The Ride: Connecting to God in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and Beyond

Part 2 in series Finding God in Hollywood: Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World

Horseback riding is not a mode of transportation from one physical locale to another. It is a mode of transportation from one spiritual state to another.  And so are the classic spiritual disciplines.

by Gary David Stratton, Ph.D. • Senior Editor

Micaiah with ‘Maryland’: The crankiest and best horse in the Equestrian Center’s stable

As I write this, I am watching my daughter, Micaiah, take a riding lesson at the Equestrian Center in Burbank, CA. The Equestrian Center is, uh, shall we say, “oddly out of place” in urban Los Angeles. On my right, traffic on the Golden State Freeway (“the” 5, as we say here in L.A.) zooms by at 65+ miles per hour. On my left, horses plod around a riding circle at, well, a lot less than 65 miles per hour. What gives?

Why would anyone invest so much time and money striving to master such an outdated mode of transportation? It takes years to painstakingly advance through learning to walk, trot, cantor, gallop, jump, dressage, etc. Then, once you do achieve riding excellence, your top speed is still only a fraction of that of the traffic whizzing by. My daughter shovels, “stuff,” to earn her lessons, but most riders shell out enough cash to cover monthly payments on a luxury car. I mean, if your goal is to get from Pasadena to Hollywood, then this horseback riding thing is a total waste of time. Just buy a Jag and get on with it.

Yet if you think of horseback riding as something designed to get you somewhere on your busy schedule then you are missing the entire point. Horseback riding is not a mode of transportation from one physical locale to another. It is a mode of transportation from one spiritual state to another. The disciplines of learning to ride cleanse the rider of the soul-deadening effects of modern life and “re-center” their soul in a calmer, deeper place. My actress-singer daughter says it’s “rejuvenating.” Seeing the light and energy in her eyes after each time she rides, I believe her.

Spiritual Disciplines

Now at first glance, striving to master 2,000 year-old spiritual disciplines seems even more irrelevant than learning to ride a horse. I mean, at least horseback riding might help you land a role, or inspire a screenplay. What earthly good does it do to invest the time and energy it takes to master practices like prayer, meditation, fasting, Torah-study, or Psalm-singing? Sure, prayer can come in handy when you’re facing an audition, pitch meeting, or financing appointment. But this kind of “spiritual discipline” is practiced by everyone in Hollywood (even the staunchest atheists), and probably has about as much utilitarian value as wearing your lucky pair of socks.  Prep for your meeting, pay for some good coaching, and get on with it.

Yet, if you think of the spiritual disciplines only as something to get you somewhere in your career, you are missing the entire point. Spiritual disciplines are not tools for getting you from failure to success. They are pathways for keeping you alive spiritually in the constantly shifting landscape of success and failure that is Hollywood.

The Soul-Deadening Worlds of Power

The overarching characteristic of the Ivy League (and Hollywood) is what Schmelzer calls, “Grim drivenness.

Actor/Comedienne/Writer Susan Isaacs once challenged a crowd of aspiring entertainment industry students, “Would you accept God’s call to Hollywood if you knew that you would only have three successful years out of a thirty-year career?” Most wouldn’t, yet that is about the average for those who ‘make it’ here.  The spiritual disciplines are the means by which someone survives and even thrives, not only in the three years when they’re a hot property, but in the other twenty-seven as well.

Make no mistake, the competitive nature of all centers of power–Hollywood, the Ivy League, Wall Street, Washington, D.C., etc.–nearly always creates a soul-deadening culture. Former Yale Professor Henri Nouwen warned, “Our society is… a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul.”[1] Dave Schmelzer, principal at Blue Ocean, Inc. in Cambridge, MA asserts the overarching characteristic of his Ivy League community is what he calls, “Grim drivenness.”  Dave adds, “These are the brightest and most talented people in the world, and the very drivenness that got them this far in a highly competitive environment prevents them from ever really enjoying the fruit of their success. There is always another rung to climb on the ladder of success.”[2] Sounds a lot like Hollywood to me!

Yokes that Bring Our Souls Rest

Spiritual disciplines counteract this soul-deadening effect by nourishing the soul of the practitioner and re-centering the filmmaker, professor, stockbroker, and/or congressman in a calmer, deeper place. Prayer, meditation, study, etc. are means by which we deepen our connection to others and to God. Nearly everyone working in a pressure-filled environment can benefit from practicing them—from Zen Buddhist’s like Laker’s coach Phil Jackson, to Scientologists like Tom Cruise.

However, the spiritual disciplines play a particularly meaningful role in the Judeao-Christian tradition. They are part of what early Rabbis referred to as their yoke—the teachings and spiritual practices each Rabbi used to guide their students into a deeper relationship with God.[3] Like learning to ride a horse, the study of Torah—the principal spiritual discipline in rabbinic education—demanded the utmost commitment to move from one level of expertise to the next. Yet, the promise of a life centered in God and his ways made the effort worthwhile. (See, Rabbinic Higher Education.)

Connecting to the Life of God

Jesus of Nazareth built upon this rabbinic tradition to shape his own version of spiritual formation. Jesus told his first followers, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). He taught his disciples to pray, study, build community, and serve not to earn religious brownie points, but to form a deep attachment to God—to ‘rest’ in him. Like vines on a branch, Jesus promised his followers that if they would focus upon staying connected to the life of God, then the life of God would flow into them and bear fruit in everything they do (John 15:1-8). The spiritual disciplines are one of the key means by which we maintain that connection. (See, With Prayer in the School of Christ.)

USC philosophy professor, Dallas Willard, has worked tirelessly over the last few decades to describe how Christian spiritual formation can and should help us maintain our connection to the life and the love of God in the Academy, Hollywood, and beyond. He states:

“God’s desire for us is that we should live in him. He sends us the Way to himself.  That shows us, in his heart of hearts, what God is really like–indeed, what reality is really like. In its deepest nature and meaning our universe is a community of boundless and totally competent love.”

Personalizing the Process

Like horseback riding, staying connected to the life and love of God is not a one-size-fits-all process. It has taken Micaiah years to find the right stable, the right trainer, the right horse (the crankiest, but “best” in the stable), and the right sub-disciplines to learn to ride in a way that maximizes the ‘gladness’ riding brings her soul. The same is true for those seeking to cultivate a relationship with God. The disciplines that help one person are often torture for another. The key for some is sitting quietly in a beautiful sanctuary, for others it is walking in the beauty of nature, for some connection to God is found among books in a quiet library, for still another it is best found amidst music is a raucous worship service.

The point of spiritual discipline is not to perform some cookie-cutter religious ritual to make God like you better, but rather to find the pathways that best help your soul connect to the God who already loves you infinitely, ultimately, and unconditionally.

In the following weeks I will explore a number of the key concepts and disciplines that have been most helpful to a variety of leaders in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and beyond in living a soul-nourishing life in a soul-deadening world.  My hope is that we can help you create your own individualized set of spiritual disciplines that help you stay connected to the life and love of God even in the most pressurized situations.

Of course there is another way: the way of giving in to a soul-deadness. Will we? Or will we follow my daughter’s example and embrace an “outdated” approach to life, that in the end is the only one capable of transporting us where we really want to go—to the very heart of God.

Let’s ride!


Next post in series: Life on the Fast Track: Spiritually Thriving in High Stress Environments 


See also

Emmy Magazine Article Featuring Emmy-winning Producer Kurt Schemper, Director Korey Scott Pollard, and Gary David Stratton

Why Lent is a lot Like Surfing

Spiritual formation book recommendations:

The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence

Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, by Adele Alberg Calhoun

The Organic God, by Margaret Feinberg

The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster

Invitation to a Journey, by Robert Mulholland

The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero

The Good and Beautiful Life, by James Bryan Smith

Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas

The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard


[1] The Way of the Heart (New York: Random House, 1981), p. 9.

[2] At least in the Ivy League it is possible to get tenure!

[3] M. Maher (1975). ‘Take my yoke upon you’ (Matt. xi. 29). New Testament Studies, 22, pp 97-103


Speaker and Panelist Bios for Princeton’s “For Such a Time As This” Media Conference

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

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DeVon Franklin, Senior VP for Production. Columbia-Tristar Pictures

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.

860323_10151238003761986_184417302_oIn 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.

Senior Director of Music Licensing at a Sony Music
Kobe Brown, Senior Director of Music Licensing, Sony Music

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 Greens Arrington, Senior Director of Programming & Production at TV One
Robyn Greene Arrington, Senior Director of Programming & Production at TV One

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
Winsome Sinclair, Casting Director, Winsome Sinclair and Associates, Legacy Media Group

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 Shaft25th 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 ( 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, Director, Fire and Fragrance, Youth With A Mission
Jeremy Bardwell, Director, Fire and Fragrance, Youth With A Mission

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, speaker, lyricist/poet, scholar,  music producer, and filmmaker.
Solomon Starr, speaker, lyricist/poet, scholar, music producer, and filmmaker.

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, CEO, Creative Classic Agency
Nicole Heyward, CEO, Creative Classic Agency

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, Bethel University and
Gary David Stratton,

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 an online community of filmmakers, educators, ministry leaders, and philanthropists seeking to reimagine faith and culture one story at a time.

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DeVon Franklin and Gary David Stratton at Princeton Theological Seminary’s ‘Morality in Media’ Conference

DeVon Franklin

Next week Hollywood and the Ivy League join forces at one of the nation’s oldest graduate schools of theology. DeVon Franklin, Senior VP of Production for Columbia Tristar Pictures (Sony), a bunch of very cool panelists, and Two Handed Warriors Senior Editor Gary David Stratton will be speaking at Princeton Theological Seminary’s ‘Morality in Media’ Conference on February 19th.

In many ways this could be a historic event in the journey toward the Protestant church in America fully embracing its artists in general and filmmakers in particular. The way the Lord used Scarlet Cord Entertainment Founder Carla Debbie Alleyne and Princeton’s Association of Black Seminarians to help make this happen is truly remarkable.

We’ll try to get another post up this weekend, but we thought this would be a good start for those who might want to attend (and/or pray) for the event.


Download: Princeton Conference Flyer

See also:

‘Produced by Faith’ Website/Video,’ by DeVon Franklin

‘Connecting to God in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and Beyond,’ by Gary David Stratton



Where are the Christians in Academia? by Gabe Lyons

“The LORD has chosen Bezalel and filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of arts, as well as the ability to teach others.”   –Exodus 35:30-33

We’re still field testing the new Two Handed Warriors web format for our January 2012 relaunch. This article from Q Ideas seems like a great test case. The Mustard Seed Foundation’s Harvey Fellows Program is in many ways a template for what Two Handed Warriors is attempting in the Bezalel Hollywood Training Initiative–Identifying, Training, Mentoring, and Funding the world’s best young filmmakers of faith. However, The Harvey Fellows program is much more focused on formal education, as is appropriate for training educational leaders.

The success of the Harvey Fellows gives us great hope for more long-term approaches to nurturing culture makers of faith–what we call Two Handed Warriors–instead of continually relying upon more stop-gap and quick-fix strategies.

Let us know what you think of the article, the long-term strategy, and the new website (still under construction).



Gabe Lyons: The Academy is unique in a lot of ways, both as a place of opportunity and also complexity and challenge for people of faith. I’m here with Duane Grobman, Executive Director of the Mustard Seed Foundation and Director of the Harvey Fellows Program. When you talk to Duane, you realize just how strategically he and some others have been thinking about the role of believers in the academy and the importance of developing great scholars, the importance of thinking long-term, not just short-term, and thinking about, “What does the next 20 to 30 years of philosophy look like in major campuses around the U.S. and the world?”

Duane, tell us about the Harvey Fellows Program.

Duane Grobman: Sure. The Harvey Fellows Program began in 1992 and it was started, and it’s continued to be funded by, the Mustard Seed Foundation. They founded the Fellows Program because they wanted to encourage Christians to innovate their faith with their vocation and also to encourage them to pursue leadership positions in what we call strategic fields where Christians appear to be underrepresented.

And so, their hope was that through the program they would encourage students to pursue culturally influential vocations, that they would actually help equip students with tools necessary to lead integrated lives and that they actually help validate exceptional abilities and academic leadership and gifts as gifts from God worthy of cultivation development. Because, often times the church hasn’t been terrific at validating individual’s abilities in the areas of leadership and academics.

Gabe: I loved the long-term thinking that obviously has gone into this entire program. Really, this is a pretty strategic attempt to connect with some of the most astute leaders in society for the long-term. Right?

Duane: That is correct. To our knowledge, we’re the only program of this kind. (THW Editor’s note: Lord willing not for long.) You hit the nail on the head there, in that, I think one of the reasons is because it is so long-term. We’ve often said that it’s sort of a 20-year experiment, that we won’t fully know the effects of the program culturally and its impact for 20 years.

There’s not a lot of foundations that are willing to invest in that long-term vision. But given, now, that we’re in our 16th year, from the fruit that we see and the impact, we find this incredibly encouraging. So we’re feeling really confident that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Read Gabe and Duane’s entire interview

You Shall Not Pass! The Supernatural Power of Two Handed Warfare

What two of my all-time favorite films taught me about world-shaping leadership


These were the men who came to David while he was banished from the presence of Saul. They were among the warriors who helped him in battle. They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed. Warriors who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. -1 Chronicles 12


Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black model two-handed swordplay (The Princess Bride: MGM Home Entertainment)

One of my all-time favorite comedic movie scenes occurs in The Princess Bride in a duel between two expert swordsmen—Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black (movie clip below). Unbeknownst to each other, both duelists have spent their lives mastering swordplay not only with their right-hand, but also with their left.

As the duel builds to its hilarious conclusion, it quickly becomes apparent that expertise in single-handed swordplay is inadequate preparation for facing a true master. Without striving to become a two-handed warrior there is little hope of achieving one’s life mission—whether that mission is piracy, true love, or revenge.

Similarly, expertise in faith and culture rarely go hand-in-hand. Leaders adept at culture making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith building—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency—are rarely trained in the art of culture making.

Gandalf employs two-handed warfare against a Balrog (The Fellowship of the Ring: New Line Home Entertainment)

It is my firm belief that this dichotomy not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership, it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn. For leaders interested in effecting broad societal transformation, this dichotomy is even more devastating. Like Inigo Montoya, or King David’s army (above), the ability to fight with either hand is often a matter of life and death.

In another of my all-time favorite films (The Fellowship of the Ring) Gandalf prevailed over the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dum not merely through mastery of the sword, but by taking two-handed warfare to a whole new level with his staff. Up until this moment one might question whether or not having a wizard along on their journey was really necessary. After all, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legalas were every bit as skilled with their weapons as Gandalf was with his. However, by taking up his staff with his other hand Gandalf unleashes a supernatural power beyond anything his companions ever dreamed.

I suspect that anyone taking up the mantle of twenty-first century culture making will contend against far greater forces than Balrogs. My dream is that Two Handed Warriors might help train at least a few culture-making Gandalfs who can unleash supernatural power for good.

Two Handed Warriors is therefore intended as an ongoing conversation among filmmakers, educators, and spiritual leaders who aspire to become modern-day Gandalfs, and Inigo Montoyas: intellectuals, artists, and innovators devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith building and culture making. Men and women who “understand the times” and therefore know that redefining faith and culture one story at a time is our best hope for accomplishing our respective missions.

Growing up in a warrior’s household, King David’s son discovered that swordsmen attain mastery only where sparks fly: “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another”(2). My dream is that in helping one another master the art of two-handed swordplay we will not only foster transformational films, schools, and congregations; we will also forge lifelong friendships.   En garde!

Podcast from Gary’s Geneva College Address on becoming a Two Handed Warrior

Ever wonder what casting a vision for two-handed warfare might sound like when addressing college students? Here’s one attempt from Geneva College (Pennsylvania.)

I couldn’t include the slides, but I have included the movie clip from THE PRINCESS BRIDE below. Be sure to watch the clip before you listen to the podcast (online or by download.) It will make a lot more sense.


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William Goldman, Rob Reiner, Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, et al. The Princess Bride (Hollywood, Calif: MGM Home Entertainment, 2001).
1 Princess Buttercup’s lover, also know as, “Westley”; aka, “The Dread Pirate Roberts.” (Not Johnny Cash.)
2 Proverbs 27:17