Movie Review: Lucy

Who wasn’t excited when this movie trailer hit the airwaves? Scarlett Johansson exploring what it means to use up to 100% of our brain capacity? Morgan Freeman using his smooth voice to teach us what it all means? Dealing with the question of what it really means to be human?

Ahhhhh….expectations. They can really kill a movie, can’t they?

Lucy is creatively filmed and it does an outstanding job in the first act of asking all the right questions. What does it mean to be human? What separates us from the animal kingdom? What would happen if we could use more of our brain’s capacity? Has humanity become more focused on ‘getting’ than on ‘being’?

As the movie unfolds, it never returns to these questions.

This is an excerpt from my other blog – The Reviews. Read the rest of the review here

Movie Review: McConkey

The full review appears on The Reviews website.

Red Bull Media House continues to build an impressive library of films. The cinematography is not just top-shelf. It’s approaching a level that nobody else can touch. They get shots that nobody else gets. They get these shots from multiple angles. They get these shots in some kind of Hyper-HD that explodes off the screen and makes you want to ride a snowboard down Everest. It’s insane eye-candy and they seem to never make a mis-step in their storylines either.

The formula is simple yet effective. Take hyper-crazy athletes in search for the ultimate adrenaline rush and make them likable and normal. Somehow make it seem perfectly normal to go skiing with two helicopters, a plane, and 4 cameras in the most beautiful places on earth. Talk about pushing the limits, throw in some killer music and then feed it to the X-games generation.

On one hand, McConkey fits nicely into the Red Bull library. It has all the earmarks – great location, great cinematography, great music, and a plot line that celebrates an incredible athlete whose only purpose in life was to push the limits of a pleasure-seeking lifestyle.

On the other hand, McConkey is a disturbing journey into a world of another kind of addiction – the adrenaline rush.

Read the rest of the review here

TMP Equip 2015, Day 9

Today we pack, wash clothes, watch a little of the college national championship game, and head to the airport at 4 PM for a midnight flight.



I can not explain the disaster of Manila construction around the airport. Add to this all the safety drills and extra precautions because Pope Francis is coming in two days and what you have is one asphalt and carbon monoxide disaster.

It takes us 25 minutes to get within 3 blocks of airport. It takes is 90 minutes to get rest of way. There are over 4,000 security guards on the street lining up shoulder to shoulder as we head into airport. The line goes for miles. I have never seen anything like it.

Manila airport has been voted the world’s worst airport 3 years running. It’s not in danger of losing that distinction. Traffic is just half the problem.

You go through security at the front door then you stand in line for your airline to check bags and confirm seat arrangements. Then you pay your airport tax, go thru passport control, and security again. We start this process at 6.30. We are finally thru security to the gate area at 9 PM.

There is a small convenience store, one restaurant, and a Starbucks back here. Our flight is at midnight. We grab dinner and a coffee.

Here’s where it gets just plain crazy. Each gate has another security check point. And this one is a bit evasive. They make you unpack all your carry on luggage. You take it all out, they unzip every zipper. Then they do a thorough pat down. Not the TSA friendly kind. The ‘face the wall and assume the position’ kind. Then they make you sit down and take off your shoes and they inspect your shoes.

To their credit, they are professional and courteous. But after going thru two other security checks – it seems a bit over the top.

And we are delayed.

We have a 3.5 hour flight to Guam. A short layover then a 7 hour flight to Hawaii. A short layover then a 7 hour flight to Houston. Then KC.

We make the connection in Guam with a few minutes to spare. In Honolulu- we fly over Pearl Harbor and then have to be escorted thru customs and run thru airport to catch flight. They close the door behind us.

Just another adventure in flying the friendly skies.

Tomorrow – my not so random thoughts of the trip.

TMP Equip 2015, Day 8

Our first day to relax a bit. Allow me to rewind to the night before.

After getting home from Tanza, we decided to take trikes a couple of miles down the street for dinner. And of course, for the cultural experience of putting 6 large Americans on a bicycle built for two.

The trike is simple. Take a small motorcycle, put a side car on it, wrap the side car in clear plastic and for a final touch add a long seat on the bike so there is room to sit behind the driver. The side car has the potential to sit 6 people. 2 sit on back of side car and face backward, 4 in the front of the car – 2 sitting on seats, the other two on a board that sits at feet of other 2 passengers. Plus two on behind the driver on his seat. It’s quite a sight. It’s also designed for the average Filipino. Not us.

The motorcycle has a small lawn mower engine, perhaps a weed-eater. 8 pesos will pretty much get you where you need to go as their range is normally limited to that particular village or neighborhood.

If this sounds impossible to you, just understand that Filipinos can work miracles with motorcycles. The trike is a modern miracle of automotive science.

Timm grabs the seat in the sidecar, waves me in. As I climb on top of Timm, we feel the bike tip.

“It’s no problem. We do this all time!”

That must be the Filipino equivalent to ‘Hey, watch this.’

It’s about a 3 mile ride to the business district. We have 5 plus the driver on this trike and the engine is giving it all she’s got.

Vendors selling mangos, fish, chicken, bananas, and drinks line the pavement as we scurry down the road. It’s around 7 pm on a Sunday night and the streets are packed with people. The trike is weaving in and out of cars and trucks. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of headlight as I can tell.

After 5 minutes of this trauma, we arrive at destination. We walk up and over the main road to eat at a place called Army-Navy. It’s designed like a quansa hut in honor of all the ones built in the Philippines by the US military during WW2. And they serve burritos.

Yeah. An American restaurant run by Filipinos serving Mexican food.

The food was good and on the way home, I took the seat behind the driver. These seats are designed for the passenger to sit side saddle. Sort of. I sit with my knees facing out. It’s comfortable but nerve-racking. I know how close these cars get to each other when they pass. Right before we pull off, another passenger jumps on beside me. I couldn’t take any video of that as I was hanging on for dear life.

Next day we drive out to beautiful park called Danak Falls. It’s a series of water falls with clear blue water. Absolutely stunning.

We head back for lunch then towards the financial district to experience the market. It is an experience. You can get anything you want and everything is negotiable. Everything.

It’s a bit overwhelming. There are over 200 vendors all promising you a ‘special deal, sir.’ The trick is understanding that this is a game. And don’t be afraid to walk away. General rule of thumb is ask for half of what they offer – and work from there.

That night, we sit around and eat some incredible pizza and talk about the trip.

We travel home tomorrow. We all miss our families. It’s been a crazy busy trip but a good one. We each have our unique burdens we will have to pick back up once we hit American soil.

But for this moment, we eat. And we enjoy God’s presence among us. There is nothing unique said at dinner. There isn’t a moment. There are no grand speeches. But it is nice to sit among brothers in Christ in unity.

TMP Equip 2015, Day 7 Part 2

To read part 1, click here.

While we were at Tanza, the other half of the team was at San Mateo. Their visit was much tougher.

The day before, a 5-year old girl that lived in one of the houses that was just built by Lighthouse Bible Church this past summer is dead. She had an asthma attack and didn’t have a nebulizer.

Simple medicine. Cheap medicine. $4 a week medicine. Completely preventable but too poor to get the medicine.

There is a mixture of hurt and anger among us. This is a delicate situation. TMP is going to pay for the funeral arrangements. The family desires a glass casket (“Catholic style”) to honor their daughter.

I can’t completely get my head around the trash dump culture in the Philippines. Poorest place on the planet. Conditions unlike anything I’ve ever seen. No begging. Never have seen it in the dump. Never been asked for one thing by one person in the dump.

They will talk and laugh and play. They will tease and hug. They will ask questions and listen. They will not beg. They will not be a bother.

TMP would have rather paid for the medicine but how do you communicate this to the family without dishonoring them? How do you ask the questions why didn’t the family tell somebody what was going on? Why didn’t they let their pastor know and let him contact Trash Mountain? How do you explain to a family that asking for medicine isn’t begging?

There are no easy answers.

We all get back together for lunch at Tanza 1 site. The team from San Mateo comes over and we have fried chicken, rice, stir fry vegetables with quail eggs. It still feels incredibly awkward being served more food in one meal than most of these get in a week. The flip side is to refuse to eat, to insist that they eat it would be an insult of biblical proportions. We’d never recover from that kind of mistake. So we eat. And the food tastes amazing.

Meals here are an event. We sit and eat and talk. And laugh. There is something in this culture that makes mealtimes feel like…dare I say – communion? There is something deeper taking place when we break bread. Somehow by eating together, we are no longer two different cultures trying to figure the other one out. We are family. Loved by God. Committed to one another and to Him.

It sounds mystical and weird but it isn’t.

Okay. It is mystical but it really isn’t weird. It’s just something that I miss in my busy, hurried life in the states and I find my soul longing for on trips like this.

After lunch, we drive 2 minutes to the new Tanza land. It’s a 300 meter walk but it’s safer if we drive. We big Americans stick out like crazy here. It’s 4.9 acres that we will build a school, an aquaponics plant, and another worship location. It’s beautiful but it needs a ton of work and clearing. Pastor Stanley can’t contain his excitement. He’s practically bouncing around like a little school boy.

The dream is taking shape. Slowly. Surely.

We head back to YMC. It’s getting dark.

I keep coming back to that girl in San Jose Dump.

She’s crying.
She’s dirty.
No one is coming.

We pass hundreds of churches here in the Manila metro area. Some big, many small. A few rich, a lot are poorer. When people here learn that we go to trash dump communities to help build schools and churches, many look at us like we are crazy.


Some of it is judgment. They are there because somehow they deserve it.

Some of it is ignorance. They can’t imagine that these places really exist.

It’s the same way in the States.

But we are coming. We aren’t many. We have limited resources. We are a bit of a mess ourselves. We aren’t perfect but we are coming.

We’re coming.

TMP Equip 2015, Day 7 Part 1

This is my favorite day of trip – worshipping with our TMP churches. I wish every Christ-follower could experience this. It would solve a lot of church problems back home.

8am – Jesus Christ’s Church in the Valley
This is the church that sits right next door to where we are staying (YMC). There are two services – a 8.00 AM English service and a 9.30 AM Tagalog service.

We go to the 8 AM service so we can spend the rest of the day at the trash dump sites. Technically, this isn’t an “international” service as many of the visiting mission groups lead the service – guest speakers, guest testimonies, guest skits, guest worship leaders. So it’s often a mixed bag when we go.

The pastor of JCCV is Rick Aranas’s dad and everybody calls him Pastor A. He and his wife are incredible servants of God and are two of my most favorite people on the planet.

The service opens with Pastora Dickey (wife of Pastor A and Head Teacher of their school) with their version of Prepare the Room. We’re told to use the next few minutes to prepare our hearts for worship.

An old Filipino woman sits at an out-of-tune upright piano on the right side of the room. She’s hunched over the keys, trying to get the notes on a single sheet of music to focus. She adjusts her glasses. Her eyes are betraying her. Her head bobs back and forth. Her hands are wrinkled and curved, lightly sitting on the keys, ready to play once the notes become clear.

There are flecks of wood missing from the piano. It sounds exactly like you’d expect it to sound, instead of bar tunes, it’s a soft, simple song. I don’t recognize the tune. My guess is it’s an old Filipino hymn. The music is as choppy as her focus. It’s clear that her eyes and the music are having an ongoing debate with each other but she keeps playing…haltingly.

But it’s worship and it shows through her face.

We get a treat this morning as we are led in song by Filipino teens. You need to know – the Filipino people leap into worship. There is no ‘let’s warm up a bit.’ Throw words on the screen, turn up guitars, make sure it’s loud enough for those on the street to hear and let’s go.

There’s a group here this morning from a Christian university from the states. They are going to perform a skit and give us a couple of testimonies.

One thing that ministering in trash dumps has done to me – it’s exposed how shallow and self-focused my faith was as a young believer…and still is at times. I can remember a time in my faith when I honestly believed that God’s will for my life was to be happy and well-taken care of and popular. As I listen to these college kids speak of their “struggles”, I am all too familiar with their words.

I wish there was a way I could tell them that God’s story is bigger than their hurt of getting dumped by your girlfriend or being betrayed by a high school friend. I wish there was a painless way for them to understand that God redeems us so that we can join His story, not so He can join ours. That our story – it’s not that great. His story – it changes everything.

I wish they would come with us to the dump today. To smell the dump while singing praises in a hot, humid hut. To watch a church get up and give an offering. To watch them walk to church in the best clothes they have and worship with utter abandon.

It would change everything. I know it would. It changed me.

Tim Wilson speaks at JCCV. For all the goofiness and awkward moments that come at the expense of him, Tim’s deep love of people pours out of him. He loves people and he loves helping them understand God’s word. A little nugget from his message:

Righteousness is different from godliness. Righteousness is a gift. It’s instant. That’s our standing with God through Jesus. Godliness is developed. It’s how we live among each other and it’s for each other. Godliness is about our witness to the lost world.

11 AM, Vista Wesleyan Church, Tanza 1 Project
Pastor Stanley asked Rick to lead worship and Dave Henry to speak. It’s awesome. We are hugged and greeted by every single person in the church. They jump into the worship songs. It’s a loud place!!

Dave Henry walks us through the life of Nicodemus. He starts by seeing Jesus at night, he ends by asking for his body from the most public government official there is. Quite a journey for him – but it was a journey.

Dave’s a teacher. A very good one at that. He sucks you into the world, taking you on a journey and pointing out the important stuff along the way. It’s like you are getting a private tour of the Scriptures.

Special music is two brothers singing a praise song and I wish I had on video what happened. As the boy gets up on stage, he looks at Rick’s guitar then looks back at Rick. Rick gives him the nod.

“Play it.”

The kid looks like he’s won the lottery. The whole audience goes “Ooooohhhh!!!!!” and starts clapping as he grabs Rick’s Taylor. He misses his first two chords he’s so excited to play this guitar but he quickly recovers. The Brothers do very well and the whole church loves the moment – seeing two young men growing into leaders.

Pastor Stanley calls for the offering and the congregation starts clapping. He says something to the congregation – I don’t understand any of it except I hear ‘Western Hills Church’, ‘Pastor Rick and Grant.’ The crowd erupts with applause again and a few shouts.

Pastor Stanley tells me – “I told them that you two are from the church where I learned to clap when to take the offering.”

Well done, WHC. Well done.

After the service, church isn’t near over. Every person in the church comes up to us. Dave and I have been here before and many of them recognize us and hug us. No handshakes will do. They are enamored with Rick’s height. When Rick pulls out the bag of toys, the place goes silent.

Instead of a feeding frenzy and every kid running forward to get something, they just stand there and wait. There is no presumption from them. We line them up and have them come pick a toy then they find out it’s from Rick’s son, Charlie. Choruses of “Thank you, Charlie” start up.

After the greetings and the visiting after service, I take Rick up to the dump. Pastor Stanley follows us.

“I praise God for this dump.”

Rick and I look a little confused.

He says it again.

“I really do praise God for this dump. If this dump wasn’t here, I would not be working here. And I’d never met Trash Mountain. I’d never had the resources to feed and educate these kids. I’d never met you. These kids would have starved or died from disease.”

We watch the dump site for a few minutes. More trucks unload.

Pastor Stanley breaks the silence.

“We get to bring light and hope here. How awesome is that?”

Part 2 will post tomorrow.