Visiting Liberty University

Visiting Liberty University

Saturday, November 7, 2015

War Room and a Strategy for Cultural Engagement in Christian Film

Hey guys! I know, I know, it's been FOREVER since we've posted anything. What can I say? Life happens. There are about a million blog posts I could write right now, if I had the time... This semester has been absolutely wild and God has taught me so much!

But for right now, I wanted to share something a little different. For my Apologetics and Cultural Engagement class, I had to write an article that could hypothetically be submitted to a current publication (like The New York Times or Christianity Today) about a specific cultural issue, either engaging it or discussing how Christians should engage it. So here's my article.

(I don't know why every other paragraph is spaced and sized differently and I couldn't figure out how to change it, so... sorry about that! Also, the original version had footnote citations, but I left those out for this version. Also, I didn't actually submit this to The Gospel Coalition or anywhere else... I just had to say that for the purposes of the assignment.)


An article submitted to The Gospel Coalition

            Last year, 2014, was dubbed “the year of the faith-based film.” From Hollywood heavyweights Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings to indie features God’s Not Dead, Son of God, and Heaven Is For Real, 2014 marked a milestone in a cultural phenomenon that has been growing, slowly but surely, over the last few decades. The various levels of success of these films at the box office, with the critics, and in popular opinion have sparked conversations in many different circles. Critics and studios scratch their heads, wondering how low-budget, explicitly Christian films can bring in a respectable (and sometimes extraordinary!) return at the box office. Meanwhile, some Christians pledge their allegiance to even the most poorly made films as long as they have a good message, while others bemoan the shoddiness of such films and call for increased excellence in Christian art.
         Fast forward to the August 28, 2015 release of War Room. The Kendrick brothers’ long-awaited fifth movie followed in the blatantly Christian footsteps of their previous four while boasting significantly higher production value. Reactions to the film are many and varied. A review posted on (now deceased) movie critic Roger Ebert’s website called the film “awful, offering all the forced humor and superficial substance of a half-baked homily,” and claimed that its only goal was “to evangelize by preaching an ideology that requires its followers to view the world in black-and-white terms,” in which endeavor it failed by being hypocritically “righteous and judgmental in the extreme” and failing to grapple with the complexities of life. Kenneth Morefield’s review in Christianity Today concurs: “War Room, like so many Christian films, stumbles [because] the characters and situation are so thinly drawn that even those of us who believe in the film’s ultimate message have a hard time with the package wrapped around it.” Yet many Christians have found that the artistically inadequate film does “some real soul-level good” and consequently are raving about the film to their churches and families. Bad art, preachy message, and all, War Room finished opening weekend at the box office just behind #1 Straight Outta Compton (which showed in three times as many theatres), thanks largely to a strong turnout of highly underserved faith-based audiences.
       As a student at a Christian university seeking to enter the film industry (probably working on pictures like War Room, at least at first), I watch Christian films like football fans watch their favorite teams during an uncertain season: rooting for them with everything I’ve got while being painfully aware of their many shortcomings. War Room is, undoubtedly, a bland, overly sanitized and simplified movie with underdeveloped characters. Rather than being a three-dimensional story that wrestles with the grittiness and complexity of real life, the film seems to be more of a glorified sermon illustration in which everything serves the message. That message, however, (a rousing call to fervent prayer and spiritual warfare) resonated mightily with its audience. And here lies the key to reconciling the “bad art” of War Room with its box office success. Ironically, it’s one of the most basic principles of filmmaking (or producing any form of art, really): know your audience.
      For years I have viewed Christian-made films as a potential tool for, in Christian-ese terms, reaching a dark world with the light of Christ. I chose film as my career largely because of its influential power in culture. But if War Room was intended to be an evangelistic tool to win people over from a secular society to the Christian faith, it was a sorry attempt. The average non-Christian audience member would be turned off, if not by the already-mentioned artistic deficiencies, then by the pervasive, overtly Christian messages such as the idea that women ought to be submissive to their husbands and “duck so that God can hit them.” The film features an overly generic, affluent family in an apparently post-racial society devoid of any kind of media influence. As such, the Jordan family feels unrelatable to those immersed in the messy, media-saturated American culture. The stakes of the story were not high enough, the plot was not terribly intriguing, and a number of scenes were weakly written and/or acted. Yet War Room’s average turnout per theatre on opening weekend was almost three times that of Straight Outta Compton and the film temporarily hit #1 in the following weeks. Why?
War Room was never intended to be a tool to engage and change culture. It was never intended to be relatable to unbelievers. It was never even intended to be a critically acclaimed film! The weekend after War Room was released, I attended a special screening hosted by Liberty University’s Zaki Gordon Cinematic Arts Center. In a Q&A session afterwards, producer and co-writer Stephen Kendrick explained that the film’s bad reviews didn’t bother him at all. He knew full well the film was preachy. He knew full well that he and his brother Alex were not world-class filmmakers! It didn’t matter, because the film was made for people of faith, not for unbelievers, and thousands of those people flocked to theatres in response. 
      By focusing its message on the church, War Room is not neglecting cultural engagement. It is making a strategic move. According to Steven Kendrick, the church will not be able to effectively reach the world until it does some housecleaning. We the American church are open to the charge of hypocrisy in countless areas. For instance, while we condemn the way the LGBT community twists the Biblical sexual ethic, we have come to turn a blind eye to the issues of divorce/remarriage and premarital sex within the church. Countless other problems and blind spots in the church make the world much less willing to listen to us. No wonder most Americans view Christianity as a religion of condemnation and fakery! The church tends to slide either into legalism or apathy, neither of which results in spiritual growth or an effective witness. War Room appeals to those Christians living a lukewarm faith, spurring them on to a richer, deeper, more powerful life of prayer and faith where God is allowed freer reign to transform their hearts and work in their lives. This will make Christians individually and churches corporately into better examples of authentic unity, grace, truth, love, joy, and faith that will attract the searching, hurting citizens of this world of shadow.
      In other words, in response to the charge of being a glorified sermon illustration, War Room pleads guilty. It is not a tool of cultural engagement meant to reach the lost so much as it is a tool to revive the church so that the church can truly be a brilliantly illuminated city on a hill. And in this, the film seems to be succeeding. Countless stories of people setting aside their own prayer room and seeing God work mightily in their lives are pouring in. One woman stood up in the movie theatre asking for prayer, and dozens of complete strangers gathered around her. There are even stories of people coming to Christ as a result of seeing the film. Time will tell how far the ripple effect of War Room will travel.
In the meantime, secular audiences and the more artistically attuned faith-based audiences are still looking for films that not only address spiritual matters but are also willing to grapple with the messy, complex issues of life. War Room has struck one niche, but there are others that have yet to be fully explored. Jon and Andy Erwin, another set of filmmaking brothers, have made decisive strides in this direction with their films October Baby, Mom’s Night Out, and Woodlawn, all of which assume a Christian perspective while achieving a much higher level of artistry and realism than the Kendricks’ films. Christian films do not have to be one-size-fits-all, nor should they be. There can and should be several brands of faith-based films to meet the demands of conservative church families, searching agnostics, and everyone in between.
Was War Room a quality movie? Not really. Did it reach its intended audience? Absolutely. Is it a good model for engaging the American culture? Not completely. It is a good strategic move, but a complete strategy would require more subtle, artistic, and gritty faith-based films as well.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Open Heart Surgery

If you know me, you know I like to talk. A lot. I learned to talk long before I could walk, and I haven't stopped since. It's only been in the last 5 years or so of my life that I have gained some measure of self control over my words, and that's solely by God's grace!

I'm also by nature very literal. I'm like the story book character "Amelia Bedelia" who sprinkled baby powder on the furniture she was told to dust and put doll clothes on a raw chicken because she was told to dress it. I use my words very literally and I tend to interpret everyone else's words the same way.

For a long time these two traits of mine caused countless problems. I said whatever I thought, exactly how I thought it, only to discover that, apparently, that's not a socially acceptable way of communicating. My life became a cycle of:

Open mouth.

Insert foot.


I also found myself endlessly confused by people whose first language was sarcasm. I used to hate getting teased, because I didn't understand that, for most people, teasing was another way of saying, "I love you." I took every comment at face value, and I took them all personally.

I couldn't understand why people wouldn't say exactly what they meant. And I found myself incapable of saying things I didn't mean. Even now, I can't type something like, "Praying for you," at the end of an email unless I actually have been praying for that person over the last few days. I've had to find tactful, less blunt ways of saying what I mean, and sometimes I've just had to learn to hold my tongue.

Because nothing bothers me more than the proverbial elephant in the room. Nothing agitates me like misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Have you ever had a time where something just wasn't right in your system? Maybe you had inexplicable bouts of fatigue, or your heartbeat wasn't regular, or you had strange aches or pains that just wouldn't go away. It's easy to put off going to the doctor for things like that. About a year ago, my friend's dad waited months before going to the doctor, only to discover that he had a potentially terminal form of cancer. (Praise God, after chemo and surgery he is now cancer-free!) Maybe the issue isn't anywhere near that serious, though. Maybe a couple of weeks on antibiotics, a few months of physical therapy, or adding a vitamin supplement to your diet will solve the problem. Maybe all you need is to drink more water, get more sleep, and exercise!

Regardless, the issue will not go away unless you address it. Until you tell someone, "Hey, something's wrong," and describe your symptoms in detail, you'll suffer needless discomfort or pain and risk serious long term consequences. A diagnosis is crucial, and a misdiagnosis can be deadly. Once you acknowledge that the problem exists and figure out what's wrong, you can take care of it. To quote whoever said/wrote it first, "The worst part is not knowing!"

To me, personal relationships work exactly the same way. People aren't perfect. Stuff goes wrong. Issues arise. No one wants to talk about them. So the problem just sits there and festers, until one day, it bursts. At that point, there's usually not a lot that can be done to fix things, kind of like appendicitis. Or maybe the problem is more like a cancer that grows secretly and silently, draining away the life of the relationship and eventually killing it altogether.

I'm not suggesting that you tell anyone and everyone about your issues, but at some point you have to tell someone. It's good to talk with the people directly involved in the issue. It's especially NOT good to gossip with uninvolved people about the issue. But you can at least tell the "innocent bystanders," "It's not you. There's something else going on, but I can't really talk about it right now." That way they don't sit there for days... or weeks... walking on eggshells around you and worrying that maybe they said/did something wrong when you really have no issue with them!

Sometimes, issues require measures as extreme as open heart surgery. Surgery is messy, painful, and delicate. It requires weeks... or months... of recovery time and therapy afterwards. But the end result is (hopefully) always worth it. My mom had double bypass open heart surgery when I was 6 years old. She was born with a heart anomaly that had gone undetected for 30+ years of her life but could have caused her death at any time. Basically, God wired one of the main arteries supplying blood to her heart "wrong." After the surgery, Mom was hooked up to all kinds of freaky wires and tubes for days. When she came home, it hurt her to laugh or cough because her whole rib cage was sore, and she had to do physical therapy to get her heart strong again. But she has had no problems with her heart ever since then. The issue was identified and fixed.

Not all relationship issues require measures as extreme as "open heart surgery." If you catch the issue early enough, sometimes all you have to do is make a short apology. Sometimes there was a simple misunderstanding that can be easily cleared up with a little honest communication. But sometimes the communication required to mend a relationship is difficult. It can be messy, painful, and delicate. Recovery can require months of diligent effort. But it's ALWAYS worth it.

All relationships are built on communication. If you don't talk with someone, you don't get to know them. (Notice I said talking WITH, not talking AT. I used to just talk AT people. I'm still learning how to listen and let other people talk, too!) When communication suffers, the relationship suffers. And it takes a good deal of potentially unpleasant communication to restore and rebuild the relationship.

I'm not suggesting you attempt open heart surgery with a chainsaw. (Which would be my default.) Successful surgery requires caution, precision, and lots of wisdom. Unless you're careful, you can cause a lot more damage than repair.

But again, (please believe me) the benefits of a successful relationship "surgery" are always worth the risk and the mess and the pain.


I speak from personal experience here; in the last 5 or so years there have been a number of times that I've learned about an ongoing issue between me and a friend. In each of those cases, it was profoundly unpleasant to deal with the situation, but it was a relief to bring the issue out into the open, define it, and work towards resolving it. In the process, I grew and matured as a person and learned a LOT about my own faults and tendencies. And in most of those cases, my friendship with the other person blossomed and developed in an amazingly beautiful way that would not have been possible prior to "diagnosing" and "treating" the problem.

The more I get to know people, the more I have found that most of them are afraid of looking too deeply into their own hearts or those of others, and are even more afraid of others looking into their hearts. It's like they have an attic or a closet somewhere that hasn't been opened in years... it's all dark and dusty and who knows what's in there! Deadly afraid of what critters and skeletons might be lurking beneath the cobwebs, people keep the door to the closet sealed and don't let their friends anywhere near it.

So maybe there are lots of cobwebs and dust bunnies in your heart. Some mold and a colony of cockroaches, perhaps. (Ew, gross.) Maybe even a couple of skeletons.

OK. So what?

Everyone else's closet has weird, messy, scary stuff in it, too. I promise, you're not the only one. 

And guess what? I'm convinced that behind the skeletons, under all the dust and cobwebs, there's a beautiful sculpture or painting. Priceless, really. The work of a master artist. Hiding in the back of the closet underneath all the garbage, waiting for all of the junk to be pulled out and thrown away so that it can come to light.

But guess what? To uncover that gorgeous masterpiece, you have to open that mysterious closet and dig out all the skeletons and clean away all the dust. That's going to be a messy process. But if you bring a couple of friends along to help, it won't be quite so bad. And you'll discover a treasure that is more than worth the mess, if you're willing to get your hands dirty for a little while.

This is why I love talking to people. This is why I try to put spending time with people right near the top of my list of priorities. I want to help people discover the beautiful treasures hiding in the back of their closets.

For whatever reason, God made me so that I'm not afraid of other people's junk and the clutter. Those skeletons you're so ashamed and scared of? Yeah, they're dead. They happened, but they're not alive anymore. They can't do anything to you anymore. They're just dead bones, ready to be thrown out and buried as far away from you as the east is from the west.

Which, by the way, is exactly where Christ buried them when you gave Him the title to your house. He doesn't see the mess. He sees the masterpiece. And He'll help you air out your dingy little back closet and turn it into a showroom for His love and grace.

If, that is, you have the courage to open the door.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The "With" Factor

This blog has been silent for far too long. This has been bothering me for a couple of months. We started out intending to post weekly, but evidently that hasn't happened. I tend to get irritated with myself when the plan or vision I embarked with "fails." This has happened entirely too many times in my life, in my opinion.

But the primary reason I've "failed" to communicate on this blog has been because I was spending a lot of time with people, in person, at college. And that has not been a failure.

The cello family--or most of them, anyway--after an end-of-the-year game of Sardines.

My Dad used to always tell me, "People are more important." This was his oft-repeated reminder to me in the time-crunch and stress of dance productions, when I turned into a big hairy control freak and started putting details and logistics above loving people. 

I didn't really understand how important -- and practical -- that mantra was, though, until I went to Liberty. Suddenly I found that it was infinitely more important to spend my time pouring into people and listening to them than it was to worry about schoolwork. There have been SO many times this last year when Rachael and I watched hours of planned homework time drift out the window while a friend or hall-mate opened up about something close to their heart.

Us with our sweet roommate, Shirley.

And every single time, it was worth it. I don't regret how I spent my time on any of those evenings. And amazingly enough, it never really cost me in the way of grades. Strange things would always happen; my Business Law chapter would be the half the length it usually was, or my Theology teacher would unexpectedly give us a free quiz grade just for showing up to class (and sometimes let us get Starbucks and have class outside; that's always a possibility, too).

As my SLC (Spiritual Life Coach) would say, "What are the two most important things? God and people." My Dad has emphasized that for years: The two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. We have a bit of family terminology called the "With" factor. It refers to spending quality time with people. Sometimes the most valuable thing you can give to someone is your time, regardless of what the activity is.

Our SLCs, prayer leaders, and some friends from our hall who came to our last orchestra concert of the year.

Loving people, utilizing the "With" factor, has been my focus this year, more so I think than any other in my life so far. I'm so grateful to God for the changes He has worked in my heart to bring me to this place, and for the ability He has given me to love others with His love. I also recognize that I need to apply this same principle of love and quality time to my family, not just my friends.

But that's the second greatest commandment. 

The first greatest commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

This semester, that mandate has largely fallen by the wayside in my life, and I've felt the difference. Whereas last semester I experienced God's presence and love in amazing, vibrant ways almost daily, I have drifted through the spring in a largely complacent, apathetic doze when it comes to spiritual things. 

And that needs to change.

I started reading through the Old Testament a few weeks ago, when I was still at school. I've tried to do this 2-3 times before, and I don't think I've ever made it through the Pentateuch in chronological order. Certainly not past Judges or the Samuels. Hopefully this time I'll make it through to Malachi by interspersing some NT readings along the way. But anyway, that's not the point.

As I've re-read the familiar passages of Genesis, I've tried to focus on what they reveal about God's character. Today I read Genesis 25-26, which chronicles the death of Abraham and the birth and early lives of Jacob and Esau. What God pointed out to me, though, were a couple of phrases He spoke to Isaac in the middle of all of that. Twice in chapter 26, God speaks to Isaac and confirms that the covenant He made with Abraham is valid for Isaac as well. 

"Stay in this land for a while," God instructs Isaac in Gen. 26:3, "and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham."

Later in that chapter, Isaac has been driven away from the land of the Philistines by Abimelech's herdsmen because they are jealous/afraid of Isaac's power and wealth. After digging several wells, most of which are stolen by Abimelech's herdsmen, Isaac reaches Beersheba. "That night the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.' " 

What stood out to me was that in both instances, God says, "I will be with you," or, "I am with you," BEFORE He says, "I will bless you." God's presence -- the "With" factor -- is of primary importance. You've probably heard the saying, "Seek the Giver, not the gift."

God was WITH Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and when they sinned, they hid from Him and were eventually driven from the garden. Enoch "walked WITH God" before God took him away. King David cried, "Do not cast me out of Your presence, or take Your Holy Spirit from me." Isaiah prophesied the coming of "Emmanuel, which means God WITH us."

The significance of the tabernacle and the calling of the nation of Israel was that God literally lived among His people again. His presence came down on the Tent of Meeting in a cloud of glory. Whenever the cloud lifted, the people packed up and followed it. Wherever God's presence, as signified by the pillar of cloud or fire, stopped, the people stopped and set up camp.

As a child of the Internet, I sort of pictured God's presence as a Wi-Fi hot spot. His people desired to have access to Him and communication with Him, so they moved wherever His presence was, just like we seek out coffee shops and other areas that give our laptops, tablets, and phones free access to the Internet.

Speaking of which, having a smart phone makes it much harder for me to be still and quiet before the Lord. I roll out of bed in the morning to turn off the alarm (on my phone) and the next thing I do is check for new text messages, emails, and Facebook updates, when I really should be sitting wtih God and letting Him prepare my heart for the day ahead.

This is what convicted me in my devotions today. In Genesis 26:23-24, Isaac travels to Beersheba and God appears to him. Then, in verse 25, "Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well."

God spoke to Isaac. In person.

In the Old Testament, this didn't happen every day. The patriarchs did not have the Holy Spirit living inside them like we do today, as believers in Jesus Christ. This was a big deal.

Isaac has encountered God's presence, and like his descendants will do in the desert of Sinai four or five centuries later, he stops and sets up camp. He does not hurry to move on. He memorializes the place with an altar, seeks God's presence again by "calling on the name of the Lord," pitches his tent, and digs a well.

Do we do this today? Do I do this? Do we stop and soak up and sit in God's presence? Do we actively seek it out? Or do we run around all day with our own agenda and tune Him out? I know that's how I live my life, day to day. Most days, I'll pray, but it's a one-way deal.

I don't take the time to stop.

And listen.

And be still.

And just SIT in God's presence.

God desires time WITH me just like I desire time WITH my friends. In fact, He desires it SO much more than I do. And those times spent with Him are always so sweet and refreshing. But it's easy to forget, to get caught up in the rush and bustle and the noise and chaos of our crazy, crazy lives. Not to mention our electronics!

This summer, I want to seek God's presence like Isaac, then stop and "pitch my tent" and just soak Him in. I pray you will, too.

God bless.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Semester in a Nutshell

Drum roll please...

We finally have our next two video blogs up! Woohoo! The first one covers most of September and Fall Break, and the second one covers just about everything from Fall Break through Thanksgiving Break. We're finally caught up with videos! Yay!

Stay tuned for more over Christmas... we're planning on doing a couple of videos highlighting some of our favorite (and hardest) things about the semester, and also a fun one mimicking our professors. =)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Inside the Christmas Concert

Tuesday night was our final orchestra concert for the semester, Christmas on the Boulevard. Mom texted me afterwards and asked how it went... but I couldn't condense it to the confines of a text message. She asked for just three words, and I said "Thrilling, goosebumps, bass drum." But now I've had time to do the evening justice.

Where to begin? Oh, yeah... I thought out my introduction the other night as I was falling asleep. =) Forgot about that...

Have you ever had a dream... just a silly little dream, but one that made you excited anytime you thought about it? For a few years, my silly little dream has been to play in an orchestra that recorded film scores. I call it silly because I knew it would never happen.

I play the oboe, which is a somewhat rare instrument, but widely used in film scores. However, I know for a number of different reasons that I don't want to be a concert musician. I want to be a filmmaker, and I know I won't have the time... or the desire... to put in the ridiculous amount of hours of practice required to be good enough to get hired by a major philharmonic orchestra that might get hired to record a film score.

So, no, it wasn't gonna happen.

I thought.

So I go to Liberty University, which is a huge university with a sadly understated Music and Performing Arts department. I go there because they have a film school...a REALLY GOOD film school. I declare a business minor because my personality is especially suited for it and it will be helpful to understand business terminology and practices in the film industry. (And yes, I'm rehashing all of this simply because it's more dramatic that way. Please bear with me.) =)

Music is practically nowhere on my degree completion plan. But Rachael and I join the orchestra anyway, her on cello, me on oboe. And guess what?

The entire cello section, except for one, are freshmen. So they didn't have pre-existing circles of friends. I got to know them through Rachael because she and I are practically joined at the hip. It didn't take long for us to all start eating dinner together after orchestra rehearsals on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Guess what? Not one, but TWO of the cellists (Kimmy and Brock) are film scoring majors. (Which, by the way, is a brand-spanking-new major at Liberty.) Did I mention that both of them are insanely talented? You have no idea. Heaven opens and descends on the realm of mortals in their music. Seriously.

Guess what else? The orchestra has a new director this year, and he (unlike many directors I've played under) actually really likes film scores. We played music from Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean on our main fall concert.

It just gets better. A lot better. As if I wasn't already walking on air, playing music twice a week with a bunch of incredibly talented, God-glorifying new friends.

Get this. Brock got essentially commissioned to arrange one of his pieces, an epic version of Carol of the Bells, for the LU orchestra and 300+ person choir to perform on the Christmas concert. He had a different version of the song on YouTube, and when Rachael, Kimmy, and I listened to it for the first time, we basically passed out. SO amazing. SO powerful. SO EPIC.

In our first semester of college, we get to play in an orchestra that is performing basically a mini-film score. WHAT?!?!?!

The first few rehearsals were rough. It was really sad. Tempos and rhythms were ragged and disconnected. But things slowly got better. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving break, we added Professors Feldman and Trombetta on cello and viola, playing the ridiculously awesome solo parts Brock wrote just for them. Suddenly, we could feel that it was going to work!

Then, on Thursday, we had our first rehearsal with the choir. They weren't even all there, but HOLY COW. There is something so inherently powerful about hundreds of human voices belting out lyrics taken from Scripture at the top of their lungs... not to mention the driving rhythms from the string section, the gigantic chords from the brass section, and the thunder from the bass drum, tympani, and gong. How was something this awesome even humanly possible??? (Answer: It wasn't. It was a heavenly gift straight from God, realized through a number of very grateful humans.)

First day back from Thanksgiving break, we had our dress rehearsal. Only, Professor Feldman didn't show up for some reason. Hmm. Wonder who's gonna play the solo cello part for rehearsal?? Why, section leader/composer Brock Snow, that's who! And he did it from memory!!!

So that was awesome. There's nothing quite like hearing a composer play his own music. He knows how he meant for it to sound. His sound wasn't as loud and confident as Professor Feldman's, but it was more sensitive and... meaningful, I guess. It's kind of hard to define or describe.

And then came the concert last night... 

First of all, the stage was packed. Fitting 278 choir members and a 74-piece orchestra onstage is not an easy feat. I think our singers pretended to be sardines. Second of all, the audience was packed. There were a few empty seats near the front, but there were people two-deep lining the back wall and even some people standing along the sides of the auditorium. (Good thing they're building a new concert hall with a LOT more seats!) And maybe most importantly of all, Brock's parents and brother were there.

When Dr. Whaley introduced the concert, he pointed out that three of the pieces were composed/arranged by Liberty faculty and students. "I particularly want to call your attention to 'Carol of the Bells,'" he said. "Brock Snow is right here..." and he stepped aside and gestured to Brock. The audience was clueless, but the entire orchestra and choir immediately erupted into whoops and cheers and noisy applause. After we reluctantly got quiet again, Dr. Whaley explained that Brock was a film scoring major and how exciting it was that there were "champions for Christ" (Liberty's slogan) in yet another sphere of influence.

So we did the first part of the concert (selections from the Messiah) and it was great. It really was. The choir sang so passionately and clearly! All of Dr. Kinchen's rantings and ravings about really believing it when we sang/played "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" and "the Mighty God, the everlasting Father" must have hit their mark. It really was a worship service, not a concert! Then we transitioned over to the "fun music" and got the first three pieces off beautifully.

And then... here goes nothin'. Professor Feldman (who DID show up for the concert, thankfully) and Dr. Trombetta took their places at the front of the stage. Dr. Trombetta starts the piece, all by himself, and he just waited... until everyone got still and the silence hung heavy with anticipation.

The piece starts so beautifully, so gently. A quiet viola solo with underlying cello swells. Then suddenly, the cello breaks out with a rousing, mind-blowing rhythm. It's in 6/8, so everything's triplets (non-music nerds, please forgive me while I geek out a little). Fast triplets are inherently epic. They just are. (Think Pirates of the Caribbean.) Then there's this long, dramatic chord that slides up at least two octaves... maybe three... and a HUGE gong/tympani roll that shakes the stage.

Then the tempo drops into a much slower 3/4 time.

Oh yes. Now we're getting serious. Immediately the tempo starts building again, gradually. Different sections of the orchestra join with repeating patterns that get increasingly hectic as the piece goes on. Through it all are woven echoes of the familiar repeating "Carol of the Bells" pattern.

Then, about 2/3 of the way through the piece, the choir joins, in a majestic chant that sends thrills up my spine and goosebumps down my arms.

"The voice! of One! Calling proudly! Prepare! The Way! for Christ Jesus! Valleys shall rise! Mountains made low! And the glory of-the glory of-the glory of-the Lord shall be revealed!"

Which was awesome in several different ways... 1) It's Scripture... Brock took the lyrics straight out of Isaiah 40. 2) It echoed and summarized the songs from the Messiah that we had played earlier in the concert. 3) It was EPIC. Period, the end. (I know I keep using that word, but it's kind of the most appropriate word for a whole bunch of things.)

The choir hits this high chord and just holds it... then they drop away while another mind-blowing, speed-duel between the solo cello and viola picks up momentum. Bows flying, fingers dancing up and down the finger board.

Then the cello section joins, pulsing on a single note. Faster. Faster. Racing now, while the winds and the rest of the strings join in with a swelling chord and the brass fanfare expectantly. Then everything is overwhelmed by another roll of thunder from the percussion, even more enormous and earth-shattering than the first one.

Our hearts are literally pounding now. If I didn't have to purse my lips to make a sound on my instrument, I would be either grinning from ear to ear or staring blankly with my jaw on the floor. The music washes over me like ocean waves and I can't catch my breath.

The familiar climatic melody from Carol of the Bells takes over (merry-merry-merry-merry Christmas), with the choir soaring over the orchestra again. And still the strings and soloists are racing wildly underneath it all. Up and up the music goes in volume and range. The choir has never sung so loudly.

Finally, they hit an impossibly high note... and hold it. The orchestra drops away. For a moment, the sheer power of 278 voices rolls through the auditorium like a tsunami. With the choir still sustaining their velocity at 30,000 feet, the orchestra strikes once, twice, a third time. The choir cuts. The drums and gong crash like a bolt of lightning directly overhead, vibrating and reverberating while the echoes of the voices still hang in the air.

And the audience explodes. After the soloists have been recognized, Dr. Kinchen motions for Brock to stand, and the applause swells to twice the volume, roaring with whoops and hollers and shrieks. They don't stop for a couple solid minutes, and for once, Brock's ears don't turn red. (Along with everything else, this amazingly gifted genius has been blessed with an even more incredible spirit of humility.)

That's one reason I'm writing this... he lets his music speak for itself, but for those of you who weren't there to hear it, you need to understand what it was like.

Afterwards, I asked several choir members what their favorite song on the concert was, and they all put Brock's song in their top 2. The only song that ever trumped it was the Hallelujah Chorus. A couple of them even said that although Brock's song wasn't necessarily the most fun to sing, it was their favorite to listen to. So they still gave it number 1 or 2 status overall!

You had to have been there. The microphones and cameras don't do it justice. And you have to know Brock... to see how badly he wanted the piece to "work" and how thrilled beyond words he was when it DID work, and when the audience loved it. He said later, "I feel like my soul is going to pop out of my body." I think it already did, in the form of the music.

There's pretty much nothing more thrilling and exciting for me than to see my friends and family thrilled and excited. So I was up on "cloud nine" for a while, too! Went home and didn't feel like going to sleep... for a long time. Good music always does that to me... especially when I get to play it, and especially when I get to play it with awesome people.

Here's a link to a YouTube video of this piece... although, as I said before, the recording doesn't do it justice. But you can get a taste. =)

There are rumors that we'll get to play it again next Christmas... that would be beyond awesome! But nothing will be quite the same as playing it for the first time. I'm so privileged to have been a part of this. God's blessings are amazing and unexpected! I can't wait to see what He'll do next!


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Comes to Campus!

Hey everyone!

I really am sorry that we haven't posted in... like, a month. Part of that is because we had literally no "social life" the first part of the semester. We pretty much just went to classes, ate our meals, and did homework. So we had some spare time to work on videos and blog posts. But as we got to know people, we kinda wanted to spend time with them and that takes up, well, time. =)

There's another reason we haven't posted videos lately, but that's all explained in the video linked below! This video also covers our orchestra rehearsals, what happened right before Thanksgiving break, and what will be happening in the next week or so before we go home for Christmas! We are currently working on two other videos to fill you in on the last couple of months, and will post those in the next couple of days. Thank you so much for bearing with us!

By the way, I don't know if we said this in any of our past videos, but Brock and Kimmy (two of the cellists from orchestra who are now some of our really good friends) are both film scoring majors. That's kind of important background information for this video... you'll see why. =) Both of them write amazing (and very different!) music, but Kimmy doesn't have any available online yet. If you want to listen to some of Brock's, you can find his YouTube channel here: Brock Snow

So anyway, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and stay tuned 'cause we have two more videos comin'!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

System Override

There are some days when God re-writes your schedule, not to make things more complicated but to simplify your life and refresh you. Don't believe me? I wouldn't have believed either, but my God is so loving and faithful...

It was going to be a standard weekend... buried up to my ears in homework. I had an assignment for my Cinematic Arts Appreciation (CINE 101) class due Sunday night that required me to watch a movie of my choice and explain how the movie addressed existentialism. I also had to finish a short research paper for my University Core Competencies class (how-to-be-a-college-student 101) by Sunday night and prepare for a persuasive speech that I might have to give in my Speech Communications class on Monday morning. And let's not forget the quiz in my 7:40am Accounting Principles class, also on Monday! 

There were other, smaller things I hoped to get done as well, but the point is, I was swamped. I fully intended to lock myself in my room all day Saturday and all of Sunday after church, but God had other plans...

Saturday morning I sleep in somewhat longer than I intend to and get off to a slow start. As I try to review the chapter on Existentialism in my "Hollywood Worldviews" book for my CINE 101 assignment, Rachael has a long (and very interesting) conversation with her family in the background. Not bad... I like hearing from her family as well as mine... but it makes it hard to focus. Then I have to figure out which movie to watch. After making a list of the various movies mentioned in the book and several others that I think might work, I check which ones are available at the library and look up PluggedIn reviews on them. Finally I settle on Iron Man 2. 

By this time Rachael and I are ready for lunch. Before we leave for the dining hall, though, we spontaneously end up Skyping Jubilee for a while! It was awesome to talk to her, and we had a really good conversation, but I felt myself losing homework time. Tension grew inside my chest and a nagging voice started whispering in the back of my head. I knew that voice all too well... I did my best to ignore it, but I couldn't silence it completely. 

You're not being productive, it whispered. You're wasting time.

I know that, as my Dad always says, "People are more important," but sometimes I'm not sure where to draw the line between building relationships and doing my schoolwork. Anyway, we got a late lunch, came back and started a couple of loads of laundry, and eventually left with our laptops to do homework on the roof of DeMoss Hall, the really big, impressive academic building smack dab in the middle of campus. Problem is, it's hard to get a whole lot done when there's a gorgeous view of the mountains and the setting sun right in front of you.

Finally it got cold and pretty dark, so Rachael and I climbed down and went back to the dining hall, where we attempted to multi-task. The only thing I had managed to accomplish school-wise by this point was picking Iron Man 2, checking it out of the library, and finishing the rough draft of my research paper. 

We had already arranged to meet Kimmy (Rachael's stand partner in orchestra) to see The LEGO Movie at one of Liberty's regular movie nights. They show two movies at a time, and The LEGO Movie was the second one, so we hung out with Kimmy at the library during the first movie and *attempted* to keep doing schoolwork until the second movie started around 9:45. At this point, I pretty much gave up any idea of being productive that day. The LEGO Movie was a ton of fun, and we got to spend some time with just Kimmy, which was also awesome. 

I was still hoping to get something done when we got back to our dorm, but then we ended up talking to Bryanna from across the hall for a couple of hours. Again, it was a really good, encouraging, meaningful conversation, but by the time I went to bed it was 3am. (Yeah, I know. My body's on the college-kid schedule now...)

So Sunday came. We went to church and had lunch with some girls from our dorm, pretty much per normal, and I came home and sat down with my day timer. Sometime in the middle of the previous evening, that awful tension in my chest had melted away, and I knew that somehow, for some reason, God had "ruined" my Saturday schedule on purpose. Theoretically, that meant that "everything would be OK," But I still didn't know how I was going to get everything "done" on time.

Guess what I discovered?
  • The LEGO Movie that I'd watched "just for fun" with Kimmy and Rachael actually addressed all three aspects of existentialism that I was supposed to discuss in my CINE 101 assignment! (Chance over destiny, freedom over rules, and experience over reason) So I didn't have to spend an extra 2 hours watching Iron Man 2. 
  • On that note, I'm sure The LEGO Movie was also more "wholesome" than Iron Man. At the very least, I'm not going to have crass jokes and suggestive images stuck in my head for the next few weeks.
  • The Accounting chapter that I had to read before Monday morning was half the length it usually is!
  • My speech was already outlined from earlier in the week, so if I had to give it "on the fly" without much practice, I had a pretty solid foundation to work with. Also, there was a pretty good chance I wouldn't have to give my speech until Wednesday.
  • Convocation is cancelled on Monday this week, so there are no room checks. This means I don't have to sweep out my room or tidy it all up before I go to bed. (Sounds lazy, but you take what you can get! Besides, we haven't gotten written up for having a messy room yet!)
  • The toilet overflowed in the bathroom that Rachael and I were supposed to clean this week. It was so bad that the maintenance people came over the weekend to deal with it. Some pipe broke and is leaking on the quad below us. All of this sucks. EXCEPT the fact that we are forbidden to enter or use that bathroom in any way, shape, or form. This means that, until further notice, Rachael and I have practically no chores this week!

God knew this. 

                    God knew about all of this. 

                                                              I didn't. 

I was planning to keep myself busy, but God said, "You're going to take a break whether you like it or not." Which is funny, because lately I've been worrying that God might essentially make my life miserable if I let Him have control of it. Instead, He blessed me beyond what I was expecting and refreshed my spirit with several good conversations with friends. And no chores!!!

Thank you, Lord, for loving me enough to override my near-sighted schedule and replace it with Your perfect one. Thank you for peace, rest, and joy. You are truly a good God, and you have blessed me beyond what I deserve. May I never forget this. May I never forget your compassionate, merciful wisdom. Amen.