image through digital technology. With music you have Pro Tools and similar software packages, which have the same ability for sound.

Few artists perform perfectly. And, as with photographs, a music recording is "frozen in time," and will be listened to again and again over the years. If there's an imperfection in the recording, it will be there forever. So we do what we can to clean those up during the mixing process. If it's a timing or rhythm problem, a plug-in like Beat Detective can go a long way to fixing it. If it's a pitch error, a.k.a, a "sour note," there are any number of plug-ins that can fix that.

I suppose a purist might say that this is somehow less authentic, but I disagree. I think it's simply a matter of using technology to help the artist to create a more perfect "image" of the music in his head. It won't make your tone-deaf sister sound like Streisand, but it can help a talented performer show his gifts in the best possible light.

6:53 am edt

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"BIG LITTLE MAN"-ING

We had a great day in the studio today, working on my song "Big Little Man." We had recorded the basic tracks back in October. And today we recorded additional guitar, the backing vocals (all me), and keyboards and percussion. Tomorrow we'll record the lead vocals and begin the mix. We should get at least a good preliminary mix by the end of the day.

As usual, I'm so pleased with how this is coming together. It's hard to described. It has a little bit of a country feel, but then again, it has a back-beat which really rocks! It's also very catchy, if I may say so myself. Everyone who has heard it so far just can't help smiling. It may be my favorite song on the album.

Well, this week, anyway. ;)

7:40 pm edt

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

COPYRIGHTING

I can't believe the cost of copyrights these days. I thought it was bad last year when I copyrighted the first batch of songs. But now it's gone up. Thirty bucks was painful enough, but - ouch! - now it's $45!

The cost of recording varies from studio to studio. Sometimes you pay by the hour, or you can arrange a per-song, or even an album package deal, making the process more affordable. But that doesn't include any extras. In my case it has covered the cost of some fantastic studio musicians, who recorded the basic tracks (keys, drums, bass and guitar), but it did not cover the cost of the orchestra, nor will it take care of the brass, which we have yet to schedule and record.

And there are hidden costs that you may not be aware of at the outset. I spend about $100 these days just getting back and forth to the studio (it's about 3 hours away). Then there are meals while I'm there. No lodging, thankfully, because I stay at the family home where my aunt now lives.

And now there's this issue of copyrights. Between the cost of the actual copyright, plus the CDs of each song (you have to send them 2 copies per song!), and shipping, I've got about $500 tied-up just for the copyrights! Yikes!!

No doubt about it. Recording an album is expensive; I don't care where you do it. To do it right takes a pretty penny. And I haven't even begun to address the issue of duplication, packaging and promotion. Ack! And I have to get a photographer! And I'm not even sure of how to do all of that yet. But, God willing, I'll figure it out. And somehow, I'll figure out how to pay for it.

Now, where's that Chase VISA application?

8:54 am edt

Monday, May 21, 2007

PASTORAL VISITS

Had some interesting institutional calls this weekend. On Saturday morning I made a hospital call to a woman who is almost 86 years old and who suffers from Parkinsonís (I didnít know about the Parkinsonís until Sunday after church). She had food compacted in the opening to her stomach. She and her husband left a dinner at the church because she wasnít feeling well. Went to emergency sometime during the night. When I got to her hospital room I was shocked to see her on a ventilator, and she was completely out of it. After praying for her, I found her husband and son in the waiting room. They explained that she was prepped for surgery to remove the compacted food. Whew! That explained the ventilator, etc.! So we prayed again. The hubby called later to say that the surgery went well (they used a scope to suction out the food), and that she would be coming home Monday or Tuesday. Yay!

Yesterdayís visit was to a couple in their 90s. They live in an assisted-living complex - a very nice one. He suffers from Alzheimerís, and is really starting to get frustrated with it. She is blind - went blind quite suddenly a few years ago when she had a swelling that cut off the blood supply to her optic nerves. His moods seem heavily dependant on hers. If sheís having a good day, so is he. She wasnít having a good day yesterday. So I tried something new. Since neither of them were talking much, I struck up a conversation with the elder who had accompanied me on topics that I thought would interest the senior gentleman. The elder and I were chatting away about local politics, etc., and out of the corner of my eye, I could see our host beginning to perk up a bit. Before we were through, he jumped in and it was great to see the mental mechanics functioning! He is a brilliant man, spiritually literate, and Iíve really enjoyed having him in Bible classes, and in private conversations. Iíve missed that intellect, as it has dimmed quite a bit over the years that Iíve been here. Yesterday we were able to coax a little of it out of him again. I think that part of his problem is that there is no one really to stimulate his thinking on a daily basis. His wife is starting to have real trouble hearing, and that is serving to cut off a lot of their conversations. So it was really important, I think, not only to provide them with the Lordís Supper, but also a bit of a mental nudge. It may not work in the future, but Iím pleased that it did yesterday.

9:03 am edt

Sunday, May 20, 2007

1080 LOVE
Sony Brava 1080p

Ok, so I went to my friend Jeremy's house a couple of months ago, and we watched the final four on his new 40" LCD High-Definition Television. I don't remember which game it was, but I'll never forget that TV! I said: "I can't watch my TV anymore." And it was true. Believe me, I tried. A week or so later I found myself at Best Buy, looking at HD TVs. I decided on the Sony Bravia 1080p 40" LCD. It was my first new TV in almost 20 years, and it was well worth the wait.

When I got it home and fired it up, I was amazed at the picture quality. I had no idea what I was in for, however. A few days later, when the Comcast guy delivered my HD cable box, I became fully immersed in the world of high-definition. It's absolutely amazing. There are times when I stand in front of the TV and just look at the complexion of the actors, or the blades of grass in the scenery. I know you think I'm a nut for this. (Well, maybe you already thought that and this just confirms it!) But I've never seen anything like this in my life. When I was watching Spiderman 3 at the IMAX the other day, I found myself saying: "Wow, this picture is just as sharp as my HD TV!" Think about that for a second. It's kind of amazing to think that the massive IMAX screen reminded me of my TV!

And if that weren't enough, my cable box includes a DVR. Now I not only get some of my favorite shows in high-definition, but I get to watch them whenever I feel like it. I now make a regular habit of programming American Chopper, Lost and Smallville - all in HD - and Mythbusters (not yet in HD, dagnabbit!), and watching them when I get around to it.

So, anyway, I gotta go. I've got 3 episodes of American Chopper to watch. Seeing senior's blood vessels pop out in his neck in high def . . . let's just say there's nothing like it. Hee hee.

5:51 pm edt

Saturday, May 19, 2007

SPIDERMAN 3
Spiderman 3

I was never a huge fan of the webslinger. But I've seen this film twice now; the second time was yesterday at the IMAX. And I must say that I really enjoyed it both times. One of the main reasons is that Toby McGuire embodies Peter Parker in such a realistic way, you almost believe he's an actual living soul.

For me, the best moments in the film are not when Spidey dons the suit - red or black - but when Toby and Kirsten Dunst are interacting as Peter and Mary Jane. Their emotions never seem manufactured or "methodized," but are authentic and very real. I ached for Peter on the bridge in the park. I felt the bruised spirit of M.J. as she lay sprawled on the floor of the jazz club. In fact, the emotional motivation of all the key players in this film is strong and genuine, from the leads through the entire supporting cast.

Pacing is excellent, with the darker moments balanced by great humorous bits (especially with J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson). Particularly poignant is the message of personal responsibility brought home in the closing monologue, where Peter reminds the viewers that we make our own moral decisions in life. Very refreshing.

The film leaves us hoping for more. I, for one, definitely look forward to Spider man 4!

8:05 pm edt

Friday, May 18, 2007

INEXPLICABLE

Ah, finally! After weeks of not being able to feel sleepy enough to get to bed before 1:00 AM, after a long day, I was drifting off about 11:00 last night. Toddled off to bed and enjoyed an amazingly dream-filled night. This morning I awoke well-rested, and with an inexplicably positive attitude. I appreciate all your prayers.

It's interesting and comforting to see how God can bolster us up in so many ways - sometimes through fantastic circumstances, as in prayers that seem to be answered almost immediately - and other times through no means at all, apart from His own Word and Spirit.

In my conversation with Luke this week, it occurred to me that Jesus could have fed the 5,000 in one of two ways. Obviously, He chose the bread and fishes. But He could have simply made them no longer hungry.

He has used "bread and fishes" in my life to feed me many times. But there have also been times when He has simply made me no longer hungry. I'm not feasting these days on the bread of success - in preaching or singing - but the contentment He has provided me today is real in spite of it all.

Is this the end of the story? Will my mind and heart be at ease from this time forth? Probably not. I am a fickle human, after all, tossed about by wind and waves. But even in the worst of times, I know my little ship has a Captain, and He who calmed the storm on Genessaret can - and does! - speak "peace" into my life.

God be praised!

8:18 am edt

Thursday, May 17, 2007

IT WAS JUST ONE OF THOSE . . .

Days, weeks, months, years. We celebrated the Feast of the Ascension last night and all of 4 people showed up. Even the elder who was supposed to be on duty forgot about it. Thankfully, I had a back-up, so by God's grace, we were able to proceed. The last several Sundays' attendance has been low, and even though we've made some progress in reaching out, we seem to take two steps back for every one forward.

There are times when I wonder if I'm really cut out for this whole pastoring thing. It just seems like I keep banging my head against the wall. After 16 years I just don't feel like I'm being very effective. Oh, my head tells me that I'm doing my best, keeping faithful to my calling, and that the true power lies in the Word and work of the Holy Spirit, but my heart looks at the external evidence and wonders what is wrong. My head tells me that there's a lot of reasons for the state of things in my congregation - urban setting, aging members, etc., etc. - but my heart - and probably the enemy - makes me think that it's all my fault. Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me that it's time to move on, to make a change in one way or another.

Truthfully, I am feeling drawn - pushed, compelled - in the direction of my music. But there, too, I'm wondering whether that will be a viable option for ministry for me. The competition is overwhelming, and, while I do have some loyal supporters, I have no idea to what extent people will be motivated enough by it to want to shell out the cost of a CD or whatever. Maybe I'll have good news at the end of the month when I get my first report from Snocap, but my pessimism expects a big fat zero.

Don't get me wrong; this project hasn't been about money. I have no desire to get rich and famous. I just hope to make enough to keep doing it. And I would love for it to be a blessing to others. It has already been the opportunity of a lifetime for me, and a joy to undertake, but right now I fear that I'll never recoup the investment, and I worry that the $10,000 or so that I've personally invested will result in a great album that only my closest friends and a very few others will ever know about.

Please pray for me, that God will encourage me and help me keep my service to Him in perspective, and that, according to His good and gracious will, He will give whatever success He desires to my efforts on His behalf. I want so much for whatever I do to be about Him and not me. But I'm human, and I get weak. And doubts assail me. God grant me His peace in the midst of it all.

Thanks for listening. Your prayers mean so very much.

God's peace!

10:35 am edt

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

GETTING FIT

I went to see a screening of "Perception" a few weeks ago. Many of you may not know about this film. Long story short, a friend of mine has produced an independent film roughly about his experiences as an immigrant from India. He asked me to write some songs for the film, which I did. You can hear them on the MySpace page for the movie. (The link is on my MySpace page.) I thought the songs came out pretty well. Anyway, he also asked me to play a small role in the film. I play a used car salesman. Ha! I know - some of you are thinking: "pastor/used car salesman, what's difference?" hee! I think I played the character just fine, however . . .

You know that adage about how the camera add 10 pounds? Well, it TRUE! I thought I looked AWFUL. So I came home and stepped on the scale. Yikes! The camera had a LOT to work with! I discovered I was at my all-time heaviest. Crud! So, I decided to make some changes in my diet.

I'm happy to announce that I've lost 9 pounds in 3 weeks! Woo hooo! All I've done is cut out soda pop and desserts on a daily basis. I've set up benchmarks for myself, so that I can have those things, but only when I've "earned" them by hitting a desired weight level. Funny thing is, I hit a benchmark yesterday, which meant I could have a Coke with lunch. But I've been so used to ordering water that I forgot about the Coke. Consequently, I'm down another pound today! Yippee!

I've got a lot more to lose to get to my ideal weight, but I think these new eating habits - plus the walking exercises I've incorporated - will certainly help to get me there.

A fringe benefit from all this is that I'm feeling terrific! I even have a better mental attitude. It sure is amazing how living healthier benefits nearly every aspect of your life. God-willing, I'll keep this up - not just until I hit my goal, but for the rest of my life.

9:03 am edt

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

TOLEDO ZOO
Eagle at the Toledo Zoo

Back in March, my friends Greg and Robyn and I went to the Toledo Zoo. I was fascinated by this eagle, which looks remarkably like the hood ornament I shot at the A-C-D Museum. I got lots of great shots at the zoo, and this is among my favorites.

12:56 pm edt

MORAL RELATIVISM

MORAL RELATIVISM
HOW SELF-JUSTIFICATION BECOMES SELF-CONDEMNATION

Romans 8:1 says Ė "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." But what does it mean to be "in" Christ Jesus?

For some, this means: "Since Jesus died for my sins, and I am therefore forgiven, I can do anything I want, because I know God will forgive me. But how does this hold up in light of Holy Scripture? Though we are assured that good works play no part in our being accepted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9), still, we are encouraged to do good and not sin. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." And he writes to Timothy: "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed" (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Jesus Himself said: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:16-20). And James writes: "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:14-17).

The truth of the matter is, as established Christians, we know what the Law of God says, and we know we're accountable to it. But then we play the game of moral relativism, which means that we begin to find excuses for our errant behavior. And we all do this! Whether it's violating traffic laws or engaging in pre-marital or extra-marital sex or cheating on our income taxes, we seem always to have a ready supply of responses to justify our sin. "I was in a hurry. Nobody goes the speed limit, anyway." "We are in love. Sure, we're not married, but we just couldn't help ourselves." "The government already gets too much of my money as it is. They're never going to find out, so why should I report everything?"

The trouble with that kind of thinking is: Yeah, the government might not find out. No one may ever know about your adultery. And you might get away with speeding. Clearly, you can fool other people. But you can't fool God. Numbers 32:23b says Ė "Be sure your sin will find you out." And we read in Proverbs 6:27-28 Ė "Can a man take fire in his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals, And his feet not be scorched?" You see, the Bible speaks in terms of moral absolutes, not moral relativism. It does not allow for exceptional circumstances. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Period.

Thankfully, God is merciful and forgiving. But His mercy is withheld from the unrepentant (John 20:23). So do yourself a favor: Stop living as though your sins don't matter and your own opinions, feelings, and desires matter most. Repent of your sin, ask for God's forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and seek His help in amending your sinful life. He will help you, as he has promised! "Call upon Me in the day of trouble," says the Lord. "I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15). And you know what else? You'll have a clean conscience. And no tax refund in the world can buy that!

12:32 pm edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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