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!