Skits of My Past and The Road I’m On

wpid-img_20150312_2137172.jpg.jpegI don’t know if this is still a thing, but when I was in high school youth group, musical skits were all the rage. Think of a live-action music video to a popular “secular” song with a story that illustrates the Gospel, something the speaker could use as a jumping off point for the night’s talk.

I’m actually really grateful that I came across an art form like this in those tumultuous years of grieving, moving, starting over, and figuring out high school all at the same time. I don’t remember the first one I saw, but the first one that really spoke to me was a skit written by a senior named Julia Owens set to Frou Frou’s “Let Go.” This was not too long after Garden State had come out, and I already knew and loved the song. I had just started going to a new church and thought I’d check out skit practice. I got to watch them practice this one over and over again, and I loved every moment of it: A boy scribbles in a notebook, too focused on “writing his tragedy” to notice the vibrant girl in front of him who laughs at life and dances with joy. She tries to get him to “let go,” but he won’t. It starts to rain (we actually had a bubble machine, it was pretty awesome), and the girl lifts her face to the clouds but the boy grumbles and hides under cover. There’s a scene where the boy stands center stage with his notebook and passersby each rush past him in a chaotic frenzy and rip out pages of his story. The girl tries to help him, the boy keeps pushing her away… Eventually, he decides on his own to “let go” and sit in the rain, he even opens his mouth to catch it on his tongue. It was one of the most moving stories I’d ever seen, and I said to my freshman self, I can write stories like that.

I’d been making up music videos in my head ever since I was a little kid (back when MTV was actually Music Television). I loved setting story to lyric and music. I would choreograph them in my bedroom and listen to the songs over and over again. I think the first one I consciously created for the purpose of sharing Gospel hope in high school was set to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” and I based it on myself and how I felt “broken” without my mother. The skit was about people carrying around photographs that each represented something broken in their life (relationships severed by death, hearts broken, etc) and finally realizing that they couldn’t fix themselves, but instead had to let go of the darkness and walk into the Light. It’s still probably the most personal one I wrote, and I should think about it more often.

I couldn’t do anything until I was a senior, and I pushed for the storytelling skits to make a comeback. Finally, I got to do it, and I felt like I had found my niche. I did the “Fix You” skit. I redid the “Let Go” skit that had inspired me so much. My favorite skit, however, the one that I think touched the most people, and the one that still gets me today is the one I wrote to Coldplay’s “White Shadows.” Like the seeds that fall amongst the thorns/weeds in the Parable of the Sower, this skit follows a boy who starts out at home with God and his people, full of light, then the pressures of life pull him away (literally, in an assembly-line reminiscent of Across the Universe‘s “I Want You” scene). I had the help of one of my choreographer friends, and my cast executed the moves to perfection. There was also light-dark symbolism: His colorful clothing gets covered in grey and he falls in line with the robotic movements of the rest of the people living in the darkness. He’s tossed about by the crowd and tangled in grey, but when he’s finally left alone, he falls to his knees, lost. A light shines on him, and he looks up. Slowly, he rises and throws himself into the arms of Christ, the colorful people surround him in hug, the song ends and the lights fade.

I was really good at this. That’s why it’s hard for me now in the midst of my unraveling to hear a song come on my shuffle by 3 Doors Down and think about the unfinished skits in my head. You see, just like how my youth pastor had once set a musical to all Coldplay songs, I had started devising my own musical to 3 Doors Down. I think I chose them because they were the musicians behind the first ever skit I managed to get performed at my church, “Away From the Sun.” I honestly can’t remember all the details to this one, but I remember it involved a boy (I always thought that boys were a good choice because girls tended to be empathic to the skit regardless of who’s playing the lead, and boys find it easier to see themselves in another boy. This is a viewpoint that I find problematic for a number of reasons now, in my twenties, but it seemed worked okay at the time). Anyway, the boy was again dealing with peer pressure, and I used the most after-school special topic of them all: alcohol use. He was lost in the “party world,” and I remember there was a devil character who kept tying black strings around his arms and legs… I think there was a moment where the strings came off/ were cut off and the light blinded the devil, but I can’t really remember. I know though that it was another story of the pressures of life pulling someone into darkness, but at the end Light always won out.

I think my story-lines say a lot about my age at the time of writing and my worldview that encompassed only high school. I hope they were beautiful and moving, but sometimes I fear they were a bit contrived. I really was sincere when I wrote them, though, and I really believed in the power of the Light.

That’s why, again, it’s hard for me to listen to 3 Doors Down’s “The Road I’m On.” I had started making up skits to a few of the band’s songs that I had on my ipod– yes, I even had one written for “Kryptonite,” and no it didn’t involve Superman. It was great, but I could never really think of one for “The Road I’m On” except as a transitionary song between a dark skit and a light one. I thought it was an okay song, but there was no hope in it, just solidarity–what was I supposed to do with that?

I listen to it now and it hits me, hard. Those other songs were my high-school life. “The Road I’m On” is the song I’m living now, and I don’t have an ending for it. I’m not any closer to finding a good ending for it than I was six years ago.

She said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you’re living in between the lines … He said life’s so hard to move in sometimes, when it feels like I’m towing the line, and no one even cares to ask me why I feel this way.

Much like how I didn’t understand Bono’s “still looking” notion in high school, I didn’t understand living between the lines either. That wasn’t something that made sense to me. You either stumble in darkness or you thrive in the light; grey strangles you. I remember this was even part of the youth pastor’s Coldplay musical, a theme that the people on the fence had to choose where to belong and where to stand.

He said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you keep it all between the lines of everything I want and I want to find, one of these days.
What you thought was real in life has somehow steered you wrong. Now you just keep driving, trying to find out where you belong…

That’s me.

I know you feel helpless now and I know you feel alone,
That’s the same road, that same road that I am on.

That’s the song’s only comfort: Life is hard. Seeing it shatter is devastating. Grey is everywhere, and I don’t know where the road will lead, but I’m right there with you.

That’s all I can have right now. It’s not a drastic transformation, it’s not a chain-breaking, darkness fleeing, light encompassing, grey suddenly flooding with color story right now. (It’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.) Right now, it’s a long silver stretch of road that often leaves me feeling helpless and alone. And maybe I am driving towards the light, but it seems too far off and dim to be coming any time soon, though I hope it’s really there, I hope I’ll find it again someday.

wpid-20150415_175804.jpgRachel Held Evans writes in Searching for Sunday: “Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.”

Maybe now “I’ve found myself so far down, away from the sun,” but it’s not from anything as concrete as what I used in my skit, black ropes and beer bottles… It’s something else, and the way to “fix it” isn’t as simple as I thought in my old skits. It’s powerful, yes, and divine, and hopefully possible, but certainly not quick and simple. I turn to another song:

Somewhere in this darkness, there’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away, or maybe I’m just blind.
Maybe I’m just blind.
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared, and love me when I’m gone.

Hold me, Light. Love me, even when I’m gone.

Mingled.

As I approach June 10 2014, I don’t know how to feel. Once again, I let the words of Josh Garrels speak for me:

We wait for downpours
A drenching joy
A carnival sky

But what I don’t say,
What I can’t say,
Is that with this joy
Comes a mourning…

Something left behind
Blue lined, teary
Mingled, I move on…

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Mingled, I move on. I really don’t like the term, “move on.” It sounds so final, so simple. It’s something you only do once, and once you’ve done it, it’s over. You’ve moved on, life is normal again. Also, the word “move,” implies a moving away from something, leaving something behind. I don’t want to “move on.” I like better the phrase my grandmother used to say to me for a while after my mother died: “Keep on keeping on.”

Mingled, I keep on. This year has been one of survival. I’ve had a few people ask me recently what I plan on doing with my future, and I cannot answer them. I cannot answer them because all I’ve been able to do is focus on surviving, and that is what I plan on continuing to do.

I do know one thing I want from this life, though. I want not only to survive, but to thrive.

Whatever that means, whatever that looks like, I want it. And I know for certain that my mom and dad would want that for me too.

Mingled. The year is over, but the grief and the mourning and pain are not. There will still be times when I am not anywhere near “okay.” I will keep writing about it, because I have to, because I want to share with others, I want to cultivate roses in this wasteland, as I walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Let there be light. Let there be beauty. Let there be joy. (And let there be recognition of sorrow, too.)

Let. There. Be. Life.

All things will change
We wait for the rain
And the promise remains.

Landslide

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Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides,
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Oh, I don’t know.

Well I’ve been afraid of changing,
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you.
But time makes you bolder, even children get older,
And I’m getting older too.

Take my love, take it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around…
And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills,
Well the landslide’ll bring it down.

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My Dad really loved the song “Landslide,” written by Stevie Nicks. We played it during the slideshow at his funeral, and even my little niece knew it. She said, “This is Pop-pop’s favorite song.” I have memories of hearing him hum it in the next room, in the car, on a walk. Sometimes I sing it now, at the top of my lungs, and I hope he hears me.

Recommendation Time

I’m going to do something a little different on my blog today. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t posted very much in a while. Believe me, I’ve noticed too. (You can see how hard I tried last time and couldn’t really produce a complete post.) So today, instead of producing something of my own, I wanted to take some time to share what I’ve been listening to, reading, and watching lately. It’s recommendation time!

Listening to: This Bell will Ring by The Weatherfolk.
IMG_6450I feel so cool right now. I’ve actually sat down and had dinner in the flat where this album was recorded, with the people who recoreded it. The Weatherfolk are some American worship-leader-missionary friends I met in Scotland, and they just released their first full-length album for FREE on Noisetrade. Please go check it out and support them. The song “City of Stone” was written about Edinburgh because they fell in love with the city just as much as I did, and they want to see the Kingdom come alive there. I only ever heard it when they sang it live in coffee shops, and I cried every time. I’m so glad it’s now available for constant listening!

Also listening to: “Arms of my Father” by Hope Dialect
Hope Dialect isn’t around anymore, but they had a reunion concert last summer, hence the video. I only recently became friends with the awesome lead singer guitarist dude, the dude killin’ it on the violin, and the dude rocking out on the drums, so all their stuff is new to me. I’m still discovering new favourites, and I love it. Right now, I especially love this song “Arms of My Father,” which has been on repeat during my commutes the past few days. “You said nothing can tear me away from the arms of my Father…”

Reading: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
I just stared this the other day after finishing a couple books in the Orson Scott Card Ender series. It’s a highly entertaining series, but the plots and the stories consumed me, and I needed to take a break and check out some more nonfiction. Here’s one of my favourite quotes from The Problem of Pain so far: “We were not made primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.'”

Also reading: Small Still Voices! That’s right, we’re back from hiatus, and we’ve already got some great posts up this week. Keep a look out for my contribution coming on Friday.

Watching: Blue Like Jazz based on the nonfiction book by Donald Miller
I own this movie, but I recently discovered that it’s now available on Netflix. I saw the movie before I read the book (sorry, Donald Miller) because I was fascinated by the film’s story. The film-makers ran out of money, and the fans rallied behind them to fund the project through Kickstarter. And it worked. (In other news, The Weatherfolk funded their album and Hope Dialect funded their reunion show through Kickstarter too.) If that’s not enough reason for you to check out this movie, I’ll go on: The nerd in me thinks it’s a fascinating exercise in adaptation. In many ways, the movie is not at all like the book, but in other ways it is a perfect adaptation of the heart of the book. It’s also fascinating to see how elements of the book had to be changed to fit the movie-mode. There are cartoons in the book, guys, like sketches and stuff. And yes, they do make their way into the movie. It’s also interesting in that it’s art made by Christians about faith and the search for faith, but it doesn’t restrict it’s audience to only Christians, and in fact it doesn’t fit neatly into the category of “Christian film” either. All-in-all, it’s worth checking out.

Here’s the thing about Blue Like Jazz: it’s going to get a reaction out of you, and it’s going to surprise you. It made me uncomfortable. It made me angry. It made me laugh, and then it made me feel uncomfortable for laughing, and then it made me laugh again. I confess I was getting pretty heated in my seat in the movie theater watching the protagonist be a complete jerk and worrying about how poorly this movie seemed to be representing Christians to the non-Christians who may be watching. And then came the ending scenes. If this movie doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, please stick it out until the very end. The ending solidified the story for me and it made me go, “Yes, yes. People need to see this.”

Doing: I’ve been trying to take more pictures now that spring is here and the flowers are in bloom. This isn’t a recommendation (unless you like photography) so much as it is a chance for me to post a picture. So here you go! IMG_9357

What have you been listening to, reading, watching, and doing this week?

The Rhythm of the World

Hi friends! As you may or may not know, I am currently studying in Edinburgh. My friend and I have been exploring the United Kingdom for the past couple of weeks — Don’t worry, I’ll blog about that soon! However, while I’m still in the process of getting settled, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote a few months ago for my literary essay class. In the spirit of globe-trotting, it encompasses some of the moments I’ve been blessed to experience around the world. I’m excited to add Edinburgh moments to this story when the time comes.  I hope you enjoy.

I feel it on a rain-stained rooftop in Central West Africa. The sound of clapping and dancing rising from the schoolroom below as I stare out at the endless purple sky. Drumbeats. Stomping. Cries of joy. The air is thick and lightning flashes in the distance. I clasp hands with friends beside me and we begin to sing, harmonizing our own tune that echoes into the night. — No, the song is not our own. We are just joining in the music below, offering our voices to the one great song.

I feel it in an abandoned building just outside of the Brussels Red Light District. A caramel-colored Moroccan woman grabs my arm and pulls me into a dance circle. The music from her home country blares from the stereo, echoing in the barren white room and seeping out the open window into the streets below. Joyful and carefree, we kick out our feet, shake our hips, we loose our tongues to the music. I am not myself anymore, I am part of them. A refugee. We may not have much, but we have celebration, we have the dance, we have our part in the song.

I feel it in the voice of a tired Sudanese woman in the Judean Desert as her long dark fingers cradle a sleeping child. Rocking back and forth on the dusty floor, she sings in a language I don’t understand, her voice laid bare, vulnerable in the quiet room. She rocks, she lifts her arms, she sways, and she mesmerizes. Far from home, in an unfamiliar land, this victim of genocide heaves her soul into her voice and takes her place in the song. Tired, weary, and far from home myself, I listen, eyes half-closed, and let the music flow through me, bringing fire to my bones.

I feel it in me, I feel it in them, I feel it in the rain, the wind, the lightning that illuminates the darkness. I feel it in us as we come together, hearts beating to the rhythm of the song.

The Father of Heavenly Lights

So, I took a ridiculous amount of photographs on the Fourth of July… Oh my goodness, I had so much fun photographing fireworks! I’ve been wanting to show them off, but I haven’t decided on the right way to do so yet…
And then I got the idea for a post in which a firework photo might be somewhat appropriate… It’s a stretch, but here we go :)

The cd burner on my laptop stopped working right about the time the cd player in my car started to work again… Which means I’ve been listening to a bunch of old cds, since I can’t make any new ones. Well, on one such cd-trip down memory lane, I rediscovered my love for the song “Green” by Brendan James. The first two lines of this song get me every time:

Zeppelin never left her, never died or second guessed her, painted on her body
The stars would never hurt her, never lie, never desert her, painted on her body

I don’t know if I can wholly explain why these lyrics get to me, but I just think it’s the idea that this girl he’s singing about was craving something she could count on… She wanted a constant, she wanted hope that wouldn’t desert her, and she found that in the stars and in music. She could always count on the stars to be in the sky every night, shining down on her. She could always count on music to be there to lift her up, to never judge or abandon her…

It’s so beautiful, and yet so sad at the same time.

But in a world of constant change, loss, pain and turmoil, stars can give us a glimpse of the stability we long for, and music offers us the power to hold on, to know that we are not alone… But better still is the Creator of such examples, for He is our true source of security.

He is the Father of Heavenly Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

So I rewrite these lyrics, because heavenly music draws us to the One our souls truly long for. One day the stars will fail, but His love and His word stand forever:

God never left her, though He died to resurrect her…
Her God would never hurt her, never lie, never desert her,

Painted on her body — Still another will write on his hand, “The Lord’s.” (Isaiah 44:5)

The songs that spoke for me…

It feels good to stretch my blogging muscles again!

I suppose I should start by explaining the title of this blog. It’s a title I’ve used since the old blogging days, but I never really explained it, not even to myself.

The title comes from the song “Outside the Wall” on Pink Floyd’s The Wall:

All alone, or in twos,
The ones who really love you,
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand,
Some gather together in bands,
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all,
Some stagger and fall
After all, its not easy,
Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.

I am an artist, and I want to use my art to make my stand. I want to express what is in my heart and tear down the walls of this world.

The header for this blog is a photo that I took as part of my “Spirituality” assignment in Digital 1 last semester. Here is the resulting photo:

Majesty

Majesty

I hope to post more photos, words, song lyrics, and scripture on this blog because that is what is meaningful to me.

The bleeding hearts and artists make their stand.