Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sara Groves / Melody Olson Concert Review

Sara Groves, December 11, 2009
Cup ‘O Joy

By SS Mertens

A breath of heaven, to use one of her lyrics and song titles, is an accurate description of a Sara Groves concert. Complex in arrangement yet simple in message. Multi-faceted in content yet singular in substance. Overwhelming in capacity yet simplistically focused in effect. The message, the music, the art is untainted, innocent, and virtuous.

Sara’s ‘O Holy Night Christmas Tour’ recently made a stop at the Cup ‘O Joy in Green Bay, Wisconsin providing two shows to capacity plus crowds. The tour included selections from her ‘O Holy Night’ Christmas album and her recently released ‘Fireflies and Songs’ album. As always, the Dove nominated musician gave of herself without reserve.

On many levels a Sara Groves concert is a family affair. Sara’s husband opened the concert with an ice breaker to pull the audience into the event. The opening song ‘It’s True’ had son Toby Groves providing the opening lines to the song. The band, a family of its own, contributed on many levels. The ‘O Holy Night Christmas Tour’ set list included new songs providing a window into everyone’s everyday life with ‘Setting Up The Pins’ to a view of Sara’s childhood in ‘This Old House’. Holiday tunes included the comedic ‘Toy Packaging’ with Troy’s mix of percussion from an electric drill drilling to boxes banged on to a hammer hammering, and a medley / sing along of ‘Silent Night’ / ‘Away In The Manger’ / ‘Come All Ye Faithful‘/ ‘He Alone Is Worthy’.

Throughout the set, synchronized video ranged from cartoons, to old family still photos, to lyrics for audience participation. Long time band member Melody Olson shared two songs from her upcoming debut LP including ‘All These Things’ and ‘Keep Me Close’ with Sara providing harmony. The concert concluded with a customized version of ‘O Holy Night’ with melodic percussion, the unmatched harmony of Sara and Melody, flowing acoustic guitar, and a band / audience a cappella version of ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’.

As the concert house lights went up the audience felt a true sense of community with the very real people contributing to this band of musicians. Having shared her personal life and discipleship one feels the truth and peace given freely in Sara’s offerings. A crowd favorite – yes. A wonderful story teller – yes. A memorable night and a wonderful Christmas gift – most emphatically yes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Paul Coleman Concert Review

Paul Coleman, November 13, 2009
Cup ‘O Joy

By SS Mertens

Paul Coleman provides a night of entertainment which cannot be matched by many! This crowd favorite crafts a solo acoustic performance bringing together praise, comedy, masterful acoustic guitar, moving allegories, and shared audience experiences that remain memorable long after the concert lights have dimmed. The founding member of the Dove Award winning and Grammy nominated ‘Paul Coleman Trio’, published soloist, and recently lead guitarist for ‘The Newsboys’, Paul has a large repertoire to leverage.

Recently, Paul performed at the Cup ‘O Joy concert venue in Green Bay, Wisconsin providing two shows to a near capacity crowd. His solo acoustic performance pulls the audience into his world and subjects the audience to Paul’s Aussie sense of humor. An Australian by-way-of the U.K., Paul comes complete with a ‘down under’ accent and cultural difference he loves to share with his audience through dialog sprinkled between songs of praise, love, and the occasional comedic flair.

The evening’s set list ranged from old to new and unpublished. Like his demeanor, the songs also ranged from praise to a sprinkling of comedic moments. “Gloria (All God’s Children)”, the ‘Paul Coleman Trio’s’ breakout hit mixed well with the new “Run”. ‘The Newsboys’ hit “Something Beautiful”, co-written by Peter Furler and Paul was beautifully offered in a mellow acoustic rendition. Showing his mastery as a musician, when a guitar string broke during the initial chords of “The Real Jesus” Paul did not drop a beat, singing the entire song without the accompaniment of his guitar while changing the guitar string!

During breaks between songs, it is not uncommon for Paul to read his lyrics to the audience as a poetic refrain giving another element to his art. He is animated during performance, improvising and providing some comedic relief. While his message is truly faith-based, his method of interlacing a story and an occasional laugh is a breath of fresh air for Christian music and is Paul’s style of discipleship

Paul Coleman is a story teller who brings out the truth in his faith-based songs. Having a large stage presence, he connects easily with his audience, proven by his ever growing following. This artist is very comfortable with his role as a performer, welcoming the audience to share his life experiences through music and word. As a warning, be aware that Paul’s humor can occasionally border toward the secular but is never truly off-color. While this night did not portray Paul at his liveliest, he again captured the audience while providing yet another performance to remember.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“The Imposter” movie review

Written & directed by Daniel Millican
Serendipitous Films
Rating: No rating at this time but could be PG-13 for drug use and sexual innuendo
Running Length: 120 minutes
  • Kevin Max as Johnny C
  • Kerry Livgren as Proff
  • Jeff Deyo as James
  • Tom Wright as Homeless Man
  • Arianne Martin as Tara
  • Troy Baker as Jerome
  • Daniel Millican as Tony
  • Meredith Mauldin as Sydney
As the title implies, “The Imposter” depicts a rock star that has fallen from his faith, due to the high cost of fame. The twist here is the rock star is a Christian rock star setting this story line apart from the stereotypical lost-and-found Christian story. The acting, soundtrack, and conclusion put this movie a ‘touch’ above most in its genre.

Starring Kevin Mac (solo musician, actor, and former member of dcTalk), Kerry Livgren (former lead guitarist of the rock band Kansas), and Jeff Deyo (solo musician, and former member of Sonic Flood), the story focuses on the fall from grace of ‘Johnny C’, the lead singer of a hot Christian rock band. The story depicts of a rock star’s fall from faith - cheating on his wife, addition to oxycodone and liquor, with a narcissistic bent. Together they cause Johnny C to lose control, separating him from his band, family, friends, and faith. But rather than ‘finding’ his faith through the outreach of friends, family and others at stories’ end the story follows Johnny as he continues to spiral out of control despite his efforts and those of others close to him. When he reaches ‘bottom’ he starts over in the most rudimentary way – a completely different lifestyle than where he started from.. Johnny loses all, including family and fame, but holds the rough beginnings of faith found anew. The ending shows a much more realistic picture of those defeated by fame and fortune but finding a new start than the typical story book ending. The story’s centering on a Christian with fame who makes all the wrong choices makes this movie hit home – none of us are perfect, we are all sinners.

While the movie has the typical low budget production look and feel of so many Christian films, surprisingly the acting rises above the fray. Occasionally over the top, Kevin Max’ portrayal of the fallen Christian rock star pulls through as believable in the role of Johnny C. Kerry Livgren provides the stalwart Christian friend and mentor, although we never are quite sure of his history with the movies’ characters. Jeff Deyo does well as Johnny’s friend and band leader. Tom Wright, co-starring as bag person befriended by Johnny, is less believable in a role that adds little to the film. Arianne Martin, co-starring as Johnny’s wife, does not rise above the typical roll of a sad, defeated spouse.

Another redeeming quality of “The Imposter” is a very solid Christian rock soundtrack, highlighted by the inclusion of songs by Downhere, Kevin Max, Jeff Deyo, and Kerry Livgren providing the movie with a deeper insight. Atop the soundtrack’s collection is the rewritten Kansas staple “Wayward Son” originally authored and rewritten for the movie by Kerry Livgren. The movie’s rendition of “Wayward Son” has Kevin Max providing lead vocals. This is truly a treat for Christian music enthusiasts which should not be missed.

Although the story is at times choppy and drawn out, “The Imposter” shines in showing personal issues also exists in the Christian world and not all attempts to reclaim faith by the fallen have a happy ending. The overall message is truthful and grounded in reality – faith saves and provides for an abundant live if you work at your faith and your lifestyle. Also rising above the norm for a current period Christian film is the acting and soundtrack. “The Imposter” is worth seeing for these reasons and for the message it successfully provides.

Note: “The Imposter” will be distributed in March, 2010 by Pure Flix. See link below for additional information.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cup ‘O Joy 20th Anniversary Benefit Concert

Cup ‘O Joy
20th Anniversary
Benefit Concert

Shawn McDonald & Joy Williams
Meyer Theatre, Green Bay, WI September 12, 2009

SS Mertens

Monday, October 12, 2009


A sliver, commonly in the form of small, thin, pointy piece of wood or metal, plunges into the skin. Often imbedding itself with no trace outside the skin, only a small barely visible dark spot. Oh, but the pain makes it much more visible in our mind. This is a physical sliver, but in many ways an emotional sliver is little different.

Many times both are caused by an inadvertent action, whether the action is our own or someone else’s. Some slivers provide immediate pain while others wait for a point of pressure to provide their notice. Those enduring the pain must make a decision whether to tolerate the immediate sharp pain of removal or the slow pain, persistent dull pain of letting Mother Nature take her course.

When the old remedy of removing a sliver by applying pine pitch is used to pull the sliver out to a point where it can be removed, time alone will expose the sliver so it can be removed. Time alone will also remove the effect of an emotional sliver. In either case a mark remains.

And so it is, similarities exist between a physical sliver and an emotional sliver.

A series of short stories relating to emotional slivers follow this introduction. The pain on a child’s face from verbal and / or emotional abuse, the hidden hurt of an elder knowing they are no longer valued, the living pain of someone you love being unloved by your actions, or the feeling of those not touched by the love of others. Finally, the guilt and lasting pain of those having inflicted these feelings, meaningfully or not.

Hopefully, for most of us these writings will bring up true emotions, welling up in us through our hearts to start the healing and to reach out to those in pain that are in need of healing. To others not having personal emotional wealth this may be a wake up call. May we all heal together.

S.S. Mertens

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Danen Kane Concert Review

SS Mertens

Cup 'O Joy
August 1, 2009

Oil & Water: Politics & Christianity

Oil & Water: Politics & Christianity

Can Oil Mix with Water? Slowly poor a small amount of oil in a cup of water. What happens? The oil pools together in small droplets of varying size, floating on the body of water. Now, with spoon in hand, blend the two like there is no tomorrow. What happens? The oil pools together, albeit in smaller groupings, in the body of water. Over a small period of time the small groupings once again re-group into larger droplets. After all the spent energy of attempting to blend, the oil simply refuses to blend with the water. Nothing accomplished despite our best efforts, they will never come together. This is the story of oil and water; this is the story of politics and Christianity.

I have recently had a number of disparaging politically centered conversations, very one-sided indeed, where only one party’s opinion could be correct. Conversations where either you were on the far Christian right without any allowance or you were mislead, not having an intelligible thought, badly influenced if not evil incarnate. Each conversation focused on current politics, political leaders, and political choices.

To be fair, I have had related conversations with those on the far left where my faith and convictions were not given the time of day. Tossed away without a second thought, seen as a waste of breath in a world where anything goes, and where one lives only for today without a thought for tomorrow or its effect on your neighbor.

While I consider myself to be a liberal in thought and deed, I am also a Christian. I believe in the one and only triune God, that we are born into sin and Jesus alone is the only way to salvation from sin, and that the Bible is the word of God. Must this mixture of lifestyle and faith be an experience in polar opposites? If anything this is a typical picture of a Christian today. We are not all liberals. We are not all conservatives. We are not all the same but a mixture of backgrounds and experiences.

So, if the above is truly a picture of an American Christian, why must we disagree to the point of anger and violence? And what is its root cause? Is the media edging it’s way into out collective thoughts? Has big business bought its way into fashioning our future? Have the rich found a way to guarantee only they will be at the top of the hill? Certainly my far-right wing friends have been greatly influenced by the Rush Limbaughs of this world who are paid well by big business, caring only for big ratings and big cigars. I’m sure the same can be said for factions on the far left.

The far right and the far left. Christians being politically influenced on the far right by a party bought and paid for by big business while the far left often stretches the freedom our nation provides far beyond recognizable Christian and American values. Can we work together? Isn’t the ability to unite and work together toward a goal what America was / is built on? Or, are we in a partisan war with ourselves, destroying what our ancestors had worked so hard to pass on to their children. Indeed, some might refer to this as North America’s next civil war.

We’ve become a nation of opinionated individuals who will not work toward a new start but stand on individual principle, not working toward a shared, bipartisan solution and caring only for our selfish opinions. In a time of world wide poverty, hunger, disease, violence, pollution and discrimination, why can’t the most powerful nation in the world pave the way for peace and harmony? Can we find a middle-road to resolve our differences and ultimately those of our world? Can we lead by example?

Like all great historical empires, will the United Status of America implode under the weight of its own politics? We are unable to move forward with two opposing parties debating without reasonable bipartisan resolve for the benefit of its people. Why not rise above the selfishness, learn from history, find a place somewhere in the middle to start anew? No resolution to dispute or disagreement is ever perfect onto its original state. Settle on an initial direction and keep improving on it.

Why not work together in peace, not as separate, angry entities. Why not work in a bipartisan way to come to a working solution, shouldn’t this be our goal. Why not find a place to begin then use Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s quality principle of PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act – also know as the Shewhart cycle) to continuously improve on a process, or in this case a solution to an issue. All we have to do is find a starting place realizing that we will work together to continually change and improve what we have started. Isn’t this the American way – in a number of ways!
Shouldn’t we work together in peace to resolve current issues? Let us not forget that Jesus Christ was not only given on the cross for our salvation but was also the greatest of all teachers. Among other things, he taught love and tolerance. A great example is The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”.

As a great nation, let us lead by example, let us work peacefully together in a moderate, bipartisan fashion, and not stall at a time when leadership is crucial or constrain by example when the world needs change. But above all, let us work together and stall no longer.

SS Mertens
September 16, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Who Is S.S. Mertens

Who Am I?

There may be three distinct eras in one’s life where each of us would ask the definitive question ‘Who am I?’. Initially in that difficult period of adolescence as we flail about, figuratively and literally, at life. Then again in mid-life, that period of crisis when youth is past and time goes past faster than ever before. The last may be as we are ‘relaxed’ into an older age-state, when we’ve let go of life’s disappointments and regrets.

Who am I? Scott Mertens:
· a Christian, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend
· interested in music, the outdoors, baseball, and fun
· having hobbies of sailing, x-country skiing, biking, art, and an assortment of minor interests
· raised to have an appreciation for ecology, art, fun, fairness, friendliness, and faith

A native of Wisconsin and son of an outdoorsman, I grew up spending much of my youth outdoors camping, hiking, fishing and hunting. I was blessed with a wonderful mother who could cook and bake like no other, a father who was the model of a mid-20th century man and a very loving sister. Having spent an adolescence in the late ‘60s / early ‘70s I sported long hair, bell bottom jeans and an old double breasted gray suit coat. My friends and I met in the local park dowtown which we called our home, walked barefoot in the rain, saw many bands of the era in concert, experienced hitch hiking across 20 states while it was still safe to do so, and generally lived the free life offered by the time period.

This period of ‘sideways’ growth gave way to romance and marriage culminating in the birth of my son during the ‘80s. While my son began his life mine continued through the 90’s with my parents passing on, a period of job loss and job change, friends and interests coming and going.

The 21st century ushered in change. Physical change as I reached 50 and began to slow. Emotional change as I became more liberal in my thoughts. Spiritual change as I grew in my Christian faith. These changes restarted growth after the mid-life doldrums by providing new direction!

New direction in the form of spiritual rebirth. The living light in one’s life that reclaims the joy of living fully and abundantly.

Also new direction in a focus of who I am, what has made me who I am, and the knowledge that in this last third of my life Earth my focus must be refined to make the most of each day.

Who Am I? I am a colorful blur of life’s eras and the experiences. A blur we all share, combing to create the rainbow of life. In this blog I hope to provide observances based on experiences and interests. Since they represent the fabric of my life, I share my lessons learned and views on our world, spiritual growth, and the interests I hold dear.

And why this blog? To share, to improve, to build community!