It is terrifically hard to wait at the foot of the mountain for the Word of the Lord. Will we wait in the dangerous silence for who He truly is, or slowly grow desperate enough to worship a golden calf?
When I first heard Andrew Peterson’s song “The Silence of God,” I was stunned. It was so bare. I wondered if it was even heretical…
I’ve since read thoughts by theologians about the growth value of long spans in which God leaves us in silence, but if I remember correctly, the first time I ever encountered someone wrestling with the concept wasn’t in a book, but in Andrew’s song.
He was the first person I heard admit, “I can’t hear God’s voice right now, and that’s terrible and it’s scary.”
It’s enough to drive a man crazy
It’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder
If he’s been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort
From Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heavens’ only answer
Is the silence of God
And it’ll shake a man’s timbers
When he loses his heart
When he has to remember
What broke him apart
And this yoke may be easy
But this burden is not
And the crying fields are frozen
By the silence of God
If a man has got to listen
To the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes
Of all the happiness they’ve got
When they tell you all their troubles
Have been nailed up to that cross
What about the times when even
Followers get lost
‘Cause we all get lost sometimes
If you know this song, you know these last stanzas don’t finish it off. But even hearing this much, I felt a strange sort of relief wash over me. Until he verbalized it, I hadn’t realized that all those years of religious-speak, all those appeals for God to “show up” had made me feel pressure to find continual signs of His engagement.
I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear someone I trusted say, “When God is silent–and that’s often enough for me to write a song about it–I feel disappointed and lost.”
Martin Scorsese’s, Silence
Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence, was another one of those moments for me. Among other things, this is a film about faith attempting to survive long expanses of Divine quiet. The film reveals how we expect God to show up, how He does show up instead, and the human weaknesses that appear in the massive gaps between those two realities.
Unlike Christian movies in which God provides some sort of “I have arrived” moment– God does not show up here with a new pickup truck, a much-desired pregnancy, or a restored marriage. The God of this film lets His children wrestle with years of suffering in relative silence. Because of this, we watch people who are trying to obey Him strain and grieve–desperate for confirmation during impossible times.
There are so many angles to this film, but I’m just going to focus on the one most personal to me in this post: the traumatic impact of an older follower of Christ who abandons his pure faith.
The film opens describing the work of Christovao Ferreira, a legendary Jesuit priest who has spent 15 years attempting to evangelize Japan. Ferreira was iconic to believers at the time. Your denomination’s equivalent might be N.T. Wright, Billy Graham, John Piper, or Francis Chan—but whoever that hero is, Ferreira was this sort of leader. He was so solid, so certain, so strong that every young priest knew that he would not sell out for any reason.
When news hits Portugal that Ferreira has apostasized, Rodrigues and a fellow priest believe the news is a dirty rumor. So, the two leave home to scour Japan in an attempt to dispel the disheartening story. It is a dangerous mission, likely to lead to death, but the two young men are idealistic and devoted, and they know how important it is to to the global church reclaim Ferreira’s reputation.
After arriving in Japan, the two young priests grieve to see believers tortured and slaughtered. As they experience emotional and spiritual torment, they stumble; they fail. But over and again, they rise up again in their faith to try to follow God once more.
When Rodrigues is captured by Japanese officials, his opponents try to break his faith repeatedly. The young priests heart crumbles, and he wavers on insanity, but he continues to hold fast. At last, the Japanese leaders bring his suffering to a climax — a meeting with Ferreira.
In this meeting, Rodrigues finds that Ferreira has truly apostasized. His hero is now a Buddhist, writing a book about the great lie of Christianity. His former hero begins to discourage Rodrigues from his own belief, arguing against the gospel and its ability to saturate Japan.
Ferreira urges Rodrigues to give up his faith, to compromise, to conform. Rodrigues is devastated, but he holds fast.
The Japanese could kill Rodrigues, but for strategic purposes, they want him to abandon his faith instead. So, they place Rodrigues in a holding cell where he can hear the gasps and wails of other believers being tortured. He is told that these Christians will be persecuted until Rodrigues denies his faith.
As he praying for strength and wisdom, he finds words of praise carved into his cell wall. Laudate Eum (Praise Him). He runs his fingers into the grooves and appeals desperately to the Lord for courage and fortitude. At this moment, Ferreira enters the cell and explains to Rodrigues that those praises were carved by himself before his denial of the faith.
It is a hellish scene of betrayal and temptation. Ferreira urges Rodrigues to see how selfish it is to maintain an idealistic belief that causes others to suffer. He urges Rodrigues to see that apostasy is altruistic. He builds a case for joining with the leaders of the world out of love of the masses.
Of all the torment Rodrigues endures, this betrayal of a former hero is the worst. This man who had once led him in steadfast belief is now leading him to abandon it. It is more than Rodrigues can bear.
Abandoned by Our Heroes
As I sat in the theater watching all of this, I was blown away. The timing was more than a little ironic.
Just a few moments before watching this film, I had been talking with a friend about how distraught we have felt this past year. So many people my age feel abandoned by our own older faith heroes. In dire national circumstances, we have watched several of our evangelical heroes abandon the ideals they have taught us–urging us to make alliances with forces hostile to our faith.
They have told us that this is loving. They have told us to do this for the good of the people.
Values they once encouraged us to embrace in the face of all opposition have now been discarded for what they now claim to be a greater cause. They mock us for being too committed to impractical standards. They tell us to wake up, to open our eyes, to give up our old, innocent way of looking at the world.
But before our very eyes, some of these men seem to have changed into different sorts of beings. We recognize their faces, but we no longer recognize their hearts. Their language is different, soured, horrifying. They twist the stories of our Scripture to suit their new causes.
Watching this has taken our knees out from under us.
I’m not going to get more specific than that, nor am I going to dig into what happens in the end of the film here. But I will say that this movie (among other things) helped me to understand why the last few months have broken my heart so deeply. Watching my heroes conform to the ideals of the world has been too much for my heart to bear.
These men ask us to “leave well enough alone” and move on. But we aren’t sulking. We aren’t pouting. We feel like we have watched people we trusted and imitated trample on the gospel. And we feel like they have called out and asked us to do the same.
So many people claim to know exactly what God is doing these days, but I will tell you the truth. I don’t. My perceptions might be all wrong…
Time will tell, I suppose.
I do know that I’m profoundly disappointed in some of my old heroes. I know that I no longer recognize our strange, new evangelical America. And even though scores of people around me believe that I am too sensitive, I think it is right to be disappointed. Watching your heroes distort truth is no small thing. God holds leaders to a higher standard because heroes falling creates aftershocks that can trickle through an entire generation of young believers.
Waiting on a Silent God
A huge lightning bolt of God’s appearance didn’t show up at the end of this film, but I left the theater feeling like I felt when I first heard Andrew Peterson’s lyric. I walked away affirmed that it was not wrong to be sincere, not wrong to be sad, and that it was even okay to sit alone in the quiet and wait for an honest manifestation of God’s presence instead of letting immediate needs force me to rush in to claim what He isn’t and what He hasn’t done.
God’s name is holy, even when He seems silent. In those expanses, I do not want to use it in vain. It is terrifically hard to wait at the foot of the mountain for the Word of the Lord, but I would rather wait in the dangerous quiet for what He truly is than grow desperate enough to worship a golden calf.
There’s a statue of Jesus
On a monestary knoll
In the hills of Kentucky
All quiet and cold
And He’s kneeling in the garden
Silent as a stone
And all His friends are sleeping
And He’s weeping all alone
And the man of all sorrows
He never forgot
What sorrow is carried
By the hearts that He bought
So when the questions dissolve
Into the silence of God
The aching may remain
But the the breaking does not
The aching may remain
But the the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo
Of the silence of God
The relationship between music and science is more complicated (and beautiful) than you ever imagined
I love the interplay between art and science, because it often demonstrates my conviction that we have more than one set of “senses” by which we interpret reality. While our five physical senses–touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell–are critical for apprehending the physical universe, it is our “spiritual senses”–what the Hebrew and Christian scriptures refer to as the “eyes of the heart”–that enable us to comprehend the spiritual universe. Music is but one place where the interaction between the two is so evident… and so beautiful. We’ve reposted Pam Belluck’s excellent introduction to Levitin’s work and Cory Turner’s report on a practical application of it for those less interested in the technical jargon. -GDS
To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons
The other day, Paul Simon was rehearsing a favorite song: his own “Darling Lorraine,” about a love that starts hot but turns very cold. He found himself thinking about a three-note rhythmic pattern near the end, where Lorraine (spoiler alert) gets sick and dies.
“The song has that triplet going on underneath that pushes it along, and at a certain point I wanted it to stop because the story suddenly turns very serious,” Mr. Simon said in an interview. “The stopping of sounds and rhythms,” he added, “it’s really important, because, you know, how can I miss you unless you’re gone? If you just keep the thing going like a loop, eventually it loses its power.”
An insight like this may seem purely subjective, far removed from anything a scientist could measure. But now some scientists are aiming to do just that, trying to understand and quantify what makes music expressive — what specific aspects make one version of, say, a Beethoven sonata convey more emotion than another.
The results are contributing to a greater understanding of how the brain works and of the importance of music in human development, communication and cognition, and even as a potential therapeutic tool.
Research is showing, for example, that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.
And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns…
Musical ability is popularly regarded to be innate: one either is or is not born with musical talent. Increasingly, neuroscientists are collaborating with geneticists to understand the links between genes, brain development, cognition, and behavior (Ebstein et al., 2010; Posner et al., 2011). Music can be seen as a model system for understanding what genes can accomplish and how they relate to experience. On the practical side, identifying genetic components that underlie musical ability can also help us to predict who will succeed or, more interestingly, what types of instruction will be most successful for individuals according to their geneticcognitive profiles. In all domains, successful genotyping requires an accurately described phenotype. Unfortunately, the latter has not yet been accomplished for music, creating a significant hurdle to further progress. Part of the difficulty in describing the musical phenotype is its heterogeneity, the wide variety of ways in which musicality presents itself (Sloboda, 2008). My goal in this article is to review those factors that might be associated with the phenotype and to discuss definitions, measurement, and accuracy, three common obstacles in understanding the genetics of complex behavioral phenomena (Ebstein et al., 2010), with the hope that this may stimulate discussion and future work on the topic.
The Functional Neuroanatomy of Music
We now know that music activates regions throughout the brain, not just a single ‘‘music center.’’ As with vision, music is processed component by component, with specific neural circuits handling pitch, duration, loudness, and timbre. Higher brain centers bring this information together, binding it into representations of contour, melody, rhythm, tempo, meter, and, ultimately, phrases and whole compositions. The idea that music processing can be broken down into component operations was first proposed as a conceptual tool by cognitive theorists and has been confirmed by neuroimaging studies (Levitin and Tirovolas, 2009). The early distinction that music processing is right hemisphere lateralized and that language is left hemisphere lateralized has been modified by a more nuanced understanding. Pitch is represented by tonotopic maps, virtual piano keyboards stretched across the cortex that represent pitches in a low-to-high spatial arrangement. The sounds of different musical instruments (timbres) are processed in well-defined regions of posterior Heschl’s gyrus and superior temporal sulcus (extending into the circular insular sulcus). Tempo and rhythm are believed to invoke hierarchical oscillators in the cerebellum and basal ganglia. Loudness is processed in a network of neural circuits beginning at the brain stem and inferior colliculus and extending to the temporal lobes. The localization of sounds and the perception of distance cues are handled by a network that attends to (among other cues) differences in interaural time of arrival, changes in frequency spectrum, and changes in the temporal spectrum, such as are caused by reverberation. One can attain worldclass expertise in one of these component operations without necessarily attaining world-class expertise in others
Musical training doesn’t just improve your ear for music — it also helps your ear for speech. That’s the takeaway from an unusual new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn’t just get better at playing the trombone or violin; they found that playing music also helped kids’ brains process language.
And here’s something else unusual about the study: where it took place. It wasn’t a laboratory, but in the offices of Harmony Project in Los Angeles. It’s a nonprofit after-school program that teaches music to children in low-income communities.
Two nights a week, neuroscience and musical learning meet at Harmony’s Hollywood headquarters, where some two-dozen children gather to learn how to play flutes, oboes, trombones and trumpets. The program also includes on-site instruction at many public schools across Los Angeles County.
Harmony Project is the brainchild of Margaret Martin, whose life path includes parenting two kids while homeless before earning a doctorate in public health. A few years ago, she noticed something remarkable about the kids who had gone through her program.
“Since 2008, 93 percent of our high school seniors have graduated in four years and have gone on to colleges like Dartmouth, Tulane, NYU,” Martin says, “despite dropout rates of 50 percent or more in the neighborhoods where they live and where we intentionally site our programs.”
We’re proud of the band, the movie, and thrilled that a global audience will see the story of a church worship band that’s sold out venues like The Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks,Madison Square Garden, and other world-class venues. The film gets to the heart of what motivates them to do it and the challenges they face in the process.
An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has actually produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world. In the process, has been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California – he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture. Read Phil’s Full Bio
I still haven’t recovered from one scene in Interstellar. (Spoiler alert). When space pilot Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, returns to his ship after their first mission, he discovers that just a few hours on that planet actually equalled 27 years on earth. So while it was the same day to him, his children at home had lived 27 years.
And so he sat down to watch 27 years of video messages from his kids: first talking about school homework…then sharing a college story…then introducing his newborn grandchild…and on and on….until finally, his middle-aged son whispers:
“Dad, I know you probably aren’t getting these messages. We haven’t heard for you in so long. So this is my last message…”
It was all I could do in that packed movie theater to not lay down on the floor and cry.
Because Cooper missed his kids’ childhoods. While he was off trying to save the world, his kids had to grow up without a father. It didn’t matter that he loved them…because he wasn’t there to show them. And by the time he realized his colossal mistake, it was literally too late.
Many of our fathers did this. And my friends and I are in the season of deciding whether or not we’re going to do the same. None of us would ever consciously decide to miss our kid’s childhood, of course. Never! But we are setting the patterns in our 30s that will make the choice for us.
This is especially dangerous for those of us in professional ministry. As soon as we add “God called me to this work”, we can justify and spiritualize our workaholism. At least Silicon Valley CEOs can be honest and say they are driven by ambition, success, and power. We church workers, often driven by the exact same stuff, try to spin it as “humbly paying the price for The Lord’s work.” No wonder so many pastor’s kids hate the church. No wonder so many pastor’s wives hate the church.
Friends, we don’t have to do it this way. There is a better way. Our kids don’t need us to save the world; they need us to see their world, and join them in it. They need us to be there. Not just physically there, exhausted after work, but emotionally present. WITH them. Seeing them…hearing them…delighting in them.
This will cost us something. We may miss out on certain work successes and perks. We may not reach the peaks of our professional ambitions. But honestly, are those peaks worth our kid’s childhoods?
There is another way. And our children desperately need us to find it. There is still time.
Princeton Theological Seminary’s“For Such a Time as This Media Panel” (2/19/2013) explores how the church and marketplace ministers can “step up to bat” with relevance and engagement.
God’s call to Esther was one of urgency. In order to save a generation from extermination, God strategically positioned Esther in a key leadership position. Can the Church reposition its voices to effectively address the important questions of morality and Christian values in this generation?
by Princeton Association of Black Seminarians
DeVon Franklin – DeVon didn’t have the constant positive presence of his father growing up in California. His parents were married young and, after quickly climbing the corporate ladder, the social aspects of the job started taking their toll on his father, Donald.
Donald’s drinking got out of control, he lost his job and left the family. His mom, Paula, got a job working at a day care and started going to school to earn her degree. Donald floated in and out of his children’s lives and soon began to get his life on track. Slowly Paula allowed Donald to visit the family more often.
One night in 1988, Paula received a phone call: Donald had a heart attack and was in the hospital. The next day, Donald suffered another massive heart attack and passed
away. DeVon, 9, struggled with this. How could God take my father away from me just as he was getting his life together?” “To see your father alive one day, and the next day he’s laid out in the morgue, and you don’t get to say goodbye, no words can describe this type of hurt,” says DeVon. “It was a difficult experience that made me extremely self-reliant.” Even today, DeVon struggles with the fallout of his fatherlessness.
The entertainment field became an outlet for DeVon. He became obsessed with learning everything he could about how the entertainment industry worked, particularly movies. In 1996, DeVon became an intern at Handprint Entertainment. In 1998, he joined Overbrook Entertainment where he learned more about the business and got to know Will Smith and James Lassiter, founders of the company.
In 2000, DeVon became James’ second assistant where he attended meetings, read scripts and earned good money. DeVon was hoping to make the jump from assistant to executive but by fall 2001, he was frustrated and depressed. In 2002, DeVon dropped an ultimatum on God. He got up from his cubicle and went to the bathroom and prayed. Later that day, James called DeVon into his office. He told DeVon that Will and he knew DeVon had hit a wall career-wise. James offered to help him find a new job with no time limits so DeVon could still work at Overbrook.
After several months of searching, DeVon gave 2 weeks notice on faith. He prayed and he fasted. “I had faith and believed God was in control,” says DeVon. “…but sometimes the only way to reach a goal is to surrender to God.” On his first day of unemployment, DeVon got a job offer from Edmonds Entertainment to become a junior executive in Development. He was faithful in his job, but one morning out of the blue in 2003, DeVon got a call for a job offer as a studio executive at MGM. Six months into the new job, word got around that MGM was trying to sell the company. Soon, Sony Corporation closed the deal and asked DeVon to say with them.
For DeVon, the temptations are never what people traditionally think. “When you’re in a high stakes/high pressure business, your ambition gets the best of you,” says DeVon. “So I stayed prayed up and kept people around me to focus.” On production sets, DeVon, a 7th Day Adventist, is adamant about unplugging his life at sunset every Friday until Saturday at sunset to study his Bible, attend church, etc. “I have put my faith front and center for everyone to see…..not only has relying on my faith not harmed my career prospects, it has actually enhanced them,” says DeVon. His production, Jumping the Broom is a comedy about a wedding ceremony that forces two families to get along. The movie, distributed by Sony, was produced by T.D. Jakes, drew in $15.3 million, and landed as the weekend’s number 3 movie and its number 1 comedy.
Kobe Brown – Raised in East Orange, NJ, and educated at Morehouse College, Kobie Brown is a respected music industry executive. Beginning his career working for recording artist and actress Queen Latifah, Brown has worked with artists including Naughty By Nature, Mary J. Blige, Usher, The Fugees and Lauryn Hill among others.
He currently serves as Senior Director of Music Licensing at a Sony Music. His passion for creativity; commitment to activism; and awareness of the pervasiveness and pain resulting from father absence inspired Brown to create From Fatherless to Fatherhood – a documentary film and social campaign that explores father absence in the Black community while showcasing men who, regardless of socioeconomic status, are fostering quality relationships with their children, families, and therefore, their community. Brown holds a BA in English from Morehouse College and a MFA from Rutgers University.
Robyn Greene Arrington – Robyn has consistently brought quality images to the screen. She is a veteran creative executive with over 20 years of varied experience in the entertainment industry, including television programming, independent film production and creative services.
The first film she produced was “Hav Plenty,” the critically acclaimed Miramax release,
executive produced by Grammy award-winning Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, which screened at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.
In her current role as senior director of programming & production at TV One, Robyn has overseen numerous productions including but not limited to: NAACP nominated “Save My Son” and “Love Addition” (intervention series); “TV One Night Only: Live from the Essence Music
Festival” (music special); “Celebrity Crime Files” and “Life After” (biography documentary series); 2008 Presidential Election and 2009 Presidential Inauguration coverage (live specials); “I Married A Baller” (the network’s first reality series); the Telly award- winning “Murder in Black & White” (a Civil Rights cold case documentary mini-series); “Breast Cancer Revealed: An African- American Perspective,” “The Color Purple: The Color of Success,” “Lessons from Little Rock: A National Report Card” and “Real Estate Realities: When the Boom Goes Bust” (documentary specials). And prior to taking the preceding position, she wrote, produced and directed two series for TV One, “Full Plate” (lifestyle series) and “Sharp Talk with Al Sharpton” (talk-show).
During the summer of 2002, she taught a digital video and computer editing workshop, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, at her alma mater, The Harlem School of the Arts.
For over a decade, Robyn had been a frequent contributor to HBO. She worked on the launch of one of the network’s new channels, HBO Zone and continued to play an active role in its evolution. In 2001, she produced and edited both Zone’s “The Making of Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry,” hosted by “OZ” cast member, muMs and segments of “Stretch,” the celebrity talk show hosted by New York’s Hot 97.1 D.J., Angie Martinez.
Ms. Greene Arrington co-produced a HBO presentation video for the NAACP that netted a CTAM (Cable TV Advertising & Marketing) Mark Award in 1996, and was a winner at The New York Festivals, the following year.
Turning the channel, in 2000, she produced installments of both the image campaign for Lifetime Television’s highest rated (at that time) Lifetime Movie Network Preview Weekend and the network’s election issues campaign, “Every Woman Counts.”
The rest of her resume is that of a seasoned television/film production veteran: Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” CNN/HBO Family’s “What Matters,” the critically-acclaimed children’s newsmagazine show, A & E’s “Biography,” New York’s Metro Channels’ “Full Frontal Fashion Spring 2001” and BET.
Robyn Greene Arrington has a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism from New York University and a Master of Science in Television/Radio/Film production from Syracuse University.
Winsome Sinclair – One of the most sought after Casting Directors on the East Coast, Winsome Sinclair has collaborated with some of the most influential filmmakers in the world.
She has worked on a myriad of noteworthy films with directors such as Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, John Singleton, Forrest Whitaker, Ernest Dickerson, Christopher Reeve, and Hype Williams. Along with these prominent directors, Winsome has become a part of cinematic history, for titles such as Amistad, Malcolm X, Waiting to Exhale, Inside Man, & Miracle at St. Anna, & the Academy Award winning film PRECIOUS which are destined to become classics.
Winsome began her career in casting soon after graduating from Florida A&M University, with a degree in Theatre. Upon her return to New York, she wrote to Spike Lee, asking him for the opportunity to learn. He responded by offering her an internship on the set of Mo’ Better Blues ( 22 years ago this year) in the extras casting department. From those humble beginnings, Winsome went on to cast principals and extras on some of the most popular urban dramas of our day, such as Juice, Higher Learning, Best Man,Belly, Brown Sugar, 30 Years to Life as well on such hits as Shaft, 25th Hour & My Brother (nominated for 2008 NAACP Image Award).
She has most recently worked TYLER PERRY on FOR COLORED GIRLS as well as with JOHN SINGLETON on the suspense thriller ABDUCTION (starring Taylor Lautner of the TWILIGHT series) and with GEOFFEREY FLETCHER on his directorial debut VIOLET & DAISY. Geoffrey is the first AFRICAN AMERICAN to win the ACADEMY AWARD for best writer 2009. At the close of 2010 she collaborated with the TYLER PERRY team on their latest project WE THE PEEPLES. In addition in 2011 WSA also contributed their casting services to the SUNDANCE award winning film PARIAH, the directorial debut for NYU student Dee Reese. PARIAH has also been nominated for 5 NAACP Awards in 2012.
In addition to running her own full service casting company for over 20 years in 2009 Winsome joined forces with her peers and formed LEGACY MEDIA GROUP. A full service production company in BROOKLYN, NY (www.legacymediagroup.org). As well as having a slate Television & film projects in production scheduled fro release in 2011 & 2012, Winsome along with her partners at LEGACY MEDIA GROUP have collaborated with MEDGAR EVERS COLLEGE to launch a PA training certificate program that trains its students to work in entry level positions in the Film & TV industry.
Also in the works is the first WSA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL slated to launch in July 2013. Winsome Sinclair founder of WSA demonstrates extraordinary casting director talent casting across nations as well as color lines. Recognized by her peers as a phenomenon and the #1 casting director for urban projects on the east coast, in 1999 Winsome was honored as one of 25 Influential Black Women in Business in the U.S and will be featured in the 2009 Edition of Who’s Who in Black NYC. In 2011 Ms Sinclair was featured in NV Magazines 2011 Movers& Shakers Issue
**2012 Ms Sinclair has 2 films premiering at the SUNDANCE Film festival.. SPIKE LEE’s “RED HOOK SUMMER” and the PBS Docudrama “SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME” directed by Sam Pollard.. WSA provided both PRINCIPAL & Extras Casting on both projects. **2013 Winsome Sinclair & Legacy Media Group will be partnering with Memory Layne Productions to Produce the BRITISH Action Thriller “FLOWERS DON’T GROW IN ENGLAND.”
Jeremy Bardwell – Fire and Fragrance Harrisburg Discipleship Training School is designed to raise up students and release them into the nations of the earth to partner with and plant communities prioritizing worship and intercession and allowing it to flow into outreach fueled by the power of God. Jeremy desires to see a whole generation raised up across the earth who would walk in an unapologetic Fire for the Presence of God, worship, and intercession that automatically flows into becoming the very Fragrance of Christ to the lost.
Jeremy believes that the presence of God is the source of all strategy and the power that releases effective outreach. God is searching for a generation that would give themselves whole heartedly to the place of intimate communion, zealous passion, and faith filled evangelism.
Imagine communities raised up all over the world; closed countries, slums, refugee camps, orphanages, urban centers, and remote villages; all walking in a dynamic marriage of prayer and missions, the monastic and the missional, intimacy and advocacy. Such communities and values have shaped history, and we are in a day where this model of transformation is being released once again! This is Jeremy’s heart desire.
Jeremy Bardwell also works as an artist and an entrepreneur who has a passion for design. He has found graphic design as a profession where he can combine his skill as an artist and communicator with his mind for business and leadership. Jeremy Bardwell has been mentored in design by a senior designer named John Burns. John burns designed many logos that you see everyday, Intel, Lays, Ruffles, Baby Ruth, Sarah Lee, Downey, and many more. Jeremy carries on core values for creativity simplicity and excellence from his mentorship.
Solomon Starr – Solomon Starr is a gifted speaker, lyricist/poet, scholar and music producer. Born and Raised in New York City, Solomon began performing at age nine during the height of a Crack Epidemic. Threatened by robberies, drug sales and murder he transformed his confusion and anxiety into street poetry.
Healing words eased the agony of adolescence, yet much of the relief he received came from the spiritual guidance and justice leadership training he gained through active involvement in a local church. His engagement with spirituality and justice increased his desire to positively impact his peers.
However, Solomon confronted the challenge of promoting spiritual growth and social revolution to teens who suffered silently in crime and poverty. Motivated by this bitter reality, Solomon channeled his spiritual knowledge into grassroots organizing. While attending Central College, in Pella, Iowa Solomon formed the “Last Liberation Movement”. As founder and lead organizer Solomon mobilized students on campus to create institutional change by advocating for racial justice in curriculum, personnel and public representation.
In 2004, Solomon founded Sanctify Entertainment. Since then he has been on a mission to organize and empower groups across the country to create social change combining performing arts and social action. Solomon also serves as a member of StoryTellas, a gospel music group that provides support to disempowered youth in prisons, churches and devastated communities throughout the tri-state area.
In addition, Solomon has given speeches and performed at such events as the acclaimed Rap Fest, The Holy-Hip Hop Awards, Flavor Fest and The Zulu Nation 30th Anniversary sharing stages with such artists as the Cross Movement, The Truth, K-Drama, Lecrae, Percy P and many others.Solomon is also a resource for filmmakers. He composed original music for “Artistic Closure” an independent film featured in the 2008 New York Film Festival.
As a scholar, Solomon Starr received a Masters in Divinity from New Brunswick Theological Seminary; he graduated with honors and is now currently pursuing a Doctorate in Urban Ministry at New Brunswick Seminary. Although he has shared stages with influential Hip-Hop acts such as The Roots, Kurtis Blow, Dead Prez, and Wu-Tang Clan, Solomon Starr finds no greater satisfaction than helping to transform people through the powerful gifts of word and music.
Nicole Heyward – Nicole is CEO of Creative Classic Agency, a boutique management, marketing and PR firm specializing in brand- building for the urban and faith- based market. Nicole has 11 years Music Industry experience and worked 4 1⁄2 years at Music World Entertainment, the multi-million dollar company owned and operated by music mogul Mathew Knowles.
Creative Classic Agency campaigns have garnered multiple Dove Award wins and award nominations including Grammy, Stellar and BET Awards. Creative Classic Agency past and present clients include Al Mac Will and Urban Country Gospel, LaTonya Blige, Mary Mary, Michelle Williams (of Destiny’s Child), BowTie World Music, Brandon Avery Smith, Brian Courtney Wilson, Darwin Hobbs, DJ Static, Dr. Dorinda Clark-Cole Singers & Musicians Conference Min. Durward Davis (Top 3 BET Sunday Best finalist), Fighting Temptations (Movie soundtrack), Gerald Scott & Co, G.I., Wess Morgan, Golden Legacy Sports, Halo Tu Beauty, Higher Ground Record Pool DJ Conference, James Fortune & FIYA, Joimel, Kierre Bjorn, Min. Ron Summers, New Orleans Hornets, New York Knicks, Pastor Gregg Patrick, Pastor Rudy Rasmus (Music project & book: TOUCH), Ramiyah, Roll Bounce (Movie soundtrack), Shawn McLemore, Shawni Richardson, Soulfruit, Spirit Rising Music (now Music World Gospel), Stan Jones & STANtastic Ent., Syreeta Thompson and Mission Music, Ted & Sheri, Thomasina “GooGoo” Atkins, Trin-i-tee 5:7, and Yunek.
Gary David Stratton, PhD – Gary combines a deep passion for transforming culture through higher education and the arts with a lifelong commitment to spiritual formation. His commitment to integrate the life of the mind, the life of the Spirit, and the life of the arts has propelled him to an unusual career of developing cultural leaders from Hollywood to the Ivy League.
In Higher Education, Gary is Lead Teacher for Worldview Formation at Bethel University, and has served as a VP, Dean, and professor at 8 universities in the U.S. and China. Gary holds a PhD in Education with a dissertation on the impact of Jonathan Edwards’ theology in
American Higher Education. He is Senior Fellow for ABHE as well as a featured campus speaker for Compassion International. Recent/ upcoming engagements include: Columbia University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Regent University, Messiah, Geneva, and Bryan Colleges.
In Hollywood, Gary is a spiritual formation mentor, a theology/ worldview story consultant, and served as executive director of Act One, a nonprofit organization training Christians for careers in mainstream media. Act One graduates include creative staff and producers for films such as “The Blind Side,” and 2012 Academy Award-winner “The Artist,” the Emmy Award-winning producer of “Intervention” (A&E), and writers for shows such as “Justified” (FX), “Revolution” (NBC), and “Hawaii Five-O” (CBS).
Gary has helped engineer a number of innovative spiritual formation based training programs, including the Institute for Campus Revival and Awakening at Yale University, Conquest National Youth Missions Conference at Azusa Pacific University, the Center for Christian Formation at Crown College, the Winter Writing Seminar and Advanced Writing Workshops for Act One Hollywood, and TwoHandedWarriors.com: an online community of filmmakers, educators, ministry leaders, and philanthropists seeking to reimagine faith and culture one story at a time.
December 10, 2012 marked the 45th anniversary of the death of one of pop music’s greatest singers, Otis Redding.
I came of age at a time and in a place where the chief musical influences were American, not British. I have said before that my musical ‘church’ was populated by largely black voices–there was just something in it, something I couldn’t really put my finger on, that just reached an elusive part of me, something that lurked deep within me, but was also close enough to the surface of my life to make me a reflective and somewhat melancholy human being–I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. Soul music spoke to the part of me that was unaddressed by my life–upbringing, enviroment, education, religion–none of it touched this part of. I attended to it by two things–art and music. Art was my own exercise and music was the world’s gift to me (it took me a number of years to overcome the challenges of left-handedness in a right-hand world when it came to playing music, and find my way to my own music).
I’ve always loved music–and from an early age became a disciple, in fact before anything else in life I am a music disciple. I have broad musical tastes and a taste for what’s next, I am not someone for whom the music of their youth is the only music that moves them, this year’s sounds are just as exciting, but that said, soul music in particular, which was formative in my musical life, remains central and key.
I don’t really believe in the existence of the soul–I am in similar territory to Nancey Murphy in her book, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? who puts it this way, “we are our bodies — there is no additional metaphysical element such as a mind or soul or spirit.” That’s probably not the whole story and she goes on to say that we are “complex physical organisms, imbued with the legacy of thousands of years of culture, and, most importantly, blown by the Breath of God’s Spirit; we are Spirited bodies.” I might take a little different path to her with regard to the second quote, but essentially, I think we are physical and then…metaphysics doesn’t move me, and never has (it just took me a long time to work out that I didn’t need it in order to thnk about religion). Although I don’t really believe in the soul, I belive in the idea of soul–the depth of us, the portion of our physicality that is drawn beneath the surface of existence, to question, to seek for the elusive meaning and meaningful existence of a life, and soul music is a pathway toward that for me. It has little to do with the content of most soul music, which is often about love or failed love, and the subsequent isolation and pain, it is the emotional arc that soul music creates which makes room for me to address that part of me. And that was mostly affirmed as an option for me when I first heard Otis Redding sing–Try A Little Tenderness and These Arms of mine undo me, even to this day. Otis Redding, Nina Simone and Donny Hathaway–whose Extensions of a Man is for me one of the greatest soul albums of all time–the title itself tells you what the music does for me–its very Mcluhan!!:) are part of the architecture of my self-understanding and the way I understand what it might mean to be human.
The other side of soul music is the religious world from which much of it emerged, and there is a legacy of gospel influence in soul–so i heard a lot of it growing up, a counter-vision to the church of my childhood–cold, dry, stiff–but neither option appealed particularly–I saw the voicing of these cries as simply a means by which we try to express the unexpressable–the essence of us which we attach to ideas of the sacred. The older I get the less that means to me concretely and yet the more my soul cries out–not to God, but to life itself.
Soul music is a genre, but it is not limited to that field. I hear it everywhere–Joseph Arthur immediately springs to mind, as do Ray La Montagne and Jackson Browne,and of course Van Morrison, but so do Zeppelin, and Radiohead have it in spades–the list goes on and keeps growing.
But on this day, thank you Otis Redding for helping me to remember that I am but dust, but somehow, and who knows how, imbued with depth of feeling, depth of emotion, with substance that extends me beyond the time and geography of my birth like so many stars filling the universe with sparks of fire and light.
Over the Rhine’s “All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue” recently made the LA Times’ list of the saddest Christmas songs ever, yet little else in all of December prepares us to celebrate Christ’s birth each year quite like OTR’s annual quasi-Christmas concert
Last weekend my wife and I attended an Over the Rhine concert, and we wrote this review:
Every piece of furniture in our living room is currently piled in the center of the room because we’re painting. It’s a mess, but it’s all part of preparing our house for Christmas guests. Similar preparations have made a hectic mess of the rest of our lives as well: decorating, teachers’ gifts, Christmas programs, family obligations, holiday parties, and, of course, presents to be found, bought, wrapped and given. Like so many, our schedules (and it seems our souls) are franticly sprinting toward ‘the day’.
But on Saturday night we pushed the schedules and all the mess aside. We marked out just enough time to go to the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and listen to a band that has been our favorite for the entirety of our 15 years together. Like us, Over the Rhine (OTR) is a long lasting husband and wife partnership (they are a bit longer lasting than we). Linford Detweiler plays piano and guitar and Karin Bergquist plays guitar and provides the lead vocals. This time around, they were accompanied by well-known, Nashville bass player, Byron House, as well as the amazingly talented Nick Radina on percussion, mandolin, back-up vocals and everything else.
OTR comes to Chicago every year in early December as part of their quasi-Christmas tour. We say it’s quasi-Christmas because they don’t hang any wreathes or string white lights on the stage, nor do they sing traditional Christmas lyrics or employ standard Christmas tunes. The Christmas music they do include in the set is their own particular brand, full of longing, depth and even melancholy. In fact, OTR’s “All I Ever Get for Christmas Is Blue” recently made the LA Times’ list of the saddest Christmas songs ever (which you can check out in the YouTube video below). But the audience on Saturday night did not mind at all. The fans at these back-to-back, sold-out shows expected OTR’s mellow beauty that, in Karin’s words, “depicts the reality, not the ideal of the holiday.”
No opening act was necessary, and as OTR took the stage, there were no crazed fans nor any frenzied screaming. Instead, there was an exuberant welcome, as though an old friend had returned home. Then, the crowd sat back and waited in quiet expectation. Linford picked up a guitar and led the quartet of players into their first song, “The Laugh of Recognition,” and the whole audience followed into the rich, deep beauty. It only took a few chords, a mere 30 seconds, to calm our collective souls and prepare us for Karin’s haunting voice floating just above the music, just out of reach but close enough to make your soul long for its truth:
Come on boys… time to settle down
What’cha think you’ll gain from all this running round?
Come on boys… time to let it go
Everybody has a dream that they will never own.
Come on boys… time to let her down
You might be surprised how far she’ll get with her feet on the ground.
So, come on boys.
And with that opening verse, we released our inner, cluttered busyness and found ourselves grounded in the season of Advent, the season of longing and desire and recognition of our human need.
OTR played a particularly mellow set over the next two hours that included a few Christmas songs from their previous Christmas albums: The Darkest Night of the Year (how’s that title as an Advent reminder?) and Snow Angels (currently available for free or a donation). As any dear friend would, OTR also shared with their audience the gift of a few old standards toward the end of the evening, including the concert perennial “All I Need is Everything.”
Much of the concert, though, was devoted to new songs that will fill two upcoming albums they plan to release in 2013. One album will be dedicated to and heavily influenced by the pre-Civil War farm house where they live in Ohio and will be named simply Farm. The other will be their third Christmas album, entitled Blood Oranges in the Show (Linford quipped “It’s not an Over the Rhine Christmas album until somebody dies.”)
The last song of the evening was one of our favorites: “All My Favorite People Are Broken.” It is, for us, the most quintessentially OTR song, summing up their 20 years of music making. The song begins:
All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go
All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other, try to rise above
We are not afraid to admit we are all still beginners
We are all late bloomers when it comes to love
All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, step forward
You can stay right here, you don’t have to go
The song ended by fading into a long, slow instrumental version of the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” and our transition was complete. In only a couple hours, our hearts were moved from restless and cluttered through a melancholy acceptance of our human vulnerability and into the everlasting arms of a savior, waiting to be born anew in our hearts.
After almost twenty songs, the 10 o’clock show started to wrap up around midnight. Near the end, Linford noted the lateness of the hour and said “We should let these people go. Many of them have to get up early for church in the morning.” Karin looked up and responded, as many in the crowd were already thinking, “This is church.” And it was.
Little else in all of December prepares us each year to celebrate Christ’s birth like OTR’s quasi-Christmas concert. We find their music more suited to the season of Advent, and more soothing to our hurried souls, than all the “hosannas” and “glories in the highest” we encounter elsewhere.
So if you have a hard time wrapping your mind around the gift of a God who becomes a vulnerable human, or if you need to reflect for a bit on why you so desperately need that gift, we recommend a couple of hours with Over the Rhine to help clear your living room and prepare your heart for a rich celebration.
Editors Note: This post first appeared two years ago today. However, we had so few readers at that time, it is doubtful that more than a few people read it. Now that THW readership has grown significantly, we thought a repost might be in order.
Legendary jazz pianist, McCoy Tyner, happened to be my seat mate on a recent flight from LAX to Minneapolis. Known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet, the Brooklyn-based musician is spending his golden years traveling from a sold out one venue to another.
In addition to his five years with John Coltrane, Tyner’s 80 album solo career earned him multiple Grammy Awards (1988, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2004) and numerous musical honors, including a National Endowment for the Arts “Jazz Master” award, Steinway Pianos’ lifetime achievement award, BMI Academy’s “Hero Award,” and an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music.
While you would never know it from talking to the unassuming Tyner, he clearly deserves his reputation as one of the greatest pianists of all time.All About Jazz declared, “McCoy Tyner’s dramatic arpeggios, thunderous bass pulses and modulated chord voicings have inspired generations of aspiring jazz musicians.” Tyner’s sophisticated chords and an explosively percussive left hand transcended conventional styles revolutionizing jazz and becoming “one of the most identifiable sounds in improvised music.” (You can listen to vintage recordings of Tyner and Coltrane’s music on his website.)
Steve Turner first taught me that the lessons learned by artists in one field often translate to artists in other fields, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview Tyner hoping to garner a few insights for those trying to make it in Hollywood (not to mention my two sons, who are both musicians.) Tyner was more than happy to share his insight and turned out to be a wonderful conversationalist. (He even wanted me to call him by his nickname, but I was too much in awe to comply.)
I asked McCoy what counsel he would give to young artists. He didn’t miss a beat, “One word, son… Persevere!” Growing up in south Philadelphia (not far from my hometown) Tyner related how there weren’t a lot of opportunities for young (black) musicians to perform. “There were times when I never thought I would make it and could barely put enough scratch together to eat, but you got to keep on keeping on.”
McCoy related how the support of friends and especially family were key to his success. “My dad wasn’t so sure about me being a musician, but my mother always believed in me.” She paid for McCoy’s lessons out of her hard-earned money in the hairdressing business.
“When I couldn’t get gigs, she would let my trio set up in her salon and we would play for her customers.” Tyner laughed, “That woman loved me. I never would have made it without her belief.” Then he turned his penetrating eyes upon my and gently instructed, “Don’t stop believing in your sons’ dreams. They’ll need all the support you can give them to make it.”
Tyner lit up when I promised to pray for him, and told me “everything I have is a blessing; I want to be a blessing to the people around me.” He related how artists need to be looking to bless everyone around them, not just paying customers, but other musicians as well.
He told me that competition is what kills most young artists, when what they need is to be there for one another. As he once told Jazz Times, “You learn not only to give respect but how to have that respect come back to you. It’s a reciprocal thing. And I think that’s a very important lesson for a guy who gets up on stage. If it’s all about him, that’s not playing music.”
He repeated to me his oft-quoted insight, “The Coltrane quartet was like four pistons in an engine. We had to all work together to make the car go.” As if to prove his point, Tyner politely listened to a few examples of my sons’ music, and offered praise not criticism. “That is rich music,” he said. “You hear that harmony? It has weight. That’s what you need in your music, weight and substance. Tell them to keep it up, keeping doing what you love, and you’ll make it.”
In an industry where it takes an average of ten years for writers, actors, directors, and producers to become an “overnight success,” I can’t think of stronger encouragement from a legendary Jazz musician than Tyner’s parting advice for all young artists, “Tell them to remember what an old piano player told you, ‘Persevere!’”
Recently, Generous Mind had discussions with a group of artists who are On Call in Culture in some very creative ways. The goal was to put faces to this important cause and discover what it’s like to live On Call on a daily basis.
How to Engage with the Conversation
Take a moment to get to know each of these artists through our summary of the discussions below and then dive into the posts they have written to explain how they are applying the idea of being On Call in Culture as they practice their art on a daily basis. Then make sure to join the On Call in Culture Community at www.oncallinculture.com as we engage with people just like you who are asking how they can be On Call in Culture each day!
Meet the artists who participated in the Generous Mind Conversation:
Chris Woolley, fine artist and painter
Spiritual activity follows spiritual subjects. That is what Chris Woolley has found throughout his painting career. Creating what he calls, “pretty art,” people are generally accepting toward his work. How can you not enjoy a picture of a striking sunset? But his work is more than pretty pictures. At times, they reflect the spiritual aspects of life. That is when life gets interesting.
Once he painted a piece he called “Emerald Saints.” In the foreground was a tree struck by lightning with evergreens in the back. A rock stood close by representing Christ. At the time, he had a sense of the significance of the piece, thinking it was about martyrs, but he had some reservations about what he thought that meant.
He explains, “…the emerald is stone of the tribe of Levi and…the color emerald represents life and resurrection. This seems to fit so perfectly with theme of the painting. Still I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the martyr idea. It was the right theme but there was something about my idea of martyrs that wasn’t adding up. It seemed too exclusive to me. Somehow the tree needed to connect to all Christians.” While the painting was hanging in a gallery, a pastor came up and began to talk with him about the painting pointing out that “…the word witness in Greek is the word martyr. If we are called to be witnesses, we are called to be martyrs.” Suddenly it all made sense to Chris. He said it was the link he had been waiting for and it came after the painting was complete.
Prophesy is a role Chris hesitantly attributes to many artists who bring out and question things of God through their work. “It’s hard to engage in art without thinking about God. Art brings us back to order and what God did.” It has the power to “bring truths to light.”
Another part of the role Chris sees for artists is to respond to people as they interact with the work. It’s the discussion that follows that can be life and culture-changing. “So many people lurk on the sides. We know there are people listening on the periphery. People watch how you deal with customers and gallery owners. You have to watch yourself because you’re under the microscope.”
Chris’ big dream to be On Call in Culture is to produce a lifetime of good art—creating valuable things that he wants people to see in a different manner. Along the way, he has the opportunity to discuss the questions and thoughts that come when people interact with his work.
Bart sees his role in the band Claymore Disco from the perspective of influence. As we talked, he shared about the role of a platform and how the stage gives you notice. Even if it is only a few inches off the ground, it is amazing how space can have significance.
As a 23-year-old working at a coffee shop, Bart also shared how he has honed his communication skills by having to talk with strangers all the time. As he serves them coffee and chats with the regulars he gets practice in engaging those around him. That comfort with being open to new people and to being in community with others gives him the courage to engage his fans and other bands before and after shows.
While their music is not specifically Christian it communicates what they care about. Bart shared how he often has the opportunity to connect with fans about specific songs. One example is their song “Fire lit Faces,” which is about Moses and the burning bush. Bart shared how the song allows him to challenge people to be paying attention to what is happening in their lives and being open to what might be out there for them.
Madison Wasinger, SimpLEE Organized business owner
Madison is launching a new business called SimpLEE Organized where she will be taking her organizational skills and empowering people to find solutions that work for them. But every business takes time to launch so she is also working at Chick-fil-A as she gets her operation up and running.
Madison resonated with what Bart said about how the job at the coffee shop helps her hone her people skills. “People take advantage of Chick-fil-A because they know we serve,” said Madison. She has seen customers lie to get free food but has realized her job is, “just serve and let God be the judge.” By working hard and not getting frustrated she is learning how to show Jesus to others through those daily actions.
But how will that flow into her new business? As Madison shares in her contribution to the Generous Mind conversation, she wants to bring a heart of service to organizing someone’s home or office. She acknowledged that, “when you organize a home you become part of their life.” You get to invest in them and give them systems that will help people have peace and time.
Just like at the Chick-fil-A, when you have to serve without judging the customer, when you come into someone’s house you can’t judge their home. Madison sees being On Call in Culture as entering a home and making a difference as she gets it organized. She also mentioned how organizing a space allows her to bring her values into that space in an intentional and subtle way.
As a young artist, Chuck Asay thought that success looked like being syndicated and/or winning a Pulitzer Prize. Now he is happy with what he considers anonymity.
But Chuck attracts plenty of attention. Recently he received what he calls a “typical” email that asked, “Were you dropped on your head frequently when you were young?” and “You need serious help – do yourself a favour and get some.” When asked about death threats, he shrugs and says, “There weren’t many.”
Although his political cartoons stimulate strong emotions and opinions, Chuck sees that as an opportunity to engage people who dislike his message. Chuck takes an approach that talks openly about political issues without attacking the person.
When asked what his big dream was for culture change in his sphere of influence, he responded, “I’d like to see change similar to the change the Christian community saw in Paul. He was blind and then he saw. I want people to shake their heads and say ‘of course.’”
So what does Chuck do on a daily basis to affect culture? He says it’s a process and then points to Jesus’ answer of doing his Father’s will. He reminds us of the story of Jesus drawing in the dust when the people were going to stone the woman for adultery. He captured people’s attention by doing that, drawing them in, and this led to a woman being saved. It’s the same with us. It could be a big thing or a little thing that God has us doing.
I stood in a parking lot with thousands of Los Angelenos enjoying the headlining act of the Railroad Revival Tour – Mumford & Sons. I know the packed crowd was loving the show because we were all singing these words with gusto:
In these bodies we will live
In these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love
You invest your life
Awake my soul
Awake my soul
Awake my soul
You were made to meet your Maker
I was thunderstruck as I looked around at all of these people – many of them unbelievers who completely ignored or even mocked God on a daily basis – singing about the mortality of their cold souls and their need to awaken before facing their Maker Almighty God. It brought to mind God’s promise that “every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.”
How on earth had this happened? How had the son of the leader of the Vineyard church in the UK formed one of the biggest bands in the world? Playing bluegrass music no less? And singing about spiritual matters of the heart and soul?
The easy answer for the band’s streak to the top with their smash album Sigh No More could be attributed to the fantastic music. Fresh, insistent tunes that flow straight into one’s heart and soul like a rejuvenating elixir. Need proof? Listen to “Awake My Soul.” (Above) Skip the first 30 seconds of intro and keep watching until they kick into high gear at the three minute mark.
I believe the reason for their widespread popularity springs from the spiritual thread that runs skillfully through their songs. I’ll even go one step further and label Sigh No More the first truly missional worship album of the 21st century.
No, it’s not praise and worship music. It’s not even “Christian music” in the popular cultural sense because (A) Christ is not the clear object and (B) it’s not “safe for the whole family” as so many Christian radio stations proudly tout.
But Mumford & Sons’ music contains an undeniable core focused upon Jesus. Even a cursory reading of the lyrics uncovers some beautiful spiritual depth within the songs. For example—
“Sigh No More” on the nature of God’s transforming love:
Love that will not betray you,
Dismay or enslave you.
It will set you free.
Be more like the man
You were made to be.
“After the Storm” on heaven:
And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
“Roll Away Your Stone” on grace:
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals.
The darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek.
It seems as if all my bridges have been burned.
You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart.
I’m especially impressed by the songwriter’s description of “grace.” Granted, it’s not as clear as Chris Tomlin proclaiming “your grace is enough for me,” but that song assumes the listener actually understands the concept of Biblical grace. Mumford & Sons masterfully describe grace to the spiritually deaf, dumb and blind in images they can understand. That’s what moves their music firmly into the missional realm.
When Mumford & Sons marry spiritual truths like these to their exhilarating, almost primally transcendent music, it’s impossible for even the most hardened heart to refuse jigging along with glee.
Sigh No More is missional because the music goes out into the streets and MP3 players and pubs, straight to where lost people reside and brings them the hope and light of Christ’s transformative power in a language they can grasp. They may not cognitively understand why they love the music, but they can’t deny it resonates with the longing in their soul. It is music that plants seeds, which the Holy Spirit might choose to grow into a new life.
I’m not saying Mumford & Sons are perfect. Though emotionally true to the story of the song, the “f” word in the chorus of “Little Lion Man” can grate. (Not to mention leave you jumping for the skip button when your child’s in the car.) And there’s no guarantee the band won’t abandon their debut album’s blatantly spiritual themes on any future recordings they make.
But for now, Sigh No More speaks God’s Truth to people who might not otherwise willingly listen to Him.
Bryan Belknap is a screenwriter who has written for Lionsgate, Sony and Fox Television Studios. He is currently the Creative Director for MORF magazine, his first graphic novel Too Late to Die comes out this winter.
I think we can officially declare the Sexual Revolution over and done with. Sure, there are people who will keep on fighting it, but c’mon. Now that an ode to sadomasochism has become the #1 song in America, I think it’s safe to say that whatever repressive pop culture institutions the 60s radicals were rebelling against have been overthrown. At this point, even the usual suspects on the Religious Right can’t get any kind of an organized protest going; not even a good old Wal-Mart censorship campaign.
Painting “sexual liberation” as counter-cultural just doesn’t ring true anymore, no matter how conditioned we are to do so. Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, etc. are as mainstream as it gets, and they’re not having any problem at all talking about sex. In fact, it’s hard to find them talking about anything else. Which isn’t necessarily surprising, given the longstanding relationship between music and sex.
But sexual expression and experimentation are no longer relegated to the artistic fringes. They have become the pop culture machine itself; they are The Man; they are the status quo. And it’s not just any old brand of sex that the machine is cranking out…