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Last January, some of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music gathered in a small town in Scotland to huddle up and write a few songs. The plan was to donate any songwriting and recording profits to charities.
Among the artists were Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Israel Houghton, Tim Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Darlene Zschech, and Martin Smith.
They had hoped to come up with 10 to 12 new songs and give the profits to trusted organizations that feed the poor, help orphans, fight modern-day slavery, and provide other sorts of help to people in need.
The artists ended up writing 22 new songs, including 14 that will be included in a CD scheduled for release Jan. 27, titled "CompassionArt: Creating Freedom from Poverty" on EMI's Sparrow Records label.
"The time spent writing and recording these songs was one of the highlights of my life," Michael W. Smith said, "and my hope is that these songs on the CompassionArt album will help fed the poor, satisfy the needs of the oppressed, and reach out to the downtrodden."
The recording also includes a 50-minute documentary DVD on CompassionArt, a Christian charity based in Littlehampton, England. And a companion book, The Art of Compassion, is being released simultaneously with the CD/DVD.
Guest artists who joined the original songwriters in the studio included Amy Grant, the Watoto African Children's Choir, tobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Joel Houston.
The disc and book have been released in the United Kingdom already, and the first single, "King of Wonders," by Redman, Hughes, and Houston, is already getting airplay on U.S. Christian radio stations.
Although the CD's stateside release is still more than a month away, six of the songs are now available online at http://widget.nabbr.com/compassion_art.html. The downloads are free but a donation to CompassionArt is suggested.
The artists are hoping to give away 100 million songs and, in the process, engage people around the world to help end poverty.
ADVENT ONLINE: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has created an interactive Web site to help people prepare for Christmas. The site includes an online calendar on which people can click the date, calling up a menu of resources for reading, prayer, reflection, and action.
There also is a Festival of Lessons and Carols that can be heard live online or downloaded.
The calendar began with the first day of Advent, Nov. 30, and continues through Jan. 12, the end of the church's Christmas season.
DIVINE INCIDENTS: God Stories: Inspiring Encounters with the Divine, is a newly released book edited by Jennifer Skiff that includes inspirational stories from people from all walks of life and all over the globe.
Among those whose "God stories" are included are actress Jane Seymour, London jeweler Patricia Fruttauro, and Barbara Eikost of Perrysburg.
Ms. Eikost said she received an e-mail several years ago asking if she had ever experienced an unexplained "divine incident." She typed up a note about a rainbow that appeared in the gray winter sky the moment her husband, Bill, died of multiple myeloma in January, 1998.
"I hit the 'send' button and never gave it a second thought," Ms. Eikost said. A few years later, she received a phone call from Ms. Skiff looking to verify the story, which was included in a November, 2006, article about the book in USA Today and is now featured in the God Stories book.
More information on the book is available online at godstories.com, which is also inviting submissions on divine encounters.
GODLY GUITARS: Guitar Hero has become a video game phenomenon, with would-be guitar stars scoring points for strumming and pressing buttons on guitar-shaped controllers as they jam along with popular rock songs.
But some parents have been complaining about the images and lyrics included in these mainstream games, including pentagrams, demonic characters, and "666" symbols in the background.
Now there's a family-friendly alternative: Guitar Praise, a Christian version from Digital Praise, the company that also created the high-energy video dance game Dance Praise.
The game is made for computers, either PC or Mac, and players can go solo or buy a second guitar for dual action - two lead guitars or one player can play the bass.
Players can choose from four levels of difficulty and, unlike the mainstream games, nobody gets booed off the stage for performing poorly.
The 50 tracks included in the first Guitar Praise release include songs by such top Christian artists as tobyMac, Kutless, Flyleaf, Skillet, Hawk Nelson, Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Superchick, and Toledo's own This Beautiful Republic.
There are even a few classics for the boomer generation, such as "Backsliding Blues" by Petra and "Who Will You Follow?" by Whitecross.
Guitar Praise lists for $99.95 including wireless guitar and game program.
More information is available online at DigitalPraise.com or by calling 510-770-0244.
A HOT OFFER: Fireproof, the inspirational marriage-building movie that was a surprise hit at the box office this fall, will be released on DVD Jan. 27. The filmmakers are offering ministers a chance to host a movie night at their church before the video's release.
Package deals includes a license for the church to show the movie for up to a year, the Fireproof DVD, posters, invitations, sermon helps, and more, for $229.
More information is available online at fireproofthemovie.com.
INSIGHTS IN PRINT: A scholarly and colorful overview of the world's most popular religion can be found in Christianity: The Illustrated History (Duncan Baird/Sterling, 256 pages, $35).
Edited by Hans J. Hillenbrand, a professor and chair of the religion department at Duke University, Christianity offers insights that are authoritative but not intimidating, starting with the life of Jesus and covering such topics as Christian ethics, the Bible, diversity, and modern Christianity. Martin E. Marty, the popular author and professor at the University of Chicago, contributed chapters on Protestantism and Faith in Action.
•The Vatican: Secrets and Treasures of the Holy City (DK Books, 320 pages, $35) by the Rev. Michael Collins, is a lavishly packaged book with 1,000 photographs enhancing a detailed look at the world's smallest sovereign state. Father Collins recounts the history of the Vatican, takes a look at all the popes, and leads a tour of the renowned art collection.
CHRISTIAN BOOT CAMP: CBS News' 48 Hours program follows three teenaged girls preparing to become missionaries in The Lord's Boot Camp, to be broadcast at 8 p.m. Dec. 27. The news crew partnered with Loki Films, producers of Jesus Camp, to film the three girls during two weeks of training at the no-frills, physically and mentally challenging "boot camp" in central Florida. An online panel discussion will follows immediately after the broadcast at CBSNews.com.
David Yonke is The Blade's religion editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.