Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Going to America

On Saturday I'm flying out horrendously early in the morning to a town called Franklin, near Nashville, Tennessee. I'm attending the cr:eate or is it re:create conference? Anyway it's going to be amazing. Each of the three tracks, designated according to church size, is restricted to fifty participants, so the emphasis is on building relationships, collaboration and discussion in a round-table setting as opposed to the standard one-speaker-to-several-hundred-audience-members style. Well, I get enough preaching at church! So I'm hoping to develop some great friendships with some other worship leaders and looking for the opportunity to learn from people who have already been through the issues that we are facing at MCC, such as re-organisation of management, search for a new Senior Pastor, relocation to a new property and continued, sustained growth. How do others assist, support and manage their teams of volunteers? How do they find fresh creativity, and what new ideas are people trying that are working? There is so much to discover!

Re:create was set up and is run by Randy Elrod, and he's the one responsible for getting a bunch of worship guys into blogging, the most significant of which is Los Whittaker who's blogging seminar I attended at a conference last year, and who inspired me to set up this blog. Anyway check out the re:create site and all the blogs in the left sidebar (scroll down... bit further... no, keep going... nearly... yup, THERE).

I'm also planning on meeting up with a very old friend. Phil VP and I met when we were eighteen, doing kids ministry with Rich Hubbard at Spring Harvest and summer Bible camps around the UK. We started writing and recording songs together along with my best mate Chris, and had a great time messing around with recording gear in our summer holidays. Anyway, the last time I saw Phil was at his wedding to Roz in September 1998 in Knoxville, Tennessee. And that's a long time ago. Serves him right for moving to the USA. Oh, but then I moved to Egypt, so I suppose it's not entirely his fault.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Media Shout vs Easy Worship vs Song Show Plus

Well, the evaluation continues. We finished our trial of Song Show Plus, and frankly we are relieved (sorry jp)! The software, in our hands at least, proved to be cranky and uncooperative. Video played jerkily and we just didn't have confidence that the cues would fire smoothly.

(Having just read over my notes from a few weeks ago, here are the other issues we had with Song Show Plus. Of course, your mileage may vary.)

When playing a PowerPoint file from within SSP, sometimes the first slide would be missing the background, and the slide had to be re-cued. Some PowerPoint transitions were not replicated accurately in SSP. For instance, when doing a text build on a single slide, the fly-ins (fly-ins are Ben's favourites!) would often come in from the wrong direction, at the wrong speed, and sometimes the build would come through in the wrong order, with point three coming before point two. The interface was difficult to get our minds around, and we felt therefore that usability was very poor, particularly for volunteers.

So far, Easy Worship is looking like a strong contender along with, surprise surprise, Media Shout. We are using Media Shout at the moment, and although it has a steep learning curve and a complex interface, not unlike SSP, it is doing everything we want it to. It has crashed occasionally, when alt-tabbing to PowerPoint while a transition is in progress, and we can't get the text templates to work. So there are some niggles.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Worship Weekend Part II

Well, Saturday WAS much more relaxed than Friday.

We all got up late and Felicity made pancakes for breakfast. I managed to get the broken derailleur hangar off my bike and ID'd it on the Specialized web site. Then it was time for a family art project.

These are in the style of Kandinsky, and the artists are... top left - Felicity, top centre - Sue (Mother in Law) top right - Martin (Father in Law), bottom left - me, bottom centre - Holly and bottom right - Hannah. Watercolour over oil pastels.

A fine lunch of bagels, smoked salmon and tapanade was had in the garden accompanied by a bottle of Prosecco I had been saving since our summer holiday in Umbria, and then we all did very little for a while. Errands and bike rides etc.

Before long it was time to get ready for the evening's entertainments. First of all was dinner at Taboula in Garden City; more middle eastern cuisine, this time from Lebanon. A wonderful selection of salads and meze. Then on to the Opera.

At the Cairo Opera House we watched the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and Choir perform Verdi's Requiem. It was wonderful! The orchestra were on form (not always guaranteed) and the choir sounded pretty good too. Philippa, who used to work with me in the church, is very good friends with the Bass Soloist, Reda El-Wakil, and he was outstanding (thanks for the tickets!), and the conductor was great - a joy to watch. The Dies Irae was particularly spectacular, with the drums and the violins intense and furious. But of course, a cell phone went off in the final thirty seconds when the choir are singing the sotto voce "requiem".

It was a wonderful day, and a great way to round of Felicity's parent's week with us.

I'll have the Mac please...

Res Ipsa Loquitur

[ht:Ragamuffin Soul]

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Worship Weekend

How was your weekend? Mine was pretty good. Friday first - our weekend here in Cairo is Friday and Saturday - and we have church on Friday :-)

Church was great. Larry was on great form, preaching on "Thou Shalt Not Steal" and the band were great, both singers and musicians. We had a couple of world firsts for MCC. One of these was the use of moving video backgrounds on a couple of the songs. I downloaded this video and used it as the background to "God of Wonders" and "Indescribable". It looked fantastic, and people really seemed to appreciate the extra dimension that it brought to their understanding of God the Creator. The other world first was getting the congregation to sing in 7/8 rhythm - this was in the bridge of "Breathing the Breath" by Matt Redman. First of all I was amazed that the band pulled it off (did I mention that they are a great band?) and then I was amazed that I pulled it off, leading, singing and playing bass, and then I was amazed that the congregation picked it up and went with it. A bit of a 1980's prog rock moment :-) it's good to try out new stuff and push the boundaries musically.

Felicity's parents are with us this week so after church we went and sat by the Nile in Grand Cafe with our friends Toby, Helen and Grace and had a fantastic Egyptian meal (Kofta, Tahina, Taboulleh, Humus, Baba Ganough, Ta'amaiah, Fuul and pizza!) and relaxed for a while. Then we walked along the river to the church of the Virgin Mary, where Mary Joseph and Jesus crossed the Nile.

When we got back to the house the phone was ringing. It was the lady from the shop where Felicity's parents had bought some stuff and left it to pick it up later. Did we realise that she was closed Saturday and Sunday? No. Ooops - it's 4:30 and she closes at 5:00 and this is our only chance to get the stuff before they return to the UK on Sunday morning. So a mad dash in the car through Old Cairo to this fantastic craft shop next to Ibn Tuluun mosque and the Geyer-Anderson Museum. We got there just in time to rescue the stuff and then fought our way through the traffic home again.

Then it was straight out to our friend Skip's 60th birthday. Seriously, he doesn't look 60! He's must be like the Cliff Richard of MCC or something!!! Great party, and then home to try to find the part on the internet that I broke on my bike Wednesday morning out in the desert cycling with Felicity's Dad.

At least Saturday was a bit more relaxed!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

We survived!

What a fantastic trip!

We set off at 7:30am out of Maadi, north up the Nile and then west across the river on the Moneeb bridge. We passed the pyramids and headed out of Cairo on the Fayoum road, turned right through 6th October City and then drove for about an hour out on the road to the Western Oases. At the GPS waypoint we just turned left into the desert, across the rail tracks and off into the unknown! It still amazes me that you can just turn off the road and drive wherever you like. The terrain was fairly soft and challenging in places, but fairly soon we reached the top of an escarpment and had to find a route down to the next level. This was repeated three or four times, with each "DOWN" being a different GPS waypoint. Thanks Mark for the coordinates :-)

One of the descents was a long sandy bank, dropping maybe forty metres, with a blind corner half way down - there was a heart in mouth moment or two as we surfed down the dunes. Our camp site was between some wind-eroded outcrops and we arrived just in time to setup the stoves for lunch.

In the afternoon, we explored Wadi El-Hitan, a UNESCO world heritage site, it is a beautiful valley full of amazing eroded rock pillars and bordered by dramatic escarpments. In the sand throughout the valley are the skeletons of whales, some of them up to thirty feet long, and thousands of other fossils and shells and shark's teeth scattered around. It really is one of the most beautiful spots in Egypt, and hardly anybody goes there. We camped about half a mile outside the valley, but there were whale skeletons very close to our camp, and almost every rock we picked up had some kind of fossil in it or was once a part of a whale.

Our steak that night was cooked over the camp fire and the sweet potatoes were cooked on the coals, and we sat around late telling our stories and feeding the desert fox who came to keep us company.

Saturday morning, after compulsory bacon and eggs, we broke camp at about 11:00 and headed for a line of sand dunes east and north of the valley. After an exhausting climb, the view was well worth it. The wind was pretty strong though and I discovered that my ears really can hold an impressive amount of sand.

We then set a course for Wadi El-Rayan, twenty miles to the east. This is an area where one huge lake pours into another through a couple of modest but impressive waterfalls. It made a great lunch stop, and then we sped off through Fayoum, along the south edge of Lake Qarun, and back to Cairo.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Desert Camping

We're going camping!

A Jeep, two Toyotas, ten guys, some tents, sleeping bags, chilli, sausages, bacon and eggs. And we're aiming for that yellow bit just above the "R" of "DESERT". Legend has it there are whale bones sticking up out of the sand, complete skeletons of whales, thousands of shark's teeth littered around on the ground. A rock with an inscription from a dying German Luftwaffe pilot, and complete peace and quiet.

Oh yes, and the GPS. The place we're going to exists as a series of coordinates in a little GPS machine. On the map, it's just that yellow patch near the "R" of "DESERT".

It's going to be amazing! The ten of us are all in the same men's cell group and we're going to be doing some serious barbecuing!

Pray we don't get lost ok? Wouldn't want to share the fate of that pilot...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Top Ten BEST Cell Group Icebreakers

Following on from this post

Top Ten BEST Icebreakers

10. Share one food item that best describes the last year of your life. (example: “frozen pizza” because I did a 180-degree turn this year, or “cinnamon roll” because it had lots of twists and turns but overall was pretty sweet)

9. What one item in the kitchen best describes you and your personality?

8. What’s your favorite concert you’ve ever attended?

7. What cartoon character best describes you?

6. If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?

5. Complete the statement “I recommend…” (it can be a show, movie, book, restaurant, website, activity, etc.)

4. If you knew could you try anything and not fail (and money was no object), what dream would you attempt?

3. What super-power would you most like to have, and why?

2. If you had $5 million to spend in 5 days, but couldn’t spend any of it on yourself or your family, what would you do with it?

1. “2 Truths And a Lie” – Share 3 unique things about yourself and your life, 2 of them true, 1 false, and let the group guess which one isn’t true.

[ht: Carter Moss]

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Going to the beach

Hooray we're going to Basata! We love Basata. It's the nicest beach in Egypt. It's an eco-camp where they have their own desalination plant, recycle everything, have an in house bakery that makes incredible cheesy-bread pizza things, and they serve fantastic fish meals for dinner. It's self-catering and the kitchens/stores are run on an honour system where you tally up what you've used and pay at the end of your stay.

The beach is great - clean sand and perfect water, great coral and a beautiful reef full of fish, rays, eels and squid. Tons of fish, every kind of fish! I love fish.

It's 1:00am which is why this post is a bit addled. We've just waved my Mum and Dad off in a taxi to the airport. They've been with us this last week, and we've had a great time not doing very much at all. Thanks for the port Dad!

We'll be back on Tuesday.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Sorry for not posting for a bit. Christmas. Busy. Tired. Not feeling inspired.

But hey, it's 2007, and everything is new. God's gift to me this year is January. A fresh start. A new beginning.

Can't wait to see what happens.

It might be quite a ride...