Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Culture Shock

I just heard something which is throwing me thru a loop -- some people who helped make me who I am voted for a political candidate whose entire party and whose values are opposed to all they taught me to believe in. For the life of me, I can't seem to get past feeling that I'm in an identity crisis. If they don't believe everything I have stood for and thought they stood for for 39 years, beliefs I built my life around, which effected so many decisions, even cost me heavy prices sometimes -- then who am I?

It's a culture shock, I guess. I knew the culture was changing and the sense of base values with it. And I knew these people had become a bit more liberal in their thinking, mostly due to the confusing arguments put forth by opponents of traditional values which water them down in many people's minds. It's easy to be led astray when we fail to consult the scriptures and evaluate things in light of the truth of God's Word. How many times do we fail to go to God's Word when we are faced with moral questions which strike at the heart of our core beliefs? Operating on logic doesn't work, because our sinful nature can be confused. We have to operate on faith and let the Holy Spirit speak wisdom to our hearts.

So many Americans who claim to be Christians voted against that this past election for reasons which I still don't understand. It still haunts me to think of so many people being misguided and leading this country down a very dangerous path. But these people -- they just can't be the same people I thought they were if they voted this way. They are too well educated, too smart... And I have lost people whom I looked up to and who were my allies when I felt alone in my beliefs. Now I feel I am alone. Not really. I know others who share my convictions, but I have never felt so lonely.

It has always been hard to stand up in the face of the changing values of a world, drifting away from traditional values. It has always been hard to have integrity. You have to be willing to have a culture clash with the world around you. You have to be willing to be an oddball, march to a different drummer, to not care what others say or think. One high school friend said that was what he always admired about me -- I always was who I said I was. He found it reliable and he respected it, even though he was far different than me. Since then, he has come to share the same values I have now, and he often wonders how I tolerated him then.

I have never been one who wanted to preach my values to others. I stand up for them. I am ready to explain them, but I never wanted to convert anyone or force my views upon them. Not that I don't hope they convert. I just don't treat it like a battlefield. I prefer to let my actions and my life witness rather than try and argue or convince with words. But lately, I feel such a sense of culture shock. The world has changed around me, and sometimes it seems the larger group of which I used to be a part has gotten smaller and smaller. Sometimes the majority who once shared my values, now seems like a minority. It's so disappointing, because the beliefs I am talking about have been at the core of our society and national identity. No wonder the world doesn't seem to know who we are any more or even like us. Who likes someone who doesn't stand for anything or who violates their own values? Not many, in my experience. At least not after high school.

So here I am watching two idols fall. Not idols as in a religious object I worshipped, but people I looked up to and whose example I tried to follow. I never thought I'd stop, but that ended when I found out they were no longer the people I thought they were. And now I don't know whose example to follow. Or maybe I have just put too much into following human example and not enough into following Christ. After all, Christ should be our only idol and our example, right? That is what the Bible instructs. It is what I claim to believe. Maybe God is using this to shock me back into proper focus. Maybe this culture shock is a sign of my own straying from the goal. Am I off course, too? It's definitely time to reevaluate.

For what it's worth...

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Okay, I am going to stray from usual topics because I can't help it. I have to recommend a new show to you.

I have never been a big fan of comic books. It’s not that I dislike them or don’t respect the art form. They just never appealed to me the way that a good fiction novel and my own imagination did. I have read a few, mostly those with tie-ins to movies I loved like Star Wars. They just aren’t my thing. But I love science fiction, and I love tv. And so I must recommend the delightful new ABC Family Show “The Middleman,” which airs Monday nights. Okay, I confess. I am friends with the show’s creator. We went to college together, but we have not been in close touch for several years. So I am not overly biased. Javier did, however, give me the most encouraging words I ever received during my first attempt to break into Hollywood as a writer. And I have never forgotten. In fact, the memory of his words is what has kept me going in my second attempt.

But I digress. “The Middleman” is about a super hero, actually more of a super secret agent, assigned to investigate criminals of a supernatural, science fiction-like kind. And it’s about his sidekick, Wendy Watson, a wanna be artist temping her way through to pay bills while awaiting success -- like so many of us have done past and present. The show has sparkling dialogue and great pop culture references from shows like “Planet of The Apes” to things like the Xbox, on which Wendy honed they very skills she now employs in her temp job fighting bad guys.

The actors do an excellent job selling the material and bringing the characters to life. The production values are top notch. And they even got “24’s” beloved Chloe O’Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub) to do a guest shot in the pilot as an evil scientist. The show features everything from aliens to talking apes to human beings. And it stays away from cliché, by even making its cliché-like moments (which all of us find hard to avoid at times in our writing) sizzle and twist in unexpected ways. The result is one of the best new shows I’ve seen since, well, “24” or even “Lost,” which coincidentally employed Javier for its first two seasons. It’s clever, it’s entertaining, and it’s just plain fun. Don’t miss “The Middleman.” You won’t forget it.

By the way, it even has elements of culture clash in it as Wendy is dragged into a world beyond her comprehension and adapts handily to it. While in the meantime, maintaining our connection to the world we all inhabit and was formerly her only home. It's interesting to watch those dynamics play out, and Javier being one of the foremost Hispanic writers in Hollywood -- along with the actress playing Wendy who happens to be Hispanic -- I imagine we have only seen a foretaste of the interesting culture clashes to come.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Days 4 and 5


Okay, sorry, I dropped the ball. Between shaky internet connectability, my wife's arrival to join the team, and the loss of my camera (which was stolen), I have had some distractions and difficulties. Our books still did not arrive, but our students did rehearse for graduation today and it was thrilling to watch people who had never had the chance to perform like this perform together, all at once, over 30.

Ryan and Jacob led us in great times of worship the past three days, and we sent Ryan home today. Jacob leaves tomorrow, before the graduation. I wish they could be here for this, but understand well their need to get home. In any case, no new pictures for the rest of this trip, as I have no camera and have to rely on others to provide them. I will get them eventually, but for now, sorry about that. No one's sorrier than me that I have to replace it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Day Three Report

Last night went very well. The students joined us in worship, and we had good sessions of teaching. A few late arrivals, but things went very well. We all agreed we're so focused that we aren't even noticing the heat.

Today, we took a tour of the city and visited an overlook showing both sides of the border as well as visited the market and the original mission. We also saw several BEAMM sites. It was a good opportunity to see the context in which BEAMM works and where we have been since Sunday night.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Day Two Highlights: Fotolog

Here are photos of key moments from tonight's sessions:

Ryan, Jacob, and Bryan leading worship.

Ryan McMillen teaching keyboards.

Aaron Zapata teaching guitar.

Jacob Tilton teaching guitar.

Worship Camp 2008 Day Two

This morning we were invited to go to a team meeting for the missionaries, but I decided it was better to stay in and rest. We need to be well rested, because we teach for four hours a night with no air conditioning and not a day this week is supposed be below 100 Fahrenheit. I am sad that the team will not meet all the missionaries, but since last night was our first class session, and we have 35+ students rather than the 10 originally expected, we have to adjust our lesson plans to the situation and the skill levels we now know of our students. And we have to rehearse and prepare for worship as well. These workshops are also intense and I want these guys to be well rested and prepared. That's more important than a fellowship time. The other reality is the meeting is across the border and the travel would take an extra two hours or so.

But we will take a break to go out to lunch and do some shopping today. We also will have a prayer time together and perhaps even devotions. It is good to get to know my own Worship Director better. Ryan McMillen is a nice guy and very patient and gentle. But he also can be more reserved and quiet than I am (I know everyone's thinking how great that is). This is a chance to get to know each other better as people and as musicians which will help us to serve Chesterfield Presbyterian Church better when we return.

And Jacob Tilton is so talented. I hope I get the chance to worship at his church, Fort Worth Presbyterian Church, again. We visited there last May for a BEAMM team meeting related to Mexico, and it's a great location and nice facility, but Jacob happened to be gone that week. Jaxob is also a great guy and fun musician for Ryan and I to partner with. Both Ryan and Jacob worked hard to learn songs in Spanish and we are each trading off leading songs like "Lord I Lift Your Name On High," "Forever," "Open The Eyes Of My Heart," and hymns as well.

Last night I asked Ryan and Jacob to play two famous Mexican songs sight unseen to demonstrate to students how important it is to know music theory. They did well playing "Mexican Hat Dance" and "La Cucaracha" though I know Jacob felt like he didn't overwhelm. It was not about showing off musical skill as much as showing off the value of music theory knowledge, and both demonstrated that well. The songs were recognized and the students smiled and clapped. Here are two songs similar in this culture to our own "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" or "Old McDonald" which everyone knows. Of course, my team might have heard them, but had never played them. So for them to play them off the sheet music so well the first time, made the point I wanted made well.

We had a large group session, post-worship, in Music Theory and I raced through the basics in an hour. Most of the students did not learn it this way, of course. A few already knew things. But the idea was not to teach it as much as get them familiar with the symbols, words, and concepts they will need to learn this week. I think that was accomplished, but I also hope we wet their appetite. I am going to tell them that if they want it, I can come back and really teach music theory. And we'll see what happens. It would serve them well.

After that session, we broke into four classes. Basic Guitar, Basic Keyboards, and Advanced Guitar and Advanced Keyboard. Ryan had two Advanced Piano students and Jacob had around eight in guitar. We had 17 basic guitar and around 15 basic keyboard students. Jacob said he got through more than expected. I felt the same. Ryan felt he got through exactly what he planned. So that is a good first day.

I am having to teach differently than I would normally approach things at the request of the missionaries. They want the students to learn how to play basic chords. But teaching basic chords without the building blocks of notation, scales, etc. is very difficult. Add to that the fact that I have never taught piano before, and I need your prayers. I am winging it big time. But I am just committing it to God and letting him lead me, and the students learned 3 of 7 major chords last night. They also learned the intervals and steps needed to find any major chord. We'll test their retention today, but that is good progress.

Add to that the fact that the terminology is Spanish, which we don't speak. And some of the translators are not always aware of musical terminology. Another challenge for the classes is that we have a mix of ages. We have kids who may well be 10 years old and we have adults in their 40s. That is both exciting and challenging. But we are very thankful just for the opportunity. It is such a blessing to share with these people. No culture clashing so far that I know of, other than perhaps a few organizational things. But God is with us and all will be well.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Worship Camp 2008 Begins

Here we are. What a team. Worship Directors from two PCA churches and one former Contemporary Christian Singer in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to teach about worship. We got good rest today and managed to sneak in a three hour or so rehearsal of the songs for the week and talk over worship. These guys are such pros and fun to work with, that it makes it easy on me.

We have some stresses though. Our songbooks are lost in the unholy U.S. mail, which I am going to phase my business out of, because they raise rates and promise better service and can't even make a guaranteed 6 business day delivery in 20 days. I'm not upset at all, can't you tell? Anyway, we also did not get copies made of the visuals for the Music Theory lecture and for the worship songs for the students, so Jacob drew my drawings while I taught.

There were more frustrations than I have had in a while. None of them because of these wonderful team members. I work hard to plan and prepare and when things don't get executed or interpreted the way I intended, things don't go smoothly, and so I am a bit frustrated. But I give it to the Lord. Our travel was safe and our time together in fellowship has been a blessing. And the teaching went well. On top of that, our work as a worship team was smooth as silk.

Anyway it's almost 1 a.m. St. Louis time and I am exhausted but here are three pics and some comments. We will post more soon. We are looking forward to tomorrow. God Bless!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Culture Clashing Films

To learn about cultures around the world, view these short films celebrating diversity!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Life From The Inside...Cuba

A new blog worth checking out. Written by a cuban inside about life there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How are you today? I don't care...

My wife struggles with the issue of the standard every day "How are you?" So common in our culture. Not that she doesn't understand the question. She doesn't understand the reason. "Why do people ask if they don't care about the answer?" That's her question. In Brazil, when people ask, they expect a detailed, honest answer. But in the U.S. when you answer with anything much beyond "Fine" or "Ok," people act bored.

She has a point. Just try one day of answering that question honestly and you'll see how fast the eyes glaze over. "How are you?" "Well, actually, my cat is sick, and my car needs a new engine. And I don't know how I'm going to pay for the vet and repairs, and to top it off, I'm coming down with something..." SNORE! People will become too busy to talk really quick and avoid you the rest of the day. Okay, not most people you really know well, but any casual acquaintances you can count on it.

In the U.S. we have a habit of asking the question as politeness, not genuine concern. And for someone from a culture where genuine concern and interest is more than politeness, it is hard to understand that. Believe it or not, in some cultures people would far rather engage in a meaningful conversation than watch tv or movies. They would even rather be with other people, getting to know them, than eating or doing about anything else. In these cultures, relationships are top priority. So imagine being in a country where independence is the highest priority, and people tend to keep small circles and hold everything in.

My wife is a friendly person who longs for community. To her, when a person asks: "How are you?" It is an investment of interest. Not a polite greeting. She took it as a genuine concern. And when she discovered people's eyes glazing over during her honest answers, she was hurt. And baffled. She doesn't get why people pretend to care, when they don't. In Brazil, people who don't want to get into a conversation or care, just greet others politely with "Oi" (hi) or "Bom dia" (good day). They make no attempt to pretend interest. It's more direct and more genuine. At least to someone from a culture where relating to others is so highly valued.

To me, it's a reminder that we've lost something. Our lack of community, our independent-mindedness, tends to numb us to genuine concern and caring, and separate us from one another. We guard our inner selves like closely held military secrets, and keep our lives and problems from the prying eyes and ears of all but our closest associates. No wonder politicians and others find it so easy to divide us. We hardly know each other. It is much easier to be suspicious and distrusting of people whom we know so little about. And even harder to care about them.

For what it's worth...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blogger Approach

A friend of mine recently said: "I don't get into blogs at all. Who wants to know that you're staring at the wall, wearing green socks and bored? If you don't have more to say than that, don't waste my time." I must say, I agree with him, which is why my blogs sometimes sit months or weeks with no posts. I absolutely refuse to post such tripe. I enjoy blogging. I am a professional writer, so I enjoy writing. But I have always hoped my blog posts would not be considered tripe. You might not agree with them or find them interesting, but at least they have substance.

Ironically, it would seem my attitude clashes with much of the blogging culture. There are an awful lot of blogs out there being posted to for weeks on end with such posts, and that's why I, like my friend, don't read many blogs very often. In any case, allow me to recommend a few which I do find interesting: -- This one, written by an old friend of mine who is producing a tv show he created called Minute Man, is interesting for those who like me want to write television and film or just wonder about that lifestyle -- This one is for Grey's Anatomy fans by the writers of the show. It's always interesting, but sometimes they get a little too into themselves and over think it. -- this is my new devotional blog. I have been submitting devotions to magazines like The Upper Room and Secret Place with some success. Here is where I post ones which were not accepted for various reasons but which I still think are worthy for those who like devotions.

I will post more, but those are a few favorites for now.

You Want To Be In America, Speak English!

Talk about a culture clash! Here I am writing professionally now, more than ever before, and I have not blogged in eight months! Time flew by! I have travelled internationally several times, but no major culture clashing incidents occurred. Except this one, so here it is.

My wife recently said something that blew my mind: "You want to be in America, speak English." Now, she was referring to some Bosnians at work, who speak their language all day long. They speak English, too, but they have all these private chats amongst themselves and it was driving her crazy because she couldn't understand. My wife is a talented linguist who speaks four languages and parts of others. She loves language.

What shocked me was, my wife is an immigrant, who frequently complains about how hard it is for immigrants in the U.S. She feels she has been discriminated against in the job market and other situations. I am not always so sure it is as bad as she thinks it is, but then I am not there when the incidents happen, and it took almost a year in the U.S. for her to find a decent job, and I had to pull strings. My wife has a bachelor's degree in English and Portuguese Literature and is a trained language instructor. So don't go thinking she doesn't have skills. But she does love to chit chat, and sometimes she seems a little strange to people. They don't know how to take her. And I tend to think this had more to do with her job troubles than the fact that she's an immigrant, but who knows. She has legitimate immigration papers. She is not illegal. I do know that people are much more wary these days of immigrants because of the government crack down.

In any case, here's my immigrant wife, who is fluent in English, criticizing these other immigrants for not using English. Again, all of them actually speak English. They just like to chat with each other. Bianca told me: "All I hear all day is spreska forska ickska Bryan spreska forska ickska Bianca. So I started talking that way, too, and they asked me where I learned Russian." LOL. She was toying with them, but they thought it was a real language. Like I said, my wife has language skills.

I did find it interesting to hear this from her though, given her rants about anti-immigrant treatment in the U.S., but I don't disagree with her. You don't have to lose your cultural identity to make an effort to communicate in a place you choose to live. Without effective communication in modern society, you will have a hard time getting anything done or succeeding in any way. So I agree with her in a sense. But no one says you have to speak English all the time. Especially when your coworkers are from the same culture and speak the same language. I am sure it eases their homesickness and helps them feel connected to speak amongst themselves in their language. And I take no issue with that. I never heard them speak to customers in anything but English when I was there.

In any case, one of the issues I have seen a lot is people from other countries sticking to their own and not making the effort, and it causes problems. At the seminary I attended, the Koreans hung together so much, they could not keep up with the school work, because their English was not improving. So the school had to make rules about it, and enforce standards for language. Some might call that discriminatory, but in any country, when you attend a school, they have to teach in the native language (except for a few private school exceptions). And you must have a certain proficiency to have academic success. I see nothing wrong with that. It's why I have not studied overseas yet, because my language skills are not up to the challenge. Portuguese is my best foreign tongue, and even in Portuguese, I know I need work.

There is nothing wrong with immigrants forming a support community, of course. Good for them! Good for them for wanting to celebrate their culture and even share it with the community around them. But they cannot ignore the need to participate in the larger culture. You cannot successfully or peacefully live amongst others without respecting and appreciating the larger culture and making some effort to belong to it. Not because you want to lose your own culture, but because you now belong to more than one culture. At least while you're there.

For what it's worth...