So Much Depends on a Red Door

Over the weekend I saw the film It Comes at Night. There’s a lot I could say about this film (I liked it a lot) but there’s one thing that it left me thinking. (I wont spoil anything for those that haven’t seen it I promise. Although I you might want to watch the preview right now for at least a bit of context)

The movie’s ending is pretty unusual for a thriller. There is no big reveal in the last act (à la Get Out). There is no satisfying conclusion (à la Silence of the Lambs). There is no crazy plot twist (of course à la Shyamalan). The ending is pretty confusing, but in a good way.

Director Trey Edward Shults says in an interview “A lot of questions are left unanswered. That is intentional. I will say I left things the way they are for a reason and I hope it sticks with you. I hope it doesn’t frustrate.”

To me these unanswered questions didn’t frustrate. They made me think.

Here is my consolidated thought process: What was the filmmaker’s purpose with leaving out those important plot details? I guess they weren’t that important. Then what was important? The message of the movie. What was the message? Was there even a message? Cuz it seemed pretty hopeless. Something like that.

Vox opened their article on the movie with this: “So much depends on a red door in the highly anticipated new horror film It Comes at Night. So much that when that solitary door is inevitably left open, it becomes a red scare: a symbolic catalyst for the collapse of a micro-society built on fear.”

A micro-society built on fear.

That’s why the questions are unanswered—to leave room for the audience to think about this commentary which is brilliantly illustrated in the movie. Commentary that, to me, is pertinent to the state of my own society.

Using Vox’s rhetoric, I would not call America a “society built on fear”. But I would call it a society that is moving steadily toward making decisions out of fear.

Here is where I see that fear the most in our society:

  1. Conservatives fearing the foreigner
  2. Liberals fearing the next 3.5 years

It’s so easy for me to look at the opposing viewpoint and recognize what they’re doing wrong. It’s harder to look at myself and truthfully examine if fear is controlling my thought.

Is my fear rational?

Does it stem from emotion or from reason?

Is it grounded in information or prejudice?

Am I fearful simply because others are?

These questions should be asked of the two examples I mentioned by name, but that’s not where they should stop.

It’s easy for me to (judgmentally) answer those questions for others, but it’s not so easy for myself. It’s easy to brush these questions aside because of my pride or apparent self-knowledge. It’s hard for me to really really think about these questions as they apply to my own fears. It’s hard but necessary and I’d implore you all to do the same.

A society based on fear crumbles. This film is a frightening, gruesome, but relevant illustration of that.

I’ll close with a tweet from Community creator Dan Harmon that really stuck out to me as a Christian who is observing and struggling with fear and society right now: “if fear can enter your heart, does it take up space that would otherwise be God’s?”

Unconditional

Katy Perry is getting worse and worse by the day, but let me tell you my least favorite thing she’s ever done. She’s been called racist, a liar, a stealer, even this weird thing that creeps me out immensely:

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but I just want to take a second to acknowledge how she can’t even say words right.

Everyone knows the accented syllable in the word ‘unconditional’ is the UN. Well frickin Katy tries not once, but TWICE to get this pronunciation right AND FAILS BOTH TIMES. She begins her song “Unconditionally” by screlting ‘uncondiSHUNal’ aka not where the syllabic stress goes at all. She then tries to redeem herself by pronouncing it ‘unCUNditionally’ which is definitely even worse and actually incredibly unnatural to verbalize.

Now for the embarrassingly loose connection to what I actually want to talk about:

People have a very hard time with unconditional love.

‘People’ meaning people in the general sense but also ‘people’ being me.

By definition, unconditional love should literally mean love with no conditions. None. Nary. But people tend to attach so many conditions to love.

Love, but on the one condition you voted for Hillary.

Love, but on the one condition you are conservative.

Love, only until you make a racist comment.

Love, with the one condition you are pro-life.

Love, but as long as I don’t have to bake a cake for your wedding.

Even one seemingly small condition exceeds the definition of ‘unconditional’.

John Huckins is a cofounder of the Global Immersion Project, a “peacemaking training organization that exists to renovate and activate the US American Church as an instrument of peace”. One of their experiences they offer is the Immigrant’s Journey Immersion Trip, which focuses on learning the human face of immigration, and includes bringing water to different points throughout the desert specifically for people crossing the border. Tens of thousands of immigrants have died trying to cross the border and their goal is to love and literally save the lives of these travelers. Huckins realizes this can be viewed as very controversial, but here is what he says about peacemaking and unconditional love:

“It’s costly. When I think about moving towards polarizing issues, I have received more critique and borderline hatred than I ever have in my life by choosing the way of peace because it’s so counter cultural, so counter-American empire, counter-American Christianity.”

Preston Sprinkle (yes, haha. His last name is sprinkle) is a writer, speaker and PhD (that’s right. Doctor Sprinkle). He says, “Don’t buy the lie that if you love people too much, you must not care about sin. The gospel teaches us otherwise. Jesus cared so much about sin that he surrounded himself with sinners”.

So yes, let’s look at Jesus real quick. For the sake of what I’m trying to say, we’ll replace “sin” with something like “one lifestyle that is egregiously different from another’s” (because things like being conservative or liberal are most certainly not sins, as much as some say otherwise…)

Dr. Sprinkle (which truly sounds like the name of a birthday party clown. Sorry Preston.) is right—Jesus did surround himself with people that other Jews NEVER would have hung out with.

Only these people back in Jesus’ day are bit different than those people we’d think of today. For example, below are a few verses where Jesus shows love to tax collectors, some of the most despised people in Jesus’ day. (The tax collector is just one example of shunned people groups Jesus would hang out with: prostitutes, lepers, Pharisees, adulterers, the list goes on.) But since tax-collectors are a bit archaic in today’s time, I spiced the verses up a little. Not to be plagiaristic or sacrilegious, I just want to illustrate what some people might view as today’s version of a tax-collector:

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a refugee who was living on the streets. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of an immigrant.'” (Luke 19:1-7 sorta)

“After this, Jesus went out and saw a Trump supporter by the name of Levi… ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28 sorta)

“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many gay men and women were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with gay men and women, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with homosexuals?'” (Mark 2:15-16 sorta)

In Matthew Perryman Jones’ song Land of the Living”, the chorus starts, “You cannot love in moderation”.

To me, Jesus most certainly does not love in moderation. He makes no conditions in loving, even the most rejected groups of his day. I want to follow that example of love, which is truly unconditional—no matter how you pronounce it.

I’m Often Very Wrong

I’ve grown up in a fairly wealthy white home. And I attended a primarily white, wealthy private school. Now I’m at a majority white private university. I have mostly white friends. And the black friends I do have are pretty affluent. I was told to not see color. Everyone is equal. People are people.

All these things contributed to how I viewed race in America. These experiences, conversations, and attitudes, while not necessarily bad, were all the information I had to come to the brilliant conclusion that I lived in a post-racial country. We are all equal now. How nice.

But, like most things, I found myself to be very very wrong. Even though I definitely wish I wasn’t.

One really cool thing about college is that it’s basically one giant dogpile of different life experiences and stories and people. Through so many interactions I’ve been encouraged to seek experiences not just contained in my own comfortable, idealized niche.

I would not consider myself a racist. I think most of us save that term for KKK members or slave owners or perhaps a professor that still refers to Native Americans as redskins (true story. yikes).

But here’s the thing. In the past few years, I’ve sadly learned that the America I live in is systematically racist. It is a deeply rooted problem that our country was built on (literally America was founded by slaughtering Native Americans. And slavery). And being Caucasian means I have—knowingly or not—contributed to that racism. I have benefited from supremacist systems that are still at play in the US. And My upbringing did not equip me to see all the oppression still present in America.

True, we don’t have Jim Crow laws or lynching anymore and that is a beautiful thing. America has undoubtedly progressed. But we have still not come to the post-racial society many believe we are in.

To my black friends: Call me out. I am still growing and learning. I want to fight against my own privilege. I want to know when I’m doing things wrong.

To my white friends: I definitely know this was an extraordinarily brief intro to the situation and I didn’t do a good job of explaining its extremity. But it is so important to know what’s going on. To know why and how you are benefitting in this system of privilege. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable to hear about, but I can’t articulate how important it is to be informed. So here is some homework:

  • LISTEN TO THIS PODCAST! It is a brilliant introduction to the idea of the black experience and racism in America. Even if you do nothing else with anything I’ve said, listen to this podcast. It’s so important. If an hour and a half seems like a big investment of time, suck it up and listen anyways. (also you can get it through the podcast app on your phone if you wanna do some portable listening)
  • Watch The documentary 13th (on Netflix) that examines a smaller facet of this bigger problem. Another movie that looks incredibly important dealing with the history of racism in America is I Am Not Your Negro (it hasn’t been widely released yet but you bet your bottom dollar I’ll be there when it is).
  • Read books. Trouble I’ve Seen, Between The World and Me, Rescuing Jesus, just to name a few. And in the description of the podcast (link above) there is a list of so many more books to inform yourself.

Like I said, I am still growing. I am still learning. I am still correcting my wrong. I am no expert on this subject, nor can I ever fully understand it, but I’m trying. I don’t know what next steps look like, but know I am listening and open and I hope people want to walk alongside me.

***This post and the references focus in on black/white racism, but that doesn’t discount all other races oppressed under racialized systems. Because yes, now more than ever, those of Arab, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent are also under deep systematized oppression. Just know these groups (and many more I didn’t name) are not forgotten or ignored.***

Best of 2016

25. Coloring Bookartworks-000164666747-vw6nqr-t500x500

With his prayerful, thought-provoking lyrics, in this album, Chance the Rapper discusses so many important things that lots of rappers are afraid to tackle—faith and life and justice and heartache and so much more. He even covers Chris Tomlin, so that’s very neat. With this genre-defying album, Chance is definitely changing music and I am so happy to be a part of that change.

24. HARDLOVEneedtobreathe-hard-love-album-cover

This sixth album from NEEDTOBREATHE is just different enough from their previous five to keep it from being stale, but without completely changing who they are. Their artful and profound lyrics along with their bright melodies and of course Bear Rinehart’s voice just make me smile real big and want to dance around a lot. Six albums in and not once has NEEDTOBREATHE disappointed.

23. Chef’s Table

artworks-000125496240-3722zs-t500x500So you are probably like ‘isn’t this a cooking documentary? That’s lame’. Let me be the first to say IT IS NOT LAME IT’S BEAUTIFUL. It’s so much more than a cooking show. This gorgeously shot Netflix documentary series explores not only food, but different cultures, breathtaking locations, and the hilarious, extraordinary, bizzare, and touching lives and stories of amazing humans around the world. Being in the arts myself, I never would have considered cuisine an artistic endeavor. BUT this series provokes a deep appreciation for food as an art form — an appreciation I never would have had without this show.

22. Light Up The Skythe-dunwells-light-up-the-sky-album-cover

The Dunwells are an English indie/folk rock band that are absolutely a pleasure to listen to. Consistent and tight harmonies, passionate lyrics and vocals, and their wonderful blending of genres add to the fun of this album. Oh yeah and their accents are cool. It’s just some really good music that’s what it is.

 

21. Westworldwestworld

Yeah everyone is talking about it, and I have to agree that they are talking about it for a reason. It’s real good. This television show is completely engaging, brilliantly acted, and totally transported me to another world. It expertly combines the wild west and sci-fi genres to create a wonderfully original premise. And did I mention the acting is fantastic?

20. 10 Cloverfield Lane10clov

I really love this franchise. And J.J. Abrams. The whole movie was wonderful and surprising and tense and with Cloverfield being a favorite of mine, the ending was exactly what I was hoping for and absolutely so satisfying.

19. Hacksaw Ridgehacksa

An artful and pretty graphic look at war and faith and love. Based on true events, this movie tells a pretty important story. Oh and also Andrew Garfield is amazing.

18. Beyond Controlkings-kaleidoscope

King’s Kaleidoscope’s worshipful, passionate, and personal lyrics don’t just cover worship and wonder, they cover doubt, questions, and pain. It’s a beautiful album from beginning to end, not just throwing music at you, but telling a story the whole way through.

17. Stranger Thingsjmkrqa8y

Another thing everyone is talking about. Still. There’s really not much to say except watch it if you haven’t already.

16. Let A Lover Drown Youps-lyldy-hi-res-cover-anc-758x758

Penny and Sparrow makes some of my favorite type of music—acoustic, ethereal, peaceful, haunting harmonies, and beautiful lyrics. This third album of theirs has all that plus large string sections, tambourines, smooth falsettos, prominent guitar, and so much more. Please listen to this.

15. Sing Streetsingstr

If you love Once, I think you’ll love this movie. I did. It’s a coming of age story about a group of Dublin kids forming a band to impress a girl. The synopsis sounds a tad simple, but let me tell you the movie is not. It’s beautifully truthful and the music is wonderful and it’s just really fun. Oh also it’s on Netflix, so there’s another reason to go watch it.

14. Reply Alla2iqmm4i

So this podcast isn’t like a ‘2016’ thing, but it’s continued producing great content over the year that I have enjoyed so much. It’s an incredibly interesting podcast about the internet and stories that emerge from technology. I’ve laughed out loud, been astounded, moved to tears, and everything in between. The episodes range in topic, but they are always fascinating.

capamer13. Captain America: Civil War

This was just a really good superhero movie. Nothing subtle or intricately artful about it. And I loved every second of it. I love superhero movies, especially in the Marvel Universe, so this had basically all the people I love in one movie. It was a treat.

12. Wild Swanscreen-shot-2016-02-25-at-4-16-45-pm

Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance’s third album is one of those rare albums that gets better every time I listen to it. Yes, his beautiful growl of a voice hooks you, but its his heartfelt, personal, poetic, uplifting lyrics that keep you there.

 

tickled_ver2_xlg-500x50011. Tickled

One of the most bizarre and surreal things I’ve ever seen. What makes it crazier is that it’s true. This documentary follows journalist David Farrier and his inspection of a weird online discovery: ‘competitive endurance tickling’. What starts as a weird silly discovery morphs into an engrossing web of resistance, lies, and even more questions. If there is such thing as a thriller documentary, this is it. My jaw dropped so many times in this film—this is a story you really need to see to believe.

10. Trouble I’ve Seentrouble

While being one of the few books I read this year, it is one of my favorites I’ve read ever. The author Drew Hart has the tagline as “Changing the way the church views racism”. This heart wrenching, transformative book challenged me in ways I hadn’t before been challenged. At times it even made me a bit uncomfortable, but the good kind of uncomfortable that inspires change when it needs to happen. This book is incredibly important.

9. Moanamoana

I definitely teared up during this movie. And not even at the story, but just at the animation. It’s beautiful to watch, listen to, and be a part of. If you are looking for the best animated movie of the year, this one is it (Zootopia fans, I’m lookin at you).

 

 

8. Georgica Pondjohnnyswimalbumart_sq-e5d3be817a893ee76a14ae62cf65ee0f17267649-s300-c85

For those who don’t know husband and wife duo Johnnyswim, listen to this. Please. Dang do they both have some pipes, but their lyrics are also so intimate and beautiful. From singing about each other, to their journey of joys and hardships, to their child, these two will make you feel lots of emotions. Good ones though.

 

7. Hunt For The Wilderpeoplehunt-for-wilder-people-pstr06

After I saw this movie, I immediately wanted to watch it again. About a child and a grumpy old man who find themselves on the run in the wilderness of New Zealand. This movie filled me with joy from start to finish and I don’t think I stopped grinning the entire time. I hate to say it, but even though the child actors in Stranger Things absolutely rocked it, I think the boy in this movie takes the cake (@ me I dare you).

6. The Liturgists Podcastlit

This is a pretty intellectual, but still relatable podcast that takes a look at current issues and examines them through the three different lenses of science, faith, and art. This year they had truly fascinating discussions on suffering, the Enneagram, racism, storytelling, religious art, and so many more important conversations. I learn a lot but also I’m challenged to examine my thoughts on different topics.

5. 13th13

Another INCREDIBLY important work of art from this past year. It examines the prison system and its relation to racism in America. It was shocking, deeply saddening, and incredibly well researched and produced. It does quickly cover the history of America’s prison system and racism, but it mostly is about today and the corruption and bigotry that is hiding right under our noses. Do yourself a favor and watch this please. It’s on Netflix yay!

4. Arrival0xi2pvgz

It’s a captivating film that follows Amy Adams as she tries to communicate with strange aliens that have mysteriously showed up across the globe. I always introduce it as “an alien movie but it’s not even about aliens”. It’s about humans and our own relationships and stories. It’s also one of those movies where at the end you are like flipping out in your seat because you are trying to comprehend what just happened. It’s absolutely stunning to watch and experience and I can’t do it justice explaining it, you just need to go see it.

3. La La Landg8f1ucxy_400x400

I walked out of Arrival saying that it was going to be my favorite movie of the year. Until I saw this movie. Twice. And loved it even more the second time. This romanticized and transportive movie musical reminds me why I do what I do and inspired me to keep doing it. The story is magical and inspirational, the music is beautiful, the dancing is incredibly fun and makes me wish I could do it, and Emma Stone’s performance is maybe one of the best things I’ve seen done on screen. All artists need go watch this movie. But actually everyone go and watch it. Probably multiple times.

2. Black Mirror (season 3)black-mirror-season-3-poster

This has been probably my favorite series since Season One, and this year’s release of Season 3 did not disappoint. It actually exceeded expectations. This show, for those who haven’t seen it, takes an unsettling look at technology, usually set in the near or sometimes distant future. It requires the viewer to think about their own relationship with technology and its destructive and often disturbing side. The creativity of the episodes never ceases to astound me nor do the talent of the actors. Please watch if you have not. (DISCLAIMER: Each episode is stand alone with a whole new set of characters, so there is no need to watch in order. In fact, I would encourage watching out of order, because the first episode doesn’t set up the series quite well enough. Oh this is on Netflix too!)

1. Human ConditionJon-Bellion-The-Human-Condition-2016-2480x2480

I wrote a whole blog post about this album and how amazing it is. So go find that and read it. But yeah it’s number one. Tada.

 

Afflicted, But Not Crushed

When I think of Christian persecution I think of Nero. I think of the pre-saved Saul on the road to Damascus headed to slaughter all followers of Christ he could find. I think of 3rd and 4th century Rome before Constantine when Christians were banned, sacrificed, and tortured.

Why do I not think of today?

This past week, my heart has been aching for my brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, or really anywhere ISIS has seized control. The mission since their rise around 2013 has been to seek out and completely eliminate all other religious groups, especially Christians—and in a manner so brutal that they separated from Al-Qaeda because they were thought to be “too extreme”.

Just in 2016 alone, ISIS has caused and inspired the deaths of over 1,200 and injured over 2,700 and holds countless numbers of men, women, and children in hostage and slavery. The UN called The Islamic State’s reign of terror “the worst humanitarian crisis of our modern era.”

So what do we do? How do we react? ‘We’ can mean individual Christians, the church as a whole, Americans, really anyone whose heart breaks because of the violence and death happening in the world.

An Iraqi Christian soldier named Sadiq, upon detaining a few ISIS leaders outside of Fallujah, recognized one of them. He was the same ISIS officer that had brutally executed his friend for a propaganda video. “You killed my friend,” Sadiq went up to him, “But I’ve come here to feed you.”

“ISIS beheads and burns its enemies. That’s why we must feed and clothe ours.” This is how we react.

Samar’s doubts about her faith were reaffirmed when she heard the radical claims of ISIS. “I thank God for ISIS, because they opened my eyes to the truth.” In the midst of persecution and heartache, she now spreads peace and love.

“ISIS distorts faith to justify killing. That’s why we must seek the best of faith to preserve life and overcome corrupted religion.” This is how we react.

What about the 11-year old Raed who was taken away from his parents and forced into an ISIS brainwashing camp? Rescued since, he recounts “I started believing the things they taught me. Many of the kids in the camp have been indoctrinated.” What about the men who are forced into the choice of joining ISIS or having their family killed? What about the impoverished father who only fights to put food on the table for his children? Sadly, stories like these are not uncommon.

“ISIS treats its enemies as monsters or animals—which is precisely why we must not…No to collective punishment and the presumption of guilt.” This is how we react.

Clothing and feeding enemies, preserving a religion of love, and erring on the side of grace are great things to do, but they do not directly or immediately help with the horror happening on the other side of the world. So what else?

This cry for help from an Iraqi nun really jolted me,

“It’s shocking to me that [Americans] are so silent in the face of our genocide. Please help us. Raise your voice for us. Our children are dying. In America, you care for your pets so well, can you care for your Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering?”

We can always raise our voices for them. While a blog or Facebook post doesn’t directly save lives, it lets them know we are alongside them every step of the way and are always praying and thinking about them.

We can always listen—become informed of their stories. When I am going through something, I find the most comfort in someone who will truly listen and make me feel loved.

We can always mourn with them. Poet Amena Brown in her beautiful spoken word piece Advent for Weary Souls says, in reference to the injustice happening in the world, “we have lost our ability to mourn with those who mourn; see injustice with disgust.” Even more powerful than listening is mourning alongside our dying brothers and sisters.

We can always be angry. Like Jesus when merchants defiled the temple, we should be enraged at injustice. Yes, we show grace and compassion, but anger does not have to be an antithesis to love. Even the Bible encourages righteous anger as long as “in your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

We can always seek justice, even though I don’t really know what that physically looks like for me. What I do know is that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” towards those who “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

So this is me, raising my voice for my brothers and sisters in torture, slavery, imprisonment, suppression, hiding, mourning, sadness, sickness, despair, doubt, and confusion. Their compassion reminds me to love my enemies. Their questioning makes me long for truth. Their painful journeys urge me to listen to others.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

 

Some things I used:

‘Isis Opened My Eyes’: Samar’s Story

Loving Your Enemy, Even When It’s ISIS

What Can Be Done About ISIS?

Iraq Feature: The Yazidi Boys Forced Into ISIS Training Camps

List of terrorist incidents linked to ISIL

Advent For Weary Souls 

The Yazidi Women Who Escaped ISIS

The Bible.

Another Year, Another Nickel

Last year at Line Camp (a sort of initiation/orientation before you start Baylor) I was fortunate enough to get the great Nathan Elequin as my line camp leader. He has a seemingly never-ending passion for service, Baylor, and for others. This passion was my first introduction to the extraordinary place that Baylor is.

After Line Camp, Nathan emailed our small group (long live the Dough) with a set of prompts. Things like writing down or fears, excitement, questions we may have, etc.

In purging my inbox before the upcoming school year, I found this email. Here is what I was feeling just weeks before starting my first year of college:

“It kinda pains my heart to be leaving home. Yes, I am overjoyed about Baylor and I have been completely affirmed that it’s where I need to be. But it seems so scary to be leaving familiarity. And it seems cruel to have to leave behind the people who have shaped me into who I am today. I hope and pray (and half-know) that I will fall in love with Baylor and the people here as much as I have fallen in love with the friends back home. As Winnie the Pooh so expertly states, ‘how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard’.”

That’s right.

A Pooh quote.

After the first semester, he sent a follow up email asking some of the same questions. This time I said, “I feel so content. More than content, actually. At peace. First semester was one of the most amazing, life changing, and life shaping few months of my life.”

Oh how much can change in one semester.

As I get ready for Sophomore year to start, I just wanted to take the time to thank a few people who helped this reluctant, scared freshman make the transition to this eager, confident sophomore.

Thank you Nathan. Thank you for initiating my love for Baylor. At first I thought you were a bit crazy for loving this university so much, but now I completely get it.

Thank you Dough. Thank you for being my first friends. You all make me feel loved and supported and safe and I am so grateful for you.

Thank you BUT19. I also thought you guys were a bit crazy, but now I have no idea what I’d do without you. You are my home away from home. Y’all still crazy though.

Thank you professors. Thank you for seeing me as a person and not a seat number. Thank you for encouraging both learning and laughter in your classrooms. Thank you for the invites to your homes and wanting to make me the best I can be.

Thank you to all the student and grad directors I got to work with. Thank you for your hard work. You all are excellent models of leadership and I am so grateful to have learned from you.

Thank you Daniel Dardaman. Thank you for being the familiar face to go to when I needed comfort. Thank you for our weekly lunches and for your genuine care for me.

Thank you to friends and family back home. Thank you for loving me from afar. Thank you for your random texts, calls, emails, letters, packages, birthday videos, visits, and Facetimes. It is so comforting to know that I have you all as my home to come back to.

Thank you mom and dad. Thank you two for doing literally everything for me—comforting, paying for things, giving advice, listening, visiting—I could sit here all day and list them out. The bottom line is, thank you for your love. I don’t deserve it, but I get it. Thank you.

I look forward to what my second year holds. I know it will be difficult, but it gives me encouragement to know that I won’t be doing it alone.

The Land Where The Artists Play

Jon Bellion inspires me.

I’ve been a long-time fan of his, but his most recent album, The Human Condition, has blown me away.

Jon-Bellion-The-Human-Condition-2016-2480x2480

Yes, the artistry is brilliant. And if you watch any of his behind the scenes videos on YouTube, you’ll immediately understand how musically gifted he is. Each song on the album is unique, intricate, and beautifully layered with sound.

I could go on forever about the music side of things—how unbelievably talented Bellion is or how beautiful the album sounds—but the thing that inspires me the most about his new album is its story and lyrics.

The album’s title, The Human Condition, comes from its exploration through what makes us human, both the good and the bad.

In one of his songs, “Fashion”, Bellion grieves our materialistic need for more while we are never satisfied with what we have.

In “Overwhelming” he basks in the love he has for his girlfriend, overwhelmed by her beauty inside and out.

“Morning in America” talks about how everyone is “secretly out of control”, forced to suffocate in their problems because everyone tries to appear perfect on the outside.

In addition to these topics, he covers social media, family, suicide, fame, faith, death, life, addiction, beauty, girl troubles (he’s apparently had a lot of those), girl triumphs, and so much more.

Okay, this is where I just love it. I love this. The last song on the album is “Hand of God (Outro)”. Interposed in this epic conclusion are snippets of lyrics and musical themes from the other tracks on the album, causing the listener to think back on all the problems and joys and struggles and blessings inherent to the human condition that Bellion sings about throughout the album. In the chorus of this final song, first Bellion, then the Andrae Crouch choir (the same choir you hear on MJ’s “Man in the Mirror”, so that’s pretty sick) provides his solution to the human condition and expertly ties together the entire album:

“Tears at a funeral, tears at a funeral, I might break.

Angry at all the things, angry at all the things I can’t change.

When you’re lost in the universe, lost in the universe don’t lose faith.

My mother says, ‘Your whole life’s in the hand of God’”.

This is precisely what I want to do with my art.

Not necessarily compose, sing, mix, and produce an album that reaches number two on the charts, but I want my art to be a vessel for truth.

Yes, in this album there is cussing, crude lyrics, and questionable stories. Bad decisions are a part of everyone’s life—Bellion just chooses to acknowledge his own publicly. The key, however, is that he doesn’t focus on them. He instead focuses on love, hope, and redemption.

There are plenty of polite, non-controversial plays out there, and there is nothing wrong with those. In my art of theater, however, I seek to present truth through acknowledging adversity, not through ignoring it. I want to explore all the hardship and mess-ups of life, to challenge others, to honestly represent humanity. But through all of that, I most want the light of truth to shine through what I do.

This album gets me fired up—yes, because the songs are pretty LIT, but also because it mirrors what I want to do with my own art.

As I further my education (and later my career) in the industry of entertainment, these lyrics from Bellion’s “New York Soul pt. ii” perfectly echo my feelings:

“Dropped off in the land where the artists play

Where God’s way is the hardest way.

Told myself I’m keeping my faith,

if it costs me my reputation, then take it, I’ll give it all away.”

Don’t Be A Janice (apologies to all the Janices)

I want to say something real briefly about disagreement. Perhaps it won’t be brief. Feel free to scroll down to check the length of the post to determine if you’ll read or just skim.

I had a scintillating conversation the other day with a very strongly opinionated woman at work. It was truly an interesting conversation where we covered everything from celebrity crushes to God and the Bible. I enjoyed a lot of it, but one thing that kept nagging at me was her extraordinarily forceful opinions.

Two things I noticed during this conversation:

  1. Whenever I felt the same way about a topic as she, I felt a surge of success, like I had finally risen up to her standards. When she exclaimed her undying adoration for “Inside Out” I erupted in a yell, “I LOVE THAT MOVIE TOO” just out of the mere excitement of being able to relate to her. It made me feel intelligent agreeing with her.
  2. Whenever I disagreed with something, I fell silent. She stated her opinions with such vigor and confidence, I felt that disagreeing would set myself up as an idiotic youth with no common sense or intelligence whatsoever. For example, when she expressed her disgust for Leonardo DiCaprio, my humble respect for him felt tremendously inferior to her edict of disdain.

In stating one’s beliefs in any form, it is so easy to be this person—let’s call her Janice.

I do not want to be a Janice.

I want this blog to be more than me on a soapbox. I want it to stimulate thought, introspection, and discussion. The first step in a disagreement should be conversation rather than conversion. Of course because it is my blog, I will write what I believe is true. But I wish to do it in a way that opens up conversation, not in a way that minimizes or deprecates.

It is my goal that I do not morph into a Janice.

Radical

I have not been able to get the Orlando shooting out of my head all day. Especially when you keep reading things like, “the deadliest mass shooting in the United States” or “The gunshots went on for so long that the shooting ‘could have lasted a whole song’” or even “the nation’s worst terror attack since 911”. These statements are shocking and heartbreaking.

Scrolling through Twitter today, there are a lot of mixed responses that are also pretty heartbreaking to me:

Some vehemently protest inadequacies on gun control laws.

Some venomously argue over the primary reasoning behind the attack—whether it was ISIS related terrorism or a hate crime.

Some sarcastically make fun of the inadequate way tragedies like this are handled.

Some express their lost hope in humanity.

While there are many uplifting and caring responses, replies to like those above add hate and negativity to an already overwhelmingly hateful and negative tragedy.

Looking down at my program this morning in church my eyes fell upon these words introducing my pastor’s next sermon series, “When we hear the word ‘radical’ today, we often think of radical Islam and terrorism. Jesus’ love is radical—comprehensive, far-reaching, relentless, profound.”

That statement could not be more appropriate right now.

Obviously people are not going to agree on gun control laws or the primary reasoning behind Omar Mateen’s attack or how tragedies like this are best handled. The one thing that can unite us all, however, is love. Radical, Christ-like love.

Love does not mean agreement. But rather love is comprehensive. It includes ALL.

Muslims all over America are worried about how they will be viewed after the attack. Love them.

The LGBT community is hurting and are incredibly fearful after this hateful attack against them. Love them.

Some may not agree with how the people in government handle gun control or background checks or blood donation. Regardless of your stance, love them.

Some may disagree with other people’s opinions or ways of reacting to this and other similar crises. Regardless of how deeply you disagree, love them.

Love is also far-reaching. Although many of us can’t directly contact the people and families affected, knowing a country is behind them unified in love can be unthinkably supportive. Love them.

So I guess I am just encouraging everyone to refocus their energy. We could use it disagreeing or criticizing others and the government or arguing over politics. OR we could use that energy to love others in the midst of this horrific tragedy.

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” 2 Timothy 2:22-23